As in a fairy tale, I encountered an idea 3 times in recent days. The message is certainly meant for me and it seemed like you might find value as well.
Most mornings, @Jonathan Fields first tweet of the day is “Who can I help today?” I love this way he has of greeting his community of followers.
I just read a parable on servant leadership in which the author states that a leader is someone who identifies and meets the legitimate needs of her people, and removes all the barriers so her employees can serve the customer.
And then a serendipitous click led me to Diego Rodriguez’s blog in which he outlines 21 innovation principles. Behold, in principle #12 he compares leadership to cultivation. Cultivators of actual gardens resist the temptation to keep digging up the seeds to check on progress, and are satisfied with supplying needed resources like food and water. So too leaders can rely on their people to let them know what they need to thrive and create and make it their business to supply them with it.
So let me first tell you about a very personal application of this idea. Our 16 year old son returned home this week from a 6 week program abroad. I am acutely aware that he still has two hefty novels to read for school, a comparative essay to write and a driver’s license exam to study for. It is so tempting to ‘demand and command’ and then hover to ensure that he meets his obligations. And yet, mom-as-service-provider is really the way to go. I love the idea of starting our mornings with the question (okay—his morning starts about half a day later than mine!), “How can I be of service today?” It might mean ensuring there is enough food in the refrigerator. It might mean giving him some breathing room. He will know; I will trust him.
And then there are those of you who are leading organizations, or running businesses or coaching clients. What would it feel like to truly trust your people, and let them tell you how to serve them? I offer a few ground rules for service and would love to know what you would add.
1) Get to know your people
A good gardener tests the soil, and learns about the seeds she plants. A gardener has a relationship with her garden. What is the nature of your relationships at work? If it is limited to one or two dimensions, you may need to deepen your understanding.
2) Scan the environment for opportunity
A gardener has to work with nature: bees, rain, wind, rodents. What internal and external factors can you harness to benefit your people? What do you need to do to protect them so they can work to their full potential? What do you need to expose them to?
3) Plan for surprise
Even when you follow all the rules, some plants surprise you with unexpected colors, growth patterns and hardiness. Others fail to thrive despite your best efforts. When you allow for your people to surprise you, you pave the way for a good laugh, and a healthy does of humility. In contrast, when there is no room for surprise, there is no room for failure—and that is a hard place for anyone to be.