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Assessing The Quality Of Your Leadership

Friday 1 March, 2013
There is an ongoing debate about what constitutes quality leadership in organisations. The literature on the subject is vast and tends to contain too much "management speak" making it difficult for the average person to make sense of it. This article outlines a straightforward way of assessing the quality of leadership in your organisation.

Assessing The Quality Of Your LeadershipThis model comes from the belief that being a great leader is like being a great gardener. If you think about it there are many comparisons you can make between the two. One of the  most important aspects is that you don't build a high quality organisation, you grow it organically just like you do a garden. To quote Sir Ken Robinson, the recognised British learning expert from his book "The Element":

"Farmers base their livelihoods on raising crops but they don't make plants grow. They don't attach the roots, glue on the petals or colour the fruit. The plant itself grows. Farmers and gardeners provide the conditions for growth. Good farmers know what those conditions are, and bad ones don't."

Just like in the garden there can be complicated, technical explanations to every problem or you can take a common sense approach to the subject and provide people with easy to apply principles that work in all situations.  Whether you are talking about a garden or a workplace there are some things you definitely don't want to see. They are the signs that something is seriously wrong and that action needs to be taken immediately.

Here are 5 signs that you need to look at the quality of leadership in your organisation.

  1. Dead plants

    The workplace equivalent is people who turn up physically but not mentally or emotionally. We call them various names such as disengaged, non performers or "has beens". They are taking up valuable space, using valuable resources, producing nothing and making the environment look unattractive. They are a sign for anyone watching that this is a neglected workplace.

    Whilst you can't be successful with every person on your team (just like a gardener will always lose plants), you can take steps to prevent it happening, arrest the decline or at least quickly remove the evidence of a failure rather than leave it sitting around for others to see!

    A gardener on seeing that a plant is not doing well will review their strategy by providing the plant with more nutrients or water, giving it more shelter or moving it to a more appropriate location. Quality leaders do the same.
  2. Rotting fruit

    Leave people in roles for too long, deny them promotions and transfers or put them in roles that don't utilise their skills and you will soon see the rot set in. Alternatively, it could be the equivalent of a plant outgrowing its pot. Either way, you will see the plant (and the person) start to suffer.  Just because someone is doing an effective job today doesn't mean they can be left there permanently. The best and the brightest amongst your team need to be challenged on a regular basis to keep working at their peak. Even people who are happy to do more routine work enjoy variety in their role. Moving people around also allows you to do some cross training, making everyone more versatile.
  3. Weed infestations

    The weeds in your organisation are the results of a negative culture, the type where backstabbing and cliques can take hold, where silos exist and where positive behaviours struggle to stay alive. If you think of culture as being like soil, no matter how poor the soil is something will grow. What you want to see are productive plants not destructive weeds taking over.

    The problem with trying to change a culture is that when you disturb the soil the weeds will inevitably pop up. You need to persevere to clear away the infestation without destroying the plants you want to keep growing. Your goal as a quality leader is to keep an eye on the weeds so they never reach a critical mass.
  4. Butchered pruning

    We butcher people at work through ineffective change programs and badly delivered feedback that damages people, sometimes beyond repair. This happens because we often let amateurs be in charge of these important activities instead of getting in the professionals for some guidance before we begin.

    Pruning is a necessary part of any gardener's role just as change and corrective feedback will always be part of a leader's role. Sure, some plants can look a bit ugly after pruning and then bounce back but if done the wrong way they can be damaged beyond repair. The same is true with people. Quality leaders know the difference between necessary pruning and a butcher job. They know when to attempt the task themselves and when to enlist the help of professionals with the appropriate skills.
  5. Vandalism

    Vandalism in a garden is deliberate and damaging behaviour designed to inflict pain and destroy the hard work of others. It is often done by people who are bored, disillusioned or vindictive, as an attempt to get back at a society that has wronged them in some way. In workplaces vandalism manifests as bullying, gossiping and other psychologically damaging actions that are done for the same reasons.  The results can last a lifetime.

    Gardeners put in place mechanisms for protecting their most vulnerable plants, closely monitor their patch to ensure they minimise the impact of the vandals and get advice from local authorities on their rights for when they do catch the perpetrators. As a quality leader you need to follow their advice and do the same or you will be dealing with the consequences for a long time to come.

Author Credits

Karen Schmidt from Let’s Grow! describes herself as a workplace gardener who helps organisations grow the next crop of engaging leaders. To learn more about her Budding Leaders program visit www.letsgrow.com.au. To book her to speak at your next event visit www.karenschmidt.com.au.
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