This is the time of year most home owners are focusing on getting their yards looking good again. Many of us are seeding, re-planting, trimming, raking, mowing… and mowing…. and mowing! The poignant thing is, living things keep growing, the weeds continue to pop up and everything needs to be watered regularly as well as trimmed. It takes maintenance and consistent effort to keep a yard looking good.
Leadership is much like yard maintenance. As leaders, we drive hard to get our organizations and teams running smoothly. Whether we like it or not, leading a business and/or leading a team takes consistent effort (just like your yard). Your organization and team/s are living things as well. If we don’t want to become stagnant or “die,” we have to not only maintain but also continually grow and develop ourselves and our people.
Several years ago, I lived in a subdivision in the lovely little town of Venice. This was a beautiful community. I have never seen such finely groomed and landscaped yards. Everyone who lived there seemed to be retired, or somehow had much more time on their hands than I. Some of the neighbors did not appreciate that our yard was not as well-groomed as their yards. I had a lot going on…. Working full time, two active children, sports and community service and more often than not, I left our grass a little too high for our fellow citizen’s comfort. They kept their grass about ¼ inch from the ground, so anything taller than that looked high to them. We did not plant flowers or carve our bushes into dolphins. I did, however, have a dehydrated fern hanging on the porch. This disparaged our neighbors who had thumbs much greener than mine. Initially, I felt as though my neighbors were being a little too harsh in their judgment of my not-so-well-kept lawn. After all, didn't they realize all I had on my plate?
As in many life experiences there are life lessons to learn and this situation was no exception. I learned a lesson far greater than “how to teach your neighbors to loathe you.” I discovered if I would constantly maintain my yard, it would not require as much work. If I could motivate myself (or bribe my children) to work in the yard every day (as my diligent neighbors did), even a short time each morning, I, too, could have a handsome yard. Instead, I chose to wait and only do the yard when I had to (which usually made for an all-day event) and when I was done, it still did not look nearly as good as the neighbors.
I hope you see the metaphor… the parallel between a poorly kept yard and your team. Maintenance is crucial to long term success. We work so hard to get the “organizational machine” running smoothly. Doesn't it make sense to maintain it? Similar to automobile maintenance: change the oil, rotate the tires, check the fluids, brakes, timing belt…. You know the drill; all make the automobile run longer. Simple as this principle seems, I am often amazed how many leaders and managers sweat blood and tears to achieve a level of excellence, then think they can sit back and enjoy the ride. Unfortunately, this does not work in any aspect of business/leadership. Though there is a number of business aspects that require the care and feeding of a well maintained lawn, here are four business essentials you should never let slip:
1. Customer Focus - whether your business is to sell products and goods or you are a provider of services, you can’t exist without your customers or clients. Understand your customer’s needs and treat them well and they will repay you by continuing to patronize your business and not someone else’s.
2. Relationships with coworkers/employees – even if your business is a one person operation and you don’t have a team of employees or coworkers, there’s no doubt you work with vendors, consultants, or others who support your work. Clear communication and the ability to resolve conflicts amicably will help create healthy relationships with those who you rely on to see your mission and vision become reality.
3. Strategic Planning and Vision – many great businesses fail because the business’s leaders “didn't see it coming.” What that means is they didn't plan for what they wanted to happen, what they didn't want to happen and what inevitably did happen. It’s important for a great leader to have clear strategy and vision regarding budgets, business forecasts, and business growth.
4. Investing in yourself and your people – whether it is learning new skills or “sharpening the saw,” leaders should continue to invest in their own growth as well as the growth of those they work with.
Maintaining your yard a little at a time is much easier than trying to create a “garden of paradise” in one day. This is also true in maintaining and growing your leadership as well as your people. If you make it a habit to do this on a daily basis, it will be much easier than having to do a major “overhaul” when things don’t go well.