Updated: Jul 19, 2018
"The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just on the body, but the soul"
Alfred Austin, English Poet
I have to confess that I am not much of a gardener but I love this quote and it is the inspiration for both the title of this piece and the session I will be running on 12th November at the London Business Forum.
According to some, we are facing a leadership crisis; a shortage of people who can move us forwards into the exponential complexities of the future. As organisations, we spend hours, days, even years, looking to develop succession plans and striving to identify leadership talent. Often, in our belief that that potential isn't within, or that we don't have the time or resource to develop internal strategies, we look outwards for our leaders, spending fortunes on head hunters and specialist recruitment agencies.
Is this a good thing? Is it really better to buy talent rather than nurture it? I'm not so sure. It strikes me that there are many "professional" leaders around these days, people who parachute in to organisations for a few years, get paid a fortune in their guise as heroes and then move on.
A couple of years ago, during the launch of my book Change, I was invited to an 'intimate' dinner with 20 or so leading CEOs. At one point in the evening I talked about the importance of sharing your passion for your organisation with the people you lead. I was staggered when one CEO said that to him leadership wasn't about passion, it was a career and that they were focused more on their own next challenge.
Now, I certainly am not saying that this speaks for the majority, but it is a danger for a company to look beyond its own ranks. I am saddened that we often don't realise the incredible talent that lies within. I would be, I guess; being a very proud former teacher, professional and personal development is at the heart of my DNA.
On the 22nd November 1963, John F Kennedy was due to give a speech at the Dallas Trade Mart where he would remark that "Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other." I am committed to nurturing both.
In my years as a teacher, I was privileged to work with many great leaders, most of them under 10 years old. I remember one young lady who was persuaded to run for the job as Mayor in our school political system. She was reticent, outwardly quite shy, very studious and mature but not one for pushing herself to the front. She stood as Mayor, won the election in a landslide and demonstrated the most extraordinary leadership of the pupil body for her year of tenure. I have no doubt that she will one day lead a major company or even a country - ours hopefully!
It was JK Rowling who wrote in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows:
"It is a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it. Those who, like you, have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that
they wear it well"
I wonder if sometimes we look for the wrong traits in our leaders, maybe because we don't feel that we have the time to look deeply enough. Instead, we appoint those with the biggest voice, the best qualifications or the most efficient mind sets. I also wonder if sometimes we mistake managers and leaders. For me, the role of a leader is to serve the people who work with you and for you. You are the ultimate facilitator.
I wonder if we should look at our professional development programmes differently, identifying and nurturing latent talents in our staff, making sure that we empower them to realise their true potential and ultimately our own futures as organisations.
I believe in passion, vision and authenticity. I feel strongly that these powerful roots of truly great leadership need to be grown not bought. It takes time and commitment to develop powerful learning and development cultures where talent sprouts rather than withers. When it does, it is the greatest feeling to know that you were one of the gardeners.