Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them become what they are capable of being.
– Goethe

I enjoy perennial gardening in our yard. As I have tended our gardens over the years, I am continually struck by how some plants will do well in some locations and terribly elsewhere in the garden. Each spring and fall I move plants around to match their preferences for particular soil, wind, and sun conditions, as well as their proximity to other plants.

At times I have been pleasantly surprised by how some lackluster plants have suddenly thrived in a new location better suited to their needs. Since each perennial has a different bloom time and length, one of the gardening challenges is to keep color spread throughout the garden from early spring to late fall. It’s one reason I never “cheat” by using annuals that bloom all summer long. A constant chore is cutting off old blooms to encourage new ones and pruning plants that are becoming overgrown.

Although people also thrive on individual attention, managers often use a “one size fits all” approach and try to “mass grow” people. Leaders, however, work closely with their team members to customize their growth and development. Like a good gardener, leaders treat each person in their organization as an individual with his or her own unique aspirations, strengths, and characteristics. Leaders then work to put people in the best place for them to thrive and succeed. They mix and match team members to build a well-rounded team that can show its best colors according to the season – or is best suited to the current operating conditions of the organization or the team. Leaders tend to each person on their team and coach them to change habits or prune overgrown methods that may prevent further growth. They are consistently moving team members around to avoid overcrowding and to bring out the best in each person.

For the non-gardeners, perhaps a fish story might provide a more apt growing analogy. If you buy a little goldfish and keep it in a small bowl it will remain no bigger than a few inches long. Move that same fish to a large aquarium and it will double or triple in size. Put the goldfish in a large pond and it can grow up to a foot long! The biggest factor that determines the size of the fish is the size of its environment. And so it is with people.

Managers see people as they are and treat them according to what they see. A manager would take a small goldfish and keep it in the little bowl because it would be inefficient and wasteful to put it in a larger environment. Leaders, on the other hand, see people as they could be. A leader takes a small goldfish and puts it in a larger tank because it would be ineffective and wasteful of the fish’s potential to keep it in a confined environment.

Leaders provide a bigger environment by delegating autonomy. Strong leaders are strong coaches. They clarify performance targets, develop skills and abilities, reinforce progress, and build on strengths. Leaders consult, facilitate, counsel, and guide. They also confront when they feel someone is not living up to his or her potential.

Management discourages independent decision making while leadership encourages independent growth and development.



Commanding Coaching
Solving problems Enabling others to solve problems
Directing and controlling Teaching and engaging
Seeing people as they are Developing people into what they could be
Empowering Partnering
Operating Improving
Pushing Pulling
Heroic manager Facilitative leader
Quick fix to symptoms Search for systemic root causes