Are you green and growing?The founder of MacDonald’s hamburger chain, Ray Kroc, was well known for his motto, “when you’re green you’re growing, when you’re ripe you rot.” May is a great time for us in the Northern Hemisphere to reflect on whether we’re greening ourselves with new growth or stagnating and decaying.

Once again this spring I’ll be in the garden looking for and nurturing green growth. But my big personal growth from a year ago is a very different view of how we most effectively grow leadership skills.

For decades my writing, workshops, and consulting work has been focused around the traditional approach that has been widely assumed by most of us in the field of leadership development: growth and development involves finding and fixing weaknesses. Since partnering with Zenger Folkman in using a strengths-based leadership development approach I now realize how limiting and less effective those common and unconscious assumptions are.

The perennial flowers in my garden have a wide variety of characteristics. Some like lots of sun, others prefer shade, and some thrive in either. In wet soil some plants grow vigorously while others rot. Some plants like to be crowded together while others need their space. Some plants need lots of nutrients while others do quite well in depleted soil.

A weakness-based gardening approach would be to “develop” perennials by training and pushing them to overcome their “deficiencies” and learn how to live in the conditions opposite to their true nature. At best, some of these plants might survive and produce a few flowers. More likely they’ll decline, die, and rot.

Tomorrow we publish my April blogs in the May issue of The Leader Letter. The first article is on finding our Leadership Sweet Spot. This is a prime example of using a strengths-based approach to build and develop natural skills, preferences, and abilities. Overlaying a key strength with the leader’s passion and the organizational need for his or her role will produce 2 – 3 times more growth and development than trying to fix weaknesses.

Many of the other topics in the May issue focus on personal, team, or organizational growth. We’ll review how effective use of feedback grows leadership effectiveness. Growing our Likeability Index cultivates our leadership effectiveness. And many leaders will be relieved to learn they don’t need to remake themselves into something they’re not (like a sunflower trying to be a rose) and become charismatic to be an inspirational leader. We’ll also see how preparing for and adapting to unforeseen change is key to growth. And like fertilizer, recognition can burn and brown or nurture and grow.

May you be ever green and growing!