What Makes A Good Leader? And, Leadership Lessons from the Garden.

Many nights before going to sleep, children are told stories. They speak of valiant knights at a round table, princes rescuing a damsel in distress, or pirates terrorizing mermaids in a lagoon. These stories use specific rhetoric to tell a narrative that latches the reader onto the leader’s side and makes them emotionally attached and empathetic to their cause. 

However, what if the leader is not what he claims to be, and is instead a villain, only pretending to be a hero in an effort to continue getting work done or provide an illusion of a positive work environment? Oftentimes, companies and leaders use rhetoric to deceive the public because they see themselves as high-minded and more competent than the common person. They want to lure people into their company on false pretenses to add to the value of the company rather than the value of the person. 

Much like any fairytale, leaders use rhetoric, misconceptions, and their interpretations of an experience to create a leadership story that is a version of the truth they seek to be accepted by the general public and their employees.

What Separates a Good Leader from a Bad One?

The first step for any leader or organizer to successfully persuade people to drop what they are doing and join a movement is to get them to pay attention. 

The rhetorical devices of a positive community, work amenities, and salary are widely used tactics to persuade people to take action, join their team, or adhere to their cause. Sometimes leadership in corporations twist stories in an effort to provide a message that is advantageous to them or a message that they want others to believe. Ultimately, the combination of rhetoric, perception, experience, and urgency are the ingredients necessary to create a narrative for potential employees or even current employees to believe in and lay the foundations of urgency towards a movement for action.  

Good Leaders Are Like Gardeners

Effective leadership is a lot like gardening. Great leaders create an environment that encourages growth, they nurture their teams in whatever conditions they find themselves.  An article in Forbes, The Gardener: Four Attributes of a Great Leader is worth revisiting.

“The best leaders are like gardeners who nurture plants to grow in whatever conditions they find themselves. If it’s sunny, they provide cover. If it’s windy, they provide a shield. If it’s rainy, they provide drainage and if it’s dry, they provide water. The goal is to tend to the plants so they can grow and produce the desired results: fruits, flowers or grass.”

“Leadership at its best is like great gardening. A great leader is someone who is knowledgeable about their business and people; someone who is empathetic to the team’s pain points and works to remove the challenges in their way; someone who stands up for their team and creates an environment that supports innovation; and someone who allows their team to shine and stands back to allow them to come to full bloom. If you want to exemplify outstanding leadership, spend some time watching a great gardener. You could pick up a thing or two about grooming high-performing teams.”

Back to the Corporate World

The difference between a good leader and a bad leader is one that does not display a facade in order to captivate a group of people that they are leading or trying to influence. A good leader is one that takes action to remedy wrongs, create a positive space and environment, and allow all of their employees to feel safe and welcome. 

Leaders inspire action, fresh thoughts, and a sense of optimism. Some leaders who inspire us at Gardenuity include, but are not limited too: Arianna Huffington, Bob Iger, Rufus Wainwright, Melinda Gates, Jennifer Deutsch, Robert Jones, and Snejina Zacharia. Good leaders use empathy and gratitude to solve big-picture problems for the long term. Like gardeners, they have cultivated resilience to overcome challenges, and they understand what it is to be part of a team.

Leaders all over the corporate world are being pushed to think about this in a number of ways. Mental health, diversity, salary transparency, and layoffs are all issues that leaders are being forced to address or implement. 

As a leader, it is crucial to think about the best interest of your employees and the values that your company is portraying before anything else. If your mantra does not match your management, employees, customers, and clients can see through it. 

Marshall Ganz notes that “hope is what allows us to deal with problems creatively. In order to deal with fear, we have to mobilize hope. Hope is one of the most precious gifts we can give each other and the people we work with to make change”. 

What change are you going to make for the better of your people and what leaders inspire you?