As a lot of the folks who follow me on Facebook already know, I like to pretend that I’m a gardener. The truth is that I’m someone who plants stuff, and if it grows food, I eat it, but if it gets sick or the crop fails, I have no idea how to fix it or nurse it back to health. This year’s greatest failure came in the form of acorn squash and gooseberry bushes, both of which died in an attempt to spite me. Successes, however, can be found in my tomatoes. I, not being a real gardener, planted far too many (22 plants), so to call what I got a “bumper crop” might not be a fair assessment, but it sure does feel like one. The two Roma plants in my front yard are laden with almost 50 tomatoes total between them, and all of the cherry and beefsteaks in the back are producing like mad. I’ve become the neighborhood tomato lady.
All of this – after I was pretty sure that I’d managed to damage the plants beyond repair by forgetting to water them. I got busy, I got distracted, and the rain didn’t cooperate with my neglect. They were brown and crispy. I thought they were done for, but figured I might try a little bit of water to see if I could at least get one or two fruits off of each plant.
And then, like magic –BLOOM!- they went tomato crazy.
I called my grandmother, a legitimate gardener, and asked her to explain this bit of fruit sorcery.
“Oh! You just made ‘em suffer, that’s all,” she said, explaining that tomatoes are a plant that when babied, don’t do very well at all. Their roots stay shallow if you water them like clockwork. Their fruits can lose the biting concentrated taste. And if you are careful with them, then the littlest set back of disease or unpleasant garden critter can wipe out the whole plant. In short, they won’t know to take advantage of real growth until you have put them through a little bit of hardship.
Your employees are like my tomatoes – you have to make them suffer, constructively. This is not to say that being abusive to your employees is a positive measure. I think we could all agree that is pretty dumb, especially considering that, according to Gallup, 66% of employed Americans are now looking for new jobs. But babying them isn’t going to do them any good either. Jumping in to “save” them when they’re with a tough resident doesn’t teach them how to deal with a tough resident in the future. It teaches them to look like a frightened bunny until someone comes and saves them.
You can’t force growth in an employee any more than I can force growth off of that dead gooseberry bush. But you can certainly be a block to growth, and that’s something that I have seen more and more often in the last few years, where the “risk” of any type of failure has been deemed too high.
Being a good manager isn’t about being a superhero to your employees by saving them all the time. Being a good manager, and a good leader, is about letting the people in your charge grow and learn and become more than what they were when they started with you. Sometimes, it’s as simple as not meddling. Sometimes it’s a difficult as watching them make a mistake, and then telling them that it’s their responsibility to correct it.
Character building isn’t easy. If it was, then more people would have character.
Help them have character. Make ‘Em Suffer – Make ‘Em Grow.