Last week I wrote a blog called, Rotten Toe-Mah-Toes! Leadership Fail!, where I addressed the shortcoming of leaders to help others reach their potential. Well, I walked out to my garden yesterday - where the first tomato revelation took place - and I saw my pepper plants budding with peppers. Some were large, green and looking ready to pick. But there were two peppers that I’ve left on the plant for the past 3 weeks in the hopes that they’ll ripen. The green peppers are certainly large enough and acceptable to harvest now, but if I want that sweet, mellow-flavored, red pepper, I need to be more selective and patient for it to ripen. It made me think about the flip side of rotten toe-mah-toes.
Believe it or not, some of the qualities that I look for in a person whom I’d like to move to the next level in leadership are similar to those I look for in my garden!
How do I know when they’re ready for the next level? Well, I’m glad you asked! Now, this isn’t fail-safe and every person is different, so I can’t give you hard and fast rules. These are more like guidelines - think like a pirate!
Looking for Good soil.
Each year when I get ready to plant my garden I check the soil. Content of minerals like calcium, phosphorus and such are all important, especially based on what I want to grow. It’s a rather subjective test, with hard numbers and ratios printed out on paper. Evaluating people is a bit different. Jesus used a soil parable when He described the kingdom of God and a farmer sowing seed. Overall, in both my garden and people, I look for Good soil.
First and foremost, good soil is receptive to teaching, guidance, and instruction. Just as a pepper seed has little chance of sprouting in a rock, a person who is resistant to instruction, correction and even praise, doesn’t make for good soil. Some may call this humility, which is definitely an aspect of being receptive, but it goes deeper to self awareness and emotional intelligence. As a side note, the interesting thing about lacking emotional intelligence is that is can hobble a person with great skills and talents.
I met with a young leader not too long ago. Just out of school, he was in a new leadership position and I thought I’d check in on him. During our conversation he raised some very serious concerns that he was facing in his work. As I listened I tried to offer some suggestions. He was very closed to receiving anything I offered. I picked up on that and returned to simply listening. He wasn’t receptive to much I had to say. I’m not sure he’s still in leadership today.
Good soil is also responsive. It’s not hard to work with, tills up well and holds both seed and water. As I evaluate people, I’m looking for some of the same. I’m looking for people who rebound what’s been tossed to them. I’m wary of people with deaf ears.
There was a young lady who came through our ministry. She was bright and energetic and full of life. She gave a lot back to the ministry at her young age. Over time, as I got to work with her I saw her reflect the things others had been teaching. Awkward at first, but persistent, she continually demonstrated a responsiveness to our leading. Today she is a growing leader who is regularly recommended for greater roles and responsibilities. She was both receptive and responsive!
A person who is ready to take on more responsibility is one who has faithfully reproduced what was given to them.
Good soil is reproducing. It provides the necessary nutrients, water and support for the plant to grow. It gives what it has for the benefit of the plant. Good leaders do the same. What is poured into them they freely give to others. A person who is ready to take on more responsibility is one who has faithfully reproduced what was given to them. This is a very important aspect that I look for. Sometimes it’s subtle and not so obvious, so careful observation is required.
Closely linked to reproducing is a quality that I most value in leaders. Servanthood. A great leader is a good servant. They hold their authority well, they understand their territory and don’t rule over others. In their leadership they attempt to come along side in leading rather than hovering from above barking orders. I’ve seen this quality in the great and lowly, those with massive amounts of authority and those with just a little. It’s a rare commodity, but ever so valuable. If my memory serves me correctly, I think Jesus came to serve and not to be served, right?
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matt. 20:25-28
There was a young man who was a very good worker. He put in extra hours and often went over and beyond what was asked of him. However, when he worked with others he was also hard and demanding. He didn’t delegate well and was often harsh toned. His leader had several conversations with him but his approach persisted. He’s a wonderful young man, but he wasn’t promoted beyond where he was.
Properly responding to leadership fails often results in leadership wins.
I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my years of leading. As I write this I think of how often I’ve missed it - more so than nailing it. But, as with the leaders I commend, persistence is important. Properly responding to leadership fails often results in leadership wins. In looking for someone who will make a great leader, I look for “good soil”. A person who is Receptive, responsive and reproducing. A per who is a servant. What criteria do you use in determining when a person may be right for taking the next step up? How do you evaluate a person for leadership? Please share!