In the natural order of things, plants produce fruit containing seeds. The fruit falls to the ground, rots away and leaves the seed surrounded by nutrients to grow up into a new plant which produces more fruit and thus the survival of the species is assured. The part we call fruit is merely the vessel for the precious seed.
Over time, we have bred some fruit in such a way that they contain no seeds at all, or only few, small seeds. These fruits are far easier and more convenient to eat, as anyone trying to decide how to politely spit out the pips from an orange, or feed their child grapes will know.
However, these fruits bred for convenience often mean no new plant can grow from that produce. The seedless fruit may be good for eating, but it makes no contribution to the survival of its species – it has no seed of future life in it.
If you have an orchard, what do you need? Good, tasty fruit to sell and eat now, but also fruit containing seeds that you can then plant and nurture to grow more apple trees and secure the future of your orchard.
In some ways, leadership can be likened to these trees within the orchard. Does our style of leadership produce good fruit for now, which is tasty and convenient, but then rot away leaving no seed for future growth? Or does the fruit we produce contain the seeds of the future?
As leaders, how do we find the balance between producing great outcomes now, and investing in and nurturing others in order to secure the future sustainability of our cause or organisation?
How do we find the balance between producing great outcomes now, and investing in and nurturing others for the future?
In a previous role, I managed a team of volunteers to run a charity shop. In my time there I met many other great managers whose shops were successful and had a reliable group of dedicated volunteers supporting them. Over time, many of these managers moved on to pastures new and I began to notice a pattern in the shops they left behind. Whilst they waited for a new manager, the team dwindled and the shop was often closed, sometimes due to lack of volunteers, sometimes because the volunteers they had did not know how to do essential tasks. I knew how much the managers cared about their shops and how heart-breaking it must be to see their shops struggling after their departure and I resolved that I didn’t want to see my shop do the same.
So how would I ensure my team of volunteers could continue to flourish and keep the shop open without me?
I changed my job title in my head from ‘manager’ to ‘facilitator’. Instead of managing the team to run my shop, I would facilitate the team to run their shop. I sought to train up the volunteers to do as many different tasks as possible, so that on any one shift multiple people could do each role. I looked for the natural leaders within the team and gave them extra input, giving them authority to look after certain areas and encouraging them to try new things. I gave them all the information I had as the manager so they could make good decisions together. My goal was that they could run the shop without me and also that by the time I left, someone else within the team would be equipped and competent to take on the role of ‘facilitator’ after me.
I changed my job title in my head from ‘manager’ to ‘facilitator’
To do this was hard work. Some days it would have been a lot easier to do the tasks myself. It would have been quicker too, and I confess to thinking sometimes the results might have been better – they were still learning after all! It also meant that I rarely got to take credit for work myself as I always had someone else to redirect it to – and for someone who tends to depend on praise to maintain her self-esteem this was a particular challenge!
However, then there were the days when the shop ran like clockwork and I stood in the middle of the room twiddling my thumbs wondering what to do with myself, as every task I thought of was already being proficiently completed by a volunteer. There was the reward of seeing someone who previously thought of themselves as fairly dispensable begin to flourish and develop new skills and confidence within a supportive community. There was the odd mix of delight and mild panic when you came back from your holiday and the volunteers proudly told you the shop had made more money in your absence than it usually did when you were there… delight for the team, mild panic because did that mean they didn’t need you anymore?!
We often think of a successful leader as someone who is confident and competent; getting all the different tasks done and getting great results. We think that as the leader, we need to be able to do everything; hold it all together, and that by passing on tasks to others we are abdicating our responsibility.
However, the long term impact of a leader tells us more about their ‘successes’. What happens when they retire, change roles, or move away? Do the results continue to be great? Do the teams continue to function well? Is the culture and atmosphere of positivity sustained? If we are the type of leader who coordinates everything, a leader whom every task and team member depends on, then when we leave, how will the team continue to function at the standard we achieved?
We need to be leaders who invest in the future and we do this by investing in and empowering those around us; in equipping the next generations to lead; in passing on our authority to make decisions, in creating an environment that encourages learning (often by allowing people to make mistakes).
It takes more energy to bear fruit containing the seeds of the future, but the future of our ministry depends upon it.
If you’re interested in exploring how to empower others, do get in touch for a chat.