My wife, Deb, and I were recently in San Diego for a short vacation. What a blessing to be able to get away in such a wonderful city with great weather. I even met someone who was born and raised in San Diego on this trip, something rare as everyone seems to have re-located to San Diego (for obvious reasons) from somewhere else. We were enjoying time on some cliffs overlooking the ocean. As we were getting ready to leave, I noticed the somewhat rocky hillside was covered with succulents, they were flourishing.
If you don’t know what a succulent plant is like, they are members of the cactus family. A succulent is no different than any other plant, it needs soil, water, sun, and air. From those required ingredients, it doesn’t need much water, which is good because of course they say, “it never rains in Southern California”. Yet they flourished.
I often talk about work teams as gardens, full of different plants. Each one has different needs to bloom and flourish. You can’t treat them all the same, which is the traditional management advice you hear. I don’t know about you, but I’m a unique individual, different than my wife, friends, children, grandchildren, etc. Treat me with what my wife needs, and she’ll bloom, and I won’t.
Another mistake leaders often make is assuming that everyone on their team is like them, and whatever motivates them, will motivate the team. Even though you might respond to “tough love”, it doesn’t mean everyone on your team will. Or just because you are competitive and respond to being challenged, doesn’t mean everyone on your team will.
Within the team where you work, or the team you lead, I suspect that you have some succulents in your garden. Succulents are “low maintenance”, they don’t require a lot of attention and because of that, it’s easy to overlook them. It doesn’t mean they don’t need any attention.
I find that succulents like “autonomy”. They’re known for saying “just tell me what I need to know and then get out of my way, I’ll get it done.” They need to know the goal, understand the parameters, like deadlines or the amount of money they can spend, but they want to make the decisions on how to do it. They will be happy to provide updates on progress if you want them, but it’s better to schedule those check ins. They don’t like surprise questions on how it’s going, they sometimes interpret it as second guessing them, or worse, wanting to micromanage them.
Too much attention is like too much water, it will kill most succulents. That water looks like micromanagement to them.
If you want to steer a succulent in a different direction, do it with indirect questions. They hate questions, you need to disguise them, come in more softly so their defenses stay down.
Never ask directly, “why did you do it that way?”
Ask more softly, “how did you come to the decision to do it that way?”
Don’t ask, “why didn’t you do it this way?”
Again, ask more softly, “have you ever considered …?
We love having succulents on our team because they do so well on their own, allowing us to focus on other needs.
But remember, they do need some occasional attention, and with it they will flourish.
He cared for them with a true heart and led them with skillful hands. Psalm 78:72 NLT