BEING a leader today is challenging. There is a lot of pressure from your organisation to perform with minimal resources. So how do you become a more effective leader without burning out from the stress?

I believe it comes down to having the right attitude, the same attitude that all successful gardeners have.

I think being a great leader is like being a great gardener. Both roles can be rewarding, with hard work involved and a long gap between effort and result. They can also both be exhausting if you don’t following some basic principles.

My workplace gardening philosophy is based on five principles that can help anyone become a more effective leader:

Help teams grow organically

A leader cannot build a team; he needs to let it grow organically. The old model of building a great team is outdated but many leaders persist with it because they find it easier dealing with inanimate objects than dealing with people.

Building involves taking materials and logically turning them into something productive. You can determine in advance what you want to achieve and, with the right skills and equipment, reproduce an exact replica of a blueprint.

People aren’t like that. So stop treating them like pieces of wood that can be built into a structure and start treating them like living beings who will grow naturally if given the right conditions.

Work with the nature of people

You can’t change the nature of a plant. It is destined to grow in a particular way. The gardener who tries to make a plant go against its natural tendencies will eventually fail and be left with a plant that is potentially damaged beyond repair.

Too many leaders seem to ignore the “laws of nature” concerning their team members, attempting to change the nature of their people rather than work with it.

They risk creating people who don’t excel in either their natural talents or their imposed skills. They become damaged by the experience and many take a long time to recover.

Let people grow at their own pace

Not everyone on your team will grow at the same pace. It is actually a good thing to have people in all stages of development. It gives you an ongoing supply of people for roles. It ensures people don’t get bored and that you don’t ask people to take on a role before they are ready.

Just like plants, this doesn’t indicate there is something wrong with them. It simply means they are different.

The end result of this slower pace of growth might actually be a far more productive team member, someone who is able to sustain that growth in the long term rather than just give an impressive but unsustainable performance.

Create an environment where everyone can thrive

The best gardens are the ones where all the plants are thriving, not just a few. This is because the gardener has thought about how to create an environment that caters to the needs of a wide range of plants.

When I am talking about your team, I am comparing it to a typical suburban garden — not a commercial growing operation that resembles a factory.

Most teams today are not production lines where everyone does the same role and must work at the same pace. The typical work team is full of individuals who represent a range of skill sets and personality types. You need to create an environment that works for all of them — not just some.

Embrace the cycle of change

Gardeners know that plants are always growing or dying and that without change the cycle of life would not continue.

Change to the gardener is a sign that something is happening. Whether what is happening is new life or the end of life, he is ready to embrace whatever opportunity it presents.

Leaders need to learn to embrace change too. The idea that you can get your team in place, with everyone knowing their job and everything running smoothly is wonderful in theory but rarely possible in practice.

There are just too many factors beyond your control for this to happen. Instead of frustrating yourself, hoping that change will soon be finished, learn to embrace it for what it is: a natural part of the work life cycle.

So as you go about your role as a leader, think about how you can adopt these five workplace gardening attitudes and see what difference it makes to your results — and your stress levels.

Article by Karen Schmidt, an award-winning speaker, workshop leader and facilitator with Training Edge International. She is a frontline leadership expert who uses her workplace gardening philosophy to help grow managers into frontline leaders. For more information, e-mail or visit