MAINTAINING a steady supply of people who are willing and able to lead at the frontline is set to get more challenging in the next few years.

According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development in the United Kingdom, 2020 is the deadline that organisations have for filling the void that will be left by the last of the retiring Baby Boomer leaders.

This means your existing leaders will need to take a step up, leaving gaps at the frontline.

In the process, some may find themselves thrust into roles they are unprepared for, and the result could be a higher incidence of burnout and increased turnover among frontline leaders and team members.

A big part of the problem is the way we traditionally prepare people to lead at the frontline.

First, they are often selected based on unhelpful criteria such as excelling in technical work, the length of service or age.

Second, too many organisations use the “sink or swim” method to induct them into the role.

I believe a new approach is required to improve the success rate for budding frontline leaders.

This is required not only as a result of the impending retirement of the Baby Boomers but also because of the changing expectations of the Gen Ys who will be replacing them.


Learn from gardeners

I think we need to turn to another field for inspiration, a field that has long ago learnt to successfully deal with the issue of nurturing the next generation —gardening.

Plants are at their most fragile when they are small and just starting to grow. That is why gardeners use greenhouses to protect them until they can survive on their own.

Like seedlings, budding leaders are easily damaged and require special care to help them grow into strong, confident and productive leaders.

I believe that if more organisations treat their budding leaders the same way gardeners treat seedlings they would find the process less stressful and produce a better outcome.

I want to encourage you to give your frontline leaders the best possible start to their careers. If you can help them grow strong, they will be able to handle the harsh conditions they are likely to encounter.

This is not about holding their hands or making everything easy for them. It is about protecting the investment in time, money and energy that goes into growing a productive leader.

Even the hardiest person or plant won’t survive in tough conditions if left to fend for themselves.

If they do, they will often end up damaged by the experience and while they may perform adequately, they will never reach their full potential.

Greenhouses allow gardeners to have control over temperature, light levels, irrigation and humidity.

A greenhouse can also be used to overcome issues with the quality of a piece of land, a short growing season or poor light levels.

By greenhousing your next crop of leaders, you are creating a controlled environment that will maximise their potential.

You can then expose them to different aspects of leading as appropriate.

You can also use it to make up for issues such as a volatile market, tough economic conditions or politics.


The art of greenhousing

Here are 10 keys that go into making an effective greenhouse environment for budding leaders:



 Create the right culture
so your leaders can thrive

You cannot grow plants in bad soil — you cannot have great leaders in a poor organisational culture.



 Prepare people to lead

You need plants in all stages of development to keep your garden healthy — you always need to be growing new leaders.



 Select the right people to be leaders

Choose plants for the wrong reasons and they will fail — a leader chosen for the wrong reasons will also fail.



 Position leaders for success

The wrong plant in the wrong location can become a weed — a leader in the wrong position can do damage.



 Support new leaders

All plants need help to put down roots. In the same way, new leaders need support if you want them to become attached to the organisation.



 Eliminate leaders’ bad habits

Pests and disease move from plant to plant infecting others. The bad habits of your frontline leaders rub off on those around them.



 Shelter new leaders as they grow

Large trees are vital to shade developing plants. Senior leaders should take the cue from nature and provide new leaders with shelter from the elements.



 Remove the barriers so your leaders can thrive

Plants grow better when they don’t encounter barriers. Similarly, you need to identify and remove the barriers to help leaders grow.



 Give your leaders room to grow

Sometimes, plants need to be relocated to thrive. It is the same with leaders — sometimes they outgrow their role and need to be moved on to bigger things.



 Ongoing development for leaders

Plants are always growing or dying — if leaders aren’t growing, they are going backwards.


Article by Karen Schmidt, an award-winning speaker, workshop leader and facilitator with Training Edge International. She helps frontline managers grow into frontline leaders using her workplace gardening philosophy. For more information, e-mail or visit