Saturday, December 03, 2020

Benign Neglect

My father was a wonderful gardener. His garden was the envy of the neighbors, and the food he grew kept our family supplied with fruit and vegetables year-round. People used to ask him if he spent all his time in the garden. Of course, the answer was no. He had a job to do and plenty of other things to keep him occupied.

The secret of his success with plants was simple. He made sure the soil was in good condition, planted at the right time, kept the weeds in check and...left the plants to grow.

“Neglect ’em a bit,” he used to tell me. “Don’t be fussing around too much. Plants thrive on a bit of neglect.”

Good leaders and managers do the same as my father. They practice benign neglect. It’s the idiots that cause the problems, always fussing around their staff, probing and peering and generally interfering with them doing their jobs. They’re like children who plant a few seeds and want to dig them up the next day to see if they’re growing. You can forgive children, but adults should know better.

One of the best ways to help your people find success and develop themselves is to do what my father did. Make sure they have the right conditions — the authority, the resources, the training and clear direction; start them off at the right time — when they’re ready for the challenge; and then let them get on with it. It’s their job, not yours. If they’re busy, you don’t need to be. Neglect them a little. Do your own work.

A major part of that work should be keeping down the weeds. Keep others away from interfering with your people’s jobs. Cut down unnecessary demands. Pull up useless meetings and slice off pointless reports. Weeds like that can choke any hope of good results. Be ruthless. Clear a space for your team to thrive and grow.

What’s most often missing from people’s working lives is time and space to do their job and develop as they should — plus the sense that the boss will let them get on with it, unless they call for help. Benign neglect works. It shows you trust them. It shows you believe in their commitment and ability.

Plants thrive on a bit of neglect and so do people. Try it.

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