It was 25 years ago. My business partner and I were walking away from a meeting with a newly-hired mid-level manager in a mid-sized retail company. “How long,” I said, “do you suppose it will be before this guy is the CEO of a large organization?”
“Five years. Maybe six,” he said without even pausing to think. He was only off by one year. We knew. We just knew. When asked, we couldn’t explain why, but we could just feel it.
The Power of Cultivation Leadership
Since that time, I have met thousands more people in leadership positions — from CEOs to first-time managers — and I still get that feeling, and It’s still eerily accurate. The difference is that now I understand and can explain it. It’s a rare mindset that successful leaders share — a cultivation mindset that is common with highly successful farmers and gardeners but generally absent in the business world.
Cultivation Leadership manifests itself in the five popular leadership principles from The Journey to WOW, but it is two specific aspects of this mindset that, when combined, create the the rare quality that makes leaders stand out. Many leaders have one, or the other — but few have both.
Cultivation leadership mindset #1: Passion and caring
The first half of the mindset is a genuine and passionate desire to support, encourage and grow your team, as outlined in the two leadership principles of Help things grow and Provide sunshine. Leaders with this mindset create strong, positive bonds with their employees. When your employees believe that you genuinely care about who they are, what they do, and that you are proactively working to help them succeed, you create unbreakable loyalty.
One such leader, and one of my greatest role models, is Anthony DiFruscia, president of Canadian retailer, Boathouse. I’ll never forget one of his employees saying to me, “You don’t understand. I’ve never worked for anyone like him before. I would crawl naked over a desert of ground glass for that man then jump in a salt-water bath.” Now that’s loyalty.
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Cultivation mindset #2: Non-negotiable standards
The second half of the cultivation mindset is a fair and clearly articulated set of standards that are absolutely non-negotiable. While the standards vary from leader to leader, the non-negotiable part doesn’t, and employees learn very quickly that these are lines in the sand that one doesn’t want to cross.
If employees have agreed to start at 9:00am, they’d better be there by 9:00am. 9:01 doesn’t cut it. If 100% attention-to-detail is the expectation, they won’t get away with 99%. It’s the Don’t Allow Weeds To Grow part of the five leadership principles
Few leaders have both qualities
There are many leaders who are passionate and caring, but most leaders with that mindset struggle to draw that line in the sand. They try to avoid conflict by being flexible in everything. The unintended consequence is that they compromise consistency, effectiveness and employee respect.
The flip-side of the coin, of course, are leaders who are tethered to standards above all else. Most of these leaders struggle with morale, employee turnover and proactivity in the workplace.
When both combine, though, magic happens
When these two aspects are combined, however, magic happens. The result is a team with a positive, compelling bond with leaders — leaders they know have their backs and best interests at heart. They also know that everyone on the team is being held to the same standards – high standards – with no exceptions. That creates pride in who they are, what they do and where they work. It is the secret to successful leadership.