This is an essay from my popular 100 Days of Leadership Series. If you would like to learn how to become a leader in your organization, your community, or in your personal life, sign up here to receive these short essays directly to your inbox.
Plants—like the flowers your dad plants in his back yard, like the cacti you see on your road trip to the Southwest U.S., or the trees that line your street—all require water, good soil, and sunlight to grow. Commodities—like the gold necklace around your neck, like the coffee beans you roast every morning, or the oil you trade on the CME—simply require a box, a buyer, and a profit.
As a leader of people, it is your job to know the difference between a plant and a commodity. Your job is not to get the most out of your team. Your job is to empower your team to be the most that they can be. See your team as vibrant plants waiting to blossom, not commodities waiting to be consumed.
Leaders who know the difference are few and far between. Most, because they might also run the business side of things, tend to either ignore the human side, or blend the two together. These types of leaders see people as commodities—fitting them into prearranged boxes, encouraging passivity and mindless conformity, and ensuring that payroll is met every month (see here, and see here).
These leaders often run into problems when they don’t account for the fact that their people come in with different personalities, temperaments, talents, and motivations. They don’t understand that you can’t make an introvert a salesman, or keep an extravert in a cubicle just to satisfy the organization’s needs.
You can’t plant a flower in the middle of a parking lot and expect it to thrive.
You can’t force someone to be who they’re not, so they can be who you need them to be. Doing so is a recipe for misery for all parties involved. Instead, understand who your people are—give them the water and sunlight they need to grow and thrive as individuals. And only then will you see how they benefit the team.
What’s best for the individual is what’s best for the team, not the other way around. This is difficult to come to terms with, but it is necessary. As a leader, it is on you to match the proper people with the proper roles, not on the people to fit themselves into their roles.
People aren’t just stagnant commodities with an assigned value. They are dynamic, living, and growing plants, requiring water, good soil, and sunlight. In order for them to grow, you must put them in a position to thrive. See each member of your team as a vibrant flower waiting to be planted and to blossom, not a commodity waiting to be consumed.
Or better yet, see them as human.