He sat in the third row. Dressed in a button-down shirt neatly tucked into his jeans and emblazoned with his company’s name, he looked awake, alert, and ready to learn. Over the next few days, he frequently contributed to class discussions and took pages of notes.
It would have been easy to mistake him for one of the dozen or so account managers in the room if we hadn’t learned during introductions the first day that he was a foreman. What in the world was a twenty-something foreman doing in a rigorous training class for mostly seasoned account managers? Seizing an opportunity – one afforded to him by his landscaping company, a company that has grown by leaps and bounds over the past few decades owing in part to its commitment to growing leaders. As he shared with the class, “I’m grateful for the role I have now, but I don’t want to be a foreman forever.”
Think back to your early days of landscape contracting. You likely went into business hoping to be profitable, which, at the end of the day, is the goal of any business. Maybe you had a five-year plan, or a ten-year plan, or even a long-range view of what you wanted your life to look like after retirement. Whether you have two team members or fifty-two, those individuals hold goals, wishes, and aspirations for both their professional and personal lives, just like you did once upon a time (and hopefully still do). Providing your team members with clear avenues for growth and fostering a leadership mentality has a dual advantage: it gives them incentives to work hard and use their strengths and skill sets for the benefit of the team, and it gives your business the solid backbone it needs to thrive in a competitive market. Simply put, when your team members are invested in the mission, vision, and goals of your landscaping business, it clearly shows on the bottom line. So, how do you ensure both the growth of your business and the team members within it? Here are five impactful ways:
Source for Superstars.
Write this truth on a piece of paper and post it somewhere you can easily see it: Not every applicant is my team member. Growing a strong team begins with recruiting. Clearly defining the parameters, requirements, and “look fors” for each role you’re attempting to fill – then refusing to compromise – ensures you are continually attracting only those applicants who bring value to your business. It may seem counter to traditional thinking about recruiting, but plenty of studies and their resulting data have shown that hiring primarily based on personality, drive, and enthusiasm benefits businesses exponentially more than hiring based on relevant experience and certifications. It makes sense — specific skills and industry knowledge can be learned, but preconceived notions, biases, and long-standing beliefs and ways of operating from past experiences, both personal and professional, are difficult to unlearn and even harder to reverse. Your superstars are those individuals who come to you with a clean slate, who genuinely want to contribute to your team, and who make no secret about their desire to grow within their roles.
Apple co-founder Steve Jobs is famous for saying, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” In a more succinct way, Ford Mustang creator Lee Iacocca said, “I hire people brighter than me and then I get out of their way.” One of the primary goals of growing your business should be to spend less time in it and more time on it, including behind-the-scenes strategic planning and goal-setting. To successfully do this, you need your front-line people, those who work most closely with the customer, to be top-notch talent. These critical team members serve as the face of the business in every interaction with every internal and external stakeholder. By attracting and recruiting exceptionally smart, driven individuals then, as Iacocca says, getting out of their way, you demonstrate trust, the hallmark of any successful business. This trust entails, in part, being willing to step back so your talented team can step up. It also involves resisting putting caps and limits on your team members’ growth potential. When it comes to growing leaders, the sky is only the beginning.
Foster a Continuous Growth Mentality.
Proactivity is key in any aspect of running your business, including identifying avenues of growth for your team members. Of course, this proactivity requires a keen sixth sense, the kind that can find needles in haystacks. The more tuned in you are to your team members, the more easily you can identify strengths and skill sets that may start out as dim flickers, but that can be fanned into flames with a bit of encouragement. You might have a crew member who shows an aptitude for numbers, for example. Encouraging him to take an accounting course or several, and even footing the bill if cash flow allows, might mean he’s your next Business Systems Manager. That lawn mower who has a penchant for getting along with and inspiring and motivating your crews might just be the crew leader you’ve been looking for. Proactivity is helpful, but it can’t replace good old-fashioned ambition; if a team member clearly lays out her career goals, you can make it your responsibility and privilege to help her realize them. If she feels supported, she will likely feel motivated to realize them in your business rather than someone else’s.
Set an Example.
“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty,” Henry Ford said. Your team members are astute, and they are paying attention. When they see that you are dedicated to lifelong learning, they will be more inspired to be lifelong learners themselves. Stocking your office shelves with leadership books, reading them on a regular basis, and freely sharing them with your teams is one way you can show your teams you’re serious about growth, both yours and theirs. Reading and sharing links to online articles, blog posts, and forums about leadership and industry trends and practices is another way to foster a continuous learning mentality within your business. Consistently exhibiting servant leadership, the kind that supports and uplifts your teams, is one indispensable way you can demonstrate to your teams that you believe in their abilities and their ambitions. When they are treated like leaders, they will begin to believe it, and this leadership will manifest itself in truly remarkable ways.
Your business is your greatest investment. By hiring top talent and allowing that talent to grow and thrive, you ensure that investment remains strong and vital. That foreman with the tucked-in shirt just might be the single best account manager your business has ever seen. What are you waiting for?