Many of us have heard the timeless Biblical story of the Parable of the Sower:
“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
In today’s business world, the Parable of the Sower has tremendous relevance on leadership effectiveness. That’s because the principle of sowing and reaping impacts performance, productivity, and the bottom line. Leaders that sow guidance, coaching, and mentorship reap employee engagement and commitment. Leaders that model the right behaviors reap followers that work to exceed expectations. Leaders that sow humility and consistency reap strong cultures dedicated to delivering exceptional results. On the other side of the equation, leaders that sow fear and intimidation reap high levels of job dissatisfaction and turnover. Those that sow lies and cheating reap employees that cut corners to get results. Leaders that sow little to no focus on development reap employees that feel there is no room for growth or improvement.
As we continue to work with different clients, consultants at Bandelli & Associates have seen numerous occasions where sowing and reaping have had both positive and negative effects on organizational effectiveness. Below we’ve outlined four different business scenarios where the principle of sowing and reaping plays a critical role in the decision making of leaders.
- The Quick Fix (the seed that fell along the path): As consultants and management psychologists, we’ve all seen companies that embrace the flavor of the month. Productivity is low, deploy an engagement survey. Employees aren’t growing to meet the challenges of tomorrow, deploy a mentoring program. The quick fix is the seed that gets eaten up quickly by the birds. Companies in this category focus on the surface issues without putting in the time and energy to the underlying problems. So, how can leaders avoid this trap? Simple, take time to invest in key initiatives. Don’t focus on the surface issues. If employee engagement is down, deploy an engagement survey, and then follow up with changes that will have a positive impact on the culture. If employees are ready to take on roles of increased scope and responsibility, deploy a mentoring or coaching program that lasts more than a few months. Pair this with succession planning for key roles so that high potentials are moving towards specific roles of increased scale.
- Making the Wrong Hire (the seed that fell along rocky places): Many companies rush through the recruitment and selection process for executive hires. They do not leverage the power of the executive assessment process, and the result is that they on-board leaders that are a poor cultural fit. They look good in the selection process. They say all the right things, and know the socially desirable answers to behavioral-based interviews. However, they spring up quickly (appear like good hires during the honeymoon phase), and then when the sun comes up they are scorched, and withered because they have no root (they fail because they do not focus on the key components of the executive integration process – navigating culture, building relationships, accelerating their learning, and getting some early wins). To avoid this problem, which can cost companies hundreds of thousands of dollars when the wrong executives are hired, it is essential to leverage the expertise of management psychologists to take candidates through the executive assessment process. The combination of online psychometric assessments, reviews of background and experience, cognitive ability testing, and the behavioral event interview gets a deep understanding of candidates, and helps organizations make the right selection decisions.
- Having the Wrong Focus (the seed that fell among the thorns): Some leaders preach a good game, but at the end of the day, they only care about the bottom line. That, above all else it what matters most to them. They lead with an iron fist and push employees to the point of burnout. I see this a lot with sales executives. They were great individual contributors but become poor sales managers because they will do whatever is needed (cutting corners) to get their teams to hit monthly sales targets. These types of leaders are the seed that falls among thorns, which grows up and chokes the plants. They let money and financial success drive all their decisions, which ultimately hurts the company by having a short-term rather than long-term focus. So, how can we help our clients avoid having the wrong focus? It starts with executive coaching and team development. Every successful executive has an external trusted advisor that works to keep them focused on the right priorities. The bottom line does matter, but it is not the only thing that builds strong and thriving organizational cultures.
- Good Stewardship (the seed that fell on good soil): The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership. Leaders that serve others get the most out of their employees. They produce a crop that is thirty, sixty, or a hundred times what was sown. They do this by having equal focus on three important drivers of organizational effectiveness–a focus on people, customers, and the financials. Some of the most effective leaders that I’ve worked with understand the balancing act that it takes to create cultures of excellence. They take time for developing others through coaching, team development, executive education, and high potential programs. They have a strategic focus and look for new products and services to grow revenues and profits. They build relationships based on trust and genuine collaboration. They know how to effectively delegate and get the best out of the people around them.
Sowing and reaping is a part of everyday life. If we want success for our employees, teams, and organizations the work has to be put in on the front end. Leaders must walk their talk. They must be role models, and an inspiration for others to follow.
For more information on the principle of sowing and reaping, look for Dr. Bandelli’s book, What Every Leader Needs, coming in 2017.
Leadership Matters. Without It, People Fail.