Imagine, for a moment, that you've been put on an island and handed a sack of rice, some vegetable plants, and a chicken. "Good luck," says the person who brought you there. "You'll be responsible for growing your own food now; I know you've never done that before, but I have every faith in your ability." Then he gets in the boat and leaves, merrily waving goodbye.
And yet, as Erika Andersen outlines in this thought-provoking manifesto, Growing Great New Managers, a version of this is happening in organisations every day.
Thousands of brand new managers are handed a couple of employees and told, in effect, "You'll be responsible for managing these people now; I know you've never done that before, but I have every faith in your ability. Good luck!"
As Dan Bobinski discussed in a piece on Management-Issues last summer, the gardening metaphor is one that can be extended throughout the management process.
"A good gardener is always inquisitive about the conditions of the garden. Is fertilizer needed? More water? Less water? Are there any unwanted pests or diseases?
Gardeners ask these questions and make any needed adjustments because they know what kind of results they'll get if they simply give a plant an intimidating look and bark out a command to "grow!"
What's strange is that many managers try that very technique on people - usually with the same results as the gardener would get! Then, instead of trying something different next time they usually just blame the worker.
What's even stranger is that we accept such behavior in a manager, but we would laugh at the same behavior in a gardener."