If you’re a supervisor or executive in your company, you also must play the role of farmer. It’s your job to cultivate and grow crops that will yield the next series of leaders and top performers. So, with that as the backdrop, I say to you: grow fire.

Grow Fire

Find the most passionate of your employees and give them extra care and attention, because though they might occasionally crowd the other plants with their quirks, their passion is what will ignite and move the company forward. Your fire crops are the kinds of people you want to cultivate into leaders that you can send into situations in your stead, and let them handle the task. Accept all responsibility for any problems they cause, but give all praise to them.

Managers and supervisors can sometimes feel worry that by giving their subordinates the spotlight on certain activities that it will somehow reflect negatively on their own perceived value to the organization. If my employee gets all the praise and spotlight, they’ll think nothing of me.

I disagree. I think that by growing out incredible talent within your ranks, their success comes back as a hallmark of what a great manager and developer of talent you truly are. It’s such a powerful message, to tell an employee, “You’ve got what it takes. Go ahead and run with this. I trust you.” When you mean it, and when they truly have the ability, it’s a powerful moment.

Giving your passionate and capable employees the ball to run with also tells the rest of the team that if they work hard and do more than just the required effort, they have a shot at something bigger than their current role. It’s far more motivating than free coffee out of the vending machines, or blue jean Fridays. And it’s also giving something back to the company.

Plan Tomorrow Today

You already know who the “fire” is on your team. The minute you understood the concept, you plugged in her name while considering this. Are you already working with this perspective in mind? Here are some tips to growing your fire.

  • Share the end results requirements- Your talented leader-to-be has passion. Now, share the perspective from which you’re making your decisions. Not the “how to,” but the “what we need for a win” type information. Tell him, “It might seem like we’re pushing Engineering too hard, but if we make this deadline, we’ll get a $400,000 bonus to the contract.” Give your fire a sense of the dimensions from which you make decisions.
  • Share boundaries- Letting an employee run with a project doesn’t mean throwing her to the wild and letting her figure it all out. Show the edges of the game board, the known hazards, the things that traditionally will cause an issue. And then let your talented star navigate the course.
  • Announce and Coronate- Make sure more than you and your special employee know of this granting of extra power. Not in any weird way, and certainly not in a dynamic that will alienate or dishearten the remaining team members (“Yumiko’s really a star performer, so she’s going to handle the case. The rest of you would do well to learn by her.” — That would be the worst message ever to give.) But be sure everyone knows Yumiko’s working on your authority and that she can count on your support and hopefully the support of the entire team.
  • Stay attentive for “switchers”- Occasionally, a passionate up-and-comer is really a despot waiting to happen, someone who waits politely for power before using it to strike out and execute his own agenda. Watch for this, and when you observe it (be certain before you act), pull the person aside as quickly as possible and assess together. Give feedback. Search for motivations different than your original assessment. And if necessary, revoke the opportunity for the time being. Just like prison, never take away hope for a better chance, but be clear that the actions you observed weren’t appropriate for the kind of leader you’re looking to cultivate.
  • Broadcast success, shield failures- Give your freshly grown fire all the sunlight you can when she blazes a new trail to success for the team. Make sure your boss knows who your new superhero is. Give your peers an earful of her praise. Praising others often rubs off a little on you, too. It shows that you’re a gracious and appreciative person, and folks want that kind of energy around them.

    Now, the flipside. You know this. You’ve read it a million times. It’s one of the biggest lessons to learn, because often it seems almost natural to want to pile on criticism to someone who’s run afoul of expectations. But resist the urge. Stand up for their efforts and say that you imagine only better things to come. In private, take what steps are necessary. If he’s really botched things up, explain all the ramifications of his actions. Not, “You really messed up,” but, “By missing that deadline, we lost the bonus, we will have to spend more money on overtime and contractors to make up, and everything will slip downstream as well.” We always target the actions and their ramifications, not the person’s character.

Good Farmers

There are good managers in companies, bright managers who really contribute to the success of an organization. You’re one of those, right? But imagine just how much more effective you’d appear to an organization if, alongside your own considerable talents, you were producing these fire crops of talented leaders, who would in turn become future managers and leaders of greatness within the organization. Do I want a stand-alone great manager, or one who’s giving me growth for the future. All things equal, if I were in charge, I’d want the one growing fire.

–Chris Brogan is a regular writer for Lifehack.org. He grows content networks at GrasshopperFactory.com.

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