Looking up through the trees in the Tibet Butler Preserve.

“A society grows great, when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit.”

Although this phrase is often attributed to a ancient Greek proverb, its exact source is unknown. It is a popular quote that is widely used to emphasize the importance of thinking about future generations and leaving a positive legacy for them. 

The phrase, when applied to business or team leadership means that a leader should focus on creating a positive and sustainable future for the team or organization, even if they will not personally benefit from it. It emphasizes the importance of long-term thinking and creating a legacy that will outlast a leader’s tenure. 

This philosophy suggests that the leader should invest time, resources, and energy into building a strong and successful team or organization, even if the benefits will not be realized until after the leader has retired or moved on. The goal is to create a thriving and successful entity that will continue to grow and prosper long after the leader has left.

This tends to drive those who ascribe to the servant, or investment, leader model. A servant leader is one who prioritizes serving others, such as team members or stakeholders, over their own self-interest. 

This approach emphasizes putting the needs of others first, empowering and supporting them, and creating a positive and collaborative work environment. The goal of a servant leader is to create a mutually beneficial situation for all parties involved, where everyone can achieve success.

This style of leadership is in somewhat of a direct contrast to the transactional leader; one who focuses on setting clear expectations delivering rewards or punishments based on the employee’s performance. It is a management approach in which leaders focus on maintaining stability and order in the workplace through clear performance expectations, consequences, and a clear chain of command. 

The transactional leader’s role is to motivate employees by linking their individual performance to specific rewards or consequences; the old “carrot or the stick” mentality where the main goal is to achieve specific results by influencing followers through rewards and punishments.

Theoretically, transactional leadership is not necessarily punitive. However, in practice it tends to focus merely on the reward or punishment in reaching goals. Transactional leaders focus on maintaining the status quo and achieving specific, concrete goals by setting clear expectations, establishing consequences for not meeting those expectations, and rewarding or punishing employees accordingly. While it can include punishment as a means of motivation, it does not necessarily have to be punitive in nature.

There are certainly some benefits of a transactional leadership style, which may  include:

    • Clear expectations: setting clear goals and expectations for their followers, making it easier for employees to understand what is expected of them.
    • Improved performance: With an emphasis on rewards and consequences it provides employees with motivation to perform well and meet expectations.
    • Increased efficiency: An increased focus on maintaining order and stability, which ideally leads to a more efficient and organized workplace.
    • Enhanced accountability: By linking individual performance to rewards and consequences, transactional leaders increase accountability among their followers.
    • Improved discipline: The focus on rules and procedures can lead to improved discipline and adherence to standards.
    • Better decision-making: By providing a clear chain of command and structure, transactional leadership can lead to improved decision-making processes

However, there are significant detriments when focusing on merely the transaction which can include:

    • The focus on rules and procedures usually will the stifle creativity and innovation of the team.
    • Employees may become demotivated if they feel that they are not recognized for their contributions and are only rewarded based on performance metrics.
    • A focus on rewards and punishments may damage the trust and relationship between the leader and the followers.
    • Transactional leaders may not actively involve employees in decision-making or seek their input, reducing employee engagement.
    • The emphasis on meeting performance expectations can lead to increased stress for employees.
    • The focus on performance-based rewards may limit opportunities for employees to grow and develop professionally.

Although transactional leadership is not necessarily punitive it usually is implemented that way across team. With their focus on maintaining the status quo and achieving specific, concrete goals and then establishing consequences for not meeting those expectations can have a negative impact on the team. 

A key inflection point between a transactional leader and an investment leader is the focus on maintaining the status quo. In business this can be a limiting factor for growth and innovation. In a rapidly changing market, businesses that are unable or unwilling to adapt may lose market share, become obsolete, or face declining profits. 

In order to remain competitive, it is important for businesses to continually evaluate and adjust their strategies, products, and processes. Staying complacent and failing to evolve with market demands and new technologies can lead to a lack of progress and a decrease in success.

Contrast this with the investment leader and their closer adherence to the spirit of the quote above. Investment leadership style focuses on developing their team and building their capabilities for the future. They focus on helping employees grow and develop both personally and professionally, and invest time and resources in their training and development. 

The goal of investment leadership is to create a work environment that supports employee growth, development and success, leading to long-term benefits for both the employees and the organization.

In this style of leadership, leaders focus on creating opportunities for employees to grow and develop, fostering a positive and supportive work culture, and providing guidance and support as employees work towards their goals. 

The focus is on creating a work environment that enables employees to grow and develop, rather than just managing day-to-day operations and meeting short-term goals. Investment leadership involves a long-term perspective, recognizing that investing in employees today will lead to a more capable and productive workforce in the future.

Some of the key benefits of an investment leadership approach include:

    • Focusing on employee development and growth, investment leaders can increase employee engagement and motivation.
    • Employees who feel supported in their personal and professional growth are more likely to be satisfied with their jobs.
    • Investment leaders help employees develop their skills and capabilities, leading to improved performance and productivity.
    • Employees who feel invested in and supported by their leader are less likely to leave the organization.
    • A focus on employee development and growth can help build a positive and supportive organizational culture.
    • By investing in employees today, organizations can build a more capable and productive workforce that will drive future growth.
    • Investment leaders provide guidance and support to employees, helping them make informed decisions and build confidence in their abilities.

As with any leadership style there are drawbacks of an investment leadership style which can include:

    • Short-term focus: While the long-term focus of investment leadership is beneficial, it may result in less attention being paid to short-term tactical goals and immediate results.
    • Resource allocation: Investment leaders need to allocate time and resources towards employee development and training, which may divert attention from other important initiatives.
    • Slow results: The focus on employee development may not result in immediate improvements in performance, leading to a slower return on investment.
    • Resistance to change: Some employees may resist the focus on development and growth, as it requires change and effort on their part.
    • Unclear expectations: If expectations for employee development are not clearly communicated, it can lead to confusion and frustration for both the leader and the employees.
    • Financial constraints: The cost of employee development and training programs can be a hindrance for organizations with limited financial resources.

Potential for disappointment: If employees do not see their hard work and development result in promotions or other tangible benefits, they may become demotivated.

However, the investment leader can overcome the potential drawbacks of their leadership style by:

Balancing their focus on employee development with the need to meet short-term goals and deliver results. Setting achievable short-term goals that are aligned with their long-term vision and can be realistically achieved within a reasonable time frame.

Prioritizing their goals and focus on what is most important in the short-term while keeping the long-term vision in mind. Regularly reviewing progress towards their goals and make adjustments as needed to ensure they are on track to meet both short-term and long-term objectives.

Encouraging collaboration  balance the focus on individual development and the need to deliver results. Communicating clearly on the importance of both short-term and long-term goals to their team and explain how they are working towards both.

Celebrating short-term successes can motivate and engage employees while keeping the long-term vision in mind. Adapting to change by being flexible and adaptable, ready to adjust their goals and priorities as needed in response to changes in the business environment.

Clearly communicating expectations for employee development and growth to avoid confusion and frustration by being specific. Defining what they expect from their employees in terms of development and performance. Regularly checking in with their employees to ensure that expectations are understood and being met.

Providing feedback regular feedback to employees, both positive and constructive, to help them understand how they are performing and where they need to improve. While encouraging questions to seek clarification on expectations and being transparent about those expectations and why they are important.

They should create a supportive environment where employees feel comfortable asking questions and seeking feedback. While also providing the resources they need to meet expectations, such as training and development programs.

Involving employees in decision-making to help build buy-in for employee development initiatives by actively listen to their employees and consider their input when making decisions. These opportunities for employees to provide input, such as regular team meetings or suggestion boxes, shows they value diverse perspectives and will encourage employees from different backgrounds and experiences to contribute.

This will help build trust and empower their team to make decisions and impact the reasoning behind those decisions and their alignment with the organization’s goals.

Being transparent about how resources are being allocated towards employee development and training. Providing visibility into how those resources are being allocated, such as sharing budgets and allocation plans with employees.

They should also justify decisions on resource allocation, explaining the reasons behind each allocation and how it aligns with the organization’s goals while encouraging feedback. 

Ultimately, the investment leaders should be accountable for the decisions they make on resource allocation and be transparent about the results. Regularly reviewing their resource allocation decisions and make adjustments as needed to ensure they are aligned with the organization’s goals while being fairly distributed among the team(s).

Celebrating employee successes and achievements to demonstrate the value of their development initiatives is another key trait in the investment leader. Acknowledging achievements and celebrating the achievements of their team, both big and small builds  supportive environment.

Providing opportunities for growth and development, both professionally and personally shows their commitment to the enablement of their success in their career goals. 

Adjusting expectations to ensure that their focus on employee development remains relevant and effective.

Ultimately, An investment leader success in their role as a servant leader by:

    • Putting the needs of the team first.
    • Empowering and developing team members.
    • Encouraging open communication and collaboration.
    • Providing support and resources for success.
    • Fostering a positive, ethical work environment.
    • Sharing success and recognition with the team.
    • Seeking feedback and continuously improving.

Although one style or the other does not necessarily guarantee success, the investment leader, the servant leader, the transformational leader with their focus on inspiring and motivating individuals to bring about change and drive innovation. They tend to be more successful in environments that are uncertain or rapidly changing, where creativity and adaptability are essential.

As we continue to undergo tremendous changes in our society, politics, and economy I believe that businesses and organizations should focus on that investment potential in their leaders and their innate ability to guide their teams; and to one day enjoy the shade of those trees. 

Looking down the forest trail in the Tibet Butler Preserve

“A society grows great, when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit.”

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