Are Waves Dragging You Under?

Photo courtesy of Kevin Dooley via

“My life is like a stroll on the beach…as near to the edge as I can go” – Thoreau

A few days ago I ventured down to my family’s cottage on the beach of Lake Michigan. The cottage is a 100 year old wooden structure perched on a sand dune and we have to winterize it every winter from the raging winds, ferocious waves, and cold. The autumn wind burned my face and the lake looked ominously angry as it usually does in November.

 If you aren’t familiar with the Great Lakes, perhaps you are picturing a small puddle lake with houses dotted around the parameter. Most people are surprised to learn that the Great Lakes consist of 5 lakes and hold some of the largest area of fresh water in the world. The lakes are massive in size and if you sit on our beach and look west, you won’t see Chicago across the way as many think. Lake Michigan takes numerous lives every year due to its unexpected and sneaky riptides. The waves can reach 25 feet in height and the churning waters are no match for large ships. Remember the Edmund Fitzgerald? Lake Michigan swallowed it up and boasts about taking other ships as well.

November is the most dangerous month for massive storms and waves on the lake. Lake Michigan stays relatively warm this time of year when the cold air temperatures hit. This forces the warm air close to the lake to rise and the cold air to drop. Bam! The opposing forces kick up the winds and the energy creates waves as the air blows over the water surface.

The lake water is darker this time of year as the sand churns continuously in the waves. I always feel powerless and small watching the waves. The constant tug of the water and the fierce wind reminds me of who is boss. It reminds me that life is like a furious wave and we all face our own waves every day.

Are you caught in the waves?

  • Waves blow you off course and before you realize it, you are drifting alone
  • An undertow can’t be easily seen but it will creep up and pull you under. Ever have that feeling when with deadlines and work piles?
  • You need to stay on top of the waves to see your end goal and reach it safely
  • Remember that waves don’t make themselves, other forces create them. Manage outer forces and you can handle any waves that come your way
  • Waves aren’t always destructive. They can serve an important purpose. They take out the old and bring in the new. Storms have delivered us more beach from time to time while preserving the shoreline. Teams need a shake up once in a while to bring everyone back on track
  • Waves don’t have rules and they churn forward and backward as well as side to side. This is the type of conflict that you want to avoid in teams because there is no one managing the process or outcome
  • Always wear a life jacket in strong waters. Safeguards like strategies, plans, goals, and strong teams are your backups and provide safety
  • Waves can move and destroy the heaviest rocks over time. Likewise, your leadership, infrastructure, or culture can erode over time
  • Sometimes you just have to stop fighting the force and ride the wave. You never know what may come of it until you work with it, instead of against it

 I welcome you to brave the November winds and waves on the Great Lakes some year. You will leave in awe of Mother Nature and maybe even give more thought about how you can ride the waves or use them for change. Where are the most powerful waves that you have experienced? I would love to hear! What waves are dragging you under this week?

Where Is Your Line In The Sand?

"It isn't the mountain ahead that wears you out; it's the grain of sand in your shoe" - Robert W. Service

Amazingly a variety of plants love sand!


As I write this, I am at the beach and can hear the gentle waves of Lake Michigan hit the sandy shores. The sun is hazy and the clouds are like streaks in the light winds. Lake Michigan is no small lake. It’s huge and can be ferocious. It’s always interesting to see the expression on visitor’s faces because they are usually surprised by the size of the lake. The Great Lakes are all interconnected and are one of the largest bodies of fresh water in the world.

I’m fortunate to have grown up at my Mom’s cottage every summer on the beach. I have seen the beach line come and go. Cottages have fallen in because of the high waters. Then the water levels decreased and we were next welcomed with mounds of sand and dunes abound. Did I mention that there’s a lot of sand? When you stay at the beach you get accustomed to sand being everywhere and soon find that it’s even OK to sleep in – you just can’t escape it!
One of my favorite and most dreaded parts of the beach is the dune grass. It grows everywhere and literally dances in the North wind. I remember as a child helping to plant it on our dune at the cottage to try to establish the grass on the hill to help stop erosion. I also remember careless neighbors accidentally starting the grass on fire and soon we were all rushing to put out the entire hill that was enflamed.  Beach grass can literally help grow a dune with its deep roots and strong stems. It also hurts like hell when you step on it with bare feet! Beach goers beware! Even more impressive than the grasses is the number of plants that can actually grow happily side by side next to the grass. As a gardener, it can be baffling at times. 

Sand is essentially large particles that are very solid and differ from dirt in that they have no pockets where water and nutrients can get stuck. No nutrients or water means that plants have to work harder for both life sustaining substances. I have been amazed what sand gardeners can grow by adding copious amounts of compost, some fertilizer, raised beds, and water. Many plants will adapt. With water shortages all over the country we will all need to adapt as well. Mother Nature is in many ways drawing a line in the sand that we will all need to abide by – less water, adaptive plants.
Don’t despair if you have sand or even sandy soil. Some plants love the fast drainage and once established they may need very little water.  I was surprised when our neighbor at the lake planted Hydrangeas in the sand with some dirt and they flourished. I thought that they would die within weeks and they easily flower with some supplemental water. Below are some plants that appreciate sand. Check with your local Extension program for more. Plants for Sand

·         Rugosa Roses
·         Cleome
·         Yarrow
·         Cosmos
·         Eastern White Pine
·         Red Cedar
·         Ginkgo
·         Pea shrub
·         Witch Hazel
·         Broom
·         Smoke Tree
·         Cactus
·         Crape Myrtle
·         Wild Irish Rose
·         Quince
·         Yucca 

Be daring and look beyond the sand at what can be. With some pre-work and planning you can draw a line in the sand and plant the garden of your dreams. Don’t allow a grain of sand or two stop you.
"It draws a line in the sand. Once you cross it, you can't go back" - Greil Marcus
Photo via Rowlandrose via

Just as the lines in gardening can become blurred so too can the lines at work.  The other day a friend and I were lamenting about when we joined banking as manager trainees fresh out of college. The lines of authority (and dress!) were very strict and obvious. You quickly knew your boundaries and were reminded almost weekly where the line was that you had better not cross. The leadership style was “my way or the highway” not to mention autocratic. Managers hung out with managers and the trainees knew that we had better stick on our side of the room. 

Things sure have changed.  Leadership has become more servant and collaborative focused. Managers are more human and show feelings. They share the good and bad and it’s acceptable to be human. I love the new leadership that we all benefit from now. It’s refreshing and real. People respect the concept of leadership more and we all benefit from open cultures, positive rapport, higher morale, and effective productivity. It beats the old days in banking!

The new leadership has also confused things a bit as well. Most managers are less autocratic and friendlier. They take an interest in their teams. Many have forged strong relationships with their people. This new style is progressive and enables people to come to work every day with a more positive outlook and attitude. It also presents a dilemma for some managers. How close is too close when interacting with your team? Where is the ultimate line in the sand between being a manager and an office friend? How do you avoid being friendly and open without being a “friend” or appearing to give preferential treatment to certain members of your team? It’s tough. 

Many of the traits that great leaders have mirror those of your best friend. Consider the traits below and recognize those that are your friendship gifts.  

·         Selfless and concerned for others. They enjoy bringing the best out of others
·         They are loyal , committed, and responsible
·         Honest and upfront
·         Trusting and open
·         Equal  with give and take in a relationship
·         Compassionate
·         Uplifting and empowering

Does this sound like some of your best friendships? It should! You can be a great leader with friendship characteristics. There are some areas where you may need to drawn a line and keep your distance to remain a strong and fair manager. Here are examples of where to draw the line: 

·         Redefine friendship across the board. It doesn’t need to mean phone chats, drinks, and sharing secrets. The best friendships include little to none of this!
·         Don’t connect via social media other than on LinkedIn
·         Be transparent and realistic and always remain in control and “the manager” in your mind
·         Don’t become chat or bar buddies with any of your team
·         Remain social but draw the line when it becomes more homebound or with a small group of people on your team, not everyone
·         Never develop favoritism
·         Don’t fake relationships or being a friend
·         Remain confidential and closed mouth. Never give in to temptation to share information that you shouldn’t
·         Keep relationships clearly defined and even keeled
·         Be friendly but don’t be “the” friend
No one ever said that leadership would be easy. It involves being an encourager, coach, confidant, teacher, and relationship master. Be friendly, but always be careful not to cross the line. Have you ever been in a situation where you crossed the line and realized it too late or stirred the pot? I would love to hear from you!