What Are Your Words?

"Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning." - Maya Angelou

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If there's one thing that I quickly learned as a newbie gardener years ago, it was how important words are. Specifically, if you want to find a particular plant you had better know the exact Latin name or you could end up with the wrong plant. In the plant collector world this small error could cost you a whole lot of money! You could also end up with a plant that creeps and takes over your garden. Words are important. The right words even more so.

Plants have a common name - Lilac, and a Latin name - Syringa. Despite a year of Latin in school I try to stick with the common name because I can pronounce it! The Latin name for a plant is it's botanical name and it has two words. The first word is the "genius" which describes a plant's flowers, leaf arrangement, or growth habit. The second word is the "species". This describes a plant's particular attributes, habitat, or maybe unique characteristics. If you want to sound like a cool swag gardener - learn Latin and how to properly pronounce fancy plant words.

Not long ago I was soul searching. I identified two words that describe my focus and my personal drive in life. I use these two words to remind myself who I am and what I strive for in all areas of my life. They have become my mantra. My words are:

Why these two words? Simple. Grit means to have courage, a strong strength of character, a "sticktuitiveness", and hanging in there for the long haul despite challenges. Growth means to progress, develop, bloom, grow internally, and progress. You really can't have one without the other. They are co-dependent and work as a team.

What GRIT helps me with:

  • Courage to stay on course while facing adversity
  • Follow through, focus
  • Creativity
  • Optimism and positive attitude
  • Achieve goals and confidence
  • Seek excellence even though it may take practice and time

What GROWTH does for me:
  • Inspires my curiosity
  • Drives my passion to learn
  • Pushes me to constantly improve and become a better person
  • Measures my accomplishments
  • Never lets me be content with the status-quo
  • Keeps my propensity to get bored away
  • Defines who I am
  • Encourages me to help others find their passion and desire to grow

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"People may hear your words but they feel your attitude" - John C Maxwell

What are YOUR words? Please share your mantra......

Have You Been "POLLENIZED?"

"Um, you're a pollen-izer? Um pollen-ator. Pollen picker? Pollen plucker....." - Tinker Bell

Photo Courtesy of A Guy Taking Pictures via Compfight

Pollen: That which makes me miserable! That isn't the official definition of pollen but if you have allergies, you know pollen all too well. Technically, pollen is " The fertilizing element of flowering plants, consisting of fine, powdery, yellowish grains of spores, sometimes in masses" August can be the start of a long allergy battle for people who have hay fever or pollen allergies.

Pollen is everywhere this time of year and almost impossible to avoid. The sources of pollen are endless. It propels itself into the air from a variety of trees, conifers, grasses, weeds, your lawn, and even some flowers. Contrary to popular belief, the pollen in most flowers is too heavy to become wind born and needs insects  in order to travel. Pollen is lurking where you least expect it.

It's ironic that I love gardening so much  because I am literally allergic to about every tree, grass, and weed outside. I have done rounds of allergy shots twice with minimal improvement. Allergy meds are my pals and I constantly have a cough that frightens people. I  frequently feel like my head may explode when my sinuses are irritated by those cute little pollen particles. It can be unbearable. I have heard estimates that close to 25% of people in the US have allergies and the number is climbing. How are your allergies right now?

The best way to survive pollen is to avoid it and find ways to eliminate it from your day. Doing so will impact your environment and life in so many positive ways. Escaping pollen will leave you feeling more energized and give you the strength to charge ahead. When you feel good, those around you will definitely benefit. My husband always tells our boys "When Mom is happy, we are all happy!".

Poor leadership is like pollen. It has a negative and lasting impact. Poor leaders aren't always readily apparent until they cause an "allergy" within an organization. People react in negative ways. The "allergy" spreads and the results can become an epidemic and there's no quick cure. Often your best people are the one's that become most "allergic" to weak leadership. They ultimately wear down and leave an organization. To keep your best leaders, you may need to banish the pollen.

Poor Leaders = POLLEN
Party Poopers: Weak leaders love to wreck a great party. They  like to ruin the "event "for others and cause chaos and unrest. This makes them feel more powerful and in control.
Obstinate to Change: These leaders resist any change that they can't control or that they haven't hatched up themselves. They like the way that things are and see no value in making changes that may empower others or have a positive impact. It threatens their position.
Lame Duck: "Has been" leaders are often lame ducks. They have been around for awhile and have lost both their passion and effectiveness - if they ever even had it to begin with. They are stuck in a rut and content with the status quo. The problem is that they want to drag everyone else down with them and keep them there.
Lack of Empathy: Poor leadership has it's roots in a lack of empathy. Strong leaders resonate with their people and understand issues on a personal level. Weak leaders could care less about the feelings of others and easily turn their back to the needs and feelings of others.
Ethically Challenged: Many weak leaders have somehow managed to climb the ladder to a "leadership" position without genuine skills or a passion for others. They blatantly compromise their values and put themselves first. They feel no guilt at compromising their principles or those of the people that they lead.
Negative: Ineffective leaders are often negative and unsupportive. They can't bring themselves to say anything positive about their people or programs. They lead with force or threat. They never see the silver lining.
Pollen can have an immediate and negative impact during the summer. It affects everyone differently and even those around them. Pollen is also too prevalent in so many companies and even worse? It's tolerated. Strong leaders are like antihistamines - they protect their people from excessive "pollen".
How are you blowing the pollen out of your life?

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Got Leadership Brand ?

"The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself" - Peter Drucker

How well are YOU selling YOURSELF?

Coke, Apple, Google, Xbox, Mustang....We are bombarded by thousands of images every day without even realizing it. Brands scream out to us from the TV and Internet trying to capture our attention. You know what? It works!
When you see an image, you immediately have thoughts or opinions about that product that jump into your mind - good or bad. Some people will only buy one product  brand without even looking at other options (you know who you are). Marketers love these people!
"Branding" has become mainstream, especially with the growth of social media and the ability for people to connect to each other all over the world. Products (and people!) are fighting for shelf space to get their message out there. Even nurseries and plant breeders have jumped on the branding bandwagon in recent years with unprecedented success. Guess what? You aren't all that different from a Knockout Rose or a Boomarang Lilac bush!
Are you growing your personal leadership brand to get some shelf space? 
Traditionally, a brand is a relationship between a consumer and a business as well as a customer and a product. Brands are important because they effectively distinguish one good from another. They symbolize how people think about a product and they carry a "promise" as well as a history of carrying through on that promise. Strong brands sell at a premium and help people in making buying decisions. Whether you like it or not, you ARE a brand and you need to jump into the market. Your promise must come with a compelling benefit for your consumer. You need to remain credible, consistent, and true. You want to come across to your market as someone with a sound reputation in delivering a consistent and premium value.
Just like the myriad of plants in your garden or at the nursery, you are unique. It may seem like there are varieties similar to you, but don't believe that for a second. Your branding helps create a memorable identity of you in the minds of others. It sets you apart and follows you through all areas of your life. Just as in developing new varieties of plants, branding takes time. You will need to "test" your branding as you grow, just like new plants in nursery trials. Growth takes time and patience. When you have reached your peak - it's all worth it! It's critical that you continue to grow, nurture, and protect your brand. It may make or break your success out there in the market or with your people.
As consumers have become more savvy while demanding more value from their purchases, companies have become more innovative and responsive to putting out new products to satisfy the demand. Gardening continues to be a popular hobby as people adopt changes to their lifestyle or spend more time at home while using gardening as a stress outlet. Consumers want reliable, easy, durable, and consistent results from the plants that they buy. People are busy and have a lot of choices out there especially with the Internet. Breeders have responded by delivering brands that carry through on their promise.
Even if you aren't a gardener, I'm sure that you have seen plants branded under some of these names depending on where you live as some are regional brands... Proven Winners, Monrovia, Southern
Living, HGTV, and Hardy Boy. If these don't ring a bell how about these brands? Wave Petunia, Flower Carpet Roses, Endless Hydrangea series, Knockout Roses or  Encore Azalea. What they all have in common is an established brand that delivers and has a strong consumer loyalty. Obviously some of these brands carry particular patents or registered trademarks but I don't think that you have to go that far!
Having a recognizable brand has been very profitable for these plant lines and brands. Jump into my world for a few minutes and pretend that you are a enviable branded shrub in the market. This is what it will do for you:
  • Lets' face it, a strong brand means an increase in sales. For you this could mean more leadership opportunities, promotions or enhanced career moves. Who doesn't want a raise?
  • Regional or national recognition. You want to be perceived as an expert with a reach as far as possible.
  • Strong value. If you are seen as valuable, you can demand a higher price or increased space on the shelf. You can call the shots.
  • Repeat purchases. If you are a salesperson, consultant, or entrepreneur, your brand may keep people coming back for more of your services, product, or leadership.
  • Effective brands have a stronger ability to target a particular segment or customer. Perhaps you are a medical device professional and have a niche that you target. Your brand makes you stand out. This means more success and leadership with regional expertise.
  • Great brands tell a story. Many of the plants brands above indeed have a background or story to tell that resonates with consumers. Tell yours!
  • Established brands earn more consumer trust and less product confusion. This takes time and marketing. Effective branding doesn't happen overnight. Don't expect that your brand will evolve in just a few weeks. Gain the trust of others over time and don't be shy about self promoting yourself! If you don't, who will? Be a leader.
  • Be consistent. A Wave Petunia (which is an annual and dies at the end of the season) had better perform the same year after year after year. If not, consumers move on. You need to remain consistent as well. Don't constantly flip flop  with your brand or you won't have a following behind your leadership. Be a reliable shrub and perform like your "customers" expect.
  • Back up your promise with a way for consumers to connect with your brand via the web, social media, and the old fashioned phone. As a leader, do the same. Interact with others on a web platform or the social scene such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Google + etc. Be available and open to communicating.

OK! Time to jump out of the garden and back into your shoes again. Clearly,  branding is a crucial element to success and connecting with others. The benefits are undeniable and you MUST get out there and plant some seeds to grow your branding. Not only is it a necessity, it is a must if you want others to believe in you and what you can deliver. Plant yourself out there and get busy!

 Photo above Courtesy of  Urban Woodswalker
Wave Petunias 
Proven Winners Limelight Hydrangea
Knock Out Rose

Go ahead, be a unique "Leader"!

Weeping White Pine
Weeping Norway Spruce
 "Leadership has to do with direction. Management has to do with speed, coordination, and logistics in going in that direction. The Workers are chopping their way through the jungle. The Managers are coordinating, making sure the tools are sharp, etc. The Leaders climb a tree and shout Wrong Jungle! The Managers shout back Be Quiet! We're making progress." - Anonymous

One of the greatest attributes of our country is our freedom to express ourselves. We can dress zany, wear any number of piercings, and act (almost) anyway that we want. We can wear our personality on our sleeve and show our uniqueness to the world. A key American strength is our desire and drive to express ourselves and to be individualistic. Some people take this concept a bit far, but you have to admit that it's fun to people watch! Undoubtedly, it's not cool when that uniqueness is all over our children as we hide from THEM in public, but....

Unique means being one of a kind and completely unlike any other. I don't know about you, but I hate being like everyone else and have always tried to stand out - to be me. I've carried this over into my gardening style over the years and have put an unusual stamp on what I plant in my garden. The pics here are all from my garden and depict some of my favorite conifers. What I love about them is that they aren't like any other trees out there. They are notable to my garden and I've trained their various leaders to form unusual twisted shapes and curves. They are show pieces in my garden and have become more like living sculptures every year as they grow and change. The Weeping White Pine in the first picture to the left was trained to form an arch over a garden path. The tree has multiple "leaders" and they were propped and supported to grow in the form that I wanted with poles. A "leader" in the plant world refers to the primary stem or branch of a tree. A tree such as some of the gems on this page have multiple leads which gives them their artistic sculptured shape.

Just as the multiple "leaders" on these conifers lend a distinctive and special twist to their character, no two leaders are alike in the business world. If you haven't developed your own leadership style - you need to. You should strive to stand out from the rest of the crowd and brand your uniqueness so that others know what you stand for and what makes YOU different as a leader.Your brand is your promise to your clients or employees. It's all about creating and sharing who you are and what you will deliver. With the onslaught of social media and the Internet, it's more important than ever to discover remarkable attributes about yourself and put yourself out there. Above all, be yourself, and be sincere in your uniqueness!

What is YOUR uniqueness?

Young kids are great to watch and learn from. They are so curious and willing to learn new things and aren't shy at all about expressing themselves. As they age, both school and society teach them that they need to behave a certain way. For most, their curiosity and creativity wains as they try to "fit" in. Adults are no different. We find jobs that "fit" us and try to conform to the company cultures that we work in. As a leader, I urge you NOT to conform! You need to follow your "leaders" and stand out from the rest. To be a genuine leader, you need to discover your uniqueness and carve out your brand. You are as extraordinary as the artistic conifers in my pictures. You are like no other BUT you need to do some exploring to find your gifts and standout.

Your uniqueness as a leader is an art. It evolves, changes, and requires all of your creativity. Your uniqueness needs to come from within. People want to be around those who standout and inspire them. They want to follow those that they believe in, apply themselves more for, and are proud to be associated with. Perhaps your strength is connecting with others on a personal level. Maybe it's building varied and diverse teams. It may even be your quiet demeanor that inspires. Find it. Bring it out. Cultivate it. Make a difference.

Here are some things to focus on as you  morph into a unique leader:

  • Don't compare yourself to others. Instead, associate with people who inspire you or those that you admire. Maybe even spend time around those that intimidate you. You've heard the saying that you become like the 5 people that you hang out with the most.
  • Concentrate on your strengths. They are your gifts and form your uniqueness.
  • Partner with those whose strengths are your weaknesses. They can offset each other.
  • Failure is good! Use it to learn from and to motivate you. The most successful people have piles of failures behind them.
  • Take risks when you believe in something. Learn from them as well.
  • Be a leader on your own terms. Standout as creative and innovative. Define who you are to others and stay true to your brand.
My two absolute favorite conifers are the Weeping White Pine (Pinus Strobus Pendula 7ft x 10ft) and the Weeping Norway Spruce (Picea Abies Pendula 5ft x 4 ft). They are stately conifers that will really define and  make your yard stand out. If you spend any money on your landscaping, these trees are well worth the purchase. Their presence will increase the value of your home. They are gorgeous in the winter with snow or ice hanging off of their contorted branches. These conifers become more unique over time. They shine with other bushes or flowers planted at their feet. Despite the fact that their tags say they can grow large, they are very slow growers. They are grafted and their leaders grow in weeping ways - this way and that. They can be allowed to grow freely so that they will stay low to the ground. They can be lightly pruned if a branch grows a way that you don't want it to. I have staked branches on most of my Weeping Pines and Norway's with poles to "train" them to grow the way that I want. Once the branches age, I remove the stakes and they stand on their own. It gives me flexibility to make my trees fit where I want them to and I get spectacular yard sculptures. I have two Norway Spruce's that literally look like old men bent over complete with outstretched arms and a body. Norway's can easily be planted close to a house. I have one planted literally 10 inches from my sun porch and I just train it's branches where I want them to weep. The Weeping White Pines need a bit more room as they grow larger and are best planted as specimen trees in your yard or about 4 feet from your home. Be creative and enjoy!

As you drive around neighborhoods in the next week, look for yards that stand out. They may not have a lot of landscaping, but discover those that have a statuesque conifer that catches your eye. Look for twisted and turning branches that sweep here and there. A yard can have nothing else in it but an unusual specimen. You will notice it before anything else. Try it. Then use the same eye to look for distinctive leaders that stand out in your company, school groups, community etc. What makes them special?

 Remember, you don't need a fancy title to be a leader. It's how you come across to others and what you can do for them. Follow your "leaders" and stand up to proclaim your uniqueness.

Weeping Larix
Weeping Blue Spruce

Weeping Hemlock

Weeping Norway Spruce

"Volunteer" and grow into being a leader!

Love is the flower you've got to let grow.
John Lennon
A beautiful "Volunteer" Hibiscus in my garden

I love free stuff. I'm not obsessive about it like my kids - who will keep any gimmicky stuff that they can get their hands on . One of them is on his way to qualifying for the "Hoarders" TV show if he keeps it up! I am delighted when I find free plants, especially when they pop up in my garden.

"Volunteer Plants" are plants that sow themselves and just burst up anywhere in the garden. I  discovered  the beautiful Hibiscus plant above growing in the middle of some Black Eyed Susan flowers (Rudebeckia) one morning in my front garden.What a showoff! It's a perennial (comes back year after year) and the only place that I have any Hibiscus plants is on the other side of the house - in a different color!

Volunteers are spirited from seeds in the wind, compost, through water, and via bird droppings ( a favorite way for Poison Ivy to travel by the way!). They are often stronger and healthier because they will only spring up where they have the best chance of survival. Volunteers may be different than the parent plants and if pollinated, they can become new cultivers. This is often how we get new and improved plant varieties - both annuals and perennials.

In both politics and business, we frequently see new leaders pop up out of nowhere as well. They creep up in different places and may be a diamond in the rough. Leadership presents in different ages, nationalities, shapes, forms, and styles. Leaders can be the "bad boys (or girls!)" of yesterday or new and upcoming. For instance, take 17 year old Nick D'Aloisio who recently sold his Summly app to YaHoo for an estimated $30 Million. Suddenly, he was thrust into a leadership role because of his success and people look to him for tech leadership qualities. Not bad for a teenager!

Some people feel that leaders are "born". I'm not convinced of that. Sure, some people have some natural born talents that we identify with leadership, but most leaders have worked diligently to build their skills and hone their strengths. Leaders develop over time and step up to "volunteer" in a number of ways to become who they are. If you long to be an effective leader - no matter what your stage in life - here are some hints to step up your leadership growth and "volunteer":
  • Lead yourself first. Consistently motivate yourself, mold yourself, and model traits that you admire.
  • Always be positive and upbeat. Develop a win-win attitude.
  • Always breath learning new things. Read books, attend seminars, interact with colleagues, pick the brains of others. Show commitment to personal growth.
  • Build your own "Brand". Your brand will stand for what you believe in, how others see you, how you want to be perceived. Be authentic. People will see through you if you aren't.
  • Act. Don't just talk and write goals down. Get out there and dig in!
  • Take public responsibility for your actions. Finish anything that you touch or commit to.
  •  Ask for feedback- learn from it. Be open to learning new things and accepting other's ideas .Be open.
  • Seek out new opportunities - volunteer for the projects no one wants. You will get noticed.
  • Look  where you can provide insight or help to others . Give your time, ideas, plans etc.
  • Give credit where credit is due. Don't steal the ideas of others - people know and talk.
  • Appreciate others and the little things that they do. Publicly praise them or surprise them with small gifts of thanks.
  • Actively communicate and connect with people every day. Make it a habit to make a new connection  every day. Get to know them personally.
  • Push the envelope - gently. Try new things that make you uncomfortable. Take some risk. Don't be afraid of standing up for what is right - or for your beliefs.
Remember, you don't need a title to be a leader. You can be a 13 year old kid that raises $300 for a charity. You can be a stellar volunteer at your school. You can be active in Ambucs. It doesn't matter - just get out there and do it! Incorporate some of the suggestions above to build your leadership skills. I know so many "leaders" with fancy titles and they exhibit few, if any, leadership traits! They lead by title, not by investing in others. People reluctantly follow them because they have to. Don't be that kind of leader.

I love watching my kids grow up. It's so gratifying to see that they actually listened to me (at times) over the years and I see what great people they are becoming. My oldest son is in college now and I'm very impressed with how he is becoming a leader. He is unwittingly trying some of the tips above and loving it. He works in a chemistry lab and is truly enchanted. He is working on research projects with his professors. He asks questions, he wants to learn and welcomes feedback. He's sharing his knowledge with others and encouraging other's passions. He's connecting. I'm sure he doesn't think that he is becoming a leader - but he is!

One of my favorite volunteer plants in my garden is Verbena Bonariensis in the photo below. I started some from seed years ago and they have always popped up in my garden since. They are an electric purple and fit in anywhere because of their tall stature and their ability to add texture to my garden. The best part? Butterflies and bees love this flower! There are days that the air is a flutter of activity around this plant. I always love to see it take a spot in my gardens.

 Become a "Volunteer" yourself. Get out there and develop yourself. You never know where you will be "planted" down the road. Life can be a fun, mystical, and exciting journey. Embrace it and flourish.

What things have you done to develop your leadership skills? I would love to hear them!
My all time favorite volunteer "Verbena Bonariensis"