Christmas Trees

What Do Your Ornaments Say?

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The holiday spirit is among us and you can’t go anywhere without being cheered on by gawking lights and the blaring of holiday music. Most of us have our Christmas trees up and decorated with bling and empty stockings ready to accept candy and gifts.

Not only are Christmas trees a symbol of the holiday season, they all tell an individual story. I enjoy going to parties at friend’s homes to see what their tree looks like.  Moreover, I love to view the trees of those that I don’t know well at all. For me, Christmas trees can reveal so much about personality, hobbies, family, and history. For instance, our tree is a mix of homemade ornaments clinging to life after years of use. We have an assortment of character ornaments that reflect the different stages of toy or TV show obsessions from my four boys. There are ornaments reflecting hobbies and I even squeezed in some girly ornaments to balance out all the boy stuff on our tree. Although our tree is a hodgepodge of ornaments, it really does reflect who we are.

Have you stopped to really look at your tree this year to see if it reflects your personality or family history? Stand in front of it tonight all lit up in its splendor and I bet you will quickly pick up details that you never noticed before. Better yet, look closely at the holiday tree at your next party in the next few weeks and see what insights you pick up. You are your ornaments.

Let’s pretend for a moment that your team has been given a holiday assignment to brighten up the office and share some spirit.  Everyone is given an 18 inch Christmas tree to decorate and display on their desk. There’s a catch. You have to pick a specific colored string of lights that reflects your personality. Second, you have either craft your own ornaments or adorn the tree with items that reflect who you are and what you stand for. Needless to say, Barbie or Superman ornaments are not what we are looking for here.

Give this some thought. What would your tree look like and how will it reflect the real you? Here are some questions that you will need to ask yourself and be willing to bare to those around you:

  • Would you be comfortable sharing who you really are and dropping the mask that so many of us wear to work every day?
  • Do you feel confident that people would see your tree and agree with who you “are” every day at work?
  • What two things jump to mind about you that you would want to really showcase on your tree?
  • What two things would you feel really uncomfortable showcasing and why? Do you tend to show these habits at work?
  • What “thing” about you would be on the top of your tree because it truly is who you are or want to be?
  • Are you more of a showy person as reflected on your tree with tons of glitter and tinsel or are you more simplistic?
  • What themes would your tree reflect about you or do you feel more multifaceted than most people?
  • Would your heart show on your tree or would it be a subtle reflection?
  • How would you display your true passion on your tree?
  • What one thing about you would you want to display to others on your tree that you have never shared before?

 Hopefully by now you have a clearer vision in your mind of how your tree would look and what others would learn about you. The “ornaments” that we adorn our tree with are deep inside us and make us who we are. They are our values, morals, passions, and visions of our real selves to those around us.

Here’s a hint of what my tree would look like. I would circle it with bright red lights to reflect my passion for others. I would opt for thin tendrils of silver tinsel to share my flair for creativity. My ornaments would provide quick insight into my passions for learning, teaching, inspiring others to achieve, and empowerment. I’m sure that my love of gardening would also shine through as well. I would still need to place a bright gold angel on the top to guide me.

What would your ornaments say about you this holiday season?

How strong is Your Trunk?

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"Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing" - Abraham Lincoln

This past week I experienced  a seemingly endless stream of cars topped with fresh cut Christmas trees on the roads. The weather in the Midwest continues to be in the 50-60s without a flake of snow in sight. Although people may not feel like its Christmas, the trees driving around tell a different story.

I must confess that as much of an avid gardener that I am, we have a fake tree.  I love the beauty, structure, and scent of real trees however, I’ve always had a hard time taking a beautiful, green, fresh tree and cutting it off at its knees. I prefer to plant my trees root intact. That being said, there is so much beauty, tradition, and fun in cutting down a holiday tree and bringing it into your home.
Christmas tree fields are a magical place to visit during the holiday season. They are full of some of the most popular trees for celebrating during December. You can choose from so many varieties:

·         White spruce
·         White Pine
·         Fraser Fir
·         Colorado Blue Spruce
·         Douglas Fir
·         Balsam  Fir
·         Scotch Pine

While growing, these trees absorb CO2, support wildlife, protect soil from erosion, and are biodegradable after they are done with the season.  Growers religiously plant 3 new trees for every tree that is cut down. If you really want to be green this Christmas you can purchase a live tree in a pot and then transfer it out into your landscape after Santa Claus visits. What these gems need is to have a pre-dug hole to be housed in and they cannot be placed in the house longer than 7-10 days. If they remain inside too long, they will dry out and have a hard time adjusting to the great outdoors. Christmas tree facts

As I’ve watched trees wiz by this past week one thought kept popping into my head “Why are potted trees double the price of cut trees even though they are half the size and not as commercialized”? Simple – the sum of the whole is worth far more than the parts – and so are you.  You see, humans aren’t really worth much if we don’t have strong “trunks” or our “roots” aren’t intact. In fact, without these natural attributes, we are just disjointed and trunked like a Christmas tree. We shine for a bit but in the end, the sparkle dims. There is so much more to us.

What makes us whole is our “roots”. Our roots make us who we are, help us grow, and are our life force. Your “trunk’ is your core and your values are your roots – a critical part that makes us human.  According to values are the “fundamental beliefs of a person or organization. The guiding principles that dictate behavior and action”.  Your core values keep you on the right path and are your guiding force. They monitor your beliefs which impact your internal conduct. In short, they are our foundation just as the roots are to our Christmas trees.

Core values are different for everyone. They range from empathy to empowerment, honesty to accountability, or humble to courtesy. Only you can decide which values will ground and guide you. Values enable your “trunk” to remain strong and vibrant. Without them, you may weaken and become disjointed from your purpose or lose focus of your dreams. The big question that you need to ask of yourself is “what ARE my core values”?

I hate to tell you but your values aren’t going to knock you on the side of the head to let you know they are there. You need to go looking for them. Now, friends may be able to help because they often see what drives you or they know what you value. Ask them. You can also check in with your significant other – although be prepared for some bad with the good. Ultimately you need to rely on yourself for value identification and to learn what makes you tick. You need to become your own private shrink and look deep inside to pull out your top values. You also need to allow yourself time to quietly think about YOU.

Here’s how to find the values that make up YOU and ground you each and every day:

·         Find a comfy place to write and reflect. Write down every value that is a part of you, you admire in others, and really resonate with you. Write the first words that pop into your mind and don’t over think it.
·         As you write think about why what you are writing down has meaning. Make sure that you don’t write down who you want to be, but who you really are.
·         Look at your list and pick out the top 3-5 values that jump out. Again, don’t over think this. Write them down on a separate piece of paper and look at them. Put them in your phone, on a sticky note, in your planner. Become comfortable with them. Have them visually follow you.
·         Breathe your “new” values, live them, they are natural and they are YOU.
·         Whenever you have choices to make or a path to choose, ask yourself if your core values will be supported and your core will remain strong. If you have doubts, pull back and reflect.

Like a potted Christmas tree with a strong truck and healthy roots, you are more than just a tree this holiday season and beyond.  You are a complex miracle whose values make your core strong and keep you rooted where you belong, help you have an impact on your environment, and are the essence of you.

So. Just how strong is your trunk?

Are You Cutting Your Team Down OR Being Their Support?

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"To lead people, walk beside them...As for the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence. The next best, the people honor and praise. The next, the people fear, and the next, the people hate.. When the best leader's work is done the people say, "We did it ourselves!" - Lao Tsu

I have a confession to make. We have an artificial Christmas tree complete with integrated lights and branches that pop right out. No watering, no dry needles, no wonderful pine smells, probably no authentic Christmas spirit.. As a gardener, I should probably have a real evergreen inside for the holidays but I have always had a tough time even cutting my flowers to bring inside! I prefer to be outside enjoying them and avoiding the house when it's nice out! Surprising, I don't even have a lot of indoor plants. The ones that I do have tend to ask for little attention and scare the bugs away! I prefer to enjoy my garden as a whole and love to watch everything interact. This year I have vowed to decorate with more live greenery to bring more of the outside in.

This is a popular time for families to forge out and find that perfect Christmas tree. They bundle up and often make a full day of searching for the best tree that they can find. They cut it themselves and take care in carting it home while hoping that it fits in the house! The tree is lovingly watered and cared for until THE big day and then... all is forgotten.... out with the tree and in with Valentines Day. Next week I will give you some tips on finding the right tree and caring for it so that you can enjoy it into the new year.

Christmas trees can take anywhere from 7-15 years to grow, only to be cut down for a few special weeks in December. We don't think too much of cutting a tree for the holidays and it's such a priceless tradition throughout the world. Our tradition continues automatically every year, often with certain rituals being passed down through generations. As I watched my neighbors come home with their huge live tree this week a thought popped into my mind. Sometimes we don't even think twice about cutting things down. Guess what? Too many leaders cut their people down without a thought or without even realizing it!

Are you a leader unwittingly cutting your people down?
I have worked for both effective and just plain bad managers. Like many of our teachers back in school, we tend to remember the teachers that stood out and made a difference to us and really remember with vivid details the worst teachers ever. Surprisingly, they get worse over the years when we think back.....One of the best leaders that I ever worked for knew how to light up a room with his energy and positive attitude. He empowered us and allowed us the freedom to do our job. He encouraged us to learn from our mistakes and backed us up when we needed the support. I could easily talk to him about my frustrations without fear of reprisal. My worst boss? She was very threatened by her team. She looked for mistakes and picked on the little things. She micromanaged and jumped into matters that she didn't need to. In short, she made everyone miserable and no one respected her. We never knew when she would strike and it was tough to love our jobs and to perform our best. Neither of these leaders were "bad" people at heart (there was some debate on this in our team however). They probably didn't even realize how they were coming across to their teams. In my worst boss's case I hope that she didn't consciously try to cut people down. Don't be this type of leader - Don't cut your people down!
You could be cutting your team down if......
  • You whine or complain too much about systems, people, progress, your problems
  • You are negative and closed minded
  • You deliberately deceive others for personal gain or for your own career growth. You take credit and push blame
  • You are arrogant or have a deflated ego
  • You act like a dictator and micromanage
  • Keep to the status quo. Don't fall into the trap of saying "That's how we do things here". Be open to new ideas and ways of doing things. Don't belittle new methods
  • You aren't accountable. Stand up and take responsibility
  • Make empty threats or don't follow through on your commitments
  • Ignore the truth, data, feelings
  • Yell or scream
  • Don't thank people and recognize their gifts and accomplishments
  • You cut people down in a group and publicly humiliate them to make a point
  • You sugar coat feedback
  • Do what is wrong or stretch the truth
  • You can't self manage or self lead
  • Have no emotional IQ or are inflexible in showing empathy
  • Ignore team strengths and individual gifts
  • Can't adapt to or encourage change
  • Are over reactive and prefer to put out fires as they flare up
  • Can't communicate or won't foster stronger skills
  • Put teams or people in boxes
  • Churn people rather than develop them
  • Put processes first and can't foresee the need to step off of your path

Is this YOU? Are you cutting down your people without realizing it? If so - STOP! Go through this list and add your own weaknesses. It's not easy and not a lot of people can actually go through this process. Make a growth plan and address any areas where you are having a negative impact on your team. ASK for feedback and be strong enough to "take" the truth.

You can't keep cutting down trees in the forest and think that you will grow the group unless you are planting and nourishing new growth in your people. What will you start working on today?

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Look for the ONE!

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"Do not be afraid to go out on a limb...that's where the fruit is" - Anonymous

It's that time of year when a lot of  people venture out to find "The One". I'm not referring to that perfect gift, but the perfect tree. For the 25% of the population that embark on finding and cutting down a live tree every year, it's a serious business!

About 30 million Christmas trees are sold every year in the US and they are grown in all 50 states. For every tree cut, 1-3 seedlings are planted the following Spring. With over 15,000 tree farms in America there are a lot of varieties and types of trees available to pick from. Evergreens can take 15 years to grow 6-7 feet tall and the key growing states include Oregon, N. Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Washington. Real Christmas Tree Org
Among the most popular Christmas trees cut each year, Firs (Douglas, Balsam, Fraser), Pines (Scotch, White) and Spruce (White, Norway, Blue) are favorites. Preferences depend on the price that you are willing to pay, where you live, and the shape, size, branch or needle length that you like. Leyland Cypress are a popular choice in the Southeastern area of the country and the Virgina Pine is a favorite in the South. Real Christmas Tree Org
It takes focus, patience, and teamwork to find THE right tree. First, you need to find the best tree farm or pre-cut lot to explore. That's just the beginning! Here's some things to keep in mind:
  • Make sure that you measure your space before leaving the house!
  • Research ahead of time the different species of evergreens and the attributes of each
  • Always do a branch needle test. Make sure that the needles are fresh and pliable
  • Avoid cut trees that have needle loss, pale color, smell musty, or have wrinkled bark
  • Smell your way to the right tree! One of the best reasons to cut a real tree is for the alluring fragrance
  • Stand back and look at the true shape and branch length of the tree
  •  If you really go green and opt for a balled or potted live tree, make sure that it isn't in your house for more than 1 week. Have the planting hole prepared ahead of time with the dirt stored in a warm garage
  • Cutting and hauling your tree is not a one person job unless you are superhuman!

When your prized possession arrives home make sure that you honor it by actually taking care of it! Cut off about an 1/2 inch off the base of the trunk to help it pull up water. Keep the tree stand full and check it every day. Keep the tree away from heat sources and sunny windows. Spray it with Wilt Pruf to preserve the moisture in the needles. Don't let your animals climb the tree and let everyone know how much time and effort it took to find "The One!"

Throughout our lives, in a variety of ways, we are always looking for "The One". We search for the right school, right life partner, the best job, the perfect family. Sometimes we find it, sometimes it remains so very elusive. In the leadership arena, every once in awhile we find ourselves eagerly acknowledging that we are truly seeing "The One".

I had this epiphany a few weeks ago when I read a story about Pope Francis. It was an article about how the Pope sneaks out to break bread with the poor. How he has defied the trappings and pomp of being the Pope. He lives in a simple home with his own belongings. He has blatantly fought corruption and has fired people at the Vatican for their extravagance. He drives his own 20 year old car. He doesn't really dig the "Pope Mobile". He seems "real" to people. Francis has engaged with newlyweds outside and greets people while willingly joining in their pictures. He Tweets. He focuses on individuals in need. He genuinely seems to care about real people. He follows through with action, not just rhetoric. He's given hugs to over 100 wheelchair-bound followers in a visit. He embraces those that may be disfigured and understands them. He seems to connect with his followers and is humble yet real despite his position. Francis randomly makes his own personal calls to reach out to others without a secretary. He leads with a sense of humor and clearly doesn't have himself up on a pedestal. The list goes on and on.

Religious preferences aside, you have to recognize and acknowledge the incredible leadership skills that Pope Francis exhibits. He truly possesses traits that rare great leaders have and traits that we should all aspire to develop. For me, Pope Francis is a leader that readily jumps into my mind. He will also stay with me as I grow in my leadership.

Leadership traits that "The One" has:

  • Humble and simple
  • Authentic and "real"
  • Caring with a strong emotional IQ
  • Ability to connect and engage
  • Sense of humor
  • Honesty
  • Great communication skills
  • Confidence and strength to do what is right - willingness to go against the norm and out on a limb
  • Commitment
  • Positive attitude
  • Ability to aspire and show vision
  • Intuition and going with your "gut" in tough times
  • Ability to delegate so that you can focus on what you need to
  • Creativity in accomplishing your goals (Pope Francis sneaks out so he can administer to people - in disguise!)

It's no wonder that this week Time Magazine named Pope Francis as their Man of the Year. They easily recognized him as "The One" for 2013. His leadership skills and unconventional way of reaching out to others is truly inspiring and down right awesome!

Hopefully this holiday season has found you locating "The One" Christmas tree to fit into your holiday cheer and celebrations. "The One" stands out in a crowd and is immediately recognized. As I continue down the leadership path, I have easily found "the One' that stands out to me among all others. I am writing down the leadership traits above that Pope Francis has shown us all this past year and I am  going to work on growing each and every one of them!

What or who is YOUR ONE this year?

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