Cold and Ice

To Lead With Or Without Tears?

"We must build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear" - Martin Luther King, Jr

Photo via Giovanni John Orlando from Compfight
Although Spring arrived this week, in many areas you would never know it! In Michigan, Detroit had more than 90 inches of snow and had 27 days below 0 degrees. Our Great Lakes had 92% ice coverage ( no small lake - 94,250 sq miles). Too many cold records were set and at some point all that snow and ice will melt. The time has come and the Southern Great Lakes are expected to experience some heavy flooding. USA Today.

Unfortunately, floods may be a hot topic in many areas around the country this Spring. Spring rains have increased in the past decade except out West where they really need some rain.The unprecedented snow volume will melt - too quickly - and the water will flow out of bounds. In the Midwest we normally have thaws throughout the season to melt some of our snow. That didn't happen this Winter and we have 15 foot snow piles in some areas. Ice jams will be the biggest problem when everything melts at once. The snow has an unusually high water content in it this year and with soggy ground, it will have nowhere to go. In some areas the water is already a soaked sponge and the ground just can't keep up. Once the Spring rains hit, the flood threat will be amplified. Floods aren't just a threat to our homes and infrastructure. They can have long term effects on our ecosystem and food production. The tears of Spring can bring a flood of problems.
  • Well water can become contaminated and affected
  • Fields will flood and some crops planted last Fall will wash away (Winter Wheat, Hay)
  • Orchards may flood damaging fruit trees
  • Beneficial nutrients like Nitrogen will be washed away in the soil
  • Sandy soils will run like rivers collecting all in one area
  • Plants/shrubs/trees are already stressed by a rough winter and may be further weakened and die by heavy flooding
  • Tress with shallow roots will fall damaging homes and property
  • The lack of drainage in clay soils can be catastrophic
Flooding can happen so unexpectedly. We may not have time to plan or react in the way that we hope to. We have floods in business too - TEARS...........They creep up on us or flow out of nowhere. Often, too many of us don't know how to handle our own tears or those of our teams. Tears make everyone uncomfortable. How do YOU feel about tears?

In her book "Bossypants" Tina Fey said that "Some people say 'never let them see you cry', I say if you're so mad you could just cry, then cry. It terrifies everyone". For the most part I think people feel that tears are a sign of weakness or a form of manipulation. Not so fast. I hope that times are finally changing as we enter the age of "Emotional IQ" and we want our leaders to be more human while connecting through emotions. We want our teams to do the same. Tears are what make us human and help us to connect. They have their place as long as they are genuine and shown in an appropriate situation NOT being used to get our own way.

Years ago I the small company that I worked for was bought out. It was an ugly merger from our side. Over 100 people were losing their jobs including one of our senior leaders. I will never forget the day that he was talking to a few of us about the merger. He had tears in his eyes as he talked about all the opportunities for us that were ahead and the growth that we would be a part of. His emotion was raw and his tears were a strength. Although he was losing his job, he was concerned for us and genuinely pleased that we had jobs and some great opportunities ahead. Those were tears of strength and true emotion. I admired him even more that day. His tears encouraged me to make the best of our situation and to make him proud.

I think that we are finally moving forward in business because leaders are finally acknowledging the existence of, and place for, Emotional IQ. We can't just shut off our emotions at 7:30 am when we arrive at work only to turn them back on when we arrive home. We are  human and shouldn't have shame in showing our emotions. Tears, grief, frustration, happiness,and joy make us who we are. We want to work with people who care and share their emotions. We want people to understand us and to empathize.

Grow your leadership through your emotions
  • Don't fear opening up. Let people see and experience your feelings. Use the words "I feel"
  • Tears make you human. Be who you are. Don't be so scared of what others think of you
  • Tears aren't a sign of weakness - they allow us to be candid and authentic
  • Work on being comfortable with emotion. Rely on emotional strength and control
  • Study some of our greatest leaders. They lead with strength and emotion. They self regulate and know how to connect with others on an emotional level
  • Showing authentic emotions validates that you are approachable
  • People will drop everything and follow a leader who understand them and has conviction
  • Emotions say far more than words
  • What's so horrible about letting your guard down once in awhile? Your people know that you aren't always in control. Be real and acknowledge it!
  • Bring your entire self to work and don't hide behind a fake or emotionless face
  • Natural tears have their place. Tears show that it's OK for your teams to show emotion
  • Tears help open dialogue and show who we are and what we care about
  • Tears can help reinforce peer relationships  and strengthen bonds
  • Tears may bring issues up to the surface and issues can be addressed

Now, obviously we don't all want to walk around with our heart on our sleeves and bawling at every little thing. What I am saying is that tears can have their place in our work lives. I'm also vehemently encouraging both men AND women to be authentic in sharing emotion through leadership. Some male leaders refuse to show their true emotions for fear of being "weak". Some female leaders go to the opposite extreme with their emotions and are labeled a "cold bitch". What I am advocating is that we act like what we are - human. Be authentic. Share your true emotions. Don't pretend that you don't care or aren't fully and emotionally engaged. You will push people away. You won't form true and strong relationships. People follow people who are like them or those that they look up to. You are human. Show it.

I have been encouraged in the past few years with more leaders showing their emotions and tears. Some politicians and business leaders have been very forthright with their emotions and I admire them. John Boehner cried after winning. Some of our past presidents have cried. The Pope has cried. I just saw Jimmy Carter with tears this morning talking about making a difference. Are they faking it? Probably not. It's a risk showing your emotions and a gamble more of us need to make.

Are you willing to be human and risk leading with tears once in awhile?

Photo courtesy of Franco Folini via Compfight

Hey! Thaw Out Your Style!

"A lot of people like snow. I find it to be an unnecessary freezing of water" - Carl Reiner

Spring is officially 5 days away but you would never know it! Across the country there is a roller coaster of temperatures and a flux between snow flakes and rain. In many cities, the dress code is shorts one day and earmuffs the next. It's a constant  tease of things to come. We can almost smell, taste, and see Spring but we are tortured by the frost and snow that continues to nip away....
The dirty cycle of freezing and thaw
The beauty of consistency!



Where I live, I have never seen snowbanks piled so high and in so many contorted shapes. It could be May before the 15 foot high snow piles are mere puddles. I planted some new 3-4 foot weeping pines last Fall and I can't find them under the snow! The picture above in the left is what I see every morning when I leave for work. I hope that there are trees under there! I'm curious to see what they look like when the snow washes away. The picture on the upper right is a summer view - frost and snow free! I yearn for those days.....
This has been a rough winter on all of us. Extraordinarily low temps may bring some big surprises when Spring whisks away the snow. Some more volatile days are ahead as temperatures move 30-40 degrees within a 12 hour period. In milder areas, the damage to plants and crops will be more of an issue as vegetation tends to come out of dormancy more quickly and can succumb just as quickly. Depending on the temps, water inside emerging plants can freeze and plant cells burst. Some plants can take it, others plummet to death.The inconsistency of Spring is  tougher on plants then us.
Plants are a lot like people. They are unique and each have their strengths and weaknesses. They all have a particular purpose or use. Some are strong, some not so much. When the snow does have a chance to melt, we are faced with 3 types of frosts to contend with. Todays Homeowner
  1. Hoar Frost: This is a rather light and "feathery" frost that so many of us see on chilly days. There is an abundance of water in the air that turns into ice crystals. It may be 28 degrees for a few hours and only real tender plants will be damaged.
  2. Rime Frost: Water is deposited onto plants from the dew and it freezes. Plants have a glazed or wet look in the glistening sun. Rime frost is more harsh then Hoar frost and may kill some blossoms and foliage.
  3. Black Frost: You guessed it. Black frost isn't good and plants are blackened. It will kill tender plants. The water is sucked right out of the plant and it isn't pretty!
You can't win against Mother Nature and most of us have no choice but to stay along for the ride. For farmers and growers the inconsistency and dips can be stressful and directly hit their pocketbook. We all pray for the best and hope the ride slows!
Working for someone that seems to be in a constant frost and thaw cycle takes it's toll. We become like plants in the path of destruction! 
A few years back I worked for a boss that was like a cold Spring storm. Her management style was inconsistent and I never knew what was coming from one day to the next. Her micromanaging was smothering us all to the point where we braced ourselves for the next frost. She would ask for a project one way and the next week the work was all wrong. She would nod in agreement in meetings but turned around and chastised one of us afterwards. She favored those that agreed with her and worshipped her every word. Not so with the rest of us. It made for a difficult and unhappy culture. people either went along with everything she said, shut down, or left. It was ugly. We just never knew what the "temperature" would be from day to day.
Don't be that leader that freezes and thaws day by day!
We have all heard that "people are our best asset". Too bad so many companies are just mouthpieces and don't really believe in the investment and power of people. Many times I have been a part of an organization that says one thing, but does a complete 360 in action. Too many companies allow toxic leaders to continue to "lead" even though the culture is slowly being frozen to the ground by their behavior and actions. Don't passively plant yourself in the ground and let it happen.
How "leaders" can be a breath of cold frigid blast.....freezing everything in their path:
  • They seem to thrive on destroying employee trust with inconsistent behaviors.
  • They ignore the direction that the team has been successfully moving along.
  • They nod their head in meetings in agreement but privately attack ideas, plans, projects.
  • They spend more time stewing, criticizing, and complaining.
  • They act like their opinion is the only one that matters and act difficult when things don't go their way.
  • They are emotional time bombs. People tip toe around them trying to avoid the frost.
  • They are ethically inconsistent. They will use anyone as their scapegoat.
  • They are "change" junkies. They love to stir things up because it "keeps" people on their toes.
  • They preach accountability but don't practise what they preach.
  • They love to favor those that are like them.
  • They praise one hour and criticize the next.
  • Their team is the "best" and then the worse in the organization (when things fall apart).
  • They are proactive and excited about new projects or initiatives and quickly lose steam. Their negativity "kills" morale.
Sound familiar? I hope not! Unfortunately, I'm sure that you see a "leader" like this somewhere in the mix at your company. If it's you - look in the mirror and do a 360! My experience has been that this type of manager won't change. They refuse to recognize how their temperature damages the team. They always think that it's "other" people that are the problem - not them. Even more disturbing is when companies allow these "leaders" to remain in place.This is sadly often the case. Either no one sees it or upper management refuses to rock the boat and make changes. For the rest of us that means either staying frozen in place or moving on to warmer pastures.
How was your last frost cycle and how did you survive?
Photo courtesy of Marko via Compfight


No Two Snowflakes Are Alike and Neither Are Your People.

Photo courtesy of Symphony of Love via Compfight
This past week has been another challenging one for a great part of the country. Snow, ice, and more snow. I feel like I am stuck in snow globe that's been cursed by Mother Nature. Big cities that rarely receive snow were brought to a standstill. Who knew that a few inches of snow could cripple transportation and effect millions of people?

Spring seems way so far away. In the Great Lakes area we will have snowbanks that won't melt until late May. Every day I try to force myself to find something positive and bright about all of this snow spewing a constant spray of  flakes under the dim skies. It isn't easy! Then, one cold, bitter, morning I found it. The snow was falling lightly with large flat flakes. The flakes that fell onto my windshield were a kaleidoscope of artwork. No two flakes were alike. There was a continuous variety of all shapes and sizes. Some had sprawling arms like a starfish. Others were compact like handcrafted Lego pieces. I had to smile. I finally remembered one unique and beautiful thing about winter.. the uniqueness of snowflakes!

It really is true that structurally no two snowflakes are alike. So many factors affect  the shape and intricate design of a flake. As flakes form from water they are constantly changing as they grow and morph. Their final form is impacted by temperature, air currents, humidity, and specs of dirt in the air. They  literally change as they fall through the various layers of the sky. Because each layer of the air has a slightly different temperature, there is more/less moisture available for adding to the crystal structure of a flake. The flakes start as water vapor and then become ice crystals that continually crystallize until they fall down into your yard. Colder flakes have more integral shapes while warmer flakes are smoother and form more slowly. A piece of art is born as it tumbles down towards us. That being said, there are similarities between flakes. They tend to take one of the following forms and then add their own personal twist to their shape:

  • 6 sided thin hexagonal crystals that are formed within high clouds.
  • Needled/flat sided crystals that form in middle clouds.
  • A variety of hollow column 6 sided flakes that are made in low clouds. Snowflake Chemistry

If you have never thought of your people as snowflakes - you may want to!

Every snowflake is a unique piece of art. It is individual and like no other. It's attributes are distinctive, personalized, quirky, and special. Although unique, each snowflake is a bigger part of something special. Your people are your snowflakes. Individually they are unique and special in a variety of ways. As a group, they are the perfect "storm" that makes things happen!

As a leader, it's your job to strength find, appreciate, nourish, and grow your people. Be the catalyst that helps capitalize on their strengths and form their "shape". Appreciate and cultivate what makes them unique. They in turn will group together and form a solid, powerful team.

So...How do you cultivate and grow your team of "Snowflakes"? 
  1. Capitalize on what makes people unique. Use their strengths and forget about changing their weaknesses. The weaknesses of some are the strengths of others. Mix and match for success.
  2. Concentrate on your top employees, not your low producing people. Your top people will come through for you via their dedication, work, and attitude. Your time is better spent cultivating these people.
  3. Be innovative and creative where you place people in their roles. Play to their uniqueness and think out of the box where their talents can best be utilized.
  4. Acknowledge the uniqueness of every person. Treat them as if  they are your best clients. They are the front that will bring growth, profits, and success to your company.
  5. Cultivate a "snowflake" culture where uniqueness, new ideas, approaches, and views are appreciated and encouraged.
Working with the individuality of every person on your team isn't easy. It's a lot of work and will initially take an exurbanite  amount of time. Your may be tempted to take short cuts to get the process going so that you can concentrate on other things. Don't. Look long term and realize that your work up front will build a strong team with highly empowered people down the road. The means justify the end.
Your biggest task will be discovering the uniqueness and strengths of your people. Here's how:
  1. Note where people consistently perform well and produce results.
  2. Discover what skills/knowledge each person learns quickly - what's their "sweet spot"?
  3. What does each person love to do? Slide them into that role.
  4. What gives each team member gratification in their work? This will give you a glimpse into their uniqueness.
  5. Help them see their true strengths and help them understand why they perform so well in certain areas. Encourage them to develop these areas and strengths.
  6. Challenge every one's strengths and uniqueness by encouraging them to apply their skills on a higher level within the organization. This could be an actual management level or moving someone with tech skills into a more technical area to rev up their skills.
  7. Help everyone apply their strengths and unique skills more broadly. Help them feel empowered by mentoring others or leading teams with different  skills to help them grow.
The old saying that your people are your best asset may seem overplayed, but it is the best advice that I can  give to anyone. Recognize that like snowflakes, every single person is unique and has gifts that must be appreciated and developed. Like the crystal that falls through the layer of air as it forms, your people are constantly changing and building on their uniqueness. Be there to help guide them and welcome them to your "perfect storm"!
Photo courtesy of CaptPiper via


10 Ways to Survive Stormy People and Cloudy Leadership

"Then come the wild weather, come sleet or come snow, we will stand by each other however it blow" - Simon Dach

Photo Courtesy of Martin LaBar via Compfight

This past week threw a majority of the country into a winter cloud of snow, sleet, ice and cold. Mother Nature waved her hand, conjured up a Polar Vortex, and everything halted. If you aren't tired of winter yet, then you are a perfect candidate for an Antarctic exploration on a boat in the frozen sea. Not only humans suffered. Animals and plants shuttered as well. One of the first things that my garden buddy asked was "Wonder what this will do to our gardens in the spring"? Good question!

The storm hung over us in a deep cloud. Our plants can't dig holes to get warm or hide out of the winds. Some plants try to warm themselves, one being the Rhododendrons. They curl up their leaves  for protection from the cold. One bonus of the high snow fall is the insulation that it provides for plants. Moreover, plants planted by buildings and protected by tree lines are given some protection as well. Unless of course falling ice and snow from roofs and power lines fall on top of them! Most of the damage from the recent storms won't be known until spring. Here are some signs to look for:

  • Smashed and broken limbs and trunks.
  • Brown Evergreen trees.
  • Sun scald and injury on tree trunks in sunnier areas. Trunks are damaged after cold when the sun hits the trunk, causing damage.
  • Frost heaving. Plants are literally lifted out of the ground from the thaw and freeze cycle that occurs where winters are warmer.
  • Root death from the extreme cold.
  • Slow growth, stunted growth, weak looking plants from a lack of water uptake and food production.
  • Just plain dead plants!

Most plants will sail right through the winter of 2014. Plants and trees have had the luxury of adapting through thousands or even millions of years. Most perennials die back to the ground for protection. Numerous plants have narrow circulatory vessels to prevent air bubbles from forming and preventing water or fluid uptake. Trees and shrubs drop their leaves to slow down their systems and then go dormant. The biggest killer of plants and trees this winter will be a result of the inability of plants to pull in water to stay hydrated. When it's so cold a specimen loses water via roots, leaves, and branches, then dies. Hence why it's so critical to water all of your plants well prior to winter. For more in depth information on winter survival for plants, check out this great article Winter Woes No Problem.

The recent Vortex affected everything in it's enormous path. It controlled where we went and how we lived for days. It changed lives and we had no control over it. We all had to settle down and hunker through it. Unfortunately, too many of us make clouds that we carry over our heads as we lead teams OR we work with a storm threat......

Are you working for a boss with a cloud above their head that leaves storms in it's path? Are you that person?
Photo Courtesy of Atomtigerzoo via Compfight

Working with or for someone who is unpredictable and stormy is not fun. You never know when they may explode or leave a path of destruction after they've wandered away. They leave everyone on edge and have a negative impact on teams and sometimes, an entire company. I worked for a "silent" stormy boss who always had an ominous cloud hanging over her head. She never exploded by screaming and yelling. She preferred sneaking up and barraging people in public. She would make employees feel 2 inches tall by posing points that poked holes in their work and projects. Her "way was the highway" and we all learned to be very effective storm trackers to predict when she would strike. I always tried to remind myself that she had control issues and was acting the only way that she knew would get the results that she wanted. Other days I thought maybe she just had some mental issues.

So.. How do you become a storm chaser to avoid people with clouds that follow them?
Better yet, what if YOU are the storm? 
Here are some ways to avoid the storm. Look closely because if you notice people acting like this towards YOU, you may be a stormy Polar Vortex leader........
  1. Stay out of their way whenever possible. After you work with someone for awhile you may be able to see a storm brewing and can take cover. If your sense a bad mood, bring up an issue later. If people avoid you, take the hint.
  2. Don't get sucked into any negativity. Protect your mindset and don't let anyone bring you down. Be professional, be brief, remember your gifts. This conflict isn't about you. If you are negative, stop! Your negativity will drag  down productivity, team work, and the overall culture of the area.
  3. Don't invite the storm in. Bad weather belongs outside - keep it there. Don't invite the cloud into your office to try and work things out or calm things down. It may make a situation worse and drive more negativity. Let the storm pass on it's own - you can't control others. If no one wants you in their space - perhaps you had better evaluate why!
  4. Adjust your communication skills to mirror that of the person that you are talking with. Recognize the weaknesses of the other party and compensate for it. Work with the storm, not against it.
  5. Be overly patient and pleasant. We were all crabby and on edge last week during the storms. Slippery roads, no electricity, the cold. We couldn't change it. Hopefully you wore a smile and just made it through. Are there any other options?
  6. Be proactive in your work, always be on your toes, and have a back up plan. That's what we do in sticky situations (storms!) and we persevere.
  7. Have a group of confidants. Find some trusted peeps who are in your same situation and whom you can bounce frustrations off of. It helps! Now, if you are a "leader" and see people in groups avoiding you ... wonder why and examine your behavior!
  8. Document if things get really rough. You probably aren't the only one in the eye of the storm and there may be a need for group collaboration down the road if a leader's actions become unbearable .
  9. Keep your resume up to date. Sometimes you just plain tire of storms and need to move where the climate is a whole lot better!
  10. There's a lesson in everything that happens to us in life. Think about what lesson you can learn and perhaps find new strengths in yourself that you didn't know were there!
Often you need the storm to pass before you see the destruction and realize what a survivor that you are. If you see a storm brewing, hunker down and take precaution!

How have you survived a "Polar Vortex"?