Are You Ready To Be Human?

"Touch has a memory" - John Keats

We have two pet cats that roam our farmland. Very spoiled cats. They get to romp about all day and do what cats do. They follow me around the garden – for attention and treats of course. They are outdoor cats, yet they have a kitty door, heated garage, and canned cat food.  They frolic over the rocks on our pond and roll around in my Catmint flowers. There are plenty of shrubs to nap in and mice to catch. We are a cat allergic family so the outdoors is their home.

This past winter we started seeing a stray cat trailing Leo and Charlie. I quickly guessed that it was a “she”, especially when some kittens popped up this spring under our shed. 4 tiny kittens darted around the yard and scavenged food wherever they could find it – especially from our garage. My kids jumped into action and caught one of the kittens. They put him in our large empty rabbit cage as he hissed and growled away. As tiny as he was, I was hesitant to get near him, let alone touch him.

We steadfastly gave “Jinx” food and kitty treats. Slowly each day the kids tentatively touched his head as he hissed and nipped away. Then they would lightly pet his head as we crooned sweet words at him.  From there we were able pet him without him acting up. We progressed to being able to pet his whole body. The kids held and cuddled him. He played with them and quickly walked up to us wanting attention. Incidentally, he also began yearning for treats and ran to us when he heard the bag crinkle. Our hissing, nipping little kitten had turned into a playful, lovable, attention seeking little guy – all because of human touch.

Our kitten experience really touched me and I’ve continued to think about it. I saw an amazing transformation in this tiny being in a span of a week. All it took was belief that this little fellow could change through the caring use of human touch and a desire to make a difference.

 Guess what? We are quite similar to the little kitten.  Some human care, touch, and attention also bring out our best. We all respond to someone believing in us, giving us attention, and giving us what we need to grow. Who have you helped lately with a little human attention?

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around” – Leo Buscaglia

One of the things that I love about managing people is bringing out their best. People flourish when they feel empowered and know that someone has faith in them. Just a touch of interest, encouragement, and belief in someone is key. Are you ready to get human?

The power of being human to your team

·         Builds commitment to values and goals. People are committed when they have a stake.
·         Teams that are asked for their input and form a road map are engaged.
·         Open communication bubbles up ideas and new technologies. To share is human.
·         Emotional connections build trust and allegiance.
·         People  read non-verbal communication more so than verbal. Sharing human expression builds understanding.
·         Being partners is a relationship. People who are in a human focused relationship are empowered to extend partnerships to those they work with and even customers.
·         The more interest that we take in each other, the less judgmental we become. Team members don’t want to be judged and want the autonomy to grow.
·         Resistance to change is a human trait. It becomes easier when people are connected to it and they don’t resist what they understand.

Just as the human touch and new emotional bond with our feral kitten changed his behavior, you too can change others by simply being human. 

It's OK To Be Bare

"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

Photo courtesy of EJP via Compfight

The howling Halloween winds last week snaked through our trees quickly and with force last week.The scenic color palette of yellows, reds, and orange went down without a fight. The result was a scenery of colorless brown trees with a colorful crunching skirting of leaves. Yup. It really is fall now in the Midwest. As sad as I am to see my gardens go to sleep and the trees baring all, it really is a great feat of Mother Nature.

Trees are a lot like us when it comes to the seasons. Their alarm clock to start shutting down is the failing light as the days shorten and the air is colder. Their chlorophyll stops flowing and the leaves slowly change color. Despite what you think, the winds don't grab the leaves off the trees. The trees themselves throw off their leaves like a winter coat. As the days shorten, trees send a signal to the spot where the leaves are attached. The spot where the leaves are attached to the branches are sealed. No fluid can get in or out and the leaves are dropped by the tree. Result? Naked trees.

This whole magical process doesn't happen just so that you can venture out on color tours. The tree instinctively knows that it needs to protect itself in order to battle the cold and snow. The chemicals that were flowing to the leaves are diverted to the tree roots to fortify the entire root system and in the spring, the tree. The bottom line? Being bare is a good thing!

Photo courtesy of Theen via Compfight

I LOVE how the face of leadership has evolved over the years. I remember years ago when I joined a management training program with a local bank right out of college. Back then leaders thought that they needed to act "leaderly". They were more stoic, more commanding, and everyone was expected to follow them (plus most were men!). Input wasn't generally solicited or wanted. They had the final word. Times have changed. Leaders today seek input, show empathy, are more servant leaders than commanders. They see the benefits of empathy. In short, our leaders today are human. We all want to work with or for people who act like us. No matter where you lead from or whom you lead - Don't be afraid to "bare" yourself to people and act human.

What does it mean to be a "bare leader"? It means NOT being afraid to show empathy and emotion. It means being authentic and "you". It means being a servant leader rather than a commander. It means being yourself while earning your leadership title. It means encouraging and empowering people to grow and want to follow you. In short:

Don't be afraid to bare yourself!

  • Don't think that hiding emotion is what leaders do. Bottling feelings up and acting stoic doesn't make anyone a hero. It makes you look weak and pushes people away.
  • People smell fake a mile away. Too much sugar coating and BS WILL be evident. Is it worth it?
  • People want the bare truth. They don't want weak answers or any beating around the bush tactics. You end up clouding situations and making rash decisions in the long run. Being authentic and true eliminates issues that you can avoid.
  • In connecting, speaking, writing, life, HOW you say something if far more important than what you say. How many times have you written or read an email and it's how the information was relayed? It threw you into an emotional tail spin, not what was said. I just had this last week!  
  • Baring your true self really does build trust, strengthen relationships, and help others relate to you.
  • Leaders build vision. Vision takes skill and really jumping into the minds of your people. You can't do that without getting to know them and gaining joint trust.
  • Sharing emotions really goes a long way towards influencing how people think, behave, and react. This also intertwines with your vision creating.
  • Show your passion. Share your frustrations. People want to know that you too have doubts, fears, ideas, and don't know everything.
  • Strong leaders know that showing their real self will help groups bond together to find solutions or make change. You don't want to provide all the answers. Truthfully, you need your people more than they need you. Without them, there is no growth or passion to push on to grow and achieve.
Don't try to go it alone in life. Rely on others and "bare" your authentic self. When you show those Cub Scouts how passionate you are about climbing an obstacle wall but confident in them and that YOU are scared, they will relate and try harder. They will feed on your passion and confidence in them to scrabble right up that wall. When tough department choices have to be made, be truthful and share your indecisiveness to allow your team to give input and work through it. They are closest to the situation. 

Be human. Bare yourself. It's OK

How Is Your Drainage?

"A fresh mind keeps the body fresh. Take in the ideas of the day, drain off those of yesterday. As to the morrow, time enough to consider it when it becomes today: - Edward G Bulwer-Lytton

This summer has dumped numerous areas in the country with record rainfall and unfortunately, flooding. Who would think that Las Vegas or Phoenix would have jet skiers and canoes  rippling through flooded streets? Highways caving in? Houses becoming lonely islands? Where does that water all go? If you think that you have drainage problems, just watch the daily news!

A persistent water drainage problem will take it's toll on your home's foundation, your yard, your plants, and may impact your next door neighbor. I had a drainage problem on the side of our house a few years back. The water ran out of our gutters so quickly that it eroded the immediate landscaping and the lawn. My solution was to install a dry creek bed  with rocks that winded gently through my ornamental grass garden. It was both functional and beautiful. It helped for a time until the gutters became cluttered and the rains hit harder. I still had some runoff and my wood chips took a swim throughout my grass garden. Irritating! Last weekend I implemented phase 2 - this week calls for more record rains so my new area will be put to the test. I placed a dry "pond" bed in front of the existing creek bed (see pics). Filled with about 7 inches of rock by the plastic drain pipe, I am hoping that some of the water will be caught and slowly drain before the water rolls through the creek bed. No one can see that the rocks are hiding landscape fabric and a pipe that allows water to sink in and allow the necessary drainage that is so critical to preserving my landscaping.

Drainage issues are the result of poor soil, poor construction, bad location, working against mother nature.. the list goes on. To test if there are issues with your soil try this test at Soil Basics. You can either work against the issue or work with it. Of course nothing will help when flood waters unexpectedly hit. My suggestion? Work with the drainage problem and look at it as an opportunity!
How to let it flow in your garden:
  • Make sure that your issue isn't due to clogged gutters or roof issues.
  • Plant a bog with rocks and blog plants in wet areas where water collects.
  • Put in a dry river stream with rocks and make it look natural as it weaves through your yard.
  •  Add copious amounts of compost to wet soil if you have a small area where drainage is poor. This will improve the soil texture and help with drainage.
  • Install a rain barrel to collect water. Divert roof water into a barrel so it doesn't drain into the yard. Check out this site for tips on how to Make a rain barrel.
  • Put in raised beds over a site with poor drainage. I actually did this in an area where the roots are so thick the water can't drain nor can I grow anything. I put in metal fire rings, filled them with soil, and I have gorgeous planters overflowing with color - not water!
  • Dig a ditch to divert the water if it will be someone hidden - and safe.
  • If the problem is serious, get professional guidance on installing tiles or drainage pipes under your soil.
"No one loves the messenger who brings bad news" - Sophocles

Drainage doesn't just apply to our yards. Sometimes we are put in the tough position of delivering bad news. It's critical that we allow negative information to seep in and drain through the heads of our teams. It's not easy and can cause "erosion" with people. I have been through a few mergers and it's a process that takes days or weeks to filter and categorize. I liken it to the death of someone. First you are shocked. You don't believe it. People around you are zombies. Then you slowly feel the words sink in. Next, you accept that someone died. The process goes on until you allow it to infiltrate your mind and jump out of a fog to move on.

 What if YOU are the one that has to break bad news? How do you help it filter and drain to your teams without cutting morale or drowning them? How do you prevent a flood of emotions and chaos? It starts with the delivery.....

How to keep information filtering without draining your team:
  • Be honest and open. Don't try to make news "better" by leaving out facts or dancing over them. People will catch on quickly and you will lose credibility. 
  • Be accurate, straight forward, and speak with empathy.
  • Don't apologize. You can't control things. Apologizing may make you look guilty or weak. 
  • Be willing to listen. Say what you need to and be quiet. Respond to questions and don't be afraid to admit that you don't have all the answers.
  • Give people time to reflect on information. Reconvene later when they have had time to process.
  • Check in periodically with your team to feel their pulse and let them know that you are available.
  • Communication frequently and relay the same message. Be consistent.
  • Don't deliver news and then act as if nothing has changed. In the minds of others, A LOT has changed and they are probably thinking about it constantly.
  • Encourage people to talk to one another. Whether news affects one person or a whole company, people need each other and need to communicate as a community.
  • Let people grieve individually or as a group. However, don't allow it to persist or it will spread negativity.
  • Offer solutions whenever possible. Offer timing for further communications and stick to it.
  • Take about next steps and what you see the future holding in a bright light - but be honest and don't embellish!
  • Remind people that problems, failures, negative situations help us to all grow and together we will all get thorough some tough times.

When you lead, no matter what your role, you are in the drivers seat and set the tone, pace, environment, and maybe even the outcome of delivering negative information. Put yourself in the place of the person on the other end and think about how you would want to hear information. I know that I want the truth up front and want to know my options and how I will be affected. I also want to know how my inner circle will be affected as well. After all, teams support each other!

What will you do to change how you deliver negative information going forward? How will you take the lead in controlling the "drainage"?

Dry creek bed to combat poor drainage

"When a tree falls it resounds with a thundering crash; and yet a whole forest grows in silence" - Jocelyn Murray