The Word? Fertilizer!

Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles via

If you had the guts to even set some New Year’s resolutions then congratulations are in order. By now 92% of you that set goals have already flunked. Pretty depressing right? I learned long ago to forgo setting any wild vague resolutions as they consistently vanished into thin air by January 30th – or before.

This year, I decided to choose a single word for the year to focus on instead of any resolutions. I wanted a word that is unique, represents who I am, and will guide my course for 2017. My word? Fertilizer. Yes, you read it right. You see, I am a garden geek and I love designing and growing gardens. That passion flows into other areas of my life.

Even if you regularly kill plants you probably know the value of fertilizer. A feeding to your plants will boost growth, strengthen the roots, aid in preventing diseases, condition the soil for long term health, and give you an overabundance of veggies that 5 families can’t consume. In short, fertilizer is like magic in the garden.

I am passionate about digging for the gifts of others and nourishing them so that they can bring out their best and grow to have an impact. I aim to be the fertilizer to those around me this year. This simple word will drive me to:

  1. Look for the beauty in those that I meet and learn how I can help them to grow their inner beauty to the surface
  2. Strengthen the roots of others through opportunities, learning, and forming strong relationships
  3. Discover ways to protect friends from “diseases” such as lack of confidence, low self esteem, or uncertainty
  4. Uplift others and help them to “weed” out those people from their lives that are unsupportive or mock dreams or aspirations
  5. Impact one “plant” at a time growing him/her into a colony of incredible people with positive attitudes and purpose to support growth
  6. Support the health of others so that they are resilient and strong in chasing their uniqueness and bold ideas

If I focus on being a fertilizer this year my hope is that I can feed others so that they will grow and glow. My word will remind me what is important and how I can have an impact. In turn, my own growth and sense of giving to others will be accelerated. It is the year of fertilizer.

What will YOUR word be in 2017?

Foster The Seeds of Growth

Photo courtesy of reddeergrowboys

The leaves are slowly starting to change with autumn approaching. I have always had mixed feelings about fall because winter will be on its heels. I’m not a fan of winter because I don’t like being enveloped in gray skies and cold. Moreover, I hate being forced to put my garden to sleep until the winter skies clear.

Fall remains one of the best times to plant new trees, shrubs, and perennials. Even better, it’s a great time to find some deals because nurseries are hunkering down for winter. This may surprise you, but now is an opportune time to plant seeds. It’s a fairly effortless task and it will bring a smile to your face next spring when the seeds spring to life.

Numerous seeds need stratification in order to sprout. This means that the seeds need to have a period of cold so that when ground warms in the spring the seeds have a jumpstart from Mother Nature to sprout.  Everything young in nature needs some guidance and care in order to flourish and grow. Check the needs of your seeds before just scattering them and walking away. Invest in their growth.

There’s still plenty of time to do some planting and here are some seeds that would appreciate being planted now:

  • Bulbs are always no brainer to plant in the fall where there will be several months of cold for them to snooze in
  • Annual Poppies
  • Hollyhocks
  • Cosmos
  • Black-Eyed Susan
  • Nicotiana
  • Cleome
  • 4 O’Clocks
  • Bachelor Buttons
  • Sweet Pea
  • Wall Flowers

The wonderful thing about fall planted seeds is that you can sow them up until the ground freezes in most areas of the country. Grab some packets, pick a breezy autumn day, and plant some beauty.

Sometimes we forget how delicate the young are whether it’s a child, animal, or plants in nature. When I see small children I have flashbacks to when my kids were tiny. Caring for them was such a priority. As they grew they needed guidance, individual attention, mentoring, and at times, monitoring. Unfortunately, not all young people are given the guidance and care that they need to grow into leaders within their communities. If their growth isn’t fostered at home, it may only happen at school or with friends. For most young people, this isn’t enough.

Lately, I’ve read several articles in which leaders share their advice to their young selves. Most of this advice is career focused aimed at people in their late 20’s and beyond. What about those that really need advice when they are young and easily influenced? So many young people are lost or lack sound mentoring or role models, especially those that aren’t on a career path yet. Perhaps they aren’t focused on a career because they remain confused or are more focused on just finding a job to get by.

Leaders today should focus more on our young people working through middle and high school. We can impact kids at that level and offer them hope, guidance, and assist in preparing them for their future so that they can impact the world with more confidence and ownership. Let’s make their future a priority before they are thrust out into the world without skills to cushion any mistakes that they make.

So, I went way back in time dropping myself into my younger body. What advice did I really need then? Here’s what I wish my friends and I had heard when we were young, impressionable, and downright squirrely.

  • Quit spending so much time worrying about what others think of you. They are thinking more about themselves and worrying about how they come across as well. This is advice I wish that I had been brainwashed into believing at a young age – it would have saved me a lot of grief!
  • Don’t try keeping up with others. There is life beyond these years and you need to move at your own unique pace. 
  • Fail young BUT learn from your mistakes. Even better? Learn from the mistakes you see around you. Those are free lessons. As the youngest of 3 girls in my family I can’t even count the lessons that I learned from my siblings. 
  • Find an older crowd to hang out with that seems to have their stuff together. I promise that you really do become what you hang around. It’s cool to be smart and a geek. Life will reward you if you lay a sound foundation of friends now. 
  • Don’t feel pressured to pick a career and stick with it. Life is a journey and you can’t make sound choices without life experiences to guide you. Don’t let people place you in a mold that doesn’t fit. 
  • Work a lot of different jobs when you are young to learn and grow. Volunteer in a variety of areas as well. Doing so will help you determine your work preferences and you will learn if you prefer working with people, data, or things. This will shape who you are and where you will be years from now. 
  • Grow up and mature, but always stay a kid at heart. I can’t tell you how many people in their 20’s that I have encountered that live like they are still in college. They drink and party like there’s no tomorrow and share way too much on social media. Poor images are hard to shake and social media is with us forever. Be careful of the image that you portray and hang out with your older and more focused groups. Conversely, always see the world with a child’s eyes and act like everything in life is a new experience. 
  • Begin building your brand young. When you get older and go to a school reunion you will find that reputations really never change much. The party guy in school probably still is and lives with that rep. Obviously, the best way to build your image is to be careful how you come across on social media and to those your interact with. 
  • Passion is great but don’t spend your life chasing just one dream. Life changes and chasing a dream may leave you dissatisfied and always looking for more.
  • Find a mentor early on. Ask for advice and learn from him or her. 
  • Never regret your mistakes or what could have been. This has been one of my weaknesses and it’s not productive. 
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. People really find joy helping others 
  • Develop grit and perseverance. Grit is one of the key factors in success. After you get knocked down be prepared to get right back up. 
  • Bullies will always be around. They just learn to hide their tactics better. Develop a thick skin.
  • Don’t let your job consume you. You are more than a title or profession.
  • Live your values and be transparent with others.
  • Never stop learning and read for a lifetime. 

As a leader you need to make it a priority to reach out to our young people. Volunteer in schools, with youth groups, community events, and within your own home to impact a young adult today. Give them the confidence, young wisdom, and appetite to grow like the tiny seeds that we sprinkle on the ground.

What other advice do you have for our young people? I would love to hear!

Millennials Are Like Young Transplants

As a gardener,  one of the biggest mistakes people make when they plant a new shrub or plant is to either flood it or forget about it. Over time, the plant slowly withers and then dies. Plants are like people. Before we even buy a new gem for the garden we need to learn more about it to make sure that it can thrive under our care and in our yard conditions. You need to know it's mature size, sun or shade requirements, and how much moisture it needs. You can't plop a cactus in the shade and water it generously. You know what will happen!

Leaders need to take the same approach with our young and upcoming leaders. Finding the right talent doesn't end once you hire them and throw them into orientation expecting them to thrive. Today's millennials need guidance, open dialog, and crave your leadership.

If millennials still remain a mystery and you are truly committed to mentoring and empowering tomorrrows leaders, you should pick up a copy of Chasing Relevance by Dan Negroni. Dan will lead you through a journey that explains how our younger people crave our leadership and guidance and really do want to make a difference.

I'm please to share a guest post from Dan Negroni that will help you navigate the path to growing our leaders of tomorrow. 

Don’t Chase Relevance – Find It!

I am stoked about the debut of Chasing Relevance. It took two years of writing, research, content development, speaking, coaching, and training more than 5,000 amazing people by me and my colleagues at launchbox. But our systems, curriculum, and book are ready – ready to bridge the gap between non-millennial and millennial generations in the workplace and marketplace to help your business achieve real, BOLD results.

Here is what we learned: Houston, we have a HUGE problem.

  • Thirty percent of organizations lose 15% or more of their millennial workforce annually.
  • It costs companies $15,000 to $25,000 to replace each millennial.
  • 71% percent of organizations report that the loss of millennial employees increased the workload and stress of current employees.
  • Workload and stress combine with disconnection to breed disengagement: Seven of ten employees report being “disengaged” or “actively disengaged” at work.
  • The estimated cost of this disengagement is $450 billion.

Yes, millennials are a HUGE problem. They have taken over as the largest generation, and they don’t just want the power – they are the power.

 They will decide what businesses succeed and which ones will be left behind. Those that want any chance of succeeding need to figure out how to win with millennials.

Yet only 22.9% of organizations have a plan in place to engage millennials and future generations.

REAL PROBLEM? Oh yes. But it isn’t a problem that needs to be solved. It’s a problem that needs to be embraced. Yes, I said it… we need to be bold and generous and embrace millennials. Because the way most managers are dealing with it now – mainly complaining – is not working.

What I find most curious is how put-off and deeply frustrated many leaders from previous generations are by millennials. They paint a completely negative picture of “them,” as if millennials are a monolithic group of apathetic, disrespectful, unmanageable brats. They whine that millennials are spoiled, entitled, lazy, disloyal—all they want is power and all they think about is themselves.

Of course, complaining about the next generation is nothing new. But the way this millennial generation grew up? That is new. They had helicopter parents, got trophies for showing up, had days filled with activities, were encouraged to question, had a seat at the table for making decisions, were told they could be anything they wanted to be, and are used to being connected to everyone, everywhere, every minute of the day. 

And the world is different too.  Think of where we’ve been and the changes that have occurred in the last 30 years. We’ve gone from information in encyclopedias and microfiche to a crazy ass digital world where we can get any information, whenever and wherever we want. Millennials grew up “wired” and “wireless” and have never known a world in which technology did not impact, consistently change, and
repeatedly shorten timelines of obsolescence. They know no other way.

Millennials came out of the #womb. And when they did, they disrupted all of the traditional timelines.


We follow the patterns of previous generations and complain or throw up our hands in frustration and do nothing. As a result, all we do is chase relevance with them, often never finding it.

My book and our business have a better way and our solutions will change your life, their lives, and your businesses.  Guaranteed.

And here is how you start:


Stop doing what you are doing and realize that the place where youth and experience meet is the best place on earth. 

The combination of raw, unbridled enthusiasm, curiosity, questioning and unlimited perspective is pure MAGIC when combined the right way with knowledge, time served, learned failure, and history. 

Chasing Relevance answers the question we get asked all the time:  You really think we can connect with the next generation with the huge differences? ABSOLUTELY.

We all need to shift our mindset and trust ourselves.  When we shift our focus to connecting and delivering value to others, we win with our clients, employees, spouses, partners, kids ... we become guides and mentors of the next generation and ourselves. 

We have a choice: Embrace the opportunity millennials offer by pushing ourselves to be better leaders and coaches, or continue to ignore and dismiss the generational divide. The answer is clear: embrace opportunity.

That’s what our book, our business, and this blog will help you do.  


"Need help understanding, engaging, and retaining your millennial workforce?  Dan Negroni, Author, Speaker, Attorney, Kick butt business consultant, coach, and proud Dad of a few Millennials delivers actionable solutions.  Different from all other millennial experts, Dan's empowering business approach at launchbox, creates quick value and seamless connections with millennials and management each on their own terms.   Using unique content and delivery methods that audiences respond to immediately he leverages results from the inside out.   Allow millennials to be your secret weapon and maximize your commitment to them to innovate, create a culture of engagement and grow your businesses today.    To start click here to grab your copy of Chasing Relevance: 6 Steps to Understand, Engage and Maximize Next Generation Leaders in the Workplace or call them at 858.314.9687 for a free Coaching Assessment"

Feel That Sting?

“To me there is nothing more soothing than the song of a mosquito that can’t get through the mesh to bite you” – Madison Smartt Bell

The Labor Day holiday was incredible this past weekend in the Midwest with plenty of blue sky and sunshine. I was in my garden in the afternoon heat enjoying the fragrance and color when I felt an unexpected stabbing pain. You guessed it; the mosquitoes were in full force which was unusual during the day in my yard. They usually lurk safely in the shade. Ouch! By the time I felt the attack it was far too late – I had been stung!

If there is one bug that we all hate it’s the mosquito. Zika and West Nile cases are on the rise and leaders around the world are stepping up efforts to eradicate these nuisances. Despite the fact that they are pollinators, they have minimal residual value in nature. Mosquitoes are stealth, sneaky, and take no prisoners. They can ruin any outing and make some people puff up from allergic reactions – or worse. I have seen firsthand the ravages of mosquito born diseases. I have a friend that suffered with odd symptoms for years and it took 3 years before a specialist finally diagnosed her with West Nile Virus. Sadly, there is no cure, just symptom management.

Our mosquito explosion was the result of a very hot dry summer. Mosquito eggs and larva have been laying low waiting for some heavy rain so they could jump to life. That happened about two weeks ago. The mosquitoes all hatched at once forming a vortex of attacking swirling nuisances. Mosquitoes are one of the sneakiest bugs around. Even if you are lucky enough to hear one coming, you often can’t tell where it’s coming from.

Unfortunately, we all work with some mosquitoes. Work mosquitoes may be friendly and gently hover in groups or meetings however, they will bite you as soon as you turn your back. Work mosquitoes use words to bite. They talk about you behind your back. They gossip endlessly. These feisty creatures complain to anyone that listens. They slyly sabotage the team’s work. They may steal your ideas or plant accusations. They buzz around dive bombing into conversations that they aren’t invited to. Worse yet? Like a mosquito bite, you never see the work mosquito in action until it’s too late and you feel the sting.

So what can you do to avoid being stung at work? Here are some suggestions

  • Unfortunately, you can’t swat and kill work mosquitoes. What you can do is listen and watch to try and identify the culprits in your group so that you can be on your guard.
  •  Don’t be reactive. You don’t wait to put on repellent until after you are bit by a mosquito. Be proactive in your work and relationships at work so that you don’t get bit. 
  • Turn the tables. Biters prefer to put the attention on you to put you on the defense or point out your faults. Put the spotlight back on the troublemaker which may neutralize their behavior and catch them off guard. 
  • Use humor and show that bites don’t bother you. Allow things to roll off your back so that the biter is disarmed and flies after someone else.
  • You may need to run into the swarm and confront someone who is biting behind your back or stinging the team. Sometimes calling someone out on their behavior is all that it takes. 
  • If you manage a team with biters on it you need to address it immediately. These types of people can destroy a team, impact productivity, and kill projects.  Effective leaders set boundaries and need to throw a net over the team for protection by asserting consequences to stop biting behavior. 
  • Lead by example and don’t get sucked into the vortex. Sometimes when we see someone “getting away” with a behavior we decide that we should just jump in and emulate that behavior or attitude. Take the high road and remain above the conflict. Set an example and sometimes you may just need to take a few stings before behavior changes. 
  • Remain calm. I admit that when I walk into a swarm of mosquitoes my first instant is to wave my arms and freak out a bit. That may temporarily keep them at bay however; all your motions and exhaling excessive CO2 will only make the biting worse. Keep calm and remain in control. Get away calmly. 

Just like with nature’s pesky mosquitoes there are ways to prevent being bit by a work mosquito. It takes some vigilance, strong character, and willingness to take a stand. Think of your actions and reactions as a worker mosquito repellent. They can be controlled and if anyone invents an actual work repellent – throw some this way!

Do You Need to be Clipped For Growth?

Summer is far from ended but perhaps some of your flowers don’t quite agree. This is frequently the time of year where pots and window boxes look sad with browning leaves and flowers. Your flower beds are likely looking the same and sympathetic to those planted around them. As hard as it is, the best tactic that you can use is to clip them and you don’t necessarily need to be gentle.

For most flowers, especially annuals, their goal is to sprout new life and ultimately set seed (or throw seeds!) before dying. Like all species, they aim to maintain the existence of their species by reproducing. When your flowers, and even some shrubs, look haggard and seem to be drying up you need to deadhead them to give them new life. Deadheading sounds like a drastic measure and it doesn’t mean that you yank them out of the ground. Deadheading entails clipping off the dead or browning flowers and often a sizable chunk of the leaves to jump start your garden into growing profusely and flowering again.

There are numerous benefits to deadheading the flowers and some shrubs in your garden. As tough as it is you are doing them, and yourself, a favor by encouraging growth.

  • Deadheading refreshes the look and lushness of your flowers. Plants improve their health and beauty.
  • When you clip off dead flowers it halts the production of seeds because plants redirect their energy from seed production to root, leaf, and flower growth
  • Clipping plants triggers chemical processes in plants or shrubs that tell them to produce flowers not set seeds.
  • Some plants are notorious self- seeders and clipping off the dead flowers, the vessel for seeds, prevents a mass of baby sprouts the next year
Clearly, you need to be strong, pickup your garden clippers, and cut away. It can be very rewarding as you clip your frustrations away and even more so when your garden springs back to life.

I always say that humans aren’t all that different than the plant and animal life around us. That’s why I started this blog. Sure, we are more complex but we are so similar in many ways. As professionals there are times that we feel like a browning flower in late August. We may feel like we are mentally shriveling up and not producing like we once did. We may lose our purpose or reason to bloom. We aren’t as strong or committed as we once were. We long for the days where each morning we jumped up out of bed fresh and ready to blossom with growth. We may no longer bloom for others or even care about their growth. In short, you feel and maybe even look, like a dead flower head. Sound familiar?

When you feel like this there is only one solution – you need some clipping in order to grow and bloom again. You need to acknowledge that you are in a rut and need a restart. Your mind must change focus from spewing out seeds to growing from the roots and flowering again. So how do you do this?

  • Make a list of what attracted you to your career/job in the first place. Are you doing those things or has your role changed over time without you realizing how far you have drifted from what drew you to it in the first place?
  • What factors with your job, team, or boss have stunted your growth? Is it time to ask for new responsibilities or a change to a new area?
  • Sometimes you just need to admit that it’s you, not “them” or vise-versa. If so, what changes can be made or is it time to clip yourself out of your current job?
  • It may not be your job that is the problem. Maybe you need some growth and to take a class to put some spark back into your field. You may even meet some new people and grow your circle of friends.
  • Teach a class in your field to empower others to grow. You can impact young leaders and I guarantee that you will feel renewed again just helping others learn and flourish.
  • Join a Meetup group in your field or better yet, in a different field. Likewise you can jump back into various associations in your area. You will meet like minded people and you may find that you have something to offer. This may be the new start that you need.
  • Sometimes we get planted in the wrong spot. You can’t grow cactus in the shade and perhaps you do need a change before you shrivel up from being in the wrong place or from a lack of growth. Find a trusted mentor or look into a career coach to guide you to give you a little fertilizer.

I know that there have been times where I have over identified myself with my job. That’s not healthy and there is more to you than a job. Have you noticed that the first thing people ask is what you do or where you work? I found that by volunteering or lifting others up I felt a renewed sense of being and growth. Focusing on the growth of others and trying to have an impact have grown me far more than I could have ever imagined.

As drastic as it sounds you have one life and sometimes you need to either clip yourself or wait for someone else to do it - which may not be pleasant. Many people need to hit bottom first before we take steps to cut off the old in order to grow again. Do you need to be clipped for growth?

Are You Swimming With The Fish?

Photo courtesy of A Href via

One of the joys of having a fish pond goes beyond all the wildlife that visit and the plants that shower it with color during the summer months. A pond is all about growth as well. Every year I am delighted by the baby fish that spawn from the depths of the pond seemingly from nowhere. We started with 12 fish a few years back and our team is now in the thirties.

Last week I was having a bad day and wandered outside to feed the endless gaping fish mouths as they zoomed to the surface of the pond. The water was a bit murky after some heavy showers but the fish caused a bubbling of activity. Off to the side of the pond I saw a tiny single orange and white speck. It was a lone baby goldfish on a journey to find food as he was too tiny to eat the fish pellets. I watched him for a few minutes and was excited at my first sighting of new fish life this summer.

Little fish was busy on his own just doing his own thing which can be unusual for fish as they tend to school with others. He was fairly ignorant of his surroundings. At that moment I felt like that little guy. My bad mood caused me to feel alone and away from the group on a journey of my own pursuing my interests and goals, not really knowing where I was headed. I didn’t know what life will bring or who will be brought into my life to swim with me.

 I think that we all feel like this at times. We feel that no one understands us or “gets” why we are on a particular path. Our choices seem crazy to others as they swim off in a different direction. To us, they seem to be moving blind while we probably look like the sole rogue fish in the pond to them. As I stood at the edge of the pond the little fish popped out of sight. I turned and smiled because although he may have seemed lonely, he was also independent and venturing out on his own to learn more about his world and to seek meaning. My day quickly brightened as it always does when I am in the garden. I understood the journey the fish was on and how lucky was to be alone and making his own waves.

The next day I went to visit the fish and was greeted by several new baby fish friends. I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw so many! My little friend was schooling with the group right in the middle of the pack and they were quickly learning that when the human walks up, dinner is served. It was delightful to see that my tiny friend was strong enough to be on his own yet easily assimilated and was accepted by the group. There is nothing like seeing new life spring up from the pond and surrounding garden.

As I watched the group glided through the pond nibbling away (or trying in some cases!) I reflected. Initially, the day before I felt isolated like the tiny fish in the pond. Guess what? It’s not a negative to feel alone or be on your path. It’s admirable and something that we all need to do to discover what is out in the world and learn how we can have an impact. As my fish friends taught me, you will never be alone because you have a whole team or “school” right beside you for support.

Put on your fins and jump into the murky water to start your journey and know that you aren’t alone, but it’s OK to feel like it from time to time.

Lessons From the Garden

Thanks to Rachel Potter for this insightful guest post.
A garden can be a good metaphor for life, and it has been used this way over and over again because, of course, people and gardens go together and always have. City dwellers might not be able to identify an eggplant or oregano, but even a hundred years ago, most people were more attuned to the natural world’s clock than they were to an actual one. People woke with the sunrise and went to bed when it got dark, and they planted and replanted their gardens to keep a continual supply of food on their tables, so when they went looking for examples to explain life they went to the garden too.

Think of how many of these gardening idioms you use in your regular speech:

She’s as busy as a bee lately.
He’s certainly a late bloomer.
This old coat is going to seed; I need to replace it.
You reap what you sow.
He needs to nip that habit in the bud.

Probably many people don’t even know what reaping or sowing is, but they still use that idiom in their speech to communicate that what goes around comes around or that you get what you deserve in life because reaping and sowing were built into the rhythm of life. You knew if you planted lettuce seeds in your garden, you wouldn’t see tomato plants coming up in that spot. (Unless you planted tomatoes there last year, but that’s another story.)

What do you do when you’ve made a mess of something? We also go back to the garden for advice for that. We talk about getting to the root of the matter or digging something up from its roots, meaning that if we don’t deal with the entire problem, it will just crop up again. We mention mending fences when we mean making up with people we’ve had words with or wronged because we know that good fences make good neighbors (i.e., enforced boundaries are important).

There are also many idioms involving weeds. When we say that someone is deep in the weeds we mean they are in real difficulty. A garden that is overrun by weeds will not be productive because the weeds will steal the nutrients from the soil and the plants there will not thrive. To weed something out means to get rid of a bad thing, a problem. It’s similar to the idea of pulling a bad tooth, but more positive because pulling weeds is a lot less painful than pulling teeth!

It may seem like gardening problems and people problems have little in common, but there are many things to be learned from watching how a garden grows. Planting in season, watching the weather, tending your plot, watering when necessary pulling weeds while they are little and manageable - they may seem like childish lessons, but they can be applied to leadership too.

It’s easier to deal with a problem when it first emerges. We know that. Watching the dynamics between people in your company and looking to see which people work well together and which hinder each other - that’s crucial too. When you have problems with your staff or coworkers, it helps to determine what the real problem is rather than trying to fix a stream of petty complaints.

If you are a gardener, you’ll automatically see life through a the lens of the garden, but others may find it helpful to take what wisdom the natural world has to offer as well.

Leadership is Like a Kitten

Just call me Kitty!
“A kitten is in the animal world what a rosebud is in the garden” – Robert Southey

Three years ago my sons brought home two adorable kittens. They talked us into keeping them. A year later another one showed up conveniently hidden in a box in the arms of one of my twins. Both sets of eyes had a pleading look. Reluctant at first, they became a part of our family. The only problem was that we are all allergic to cats and they couldn’t live in the house. Rather quickly a miniature door was cut out leading into the heated garage; they received canned cat food and treats daily like it was Christmas. They roamed all over our land and lazily come home to their castle. Spoiled rotten kitties!

They were very handy to have around. They were sneaky predators that stalked field mice and my favorite, moles. They loved staring into our pond watching our fish whip and splash about knowing that catching one was hopeless. They befriended the fish that would swim up to nibble on their paws. In short, they were the perfect low maintenance lovable pets.  They eagerly purred for attention and loved to sit and watch us work outside while just enjoying nature.

Unfortunately, two of our cats passed away this year but not before leaving a legacy of 4 tiny kittens. Mama cat wanted nothing to do with us and quickly passed this attitude along to her kids. The family would sneak into the garage for food and water but vanished when we came close. This continued for two months until one day we were able to get close to one of the kittens, close being 6 feet away.

The kitten came to visit for food every night and she must have been setting her watch to be on time. She would linger under the car and the kids would sit there every night on the floor throwing her treats trying to coax her closer.  As the trust built we could touch her head with one finger, then two. She slowly moved closer to us but fled at the slightest loud noise or quick movement.

Another few weeks passed and our relationship strengthened. Kitty rubbed up against everything and came closer. Soon she rubbed up against our hand. We were able to pet her and she would rub up against us for attention. Bingo! The kitten adopted us. Her name is Kitty because that’s what we kept calling her and she knows no other name. Now, she hangs out on our deck craving attention for hours on end. She stares into the window waiting for someone to pet her and play. She quickly runs to us when she hears her name. She trusts us and her eyes beg to be with us. She’s quickly become spoiled and turns her nose up at hard cat food. She wants the best. It has taken time, but we have developed a relationship and trust - there is no better gift.

At this point you are probably wondering what a kitten has to do with leadership. It’s simple.  We started from scratch with Kitty and had to slowly engage with her by being gentle and understanding. We had to earn her trust, not thrust ourselves onto her and demand that she come to us. We had to “earn” our title as her pet partner which took time, patience, and commitment. Once the bond was formed, she adopted us.

Leadership is no different. Just because you have a leadership title or are in a particular position does not make you a leader. I have worked with numerous “leaders” and there was not a single leadership bone in their body. They used their title to force change and it only alienated people and hampered results. No, real leaders come in all shapes and from diverse backgrounds and experiences.

Real leaders are humble and really interested in people. They want to empower and make change through people and give teams a voice. True leaders will invite others to sit at the table for conversation and decisions. They earn the trust of others through their actions and willingness to serve rather than direct. True leaders know that trust and openness take time. It can’t be rushed or respect demanded from teams. Real leaders really know how to lead because they take the time to get to know people and genuinely invest in them.

Now get out there and tame some “kittens”. Be humble and willing to serve. Build trust and encourage them to trust you. Be the leader that you know you can be! Who says that leadership isn’t like a kitten?

Want Free Benefits? Garden!

A rare and special find!

"The glory of gardening; hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just on the body, but the soul" - Alfred Austin 

A special thanks to Rachel Potter for this insightful guest post.

It’s the kind of story that people hear about but have a hard time believing: Cheryl Corbin, a Mifflin County woman, was digging in her garden and found a rare 1793 penny - a copper cent similar to this one with Lady Liberty shown on its face. A coin like this may be worth several thousands of dollars.

 Of course, as exciting as it would be for a coin collector - or anyone - to find a rare piece of history in her plot of dirt, most gardeners are there for other reasons and discover other things that are just as valuable to them as a rare coin or other treasure. Here are a few to consider:

Time spent in the natural world - How many hours do we all spend in front of screens every day? While it may seem normal to our kids to always be plugged into some kind of a device, people in Generation X and older remember the days when you had to make your own entertainment and when parents, tired of the noise, told you to “Go outside. Be back by dinnertime.” It wasn’t even bad, wandering about and seeing what was happening around you. In your garden there are hundreds of things to observe, and only some of them are about the plants you’ve planted. How does the wildlife interact with your plants? How does the cycle of life and death play out everyday there? Watching a plant grow from a tiny seed to a prolific producer of food or flowers is an everyday miracle. Don’t forget it.

Health benefits - An often cited anecdote is that gardeners live longer than people, and there are reasons to believe this is true. Besides the known health benefits of exercise, breathing fresh air, and exposure to the sunshine, working with and in the dirt can help you avoid illness. Why? Exposure to the micro-organisms, minerals, and bacteria in the soil is a good way of keeping your immune system on its toes. Scientists now believe that many auto-immune diseases like Crohn’s Disease are partially the result of too sterile conditions. A garden, by definition, is the opposite of sterile! A garden is life.

Mental health benefits - Gardening can cause your stress levels and your blood pressure to drop. Doing repetitive tasks in a natural environment is relaxing in ways we don’t even fully understand. Studies have shown that children with behavior problems do better when exposed to trees and other plants - just playing in a place with trees actually helps. Imagine how much better it is for your peace of mind to work hands-on with plants. For many people gardening can be a form of meditation or even prayer so it’s physical, mental, and spiritual exercise.

One of the worst things about modern life in terms of well being, is how so much of it is done in artificial and sterile surroundings. Human beings evolved in the natural world, and their bodies need the things found there to live, grow, and develop. Other people may view gardening as a hobby, but it’s really a way of living again the way people lived in tune with their surroundings for thousands of years. Realizing that and choosing to take advantage of the resulting benefits will benefit you far more than even discovering buried treasure will!

Where Is Your Support?

You can do anything as long as you have the passion, the drive, the focus, and the support - Sabrina Bryan

My living conifer arch thanks to the right support!

If you visit my garden and look at some of my weeping conifers you may think that there is something amiss. I love weeping trees for their uniqueness and character. Most of my trees look odd with stakes poking out of them. There may be several support stakes poised in curious directions. My garden is a like a paint canvass and I love to unleash my creativity which includes creating the unusual and funky. Weeping trees are like that odd flashy relative at a family reunion – you are mesmerized and just keep staring at them.

For years I have been training my conifers to grow in crazy directions. I even have a few that look like tall, wise old gents overseeing the garden with outstretched arms. In some of these pictures you can see where trees are being trained to weep where I want them too.  I have coaxed a few of them to create living arches over some of my paths. It’s incredible to walk through the garden under lush green arches that gently sway in the breeze. The key is providing the weepers with the right kind of support.

To grow into magnificent living sculptures, weeping trees need support. They can’t flourish into what is in your imagination alone. They also need patience and for you to carry out the vision of what they can be in your mind. In short, they need you because you provide the structure that they seek when they need it most.

 Creating living weeping sculptures is simple. Start with a weeping conifer with pliable branches and simply drive a support stake from a garden center into the ground until its sturdy.  The size of the stake should be taller than the branch that you will be supporting. Simply tie the branch(s) in the direction that you want them to grow onto the post with garden twine or tape. Don’t tie them too tight because the circumference of a tree branch grows more quickly than you may think and you don’t want to choke it by tying too tightly. Tie it enough so the branch remains supported yet, the branch or trunk has some slight wiggle room.

You will probably need to practise tying the branches a few times but its simple once you have the hang of it. That’s all you need to do! Within a year or two you can remove the stake and you will have a living art piece. Here are some of my favorite weeping conifers to use in the garden:

Weeping White Pine
Weeping Alaska Cedar
Weeping Norway Spruce
Weeping Larch
Weeping Serbian Spruce
Weeping Japanese Red Pine
Weeping Bald cypress
Weeping Hemlock
Weeping Blue Spruce

There are literally hundreds of weeping conifers for homeowners to start growing living art in the yard.  There are several excellent online garden sites where you can curate some unusual weepers for your yard. The best part? Staking and occasionally watering conifers are the hardest part about growing them into something where people say “Wow!”

Not surprisingly, we aren’t so different from plant life. There are times when we all need support  in order to spread out and grow into magnificent “living art”. The tree stake  that so many of us use to stake trees in our yards represents the many forms of support that enable us all to become the best that we can be in both our personal and professional lives. Our society is fast paced and we have become a world where we shoulder too much and feel like we need to do it all. Asking for help or admitting that we can’t handle a project or problem on our own leaves us feeling weak or ineffective. I have a hard time asking for assistance because I don’t like bothering others and I tell myself that I can handle what is thrown at me. Wrong!

Slowly, I feel that there is more societal acceptance brewing where people admit that we all need a little help or support – and it’s OK. The complexities of work and family have pushed many of us to pull back to try to find a better balance. Even business is pushing employees to take vacations and several have implemented programs to help create balance. Moreover, we have more choices available for support or group understanding. The Internet enables us to reach out to others anywhere in the world who may share our same concerns and frustrations.

Need some support? There are a lot of “stakes” out there to support your growth!

  1. Career and life coaches have become the norm and many companies even subsidize the cost.
  2. Group coaching for people experiencing the same issues or concerns.
  3. Certified career counselors can be very beneficial to supporting change and for encouragement.
  4. Networking groups. I have twins and when my kids were young our local Mother of Twins club kept me sane!
  5. Meetup groups are fantastic and ongoing all over the country. You can find any group to fuel a passion or be with like minds.
  6. Find a mentor. Numerous organizations have in-house programs as part of career development programs.
  7. Facebook can actually be a great resource for support. I was a member of a closed online mentoring group for a year and it was phenomenal. I met some great ladies.
  8. How about joining career groups like the AMA, Professional Speakers Association or other industry specific groups. I belong to our local Lean In group as well a local women’s group and it really helps me stay grounded. It is a safe haven to share my work balance concerns.
  9. Jump into some volunteering with a local chamber or diversity groups.You will grow professionally and support your personal enrichment.
  10. Join coworkers after work just to chat and get to know each other. You may find some new support or make a new confidant. My husband attends “beer league” at least twice a month with some coworkers and has really deepened some relationships.

Support and feeling like we are not alone is so critical in our fast paced society. Don’t try to grow alone, welcome a helping hand. When the going gets tough, find a “stake” to support you. At times I liken myself to the conifers that I support with stakes….The more support I have , the more likely I will be strengthened and become the living art that I was placed on earth to be!