A Halloween Leadership Challenge

Photo courtesy of Danny Chapman via Comflight.com

Happy Halloween! I’m not going to lie. Halloween is my absolute favorite holiday of the year. It even beats Christmas which is too busy, too hyped, and it drags on for months and months. Here in the Midwest the weather this time of year is relatively palatable and trick or treating is a great excuse to take a nice long night stroll.

I have fond memories of trick or treating from when I was young. I’m particularly proud of how cool I thought I was when I scored a huge bag of candy and ran home to change into another costume so that I could go for a second round. It was always enchanting to mingle with the neighbors and see the neighborhood light up into a fantasy world for one magical night. I loved being someone else for a few hours!

As an adult I love watching my kids enjoying the same adventures that I did. I enjoy combing through their candy and picking out my favorite chocolates. I always tell them to bring me back all the chocolate and Twizzlers that they can. Please don’t give them apples or healthy stuff in the pumpkin bag. I don’t like to eat those on Halloween! I will also admit what so many of you are thinking – it’s fun to look into people’s homes on Halloween when they answer the door to ghouls and princesses. Come on…..

My kids have always dreamed far in advance about what they want to be on October 31st. With 4 boys the planning certainly saved last minute panic and money. Thinking ahead about who they want to be has always been an interesting experience to watch as they toss out ideas, sketch pictures accenting details, and spending countless hours researching on the internet. I’ve relished hearing why they want to be a particular character and watching them act the part. For our family, Halloween has been about using our imaginations and putting ourselves into the shoes of someone else for one magical night.

This Halloween season I have a challenge for you. Consider it a leadership growth opportunity. One day a week for the next month pretend that it is Halloween. That’s right. Now, you don’t need to dress up unless you really want to but prepared for strange looks. For just one day place yourself into the shoes of someone else that you lead or work with. Become this person as they go about their day, manage teams, fight fires, and handle difficult clients. Learn what your people really do and how they feel as they go about their day. What challenges do they face? What frustrates them? What obstacles are in their way? How is the culture that they work in? What works for them and do they seem to enjoy their role? The questions are endless as you “trick or treat” in the shoes of another for a day.

Are you ready to up your leadership for the next month by pretending to be one of your staff for a day and utilize a “trick or treat” form of leadership? I would love to hear the results.

Got Your Scared On This Week?

"I think on some level, you do your best things when you're a little off balance, a little scared. You've got to work from mystery, from wonder, from not knowing" - Willem Dafoe
Photo courtesy of Electricity Mule via Compfight
Photo courtesy of Samlavi via Compfight
Photo courtesy of Michel Taggart via Compfight

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays of the year. The season is still colorful, the snow hasn't hit, the spooky shows are all on, and I love seeing people dress up for fun and adventure. Halloween brings out the creativity and inner child in most people. I also love chocolate which I can conveniently pull out of my kid's trick-or-treat bags, and drinking warm spiced wine.

In the Midwest we love to decorate the outside of our homes with corn stalks (we have a lot at our disposal!), mums, pumpkins, grapevines, and colored corn cobs. Some people take it a step further and add graveyards, spider webs, and ghosts. Turn on the Travel Channel this time of year and see what outlandish creations that people have come up with. This is the season for all things scary! This is the perfect time of year to introduce you to some of the "scariest" and oddest plants around. Perhaps you will choose to add them to the exterior of your home this season or invite them inside......

Plants that dare you to bring them home

  • Venus Flytrap: Many of us had these vultures as kids and read scary books about them. They quickly close and trap bugs to digest them with powerful enzymes. Imagine the stories that you can tell your kids!
  • Pitcher Plants and Monkey Cups: These are equally as frightening because they also eat bugs live. Some of these plants are blood red or almost black. They are sure to ward off .. your bug problem.
  • Black Bat Flower: This gem is tropical and near black. It has "ears" and "whiskers" sure to intrigue.
  • Chinese Lanterns: These perennials are available at nurseries and resemble actual orange lanterns or tiny pumpkins. Beware.... they will pop up where you least expect them!
  • Black Mondo Grass: This is an awesome all black perennial that adds drama and mystery to your gardens. You can cut some and bring it inside to add fright.
  • Milkweed pods burst outside this time of year and resemble tiny ghosts floating through the air.
  • Many of us plant Cockscomb in our annual gardens every year. These plants come in different colors and resemble fuzzy, odd shaped brains.
  •  Amaranth: These annuals come in a variety of tones and sizes. They can often be found dried for inside decoration. They have a unique fuzzy texture and resemble long pulsing blood vessels.
  • Tropical Orchids: Orchids come in so many sizes, colors, and shapes. The spookiest ones are black with white tendrils like the Octopus Orchid. Some Orchids prefer to grow without soils and have creepy thick fleshy roots. Yuck!

The list of spooky plants go on and on - just use your imagination! For more ideas and pictures go to Vegetable Gardener.com or Sunset Freaky Plants. View at your own risk!

"It is not what we know that scares us, it is what we do not" - A.G. Phillips

Scary plants are unique, unusual, and fun. Fearing leadership isn't. Everyone has their fears, some people just excel at covering them up. At one time or another we have all been scared to death when we started new job, been promoted, or been thrust into a management or leadership role that we just didn't feel ready for. We are all human and there's no harm in admitting that you have your scared on! In fact, admitting that you are scared and looking at why is a healthy and natural thing to do. What scares you?

Let's get it out in the open. This is what scares us when we think "Leadership":
  • I'm just not ready! Most of us ever are. For instance, did you feel ready to be a parent? Really?
  • I don't have enough experience. No one knows everything. Leaders lead - they aren't the know it all.
  • Lack of confidence. We all feel deflated at one time or another. Trust me. A lot of people fake confidence. A lot.
  • What if I fail? You earned your spot. Keep showing 'em what you've got!
  • Public speaking and addressing groups scares me! Practice, practice, join Toastmasters.
  •  What if my people are smarter than me? Leading isn't just about smarts. It's about connecting people, empowering them, and encouraging people to achieve.
  • It's a lot of responsibility. 
  • Forming the right team and a strong team. How do I that that? 
  • Will I make the right decisions? We all make mistakes and can learn from them. Publicly learning from your mistakes is one of the best leadership traits.
  • It's scary managing people older than me. Been there and done that. That's YOUR problem, not your team's. Not everyone wants a leadership position and some peeps are content just doing what they love in their job. 
  • I'm not good with criticism. You have been dealing with it your entire life. You've survived and will persevere. 

Being scared is healthy and human. It's what has kept us alive and thriving going back to the caveman days. Being scared keeps us on our toes, propels us forward, and forces us to look at why we are scared. Being scared makes us deal with what we don't know or can't control. Being scared can be a leaders best friend!
Photo courtesy of Husband Unit via Compfight

How do you deal with your fears?

Are You Masking Your Leadership?

"As an actor, we spend so much time putting the mask on and trying to be someone you're not" - Russell Hornsby

I must admit that Halloween is my favorite holiday! My boys have a blast picking out costumes and accessorizing as if they are going to the prom. I think it's the only time that they ever care how they are dressed! I have a chocolate addiction, so I love snatching all the good stuff when they aren't looking. There's plenty to go around! Kids love fantasizing and pretending that they are someone else- even if it's just for the night. By the looks of it, there are a lot of adults that never quite outgrow their love of pretend either...You know who you are!
Halloween has to be the most creative holiday of all. Some people really go nuts with the lights and decorations - all for one night. Others relish trying to scare the wits out of kids. Moreover, it amazes me how creative and zany people become in decorating their pumpkins. Some of them are literally works of art. It's obvious  that a lot of time and planning went into what seems to me is an impossible feat! I usually end up "over" carving my pumpkin faces and they cave within 2 days! I can grow them - I just can't carve or cook them. Some pumpkins depict flamboyant faces while others come to life with realistic scenery's that tell a story. Incredible!

The tradition of pumpkin carving goes way back to Europe in the Middle Ages. People carried around gourds with candles in them with the belief that evil spirits would be scared away. When our ancestors landed here, there was a lack of gourds so pumpkins were used instead. Pumpkins are squashes from the Cucurbita family which are native to North America. Technically they are fruits that love warmer weather. Most people plant the seeds in June when summer is heating up. Pumpkins love rich well drained soil and a lot of sun. They refuse to grow until the air temps are 65 degrees or higher. Plant the seeds in hills with plenty of room for them to grow. Pumpkin vines will quickly take over your yard so beware! There are over 82 varieties of pumpkins in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Pumpkins come in red, green, white, pink, striped, and even blue! As people have become more accepting, these unusual colors can be picked up at markets Wikipedia.
Fantasizing and pretending is what Halloween is all about. Masks, pumpkins, candy, and cavities. What more could a kid want? When Halloween is over though... we need to set aside the masks and pumpkin faces and show our "real" face. I ask you this - Are you masking yourself ? Are you pretending to be someone you're not? 
Beware! Wearing a "leadership" mask can be detrimental to yourself and those around you!
I don't know about you, but I have worked with a lot of people who wear masks. They feel that the only way to get ahead or fit in is to be someone that they aren't. They try to act and react according to how they think others want them to. They mimic their boss and take on his mannerisms. Suddenly, they turn into a "Mini Me". They often  have an air about them that is fake or they act like they are on a stage. Do you know someone like this?? Is it you?
In my first "real" job out of college I joined a management training program. There were 11 of us and we rotated in different areas of the company to gain exposure and experience. We formed some strong friendships and frequently hung out together after work. As time went on, some of the people in our group changed. They became more aloof and acted like they were "better" than us. They hung out with people that they felt could further their careers. They had changed and acted like the herd that they had joined to get ahead. What infuriated us the most was that they were promoted faster. The fake face and persona that they had adapted rewarded them in kind. Have you been in the same boat? It doesn't sit well when "fake" people move ahead for their own gain while relationships suffer. 

People take on a false facade for a variety of reasons. For some, it's a way to hide their flaws and weaknesses. For others, it's a lack of self confidence. Some people are promoted and don't feel that they "deserve" it so they lead with a false pretense. Fear, insecurity, a lack of self worth, and lack of trust force people to act in ways that aren't true to who they really are. They put on "airs", they act like the boss because they can't be themselves, they aren't good at showing feelings so they mask them. When you hide who you are, it causes internal conflict. You may have trouble connecting or being honest with people. People who don't think that they are deserving won't develop into strong leaders. They are so busy trying to prove themselves (internally and externally) or pretending, that they fail to break through.
To lead you must be authentic and have a sincere interest in helping others. You should be passionate about making a difference and not hide behind any doubts or internal struggles. You need to address these key areas if you are going to throw the mask off and lead:
  • Insecurity : Shed any thoughts of not being good enough or that you aren't deserving. You have the skills and drive to make a difference. Don't allow yourself to feel powerless or helpless. Write down all your strengths or ask those that you trust what they think. Acknowledge your strengths and build on them every day. Tell yourself that you are a strong and deserving leader. You become what you think. Knock those negative thoughts out of your head.
  • Fear: Don't fixate on saying or doing the "right" things. Everyone makes errors and YOU are the only one who will really ever notice. If you avoid mistakes, you will never learn or grow. You will lose your "influence". Embrace dealing with difficult situations or conflicts with people. Face your fears head on. They won't unmask until you do. No one is perfect.
  • Lack of trust: You need to learn to trust yourself and others. Don't hide from leaning on others. We are social beings and need each other. People love being asked for help or support. Do it until it feels natural. Give back your trust as well in your people. Great leaders MUST trust. You need  to have faith in other's talents, abilities, and gifts.

You will lose out as an effective leader if you don't look beneath your mask and unleash your fears, address your lack of self confidence, and learn to trust . Companies are finally recognizing the value of "soft skills" Clomedia.com and it's more vital than ever that you  develop authentic and unmasked leadership skills. If you don't - BOO! It will catch up to you! Are you prepared?