Leadership Management Change Gardening

Are You Cutting Your Team Down OR Being Their Support?

Photo Courtesy of Dstma via Compfight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Courtesy of Ian Sane via Compfight

Are You "Rooting" For The Underdog?

"If there's one cultural quality we have, it's that we always see ourselves as an underdog" - Bill Gates

Photo courtesy of Powerhouse Museum via Compfight

How many of you have ever had a "runt" of some kind? When I was young, we had a little poodle puppy named Inky that was literally the "runt" of the litter. She was so tiny and rather pathetic looking compared to her siblings. She wobbled and was shy. She couldn't keep up with the litter, but it was the runt in her that attracted us. She was tiny, helpless, but she had so much potential and we could see the determination in her eyes. It was like she willed us to choose her. Inky grew up into a strong full sized dog and lived life to the end. She was well worth "rooting" for.

As Americans, we have a tendency of cheering for the little guy to win. We love to hear stories about people who came to this country and achieved success. Likewise, we love to hear when people overcome an immense hardship and persevere despite insurmountable obstacles. It's just our way. On the outside "runts' may not look like much, but inside? There's a strong determined will to succeed and make a mark in the world. I bet that you know someone like this!

In the plant world I liken the Charlie Brown Christmas tree to one of the underdogs. It was small in size but had a huge impact. Magical. Fall is a great time to find plants at fire sale prices. Growers need to move everything out. Often, sale plants can look pretty pathetic this time of year. They have been sitting outside in some fairly nasty weather and show it. They are the "forgotten" at this time of year.  It's not what's on top that is important when you look at some of these plants, it's what's underneath.

There are some clear advantages to buying Charlie Brown plants right now. Forget how they look - imagine what they can be. They have more potential than bigger, showy plants!

The advantages of underdogs:
  • Smaller root systems mean  healthier growth when they get in the ground.
  • Underdogs will experience less transplant shock. They will settle in more easily.
  • Budding or flowering plants have more shock than a twig with healthy roots. The little guy can concentrate on internal growth rather than preserving flowers.
  • They are cheaper! 
  • Little = easier to plant.
  • Some little plants are often more rare and harder to find. For instance, many trees are grafted and therefore grow slower but are worth more in so many ways.
  • A bigger canopy on a shrub or tree means  more stress and potentially more damage after it's planted.
  • If you want to train and nurture a plant for a space it's easier when it's young, smaller, and pliable. I love to train my weeping conifers into artistic forms, but they have to be young to work with.

In short? I would rather grow and coax a smaller runt than a larger establish plant. It's more flexible and gives me a lot more satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment!

People really are a lot like plants. As a leader it makes more sense to "root" for the underdog on your team. Trust me, it's well worth the adventure and can be the most satisfying experience of your life.

As a manager, one of my passions is looking for the gifts in people and bringing them to light. I love seeing someone find their strength and surprise others by giving the performance of their life. Often the perceived "underdog" will become your top performer and have the most immense impact. The lesson? Look for your underdogs and root for them with all that you have!

Rooting for the "little guy" grows your people, your team, and YOU!

  • Again, rooting for the little guy is our American way. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps and become a success.
  • Developing others allows you to develop your own talent and help them mesh with your various teams.
  • Underdogs want to grow and develop. Give them a change to have a more vested interest in your group.
  • Developing others is a gift and becomes a true mission in life. Personally, it's one of the most rewarding things that you can do.
  • The underdogs are our future. Don't leave it to someone else to shape the future and grow new leaders.
  • Mentor and introduce your little guys to various groups within your company and upper leaders. Give them exposure and encourage them to become more involved.
  • Expose people to newer projects and ideas. Little guys may need more coaxing and mentoring.
  • Offer more training and learning opportunities. Invest in people.
  • Give everyone room to make mistakes, grow, and learn. Underdogs may need more space to feel comfortable spreading their wings.
  • Make it your mission to become known for "rooting" for your people. You will be amazed at the talent that will want to work for and with you.
  • Remember the roots from which you came and give someone else a chance to grow.
Get your head out of the dirt and grow your own roots. Your leadership will impact those around you and help "grow" the underdogs. Do you know who will really grow the most? YOU! Get out there and get growing!

Don't Stand So Close To Me!

"Leaders must be close enough to relate to others, but far enough ahead to motivate them" - John C Maxwell

Photo courtesy of Alison Christine via Compfight

I admit it - I am a plant snob. I think that the arrival of Spring may bring the worst out of me. Why? Spring is a prime planting time for trees and shrubs. Everyone has been locked up all winter and we are craving to get outside to clean winter up. Nurseries are bursting with new trees and shrubs and  we start planting. Unfortunately, too many people don't like reading plant tags or asking questions of experienced nurserymen. What we often get is trouble....

As I drive around neighborhoods, my attention is always drawn to the trees and shrubs that are planted in front yards. Often, I itch to take a picture of a picturesque and stately tree standing proudly in a yard. It's presence sets the house off . Likewise, I also find myself wanting to stop and save the world by cutting down some "mis-planted" trees or shrubs. When I see trees planted too close to a house I just want to start singing the old Police song "Don't stand so close to me".

There is a new housing development a few miles from us. The houses are beautiful with some interesting exterior accents that makes each one unique. Last Spring I watched the progression of some landscaping slowly being placed in one particular yard. Obviously by the homeowners. They planted some nice weeping Cherry and Pear trees. They also added some thin lush evergreens - ALL planted about 3 feet from the house! In just a few years these cute weeping specimens will be 10+ feet tall and leaning as they grown into the house. The nice vision of a professionally landscaped yard in the mind of the new homeowners will be a "Tree Armageddon"!

Please...Your trees are begging you to not plant SO close to you!

Planting trees and larger shrubs too close to a house is tempting. You see a cute little tree in front of you and know that it will look perfect right by the house. Generally, you don't need to remove any existing grass or other plants. It's quick and easy. It looks great. Wait! What looks awesome  now can end up costing you thousands of dollars in 5 years and a lot of hard work hours to fix. Below is what planting that cute little tree can cost you......

  • Damaged foundation as the tree roots grow into the structure of your home
  • Cracked driveway and sidewalks as roots crack it with growth
  • Storm damage as tree branches crack and damage roofs, windows, gutters
  • Cost to trim or remove large branches near a house
  • Windows or doors become covered and offer a great place for the bad guys to hide
  • Power lines are threatened by overgrown branches
  • Tree roots can grow into septic tanks and sprinkler lines
  • Plumbing issues
  • Scraggly looking trees that struggle who grow without room to spread
  • Animals will love you for providing a way for them to get onto your roof and into your house
  • In some ares that are plagued by Termites you are giving them a great home - right next to yours!
  • Snow damage will break branches - right onto your house
  • Drainage issues
Is that new little tree of yours cute enough to plant close? I don't think so either! Read tags and do your research before planting. Look on the Internet for mature tree growth and height. Ask experienced gardeners or nurserymen for advice. Visualize what your house will look like 10 years from now. Aim to plant compact and narrow trees. Some trees can be planted just a mere few feet from your home. For most, keep them 15 feet from light poles and a good 10 feet from cement. Plan, plan, plan. Don't be singing the Police song in a few years!

Leaders! Don't "stand" too close to your people!

Your people are your foundation and like trees planted right next to a home, standing too close can be dangerous. Managers shouldn't allow themselves to favor certain employees. You can't allow the emotion of being close to your people to cloud your perception and muddle your judgment. Leadership means always walking a fine line between being caring and compassionate to your team and being able to make the best decisions for the whole. Keep your roots firmly planted, but leave room for growth for your people. To do so, you must keep your space. Don't plant yourself too close as it can damage your "foundation":

  • Be personal and approachable but don't be IN your team's personal life
  • Be helpful and supportive but don't be the "personal" problem solver
  • Value people and make them feel a part of the team but don't go overboard
  • Don't ever lose your objectivity
  • Maintain enough "distance" to be an effective manager
  • Be fair with everyone, all the time
  • Don't allow favoritism on the part of anyone on your team. Never allow yourself to develop it either
  • Developing healthy feeling for your team is critical but don't allow them to affect your decision making ability
  • If you become too close to your team and are their "bud" you will never be able to discipline them
  • Your team members are NOT your friends
  • Favoring anyone just once may lead to rumors and signal a lack of your leadership abilities
  • Your employees are like your children in many ways. You want to be there for them as they grow and you love leading them to new opportunities. You are still their "parent" and need to set boundaries and stand by them

Whether you are a homeowner or leading people, you should think ahead and be careful how close you plant your roots. Being too close over a period of time will stifle growth and have costs down the road. Allow your "trees" plenty of room to grow and flourish without becoming too involved. The results will be rewarding years from now when you look back and see what you  have created and how it has grown!

Photo courtesy of Jervetson 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


What's your leadership style - Goldenrod or Ragweed?

Goldenrod is a striking flower!

A weed is a plant that has mastered every survival skill except for learning how to grow in rows - Doug Larson

Mid summer is such a delight! Fresh air, beaches, campfires, and fresh veggies. What's not to love this time of year? Well....if you are an allergy sufferer - a lot! Someone upstairs decided to play a trick on me when I turned 21. I suddenly became miserable in the spring and summer. I discovered that I am allergic to every grass, weed, tree, and pets like cats and dogs. I've suffered through allergy shots, meds, and everything in between. Not good news for someone who loves to power garden!

If you are miserable this time of year, you may suspect that Ragweed is to blame. Ragweed is a strong and unworthy opponent to fight. Most allergy sufferers lose the battle. Ragweed is in the Ambrosia family and grows in 48 states. If you live in the Midwest, we own the honor of having the most Ragweed on earth. Thus, it's hard to escape from! Each plant has both male and female flowers and can grow 1-5 feet tall. There are 17 species in North America and it can grow anywhere. What makes Ragweed so wicked is that it can produce over 1 billion grains of pollen over a season. The pollen is windblown and can travel up to 400 miles away WebMD . With that power, it's no wonder that people sniffle, sneeze, walk around like zombies with red puffy eyes, have congestion, and develop asthma or hives.

 Ragweed's PR department has played a trick on us for years. Most people think that Goldenrod is the culprit for their suffering. Goldenrod has vibrant flowers and is in the Solidago plant family in the picture to the upper left. Goldenrod flowers at the same time as Ragweed thus it usually gets blamed for our misery. Goldenrod has been a popular garden plant in England for years and is showing up more in gardens here. It's pollen is heavy and can only be be spread via insects like bees. Goldenrod actually has medicinal uses and is a state flower in 3 states UMN Extension.  The key difference between these two plants is that Ragweed doesn't really have "flowers". They are ugly and green, not showy like Goldenrod. The Ragweed in the picture below was taken in my garden and is anything but beautiful. It's well, deceitful and not transparent to people that it is an allergy culprit, not Goldenrod.

The lack of transparency to most people between Ragweed and Goldenrod got me to thinking.....In business, not all leaders are transparent and authentic in their leadership style. The economic roller coaster ride that we have all been on for 4 years has been in part due to a lack of transparency by companies, government agencies, the mortgage industry.. the list goes on. What difference does true transparency make? What differences does knowing the facts about Ragweed and Goldenrod make? A LOT!

Merriam-Webster defines transparency as "Free from pretense or deceit. Readily understood. Characterized by visibility or accessibility of information especially concerning business practices". If the recent economic woes taught us anything, we now know how critical it is to have clear and accurate financials and projections. Both the government and public are demanding to receive accurate and relevant information.

In 2009, I had a good friend that worked at a solid and reputable community bank. The economy was rapidly declining and loan losses were increasing. The banking industry was feeling the pinch and most were forced to look at different options to ride out the cycle.  Wendy told me about a meeting that their CEO held with all of the officers and managers in the company. He clearly laid out the challenges that the industry and their bank was facing. He shared numbers, costs, and  what if scenarios.  He asked for input from everyone in the room on what changes they should make to cut costs while maintaining employee engagement. He wanted feedback on delaying promotions, eliminating raises, and changing the health care package. He was open and truly wanted the group to work through the issues. He was personally opposed to placing more hardship on families by eliminating some health care benefits. My friend was humbled and impressed by his honest communication, trust in his people, genuine concern for his team, and his heartfelt focus on doing what was right for everyone. She was wowed. The result? The team agreed to keep the health care plan intact, follow through with deserved promotions, and eliminated raises. Everyone was on board and was empowered to go back to their people to replicate the CEO's leadership style. That's transparency!

Obviously as managers we can't always be forthcoming with information and completely transparent - even when we want to be. There are privacy issues, legal issues, agreements, safety concerns, etc that intervene. Here is what can happen when an organization or leader chooses to act more like a "Ragweed" in an organization and people see through it:
  • People start to assume that everything that is said lacks the truth and is deliberately misleading
  • Internal politics gain momentum as people second guess each other and won't trust
  • Employees loose faith. They worry and don't focus on their jobs or goals
  • Gossip runs rampant. See my post on gossip at Has gossip become a disease at your company?
  • Production deadlines or quality can suffer due to conflicting information
  • Trust in upper management declines. Manipulation and misdirection of goals is suspected
  • The corporate floor trust declines and individual agendas are formed
  • Corporate culture can be decimated 
  • Corporate mission and values are twisted or downplayed
  • Good people leave the company
  • Corporate branding and reputation is harmed
  • Shareholder trust is  eroded, public faith is impacted, government intervention is possible
In short, who wants to work at a company where there is no transparency? Misinformation erodes so many areas of an organization. The truth can hurt, but people deserve open, truthful communication and adequate facts to make decisions that affect their careers, families, and future. Don't mimic the Ragweed, shine like the Goldenrod flower and become an authentic and transparent leader. Here's how:
  • Be genuine and always be yourself to your team. Be consistent in your approach and vision
  • Lead with your heart. Don't be afraid to share your emotions. Be authentic
  • Be truthful in your communication whenever possible. Don't fake it - people will see through it
  • Share clear financial and market facts whether they be positive or negative. Explain the consequences
  • Have an updated "dashboard" where everyone can see the company mission, values, goals, and results in real time
  • Share your values and their congruence with the organization's - don't mask anything
  • Be open to questions and evaluate other's opinions. You aren't always right!
  • Be timely and responsive to people. Follow through
  • Ask for information prior to making critical decisions that effect the organization - like the example above
  • Treat everyone as an equal. Try to eliminate an "us" and "them" mentality
  • Hire employees who hold the values that you want the organization to reflect
  • Build strong teams that bring people together and model giving credit where credit is due
  • Admit mistakes, be prepared to have open and difficult discussions
  • Provide your clients with the same transparency. Provide honest pricing, materials and  marketing information. Demand that they too remain transparent in their business practices
The days of being lax with open and truthful information are ending. The economic upheaval of the last few years changed how we all work and society is demanding more from us as leaders. Look at the number of corporate scandals that have erupted  in the past few years. Notice the number of leaders that are being locked away for not playing by the new rules that we as a society demand of them. Be a Goldenrod flower, not a Ragweed!

Eliminating allergies isn't that much easier than growing transparent leaders! How to combat the effects of  Ragweed?
  • Faithfully use allergy pills, nasal sprays, and nasal irrigation
  • Stay inside when pollen is at it's highest, generally between 10am - 4pm
  • Shower after being outside to remove any pollen on your clothes or body
  • Keep windows closed and the air conditioner on during peak allergy times
  • Use an air purifier in your home or bedroom to help remove airborne particles
  • Wear a mask outside if you have severe allergies - especially if you have asthma
  • Consider allergy shots for long term relief (it's a long process - trust me!)
Enjoy life! Don't let plants dictate how you live your life. Don't let others dictate how you should lead. Be yourself. Be honest. Be transparent. Have empathy. Make a difference in the world!
Ragweed enjoying my garden!

Has gossip become a disease in your company?

Like Black Spot, gossip spreads like a disease!
"The only time people dislike gossip is when you gossip about them" - Will Rogers

The thickness hovered like a ghost in the stale, steamy air. Nothing moved, not even in the shaded darkness of the trees. It was quiet, too quiet...no streaming buzz of the insects, no animals scattering, no signs of life. Leaves wilted in the moist still air. The disease had rapidly spread overnight as if a bomb had dropped. The damage was done. Was it too late?  Had the disease afflicted all of its victims? Can the damage be expunged?

To all of  the disappointed Zombie Apocalypse fans out there - Sorry! It's not here yet! The disease in question that thrives and spreads like wildfire is the "Diplocarpon Rose Apocalypse". To gardeners, it's commonly known as Black Spot. It's a fungus disease that thrives and seemingly appears overnight in humid, wet weather. It's invisible and appears as small black spots on rose leaves. It swiftly spreads onto all of the foliage until the leaves are a sickly yellow and drop off. Soon, the entire rose bush is a skinny bare skeleton beaming out of place in the garden. As I stare at my rose bush remains in my garden, I am reminded of another disease that spreads like wildfire and can have a long lasting antagonistic impact in organizations... GOSSIP.

Gossip usually starts in small pockets and quickly expands. Soon, an entire company, industry, or even an economy can be afflicted. For example, during the economic downturn in 2009, I was working in banking and was constantly bombarded with wave after wave of cryptic naysayers and rumors regarding the industry. For the first time ever, even I began to doubt the stability of the system and safeguards. It was discontenting  listening to all the murmuring. Chatter was continuous and in the end, we all saw the results. Gossip and speculation regarding the financial system contributed in further crippling the economy. People unaffected by the economy pulled back their spending and the spiraling continued. To me, rumors and gossip had reared their ugly heads.

Gossip presents itself in many forms. Often underlying organizational issues, ownership changes, industry shifts, or poor leadership can start the "disease". Without open communication, the sharing of knowledge, honesty throughout all levels, and a strong culture, gossip spreads and infects the company. Workplace gossip is a serious problem and needs immediate eradication. The disease symptoms of gossip include the following....

  • Loss of productivity and lack of focus on organizational goals
  • Deadlines are missed, quality issues arise, passion for work erodes
  • Employees worry about job security and organizational health
  • Healthy communication ceases and is replaced by misinformation
  • Confidence in leadership weakens, especially if leaders turn on each other
  • Culture is impacted and can even be destroyed
  • The company mission and vision are replaced by misinformation
  • Managers become too involved in running around solving issues or become too preoccupied with controlling rumors
  • Trust declines. Teams question each other. Members can become angry and form smaller groups in a "high school" type mentality. Political games and power struggles are born
  • People can become very petty and self serving. Turf wars escalate in upper management
  • Strong talent leaves the company resulting in a loss of intellect, experience, and passion
  • "Knowledge" becomes power to those who "think" that they possess it
Clearly, gossip must be addressed and eliminated before it can become a "fungus among us" in an organization. Top leadership must step up and act in order to maintain the health and growth of the organization. Once the organization is reduced to a skinny skeleton amongst it's competitors, the damage may be irreversible. As leaders, what remedies are at our disposal to kill the disease?

  • Faithfully embed honest, sound, candor and communication throughout every level of the company on a consistent basis
  • Covet your culture - reward openness, cooperation, and team work
  • Be open to questions and input at all levels. Welcome it with open arms
  • Do  not tolerate secrets, ineffective managers whom hoard information, or clicks
  • Practice transparency and involve teams in relevant decisions. Trust your people
  • Set sound examples by walking around, be involved with your people, talk to them
  • Encourage employees to recognize each other and speak well of others when they aren't present
  • Confront gossip immediately. Clearly show that it will not be tolerated and explain how it affects people and the organization
  • Ask those that relish gossip to leave the organization. Stop the disease in it's tracks
Companies are like a garden. We start them with a committed passion and strong intentions to grow them into the majestic vision that we hold in our minds. We plant them in the right spot with favorable conditions. We feed them and make sure that the other plants in the garden don't impact their growth. We look for disease and we act!

Like gossip, Black Spot can be controlled and your roses will flourish and enhance the beauty of your garden. Too many people are afraid to grow roses, yet roses are easy and carefree to grow. The key is to plant the right roses. Breeders are constantly tinkering with rose varieties so  that they will remain completely disease resistant. In a way, effective leaders are like breeders - laying the ground for a healthy and flourishing culture that resists disease.  Below are some strong disease free roses that many gardeners have had success with. These roses can virtually be planted and forgotten and they will reward you with years of beauty. *
  • Knockout Roses - there are numerous sizes, colors and even climbing roses
  • Buck Roses
  • Meidiland Roses
  • Easy Elegance Roses
  • Kordes Roses
  • Most Rugosa hybrid Roses
If you do find the "Diplocarpon Rose Apocalypse" loose on your roses, all is not lost. Here are some tips to control the spread:

  • Space the bushes well when planting to give them plenty of room and airflow
  • Keep the leaves dry when watering whenever possible to prevent spores from splashing from the ground onto the foliage
  • If the rose drops it's leaves, cut it back and spray with a fungicidal soap for roses for the season. Reapply after rain
  • You can also make your own home fungal remedy at home by mixing 1 teaspoon baking soda in 1 quart of water with a few drops of liquid dish soap. Spray it on the bush. It works great!
  • Apply a fungicide in the spring before growth begins in case there are spores in the ground from the previous season
  • Pick up any of the diseased leaves and put them in the trash, not your compost pile
Roses are beautiful and worth the effort of growing in your garden. Your company is worth investing in your people and quickly eliminating any disease that can spread distrust and gossip. Be passionate and proactive!

* I have not been compensated in any way for mentioning these great rose varieties. I have had a lot of success with all of these roses in my garden.