Be a Gardener, Not a Mechanic - Guest Blog


What if you could sit down with a group of the top leaders in the world and just listen and learn. What an honor to soak up all of their ideas and experiences. You can! The new book LeaderSHOP by Dr. Rodger Dean Duncan offers incredible insights on the workplace, career, and real life advice from some of the top leaders around. Here is a guest blog from this new gem!

By Rodger Dean Duncan

A first tendency of many business people is to fix things. After all, they’re paid to solve problems, so the metaphor of the mechanic seems natural.

Unfortunately, some leaders then try to “fix” people.

How many of us want to be fixed? Not many. We may be open to persuasion or influence, but we don’t want to be “fixed.”

Rather than adopt the role of mechanic, great leaders adopt the role of gardener.

What does a gardener do?

A gardener creates an environment that encourages growth. An environment full of light and nourishment. An environment with sufficient space for stretching and expanding.

Leadership—and gardening—are all about creating positive change.

Great leaders—and great gardeners –resist the temptation to micromanage. They know that flowers cannot grow if you keep jerking them out of the ground to check the roots.

Great leaders don’t get hung up on position or titles. They invest their energy in creating devotion to a worthy cause. They are more interested in getting a job done than in who gets the credit.

Let me illustrate: I worked with a CEO of an organization that had lost $156 million the previous year. He was brought in from the outside to turn the company around.

On his third day on the job he went out into the employee parking lot behind the headquarters building. There was a row of “privileged” parking spots closest to the building. In front of each parking space was a sign with the name of a senior executive. The CEO took a can of spray paint and sprayed over each name. He knew that many employees were looking out their office windows, likely wondering what the CEO was up to.

After spray-painting over all the signs, the CEO went inside and got on the building intercom. He said he felt like the high school principal making morning announcements.

He began with something like this:

“Some of you saw me spray over the names of our executives in the parking lot. You may be wondering, ‘Is he firing the executives?’ No, I’m not firing the executives. We need ‘em. We need everybody. We’re all in this boat together and we need to row together. Last year this company lost $156 million. We can do better. We must do better.

“Beginning today we’re going to break down all these artificial barriers … we’re going to be less concerned about what title you have and what parking place you have. Beginning tomorrow, if you get here late and it’s raining, you’ll get wet. If you get to work early, you can park anywhere you want. All that matters is what will each of us do to make our team stronger and build our business.” Then he said: “Thanks a lot. Have a great day.”

This CEO was demonstrating what it means to be a gardener and not a mechanic.

He did dozens of things like that. The cumulative effect was that he created an environment where his people felt involved and obligated regarding the needs of each other and the needs of the organization.

He helped his people see themselves in a fresh light. He helped them see each other in a fresh light. He helped them see their marketplace potential in a fresh light.

Rather than smother his people with constraining rules and policies, he gave them elbowroom to try new things and experiment in new directions.

Rather than cut his people down for past poor performance, this great leader chose to lift them up toward future great performance.

He created an atmosphere that had absolutely no tolerance for blaming or any kind of “victim-talk.”

He created an environment full of encouragement, collaboration, and personal accountability.

So what was the result? In only 12 months that company harvested a $207 million improvement in profits. It’s now a case study at the Harvard Business School.

Now, was this guy some sort of flower child? Did he sing “Kumbya” and other camp songs in the employee cafeteria?

No. He’s actually one of the toughest-minded business people I’ve ever known. And he’s one of the most effective leaders I’ve ever had the privilege of working with.

Great leaders know that you can rent a person’s back and hands. But you must earn a person’s head and heart.

Great leaders know that organizations are living organisms with many interrelated elements, capable of extinction or growth.

Great leaders invest energy in growing rather than fixing.

They are gardeners. They create a nurturing environment—or culture—and they cultivate with care.

Be a gardener, not a mechanic. Don’t try to “fix” people. Create an environment that affirms and encourages people. An environment that places a premium on solving problems and getting results. An environment where blame is weeded out and people feel free to stretch and grow and produce.

Is this just warm and fuzzy, touchy-feely stuff for “soft” people? Not at all.

It’s the key to the hard realities of high performance in a tough and fast-moving world.

Believe it. Practice it. It makes all the difference.

Rodger Dean Duncan is bestselling author of LeaderSHOP: Workplace, Career, and Life Advice From Today’s Top Thought Leaders. Early in his career he served as advisor to cabinet officers in two White House administrations and headed global communications at Campbell Soup Company. He has coached senior leaders in dozens of Fortune 500 companies.

Knowing the Self Who Leads by Shelly L. Franci

Have you ever found yourself wondering where inner wisdom and courage come from? Have you been in a situation where your real leadership blooms because you know what you value and believe in?

Shelly L. Franci's new book The Courage Way: Leading and Living with Integrity offers soul searching and a path you can take to find your authentic self and bring out your true gifts to impact others. Here is an excerpt from Shelly's new book.

The underlying premise of the Courage Way is that we all have a trustworthy source of inner wisdom that informs our lives and leadership. It is our identity and integrity, the sum of our shadows and light, our true self. Without knowing our true self, we cannot be an authentic leader.

Just as Ed came to recognize, leaders must find clarity about what they value, what unique gifts they have to offer, what contribution they wish to make. Strength and resilience as a leader come from knowing the ground on which you stand, the convictions you will act on with courage. But that’s not all. Resilience comes from being aware of and accepting your limits and what problems your shadows are causing. That is wholeness—and that comes from knowing your true self.

Otto Scharmer, author of Theory U, acknowledges this inner life: “We observe what leaders do. We can observe how they do it, what strategies and processes they deploy. But we can’t see the inner place, the source from which people act when, for example, they operate at the highest possible level, or alternatively, when they act without engagement or commitment.”

This inner place Scharmer speaks of is more than intellect, ego, emotions, and will. In the inner work of leadership, it is a light behind the eyes, the energy that animates us, or, as Howard Thurman puts it, “the sound of the genuine in you.” Instead of true self or soul, you could say inner wisdom, essential self, or even trusting your gut. Poets, musicians, and mystics have given words to the essence of who we are—our human spirits—when we take off the trappings of our resumes. John O’Donohue calls it the dignity somewhere in us “that is more gracious than the smallness / that fuels us with fear and force.”  William Stafford appeals to “a voice, to something shadowy / a remote important region in all who talk.”

Although Parker Palmer often refers to his inner teacher, he often says that what you call this core of our humanity doesn’t matter, “but that we name it matters a great deal. It’s important to recognize it: If we don’t name it anything, we start to lose the being in human being. We start to treat each other like empty vessels or objects to be marketed. When we say ‘soul,’ or ‘identity and integrity,’ there is something to make a deep bow to. There is a word for it in every wisdom tradition.”

Beyond being the sum of your life experiences, the true self is a mystery that simply is. How do you get to that underlying mystery of knowing people deep down? Intimacy is not necessarily the goal of every relationship in community, especially in the workplace. But respecting that each person has an essential core self, an undeniable dignity and humanity—now that is worthwhile.

But seldom, if ever, do we ask the “who” question. Who is the self that engages in leadership? How does this self impact the practice of leadership, for good and for bad? How is the self continually honored and renewed as we lead?

—Parker J. Palmer

About Shelly L. Francis

Shelly L. Francis has been the marketing and communications director at the Center for Courage & Renewal since mid-2012. Before coming to the Center, Shelly directed trade marketing and publicity for multi-media publisher Sounds True, Inc. Her career has spanned international program management, web design, corporate communications, trade journals, and software manuals.

The common thread throughout her career has been bringing to light best-kept secrets — technology, services, resources, ideas — while bringing people together to facilitate collective impact and good work. Her latest book The Courage Way: Leading and Living with Integrity identifies key ingredients needed to cultivate courage in personal and professional aspects of life.



How Are You Growing Your New People?

Spring has arrived in the Mid-West, and people are scurrying around plant nurseries like frenzied squirrels preparing for winter. The sun and warmer temps along with a wave of nursery ads have convinced many of us to fill our carts with an array of colorful perennials, annuals, and fragrant shrubs.  Yes, I have been right in the middle of the chaos because gardening is in my blood. My reaction has been a bit different than my fellow shoppers. I’ve wanted to throw my hands up in the air and yell “No! They aren’t ready yet”!

Mother Nature has a way of getting even with us. Just because it looks and feels like spring, we need to wait until we know that the season is ready for planting. It was 29 degrees here last night and promises to be another cold one tonight. My fellow gardening aficionados that bought colorful plants and welcomed them into their gardens may have tears running as we speak. The plants that they bought can't take cold temperatures and are probably a lifeless brown color by now. Our actual frost date in Michigan is at the end of May. Trust me; I learned early on that you never put a plant in the ground until the plant and the environment are ready.

In many ways, our new team members are like a young plant. You are both eager to plant them where they will flourish. However, new people need some gentle babying similar to a young flower. New employees need to learn and become accustomed to your culture. Like plants, you can’t just pull them out of a warm greenhouse, plop them into the 50-degree soil and expect them to grow. You need to immerse them in the area with some dedicated mentoring until they adjust and are raring to go.

New employees should be planted in the right spot within your organization. You can’t plunk a Hosta in the middle of a hot spot in the yard in the midst of a cactus garden and expect results. Likewise, be cognoscente of your new player’s skills and strengths and place them where they can contribute and thrive.

Leadership responsibility doesn't end after your new team member is planted. They need periodic touch bases with you to learn how they feel in their new role and what support they require along the way. Periodically, you need to fertilize your people and nourish their growth and progress. Checking in with people should be planned, consistent, and heartfelt. You've invested a lot in your members, and you don't want to wake up some day learning that they are listless and leaving the organization.

Seedlings are fragile and small in the spring, yet they can outgrow their space in a matter of months and become overly crowded and no longer thriving. Perhaps they are shaded by other companions or being choked out by weeds. Don’t let this happen to your newer teammates. Don’t assume that life is just humming along fine. Get out there in the trenches and see how your people are interacting and growing. What areas need attention? Is there some weeding that needs completing so that others can continue their work and grow? Do your people have the support that they need so that they can have an impact where it's needed? Are they receiving enough doses of information to succeed?  Get out into your “garden” every day to walk around and notice anything that just isn’t thriving.

A garden is a sanctuary for those that plan, prepare the environment for planting and spend precious time picking the right "plant" for the right place and nurture growth. You need to think of your team and ask yourself how well you are tending to your work "garden".

Photo courtesy of IMGPK via freedigitalphotos.net








One Lesson One Step At A Time

"Discipline is the consistent application of certain mindsets and actions that are vital for your success" - John Manning

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned about goals and just plain getting things done, is that you need to break them down to work on them in pieces. It holds you accountable and makes life a whole lot less complicated and overwhelming. In tackling any project I take it one step at a time and pace myself so that I can succeed and, in the case of learning, absorb information.  

About this time of year I look around my gardens that all are at their peak and in bloom. The butterflies are dancing, the bees are swarming for nectar, and the bugs are munching on everything. There are days where I ask myself “How did I ever do this?” When you look at it as a whole it is overwhelming that not only do I keep adding plants to my garden, but I am increasing the upkeep. I know that visitors always ask how I do it all and many of my friends think that I am crazy.

The key to maintaining a garden lies in baby steps. Don’t try to start and finish a garden project in one weekend. It always takes longer and you will either abandon it or do a half ass job. I can always tell people who have fallen into this trap as I drive around and look at neighborhood yards. You know who you are…. The little 3 foot pond plunked into the middle of the yard growing algae. The collapsing fire pit with plants plunked in here and there…..  

It has taken me almost 2 months to trim and chip my garden beds. I’m still not done putting in 14 yards of woodchips. Life has been busy and things get in the way. I commit to stay on task by doing a few wheelbarrows a day, weeding for 10 minutes a day, watering every few days. The list goes on and on however, I take it in stride and work towards my end goal step by step. This not only keeps me on task but maintains my sanity while minimizing my frustration at with my own impatience.
Bottom line? Don’t be a weekend gardener. You will quit and never start up again. Take one task at a time. You will accomplish your end goal, you won’t feel overwhelmed or frustration, and you won’t hate working in our yard. You may even learn to love it!                                                                                                                        

Like gardening, I am continually trying to learn and grow. I strive to refine my leadership style and discover how I can be a more effective transparent and effective leader in everything that I do. I was fortunate to be given one of the best tools around to help guide my leadership in baby steps. I recently read the book “The Disciplined Leader: 52 Concise, Powerful Lessons Keeping the Focus on What Really Matters” by John Manning. This little gem is the kind of book that I keep on my nightstand to wake up to and digest quick leadership lessons before starting my day. 

Manning is very passionate about the fact that the best leaders are disciplined. They focus on what is important –PEOPLE – in order to get results. To this end, he offers 52 great concise yet powerful lessons to read at leisure and digest. They focus on 3 key areas: 

Ø  Leading yourself

Ø  Leading your team

Ø  Leading your organization 

Each lesson is followed up with tactics, practical advice and 2 action or reflective ideas which is why I loved the format and lessons. I can read just one at a time or skip around and still find relevancy and application to my day. The lessons are very hands on and user friendly. It’s like having a leadership bible at your fingertips.  I enjoyed the easy reading that really helped me to set a leadership plan for life. The meaningful aspect about Manning’s lessons is that they are applicable to both your professional and person life.  

Manning focuses on the concept that we are all too familiar with, the Pareto Principle or the 80/20 rule. 20% of your efforts produce 80% of your results. The same applies to your customer profitability and the productivity of your key employees. By focusing your efforts on what really matters – your people – you will bring out the best in everyone and this is really where the gold is. Learning and using the lessons in this gem of a book will really help you to apply the 80/20 rule and guide you to plan what to do, when, and how. Both you and your team will win.

The best way to use this book is to read the lessons and then sit back to reflect. Pick the top 3 lessons that resonate with you in terms of developing your leadership, your team’s leadership, and bring out the best in your organization. In short, you should have chosen 9 lessons, 3 from each area. Prioritize the top 5 lessons out of all of the lessons. Really focus on them and use them as action steps for your leadership development.  Manning offers a helpful template to use with your key action steps for each that you have chosen to grow as a guide. Ta Da! Your leadership lessons are handed to you on a silver platter to begin your growth and development. 

I love the engaging leadership action steps at the end of each lesson. There are very relevant and engaging examples to guide you. You will feel more equipped to set goals and not overwhelmed. Pick up this great book today and begin learning in chunks but applying to your life in mass!  A great read!

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!

Have You Been "POLLENIZED?"

"Um, you're a pollen-izer? Um pollen-ator. Pollen picker? Pollen plucker....." - Tinker Bell

Photo Courtesy of A Guy Taking Pictures via Compfight

Pollen: That which makes me miserable! That isn't the official definition of pollen but if you have allergies, you know pollen all too well. Technically, pollen is " The fertilizing element of flowering plants, consisting of fine, powdery, yellowish grains of spores, sometimes in masses"  Dictionary.com. August can be the start of a long allergy battle for people who have hay fever or pollen allergies.

Pollen is everywhere this time of year and almost impossible to avoid. The sources of pollen are endless. It propels itself into the air from a variety of trees, conifers, grasses, weeds, your lawn, and even some flowers. Contrary to popular belief, the pollen in most flowers is too heavy to become wind born and needs insects  in order to travel. Pollen is lurking where you least expect it.

It's ironic that I love gardening so much  because I am literally allergic to about every tree, grass, and weed outside. I have done rounds of allergy shots twice with minimal improvement. Allergy meds are my pals and I constantly have a cough that frightens people. I  frequently feel like my head may explode when my sinuses are irritated by those cute little pollen particles. It can be unbearable. I have heard estimates that close to 25% of people in the US have allergies and the number is climbing. How are your allergies right now?

The best way to survive pollen is to avoid it and find ways to eliminate it from your day. Doing so will impact your environment and life in so many positive ways. Escaping pollen will leave you feeling more energized and give you the strength to charge ahead. When you feel good, those around you will definitely benefit. My husband always tells our boys "When Mom is happy, we are all happy!".

Poor leadership is like pollen. It has a negative and lasting impact. Poor leaders aren't always readily apparent until they cause an "allergy" within an organization. People react in negative ways. The "allergy" spreads and the results can become an epidemic and there's no quick cure. Often your best people are the one's that become most "allergic" to weak leadership. They ultimately wear down and leave an organization. To keep your best leaders, you may need to banish the pollen.

Poor Leaders = POLLEN
Party Poopers: Weak leaders love to wreck a great party. They  like to ruin the "event "for others and cause chaos and unrest. This makes them feel more powerful and in control.
Obstinate to Change: These leaders resist any change that they can't control or that they haven't hatched up themselves. They like the way that things are and see no value in making changes that may empower others or have a positive impact. It threatens their position.
Lame Duck: "Has been" leaders are often lame ducks. They have been around for awhile and have lost both their passion and effectiveness - if they ever even had it to begin with. They are stuck in a rut and content with the status quo. The problem is that they want to drag everyone else down with them and keep them there.
Lack of Empathy: Poor leadership has it's roots in a lack of empathy. Strong leaders resonate with their people and understand issues on a personal level. Weak leaders could care less about the feelings of others and easily turn their back to the needs and feelings of others.
Ethically Challenged: Many weak leaders have somehow managed to climb the ladder to a "leadership" position without genuine skills or a passion for others. They blatantly compromise their values and put themselves first. They feel no guilt at compromising their principles or those of the people that they lead.
Negative: Ineffective leaders are often negative and unsupportive. They can't bring themselves to say anything positive about their people or programs. They lead with force or threat. They never see the silver lining.
Pollen can have an immediate and negative impact during the summer. It affects everyone differently and even those around them. Pollen is also too prevalent in so many companies and even worse? It's tolerated. Strong leaders are like antihistamines - they protect their people from excessive "pollen".
How are you blowing the pollen out of your life?

Photo Courtesy of Jasmic via Compfight

Leadership Burns!

"The hardest thing in life to learn is which bridge to cross and which to burn"- David Russell

It was definitely a horrible winter here in the Midwest and you can imagine my dismay when I saw what the cold and wind did to some of my evergreens. Several of my prized  lush evergreens came out of winter burned. Once burned, evergreens are twice shy in growing new needles. My weeping conifer in the picture to the right is probably a total loss. I am taking a wait and see approach for the next month or so and with a little fertilizer, perhaps I will get lucky!

In tough conditions, evergreens lose water through their needles. When the ground is frozen it's difficult for an evergreen to take up water to replenish lost moisture. Evergreens have a waxy protective coat on them which can become damaged by the elements. Mix cold, winds, brutal snow, and you have a recipe for browning, bleaching, and burned evergreens. Surprisingly, you may not even have any damage on your evergreens until Spring arrives and the bright sun hits the trees. They burn because they can't pump in enough moisture. Some evergreens are burned by road salt that was scattered this past season. White Pines are particularly susceptible to salt burn when they are planted near roads. When you drive around in the next few days I guarantee that you will see a lot of salt burned or near dead White Pines. Other evergreens that may suffer winter burn are Yews, Arborvitae, Junipers, Mugo Pines, Boxwood,  Azalea, Rhododendron, and Spruce.

So. What can you do if you have evergreen burn? Unfortunately, you may not be able to intervene to make a difference. If the evergreen needles are dead but the stem survived, leave the tree for now. Wait and see if the tree pushes out new growth. If the end buds or stems are damaged, try to prune the branches back to live growth. You can tell if a stem is alive or not by scratching it with your fingernail. Give the evergreen time to adjust and grow before doing any pruning of the dead areas. Generally, this probably means early summer. Fertilize the tree and keep it well watered. Let Mother Nature do the healing. If the damage is extensive, you will probably need to remove the tree.

Next season you can be proactive in protecting your gems by doing some of the following:

  • Water your evergreens well until the ground freezes. In mild areas, keep the trees watered
  • Mulch around the tree to maintain moisture
  • Consider wrapping burlap around marginally hardy evergreens to protect them from the wind
  • Twine the trees up to help protect the branches
  • Avoid planting valuable evergreen specimens in a South or Southwestern exposure  to avoid the strong Spring sun
  • Plant evergreens in the Spring so that they can be well established and strong before the cold hits

Guess what? Evergreens aren't the only thing that can get burned. You can too - and I'm  not referring to the sun. Any type of  leadership can be a precarious position and you never know who may be out to burn you. Sometimes it's not intentional, most of the time it is! I remember years ago when a good friend of mine was burned by his boss - he was made the scapegoat for a production issue that his boss didn't address. The burn was quick and came out of nowhere. By the time my friend discovered what had happened, his reputation was deliberately torn to shreds by his manager and  he was not in a position to quickly recover. He moved to another area of the company and was eventually able to watch with glee as his old department completely fell apart. Human nature can be very ugly and for most of us, we can't imagine intentionally going after someone else.

So.. how do you know that you have been burned?

Sadly, you probably will burn before you know what has happened unless you are one to have your ear to the ground or someone steps up to alert you. Below are the most common flames that people use against others:
  • Slow spreading rumors or lies are discreetly planted 
  • Uncooperative coworker who may also deliberately withhold valuable information
  • Your ideas or even projects are stolen and passed off as your boss or co worker's
  • You are slowly and deliberately alienated from meetings and key projects
  • Your ideas are suddenly and repeatedly  shot down- in public
  • You are sneakingly made to look ineffective or uninformed  in front of your boss  

Being burned hurts. It has emotional, professional, and personal confidence implications. Once burned, it's very hard to turn the situation around once the incident is "out there". Just like taking steps in your garden before the weather hits, it's important that you protect yourself from being burned. Obviously you can't grow through your career always being suspicious and not trusting others however, you can take these steps if you begin to expect that the burn has started........
  • Always be alert and keep your ear to the ground
  • Trust your intuition if something doesn't seem "right"
  • Don't always assume the worst or be overly suspicious of others
  • Work at maintaining healthy and trusting relationships with your teams and coworkers
  • Take copious notes if you do see something starting to brew
  • Confront the fire starter as soon as possible to stop them in your tracks, Take the higher ground and be professional, yet firm
  • Don't act in kind if you are being railroaded. Don't become what you are trying to prevent
  • Talk with your boss or another trusted leader - unless they are the problem!
  • Always keep your career options open. Continuously network, grow your skills, and lead with style
  • Protect your reputation and brand - always
  • Remain confident and positive on the outside even if you feel like bursting internally. Never let them see you sweat during a slow burn!
Remember, your are in a leadership position by your own hand. You have worked hard to land where you can have an impact and make a difference. Sometimes that makes other people jealous or uncomfortable. They act in the only way that they know how to. Rise above. Keep your ear to the ground, develop strong relationships, empower others, and take the high ground. Never let them see you sweat!

Mother Nature has the power to burn, but she also has the power to bring new life! Happy Planting!

Let Your Creativity Lead you!


"Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That's because they were able to connect experiences they've had and synthesize new things" - Steve Jobs

One of my favorite things to learn more about is the power of creativity. Creativity is the core of new ideas, inventions, artistic careers, openness, and happiness. I love to try and keep the creativity spark alive in my boys and I shutter at how both schools and society shun "dreamers". We are all creative, we just have to open ourselves up to what is around us and allow what we see, touch, hear, and smell to create new ideas and thoughts. Yes, even YOU are creative. It's hogwash that there are people out there without a creative bone in their body You just need to seek it out a bit harder.

Last week I talked about "repurposing" junk into garden art and people whom we can create anew with a fresh look. What they both have in common is the fact that it takes some creativity and a fresh way of looking at things to bring new life to either one. A garden is a fresh palate from which we can personalize and transfer our dreams onto. The same applies to us as people. We are unique slates that are open to evolving and taking on new colors.

Gardening and arts of different genres are a great way to discover and expand your creativity. It means taking snippets of things that you have seen and heard and putting them together in a unique way. Even if you love and excel at fixing things, building engines, or computing, you ARE using your creativity. You don't need to be a painter or sculptor in order to be an "artist" or creative. I consider myself pretty high on the creativity meter because I risk placing different colors, textures, and different plants together. I'm willing to build a wacky piece of garden art out of junk. I would love to get my hands on a life size mannequin because I have some unique ideas that I could build a garden around with it.

Creativity is what you want and feel is truly "creative", not others. It's what makes you an individual and builds your unique gifts. Sharing your creativity can be a bit more tricky. You need to have conviction, yet be open to other ideas or to tweaking your suggestions. If we keep our creativity bottled up and stay with the status quo, we would never have any of the technology or breakthroughs that happen every day at today's immense pace. Pick a hobby or something that you are passionate about and open your mind and eyes to what you can do differently. Take risks, be bold, and be willing to take a stab at changing the world.

Creatives are abound in all business sectors and companies, large and small. The key is that some industries and companies are more open to new ideas and encourage creativity and collaboration for growth and innovation. People tend to grow and enjoy their work more when they feel valued and encouraged to share their ideas. They thrive and feel a part of something bigger than them. We all want to feel like we are making a difference and that someone cares what we think and accepts what we can offer. Is your company a "Creatives" focused company? If not - find one that is or be active in changing the norms.

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 Even if you aren't a leader in title where you work, you can still be an influencer and  have an impact. There are a lot of things that you or your team can do to encourage creativity and the open sharing of ideas. Here are some suggestions:

  • Search out new opportunities, experiences, and see things with a different perspective
  • Challenge yourself by setting higher personal goals, brainstorm more, and really focus on developing new ideas
  • Hang out with a different crowd of people. You will be surprised what you learn! You become who you are with
  • Find a department or manager that truly appreciates your efforts and sees failures as lessons
  • Look beyond what something is and imagine what it could be
  • Read read read read read!
  • Redefine problems in a new way or try to solve them backwards
  • Experience everything new in life that you can. You will trigger new connections in your brain and open up your mind
  • Look for new patterns, try to reinvent the status quo or envision it in a new view
  • Don't try to be someone else or turn your team into a group mini "You's"
  • Ask a lot of questions all the time. Don't be afraid of looking stupid. You want to learn and understand all that you can
  • See if you can be given some resources to focus on ideas outside of your realm at work. Great companies encourage pet projects and have seen some unique innovations
  • Be you. Love you. Grow you!

I'm so excited to see that companies are finally seeing the value of encouraging creativity and innovation in their people. In many companies , the value of creativity is ranked higher than intelligence, a global mindset, and experience.

How can you breath some creativity into your career or those that you lead?

To Lead With Or Without Tears?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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