Personal Growth

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.

Tackling Workplace Conflict: Research and Best Practices to Stop the Drama by Nate Regier

Nate Regier is the author of the new book Conflict Without Casualties. Nate's work sheds some new light on the conflict in the workplace and the costs that arise when we don't address it. If you have ever avoided conflict or don't understand how to deal with it pick up Nate's book today. Here is a guest post from Nate to help you start taking on conflict at work this week.


Tackling Workplace Conflict: Research And Best Practices To Stop The Drama

By Nate Regier

On average, employees around the world spend about 2.1 hours per week, or over one day per month, dealing with workplace conflict in some way. In the US, that number is higher (2.8 hrs/week) equating to approximately $359 billion in paid hours. Non-profit sectors experience the most workplace conflict, with nearly 48% of employees reporting conflict at work.

What is the actual prevalence of conflict in the workplace, what causes it, and what opportunities are there for positive changes? To answer this, I’ve studied the most comprehensive workplace conflict research I could find, a 2008 study commissioned by CCP Inc., one of Europe’s leading business psychology firms, and Fellipelli, one of South America’s leading business psychology firms. The study included survey data from 5000 employees at all levels of their companies in nine countries around Europe and the Americas and remains some of the most comprehensive and useful research available. Here’s a summary.  

Costs of workplace conflict

Conflict often escalates into personal attacks, insults, or absence from work.

  • 2.1 hours per week spent dealing with conflict (Belgium was the lowest at 1.3 hrs/wk. Germany and Ireland, the highest at 3.3 hrs/wk).
  • 90% of respondents experienced a conflict that escalated, most often into personal attacks and insults, sickness or absence from work, and cross-departmental problems.
  • Feeling demotivated, angry, frustrated, nervous, and stressed are the most common psychosocial consequences.
  • Negative conflict with customers is risky since it is less costly to keep an existing customer than to replace one who has left dissatisfied.  

Causes of workplace conflict

Personality clashes are the number one cause of workplace conflict.

  • Personality clashes and warring egos top the list at 48% overall, but much higher in Ireland (66%), the US (62%), and the UK (59%).
  • Stress, too much work without enough support, and poor leadership are also significant (around 30%).

Who is responsible to deal with it?

  • Everyone! 62% of respondents believed conflict is everyone’s responsibility.
  • Surprisingly, only 15% felt that HR should be the ones to deal with workplace conflict.  

What should leaders do to improve how conflict is handled?

  • Identify and address underlying tensions before things go wrong (54%).
  • More informal one-to-one conversations with direct reports (42%).
  • Act as mediators (40%).

Research reported in Harvard Business Review revealed that 69% of managers are uncomfortable communicating with employees.

  • Provide more clarity and guidance over healthy behavior (40%).

* Twelve key leadership behaviors were highlighted by respondents in this study. Our PCM and LOD training and certification programs target all 12 areas.  

What have companies tried and how did it work?

  • Less than half of the employees surveyed (44%) have received any formal conflict training. Belgium and France have the lowest level of workplace conflict training (28% and 27% respectively).
  • 27% of those receiving formal training said it helped them feel more comfortable and confident in handling a conflict situation. Confidence is one of the biggest predictors of success (which is why our trainers use NEOS to measure changes in self-efficacy for their conflict communication training programs).
  • The most frequent positive outcomes of training were better understanding of others, improved work relationships, and finding a better solution to a problem.
  • 39% said training provided no help at all. We concur with the researchers that many conflict-communication training programs do not target the right issues and skills, especially personality differences and communication skills.
  • Conflict can generate positive outcomes. Three quarters (76%) of respondents had seen conflict lead to something positive.

In a nutshell

  • Conflict is costly.
  • Personality and ego clashes are the top cause.
  • Everyone is responsible.
  • Coaching and mentoring through daily conversations is the key to improvement.
  • Conflict can be positive and requires targeted training at all levels of an organization.  

Best Practices

Companies will make the most gains around workplace conflict by following these guidelines;

  1. Implement formal training targeted on understanding and communicating with different personalities.
  2. Focus not just on individual competencies, but skills to coach, facilitate, and mentor others during difficult conversations.
  3. Adopt a pro-active approach that recognizes conflict is inevitable, and is a source of energy for positive outcomes.

 Train these Core Competencies

Search for training programs that assess, develop, and measure these competencies:

  1. Self-awareness and recognition of positive and negative conflict in self and others.
  2. Awareness of personality, communication, and motivational differences in self and others.
  3. Ability to assess and respond to individual differences in and out of conflict.
  4. Ability to lead self and others out of drama and into positive conflict conversations.

About Dr. Nate Regier
Dr. Nate Regier is the co-founding owner and chief executive officer of Next Element, a global advisory firm specializing in building cultures of compassionate accountability. A former practicing psychologist, Regier is an expert in social-emotional intelligence and leadership, positive conflict, mind-body-spirit health, neuropsychology, group dynamics, interpersonal and leadership communication, executive assessment and coaching, organizational development, team building and change management. An international adviser, he is a certified Leading Out of Drama master trainer, Process Communication Model® certifying master trainer and co-developer of Next Element’s Leading Out of Drama® training and coaching. Nate has published two books: Beyond Drama and his latest work, Conflict without Casualties.


Are You Ready to Say Hello to New Growth?

For many of us, spring is just popping up, and old crabby winter has moved along. Spring is my favorite season. I continued to be enthralled by how life slowly unfolds and reaches up to the cloudless sky praising the sun. Small creatures start to rumble about and the insect's twirl by with ease and zest. There are so many fresh smells, and nothing beats hearing birds tweet just as the sun is rising. I am always mesmerized by the sound of croaking frogs in our woods even though our neighbors behind must beg for headphones to drown out the constant chatter.

I have a great friend that recently shared his video with me (above). Greg Heeres is a leadership aficionado and rascal with a passion for bringing out the best in others and sharing leadership lessons. He shares short snippets of video lasting only seconds but sharing what takes most several minutes to offer advice. Greg is a proponent for growth and walks the talk. His video connected with me because spring is such a season of newness, freshness, and growth. Spring is a better time to set new goals, make a change, and renew your life than New Years. What better time to grow and fertilize those around you than a time when you see and smell new growth every day.

As a gardener, I feel alive and ready to get outside planting, fertilizing, growing, and pruning. As Greg shared, it's a time to reflect on what kind of growth that we want to experience. It's looking at what tools we need to grow and what impacts others. Just like our plants, spring is also about fertilizing those around us according to their needs and what motivates them to grow. You just can't plant a cactus in the shade and expect growth when it craves the sunshine.

Moreover, pruning can be a painful process because we become accustomed to what we are comfortable with and like around us. The initial pruning is stark or painful, and we don't always know if our efforts are worth it. Isn't life like this? That to which we hold close to us is the hardest to let go. This includes behaviors, thoughts, and habits. 

I encourage you to make spring about you. Here are some ideas for bringing on some "newness" this season that will set you up for long-term growth and enable those around you to flourish.

·         What negative habits or thoughts are dragging you down? They are like diseases in the garden, and you need to address them to ensure your growth.

·         What needs pruning from your life right now? Maybe personal time is non-existent, and you are slowly sinking into the ground. Set your priorities and make a list of what you can minimize at work to maximize your personal life.

·         Who are you mentoring or coaching? You have the power to "fertilize" others, and it's amazing how you feel when you see someone grow in front of you.

·         Become more diverse. Beautiful gardens take time, planning, and patience. You need to bring in a variety of plants and have enough diversity in your yard for beauty and for the health of your plants. Are you engaging with diverse groups of people? Are you lifting others up and making efforts to expand your world? It takes time, and a concerted effort but the rewards are incredible.

·         How does it smell around you? Spring is a time for freshness. Are your ideas still fresh? Do you take the time to lighten up with those around you? Do you make a concerted effort to maintain a positive aura around you or lend positive words throughout your day?

·         Plan for future growth. Before you can plant a new garden, you need to prepare the soil. The same goes for growing new leaders. Are you purposeful in building others up so they can jump into your role some day? Are you purposefully looking to bring out the strengths in others?

·         Be the sunshine in someone's life every day. Smile, and you will light up those around you. Likewise, work the soil so that people have a strong foundation from which to sprout.

Breathe spring in and not only grow yourself this season but plant, fertilize, grow, and prune all around you!

Foster The Seeds of Growth

Photo courtesy of reddeergrowboys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How About a Little Renewal and Rebirth This Spring?

Courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography via

"Oh, Spring! I want to go out and feel you and get inspiration. My old things seem dead. I want fresh contacts, more vital searching" - Emily Carr

The past few weeks have been like living in a vortex. Spring has been rushing in and out like a lion running after a bunny. The weather turned inside out with 5 inches of snow dropping on us out of nowhere in the Midwest.  After the snow melted, I was able to get outside to welcome some of my new plants popping up while making the difficult decision to say goodbye to so many others.
Spring is such a refreshing, bright, and growing season. For those of us in the north, spring is like a gift with a big green bow on top. It’s a time when we can get outside again to enjoy nature and change.  We see things that we forgot about over the winter including wildlife, greens, and even neighbors. Once spring rushes in I feel like I have been given new life and my excitement builds to grow everything around me.

Unfortunately in so many areas of the country spring is a tease and we quickly learn that we may need to protect ourselves and our gardens from the snapping chills or snow. Mother Nature doesn’t always play fair we may need to jump in to save the day.  Here are some growth tips for keeping your spring bright and growing.

  •  Don’t be fooled by warm temperatures. Never plant new plants, especially annuals, until you check dates in your area for when it’s frost free or later in the spring to plant. Check online for proper planting dates or check with your local extension program.
  •   I love wandering inside greenhouses this time of year to smell the dirt and growth (gardeners understand!). If I do buy something I leave it inside or sheltered deep on my front porch to slowly acclimate the greenery to the cooler temperatures. Don’t bring shrubs out of a greenhouse and into the ground. It’s like dousing yourself in a cold shower and that’s not a positive experience!
  •  Don’t worry about your spring bulbs or early spring flowers. Bulbs are very hardy and built to survive the ravages of spring. Cut some to enjoy inside and leave the rest to laugh at Mother Nature!
  • It’s not too early to dig. There’s a myth out there that you will damage your soil by digging. This is actually a great time to get some digging in while the soil is soft and can actually be moved.
  • Some perennials are popping up and it’s a perfect time to divide them with a spade and share with neighbors. You can actually begin to see where you may have holes in your garden and where new plants can be plunked in.
  • Look closely at your yard before everything grows up like a jungle. This is the time to pull out trees and shrubs that have started to attack their neighbors or your house. They will come out easily and you will have time to plan what will go in next.
  • You can easily see the lines of gardens beds now. Get out and shape them with a shovel and pull out more grass to add more plants.
  • Pull out dead flowers from pots and fluff the soil or refill with fresh rich soil. It’s easier to do it now rather than when you are overly eager to get planting and throw caution to the wind and do a sloppy job with your soil.
  • Keep feeding your feathered friends. It may look greener out however, there isn’t enough foliage to feed the birds while they build nests and need extra energy.
  • Get weeding now! I am always shocked how weeds can grow under the snow. Pull them as soon as possible and keep it up like a marathon because the spring weeds are the ones that sneak up on you and make your life miserable.

Spring isn’t just for gardening. It’s also a time for renewal and growth in our personal and professional lives. It’s a great time to pick up those growth goals that you forgot about that were declared in January and put them into action. I don’t know about you, but I feel so much more motivated and energized in the spring. There’s more daylight and the warmer days perk me up. People seem happier and even more accommodating to work on projects or support others.

“Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending” – Maria Robinson

Why spring is THE time to focus on your own renewal and growth

  • Annual performance reviews have been in full swing (I know, yuck). This is an opportune time to focus on growth areas and make changes. Pick just 2-3 items at the most for focus because your brain will throw in the towel if you challenge it too much.
  • Employers are in full hiring mode. Maybe now is the time to make a job change or even jump into a whole new field. The improved economy may be an opportunity to go part-time or start that side business you have been dreaming of. 
  • More people are eager to network or dig into some learning opportunities with the weather more encouraging and the increased daylight keeping us awake. Take advantage of events like Network After Work, industry career events, or check out to find something in your area. 
  • Be brave and try something new. How about yoga? Join a bike club? Find a reading group. I want to learn how to meditate so it is a focus for me this season.
  • Find a new lunch table. Stop eating with your normal group of peeps and fan out. Meet some new people in other areas to grow friendships and learn something new. You never know where it will lead. 
  • Change one thing that you don’t like about yourself. Work on a more positive attitude. Be more emotionally engaged. Put yourself first for a change. Finally do one thing to impact your health.
  • Just as we organize plants in the garden in groups of 3, organize your personal space or work area. Better yet, move things around, including yourself if you can, for a fresh start and change.
  • Look around you and pick one person this spring that you can really impact and grow. Maybe you see potential in a coworker or friend. Really focus on helping them grow where they are planted. It will be the most wonderful gift that you can offer someone. Moreover, it will be the best gift that you can give yourself. 
  • Fertilize yourself every day with knowledge. Pick up a book and read 30 minutes a day. Staring at your computer or getting lost in social media does not count. Leaders are readers and books won’t bite!

Come on! Don’t be a stick in the mud this spring. Get out there and grow!


Are You Seeing with Fresh Eyes?

Photo courtesy of xedos4 via

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes” – Marcel Proust

Humans are creatures of habit. Most of us enjoy consistency and comfort so that we can hum through life until something jolts us out of our “happy place” to face reality or change. Sometimes we are forced to change our habits, walk down a different path, and look at our surroundings with new eyes. All too often it may not be us that see things through new eyes, but someone else that knocks us on the head to do so. New eyes are fresh eyes and we all need to look at our lives or situations with a new view. We’ve all heard the expression that “The grass is greener on the other side” however, you need to look at both sides!

As most of the country remains frozen and bare now is the perfect time to look at our yards with new eyes. Why? The snow and lack of vegetation offer a blank slate. We can see what we don’t normally see – or want to. The snow is a like a white canvass and we can see through the trees. Spring is approaching and this is a prime time to take advantage of imaging what can be so that you can make it happen when the canvass begins to slowly brighten with color. Get ready to be an artist and plant your garden with an artist’s eyes.

How can you really see your garden with fresh eyes and bring it to life this spring?

·         Take pictures or video of your yard now to see what winter elements stand out and plan to add some if none exist. A garden should shine all 4 seasons and you need to bring it to life. Do the same thing in late spring.
·         Have a garden savvy friend or Master Gardener visit to tour your yard and ask for frank feedback. It’s so critical to have 4 eyes rather than just your two.
·         Ask non-gardening friends over to walk your yard this spring after growth jumps out to see what they see. Ask them questions. Ask what they see, or don’t see.
·         Hire/ mentor a landscape design student to tour your area. Many need to do pro bono projects or internships and may welcome the opportunity.
·         When spring arrives and everything pops out lie on the ground and look up. Do one better and look down at your yard from above. This will definitely give you a new view!
·         Tour your yard by morning and by night. The view is completely different and may pull ideas out of you.
·         Post pics online in garden chat sites and ask for advice. You will be well rewarded! Gardeners love to help one another.
·         Buy landscaping software or visit free online sites to plunk your yard pictures into and see what can be by adding hardscape or different plants.
·         Sit back and read a lot of gardening books or magazines as the snow swirls outside.
·         Be willing to accept some criticism, open your eyes, and be prepared to dig into some new change.

“One man can be a crucial ingredient on a team, but one man cannot make a team” – Kareem Abdul Jabbar

Over the years I have been a part of numerous teams, managed various teams, and faced a lot of team dynamics. A strong and engaged team is the driving force behind success and employee empowerment. We all know what happens when a team is weak and the members act like weeds in a garden. Teams really are like a garden. You need to tend to them through effective “design”, fertilization, enriching them with warmth, and unfortunately do some weeding. Most importantly, you need to view the team with a fresh set of eyes to learn how to enhance the growth.

Early last year my team welcomed a new leader. Naturally we were a bit nervous not knowing what to expect and a bit reluctant to change. It turned out that having a new set of eyes was exactly what we needed. We needed someone fresh to look at what we were doing, how we managed projects, and our team dynamics. We quickly realized that some of our work was redundant, we had silos, and our processes well, sucked. Moreover, not all of us were playing to our strengths. Welcoming a new “gardener” to our team is really fueling our growth.

So how do you look at new teams with fresh eyes?

·         Don’t come in with preconceived notions and refuse to listen to prior leader views beforehand. Walk into a fresh canvass ready to bring out the color. Our new leader refused any previous views regarding our team members which was refreshing and offered a new start.
·         Honor the past. Don’t bad mouth prior leaders.
·         Like a garden, you need to paint a picture in your mind about how you want your team to look.
·         Get to know your people as individuals. What energizes them and makes them tick? What do they need to grow?
·         Gardeners put the right plants in the right places for growth. Do the same for your team. Build on each person’s strengths.
·          Sit back and really listen. Communicate with strength.
·         Notice the team dynamics. What is working and where are the weakest links?
·         Be a sponge. Soak everything up without comment and look for patterns, nuances, and weeds.
·         Everyone loves a great story. Showcase your experiences and knowledge with stories that a team can relate to. It will help them understand where you are coming from and what you have brought to other teams.
·         Be a nurturer and remember that change and growth take time. Every new garden has weeds and over time a strong leader smothers the weeds to bring out the best in a garden. The weeds may rise up in the form of fear, uncertainty, people feeling threatened, or even feeling on the “out” if they were “in” with their previous manager.
·         Allow your eyes to see what can be. Empowerment is the fertilizer, belief and trust is the soil, give your people the tools and knowledge, and offers them “sun” to allow them to grow and fill your canvass with a new vision.

How will you see your team with fresh eyes?

How strong is Your Trunk?

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"Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing" - Abraham Lincoln

This past week I experienced  a seemingly endless stream of cars topped with fresh cut Christmas trees on the roads. The weather in the Midwest continues to be in the 50-60s without a flake of snow in sight. Although people may not feel like its Christmas, the trees driving around tell a different story.

I must confess that as much of an avid gardener that I am, we have a fake tree.  I love the beauty, structure, and scent of real trees however, I’ve always had a hard time taking a beautiful, green, fresh tree and cutting it off at its knees. I prefer to plant my trees root intact. That being said, there is so much beauty, tradition, and fun in cutting down a holiday tree and bringing it into your home.
Christmas tree fields are a magical place to visit during the holiday season. They are full of some of the most popular trees for celebrating during December. You can choose from so many varieties:

·         White spruce
·         White Pine
·         Fraser Fir
·         Colorado Blue Spruce
·         Douglas Fir
·         Balsam  Fir
·         Scotch Pine

While growing, these trees absorb CO2, support wildlife, protect soil from erosion, and are biodegradable after they are done with the season.  Growers religiously plant 3 new trees for every tree that is cut down. If you really want to be green this Christmas you can purchase a live tree in a pot and then transfer it out into your landscape after Santa Claus visits. What these gems need is to have a pre-dug hole to be housed in and they cannot be placed in the house longer than 7-10 days. If they remain inside too long, they will dry out and have a hard time adjusting to the great outdoors. Christmas tree facts

As I’ve watched trees wiz by this past week one thought kept popping into my head “Why are potted trees double the price of cut trees even though they are half the size and not as commercialized”? Simple – the sum of the whole is worth far more than the parts – and so are you.  You see, humans aren’t really worth much if we don’t have strong “trunks” or our “roots” aren’t intact. In fact, without these natural attributes, we are just disjointed and trunked like a Christmas tree. We shine for a bit but in the end, the sparkle dims. There is so much more to us.

What makes us whole is our “roots”. Our roots make us who we are, help us grow, and are our life force. Your “trunk’ is your core and your values are your roots – a critical part that makes us human.  According to values are the “fundamental beliefs of a person or organization. The guiding principles that dictate behavior and action”.  Your core values keep you on the right path and are your guiding force. They monitor your beliefs which impact your internal conduct. In short, they are our foundation just as the roots are to our Christmas trees.

Core values are different for everyone. They range from empathy to empowerment, honesty to accountability, or humble to courtesy. Only you can decide which values will ground and guide you. Values enable your “trunk” to remain strong and vibrant. Without them, you may weaken and become disjointed from your purpose or lose focus of your dreams. The big question that you need to ask of yourself is “what ARE my core values”?

I hate to tell you but your values aren’t going to knock you on the side of the head to let you know they are there. You need to go looking for them. Now, friends may be able to help because they often see what drives you or they know what you value. Ask them. You can also check in with your significant other – although be prepared for some bad with the good. Ultimately you need to rely on yourself for value identification and to learn what makes you tick. You need to become your own private shrink and look deep inside to pull out your top values. You also need to allow yourself time to quietly think about YOU.

Here’s how to find the values that make up YOU and ground you each and every day:

·         Find a comfy place to write and reflect. Write down every value that is a part of you, you admire in others, and really resonate with you. Write the first words that pop into your mind and don’t over think it.
·         As you write think about why what you are writing down has meaning. Make sure that you don’t write down who you want to be, but who you really are.
·         Look at your list and pick out the top 3-5 values that jump out. Again, don’t over think this. Write them down on a separate piece of paper and look at them. Put them in your phone, on a sticky note, in your planner. Become comfortable with them. Have them visually follow you.
·         Breathe your “new” values, live them, they are natural and they are YOU.
·         Whenever you have choices to make or a path to choose, ask yourself if your core values will be supported and your core will remain strong. If you have doubts, pull back and reflect.

Like a potted Christmas tree with a strong truck and healthy roots, you are more than just a tree this holiday season and beyond.  You are a complex miracle whose values make your core strong and keep you rooted where you belong, help you have an impact on your environment, and are the essence of you.

So. Just how strong is your trunk?

Today We Celebrate The Best Leaders In The World - Mom!

"From a small seed a mighty trunk may grow" Aeschylus
Photo via Ramsay2 via
Spring continues to unfurl and splash bright green everywhere with touches of pink, white, red, and purple. Spring is the time when Mother Nature gets to be the center of attention every day for weeks as she celebrates her own magical Mother's Day over and over. The sweet smell of mowed grass, flowering trees, and fragrant spring flowers wafts through the air. I love hearing the songs of the frogs as they awaken and look to be mothers themselves! It really is magical and makes suffering through winter well worth the wait.

Every gardener, male or female, is really a "mother" every day in the garden. We plant little seeds sometimes needing to soak or nick them with a file to help them sprout. We give them the best soil and warmth in which to begin their growth. When they burst through the soil we care for them gently - some of us even talking non-stop to them in their gentle state. We gently water them as not to drown them and provide the seedlings food as they strengthen. When our babies are strong enough to venture outside we slowly expose them to the bright sun so that they don't burn. After a few days we let them bask in the rays while we give them all the water that they need.

Once our "babies" are ready we look to put them in just the right place. We find a spot chosen just for them with all their growing needs in mind. After placing them in their new home we continue to nurture them until they can stand alone in the garden and do what they were prepared for - growing up and flourishing into a beautiful beaming center of our garden. Isn't that what our own mothers did with us as we all grew up?

 A hearty thank you to all the "Mothers" who have grown us from a tiny seed and nurtured our growth to be leaders ourselves.

Photo courtesy of Jenny Downing via Compfight
Today is a very special day to so many women - Mother's Day! This day is more than just a Hallmark holiday (and a money maker to greenhouses around the world!). Mother's Day is also a tribute to women who don't have any biological children. These women should be honored as well. So many of them have helped grow and influence other girls and women. They have had an instrumental role in leading other females to realize their purpose and have helped nurture them along in life. For ALL the women out there - Thank you and have a wonderful Mother's Day!

We can all think of a special "Mom" who has had an impact in our lives. Women have an immense magic on the lives of those that they interact with every day. Moreover, women really are some of the strongest role models out there. Moms do so much "behind the scenes" work that most of us don't even think about on a regular basis. Moms are silent leaders - and the best one's at that! Moms do so much throughout our lives as they nurture our growth and prepare to let us go out into the world. Guess what? The growth that they provide really does lead us without us really "seeing" Mom as a leader. This is what the best leaders do in the background.

Why "Mom's" are the best leaders around
  • They gently teach us manners and how we should always be thankful
  • They teach us not to hit or throw things and to control our tempers
  • Moms are strong and repeatedly show us their strength and perseverance in tough times
  • They are decisive when they need to be in making a hard call
  • Moms support us unconditionally
  • They  believe in us and our ability to succeed
  • They know how to balance family and work without complaint
  • Moms are fantastic program managers - who else could plan and execute all those extracurricular events?
  • They give us positive praise without giving us "big" heads
  • Moms let us make mistakes and learn from them
  • They remind us that they have the last say and to respect their decisions 
  • Moms are the ultimate planners and multitasking queens
  • Moms have sound listening and communication skills - perhaps too much for some people!
  • They have a strong work ethic and expect us to as well
  • They quickly handle conflict and encourage collaboration while working through strife
  • Mom knows how to protect us from ourselves
  • They know how to form strong teams and manage them (birthday party games, chores) 
  • They are pros at creating reward systems to encourage behaviors and increase productivity
  • They always try to encourage a positive atmosphere where we respect each other
  • Moms are tolerant and open to new ideas
  • Mom is always up for a challenge that no one warned her about!
  • They are our biggest fans and fiercest protectors
  • They know how to play politics from being with other parents
  • Moms really are THE BEST  naturally born leaders!
If you have any doubts at this point that Moms are the strongest most natural leaders around sit back and really think about what a "Mom" did for you as you grew up and how she continues to help you  develop as a person today. How did she nurture you and prepare you for the real world?
Guess what? Next time that you are trying to be a better leader or find a new one for your team, think of Mom and all the qualities that she has. You will know what to look for and how effective he/she will be!
Happy "Mother's Day" to all those women who have made a differences in the lives of others and continue to do so today. Moms = Leaders!

You've Got A Friend In Me

"Folks are like plants; We all lean toward the light" - Kris Carr

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Spring is such a delight for me. The sun is more vibrant, the clouds fluffy and trailing, and the clear gentle breezes go this way and that. Spring also brings a lot of work for me as I energetically go out to cut back all the dead growth in my beds - only to ramble hours later into the house moving slowly and with a marked soreness! This ritual continues for a few weeks until all my garden beds are clean, freshened with wood chips, and new "friends" join the plants from past seasons.
In a way, spring clean up at my house  is like Christmas. As I pull away all the dead growth not only am I greeted by fresh green growth,  but I discover plants springing out that I had forgotten were there. At times I can't remember exactly what some plants are until they put on more growth. All of  a sudden I have some "ah ha" moments and am delighted. This time of year reminds me so much of meeting new friends as I wander in my gardens. I haven't seen them for quite some time yet, I love "reacquainting" myself with each and everyone of them. Some plants were planted last season and are "new" friends. Others are established and never fail to disappoint me with their beauty and stature.
It's times in my garden like this that I really appreciate all that I have and the beauty springing forth around me. Indeed, I really like to think of some of my plants as old friends and it always puts a smile on my face as we meet again after a long, cold, harsh winter.
This spring is especially meaningful for me. I recently sprang into a new job opportunity and every day is full of new learning experiences and discovering new friends. It's a delight to go to work each day with a sense of discovery and wonder - just like wandering in a spring garden. Sadly, I just left some work friends goodbye however, my new venture offers new friendships ahead. How are your work friendships and what do you do to grow them?
"Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend" - Albert Camus
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Some people don't want work friendships. They stay with old ways of  thinking that work and personal lives should be kept separate. Huh? Considering that we all spend 8-10 hours a day (at least) with people at work we really NEED to make friends at work. The benefits keep us healthy and engaged.
Why you need "work friends"
  • You spend more time at work than with your family. A healthy life means healthy relationships with those that you are around the most. Be healthy. Seek out some work friends.
  • You will want to go to work everyday and look forward to being with people that you like and understand you.
  • You will feel more motivated and engaged working with those that you like and respect.
  • Friends are a great support system. Who better to understand you then those that see you in your work role? Work friends understand your struggles and frustrations better than anyone.
  • Friends help bring about a sense of belonging and team.
  • You know what? You really will care more about your work because you know that what you do can impact those around you - your buds.
  • You will learn so much more from work friends. You feel more comfortable asking questions, sharing ideas, and asking for advice.
  • Sometimes work friendships grow into mentoring opportunities. Mentors get to know the "real" you and may see the gifts that can be unlocked inside.
  • Friends really do make us happy!

 Clearly work friendships can be the start of something new and open up opportunities. I'm eagerly looking forward to building more relationships and finding new friends in the weeks ahead. In large companies it's often easier said than done. People are busy, schedules are in conflict, there are often already a variety of friend groups. Remember high school? It never really leaves us.

Here are some suggestions for how to make new friends

  • Smile with all of your mind and body. Be genuine.
  • Take an interest in others. Be very curious.
  • Make others feel important and really listen.
  • Ask questions and be genuine in learning all that you can about others.
  • Admit any mistakes or misunderstanding right away. Be sincere.
  • Don't gossip!
  • As Dale Carnegie always said, "Don't criticize, condemn, or complain".
  • Don't stop trying to form relationships. Some people are shy and really need time to open up and connect with other people.
  • Be helpful and offer to shoulder more workload from others.
  • Jump into social opportunities and accept invitations to connect outside of work.
  • Volunteer with coworkers on projects or in the community.
  • Seek out other people outside of your department or even location.
  • Ask people to lunch or for coffee.
  • Bring in treats.
  • Be real and be a friend.
Do you have any other suggestions to make some friends at work? Relationships are what make us human and really help us grow. Go out and uncover some friends this week! I know that I will be uncovering some new opportunities to connect........

The Politics Of Promotion - It's A Growth Thing

"Folks are like plants; we all lean toward the light" - Kris Carr

Spring is finally sneaking in and bringing warmer temperatures and even some bright sunshine. I can feel my garden slowing waking up and stretching after a very long cold nap. The snow and cold left me with a few surprises this week. Some of my coveted conifers have some pretty drastic winter burn and may not spring back with vigor or at all. The snow offered some protection, but not enough to prevent the unexpected.

 I refuse to pamper my plants with winter protection other than what Mother Nature offers. It would take me a solid month just to do so! Snow is an excellent insulator and as you can see from the middle picture below where the tree is half green and half brown, the snow did it's job. The upper part of my Atlas Cedar wasn't covered in snow and it was blind sided by the cold and wind. There wasn't enough protection ahead of time or during the long winter.  I just hope that in this case, the needles grow back which they sometimes do on this species. As for the other two conifers in the pics? I have little confidence seeing them recover. One they are brown, they are down!

My conifers didn't like the winter!
"Workplaces are highly political environments where decisions about who gets ahead, who gets more compensation, and who gets access to scarce resources are not based on performance alone. Our naive assumption that our performance will guarantee a successful career is a dangerous one" - Bonnie Marcus

Does this quote resonate with you?  Have you been burned or blindsided in your career like my winter burned conifers? Unexpectedly and out of the blue? I have and it hurts. Women in particular learn at a young age that if we work hard and do all the right "things" that we will come out on top and win. Hard work, dedication, focus, and brains just aren't enough to bring success. It's "playing the game", "schmoozing", "networking" that are the keys. If you have been frustrated and burned in your growth in your career you really need some guidance. I discovered a guide to help you form a new outlook on your growth. Bonnie Marcus's new book The Politics Of Promotion How High-Achieving Women Get Ahead and Stay Ahead is your protection for growing and not "getting burned"

Whether we like it or not, politics are everywhere. We can't escape them and if you can't beat them you will need to join them. For far too long women have been blindsided in the workplace by politics. We are left out of the boys club and feel that if we perform, our work will be noticed and rewarded. We lack confidence and won't toot our own horn. We fail to see signs of unrest because we have blinders on. We are left out of power decisions and meetings. In short we have a "political skills deficiency". You can work your tail off and do everything perfectly and it may not be enough. Others will pass you by and be promoted. Your career and salary will be stagnant. Whether you like it or not, you need to embrace politics to not only protect yourself from getting burned but to grow in your career and help your team to do so as well.

You need to develop "political will" which is a willingness to embrace politics and see office politics as "collaborative competition" Work place politics doesn't need to be a dirty job. We need to re frame politics and see it as a way to be subtle and behind the scenes in building strong relationships of trust and influence. Politics doesn't have to be self serving. It can be used to serve others. This notion is what really hooked me in Bonnie's book.

Bonnie effectively shows us how women can't afford to ignore the political landscape. She clearly lays out the consequences of remaining out of the ring. We need to jump in and play because no one can protect us better than ourselves. We need to let others know about our achievements. We need to be at the table with our male counterparts. That means being aware of what is going on around us and building relationships to further our growth. We also need to protect ourselves as we stumble through office politics. Bonnie introduces us to the 4 stages of being politically savvy. Each stage represents a level of political growth and awareness. To help you to find where you are, Bonnie offers a political skills assessment. Hint: you don't want to be a "Naive Nancy"!

Once you have an understanding of where you stand in the political landscape Bonnie reveals her Political Toolkit to help foster your political skills and maintain your place at the table.

Here's the Political Toolkit to bring with you to work every day:
  • Mirror: You need to do some honest self reflection to really find what your personal value proposition is. Toot your own horn and self promote. No one else will!
  • Magnifying Glass: Look closely at your work environment and really observe all of the dynamics and players. Look beyond your organization chart. Who has the power? Who really makes decisions? Watch the power, the rules, and monitor the culture.
  • Pass Go and Collect $200 Card: This is all about strategic networking and is your "card". It will position you to win as well as protect you. Networking is valuable for gathering information as well as building relationships. You never know when you will need to play your card.
  • The Get Out of Jail Free Card: This card is a sponsor. You really need to seek out a sponsor in your organization that will protect and promote you to others. The sponsor paves the way for opportunities. They help you find opportunities and are vested in you.
  • The GPS: The GPS is executive coaching. You need some help to find your way through landmines and to continue to strive for success. A coach is your partner and will give you continuous advice as you grow. They help with goal focus and keep you accountable. The coach is your key to remaining consistent and on track. You will be lost without one.

Bonnie's toolkit really help me to understand what I need to do to remain relevant and continue down my path to growth. It's not enough to achieve success though. You need to keep your tools sharp and utilize them regularly to stay relevant and grow. Once you reach your "top" it's very easy to become complacent and before you know it you may become an "outsider". That's when you really have to get those tools out and get busy.

I really enjoyed The Politics Of Promotion and highly recommend it to women at all stages of their career. Bonnie clearly shares the realities of what most of us have experienced such as losing a promotion, making a lower salary, stunted career growth. She easily  won me over to recognizing that I am stunting my own growth by ignoring office politics. Moreover, I am only opening myself up to getting "burned" by pretending that I don't need to play.

 Bonnie inspired me to jump into the ring of politics by detailing how becoming politically savvy can not only benefit me but others. Those who build strong relationships, build trust, are authentic and genuine leaders in this area can really have an impact and move others with them. I have always thought of office politics as a dirty game but this book changed all that.

I thoroughly enjoyed the real life "political" stories of successful women that The Politics Of Promotion shares with us. It's reassuring and uplifting to hear about some strong successful women who were fired or passed up for opportunities because they remained on the "outside' of office politics. Marcus effectively brings us on a journey that illustrates how "playing the game" can be an empowering and growing ride. Politics isn't just about you - it's about everyone. As a leader you can't afford to stand back and watch success pass you or your people by. Protect yourself and your teams by building relationships and using your toolkit every day!

The Politics of Promotion How High-Achieving Women Get Ahead and Stay Ahead needs to be in every woman's toolbox for success. In order to build you need tools. In order to grow you need support. Check out Bonnie Marcus's book at Amazon and don't get "burned"!