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!