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.

Photo Courtesy of Cayusa via Compfight.com

 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?

The Best Leaders Cultivate Butterflies!

"We are all butterflies. Earth is our chrysalis" - LeeAnn Taylor

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The cold and snow have not let up one bit in the last week. Twice, we were stuck in our driveway in ice or slush. More than twice I was cursing up at the sky. I threw up my hands and took off for our local botanical garden. I needed to sweat a little and play with some butterflies. I love watching them glide through the air without a care in the world enjoying their short lives and serving out their purpose - in this case? To wow and inspire me!

We smartly visited Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park a week before their official grand opening of the "Butterflies are Blooming" annual exhibit. There were very few people there, but numerous  breeds and colors of beautiful butterflies. We were awed watching awkward butterflies slowly climbing out of their hanging chrysalises to begin a new life as soaring, free, gracious creatures. It took my breath away to think about the growth and changes that the caterpillars endured in order  to become such beautiful transformed creatures.

Watching new life break out in the butterfly bungalow
Meijer Gardens receives shipments of new chrysalises every week over a 8 week period. The chrysalises start life in the "bungalow" above. After they have adjusted to their new body they are released into a tropical oasis where it's a consistent balmy 85 degrees. There will be over 7000 butterflies during the exhibit soaring in the 5 story conservatory. It's like being in a Disney movie with them fluttering all around at different heights and in so many colors and sizes. The butterflies hail from places like Africa, Asia, South and Central America. There are species like Long Wing Heliconius, Common Morpho, Scarlet Mormon, and streaked Tree Nymph butterflies. They sip on fresh fruit and sweet water while enjoying flight above Orange Jasmine, Bahama Buttercup, and Mexican Honeysuckle. It's breath taking and so tranquil! Imagine becoming a butterfly.....Meijer Gardens

Why are we so fascinated by butterflies?

  • They have unattainable freedom, grace, independence, and seem invincible.
  • They are spectacular with unique colors or different wing spans and shapes.
  • Butterflies glide through the air without any care in the world. They enjoy life and get to visit so many beautiful flowers.
  • Each butterfly is so unique. You can be the ugliest caterpillar on earth and morph into a colorful, powerful butterfly.
  • Butterflies seem to have a purpose. They essentially start life as "worms" and live in order to change themselves into something new.
  • Butterflies inspire us. We are all fascinated by them. As kids, almost all of us captured a caterpillar and nurtured it to see what it can become. Monarchs were my favorites!
  • Butterflies tease us into imagining how it feels to become something else. Something better then before.
  • Butterflies represent life or a new beginning. Don't we all dream of that at some point in our lives?
  • Butterflies urge me to be the best that I can be so that I can grow and serve out my own purpose.
Leadership and butterflies are alike!

I have managed people for over 25 years. My favorite part has always been mentoring people while watching them grow and develop. I likened my new team members to young caterpillars. They were inexperience or lacked knowledge in a variety of areas. We worked together to develop new skills and gave them a shot at new experiences. Over time, they grew and became increasingly more independent. Like butterflies, there came a time when my people were "released" out into the world bound for new ventures. It didn't matter if they moved up in our company or left us for a better opportunity. I was always so proud . I love to see people grow and advance. They took up the challenge and strived to grow and develop. They spread their wings and were ready to glide off into the world. My butterflies were "free".

Effective leaders mentor butterflies. Bad leaders are left with caterpillars!
We all come into this world out of a cocoon, young and naive. We learn, grow, experience failures and rewards, and we strive to strike out on our own into the world. We take flight and 1.2.3. Go! It's up to each of us to decide how far we dare to spread our wings and where we are willing to fly. Some of us are more successful than others. Many of us are fortunate to have support during our growth and we are pushed to spread those beautiful wings a bit wider and to soar much higher. Perhaps we had a leader that influenced our growth and our flight out into the world. As a leader, you may have the opportunity and gifts to guide someone's growth. Help them morph and spread their wings. Are you up to the challenge?
How to guide others to grow and take flight:
  • Let people make mistakes and don't hold it against them. Allow them to mature, grow, and learn from them.
  • Don't mother someone or over protect them. They will fear change and striking out on their own.
  • Don't fix everything. Force people to detect and solve problems independently.
  • Show trust, win trust.
  • Show respect, win respect. Not hard is it? 
  • Listen, listen, listen. Talk less. Sit back and allow others to find solutions, create, and bring new ideas to the table.
  • Don't criticize or belittle new ideas or ways of doing things. See #1 for guidance.
  • Search for ways to bring out the potential in others. Get to know your people and what makes them tick.
  • Focus on someone's strengths, not their weaknesses. Other team members can compensate for weak areas.
  • Reflect and encourage a positive attitude. It's contagious. A positive attitude spurs people to do their best. They feel less fear and apprehension.
  • Be enthusiastic so that others can internalize and use it to take bigger steps towards success.
  • Share your weaknesses, mistakes, lessons learned. Be human. With an experienced role model, people feel more steady and will take on bigger challenges and new projects.
  • Teach through story telling. A part of all of our childhoods were great books and stories. They grew with us and enabled us to see the "bigger" world. Your stories will do the same. People respond to stories and can see themselves in them.
  • Challenge people. Don't let them retreat back into their cocoon or fold in their wings. We all need to be forced to take steps that frighten or intimidate us. Push people in little ways to open those wings.
  • Stay curious and innovative. Live it every day. It shows people what you value and that it's important to you. People are like kids and model what they see. You want them  to model what will grow and challenge them.
  • Truly be authentic and believe in others. Close your ears to rumors or the past. Allow each person to start anew so that YOU can see what their "stage" is and how you can help them grow into their first "flight". Let them prove themselves to you first so that you can see firsthand the path they are choosing.

What are YOU going to do today to start cultivating butterflies?


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Plant Yourself Somewhere Else and Thrive!

"If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant".
~Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672, Colonial American poet)

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Earlier this week, I threw in the towel and admitted to myself that Spring is still a long way off. I took some defensive action. I renewed my lapsed membership to our local botanical and sculpture park garden in West Michigan. I need to feel some moist humidity and light on my face. I want to smell some clean, moist dirt. I want to bask in the various flower smells. It revitalizes me and really gets my creative juices flowing. When I'm in a peaceful place with the sights and smells of plants, I begin to feel renewed and relaxed. Maybe I will make it until Spring!

I'm fortunate to live near one of the top 10 botanical gardens in the United States. Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park is one of hundreds of unique and esteemed gardens available to visit. These parks offer more than just plants and a winter escape. Each one is unique in it's offerings and no two are exactly alike. Even people who don't dig gardening will find something to appreciate. Specifically, Meijer Gardens regularly hosts unique and worldly sculpture and art exhibits both inside and out. They can be appreciated while walking through winding trails and flowing gardens. Next month brings our annual "Butterflies are Blooming" exhibit. Starting next week visitors can literally sit and watch a variety of tropical butterflies slowly climb out of their delicate cocoons.The real magic is experiencing hundreds of butterflies floating in the air. It's magical and such a delight when one lands on your hand. The Chicago Botanical Gardens is famous for their plant trials. They put new cultivers through some tough trials to see which ones come out on top according to their criteria. The winners are then introduced to the public for sale. You can be assured that if a plant has passed their test, it's a winner and should be in your garden.

Here's what else you can experience at the various botanical gardens around the country:
  • Garden education and horticultural certification
  • Annual plant sales with new and recently introduced plants
  • Volunteer opportunities 
  • World renowned speakers and lectures (not just about plants!)
  • Children's gardens that offer hands on learning and activities
  • Art exhibitions
  • Outside summer concerts
  • Sustainable farming techniques and organic gardens
  • Test gardens 
  • Showcasing  tree varieties and bonsai  that are hundreds of years old
  • Koi water gardens
  • Holiday light and tree displays
  • Beautiful venues for wedding and corporate events
  • Research
  • Butterflies and bugs
The list goes on and on. Google your state and you may be surprised how many gardens there are near you. They are jewels tucked away that you never knew existed. A visit to any of these gardens is guaranteed to lighten your mood, clear your mind, and give you a fresh perspective. All near your own backyard. If you need a change and a quick getaway - run to the nearest botanical garden!

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For those of us in cold states, this hasn't been an easy winter. It seems like the snow will never melt and the sun is playing hide and seek. Driving has been a nightmare and the cold is taxing. Multiply this energy zapper with the stress of work and family responsibilities and you may feel like a tightly bound ball of yarn. The human mind is a special, wondrous organ. It can make us feel drained and stressed out or relaxed and carefree. In times of stress your mind becomes tense and may tend to blank out. It needs something to spark creativity and get the juices flowing. It needs YOU to escape and bring it somewhere else so that it can relax, open up, and reboot. 

If you can't take off and go to a botanical garden to rejuvenate and flex your mind, perhaps just leaving work and landing anywhere else will. Get away from work distractions and the same old routine. Forge out for some new scenery and wake up your brain. How about working at a coffee shop for a bit? Experience a new place, new faces, great coffee with snacks, and free Internet.You may be surprised what a difference this will make when you need to concentrate or innovate.

Coffee shops are interesting places. Aside from the fun in watching people, these shops allow you to take in new sights, sounds, and scents. Your mind rewinds itself and reboots. It loves all the new stimuli that you are offering up. None of your coworkers will barge in unannounced. Your boss can't find you (or your spouse if you are self employed!). The hum of the background conversations is relaxing. OK, so is listening in on the conversations of others but I digress. A lot of entrepreneurs and sales people find solace and relaxation working out of coffee houses and many even build lasting work relationships with each other. 

Here's why you occasionally  need to plant yourself somewhere else other than your desk to work:

  • A change of environment is emotionally healthy. We know that a change in sights and sounds is music to your brain. Feed it with new tunes!
  • Just plunking yourself down in a sea of new colors and textures to work will make a difference. Most coffee shops know the value of a warming fireplace and leather chairs for customers.
  • You will be more relaxed jumping out of your usual element.
  • Fewer distractions. Being anonymous means people will generally leave you alone. Avoiding eye contact will lower your chances of being bothered.
  • You can meet new people and may even find some new opportunities!
  • Your mind will welcome the opportunity to boost it's memory capacity. It will reward you with more creativity and your thoughts will have fewer constraints and rules.
  • As we said earlier, new background noise will help you focus and block panicky thoughts or hectic feelings.
  • You will be more energized just being away from structure and the drone of meetings.
  • Your attitude will completely change and you will have a badly needed attitude adjustment. 
  • You will look at things with a new perspective and be more appreciative of your colleagues and work when you return to the office.
I work in an open office environment and I love it! After years in my own solo office, it's a refreshing change and I love the hum of activity and voices around me. Sometimes though, I do need to get away somewhere quiet to think and organize my thoughts. Even just trotting to a conference room makes a world of difference. A change in the environment sparks the wires in my brain and I'm off and thinking. I have some self employed friends that literally spend half of their working time in a coffee shop. They need the noise and camaraderie that they just can't get from working at home. They feel vitalized and connected. They have strengthened some friendships and brought in new business. The coffee house breathes life into their work and helps them to succeed.

Where do you plant yourself to get your brain thinking and to revitalize yourself??? 
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No Two Snowflakes Are Alike and Neither Are Your People.

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This past week has been another challenging one for a great part of the country. Snow, ice, and more snow. I feel like I am stuck in snow globe that's been cursed by Mother Nature. Big cities that rarely receive snow were brought to a standstill. Who knew that a few inches of snow could cripple transportation and effect millions of people?

Spring seems way so far away. In the Great Lakes area we will have snowbanks that won't melt until late May. Every day I try to force myself to find something positive and bright about all of this snow spewing a constant spray of  flakes under the dim skies. It isn't easy! Then, one cold, bitter, morning I found it. The snow was falling lightly with large flat flakes. The flakes that fell onto my windshield were a kaleidoscope of artwork. No two flakes were alike. There was a continuous variety of all shapes and sizes. Some had sprawling arms like a starfish. Others were compact like handcrafted Lego pieces. I had to smile. I finally remembered one unique and beautiful thing about winter.. the uniqueness of snowflakes!

It really is true that structurally no two snowflakes are alike. So many factors affect  the shape and intricate design of a flake. As flakes form from water they are constantly changing as they grow and morph. Their final form is impacted by temperature, air currents, humidity, and specs of dirt in the air. They  literally change as they fall through the various layers of the sky. Because each layer of the air has a slightly different temperature, there is more/less moisture available for adding to the crystal structure of a flake. The flakes start as water vapor and then become ice crystals that continually crystallize until they fall down into your yard. Colder flakes have more integral shapes while warmer flakes are smoother and form more slowly. A piece of art is born as it tumbles down towards us. That being said, there are similarities between flakes. They tend to take one of the following forms and then add their own personal twist to their shape:

  • 6 sided thin hexagonal crystals that are formed within high clouds.
  • Needled/flat sided crystals that form in middle clouds.
  • A variety of hollow column 6 sided flakes that are made in low clouds. About.com Snowflake Chemistry

If you have never thought of your people as snowflakes - you may want to!

Every snowflake is a unique piece of art. It is individual and like no other. It's attributes are distinctive, personalized, quirky, and special. Although unique, each snowflake is a bigger part of something special. Your people are your snowflakes. Individually they are unique and special in a variety of ways. As a group, they are the perfect "storm" that makes things happen!

As a leader, it's your job to strength find, appreciate, nourish, and grow your people. Be the catalyst that helps capitalize on their strengths and form their "shape". Appreciate and cultivate what makes them unique. They in turn will group together and form a solid, powerful team.

So...How do you cultivate and grow your team of "Snowflakes"? 
  1. Capitalize on what makes people unique. Use their strengths and forget about changing their weaknesses. The weaknesses of some are the strengths of others. Mix and match for success.
  2. Concentrate on your top employees, not your low producing people. Your top people will come through for you via their dedication, work, and attitude. Your time is better spent cultivating these people.
  3. Be innovative and creative where you place people in their roles. Play to their uniqueness and think out of the box where their talents can best be utilized.
  4. Acknowledge the uniqueness of every person. Treat them as if  they are your best clients. They are the front that will bring growth, profits, and success to your company.
  5. Cultivate a "snowflake" culture where uniqueness, new ideas, approaches, and views are appreciated and encouraged.
Working with the individuality of every person on your team isn't easy. It's a lot of work and will initially take an exurbanite  amount of time. Your may be tempted to take short cuts to get the process going so that you can concentrate on other things. Don't. Look long term and realize that your work up front will build a strong team with highly empowered people down the road. The means justify the end.
Your biggest task will be discovering the uniqueness and strengths of your people. Here's how:
  1. Note where people consistently perform well and produce results.
  2. Discover what skills/knowledge each person learns quickly - what's their "sweet spot"?
  3. What does each person love to do? Slide them into that role.
  4. What gives each team member gratification in their work? This will give you a glimpse into their uniqueness.
  5. Help them see their true strengths and help them understand why they perform so well in certain areas. Encourage them to develop these areas and strengths.
  6. Challenge every one's strengths and uniqueness by encouraging them to apply their skills on a higher level within the organization. This could be an actual management level or moving someone with tech skills into a more technical area to rev up their skills.
  7. Help everyone apply their strengths and unique skills more broadly. Help them feel empowered by mentoring others or leading teams with different  skills to help them grow.
The old saying that your people are your best asset may seem overplayed, but it is the best advice that I can  give to anyone. Recognize that like snowflakes, every single person is unique and has gifts that must be appreciated and developed. Like the crystal that falls through the layer of air as it forms, your people are constantly changing and building on their uniqueness. Be there to help guide them and welcome them to your "perfect storm"!
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Look for the ONE!

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"Do not be afraid to go out on a limb...that's where the fruit is" - Anonymous

It's that time of year when a lot of  people venture out to find "The One". I'm not referring to that perfect gift, but the perfect tree. For the 25% of the population that embark on finding and cutting down a live tree every year, it's a serious business!

About 30 million Christmas trees are sold every year in the US and they are grown in all 50 states. For every tree cut, 1-3 seedlings are planted the following Spring. With over 15,000 tree farms in America there are a lot of varieties and types of trees available to pick from. Evergreens can take 15 years to grow 6-7 feet tall and the key growing states include Oregon, N. Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Washington. Real Christmas Tree Org
Among the most popular Christmas trees cut each year, Firs (Douglas, Balsam, Fraser), Pines (Scotch, White) and Spruce (White, Norway, Blue) are favorites. Preferences depend on the price that you are willing to pay, where you live, and the shape, size, branch or needle length that you like. Leyland Cypress are a popular choice in the Southeastern area of the country and the Virgina Pine is a favorite in the South. Real Christmas Tree Org
It takes focus, patience, and teamwork to find THE right tree. First, you need to find the best tree farm or pre-cut lot to explore. That's just the beginning! Here's some things to keep in mind:
  • Make sure that you measure your space before leaving the house!
  • Research ahead of time the different species of evergreens and the attributes of each
  • Always do a branch needle test. Make sure that the needles are fresh and pliable
  • Avoid cut trees that have needle loss, pale color, smell musty, or have wrinkled bark
  • Smell your way to the right tree! One of the best reasons to cut a real tree is for the alluring fragrance
  • Stand back and look at the true shape and branch length of the tree
  •  If you really go green and opt for a balled or potted live tree, make sure that it isn't in your house for more than 1 week. Have the planting hole prepared ahead of time with the dirt stored in a warm garage
  • Cutting and hauling your tree is not a one person job unless you are superhuman!

When your prized possession arrives home make sure that you honor it by actually taking care of it! Cut off about an 1/2 inch off the base of the trunk to help it pull up water. Keep the tree stand full and check it every day. Keep the tree away from heat sources and sunny windows. Spray it with Wilt Pruf to preserve the moisture in the needles. Don't let your animals climb the tree and let everyone know how much time and effort it took to find "The One!"

Throughout our lives, in a variety of ways, we are always looking for "The One". We search for the right school, right life partner, the best job, the perfect family. Sometimes we find it, sometimes it remains so very elusive. In the leadership arena, every once in awhile we find ourselves eagerly acknowledging that we are truly seeing "The One".

I had this epiphany a few weeks ago when I read a story about Pope Francis. It was an article about how the Pope sneaks out to break bread with the poor. How he has defied the trappings and pomp of being the Pope. He lives in a simple home with his own belongings. He has blatantly fought corruption and has fired people at the Vatican for their extravagance. He drives his own 20 year old car. He doesn't really dig the "Pope Mobile". He seems "real" to people. Francis has engaged with newlyweds outside and greets people while willingly joining in their pictures. He Tweets. He focuses on individuals in need. He genuinely seems to care about real people. He follows through with action, not just rhetoric. He's given hugs to over 100 wheelchair-bound followers in a visit. He embraces those that may be disfigured and understands them. He seems to connect with his followers and is humble yet real despite his position. Francis randomly makes his own personal calls to reach out to others without a secretary. He leads with a sense of humor and clearly doesn't have himself up on a pedestal. The list goes on and on.

Religious preferences aside, you have to recognize and acknowledge the incredible leadership skills that Pope Francis exhibits. He truly possesses traits that rare great leaders have and traits that we should all aspire to develop. For me, Pope Francis is a leader that readily jumps into my mind. He will also stay with me as I grow in my leadership.

Leadership traits that "The One" has:

  • Humble and simple
  • Authentic and "real"
  • Caring with a strong emotional IQ
  • Ability to connect and engage
  • Sense of humor
  • Honesty
  • Great communication skills
  • Confidence and strength to do what is right - willingness to go against the norm and out on a limb
  • Commitment
  • Positive attitude
  • Ability to aspire and show vision
  • Intuition and going with your "gut" in tough times
  • Ability to delegate so that you can focus on what you need to
  • Creativity in accomplishing your goals (Pope Francis sneaks out so he can administer to people - in disguise!)

It's no wonder that this week Time Magazine named Pope Francis as their Man of the Year. They easily recognized him as "The One" for 2013. His leadership skills and unconventional way of reaching out to others is truly inspiring and down right awesome!

Hopefully this holiday season has found you locating "The One" Christmas tree to fit into your holiday cheer and celebrations. "The One" stands out in a crowd and is immediately recognized. As I continue down the leadership path, I have easily found "the One' that stands out to me among all others. I am writing down the leadership traits above that Pope Francis has shown us all this past year and I am  going to work on growing each and every one of them!

What or who is YOUR ONE this year?

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Got Leadership Brand ?

"The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself" - Peter Drucker

How well are YOU selling YOURSELF?

Coke, Apple, Google, Xbox, Mustang....We are bombarded by thousands of images every day without even realizing it. Brands scream out to us from the TV and Internet trying to capture our attention. You know what? It works!
When you see an image, you immediately have thoughts or opinions about that product that jump into your mind - good or bad. Some people will only buy one product  brand without even looking at other options (you know who you are). Marketers love these people!
"Branding" has become mainstream, especially with the growth of social media and the ability for people to connect to each other all over the world. Products (and people!) are fighting for shelf space to get their message out there. Even nurseries and plant breeders have jumped on the branding bandwagon in recent years with unprecedented success. Guess what? You aren't all that different from a Knockout Rose or a Boomarang Lilac bush!
Are you growing your personal leadership brand to get some shelf space? 
Traditionally, a brand is a relationship between a consumer and a business as well as a customer and a product. Brands are important because they effectively distinguish one good from another. They symbolize how people think about a product and they carry a "promise" as well as a history of carrying through on that promise. Strong brands sell at a premium and help people in making buying decisions. Whether you like it or not, you ARE a brand and you need to jump into the market. Your promise must come with a compelling benefit for your consumer. You need to remain credible, consistent, and true. You want to come across to your market as someone with a sound reputation in delivering a consistent and premium value.
Just like the myriad of plants in your garden or at the nursery, you are unique. It may seem like there are varieties similar to you, but don't believe that for a second. Your branding helps create a memorable identity of you in the minds of others. It sets you apart and follows you through all areas of your life. Just as in developing new varieties of plants, branding takes time. You will need to "test" your branding as you grow, just like new plants in nursery trials. Growth takes time and patience. When you have reached your peak - it's all worth it! It's critical that you continue to grow, nurture, and protect your brand. It may make or break your success out there in the market or with your people.
As consumers have become more savvy while demanding more value from their purchases, companies have become more innovative and responsive to putting out new products to satisfy the demand. Gardening continues to be a popular hobby as people adopt changes to their lifestyle or spend more time at home while using gardening as a stress outlet. Consumers want reliable, easy, durable, and consistent results from the plants that they buy. People are busy and have a lot of choices out there especially with the Internet. Breeders have responded by delivering brands that carry through on their promise.
Even if you aren't a gardener, I'm sure that you have seen plants branded under some of these names depending on where you live as some are regional brands... Proven Winners, Monrovia, Southern
Living, HGTV, and Hardy Boy. If these don't ring a bell how about these brands? Wave Petunia, Flower Carpet Roses, Endless Hydrangea series, Knockout Roses or  Encore Azalea. What they all have in common is an established brand that delivers and has a strong consumer loyalty. Obviously some of these brands carry particular patents or registered trademarks but I don't think that you have to go that far!
Having a recognizable brand has been very profitable for these plant lines and brands. Jump into my world for a few minutes and pretend that you are a enviable branded shrub in the market. This is what it will do for you:
  • Lets' face it, a strong brand means an increase in sales. For you this could mean more leadership opportunities, promotions or enhanced career moves. Who doesn't want a raise?
  • Regional or national recognition. You want to be perceived as an expert with a reach as far as possible.
  • Strong value. If you are seen as valuable, you can demand a higher price or increased space on the shelf. You can call the shots.
  • Repeat purchases. If you are a salesperson, consultant, or entrepreneur, your brand may keep people coming back for more of your services, product, or leadership.
  • Effective brands have a stronger ability to target a particular segment or customer. Perhaps you are a medical device professional and have a niche that you target. Your brand makes you stand out. This means more success and leadership with regional expertise.
  • Great brands tell a story. Many of the plants brands above indeed have a background or story to tell that resonates with consumers. Tell yours!
  • Established brands earn more consumer trust and less product confusion. This takes time and marketing. Effective branding doesn't happen overnight. Don't expect that your brand will evolve in just a few weeks. Gain the trust of others over time and don't be shy about self promoting yourself! If you don't, who will? Be a leader.
  • Be consistent. A Wave Petunia (which is an annual and dies at the end of the season) had better perform the same year after year after year. If not, consumers move on. You need to remain consistent as well. Don't constantly flip flop  with your brand or you won't have a following behind your leadership. Be a reliable shrub and perform like your "customers" expect.
  • Back up your promise with a way for consumers to connect with your brand via the web, social media, and the old fashioned phone. As a leader, do the same. Interact with others on a web platform or the social scene such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Google + etc. Be available and open to communicating.

OK! Time to jump out of the garden and back into your shoes again. Clearly,  branding is a crucial element to success and connecting with others. The benefits are undeniable and you MUST get out there and plant some seeds to grow your branding. Not only is it a necessity, it is a must if you want others to believe in you and what you can deliver. Plant yourself out there and get busy!

 Photo above Courtesy of  Urban Woodswalker
Wave Petunias 
Proven Winners Limelight Hydrangea
Knock Out Rose

Leadership lessons from my garden

My favorite spot - my pond

"A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust". Gertrude Jekyll

Usually when I explain to people that I blog about leadership and gardening, they either nod and mumble something pleasant (they think I'm nuts) or they get it right away (they must love growing something, even if it's their lawn).

I have always loved gardening. I think that it's a genetic hobby in my family. I have cousins growing hops, sisters with veggie gardens, and my son is starting to get into it as well. I remember when I was 10, I planted a small plot of pumpkins and beans right in the middle of our backyard. The pumpkins took over. They grew everywhere. To this day, I remember my Dad mowing around them all summer - grumbling as he went. He hasn't let me forget it either!

Although I am an Advanced Master Gardener (which means numerous hours of classroom instruction and over 90 hours of volunteer work that I completed) most of my knowledge comes from hands on experience and learning a lot from my mistakes. By the way, for you garden aficionados, it's true ... DON'T plant running bamboo! Even the small stuff has a mind of it's own and doesn't really care how many times it's sprayed with Roundup. Don't plant Popular trees either. They love an early death and get very tall so it's a chore to cut them down. Being a reading fanatic has taught me a lot about gardening over the years as well.

Trial and error, digging right in, educating myself, and a relentless passion over the years has been my key to becoming a gardening pro. It's also how I have been developing my personal leadership skills. Great leadership doesn't happen overnight. Don't let anyone kid you. Great leaders have learned and failed along a long path to where they are today. They have experienced failure, a lack of self confidence, pressure, and a lot of self examination. They make leadership  look easy. What you haven't seen is what they have persevered through. Keep on the path that you are meandering on and you will grow into being a genuine leader as well. Be patient and willing to dig in and make mistakes. Push the envelope. Learn from others. Develop your own style with humility and a passion for others.

Over the years my gardening mistakes, triumphs, new found knowledge, and passion have taught me leadership lessons as well. They are subtle, but there. You just need to look at the world with a renewed and open mindset. You will connect similarities from your experiences to leadership as well!

What I've learned about leadership from gardening over the years:

  • Don't be afraid to experiment and try something new. You will grow as a result. I learned a lot from growing and overwintering some small palm trees outside here in Michigan. It was work, but I succeeded!
  • Believe in yourself - not what other's believe. Go with your gut and intuition when making a decision.
  • You CAN become a subject expert and incorporate it into your leadership. You don't necessarily need a fancy degree, step by step directions, or "relevant" experience. Hands on experience along with some book/practical knowledge goes a long way. People ask me gardening questions all the time. Amazingly, I usually have the answers.
  • Don't be afraid to go against the crowd or challenge the norms in your work when you have strong beliefs. How else will you learn and make a difference? Grow? I always push the envelop in my garden. I plant things that "shouldn't" grow in Michigan. I succeed when I do my research and challenge planting zones.
  • Build a sound foundation for growth and success. A great garden starts with healthy soil laden with worms that do their work and minerals that feed the roots. Leadership requires roots grounded in solid values and morals before growth can begin.
  • A good foundation (or soil) isn't enough. It needs to be fed and nourished. Strong leaders build strong cultures that allow people to grow and work as teams. Great gardens are fed with organic fertilizers and cultivation.
  • Great gardens need periodic maintenance like weeding, dead heading plants, and  watering. You need to do the same with your people. Treat them as individuals. Learn what drives them. Discover how to use their gifts so they can grow. Attend to them.
  • Select and plant the right plant in the right place. Shade plants wither and die in the sun. Don't place people in jobs where they lack the skills or where their strengths just aren't there. They too will wither. Play to their strengths.
  • Animals, diseases, and weather  will attack your garden. You will never be able to control what eats in the night or ravages leaves in the dew. Accept it and intervene only where and when  you can manage. The same goes for your business. Roll with what happens and know that things happen that are beyond your control. It's not personal. Deal with what you've been dealt and try to manage around the damage to help your people succeed.
  • Be patient. Don't expect change overnight. Give people a chance to accept and adjust to change. Help guide them and lay stable foundations so that they can succeed. Strong trees take decades to grow. People grow at their own pace as well. Weak trees grow rapidly and die suddenly and early.
  • Read plant tags and space plants accordingly. Give them room to grow. Don't plant large trees next to your house. You will only be pulling them out in a few years. Likewise, give people and projects space to develop and grow. Things will fall into place if you plan ahead and nurture the process.
  • Look at the big picture and notice how everything works together. Look at your garden with new eyes. Better yet, ask a friend. Is there a plant that doesn't belong or has taken over? Make adjustments. Be flexible and open. The same goes for your teams.
  • Learn from others. I love visiting other gardens. I enjoy asking questions and learning how I can be more creative or improve my gardens. I'm open and enjoy sharing my knowledge as well. Gardeners have so much passion in their craft. True leaders are the same. They learn, adapt, and share knowledge. Their passion shines.

When it comes to gardening and leadership I could babble on. I bet that you could do the same with your favorite hobbies! There are so many lessons and experiences that we have when we do what we love. Sit back for a moment and consider what you have learned from your outside interests and how it relates to your leadership. You may be amazed at the similarities. I would love to hear what you discover!


Go ahead, be a unique "Leader"!

Weeping White Pine
Weeping Norway Spruce
 "Leadership has to do with direction. Management has to do with speed, coordination, and logistics in going in that direction. The Workers are chopping their way through the jungle. The Managers are coordinating, making sure the tools are sharp, etc. The Leaders climb a tree and shout Wrong Jungle! The Managers shout back Be Quiet! We're making progress." - Anonymous

One of the greatest attributes of our country is our freedom to express ourselves. We can dress zany, wear any number of piercings, and act (almost) anyway that we want. We can wear our personality on our sleeve and show our uniqueness to the world. A key American strength is our desire and drive to express ourselves and to be individualistic. Some people take this concept a bit far, but you have to admit that it's fun to people watch! Undoubtedly, it's not cool when that uniqueness is all over our children as we hide from THEM in public, but....

Unique means being one of a kind and completely unlike any other. I don't know about you, but I hate being like everyone else and have always tried to stand out - to be me. I've carried this over into my gardening style over the years and have put an unusual stamp on what I plant in my garden. The pics here are all from my garden and depict some of my favorite conifers. What I love about them is that they aren't like any other trees out there. They are notable to my garden and I've trained their various leaders to form unusual twisted shapes and curves. They are show pieces in my garden and have become more like living sculptures every year as they grow and change. The Weeping White Pine in the first picture to the left was trained to form an arch over a garden path. The tree has multiple "leaders" and they were propped and supported to grow in the form that I wanted with poles. A "leader" in the plant world refers to the primary stem or branch of a tree. A tree such as some of the gems on this page have multiple leads which gives them their artistic sculptured shape.

Just as the multiple "leaders" on these conifers lend a distinctive and special twist to their character, no two leaders are alike in the business world. If you haven't developed your own leadership style - you need to. You should strive to stand out from the rest of the crowd and brand your uniqueness so that others know what you stand for and what makes YOU different as a leader.Your brand is your promise to your clients or employees. It's all about creating and sharing who you are and what you will deliver. With the onslaught of social media and the Internet, it's more important than ever to discover remarkable attributes about yourself and put yourself out there. Above all, be yourself, and be sincere in your uniqueness!

What is YOUR uniqueness?

Young kids are great to watch and learn from. They are so curious and willing to learn new things and aren't shy at all about expressing themselves. As they age, both school and society teach them that they need to behave a certain way. For most, their curiosity and creativity wains as they try to "fit" in. Adults are no different. We find jobs that "fit" us and try to conform to the company cultures that we work in. As a leader, I urge you NOT to conform! You need to follow your "leaders" and stand out from the rest. To be a genuine leader, you need to discover your uniqueness and carve out your brand. You are as extraordinary as the artistic conifers in my pictures. You are like no other BUT you need to do some exploring to find your gifts and standout.

Your uniqueness as a leader is an art. It evolves, changes, and requires all of your creativity. Your uniqueness needs to come from within. People want to be around those who standout and inspire them. They want to follow those that they believe in, apply themselves more for, and are proud to be associated with. Perhaps your strength is connecting with others on a personal level. Maybe it's building varied and diverse teams. It may even be your quiet demeanor that inspires. Find it. Bring it out. Cultivate it. Make a difference.

Here are some things to focus on as you  morph into a unique leader:

  • Don't compare yourself to others. Instead, associate with people who inspire you or those that you admire. Maybe even spend time around those that intimidate you. You've heard the saying that you become like the 5 people that you hang out with the most.
  • Concentrate on your strengths. They are your gifts and form your uniqueness.
  • Partner with those whose strengths are your weaknesses. They can offset each other.
  • Failure is good! Use it to learn from and to motivate you. The most successful people have piles of failures behind them.
  • Take risks when you believe in something. Learn from them as well.
  • Be a leader on your own terms. Standout as creative and innovative. Define who you are to others and stay true to your brand.
My two absolute favorite conifers are the Weeping White Pine (Pinus Strobus Pendula 7ft x 10ft) and the Weeping Norway Spruce (Picea Abies Pendula 5ft x 4 ft). They are stately conifers that will really define and  make your yard stand out. If you spend any money on your landscaping, these trees are well worth the purchase. Their presence will increase the value of your home. They are gorgeous in the winter with snow or ice hanging off of their contorted branches. These conifers become more unique over time. They shine with other bushes or flowers planted at their feet. Despite the fact that their tags say they can grow large, they are very slow growers. They are grafted and their leaders grow in weeping ways - this way and that. They can be allowed to grow freely so that they will stay low to the ground. They can be lightly pruned if a branch grows a way that you don't want it to. I have staked branches on most of my Weeping Pines and Norway's with poles to "train" them to grow the way that I want. Once the branches age, I remove the stakes and they stand on their own. It gives me flexibility to make my trees fit where I want them to and I get spectacular yard sculptures. I have two Norway Spruce's that literally look like old men bent over complete with outstretched arms and a body. Norway's can easily be planted close to a house. I have one planted literally 10 inches from my sun porch and I just train it's branches where I want them to weep. The Weeping White Pines need a bit more room as they grow larger and are best planted as specimen trees in your yard or about 4 feet from your home. Be creative and enjoy!

As you drive around neighborhoods in the next week, look for yards that stand out. They may not have a lot of landscaping, but discover those that have a statuesque conifer that catches your eye. Look for twisted and turning branches that sweep here and there. A yard can have nothing else in it but an unusual specimen. You will notice it before anything else. Try it. Then use the same eye to look for distinctive leaders that stand out in your company, school groups, community etc. What makes them special?

 Remember, you don't need a fancy title to be a leader. It's how you come across to others and what you can do for them. Follow your "leaders" and stand up to proclaim your uniqueness.

Weeping Larix
Weeping Blue Spruce

Weeping Hemlock

Weeping Norway Spruce