Winter 2014

No Two Snowflakes Are Alike and Neither Are Your People.

Photo courtesy of Symphony of Love via Compfight
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. 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"!
Photo courtesy of CaptPiper via


10 Ways to Survive Stormy People and Cloudy Leadership

"Then come the wild weather, come sleet or come snow, we will stand by each other however it blow" - Simon Dach

Photo Courtesy of Martin LaBar via Compfight

This past week threw a majority of the country into a winter cloud of snow, sleet, ice and cold. Mother Nature waved her hand, conjured up a Polar Vortex, and everything halted. If you aren't tired of winter yet, then you are a perfect candidate for an Antarctic exploration on a boat in the frozen sea. Not only humans suffered. Animals and plants shuttered as well. One of the first things that my garden buddy asked was "Wonder what this will do to our gardens in the spring"? Good question!

The storm hung over us in a deep cloud. Our plants can't dig holes to get warm or hide out of the winds. Some plants try to warm themselves, one being the Rhododendrons. They curl up their leaves  for protection from the cold. One bonus of the high snow fall is the insulation that it provides for plants. Moreover, plants planted by buildings and protected by tree lines are given some protection as well. Unless of course falling ice and snow from roofs and power lines fall on top of them! Most of the damage from the recent storms won't be known until spring. Here are some signs to look for:

  • Smashed and broken limbs and trunks.
  • Brown Evergreen trees.
  • Sun scald and injury on tree trunks in sunnier areas. Trunks are damaged after cold when the sun hits the trunk, causing damage.
  • Frost heaving. Plants are literally lifted out of the ground from the thaw and freeze cycle that occurs where winters are warmer.
  • Root death from the extreme cold.
  • Slow growth, stunted growth, weak looking plants from a lack of water uptake and food production.
  • Just plain dead plants!

Most plants will sail right through the winter of 2014. Plants and trees have had the luxury of adapting through thousands or even millions of years. Most perennials die back to the ground for protection. Numerous plants have narrow circulatory vessels to prevent air bubbles from forming and preventing water or fluid uptake. Trees and shrubs drop their leaves to slow down their systems and then go dormant. The biggest killer of plants and trees this winter will be a result of the inability of plants to pull in water to stay hydrated. When it's so cold a specimen loses water via roots, leaves, and branches, then dies. Hence why it's so critical to water all of your plants well prior to winter. For more in depth information on winter survival for plants, check out this great article Winter Woes No Problem.

The recent Vortex affected everything in it's enormous path. It controlled where we went and how we lived for days. It changed lives and we had no control over it. We all had to settle down and hunker through it. Unfortunately, too many of us make clouds that we carry over our heads as we lead teams OR we work with a storm threat......

Are you working for a boss with a cloud above their head that leaves storms in it's path? Are you that person?
Photo Courtesy of Atomtigerzoo via Compfight

Working with or for someone who is unpredictable and stormy is not fun. You never know when they may explode or leave a path of destruction after they've wandered away. They leave everyone on edge and have a negative impact on teams and sometimes, an entire company. I worked for a "silent" stormy boss who always had an ominous cloud hanging over her head. She never exploded by screaming and yelling. She preferred sneaking up and barraging people in public. She would make employees feel 2 inches tall by posing points that poked holes in their work and projects. Her "way was the highway" and we all learned to be very effective storm trackers to predict when she would strike. I always tried to remind myself that she had control issues and was acting the only way that she knew would get the results that she wanted. Other days I thought maybe she just had some mental issues.

So.. How do you become a storm chaser to avoid people with clouds that follow them?
Better yet, what if YOU are the storm? 
Here are some ways to avoid the storm. Look closely because if you notice people acting like this towards YOU, you may be a stormy Polar Vortex leader........
  1. Stay out of their way whenever possible. After you work with someone for awhile you may be able to see a storm brewing and can take cover. If your sense a bad mood, bring up an issue later. If people avoid you, take the hint.
  2. Don't get sucked into any negativity. Protect your mindset and don't let anyone bring you down. Be professional, be brief, remember your gifts. This conflict isn't about you. If you are negative, stop! Your negativity will drag  down productivity, team work, and the overall culture of the area.
  3. Don't invite the storm in. Bad weather belongs outside - keep it there. Don't invite the cloud into your office to try and work things out or calm things down. It may make a situation worse and drive more negativity. Let the storm pass on it's own - you can't control others. If no one wants you in their space - perhaps you had better evaluate why!
  4. Adjust your communication skills to mirror that of the person that you are talking with. Recognize the weaknesses of the other party and compensate for it. Work with the storm, not against it.
  5. Be overly patient and pleasant. We were all crabby and on edge last week during the storms. Slippery roads, no electricity, the cold. We couldn't change it. Hopefully you wore a smile and just made it through. Are there any other options?
  6. Be proactive in your work, always be on your toes, and have a back up plan. That's what we do in sticky situations (storms!) and we persevere.
  7. Have a group of confidants. Find some trusted peeps who are in your same situation and whom you can bounce frustrations off of. It helps! Now, if you are a "leader" and see people in groups avoiding you ... wonder why and examine your behavior!
  8. Document if things get really rough. You probably aren't the only one in the eye of the storm and there may be a need for group collaboration down the road if a leader's actions become unbearable .
  9. Keep your resume up to date. Sometimes you just plain tire of storms and need to move where the climate is a whole lot better!
  10. There's a lesson in everything that happens to us in life. Think about what lesson you can learn and perhaps find new strengths in yourself that you didn't know were there!
Often you need the storm to pass before you see the destruction and realize what a survivor that you are. If you see a storm brewing, hunker down and take precaution!

How have you survived a "Polar Vortex"?