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!

Invest In The Right "Seeds" with a Talent Mindset

"Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant" - Robert Louis Stevenson

Photo Courtesy of Code Poet via Compfight

We are having a heatwave in the Midwest with a high of 52! The snow is rapidly melting  and already  the crazies are out in their shorts and sandals. Many gardeners have already started seeds inside for spring planting or they are preparing to do so. I start some of my seeds inside in February so that I can pop the plants into the ground right after our last frost in May. I love the smell of fresh dirt and growing seedlings when I open the door to my grow room in the basement. Every flower has it's own scent and it makes me itch to get outside!

Experience quickly taught me that buying cheap just doesn't pay in the long run. The same goes for seeds. It's crucial to find high quality fresh seeds or you may end up looking at bare dirt under your grow lights. That being said, remember to read planting instructions closely because some seeds need to be nicked or soaked prior to planting. Likewise, some flower varieties need to be sown a good 12 weeks before your last frost date. In order to grow the best, you need to start with the best.

Passionate gardens often become seed collectors to save for planting the next season. It's a great way to perpetuate unusual varieties, save money, and share with others. If you receive some seeds from a friend or have some left over from last year you want to make sure that they will germinate so that you don't get frustrated. Here's two tests to see if you have good seeds:

  1. Water Test: Soak your seeds in a container for 10-15 minutes. If they sink then they should germinate. If they float you had better just dump them.
  2. Germination Test: Take a few of your seeds and place them in a row on a moist paper towel and fold the moist towel over them. . Place them in a sealed plastic baggie. Keep them damp and place them someplace warm like the top of your refrigerator. Check periodically to see if the seeds sprout. It could take a while so be patient. Obviously if they sprout, they are good.
You want your offspring to get the best start that they can this spring to avoid disappointment or seedling death. Here's some tips for getting your seeds off to a strong start:

  • Spend more money up front and buy quality seeds. Skip the dollar store or off brand seeds. Check the expiration date on the back of the packet to see how fresh they are.
  • Consider buying heirloom seeds, organic certified, specialty, or no chemical seeds. These products are often top of the line genetically or in their production and will grow for you.
  • Read the instructions on the packet! Some seeds need a little help to get going by being soaked or scratched. 
  • If your seeds are super small like Poppy seeds it may be worth buying extra because they are so hard to plant without needing magnifying glasses!
  • Be selective and don't go overboard. It's SO easy to buy way too many seed packets because they all look good like candy in a candy store. Be reasonable and consider your growing space. I've overdone it way too many times.
  • Do your homework on your planting space to verify that if you are growing shade plants that you have a shady area to actually plant them in...... 

"The people you surround yourself with in your organization make or break your success. No one succeeds alone" - Stacy Feiner, PsyD 


Just like the seeds that I grow I am passionate about "growing" people. I love to find that special "something" in someone and bring it to fruition. This isn't easy and from time to time I have really wanted a "garden plan" to help. I finally found one in Stacy Feiner's new book Talent Mindset: The business owners guide to building bench strength. What I love about this gem is the passion that Stacy brings in addressing the need to identify great talent, foster it, and bring a new mindset to organization's.  Our people really are our foundation and we need to ingrain this in our company culture. I particularly enjoy that Stacy's book is geared towards business owners and small businesses who really have a stake in having strong talent in order to survive.

Feiner is clearly passionate about the importance of talent development to the survival of an organization. Moreover, she is adamant that this isn't just an HR responsibility, it's every body's job in the company. Most importantly the owner/CEO must have a stake and invested interest in the road map detailing  how this process can be done and how critical it is. The entire talent concept is deeply embedded within a company culture. She presents ideas that form a completed puzzle and plan which involves 9 interlocking "pieces" called Center's of Excellence. These Center's are organized into 3 corridors: Acquisition, Development, and Deployment. These corridors tend to give leaders the most "people pain" that seem to never go away. The Centers of Excellence enable a company to optimize talent, grow, lead for the future, and to find talent and successors for the company.

It's up to the owner/CEO to own and steer the process of a company's talent and strategy. It's this leader who has the ability to change the culture and really make finding and developing new talent a key variable in the culture long term. Moreover, Some owners may have succession concerns and many don't like to think about the future or acknowledging that they are the key to making talent a priority in order to continually build the business. Feiner  interjects that "A players look for A Companies" and that means owners must be at the helm of a complete human capital plan to bring in, grow, and develop talent. Ultimately a company shines with excellence when it attracts top performers, invests in them, has a rotating path for growth and providing greater opportunities. "Selection is a high form of risk management". Companies that turn a blind eye to risks don't stay in business very long. Are you ignoring your talent pool and development plans? Do you have a plan for growth?

I love how Stacy encourages companies to engage new team members with enthusiasm. She stresses that energy needs to be high and off running immediately. Rolling out the red carpet is a must for newbies. The goal is to "accelerate productivity and generate energy". It's expensive to bring in new people and more expensive to lose them. Don't let it happen. Stacy  champions the corridor of  "development". Look at individual learning styles, level of the team member, their experience. Don't use a one approach fits all mentality. Owners need to instill a feeling of collaboration, continuous learning, and empowerment in employee development. He or she must set the tone for continued learning and cross training. You can't just stop there. You need to fold feedback and coaching into the organization as well. Training isn't a one time trip. It's continuous, requires conversations, and feedback must go back and forth. Growing people is like growing plants - give them what they need to grow and look out!

Perhaps the most important area for family businesses is the need to have leaders waiting in the wings to jump in the leadership seat when the time comes. Call it anything that you want but a lack of succession planning can sink a company with a few years - or sooner. Feiner emphasizes that talent has to be identified, nurtured, challenged, competitive, and be offered expanded roles every 3 years. Creating "multiple layers" of talent is critical for future leaders and family owned businesses must bring outsiders in to help fill the talent pipeline. It's critical to have the right people in the right place and maintain a "deep bench of talent". People are tools and capital to bring growth and stability. Smart companies have programs in place to develop and "deploy" people throughout the organization. Don't be the leader that let's the pipe run dry or allows talented people to run off.

One of my favorite chapters in Stacy's book speaks to the importance of employee engagement. Once you have lead or worked in a company where people are engaged and the culture is strong, you can't imagine how the bottom line is impacted. Not only is it a people impact, it directly impacts profitability. The quote "Leaders of organizations are stewarding a cause, not just a company" gives me chills. People depend so much on their professions to support their families, for personal growth, lasting friendships and engagement, and their future. Providing a great "growing" environment really sets the tone for unbridled growth and a nurturing culture. Engagement is a "building block" of culture. It grants an immense competitive advantage in the marketplace. It envelops everyone and encourages employees to take ownership of their roles, individual talents, and champions growth. Employees are a company's brand and they need to be nurtured and cared for.

I highly recommend Stacy Feiner's book  Talent Mindset particularly if you are a company owner or if you have even a little finger in finding or developing new talent. The book offers numerous real life examples of companies and leaders who have struggled with "talent pain" and have had proven success using Stacy's strategic system. People are so important to the growth and survival of any business. Pick up Stacy's book today to guide you down the  path of growing and cultivating your talent! 

Just as with seeds we all have a responsibility to provide what our people need to grow and develop. Tender seedlings quickly wilt and perish if they are neglected. Can you afford to let your team do the same?

Fresh Start Leadership

"Life stands before me like an eternal spring with new and brilliant clothes" - Carl Friedrich Gauss

Photo courtesy of Diane Cordell via Compfight

Once the holidays are over I'm ready for Spring. A white Christmas was pretty, but I really need to feel the sun on my face and long to walk outside without bundling up. That won't be happening for a long time! I'm keeping warm inside in Western Michigan holding out during a snow storm warning. The snow is starting to pile up and the temperatures will hit record lows. The Chicago schools have already closed for two days because of the snow and cold. I think that my kids will have an extended vacation as well!

This is a tough time of year because I'm not a fan of the cold and am itching to get out gardening again. Long ago, I learned to bring the spring inside because I can't trust Mother Nature! If you need a jump start on spring here are some "fresh starts" to get you thinking green!

  1. The birds are still outside in mass. They are hiding in the evergreens and searching for food. Hang bird feeders outside your window and keep them filled. Better yet, put a feeder on your window to enjoy them up close. Their happy chatter and fluttering will remind you that spring isn't far off!
  2. In late Spring, buy a butterfly house kit for your family. You will receive caterpillars via the mail and it's amazing to watch the little critters thrive and turn into beautiful butterflies. It's a beautiful sight to see them float away into the wind when you release them in late Spring.
  3. Buy fresh flowers from the grocery store every week and place them where you will smell them frequently. It will conjure up thoughts of the beauty to come.
  4. Sign up online to receive some garden catalogs if you don't already receive any. They will put a smile on your face and prompt you to start planning for Spring! Lay the catalogs on a nearby table so they catch your eye.
  5. Hang a silk flower wreath with bright spring blooms on the door where it will greet you every time you come home.
  6. Place spring blossom air fresheners strategically throughout the house so that it always smells fresh and alluring.
  7. If you didn't plant bulbs in pots in the autumn to enjoy now - no problem. Grocery and home improvement stores sell forced bulb plants to enjoy. It's breath taking to watch tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths force themselves up through the dirt and perfume your home. A single hyacinth will scent an entire room with it's alluring fragrance. I love enjoying hyacinths for weeks on end.
  8. A real luxury for bringing Spring to you is signing up for a mail service that ships you a new fresh flowering bouquet or plant every month. You have the chance to explore new exotic blooms and scents. 
  9. If you are a little more ambitious then bring spring in by "forcing" branches from outside. There are a lot of beautiful spring shrubs and trees that have vibrant colors or smells. You can manipulate them into blooming early just for you! Here's how:
By mid January or early February most branches on shrubs/trees such as Crab Apple, Beauty Bush, Magnolia, Red Bud, Forsythia, and Pussy Willows will bloom if you bring them inside and "force" them to do so. The branches will have both swollen leaf nodes and flower buds on them. The flower buds will be larger and more pronounced. Cut the branches on a warmer day (if possible) or cut them when they are real frozen. Submerged the branches in warm water for a few hours. Next, pull the entire branch out of the water and fill a vase with warm water so that the ends of the branches are submerged. Initially covering the branches with plastic wrap or misting them daily will encourage them to bloom more quickly however, it's not necessary. The branches will begin to bloom within 1-6 weeks. Try it! It's a great way to "force" Spring!

Photo courtesy of Woodley Wonder Works via Compfight

Leaders need a "Fresh Start" too!

New Year's aside, you really need to periodically examine your strengths and weaknesses with honesty and clarity. In order to grow, you need parameters and guidance. No one can do that but YOU. Give your self a fresh start this year by jotting down just one or two growth "nodes" to focus on this year. That may not seem like a lot but it takes time and dedication to genuinely make a new habit stick and a permanent part of you. It can take 80 years for a tree to grow and reach maturity - you are no different. 

Here are some "Fresh Start" ideas to get you thinking:

  1. Focus on the long term. This may not sound like a jumping pad to new growth but it is. Our society has a short term focus and it's human nature to follow. Skip short term - go long term.
  2. Think globally (even if you are a small business) BUT act locally. Look outside your bubble and see things from a new perspective.
  3. Develop an open mind. To many leaders, their view is the ONLY one and being open is an open shut case. Don't go there. Open up and welcome ideas that make you uncomfortable.
  4. Have fun. Lighten up, and live. Cast aside your "leadership persona". It may be what's holding you back. A while back, I remember reading about Pepsico's Indra Nooy. She regularly walks around the halls barefoot and sings! She's comfortable in her own skin and knows how to chill!
  5. Learn what emotional intelligence is and don't assume that you have it! Learn it and make it a part of you.
  6. Develop an agility to learn one new thing every day. Read one book a week. No excuses.
  7. Ask, ask, ask, questions of everyone. Vow to ask a certain number every day to learn, learn, learn.
  8. Become an entrepreneur so that you can spread and welcome a "intrepreneurial" spirit within your team. This is difficult and may be the one fresh thing to focus on.
  9. Become known as a collaborator. Don't kid yourself - this isn't easy and takes patience and focus.
  10. Develop energy through love of life, exercise, healthy eating, and hobbies. It's easy to fake this one for awhile but it needs to be authentic and naturally projected with consistency and transparency;
I could go on and on with ideas because there are so many areas that I want to jump start in my life and with my leadership. I love a "fresh start" every year and the hardest part is staying on my game and making it happen.

This year I am committed on focusing on always portraying a genuine positive outlook with energy from within. This will impact my team building and collaboration skills. Also, I need to step back and shut up. I will listen more and focus while doing so!

What will your fresh start be?

It's Never Too Late to Plant the Seeds of Leadership

"Every gardener knows under the cloak of winter lies a miracle.....
a seed waiting to sprout,
a bulb opening to light,
a bud straining to unfurl,
And the anticipation nurtures our dreams" - Barbara Winkler

Photo courtesy of Shotaku
Anyone ever ask you the annoying question of  "Which came first - the chicken or the egg?".  I tend to ask "Which came first - the seed or the plant ?". Few of us ever think about the history of seeds and their importance to our food system or the continued existence of our environment. Every seed contains a mini nursery that supplies everything a plant needs to start life. In 2005 scientists were able to germinate a seed that was 2000 years old! Wikipeida.

We don't think much about planting seeds but we should. The seeds that we plant today will grow into something magnificent tomorrow. Seeds don't have to be in the form of seeds that we plant in the dirt. Many of us have grown beautiful children, ideas, and discoveries. Someone has to plant the seeds of leadership as well. Have you tried that yet?

Even though the early signs of winter are appearing in the colder parts of the country, it's not too late to plant flower bulbs and seeds. In fact, many seeds have to be planted in the cold or they won't grow. Cold is a friend to a lot of seeds - even seeds that may not normally grow in your region. For instance, one of my favorite butterfly flowers is Verbena Bonariensis. Technically it's an annual in my area, yet it thrives through the cold and plants pop up all over in the spring. A variety of seeds need prechilling and/or stratification (nick them with a file or knife) prior to germinating. On the flip side, some seeds need to be burned before they will sprout. Hence, the benefits of freezing winters or hot wildfires!

Seeds to plant at this time of year can usually be scattered on the soil surface or buried just under the dirt. To discover seeds that love a cold planting look for seeds that require the following:

  • Self sow
  • Sow outside in early Autumn
  • Sow outside in early Spring
  • Hardy seeds
  • Environments such as : Plains, Prairie, Desert, Swamp, Field
  • Temperate Climates like: Siberian, Chinese, Alpine, Polar, Russian

My sister lives in Chicago and forgot to plant  her bulbs one Fall. Fortunately for her, there was a thaw late in January. She planted the bulbs and they all popped up in the Spring! Normally, hardy bulbs should be planted before the ground completely freezes. Flowers such as Tulips, Hyacinths, Crocus, and Daffodils need about 16-18 weeks of very cold temperatures in order to grow. Those people in the warmer parts of the country can't grow hardy bulbs outside and have to be content with storing the bulbs in the fridge for a period of time before planting the bulbs inside. This is called "forcing" and is what growers do in order bring you baskets of flowers in the Spring. Bottom line? Get out there now and scatter those seeds or plants those bulbs!

What does all this have to do with leadership?
Seeds have to be planted to grow new leaders!
Do you lead a book club or a football team? Manage a team of call center reps? Guess what? Whether you realize it or not, you need to always be on the ball planting new seeds for developing future leaders. You might be already be doing so without knowing it! Coaches are always looking for certain traits in new players. Managers look for the next rising star or their replacement (something great leaders do!!).  School administrators are eyeing future Principals and grounds keepers are looking for their next shift leader. No matter what your position, you need to always be looking for new leaders and planting the seeds to bring on their growth!
So. Where do we dig up new leaders? How to plant those seeds?
It's an easy 3 step process - on paper at least!
  1. Decide what attributes make an effective leader in your world
  2. Look for people who naturally exhibit the traits you want
  3. Develop and coach those traits. Plants the seeds and nurture the growth
First and foremost you need to interact and work with your team members on a regular basis so that you can learn who your most authentic, dedicated, and value oriented people are. Be wary of those that are "faking" leadership skills. They are easy to spot. If you aren't good at unearthing who these people are, ask someone else - everyone always knows who the fakers are! If you are a baseball coach you know who your leaders and best players are. You probably also know how the team feels about them. Go with your gut. Observe with your senses.

 A few years ago I had a new boss that our incoming CEO promoted into a leadership position. His primary criteria was that she had been at the company the longest. What a mistake! She lacked effective leadership or people skills. She alienated people and pitted teams against each other. Several people left the company, myself included, to find a company with authentic leadership. Pick your criteria carefully and act like a leader when sowing seeds.

Not sure what you are looking for in newbie leaders? Here's some ideas:

      • Visionary
      • Coalition and team builder
      • Quick learner with a high emotional IQ
      • Intelligent
      • Experienced with a strong track record
      • Humble and "real"
      • Confident - but not cocky!
      • Servitude attitude with a willingness to ask others what they need
      • Creative, innovative, and open minded
      • Open to change and an effective change agent
      • Initiative
      • Strong communication and interpersonal skills
      • Exhibits values and ethics
      • Able to put themselves in another's place
      • Patient

Everyone has their favorite traits. I look for people who are authentic and have initiative, don't fear change, and have an eagerness to learn and grow. I want people who are creative and have the ability to think ahead and understand how their actions affect others. Moreover, I look for people who have interpersonal skills as well as a high emotional IQ. I really want people that truly want to make a difference and aren't in their job for sole personal gain. Skills in a job can be taught. Some of these traits can't!

Now that you have discovered what you want and identified some leadership "seeds" in your organization or group, it's time to get planting and fostering some growth. We all have our own style when mentoring people. Just don't think that it's going to happen in a classroom or at the hands of someone else. You need to be the head gardener here and dig in for the long haul.

Here's some ideas for getting those seeds to grow:
      • Create a personal program and custom plan
      • Give them time, time, time, and attention
      • Make a strong verbal commitment to your protege. Follow with action
      • Use frequent and regular coaching and ongoing evaluations
      • Help identify strengths and work towards honing those skills
      • Mentoring programs using strong leaders (not just positional!) throughout the organization
      • Rotate people through different areas so they develop a broad view
      • Challenge with new tasks and ideas. Force them to develop their own processes
      • Tap past and current veteran "leaders" for advice
      • Let people make mistakes so they learn. Don't punish learning this way
      • Nurture as you would a tender seedling
      • Have fun and enjoy growing people! 

There is nothing more challenging, fun, and rewarding than watching something grow. If you are a parent, you understand. Prepare the soil, sprinkle the seeds, and grow a leader this season. Good luck and most of all have fun!