Chuck Brinck (HD&L Member)
Growing up, we always had Christmas Cactuses in our house. These plants are notoriously difficult to foster and grow. They don’t want their roots to be too wet; they’re a cactus after all! They like light, but nothing direct – only filtered, soft light which makes afternoon light ideal. You could say Christmas Cactus are like the “second shift” workers of the plant world. Surprisingly, if these plants get too much sun, their supple leaves will turn red looking blistered and sunburned. For temperature, it needs to be cool, but not cold – you can’t let them get hit with a frost or their plump, watery little leaves will be damaged.
Generally, Christmas Cactus, like most cactus plants, are a very boring, unassuming plant. Many people wouldn’t give them a second thought in their homes and gardens. Their foliage isn’t anything spectacular, they die easily, and unless they are in the absolute perfect conditions, they rarely bloom. But, if you can get the mixture just right – find that sweet spot of water, light, and temperature – they produce copious amounts of delicate flowers with a light, sweet scent. They transcend their dull and ordinary day-to-day shell and become magnificent.
In a lot of respects, people aren’t so different from my beloved Christmas Cactus. Many of us have a dull, ordinary day-to-day exterior that we adopt to “just get through the day”. The less “right” the environment is for us, the more into survival mode we get; the more closed off to new opportunities, adventures, and risks we become. In exploring some of the reasons for people going into survival mode; there are often trends that appear. If we take the three main factors for healthy growth of a plant (water, light, and temperature) and equate those out to people, they resemble work, recognition, and interactions.
For a lot of individuals, having a meaningful job is what feeds the soul - it keeps us nourished and fulfilled. It’s where we derive a large portion of our sense of self-worth and a sizeable degree of our self-image. The jobs that we perform have to be the right mixture though; just enough work to keep us busy and engaged without making us feel as if we’re drowning and overwhelmed. It also can’t be a desert, barren and devoid of meaning.
On either end of that spectrum - people start to wither and become dissatisfied. “There’s just so much to do! I never seem to get ahead!” Frustration is a seed that takes root so, so easily. It’s like a fungus on a plant that latches on and slowly bleeds out the energy and life. Feeling overwhelmed starts to cloud our purpose; it prevents us from seeing all of the marvels we’re generating and muddies the perception of progress. It forces us to only look ahead at the daunting mountain before us and lose hope for success. Frustration bars us from looking back and seeing the stunning, rich pastures we created from the mountains of yesterday.
For our efforts and time spent completing the tasks before us, we all want recognition – to know that what we did is appreciated and has meaning. But, we don’t want just any old recognition! We crave our own personal, unique form of recognition. It’s akin to the preferences of plants for different types of soil. Not every plant likes neutral soil, some like it a little, or lot, on the acidic side while others prefer it more alkaline. When the wrong soil, or base, is used the results are often disastrous and sprout from one central, core mistake, the Golden Rule.
It’s a fallacy we were taught since childhood - “Treat others as you’d want to be treated.” I suppose it’s fine for children; they aren’t equipped yet to conceptualize and understand what “others” really are. Not until later in life do we start to comprehend that we aren’t “others”, we’re individuals. Applying the Golden Rule is an expeditious way to irritate others, especially when applied to recognition. That’s where the Platinum Rule comes in: “Do unto others as they want to be done.” That’s a rough concept to incorporate, and if you can master it, you’ll be a much more effective leader.
Why will the Platinum Rule make you a better leader? Because no one, absolutely no one, wants to work hard, do an outstanding job, and get no reward or credit for it. The sad reality is that the wrong type of recognition is effectively none at all. The tricky bit is figuring out how each of the remarkable individuals you work and interact with want to be rewarded. For some, it’s all about the limelight - put them up in front of a group, shout praises to the heavens for all to hear, and present an award which can be prominently displayed. Of course, the other end of that spectrum exists too, individuals more like me - the quiet, mild, and meek out there who want nothing more than a private “Good job.” with a pat on the back. No fanfare, no flashy awards, and certainly no parties or public gatherings. There is a sweet spot in there where we all fall.
The last factor to touch on is we need to live at the right “temperature”. I’m not talking Arctic or Tropical but our interactions with others. How we interact with the people in our lives sets the temperature around us. The rapport we have with our peers, subordinates, and upper management may be either too confrontational, aggressive, or intrusive (hot) or too aloof, disinterested, or uninvested (cold). Some individuals absolutely love a good, heated discussion and others it completely shuts down; they’ll be sitting at their desk zoned out for days. For people like me, sitting alone in a corner, working feverishly by myself is the best environment in the world. Putting someone from the first camp into my environment would be detrimental. They’ll be up walking around talking to anyone and everyone because they need to see, hear, and feel people around them to be alive and think.
It’s our job as leaders and managers to tend our gardens. The task before us, of discovering all about the individuals we guide and mentor, is enormous. It’s a delicate balance between nature and nurture; examining the unique personalities of our gardens and learning what each person’s specific needs are and what makes them flourish. When we get it just right, the payoff is spectacular; watching someone grow and blossom is an incredible sight to behold.
So with that, cultivate your green thumb, my friends. You’ve got a garden, make the most of it!