Nurturing Young Leaders

Nurse Tree

Welcome to the final Leadership Lesson from the Saguaro Cactus. I never expected this level of inspiration from a desert plant.

One of the things that I noticed about the young Saguaro cacti is that they sprout and grow in the shadow of another desert plant. They do not sprout and grow in the shadow of another Saguaro cactus.

I found that fascinating.

They are found in the shadow of what is called a “nurse tree” This is a larger, faster-growing tree that shelters a smaller, slower-growing tree or plant. The nurse tree can provide shade, shelter from wind, or protection from animals who would feed on the smaller plant.

In the Sonoran desert, Palo Verde, Ironwood or mesquite trees serve as nurse trees for young Saguaro cacti. As the Saguaro grows and becomes more acclimated to the desert sun, the older tree may die, leaving the Saguaro alone. In fact, as the Saguaro grows larger it may compete for resources with its nurse tree, and thus, hasten the death of the tree that protected and nurtured it. Consequently, young Saguaros are often seen near trees, but old Saguaros are not.

What does this have to do with leadership?

I am not sure it does.  In fact, I think it really has to do with the relationship between those that surround and, in many ways, nurture leaders and encourage leadership. Continue reading “Nurturing Young Leaders”

It’s What’s on the Inside that Counts

Saguaro Ribs

My wife and I spent last week on a quest. Our quest was to find and photograph the quintessential Saguaro cactus. And this was a great quest.  I wrote a little about it over the week-end and I hope you have had a chance to check out the first leadership lesson I learned from the Saguaro cactus.

And by the way, it is pronounced “sah-wah-ro” and not “sah-gwah-ro”.

Here is the second leadership lesson for us to consider based upon the Saguaro Cactus. It is what’s on the inside that counts.

Many of us who have ever considered the Saguaro cactus cannot get past the exterior to even consider what may be on the inside.

If you can get past the prickly spines of the exterior you will find “ribs” forming a circle below the surface. As impressive (and sometimes painful) as those spines can be, they are only a defensive mechanism for the cactus. It is the interior rib structure that forms the support that enables a fully grown cactus, that can weigh up to 12000 pounds, to stand and support its own massive weight.

I was unaware of the internal structure of the Saguaro until our recent visit to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Here I was able to see up close the wonderful Saguaro Cactus.

What does this have to do with leadership?

Continue reading “It’s What’s on the Inside that Counts”

The Quintessential Leader

Quintessential Leader

We are currently on a quest. My wife and I are on a quest to find and to photograph the perfect and the “quintessential Saguaro cactus.”

You know the one that I mean. You see it on every Arizona license plate and every Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner cartoon. It has the tall central trunk and one arm on each side that bend at a 90 degree angle and point heavenward. One sits only slightly higher than the other an offer perfect and artful symmetrical balance.

We have seen probably 100,000 Saguaro cactuses in the last few days. We have seen big ones, little ones, solitary ones, multi-armed ones, and we have even seen some blooming ones. But we are having a hard time locating that one that we see drawn or painted in nearly every piece of southwestern art. We cannot seem to locate the one that we have pictured in our mind’s eye. The picture perfect Saguaro cactus.

What does this have to do with leadership?

Many of us are looking for the “quintessential leader.” We are looking for the picture perfect leader.  The picture perfect leaders is 39 years old, yet he has 50 years of leadership experience. He is seriously humorous. He is a compassionate tough guy. He is results oriented with a perfect work-life balance. He is perfect.

There is only problem.  Continue reading “The Quintessential Leader”

7 Traits of Highly Likable Leaders

Likable Leaders

I recently opined on the subject of “likability and capability.” From some of those thoughts you may have drawn the conclusion that being likable is not something for which you should strive. That is not the case at all.

Likability is a trait that can be developed. Far too many people succumb to the mistaken belief that being likable comes from natural, unteachable traits that belong only to a fortunate few—the good looking, the fiercely social, and the incredibly talented. It’s easy to fall prey to this misconception. In reality, being likable is under your control, and it’s a matter of emotional intelligence (EI/EQ).

Consider the following traits of highly likable leaders:

Likable Leaders Smile – People are naturally somewhat relaxed by the smile of the person that is speaking to them. If you want people to like you, smile at them during a conversation and they will have a tendency to return the favor. But use your real smile. Not the one you used for your school pictures in elementary school!

Likable Leaders Leave a Strong First Impression – Research shows most people decide whether or not they like you within the first seconds of meeting you. They do not even take an entire minute to make that decision. But do not fear. Just do the things that you mother taught you when you were growing up. Stand up straight, smile (we covered that above), extend your hand for a warm and firm handshake and then look them in the eye with kindness in your own eyes.

Likable Leaders Greet People by Name – Your name is an essential part of your identity, and it feels terrific to you on an emotional level when people use it to address you. Likable leaders make certain they use others’ names every time they greet them. But don’t just use someone’s name only when you greet him. Make it a natural part of your conversation with them following the greeting.

Likable Leaders Ask Questions – The biggest mistake people make when it comes to listening is that they are so focused on what they are going to say next or how what the other person is saying is going to affect them that they fail to hear what’s being said. A simple way to avoid this is talk less and to ask a lot of questions. I first learned this trait from my father-in-law. He was a master at asking the right question at the right time.

Likable Leaders Don’t Seek Attention – Most people avoid those who are desperate for attention. No one like a drama king / queen. Likability and extrovert are not synonymous terms. When you speak in a calming, friendly, confident, and concise manner, you will notice that people are much more attracted to you, attentive to your message, and approachable.

Likable Leaders Know When To Be Transparent – Likable leaders let the other person guide the timing of when it’s the right time to open up. Sometimes we can be too transparent too quickly. But don’t hold everything back. Opening up to others in confidence will give them the signal that they can open up to you.

Likable Leaders Put Away Their iPhones and Androids – This is a tough one. And developing good smartphone etiquette will really enhance your likability. Nothing will turn someone off to you like a mid-conversation text message or even a repeated quick glance at your phone. People can tell when you are checking the time on your phone and when you are really more concerned about your email than you are about them. When you are in a conversation, be fully in it. This is a key one for many to grasp and apply to personal relationships as well.

There are times and situations when emergencies arise. Develop a “signal” with family members and loved ones. Two quick calls from my family means they really need me. And I have had to step away from someone or a small group conversation to respond to an urgent message.

How about you?

Are you a likable leader? How many of these traits come easy to you? Do any of them sound too hard to develop? Each of these are simple behaviors that you can work on and become more proficient. And when you do, you likability will go sky high!



Photo credit: CarbonNYC [in SF!] / Foter / CC BY

Are You a Guide or Explorer?

Explorer or Guide

What kind of leader are you?  Are you a Guide? Or are you an Explorer? Are both of these leaders with just different skill sets? What is the difference?

A Guide — A guide is someone who has been down this particular path before. They probably have been this way before many times. They have gotten really good at navigating the simplest, safest, and best route for folks to follow. A guide has specific experience related to the specific journey on which you find yourself. They have been where you want to go. They have returned to where you are. And they are now ready to go again and brave the same dangers and traverse the same rough terrain that beckons you.

Guides carry a huge responsibility. Often they are responsible for the life and welfare of the folks who put their trust in them. But folks are willing to trust them because they have a proven track record in the particular journey that needs to be undertaken.

An Explorer — An explorer is a brave individual to be sure. In fact, they may very well be a Continue reading “Are You a Guide or Explorer?”

Beware of the Lure to be Likable

Fishing Lure

I guess I am still not done with the whole “like-ability” discussion.  So, I continue the discussion with a warning to beware of the lure to be likable.

Leaders are often placed under a tremendous amount of pressure to be relatable and to be nice.  Many follow the natural tendency to want to be liked because it feels much easier to be liked than to be viewed as capable and accomplishment driven.

Few leaders want to be the bad guy.  And those that do want to be the “heavy” are not the kind of leader that I am drawn to!

But as leaders we are expected to make the tough decisions that serve the organization or the team’s best interests.  Trying to be too nice can in fact be lazy, inefficient, irresponsible, and harmful to individuals and the organization.

I’ve seen this happen many times in my personal and professional career.  Leaders get almost addicted to a sense of being likable.  They make a mistake in staffing or in a major decision.  This can happen to anyone, and the best way to remedy the situation is to address it quickly. However, despite the obvious solution to the rest of the team, some leaders keep on trying to make it work.

While it is a good thing to follow our instinct to stick to it and be consistent, if you fast forward a few weeks or months, the situation is no better and often worse.

There’s a key lesson here for any leader

Nice is only good when it’s coupled with a rational perspective and the ability to make difficult choices.   Continue reading “Beware of the Lure to be Likable”