Feeding the seeds around us

I was inspired by a TedTalk that introduced me to the word prevernal a few years ago. Defined as the critical point where something has begun to grow, but is not yet mature. It talks about those early blooms on spring plants and can be used just as easily to describe our growth as people.

Some things can grow despite circumstances, while others begin life at a deficit and must be encouraged if they hope to discover opportunity.

Growth comes easily and naturally to some of us. Breaking through still-frozen ground is something that many can do successfully, but I don’t want to talk about them.

I want to talk about those prevernal people and ideas that need care and support.

Breaking the surface

We must sometimes offer help to others in order to see them achieve what they are capable of. These are the flowers that without someone clearing the snow and offering food to support their growth will never come into being. People need sustenance in this way more than nature might display. It could be because we only see the seeds that manage to break ground, in their effort to flourish and we don’t even know how many perished in the effort to just break the surface.

The word break implies that something must be destroyed in order to have another bloom, and I think that this is really quite true. When we discover change, there is always some lost part of us that lives in the wake of our evolution.

Once the change has occurred, it can no longer claim to be just a seed. The plant has broken through into the earth surrounding it. Both are changed forever. The earth is disrupted and the sprout can never return to seed.

Pollination

Many changes are for the better. So many show us the opportunity for more blooms and growth and with them comes the tipping point. In horticulture, many blooms are not enough on their own and require nurturing in the form of pollination. In people, the same lesson holds true.

You can just as easily stomp out that seed through intention or accident. You must be aware of the seeds around you and make a conscious decision to offer them support for their growth or at the very least stay out of their way.

Feeding the seed

Feeding can happen without being disruptive. It can be something so simple as keeping pests that may attack it away or as complex as daily nurturing and providing sustenance.

As leaders and mentors, we often combine these tools into our approaches. By sheltering that growing seed from negative impact, we are offering them the chance to find their own way. They may never make it out, but you were there to offer them some protection from the elements and enemies.

Through daily nurturing we can help those people and ideas to flourish when they might not have been able to. As individuals, we often think back to some person who offered food to the seed inside us. They told us we were good enough, or that we deserved success and opportunity despite the deficit we come from.

Deciding how to care

People are unique in their needs, but in many cases the same approach will help many, and from there you can customise the care to the individual. Five steps that work for both plants and people are below:

  1. Protect them from pests that may hurt them.
  2. Offer a safe environment to grow in
  3. Provide adequate sources of fuel
  4. Shine some light to help them grow
  5. Don’t try to squeeze too many seeds together or they will fight for space

Great leaders know that growth is a personal experience. It is our responsibility to give back to the world by providing new seeds a chance to bloom. Set those around you up for success and watch your garden grow.

The power of “I don’t know”

So often people are afraid to look unprepared in a meeting and because of this will make something up rather than just admitting that they don’t know the answer. These ad hoc answers are often incomplete at best and completely wrong at worst and do nothing to move the business forward.

It’s not worth the risk…

Many years ago I worked on the sales floor of a Home Depot store.  This is a place where the wrong answer can cause a customer to be electrocuted from bad wiring advice or see their basement flooded from bad plumbing directions.  This is where I learned to say that I didn’t know.

The risks of the wrong answer were just too high to take, so instead you offered “I’m not sure, but let’s find out together”.

In the end I learned as the customer learned and was better prepared to answer the question the next time a customer asked me.

Changing my habits

A few years ago I started to implement this in my work life. If I didn’t know the answer I said so and would do the research and follow up with the correct response as the information became available. This meant that I became a resource that learned the answers in many categories because I was spending a great deal of time researching each vertical.

At first I was afraid that saying I didn’t know would make people think I was unprepared, but it became quite the opposite. People discovered that if they added questions into the meeting notices I would come armed with as much information as I could and realized that if I gave an answer it was because I had the research to support it.

Challenge the desire to know everything. There is no person who can possibly know everything.  Experts in all categories reference their research and that of others before they make a claim.

So if you don’t know, don’t bullshit. Accept it and start digging up the answers.

The Complete Question

I have discovered the reason that I have so many emails that require one line responses.  In a corporate environment we are often rushing when we ask a question so we blast off the email to the relevant person who will know the “answer”.

Too often however we don’t fully craft the actual question, leaving us with pieces of information, as opposed to the complete answer that we actually seek.

If your question for example were about the success of a particular marketing vehicle you might say

Question:

How did X do in market?

Answer:

It was a success

Question 2:

What sales did X vehicle drive?

Answer 2:

$1,000,000

Question 3:

What was the response rate?

Answer 3:

35%

Question 4:

How does that compare to other vehicles in market?

Answer 4:

It drove 20% more sales than Y vehicle.

At the end of this lengthy exchange you have slightly more information about the project, but still don’t feel armed to walk into a meeting with your executive teams to discuss the overall process.  You now might have four different files of “results” and you likely have someone sick of seeing your name

Instead a well crafted question might be phrased as such:

Question:

Can you give me a summary of the results on Y vehicle including

  • ·         Sales results  VS LY and VS other vehicles in market
  • ·         Response rate VS LY and VS other vehicles in market
  • ·         Any other metrics/feedback that may seem relevant

Win 1

By asking the question this way you are going to get a complete answer.  This method also leaves you with extra data in case someone asks a deeper question when you discuss the program.

Win 2

You are only sending and receiving one email which cleans up your in box and theirs, making you both more efficient.

Win 3
Asking for results this way tells the person that you are asking that you need all the details about a program which more often than not will cause them to offer even more than you are asking for.  By asking them to participate with an open ended request you are encouraging them to include items that they feel are relevant.

In the end a great answer is rarely given for a poorly formed question.

Before you write that next email

1)      Take a minute to think about what you really want to know about before you blast off the email to someone.

2)      Make a list of points that you need answers to-this gives the person a chance to ask for additional details on a particular point

3)      Re-read your request before you send it to make sure you haven’t missed anything and to ensure that it is easy to understand.

The Unpopular Opinion

Have you ever been in one of those meetings where everyone knows that the idea being presented is wrong/unprofitable/impossible/full of holes etc? This fill in the blank idea tends to be presented by someone in a power position and thus we are compelled to listen.

After the meeting everyone chats about how this is silly/a waste of time/broken and yet they have their notepads of takeaways and will go about building the business case for executing said imperfect project.

Have you ever wanted to stand up and ask where the idea came from or called out the holes in the theory?

Have you ever actually voiced the questions everyone is thinking and not saying out loud?

Asking the question makes you the face of an “unpopular” opinion. Personally I struggle to think that it is truly unpopular or contrary. More likely what you are voicing is just not the opinion of the top ranking individual presenting it.

Asking the hard questions is often looked at as a career limiting move.

So being the voice of reason may stunt your career path. Hmm. A bit wrong maybe?

This is where you see the difference between a great leader and a person with a great title.

Great leaders encourage having their ideas challenged. They encourage debate and conversations around new initiatives. This is not to say that you will not be asked to leave the room and proceed with building the business case, but you will be welcomed to speak and voice contrary opinions. Discussion about the gaps show us weaknesses that we can identify and correct before putting a product or service out to market and the best leaders know that.

The person with a great title will shut down the debate before it has begun. They are sure that the product or service is perfect and will save the quarter/make the world a better place/end war and they are not willing to have it challenged. So I challenge you to ask the hard questions.

Yes, you may be the guy that calls out the elephant in the room, but at least you didn’t pretend it wasn’t there.

You will also be the person that can leave the room with your notepad full of takeaways and in place of the gossiping you would have done, you can continue the debate.

If your boss is merely a Great Title, I don’t think the silly project is your issue. Trade in your “title holder” for a genuine leader and live a happier more satisfying life.

If you discover that you are the title, take this lesson as a step towards becoming a great leader.

Knowledge is power and can propel both you and your team forward.