Thursday, October 30, 2008

Is there such a thing as "Fall" in California?

Yes, there is. You might have to hunt for it a bit, but Fall seems to be here now. Today Rich and I drove across Highway 46 from the Central Coast of California into the wine country. Certain varieties of grapes are being harvested right now and their foliage flowing across the hillsides in neat rows show off beautiful hues of reds and purples.

Jack Creek Farm located along Highway 46 is a great stop this time of year. They have displays of scarecrows and hay bales decorated with more kinds of pumpkins, gourds and squash than I've ever seen. It's fascinating to look at all of them. I even saw zucchini similar to ones I picked in my garden this summer that were close in size to a baseball bat. Somehow they hid beneath the large green leaves and I missed finding them when they were the edible size. But the giant ones here had some pretty hefty price tags on them. And I have to admit they looked pretty artsy. And I threw mine in our compost bin! I had no idea they were worth so much.

Fall reminds me of my childhood in Michigan where we romped in big, very big piles of maple leaves. There were apple stands scattered across the colorful countryside and the apple cider they served up tasted so good. I always hated that we had to wear jackets under our Halloween costumes because it was often cold and rainy by late October. It wasn't cool fashion-wise to have jacket sleeves extending beyond your poofy Cinderella sleeves. But somehow having those bags of candy stashed under our beds for weeks made it worth it.

Stopping in See Canyon south of San Luis Obispo is a reminder of those childhood days. Several of the ranches tucked back off the road grow and sell their apples and cider this time of year.

So you really can experience "Fall" in California. You might have to get off the freeway and hit a back road or two, but it's worth it.

Photo: Sheryl Bullock

Friday, October 24, 2008

Because "nice" matters

"But you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness."
Psalm 86:15

A couple weeks ago I visited a friend who recently moved to Santa Barbara. Her husband passed away from cancer about a year ago at a "way too early" age and she just sold her spacious home in the burbs and down-sized to a little cottage. When I entered her living room my eyes caught the image of a frame on her end table. It held a message which simply reads, "Because Nice Matters." "Where did you get this?" I asked. She said, "I made it up."

Wow...something very simple and yet so profound. What a great reminder to read every day! Is being nice or having someone be nice to us something we value? How can we communicate that "nice" matters to us? I was thinking about it in terms of our upcoming election. It seems we are hearing campaign rhetoric and some "not so nice" situations as people express their opinions about who they want to be the next president.

The simple act of choosing to react in a nice manner or choosing to do something that demonstrates kindness and consideration sends a powerful message. That message says something about us and it also delivers something powerful to the other person. Being nice to someone says to that person, "you matter." When we choose to act with kindness it also says something about us and what kind of person we are. Better yet, it can also influence people to change their crabby attitudes. When someone is kind to you, you take note, and are more apt to pass on that graciousness of attitude toward the people you come in contact with. Kindness has the power to deflect anger. It's not always easy to take the time to be nice, especially since we are so rushed or frustrated with life on any given day.

I'm looking for ways to show people they "matter." The more often I do it, the more it will be become a habit.

Photo: Massimiliano Pieraccini/

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Taking the plunge into leadership

There are a number of ways we can end up in leadership. Sometimes we volunteer for a position which requires some leadership skills. Other times someone might identify us as someone with the ability to be a leader and an invitation comes our way. Or maybe we see the chance to go from being a follower to a leader and that excites and motivates us. So we apply for a job that will mean stepping into a leadership role.

Going from follower to leader may feel like you are taking a plunge into unknown waters. Scary! Remember you have already walked in the shoes of the follower. From that vantage point you watched other leaders take a group of people or an organization toward a destination. At times you probably didn't agree with all you observed in your leader. You may have thought of other ways to accomplish the goal. Maybe you even pictured yourself in the leader's role and thought about how you would lead in a specific situation.

Some of our first "leaders" in life, other than our parents, are teachers. Did you have a teacher or two who had a positive influence on you? Chances are if you did, they were people who held themselves to a high standard of accountability in their profession and also showed an interest in you as a person. Maybe they gave you compassion and encouragement when you needed it. Did they go the extra mile in helping you when you struggled academically with schoolwork? You knew you were not just a grade in their gradebook. You knew they cared about you.

This is one of the most fundamental concepts of leadership. Serving people by showing them you care, listening to them and wanting them to be the best they can be, will provide a good segue as you go from follower to leader.

Whether your opportunity to lead is now or down the road, don't hesitate to dive in. And as you do, think of yourself as a servant, a listener, and a developer of the people you are privileged to lead.

Photo: Steve Johnson/

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Before we can lead, we must learn how to follow.

Have you ever been part of an organization or any kind of group where you just didn't jive with the leadership? It happens all the time. Maybe you have a different personality than the overseer. Or perhaps you have a dramatically contrasting opinion on how the the group should proceed.

"Following" comes very naturally for some people. For others, it can be a frustrating experience. Most people have probably been in both scenarios.

There are advantages to being a follower. As one who follows you don't have the ultimate responsibility for the outcome. Although it could be said that a follower definitely contributes to the outcome on some level. The level of contribution is often based on our response to the challenge given to us. Wouldn't it be great if followers saw themselves as sharing in the responsibility for the outcome? It would definitely make a difference in the direction, enthusiasm and end result. So much can be accomplished when the followers contribute rather than passively tag along.

As a follower you respond to the direction given by the leader. And that is very much a choice for someone in the follower position. You can rebel, be supportive, be apathetically compliant while silently annoyed, be an enthusiastic advocate, or creatively contribute new ideas to the cause in a non-threatening way. Sometimes we run into obstacles with leaders who don't want to consider other options. This is where the frustration can appear for a follower.

If you are in that situation, what are the various creative and positive options open to you? Think of as many as you can whether they seem realistic or not. Now narrow them down to your favorites and determine your first course of action. If you try something and it doesn't work, move on to some of the other options on your list.

Whatever your experience may be, following is a journey of learning. It's a walk down the path of "trial and error." As followers we can learn from the mistakes and flaws of imperfection of those in command. And we can take note of and even share in the triumphs and successes of their leadership. These observations become part of our leadership education. We sort through all of it and decide what we want to keep and use in the future and what we'd rather minimize or throw out.

It's essential to walk in those "follower" shoes before we step into leadership.

Photo: Daniel Wiedemann/