When my son was younger, he was obsessed with plants and trees and soils and seeds. When most boys his age were collecting baseball cards, he was carrying around a little field guide that showed the growing regions and seasons for plants.
His first grade teacher nicknamed him Johnny Appleseed. In her classroom at Christmas, he was given the honor of planting and watering the holiday amaryllis for his class.
In second grade his Halloween costume was a cactus.
As much as I love flowers and plants and consider myself a friend to our planet, I am not well versed in the ways of plants and soils. I love fresh veggies and garden salsa, but do not have a green thumb. To say that working on this topic as a hobby stretched me as a mom would be an understatement.
My son was hungry for knowledge and he hounded me with questions I could not answer without endless searches on google. When I reached the edge of what I knew, I took him to the Como Conservatory in St. Paul and literally pawned my son off on the master gardener so he could get insights and answers from experts. The master gardener loved it.
Exhausted from the learning, I took a mini nap on the nearby bench.
One morning as my son flipped through the field guide, he noticed that the growing season for plants varied. Some plants reached full harvest in 45 days and other plants took several months. As he flipped, he asked me a question that changed us forever. I braced myself for the question I suspected would require research.
Instead, he asked, “Momma, when do I turn “3000 days old”?
I grabbed my calculator and my son and I calculated the number of days in a year; incorporated the leap years; and found our answer together. As fate would have it, the universe has a great sense of humor. His 3,000 day was April 22.
The boy with the interest in sciences and plants would turn 3000 days old on Earth Day.
To celebrate his special day and earth day, we baked made flower-shaped cookies and took them to school. His teacher already had her opinion of me and I can say for certain that she thought I was “unique.” As a single mother, I had my way and she formed her opinion about me without full knowledge or grace. That mattered little to me.
Years later I ran into the now-retired teacher at a coffee shop and we talked about how many students’ birthdays she celebrated in her 25+ years as a teacher. She proudly reminisced that she celebrated every child – even those with a summer birthday. She said she didn’t remember many birthdays, but she remembered my son’s 3000th day.
My son eventually grew out of this plant loving phase, but what I learned as I fumbled through his plant-loving phase stayed with me.
What I learned about leadership and parenting:
Encourage questions & perspectives : Questions are often more powerful than answers. Extraordinary creativity lives inside the “what if” question. Questions also allow us to understand other’s motivation and mind-set. Powerful questions can be the beginning of something memorable and unique. Acknowledging and considering other perspectives gives us a broader and more diverse view of the world and helps us grow as parents and leaders.
Recognize what you don’t know : It may seem obvious, but sometimes we think or pretend to know and hide behind what we don’t know we don’t know. Maybe it’s our upbringing or perhaps our ego, but we are afraid of not knowing something. It makes us feel vulnerable. The truth is, when we acknowledge that we don’t know, it creates a pathway for powerful questions such as “what if?”
Involve those who identify the problem in finding the solution : Involving those who identify a problem to help solve it empowers our children and/or our employees. “Why questions put us on the defense. Instead, as questions that begin with “what or how.” When we ask in that way, it changes the way we think about a so-called problems. We begin to focus on how to solve it or what it would take to remove the barrier to the problem.
Celebrate differences as well as accomplishments : Being like-minded is not the same as being the same. Being like-minded means you share similar values and can see the importance of a specific outcome. Functional teams and families have learned to embrace and celebrate differences. When we feel accepted and appreciated, we contribute our best work and ideas. When we celebrate it, we tend to get more of it.