I live in the Washington, DC area where Cherry Blossoms are a very big deal. Every spring there are predictions about when the full bloom will actually happen because it only lasts for a few days. I'm sure there are bets made in Vegas too. In a typical year, there are festivals and tourists and family pictures. There’s a popular annual 10-mile run that draws thousands of participants. There's even a bloom cam set up so folks can watch the flowers regardless of where they are in the world. Like I said, they’re a big deal.
Recently the tree in front of my house started to bloom and I was struck by this one flower. It was all the way in the back, away from the sunlight and smushed up against the brick wall. It was unassuming, but I couldn’t stop looking at it every time I walked past. I was rooting for it. I think it was so captivating because it represented what I think good leaders should be.
Cherry Blossom-type leaders get a lot of fanfare and hype. They are the celebrities of the flower world complete with paparazzi and sponsorship deals. They get the followers on Facebook and the shares on Instagram. They are elitist with a privileged pedigree and super exclusive, unwilling to mix with other types of flowers. Cherry Blossom leaders are loud and ostentatious. They seem happy to take credit and absorb the adoration when things are going well, but ghost when things get hard. They vanish at the first sign of cold or, gasp, if the wind blows a little too hard. The rest of us are left feeling let down, disappointed, and wanting.
I think that’s why I was so intrigued by this humble, unpretentious flower. It bloomed first, but didn’t require a lot of attention or recognition of its status. There were no festivals or photographers or long-distance races to herald its arrival. It was pretty, but not overwhelmingly so. I felt confident it would stick around for a while -- not forever, but it had staying power. It didn’t take up all the air in the room (err, atmosphere). It didn’t seem bothered about the fact that I don’t even know what type of flower it was.
Most importantly, it made all of the other flowers around it better just for being itself and doing what it knew how to do best. It subtly encouraged and welcomed the other flowers by showing up and going first. Within days, there were dozens of soft pinks, bright fuchsias, and off-whites. Some of the blooms were bigger and more glorious, but that was OK. Leaders like this understated flower instinctively know that we are all better when we can fully embrace what makes us authentic. They know that the outcome is much more beautiful when everyone has a place on the tree.
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