There is a great natural high that we get when we find ourselves working totally in sync with others, all doing their best. This is because, at our essence, we are all striving to develop the capacity to overcome ever higher levels of resistance so we can create ever more flow in our lives. And we will always be able to overcome more resistance working in alignment with others than we can on our own. That is why there is a category of animals called "social animals", human animal included.
Indeed, we are designed to align.
But usually this alignment is left to chance. We love it when we get it, but we don't believe we can intentionally produce it. The most masterful leaders do produce it, though, as a rule. The teachers, coaches, managers, parents, and animals trainers we think of as beautiful are the ones that are doing this as a matter of course (whether they understand it consciously or not). For them it's not a chance result. It's an unavoidable outcome of their work.
Wild Plum Leadership is the result of my life-long quest to understand what makes these people able to do that. It's about the essence of great leadership. It's not about the specific knowledge and techniques leaders use. It's that thing about great leadership where witnessing it moves us to tears, and experiencing it moves us to action. Wild Plum Leadership is designed to align with our deepest nature.
I like calling this leadership Wild Plum because it harkens to Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire where he shows how humans have been as much changed by things like apples and plums as the apples and plums have been changed by humans. It shows that change and growth are always an interplay of energy, not a one-sided conversation. Thinking of leadership as a wild plum takes it out of the domineering and commanding model and into something that’s strong and grounded, yet playful and intertwined, seeking the full expression of everyone involved.
Wild Plum Leadership revolves around my discovery of the Stress & the YES (the core skill for getting growth) and the 4 Levels of Leadership (how we respond to stress while leading). And to further explain and expand upon these concepts, it also incorporates the ground-breaking work of dog trainer Kevin Behan on the thermodynamics of emotion and physicist Adrian Bejan’s discovery of the Constructal Law.
I developed the concept of Wild Plum Leadership on my farm. My farm was where I turned amidst a lot of tribulation in my life in corporate America. I was falling apart as a leader and my health was deteriorating. I was always a farm girl at heart and grew up with horses, and I felt that the answers to my problems lie somewhere in my roots.
My roots go back to when I was an eleven-year-old horse-crazy girl. One day, I saw a picture a picture of a man, Nuno Oliveira, on his horse. The picture showed such beauty between man and horse, that it would influence my entire life. It made me realize that leadership can be beautiful and I wanted to be like that. I carried that image with me always while learning how to ride and train horses. Later, I took it with me to corporate.
As an adult, I had gotten a job as a night shift operator in the high-tech field of semiconductor processing. It quickly became apparent to me that corporate America desperately needed leadership like Nuno’s. Because of my background in this, I found that I had an exceptional ability to make things happen.
Shunning the company’s insistence on a technical degree, I made it a personal challenge to see how far I could rise based on my animal-honed, beauty-inspired leadership skills and some smarts. I received nine promotions in thirteen years, rising from night shift operator to engineering departmental manager before hitting my leadership ceiling so hard I got laid off.
There was something I just didn’t understand about Nuno’s ways. It was something that I had struggled with throughout my horse training and corporate life. The stress of trying to be a great leader in the cutthroat environment of corporate, without truly understanding how, was breaking me down. I had become very defensive and ineffective. On top of that, despite following all the latest “healthy eating” advice, my health was suffering terribly.
I decided I needed to go back to my original inspiration and teachers – animals and artistic teachers of animals – in order to become the leader I truly wanted to be. I also desperately needed real food. A micro-dairy fulfilled both these things, so I entered the world of raw milk and grass-fed beef and started White Meadow Farm. There I intently studied nature, the animals, and artistic teachers.
Seven years into this, I had the aha moment thirty-three years in the making. I finally came to see what it was that made Nuno able to lead so beautifully and so effectively.
Whether working with horses or humans, the same skills make someone a great leader. This is what I now teach.