What I Learned about Leadership in a Cranberry Bog … Part 2

In What I Learned about Leadership in a Cranberry Bog … Part 1 we saw that our job as leaders is to make sure we keep the water level high in our leadership environments.

The goal is to create a healthy harvest of rising employees and profits. Flooding the bog should be our top priority!

Unfortunately, just as not all cranberries are good, neither are all employees. Every leader knows the challenge of trying to lead someone who is antagonistic toward the mission. Let’s just say it’s not fun.

How do you know if someone is a bad berry? That varies according to the situation, but suffice it to say you better figure it out. Failure to do so can ruin your company.

In the cranberry industry sorting the good berries from the bad is systematically done every day. That was not the case until John “Peg-Leg” Webb came along back in the 1880‘s.

Webb was one of the first growers of cranberries in New Jersey. Thanks to his wooden leg, Webb was unable to move the berries out of the loft of his barn where he was known to store them. So Peg-Leg improvised and poured the berries down the steps that led to the loft. He discovered that most of the berries would bounce from step to step on their way to the barn floor. However, not all the berries bounced. The berries that were bruised and soft got stuck on the steps while the freshest and firmest berries bounced to the bottom.

Because of his peg leg, John Webb was responsible for revolutionizing the cranberry industry. His fluke discovery led to the development of the cranberry bounce board separator which is still used today by major harvesters to cull berries that are not up to the highest standards.

When it comes to your organization, do you have a “Bounce Board Separator” to remove the harmful berries? Employees who are negative or critical are some of the common culprits.

The danger of a bad staff member is that he is rarely identified as the enemy since he strikes from inside the organization. Who wants to believe that he hired the wrong person or that someone who was once a top performer has changed so drastically?

A great exercise is to write down the names of those on your team and place a check mark beside the names of those you view as the good berries (loyal, positive, energetic, mission focused) and an X beside the names of those who are the bad berries (negative, cynical, critical, lazy).

Next have a frank conversation with anyone who receives an X. Ninety days after the conversation do the exercise again. If anyone gets a second X, it is time to pull out the bounce board separator and get rid of them.

The old saying that one bad apple can spoil the bunch is not only true for apples and berries. It is true for people and teams. You owe it to yourself and your team to deal with the bad berries in a timely manner. Too much influence is on the line for you to look the other way.

Lesson #2 from the Bog: You owe it to yourself and your team to deal with the bad berries in a timely manner.

Leadership Begins at Home,


Why do you think it is so hard for leaders to admit hiring mistakes?

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What I Learned about Leadership in a Cranberry Bog

There is a lot to be learned about leadership in a cranberry bog.

Years ago, while traveling through New England, my wife drug me into the Ocean Spray headquarters to see how cranberry’s are harvested. Being a teacher, the woman cannot resist a good factory tour. This did not seem like a good idea to me. I see no need to spend travel time watching people work.

Oh, there is one other small thing I need to mention. I hate cranberries!

That said, I must admit, it was an interesting afternoon observing how ‘cranberry world’ all happens. Cranberries are grown in bogs until the berries are ripe. The bogs, which are like small ponds that are only a couple of feet deep, are flooded so the ripe berries will rise to the top. Easy picking!


Your job is to keep the water level high every day. You flood the organization or team with your passion, love, zeal, skill, determination, and excellence and all the cranberries (those who follow you) begin to rise.

In the bogs we visited the level of water was determined by the harvesters, not by the berries. As leaders it is up to us, not our employees, to ensure our organizations and teams are being properly flooded with ideas, resources, and words of affirmation.

Too often leaders fail to appreciate the opportunity they have been given and end up sucking the life out of their people by tearing them down instead of building them up.

When a leader finds himself more aware of what is wrong with others than what is right about them, the organization is headed for trouble. This trouble manifests itself in the form of poor productivity, lack of innovation, low morale, and ultimately falling profits.

Ask yourself the questions … Am I an encourager to those around me or  is my negativity “bogging” others down? Do I look for ways to build up my team or am I more interested in seeing their flaws?

Don’t assume all the berries will rise. They won’t. Only the ripe ones will. Regardless, be faithful to keep the water level high.

Lesson #1 from the Bog: Your job is to keep the water level high every day.

Tomorrow I will share with you how to deal with those who refuse to rise.

Leadership Begins at Home,


What are some ways a leader can raise the level of those around him?

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Is Misery Messing Up Your Company?

One of my favorite writers is Patrick Lencioni. His leadership fables have served to help form much of my philosophy of leadership in the workplace.

In Patrick’s book, Three Signs of a Miserable Job, he reveals that people shrivel up and die at work when they: 1 – Live in anonymity feeling like a number and not a person, 2 – Suspect that their work is irrelevant and doesn’t matter, and 3 – Have no idea if they are doing a good job because there is no measurement or feedback.

Lencioni says, “Spending eight hours a day feeling cynical, unhappy and frustrated can erode the self-confidence of even the strongest people, which in turn affects their spouses, children and friends in subtle but profound ways.”

In other words, being fulfilled and engaged at work matters and spills over into every other area of life.

As a leader, are you focused on the morale and the well-being of your team? If not, chances are you have lost them or will in the near future.

Lencioni teaches that the one person who is most able to create a work culture that is engaging and fulfilling is not the employee, rather the leader.

If you want to have a better team, perhaps you should focus on being more relational, valuing and affirming the work of others, and creating realistic and measurable expectations.

Leadership Begins at Home,


What is one specific thing you do to keep your team fully engaged?
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Do You Know the Principle of a Little or a Lot?

Recently, I was having a discussion with my daughter and she was telling me about one of her college professors.

She made the observation that the prof only teaches a limited amount of subject matter, compared to her other professors who teach multiple subjects within their chosen field.

The professor, when asked why he only teaches his subject at the micro level, recently told the class: “You can know a little about a lot or a lot about a little, but not both.”

Wow!  What a great statement.

The truth of that principle goes way beyond the classroom. In fact, it applies to every area of life, especially leadership.

The question is, which is better? That depends on your context.

The point is not to prove that one is better than the other. The point is to make sure you are aware of the principle so you can apply it to your situation.

For some of you, it is vital that you have a big picture broad perspective. For others, you need to be more focused and take a narrow approach.

Sprinters are very fast, but not for long. Distance runners can go a long way, but not very fast. The principle applies.

When it comes to relationships, you can have a few at a deeper level, or dozens that are very shallow. Again the principle applies.

If you want to maximize your influence, you better learn the principle of a little or a lot.

“You can know a little about a lot or a lot about a little, but not both.”

Leadership Begins at Home,


Which is more important in your leadership context, a little about a lot or a lot about a little?

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Are You Comfortable with Change?

Four-Star General Eric Shinseki who was the U.S. Army Chief of Staff, from 1999-2003, once said …

Shinseki’s statement is a great reminder of the need to evaluate my comfort level when it comes to change.

Maybe the following questions will help you do some thinking too?

  • When was the last time I intentionally made a change?
  • Am I more or less relevant today than I was one year ago? 5 years ago?
  • What is one thing I need to do differently in the coming month? Year?
  • How will my leadership contribution remain sustainable over the next decade?
  • What causes me to resist change?

Great leaders are focused on being relevant to the culture, and in case you haven’t noticed, culture is changing at warp speed.

Translated? You better learn to embrace change. If you don’t, you are going to hate being irrelevant.

Leadership Begins at Home,


Are there other questions you would add to the list?

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