When you boil it down to its essence, leadership is about working with others to make a difference—in our family, school, community, business…or even our world. Combining an illustrated fable, practical exercises, and a solid gardening metaphor, author Debra Slover presents a new view of leadership based not only in our skills, but also in our self-confidence.
U.N.I.Q.U.E. stands for the Understanding, Nurturing, Inventive, Quality, Unstoppable, Expression of leadership. We learn these attributes as we tour the Leadership Farm with the lost sheep Hugh. Other farm animals teach him (and us) how to rid our personal "Leadership Garden" of the toxic weeds of negative thinking—and how to plant and nurture the powerful, positively focused new seeds (thoughts, feelings, and behaviors) that enrich our lives and empower us to thrive.
On the U.N.I.Q.U.E. tour, we learn how to: balance and blend four key leader behaviors and six leader-friendly gardening practices…create a unique purpose and aim…easily develop leadership attributes…remove barriers and commit to the future we desire…and how to express the true voice of the leader within us.
Written by youth and adult leadership trainer Debra J. Slover, U.N.I.Q.U.E: Growing the Leader Within is a self-help guide to cultivating purpose, aim, and leadership skills within oneself. Chapters discuss how to balance the four key behavioral attributes a leader needs (visualization, organization, harmonization, and energization), how to practice and attain the key traits needed for leadership, tips, tricks, and techniques for expressing the voice of the leader spirit within, and much more.
Accessible to readers of all ages and backgrounds, and drawing upon vignettes and the occasional gardening metaphor to illustrate its point, U.N.I.Q.U.E. is an excellent heart, mind, and spirit self-help guide, whether preparing to lead a business, a sports team, a coalition, a few friends, or simply oneself.
This book came into my life when I needed it the most. It articulated feelings that I had trouble putting into words. In essence, the message is stop living your life in survival mode. In a tough economy, it is a message we all need to hear.
Author Debra J. Slover states, "We cannot always control the circumstances of our lives, but we can choose how we respond to them." Her book is a guide on how to do just that. Our mental outlook filters our perception of reality. Slover provides tips and exercises on how to shift our way of thinking so that we thrive.
The book is a fable/memoir/self-help hybrid. The fable is populated with animals beautifully illustrated by Darlene Warner. Hugh, the sheep, is led through a Leadership Garden by Annabelle, the collie, stopping along the way to visit with different animals. Each offers Hugh a "U.N.I.Q.U.E." tidbit of wisdom on how he can go from being afraid and weak to courageous and powerful. He becomes a leader whose character is rooted in integrity through direct and open communication.
Slover is down to earth. She openly admits that she is not perfect and how she continually needs to work on her faults - just like the rest of us. In one instance, she chewed out a student worker who could not provide her with a campus parking pass. Knowing she was wrong, she went back and apologized to the student. She's an author who practices what she preaches.
The self-help aspects can get wordy at times. The book connects best when concepts are fleshed out rather than merely defined. I found that I do not walk away remembering what the acronym U.N.I.Q.U.E. stands for, but instead with a comprehension of the overall message. The chapter exercises engage the reader to actively examine his/her life. They are helpful tools in making the reader realize how many "weeds" need to be removed from his/her "leadership garden."
When I first picked up the book, I thought it was going to be a slog through New Age mumbo jumbo. I couldn't have been more wrong. I flew through this book in two sittings. I kept reading passages where I thought to myself, "This author gets it." She addresses problems that we all need to resolve. If you're looking for sound advice on how to obtain peace of mind and a sense of well-being, pick up this book. It'll show you the way.
-Nicole Langan, Tribute Books Reviews
Name: Debra J. Slover
Official Website: http://www.leadershipgardenlegacy.com
Debra J. Slover is an educator, author, and child advocate whose mission is to plant the seeds of the next generation of world leaders. As the founder of a ground-breaking leadership development program modeled on growing a garden, Slover’s organization, Leadership Garden Legacy, equips educators, grandparents and parents with tools to foster their own and children’s life skills, self-worth and leadership qualities. By November 11, 2011, she hopes to have seeded and nurtured 11 million Leadership Gardens®.
When Slover was 23, she lost her mother to suicide. Transcending her loss, she applied her passion for empowering leadership greatness and spent more than 32 years working with youth and adults in developing their leadership capacity, both at the state and national level.
Slover has an extensive background in custom program design, tailored curriculum development, small and large group facilitation, and leadership coaching. She is highly skilled in event planning, having implemented more than 20 youth-led statewide conferences, two national conferences and 40 youth/adult leadership camps serving more than 40,000 people.
A graduate of Oregon State University, Slover’s experience includes seven years teaching in public schools and 20 years as Director of Oregon Student Safety On the Move (OSSOM), a statewide youth leadership program promoting safe and healthy communities originating from her alma mater, OSU. She personally raised over $3,200,000 in grant funding through 26 separate grants, and administered total funding of $3,879,000 for the program. She's worked extensively with federal, state, and local government agencies, law enforcement, civic organizations, and the media.
As an author and blogger, she has written several books, a book chapter for the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, and numerous articles in both professional and general-interest publications. She was Board President and Vice President of the National Association of Teen Institutes, chaired two different statewide programs on driver safety, and served as an expert/reviewer for the U.S. Department of Education and Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
Slover established Leadership Garden Services (formerly Synergy in Motion) in 2003 and later formed Leader Garden Press in 2006. She wrote U.N.I.Q.U.E.: Growing the Leader Within for adults and the award winning U.N.I.Q.U.E. KIDS: Growing My Leadership Garden to articulate her commitment to empower true leadership with a unique purpose and aim.
An outgrowth of this effort was the formation of Leadership Garden® Enterprises, LLC, as the parent company of her two business entities. Slover’s ultimate dream was to provide funding, support and recognition of leadership greatness efforts where working cooperatively makes a positive difference locally and globally. She achieved her dream in 2008, establishing the Leadership Garden Fund and now spends her time “pollinating” Leadership Gardens.
Slover is the proud mother and grandmother of five children and six grandchildren. She lives in Albany, Oregon with her husband, Terry and dog, Mooko.
Spotlight Interview with Debra J. Slover of Leadership Garden Legacy
1. What is a Leadership Garden®?
A Leadership Garden® is a metaphor for growing individual leadership qualities unique to you. The primary or terminal shoot of a plant is called a leader from which everything blossom. Symbolically, the human leader is your heart, mind, and spirit working in unison to make the difference you desire. We all know what happens when you stem the leader of a plant; it produces weak offshoots or withers and dies. The same applies to your leader inside.
2. Tell us about your company and describe the Leadership Garden Legacy (LGL)
The Leadership Garden Legacy is powered by Leadership Garden® Enterprises LLC through three divisions: Leader Garden Press, the publisher of our products and materials; Leadership Garden Services, the provider of training, coaching, and consulting; and the Leadership Garden Fund, the donor advised fund we use to provide Cultivation Grants that support leader-friendly gardening practices. Simply put, the LGL framework is designed to cultivate and nurture personal and group leadership with purpose and aim.
3. What about LGL is new and unique?
Leadership in this framework is not a job, position, or title. It is a way of life that expresses your imagination, purpose, and spirit to make a difference in the world. It’s not about how you lead another but how you lead your life and the choice you make to merely survive or thrive. The unique blend of metaphor, allegory, exercise, and practice makes leadership assessable to everyone, young and old.
4. What made you so passionate about leadership, specifically cultivating it in children?
Let me begin with the opening paragraph of the prologue of my adult book:
“The conference is in its second day. Actress and author Mariette Hartley is at the podium, sharing her battle with alcohol, bipolar disorder, and her father's suicide when she was only twenty-three. Though I thought by now I was immune to sad and tragic stories told at these conferences, I realize hers is all too familiar. Mariette says something about children who grow up in families like this spend their lives trying to make sense out of that which makes no sense.”
I grew up in a troubled family filled with love. That sounds like an oxymoron, but I learned that love and dysfunction are not exclusive. The two together, however, are confusing.
When my mother died by suicide when I was twenty-three, I vowed to never lose sight of myself as she had. As most people dealing with this kind of loss, I had the big question. Why? The answer I found related to her sense of worth, personal leadership, and her inability to recognize the unique gifts she had to offer the world.
Simply put, to lead means to guide and direct and leadership is the action a leader takes. Not only did my mother lack the skills to thrive, she lost the will to even survive. It is often said, suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. It leaves a wake of sorrow, despair, and questions for those loved ones left behind.
Like most children, I wanted to do better than my parents. However, I made some of the same parental mistakes and in spite of my human failings; I knew I had something special to offer my children. I realized early on that to fail is human; to learn from and correct mistakes is responsible leadership -- as well as authentic leadership. These were the lessons I could pass onto my children.
As a teacher, I wanted to instill the value of self-worth in my students and help them tap their unique talents. In turn, that desire gave me purpose and value. With self-worth comes the responsibility to pursue your passion and express your uniqueness.
Early in my career development, I found an opportunity for a job in prevention programs. I took a one-year highway safety grant and turned it into a twenty-year career empowering leadership in youth and adults in prevention programming.
This gave me an avenue to advocate for the unique leadership ability in each of our students, regardless of their stature in school or life circumstances. Each had the opportunity express their leadership and gain skills. Though out common focus was on prevention programs, we made sure there was room in the program for any youth who wanted to make a difference and practice leadership; even those who wanted to turn their life around. That too is an expression of personal leadership.
The program was named OSSOM, Oregon Student Safety On the Move, and I used to joke privately, you blossom with OSSOM. But as fate would have it our program ended, due to a constitutional ruling by our attorney general regarding use of highway funds. When that happened, I was once again at the crossroads of a major loss in my life. This time I vowed, if I could ever fund programs like OSSOM I would. That commitment led me in a new direction to eventually create LGL and the Leadership Garden Fund.
When I took the time to reflect upon my life and what I learned about leadership from the OSSOM students, I realized it was not the issues we dealt with that had value; it was the opportunity for each student to have a voice and practice leadership skills. It was a place that they could come home to their unique power.
In this context, support to help children practice personal leadership and identify their unique purpose and aim was virtually non-existent. And the practice of leadership and long-term impact on the child would not be easily measured by the short-term qualitative research required by most funding sources.
So that became the intrinsic goal of my new adventure as the Leadership Garden pollinator. The development of my company became a virtual demonstration of my unique purpose and aim. I had no funding, no desire to become an author, and chose a nontraditional publishing route. What I did have was a burning passion inside to empower extraordinary unstoppable leadership in life.
5. Tell us about the Leadership Garden® program you are helping implement and fund in schools and youth organizations in Oregon and around the country?
I wouldn’t exactly call it a program. We are testing the framework to educate, empower, and engage the leader within children. We are selecting 11 sites to demonstrate two projects: Growing Kids’ Leadership Gardens for elementary students in grades 3-5 and Cultivating Cross-age Leadership for middle and high school students.
The sites receive the U.N.I.Q.U.E. series of books and activity guides for youth and adults, a free Leadership Garden group registry membership, a $300 Cultivation Grant, and 2-day training for Cross-age Leaders.
6. Will students be growing actual gardens during this time period?
Some of the sites may have existing school gardens or gardens they would like to create, but it is not a requirement of the project or criteria for selection. However, the empowerment tools - as we refer to them - can enhance those existing efforts by making the connection between growing a physical garden and human potential even stronger.
This kind of connection was demonstrated in an academic setting during the summer of 2007. Mark Beattie, a PhD. candidate in Leadership Studies, created a service learning opportunity called the Leadership Garden Course at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington.
The students were nontraditional students, over 25, returning to school to get a Bachelor in General Studies degree. His course combined personal journaling leadership exercises from my adult book and use of the metaphor, global studies about water scarcity and food safety issues, and the growing of the garden. The produce raised was donated to the Spokane Valley Food Bank in the fall.
I had the opportunity to visit Mark and his student during the course and they were my inspiration for my goal to seed and nurture 11 million Leadership Gardens by 11/11/11.
I could only imagine what would be possible with 11 million people exploring their personal leadership and engaging with others to make a difference in the world. Mark used the mantra think globally and act locally. I added, think locally and act globally. It was a full circle approach. I have held onto that vision and share the story “Providence at Play” of how we met and our continued connection at the end of The Leadership Garden guidebook.
7. Describe the U.N.I.Q.U.E. line of books.
The acronym U.N.I.Q.U.E. stands for Understanding, Nurturing, Inventive, Quality, Unstoppable, and Expression. Each word depicts the overriding message on the U.N.I.Q.U.E. Tour that outlines the principles and practices for growing thriving leadership. The books use the story of Hugh, a lost sheep who wanders onto the Leadership Farm. Hugh’s name means heart, mind, or spirit, - symbolizing the leader within everyone. Hugh learns about his Leadership Garden and takes the tour to discover his unique purpose and aim.
The adult book U.N.I.Q.U.E.: Growing the Leader Within consists of allegory, lesson interludes, illustrations, and reader exercises. It is available in book and audio book formats.
The companion workbook with expanded exercises is The Leadership Garden Guidebook: Cultivating organic experiences, actions, and results that empower you and those around you. The Guidebook is coupled with the audio book in the empowerment workshops we offer for families and educators.
We are currently partnering with Western Oregon University through their Division of Extended Programs to conduct these workshops locally. I am also exploring ways to offer the courses online, without losing the power of the human interaction (face-to-face) of growing leadership together.
The Guidebook can also serve as a stand-alone tool for older students and adult groups since the key lesson interludes are extracted from the book. It doesn’t require the story of Hugh to learn the lessons, though it makes it more endearing and personal in this format and much more fun in the company of others.
The children’s version U.N.I.Q.U.E. KIDS: Growing My Leadership Garden for 8-12 years-olds is straight fable with “Hugh Wants to Know” discussion at the end of each chapter. The companion piece is the U.N.I.Q.U.E. KIDS Activity Guide and My Leadership Garden Journal. Both are downloadable formats and are included with the purchase of the children’s book from our web site.
The activity guide was designed to aid families, schools, and community groups in reinforcing the lessons over an extended time period. It has been mapped against the appropriate Oregon Learning Standards in Language Arts, Social Sciences, Science, Health, and Math to help integrate the lessons into classrooms and can easily be adapted to other state standards.
The audio version of U.N.I.Q.U.E. KIDS will be available by July. This will make available to children the same kind of empowerment process we offer adults.
In addition, research studies validate that listening and reading along with a story, enhances a child’s vocabulary, reading comprehension, and ability to integrate what they are learning into their life. We take it one step further-- to practice-- by making available the Cultivation Grant “Practice Projects” to schools and youth groups.
8. Which of the books came first? The one for adults or the one aimed at children and why?
It may be obvious by now, but I began with the adult book because we are the ones who create the fertile ground or rocky soil in which our children grow. From my experience, to focus on kid’s first would have been counterproductive, even if it might have made things easier for me.
It is natural to want to empower kids and in many cases they are a much more open audience. Adults are certainly a more difficult audience to shift their thinking or see things newly. However, the most successful OSSOM Chapters we had through the years where the ones with the most open, progressive, and empowered adult advisors.
One of my favorite researchers in the field of Resiliency Theory is Bonnie Benard. In her book, Resiliency: What Have we Learned, she talks about the need to recognize in young people the capacity to lead healthy, successful lives . . . The key . . . is the role that families, schools, and communities play in supporting, and not undermining, this biological drive for normal human development.
Even I find it much easier to empower another, than to weed my own internal garden. Yet when I fail to do the work myself, I undermine my own desires. No matter how well trained or educated we are, we can all become a bit lost when facing change, tough times, or loss as well as skeptical. So no one is immune from needing a dose of empowerment and support at times. And if ever there were a time for empowering the leader within, we are certainly in life changing times now as a country.
9. Do you think American youth are in a state of crisis right now?
I believe youth behavior is a direct reflection of the environment in which they live and grow. The decisions adults make and guidance we provide in homes, schools, and communities plays the most critical role in their development.
Therefore, the state of crisis I would say it among adults who fail to be responsible for creating a nurturing environment for our children to thrive. The first step is to distinguish between our own survival and thriving behavior.
When times are tough, as we are experiencing today, our automatic survival instinct kicks in and we operate out of fear. The skills it takes to thrive in tough times must be learned, in order to override our primal instincts: fight, flee, or freeze. It takes effort; just like it takes to effort to grow a flourishing garden.
While human growth is much more complex, there is a lot we can learn from Mother Nature. I believe it’s time we tend to and rid our human garden of toxic weeds such as gossip, blame, and victimization and use a little empathy, compassion, and kindness for our fellow human beings.
We can do so by turning our attention to nurturing our children early to be responsible for their behavior, thus being responsible for our roles as adults in their life.
10. What are some recent examples you’ve seen or heard about that suggest we need to help our children gain more confidence and leadership skills?
When I heard news about two 11 year-old boys that were bullied and hung themselves within weeks of each other, my heart sank. Death by suicide always sparks emotion deep inside me. But my sadness for the families was sprinkled with outrage at some of the conversations and reporting of the incidences.
Their deaths symbolize a systemic failure to cultivate a nurturing environment for all children to be protected and empowered. Empower means to endow with the ability, and in the context of a Leadership Garden it is mean to endow with the ability to lead your life and have your voice heard, as well as be responsible.
These boys’ voices were not heard, they were not empowered and our systems failed; as a result, they suffered tragic consequence of their own behavior.
The failure does not rest on the shoulders of the parents, schools, and the kids who bullied these boys, or the boys alone. Look around; bullying, blame, and victimization are pervasive throughout our society and know no cultural, societal, or economic boundaries.
Our society’s way of dealing with, thinking about, and funding problem based programs needs to shift so we can get to the root of these problems. As well as our view leadership and what is means to lead.
There have been two other news reports that further exemplify this systemic problem.
First is a report by Mission: Readiness Military Leaders for Kids out of Pennsylvania. The title: Ready, Willing and Unable to Serve. It states the Pentagon reported 75 percent of young adults between the ages of 17-24 cannot join the military due to a lack of a high school diploma, are in poor physical shape, or have a criminal record. The report talks about the need for early education as a way to increase national security.
Yet, in times of funding crisis, the first programs cut are early education and primary prevention efforts.
The third is a Josephson Institute on Ethics study on high school character and adult conduct.
• The hole in the moral ozone seems to be getting bigger — each new generation is more likely to lie and cheat than the preceding one.
• Young people are much more cynical than their elders – they are considerably more likely to believe that it is necessary to lie or cheat in order to succeed. Those who believe dishonesty is necessary are more likely to actually lie and cheat.
• Cheaters in high school are far more likely as adults to lie to their spouses, customers and employers and to cheat on expense reports and insurance claims.
Bullying, criminal behavior, and cheating all point to same thing. Where did they learn such behavior? Some would call it a lack of character education; I would call it a lack of personal leadership and responsibility education. While you cannot always control the circumstances around you, can always choose how you respond.
My goal is to shift the traditional view of leadership and then the funding priority to provide resources for a supportive and nurturing environment at home, in school, and in community. With a focus on each person -- young or old -- reaching their full leadership potential we can create an individual and collective worldwide Leadership Garden Legacy.
11. Do these leadership skills go beyond basic survival skills?
Yes. As I said earlier, survival is innate in all animal species; flight, flee, or freeze is an automatic response to physical danger. However, humans have the ability to perceive danger when none exists, especially when their identity and ego is threatened. To choose to thrive is learned and requires responsibility and conscious effort.
The Leadership Garden Legacy is simply a metaphor, but I offer this. Whether you consider yourself a leader is not the question in this context, since you are the one constant cultivator of your Leadership Garden from early childhood on.
12. What specific qualities and skills will a Leadership Garden® give children?
Children will learn:
• Understanding: how to balance and blend their four leader behaviors (visualize, organize, harmonize, and energize) and the survival and thriving tendencies of each.
• Nurturing: the six leader-friendly gardening practices of being nonjudgmental, not enabling harmful behaviors, the power of empathy, and the importance of pruning gossip, eliminating blame, and eradicating victimization.
We encourage the creation of “Practice Projects” in the following categories and group members of the Leadership Garden Registry may apply for Cultivation Grants from the Leadership Garden Fund:
o Inclusion Projects
o Safe & Healthy Community Projects
o Compassion Projects
o Kindness Projects
o Accountability Projects
o Healing Projects
• Inventive: how to invent a unique purpose and aim
• Quality: the attributes necessary for thriving leadership
• Unstoppable: how to remove the barriers to goals and dream and commit to a thriving future
• Expression: the art of communication to best express purpose and aim
13. Why is it so important that grandparents, parents, and teachers take the time to discuss leadership qualities and self-confidence with children?
While this may sound trite, leadership development at a young age is the single most important investment we can make that will pay the greatest dividends for the future of our planet. It is not only an investment of time and money but investing in a belief in each child’s ability to lead a successful life when given the proper skills and opportunity.
I view each child as a leader waiting to blossom. They just need someone to pay attention and help them tap with unique abilities. For many that may be a grandparent, parent, teacher or other caring adult.
As a grandmother of a newborn a few years ago, I realized babies are the most authentic leaders on the planet. They don’t have language or the skills they need yet to reach their full potential, but they sure know how to lead those around them.
When holding my new grandbaby, it was clear she was whole and complete - meaning she had integrity. She did not lie, cheat, or make fun of how grandma sings her lullabies. I knew some day she will observe and learn those behaviors. She will have to choose for herself whether she will be responsible or not for her behavior, and reap the rewards or consequences.
She is now two and is already expressing her desires through language and newly learned two-year-old behavior. Need I say more? My daughter and I have been having conversations about how to teach her the boundaries and the behaviors she needs to thrive in life, without breaking the spirit of her unique expression.
But let me give you an example of how this works with children when they are at old enough to begin to fully understand.
When I first introduced the Leadership Garden to my six-year-old granddaughter and her eight-year-old brother, she did not totally understand the metaphor. However, with a little more discussion she could relate to how her behavioral choices were either weeds or positive seeds that made her a strong leader and would help her achieve what she wanted.
That afternoon, on the way to our swimming outing she was picking at her older brother in the car. I looked in the rearview mirror and reminded her she wasn’t being a positive leader and gave her a choice. She could stop that behavior and go swimming, or could I drop her off at home and take her brother without her. She crossed her arms, thought for a moment and said, “Okay, I’m killing my weeds.”
I chuckled and asked, “What weeds are those?”
Her brother spoke first and said, “Her cranky weeds.”
We all laughed and had a wonderful discussion on the ride to the pool about how when “weeds” pop up in our garden we could stop, think, and then choose to pull that weed or let it grow since we are in charge of tending to our Leadership Garden.
During the swimming session a mother of another child approached me and commented on how nice my grandchildren were and that she appreciated how they included her son in their play. She shared that her son was a little shy and they made his day. I almost said you should have seen my granddaughter on the way here, but I held my tongue.
Sharing the mother’s comment with them on the way home was a great opportunity to reinforce the message that their inclusion and consideration of the other boy was a demonstration of the positive leadership they were growing.
The gardening metaphor is a valuable tool to instill the importance of self-control and empathy in children. While a toddler may not be fully aware of the damage they cause by stomping on plants in the garden, pulling flowers out by the roots, or connect the metaphor completely, elementary students can. Especially when they have the opportunity to grow, nurture, and care for a plant, pet, or other human being in some way. That is why is see growing a garden as a natural metaphor for growing leadership.
14. If there is a school administrator, teacher, or youth group leader interested in receiving a grant to test the Leadership Garden® Legacy framework, how do they qualify?
I chose to make the selection process non-competitive and base it upon mutual desire and compatible missions. Growing a garden of any kind takes effort, patience, and commitment. So does this kind of leadership. Our grants are an opportunity for those willing to do the work and make a lasting difference in the lives of young people.
Since two of the keys for empowering this brand of leadership are choice and desire, our intention is to test the framework in a variety of settings where there is fertile ground. While our message is universal, the application and integration into existing programs is unique. Therefore, we are customizing the delivery options to each site’s needs.
Those who are interested should go to our website to learn more about our products and services, and then fill out our contact form to schedule an interview or they call me at 541-928-2232 to schedule one.
15. What is your website?
16. Do you have anything else to add?
Only that, I would like to thank you for allowing me this opportunity to share my passion and vision. There is nothing I love more than talking about growing leadership and my grandchildren.