Envisioning Green: An Extraordinary Small Business

When Steven Johns started mowing lawns at the age of 12, he never imagined the summer job would grow into an entire lawn care company. Four years later, he hired another person part-time. By his senior year of high school, Steven had taken enough classes that he could leave by 1:00 p.m. every afternoon to work. 

Back then, Steven mowed up and down his street, enjoying the freedom that earning money afforded him. His wife, Erika, joined the team in 2013, and today Envisioning Green is a husband-and-wife-owned, boutique-style landscape construction and maintenance company being featured in a business book. 

I first met the couple while speaking at an event. I instantly connected with their gregariousness, love of life, and desire to learn and grow their business, but it wasn’t until some years later that I visited their operation and my suspicions were confirmed. 

Keeping Clarity

You can often judge the success of a company by the style and substance of its leaders, and it was easy to see that Envisioning Green is a stand out company in what is often a tired and uninspired green business. The difference? Both Erika and Steven understand the power of clarity in their company: “Clarity to us is like success,” they agree. They know that you don’t really get one without the other. 

However, the couple also knows that it is not something you ever really achieve. Clarity is an ongoing process: “Just because you’ve achieved it today doesn’t mean that it’s going to be as clear tomorrow. You must always be striving for clarity in what you do and how you speak to your team.” This doesn’t make the effort futile by any means; it just makes your efforts all the more important. Even if perfect clarity may never really be achieved, the owners of Envisioning Green still believe that a certain level of it can be maintained. 

“You know you’ve achieved clarity when the systems you’ve put in place work without needing our direct assistance. And when the decisions that your team makes are filtered through the same filters and four values we built our business on, we know we’ve been successful.” This can require a certain amount of creativity because the Johnses recognize that clarity for one person may not be the same for another. It is obvious that they value their employees as individuals, rather than simply a means to an end. 

The Best Part of Your Day

They place the same value on everyone they encounter: “One thing we always say is ‘Be the best part of everyone’s day’ and it’s awesome when someone takes that to heart.” This principle is also evident in the other key elements of their founding beliefs. 

While most companies adhere to the 80/20 rule, Envisioning Green tries to include the whole team in the training process, rather than most of the training being done by a small portion of the staff. ALL of the staff should have the same enthusiasm as a…

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7 Rules for Overhelpful Leaders

7 Rules for Overhelpful Leaders

Don’t hand the ball to a person who habitually drops it. Turbulent days have enough frustrations of their own. Don’t enable people to frustrate you.

Image of a timid kitten looking in a mirror. Examine yourself before you complain about others.

First reflection:

Examine yourself before you complain about others.

  1. How are you helping in unhelpful ways? Negative patterns are leadership’s fault.
  2. Why aren’t you bringing up negative patterns?
  3. How are you doing the same thing, but expecting different results?
  4. What leadership development skills will improve your ability to help others effectively?
  5. What do you expect of yourself when negative patterns persist?

7 rules for overhelpful leaders:

#1. Don’t help too quickly. If your first response is doing something for someone, you are teaching people to depend on you, not themselves.

Leaders who help too quickly are despised by the people they help. No one respects you when you treat them as if they were incompetent.

#2. Don’t help too much. Before offering help, ask, “What do you need from me?” People need to hear their own voices asking for help.

Leaders who help too much enable helplessness.

#3. Don’t help too long. Provide help when people are learning new skills, rising to new responsibilities, or taking on new roles. Never habitually do someone’s job for them.

Competent people need to run.

#4. Always bring up issues with optimism. Don’t bring it up if you don’t believe in their desire and ability to improve. Reassign them instead.

#5. Help people who outgrow the need for help.

#6. Don’t talk about anything you aren’t going to do something about.

#7. Don’t worry about concerns you won’t confront. Accept mediocracy.

When to stop helping:

Stop helping when you encourage dependency.

Stop helping when:

  1. Competent people don’t step up.
  2. Competent people expect help.
  3. You do more and they do less.

How might overhelpful leaders learn to be less helpful?

What are the secrets of effective help?

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A Fortuitous Encounter Changed a Life

A Fortuitous Encounter Changed a Life

Ted had a penchant for embellishing the stories he told about himself. The number of times his first book was rejected ranged from 20 to 43. The actual number was probably 27.

Ted was on his way home to burn the manuscript of his first book when he ran into an old college buddy on Madison Ave. It was an encounter that changed the trajectory of his life.

Some people might call Ted’s encounter a divine appointment. Others say the universe conspired to help him.

God and the Universe are outside of your control.

Image of a box of chocolates. Anticipate what you give more than what you get.


You will encounter someone who will change the trajectory of your life. It might happen today.

Forest Gump’s mom told him, “Life is a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” Optimists live with a hint of anticipation. But you don’t always get chewy chocolates. Sometimes it’s a strawberry cream. Or you might get nuts that make you gasp and turn blue.


Coleman Cox said, “I am a great believer in luck. The harder I work, the more of it I seem to have.”

Ted had labored over a book for six months and was beating the pavement to sell it when his fortuitous encounter occurred.

Hard work prepared Ted for good fortune.

A shift:

You never know when you might be ‘Ted’s friend’. The question isn’t who will lift your trajectory. The question is whose trajectory will you lift.

Anticipating your fortuitous encounter is nice. It’s more excellent to be the person Ted met.

Anticipate what you give more than what you get.

Ted’s friend had just gone to work for Vanguard Press. It was 1937. Ted went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for his contribution to children’s literature. You might know Ted Geisel as Dr. Seuss.

What type of people are able to lift the trajectory of others?

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Dear Dan – I Feel Caught Between the Boss and Fellow Employees

Dear Dan – I Feel Caught Between the Boss and Fellow Employees

Dear Dan,

I wonder if you could provide me some guidance with what I call “The curse of the middleman.” I’m a member of two teams. The team of leaders that run our organization, and the team of people that report to these leaders.

A leader on my team is often hurt when employees approach me with questions, instead of going to them directly. The irony is this same leader tells employees that I am a leader in our organization and to utilize me as a resource.

I strive to build strong relationships with employees, but the success of that work is causing me to fail in another area. At times, there is concern from employees that if they approach the leader, they will get an immediate smack with a bat. Some have been smacked enough, they’ve learned not to approach.

I don’t want to violate the relationships I’ve built, but I’m trying to navigate these waters. 

What advice would you give?


The Middleman

Image of a thistle with a light purple flower. Leaders say they want the truth, but often bristle when they hear it.

Dear Middleman,

Like you, people usually try to do the right thing. It’s always disheartening to have good intentions misjudged. This happens more frequently than you might think. Intentions are invisible. Behaviors are all we see.

We are judged, not by our intentions, but by the intentions others impose on us.

Biggest challenge of feeling misunderstood:

The biggest challenge you face isn’t a fearful boss. It’s loss of enthusiasm.

Loss of enthusiasm becomes discouragement. Eventually, we give less than our best. Winston Churchill said, “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.”

Tighten your belt and keep doing the right thing with enthusiasm.

Doing the right thing matters most when you’re  misunderstood or underappreciated.

The higher you rise in an organization, the more you will be misunderstood. The best you can do is apologize when appropriate and press forward with unaltered enthusiasm.

Adapt to the leader:

People who don’t adapt to the leader always struggle and often flounder.

Perceived threat invites fearful bosses to attack like caged animals. Forget about instilling confidence in a boss who feels threatened, but don’t turn a blind eye either.

  1. Don’t tell the leader, “You seem threatened by my relationships.”
  2. Seek advice from your leader. Ask, “What are some ways to respond to co-workers who come to me with their concerns?” Eliminate any resentment or resistance in yourself when you ask for input. You may or may not receive useful advice. It doesn’t matter. You asked.
  3. Show respect to your leader in public ways. Notice positive qualities. Honor successes.
  4. Encourage co-workers to go to the leader, even if they feel smacked down. Nothing good comes from undermining your boss, even if they…

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3 Things We Get Wrong About Humility

3 Things We Get Wrong About Humility

Humility and I stand beside each other like strangers on an elevator. We glance sideways, but we don’t stand close. The only thing I say is, “Have a good day,” when I step off.

Image of a green leaf stuck in the sand on the shore. A person who doesn't need your approval is dangerous.

Accident or intention:

I don’t understand people who are naturally humble. They probably aren’t faking, but I think they must be. Arrogance is natural. Humility is an acquired taste.

You never develop humility by accident.

You learn how to be humble reluctantly, usually the hard way. We keep humility at arm’s length because we misunderstand it.

3 things we get wrong about humility:

#1. Humility isn’t passive.

It’s not humble to admit mistakes and then play dead; it’s feeble. It’s not humble to screw up and look for sympathy; it’s pathetic.

Humility admits shortcomings and works to improve. Arrogance hides shortcomings to protect its image.

#2. Humility isn’t fearful.

Humility speaks the truth with kindness.

Arrogance protects itself by shielding people from hard truths. Every time you neglect tough issues or soften the truth, you prolong incompetence and weaken relationships.

Humility cares too much to disadvantage others.

Humility takes responsibility. Arrogance plays it safe for self-serving reasons. Humility takes the bull by the horns and won’t let go.

#3. Humility isn’t weak.

A person who doesn’t need your approval is dangerous.

Humility doesn’t do the right thing to impress anyone. Humble leaders ooze with calm grit.

Humility owns challenges.

Humble leaders know what they can’t control, accept their responsibilities, and won’t be bullied by either.

5 ways to practice humility today:

  1. Get mad about apathy. Embrace ambition for the work.
  2. Learn something. Try something new.
  3. Reflect on things you have learned from failure.
  4. Make room for others to be right.
  5. Practice gratitude. Humility and gratitude have an unbreakable bond.

What do we get wrong about humility?

How might leaders practice humility today?

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4 Questions that Define a Useful Idea

4 Questions that Define a Useful Idea

Good ideas aren’t necessarily useful. Any idea that you can’t act on today is a glamourous distraction.

Useful ideas are actionable today.

A bucket full of good ideas is paralyzing.

Choose a mission that’s clear enough to challenge people. Don’t change it. Adopt goals that apply in turbulence or calm and stick with them.

Chasing new ideas feels exciting, but your team is tired of starting new things before finishing this thing.

Image of glamorous gems. Ideas you can't act on today are glamorous distractions

4 questions that define a useful idea:

#1. Can the horses pull the wagon?

Forget about the horses you wish you had. Useful ideas require you to dig in, but the horses you have must be able to make progress.

Good ideas sparkle and sing but an idea that paralyzes the team is a disillusionment.

Tip: Hire for progress, not maintenance.

#2. Do the horses want to pull the wagon?

Few things are more dazzling than a good idea that requires OTHERS to fulfill it.

  1. Where are the horses in the barn willing to go?
  2. What are YOU prepared to do to get there?

#3. What if you don’t pull the wagon at all?

Ideas matter when they improve things. If you don’t pull the wagon at all, will anything be lost?

#4. What does progress look like today?

It’s tragic when people end a day of hard work but can’t describe what they got done.  

Define progress.

People need to know what winning today looks like.

  1. What will be different at the end of the day if we make progress?
  2. What do we need to do – now – to make progress today?
  3. What’s distracting us from making progress?
  4. How might we eliminate roadblocks to progress?
  5. What can we finish today?

Tip: Define progress in terms of behaviors.

How do you define a useful idea?

What distracts us from useful ideas?

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Thieves of Thankfulness – Why Cynics Struggle with Gratitude

Thieves of Thankfulness – Why Cynics Struggle with Gratitude

Research indicates the top three thieves of thankfulness are narcissism, cynicism, and envy/materialism. Narcissism tops the list. Second on the list is cynicism.

The original cynic philosopher, Antisthenes, taught in a gymnasium outside Athens called The Silver Hound. Diogenes is the most famous cynic. He criticized social values and institutions believing they were corrupt. He is the founder of Stoicism.

The word came to mean a sneering sarcastic person.

Cynics lean toward ingratitude.

Image of a field with the sun coming up over the trees. Practicing gratitude magnifies positive feelings more than it reduces negative feelings.


A cynic believes only selfishness motivates people and disbelieves selfless acts.

You might be a cynic if you:

  1. Are frequently sarcastic.
  2. Loath cute animal pictures on Facebook.
  3. Think compliments are usually fake.
  4. Believe people usually want something from you.
  5. Think people who are struggling are faking it.
  6. Lean toward mistrust.
  7. Reject optimism in favor of skepticism.

Being cynical has its uses. If you weren’t at least a little cynical, you’d actually believe everything on the news.

Cynical about gratitude:

Gratitude doesn’t necessarily eliminate unhappiness; it’s a magnifier of positive emotion.

Robert Emmons writes, “When people are grateful, they aren’t necessarily free of negative emotions—we don’t find that they necessarily have less anxiety or less tension or less unhappiness. Practicing gratitude magnifies positive feelings more than it reduces negative feelings.”

  1. Grateful people cope with stress in healthy ways.
  2. Grateful people benefit from the support of others.
  3. Gratitude can help you control your responses to negative events.
  4. Gratitude can help you be less impatient.

Practical considerations:

  1. Reject the myth of self-sufficiency.
  2. Reflect on limitations.
  3. Notice how you rely on others.

Gratitude and humility are playmates that support each other.

Part 1 of Thieves of Gratitude explains the relationship of narcissism and gratitude.

Four Ways to Practice Gratitude When you Don’t Feel Grateful

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You Have More Than you Think – Turkey’s Revenge

You Have More Than you Think – Turkey’s Revenge

We were poor college students, over 1,600 miles from home, when my wife and I celebrated our first Thanksgiving.

Image of a turkey Humble yourself before a turkey humbles you.

I’ll never forget how proud we felt to host Dave Tricky, a fellow student, and his girlfriend for our first Thanksgiving as a married couple. (Yes, that’s his real name. I soon learned the trick was on me.)

We were becoming ‘real’ adults. My bride was 19. I was 20.

We moved our tiny kitchen table to the larger living room and stationed it uncomfortably close to the front door to accommodate the crowd of four.

After the blessing, I ceremoniously stood as the ‘man’ of the house, blade in hand, ready to carve the bird. It was one of life’s great moments.

But the knife didn’t slice into tender breast meat. It was hard. I poked the blade around. The whole damn turkey was bone.  I had purchased a BONE TURKEY!

Dave and his girlfriend probably stopped at a fast food joint on their way home. If not for the drumsticks and wings, it would have been perfect for vegetarians.

I carried the bone-bird to our cramped kitchen, defeated, to scavenge any remains. (We could use even sparse leftovers.) I flipped the bird over to find two succulent turkey breasts, staring me in the face.

I had carved the bone-back of the turkey.

We cooked the bird upside down!

Lessons from a bone turkey:

  • Humble yourself before a turkey humbles you.
  • You have more than you think.
  • Sometimes a different approach changes everything.
  • One day, if you keep learning, you’ll laugh at how ignorant you used to be.

What experiences humble you?

*This post was originally posted on Nov. 22, 2012. Occasionally, I repost it this time of year.

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