It’s stinging nettle harvesting season! A good time to refresh some of the lessons we touched on a couple years ago that this obnoxious ‘weed’ taught me (Paul) as my wife and I converted from nettle hater to nettle aficionado. Some of you may call it burn hazel. A bane of hikers,  this plant has the nasty habit of stinging you with ‘venom’ when you touch it.

Here are those  7 lessons I learned from stinging nettle that help me be a better team leader, facilitator and even member.

Lesson One: Respect the citizens who are there, no matter what. When I run into those well entrenched and frequently ‘grumpy’ members on a team, I need to stop wishing they were off the team and instead, put energy into respecting them. They are there because the environment is a good fit for them. So, even when my initial interactions are stinging, I need to respect that they are members of that cultural ecosystem.

How nettles taught me this: You can’t weed whack nettles away. The environment is perfect for them, and, since nettles were once used to make nets (hence their name), they can strangle a weed whacker.

Lesson Two: Don’t confuse attitude with value. Many times I find myself wanting to dismiss the opinions of the team grumps. That’s because most of his or her utterances are downer remarks, sometimes stinging. But if I help all of us keep an open mind, I find that sprinkled in the grumpy statements may frequently be some remarkably good ideas.

How nettles taught me this: After realizing that I was wrong to weed whack, I also learned that this plant is EDIBLE!   I now harvest these nettles and, if you want a new delicious dish, make some nettle pasta.

Lesson Three: Be humble and be surprised. Every time I let my ego get in the way, I find myself listening to myself. When I remember to be humble, I am a better listener and learner, and the surprises I learn help me to help the team.

How nettles taught me this: Not only are nettles edible, they are a superfood. These seemingly unfriendly plants are one of the best things you can put in your body. I put them on eggs and in pasta.  Here’s another tidbit. It saved poor peasants from starving from Italy to Ireland, and is one of main reasons the Irish survived the potato famine. It may be stinging to me, but this weed saved some civilizations.

Lesson Four: Folks bring more than one talent to the team. Many times I find that I narrowly box team members into thinking that their value is based on the initial reason they were put on the team; that the lady from engineering is there to represent engineering and the guy from finance is there to represent finance. I shouldn’t do that. None of us are one dimensional.

How nettles taught me this: Well you already heard it was used to make nets and that it’s a superfood. Well that’s not the end of it. It is also a compost pile accelerator, an organic super fertilizer, an indicator of soil health, and if you take that plant and slap it on that arthritic knee, even though it stings, it relieves the goodness.

Lesson Five: Even when you know the value of each person, working with stinging attitudes still takes patience and protection. Let’s not sugar coat this. It still takes mental preparation to be ready to work with those grumpy folks. I find that I need to be ready, to mentally put on some protective layers. Then I can let the rewards seem to trickle in, but only with patience, persistence.. and that protective layer.

How nettles taught me this: Ok, I like these nettles now, but THEY STILL STING!  Early spring when they are tiny, tender and tasty…they sting the most! Harvesting these guys is hard work, with thick pants (believe me… those stinging hairs will find their way through khaki trousers!), rubber gloves, and long sleeves. And that sting lasts about 20 hours!

Lesson Six: Even obnoxious people have feelings. This is a mistake I make too often, thinking that the grump has no feelings and that maybe we can treat him or her with less than the respect or candor or honesty as the nice members of the group.

How nettles taught me this: Despite being what seems like a wild weed, nettles don’t like mistreatment any more than the petunias in your garden. Treated abusively, say with heavy traffic or taking a brush hog to them, will result in them giving up and going away. A really whacky fact is that nettles only grow where the soil is very good.

Lesson Seven: Most people excel in their natural environment. Many times I think that if I can get the team into a new venue, or run a session in some whacky new way, that suddenly we’ll be flourishing in productivity. Well, that’s not really always true. Be ready to harvest from the same environment the team is comfortable in.

How nettles taught me this: In case you were thinking of running out and getting some nettles to plant in your yard, let me warn you. Nettles can’t really be cultivated. They like growing in the leaf litter edges of woods. They are best when just left to their own devices in their own environment.

I’m ready to don my gear and go out nettle harvesting. I will continue to be impressed by this plant that not that long ago, I mistook for a weed with a bad attitude. Likewise, tomorrow I’ll be out idea harvesting, and will be impressed by people that I was apt to dismiss because of their stinging attitude.
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