Belonging, Naturally - September 2023

Belonging, Naturally - September 2023

My colleague (and dear friend who nurtures my belonging), Cella Hartline, and I stopped at the beautiful Copper Falls for a hike to break up a long work road trip this month. I kept seeing so many metaphors in nature for leadership that it almost felt trite, but at the risk of appearing so, I’m going ahead with this. The natural world presented a template for exploring how leaders can increase a sense of belonging. Here is what I saw, and some questions for you to ponder as a leader:


Even in the drought conditions this summer, the crusty and cracked earth is always shifting, VERY slowly, but it continues to expand and contract in miniscule ways. The earth, like people, moves at its own pace.

  • Who moves too slowly for you? Who needs a little more time than you do to learn things? Are you impatient with those younger or older than you who move on a different time frame? Are there times that you push when an invitation would be more engaging?
  • What would matching their learning pace look like, so that they could feel your empathy? When employees feel like you “get” them they feel more like they are a part of things.
  • What does this person need? If you add the right amount of nourishment (encouragement, recognition, skill-building, etc.) you can free up movement. Ask, “What do you need to take the next step, and how can I support you?”
  • What has moved already? Can you point out small accomplishments for the person to build upon, and to recognize that they have made some progress, even if not on your speed?


Some things in the natural world may be more appealing to my eyes, but nature doesn’t have any way of advocating, “Hey, I’m the tree (or stream, falls, rock, mud, etc.) and I’m most important here.” Everyone wants to feel like their contribution is integral to the big picture.

  • What opportunities do you have to take off the name tags? How do you show equal regard for doctors, housekeeping, nurses, registration, food service, CEO, etc.?
  • Can you facilitate more interaction across the organization in recognition of the interdependence that makes it all work? Hold the discussion, “What would a day without a _____ be like here?”


A tree doesn’t scream out, “Oh no, it’s too windy, stop or I’ll break!” Nature responds to the conditions that present themselves and then adapts. How leaders adapt paves the way for whether employees experience either more trust or more fear.

  • Think about your own response to danger. How does your reaction to threats - real, potential, or imagined ones - impact others around you?
  • How are you leading in showing that you can be adaptable and flexible? People may not know you are adapting if you don’t tell them about it.
  • How does your ability to adapt – or not – impact your employee engagement? Hold “just culture” debriefings on what didn’t go so well focusing on what was learned (not on blame) and how to prepare for the next thing.


You may love or hate winter, but it is coming. Like all the seasons, it does have its upside, which some I know may find hard to see, just like it can be hard to see the best in individuals at times.

  • Are you honing in on the uniqueness of each employee? Every one of them has something that is their own spark; do you know what that is?
  • Do you have employees who are ready for a change or looking for opportunities to grow? How could you be watching for the signs of the “season changing” that would clue you in to this readiness? People feel engaged and connected where others understand them, encourage their development, and provide just the right nudge to try something new.


Get yourself outside, be still, and just notice. I’d love to hear what speaks to you.



Jo Anne Preston In Jo Anne's current role as Organizational and Workforce Development Senior Manager at the Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative (RWHC) her aim is to offer to leaders straightforward tools and inspire the courage to use them.
Leading The Way In Five Mintues A Day

Lead the Way in Five Minutes A Day: Sparking High Performance in Yourself and Your Team, by Jo Anne Preston is currently available for purchase.

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