Lessons on Belonging - Perspectives from Pumpkins - October 2023

Lessons on Belonging - Perspectives from Pumpkins - October 2023

Ahhh…Fall!  The season of colorful leaves fluttering to the ground, cooler temperatures, fields being harvested, Friday night football, children racing door to door to collect treats, and yes…PUMPKINS!  I may be more excited than most about the annual tradition of growing, carving, and displaying pumpkins. But this year in my pumpkin search, I’m seeing messages of leadership and fostering belonging. Read on to see what I mean:



Like most plants, pumpkins first start as meager seeds.  Yet, something so small houses so much potential.  Consider how gigantic some pumpkins become in a single growing season when supported with the right soil, sunlight, moisture, and careful tending.  And oh, the countless pumpkin-flavored treats that can come from just one—pie, bars, bread, coffee enhancements, roasted seeds, the list goes on! 


Likewise, as leaders, when we nurture those around us with the right mix of inclusion, respect, coaching, encouragement, and cheering, employees develop not only great skills to serve countless others, they become tremendous assets to our facilities.  Better yet is the sense of achievement and self-worth you foster within them, an otherwise untapped capability realized ever more.  That’s priceless!  When individuals feel like they belong and are supported in their growth, there’s no limit to their potential.

  • In what ways can you modify your leadership approach for each person on your team?  Some may need encouragement and confidence-boosting.  Others may need you to help them see their growth opportunities through respectful coaching challenges.  Others yet—like the warmth of sunlight on a field—simply need your steady presence, consistent reliability, and to know you care.


My son and I went on an adventure to select the pumpkins to adorn our yard and eventually become jack-o-lanterns.  There were so many options!  Short, tall, round, skinny, squatty, bumpy, smooth, and all shades of deep to light orange, even white.  We had a hard time choosing.  We could picture each for a diverse purpose and in a different spot on the step, by the garage, at the entrance of the drive. 


As leaders, we too must look at each individual distinctly, seeing the opportunity and strengths each has to contribute, finding the good.  No one person fills the same need; each has a unique aspect to share.  When employees are seen as and valued for who they are, just as they are, it builds a safe space of belonging from which they can thrive and offer their best.

  • Inventory the unique strengths of each of your employees.  How do your interactions reflect your value of their individuality?  What would be their future potential if those strengths could be further maximized?  How could that contribute to their growth, your team, your services?  What efforts should you take to nurture that potential?  Are there employees’ strengths you have overlooked because they didn’t fit the mold of what you originally were looking for?


I agonize over selecting just the right carving of my pumpkin each year.  I look at the pumpkin for a long time, envisioning the expression it wants to portray.  Then comes the long process of cleaning out the insides, fingers covered in goo and pumpkin slime extending all the way to my elbow.  I next draw the face with erasable markers and carefully choose the right carving knife to achieve the result.  Then comes my favorite part—waiting for darkness to put flame to the candle and finally see the light from within projecting across the lawn.  What satisfaction!  How disappointing, however, when wind snuffs the flame and darkness returns.  I often need to position the pumpkin differently or shield it from gusts so as to keep the candle alight.


In leadership, we too need to delight in the light shining from those we serve and support.  It requires patience for the right timing to ignite the flame.  And although that light may flicker and go out on occasion when employees are met with adversity or seemingly unsurmountable barriers, as servant leaders, we need not give up.  Keep stoking the flame.  Design shields to protect from challenges and remove obstacles from the path.  Belonging is not a one and done activity, nor is it always a smooth journey.  The light coming through the smile on the other side, however, is worth every effort!

  • Consider an employee whose light may be struggling.  How can you help it to shine more brightly?


I challenge you to see autumn with a different angle this year.  Go forth in leadership, promoting belonging from the perspective of pumpkins.




Corrie Searles, MPT, Leadership Development Educator

In Corrie’s role as Leadership Development Educator at the Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative (RWHC), her aim is to empower leaders to create positive influence that enables others to serve well.

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