Everyday leadership: Recognizing contributions a good motivator

In 1997, my brother and I toured Costa Rica. We traveled to the highlands of Central Costa Rica, the Northwestern border near Nicaragua, and the beaches of Quepos. Frequently, on our travels, we saw young boys waving stalks filled with white blossoms at us. It was the same motions that I used when selling sweet corn from my front yard as a young boy. It was obvious that they were trying to sell something. Finally, we asked the caretakers at one of our guesthouses to help us understand what was going on. He explained that the boys were selling yucca to be eaten in salads.

Today, my wife and I have a yucca plant. It did not blossom the first couple of years after we planted it. But the third year it surprised us. An impressive shoot began emerging from the center of the plant. It extended rapidly until it stretched a full 75 inches. The stalk seemed almost alive pointing to the right then the left and finally standing straight up in the air.

Several years ago I found wild yucca along the side of the road. I stopped my car and pinched off a blossom to taste it. Just before I popped it into my mouth a small white moth flew out of the blossom. I looked in several other blossoms and there too were small moths. I searched on the internet and found an article in The Kansas School Naturalist. It seems that this moth is the only insect that pollinates the yucca. Without the moth, the yucca could not produce fertilized seeds. The larvae of the moth feed exclusively on the seeds as they grow. So there is a mutual benefit to both the plant and the moth. This relationship is called mutualism.

The yucca has been a useful plant for man for thousands of years. According to The Kansas School Naturalist, Native Americans used all parts of the yucca plant. The leaves and stalk fibers were used to make cloth, sandals, baskets, and rope. Raw flowers were eaten in salads as the Costa Ricans still do. Sometimes the flowers were boiled as vegetables. The green seed-pods were roasted and the dried pods and seeds were ground into flour. The roots were used as a cleansing agent and a skin cream for treating rashes. Leaves and roots were also used as a tea for treatment of headaches and arthritis.

The diversity of nature in our front yard is amazing. We overlook it everyday unless we take the time to pay attention to it. The mutualism of the yucca and the yucca moth is an interesting concept. A similar type of mutualism can be seen in many companies. The company over the years allows employees to achieve a certain standard of living for their families. On the other hand, the employees contribute in valuable ways that keep the company viable year after year. Often leaders overlook the contributions of the workers. As often, employees do not acknowledge the value the company has added to their lives. Leaders and employees should take a few minutes a day and recognize these contributions. This recognition will motivate the good performers and highlight positive role models for those struggling employees.

R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray’s completely revised, third printing of The Facilitative Leader: Behaviors that Enable Success, visit his Web site, www.raycomlearning.com. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.