Author Archives: Deidre Combs

Thriving Through Tough Times is Now Available

My new book,Thriving Through Tough Times: Eight Cross-Cultural Strategies to Navigate Life’s Ordeals, is now available for purchase through and other standard book sellers! For more information, click here for the press release. I hope the book is a helpful resource when life dishes out unwelcome surprises. Thank you for your support of this project.


TEDxBozeman Video is Available

Per your many requests, please find my March 23rd Tedx Talk below! It is also available on YouTube under the Tedx Channel at .

Thank you for your kind and enduring support, Deidre

Leader as Gardener

This morning I was reading William Rosenweig’s Oslo Business for Peace acceptance speech and was captivated by his analogy of a leader being a gardener. 

Rosenzweig said, “A gardener sees the world as a system of interdependent parts – where healthy, sustaining relationships are essential to the vitality of the whole. [Quoting author Karel Capek,]”A real gardener is not a person who cultivates flowers, but a person who cultivates the soil.” In business this has translated for me into the importance of developing agreements and partnerships where vision and values, purpose and intent are explicitly articulated, considered and aligned among all stakeholders of an enterprise – customers, employees, suppliers, shareholders, and the broader community and natural environment.”

Rosenzweig provides us a helpful focusing tool for leadership. Instead of orienting our actions on the plants or the eventual fruit, we are better served paying primary attention to nurturing the ecosystem.

Rosenzweig calls us to ask:

  • What kind of environment are we creating as leaders? Is it conducive to growth and creating deep, healthy roots?
  • How might care for the soil today so ideas and people might flourish not only this season, but well into the future?
  • How might we remove weeds, gently prune and add necessary nutrients to support those around us?

I recommend reading all of Rosenzweig’s speech, yet here’s some successful gardener attributes he highlights:

  • “Gardeners, like entrepreneurs are obsessed with latent potential – and can be known to be pathologically optimistic.”
  • “In essence, the gardener’s work is a life of care.”
  • “Showing up in person, shovel – and humility in hand is essential.”
  • “The garden has taught me about patience and persistence and the ethical principles of generosity and reciprocity…For the gardener, composting is a transformative act – whereby last season’s clippings (or failures) can become next year’s source of vigor.”

How might we use the spring season to pull the weeds, lay the compost and plant new seeds not only outside, but within our organizations, communities and ourselves?

Cruel to be Kind?

I was asked to speak on the subject of kindness this week.  To do so, I realized I had to first wrestle with the meaning of kindness. How can it be applied not just to those easy moments when a friend calls in need of compassion, but when you are maneuvering through a working day? 

I used to see kindness as simple and fun. It was bringing soup to the neighbor with the cold or buying lottery tickets from the 8th grader raising money for a school trip.  As I dig deeper, I realize that kindness requires courage and often a ferocity that feels antithetical to a trait that seems soft and sweet.

Here’s a common example, a business colleague makes continued interpersonal errors. What’s the kindest action? By keeping noble silence, am I being kind? Or, telling him what I am witnessing, would that be kinder? Kindness in this instance is not simple and it may not be remotely fun especially if there can be negative repercussions for whatever action you take.

To ferret out an answer to this polemic question, I look to the practices of full-court empathy, looking for the bigger picture and how to tell the truth.

Finding the kindest action is clearer when I can drop into another’s shoes while standing at the same time in my own. An act of kindness needs to support both the other person and me. If I forget either of us in the equation, I am being unkind.  Kindness is the resolution of what appears to be irreconcilable opposites of competing needs. What will truly support us both…not to make everyone smile, but truly improve our situations?

Focusing on the bigger picture also creates clarity. I see this with parenting. Teaching our children to be responsible citizens may involve some tough feedback as they grow. Is it kind to discipline a child after she have been caught trying to steal candy? For the whole, the tears and internal struggles are ultimately compassionate as the child learns how to navigate society’s rules.  So, to find the answer to “what’s the kindest action?” also involves thinking of our larger context.

Last, counsel on how to tell the truth cuts a path through my brain thicket. Cultural anthropologist Angeles Arrien says to “tell the truth without blame or judgment.” Another cross-cultural rule of thumb is to tell the truth from a place of “I.”  So, “You are offensive and cause problems with your peers,” in the above example is not fully true nor very kind. That’s just my opinion.  Using a non-judgmental I statement like “I am picking up discord in our interactions and am not sure how to proceed,” could be kinder and more truthful.

Kindness is not easy, yet when it comes my way it is a balm for the soul. How can we each bring more kindness into the weeks ahead?



The Opposite of Beauty is Indifference

As a continuing theme of this blog, I want to share the work of two artists who bring both beauty from and insight about our oceans’ treasures. Richard and Judy Lang have collected plastic debris since 1999 from 1000 yards of Kehoe Beach in Point Reyes National Seashore and create museum-worthy art.

In one year they easily gather 4000 pounds of plastic. Meanwhile, as Judith says, “We are not cleaning the beach, we are curating the beach,” as they select only plastic in the colors and shapes for which they are searching. What could be a depressing or overwhelming issue to face, the Langs appear to address it with interest and careful observation.  “The opposite of beauty is really not ugliness,” says Richard, “The opposite of beauty is indifference. We are trying not to be indifferent about this and about the world.”

Please enjoy another example of artists as leaders: