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Dandelions and Orchids

May 10, 2022

by Aubrey Patterson


Most accept that we are a product of both nature and nurture.

In 2005, Dr. Tom Boyce and Dr. Bruce Ellis introduced the flower metaphor of orchids and dandelions in an influential academic paper.

They concluded that children who are less sensitive and more resilient are like dandelions, which tend to thrive in any circumstances. Very sensitive children, conversely, are more like orchids that need a nurturing environment in order to flourish.

So what about you?

Of course, we'd all love to be more like the dandelion.

Why doesn’t constant trampling defeat the dandelion? The key to its strength is its long and sturdy root, which extends deep into the earth. The same principle applies to people. The true victors in life are those who, enduring repeated challenges and setbacks, have sent the roots of their being to such a depth that nothing can shake them. - Daisaku Ikeda

Most of us are somewhere in-between.

We're more like tulips, who need much less care than an orchid but won't withstand repeated trampling or constant bad weather.

Gardening and Leadership

While this flower metaphor might be interesting as a self-assessment, its power lies in the application to the people we serve. 

We certainly shouldn't put people into boxes or use this metaphor to cast judgement. Rather, wondering if someone is more of a dandelion or an orchid is a great starting point for us to exercise empathy in difficult situations.

Like teachers and gardeners, remarkable leaders understand who needs a little water, warmth, or sunshine. 


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