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Leadership personalities: Leaders are like plants

Credit: Maria Raffaele/Assistant Art Editor Credit: Maria Raffaele/Assistant Art Editor
Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

Leaders have been likened to many things. Most have been poetic: The Bible says leaders are like those who move boundary stones, and some music nerd on the Internet says leaders are like maestros — something about reaching beyond the notes to reach the magic in the players.

Then there are the less elegant metaphors. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been likened to a frumpy Hausfrau. French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been likened to a sex symbol, the 68th best-dressed person in the world, and even James Bond. George W. Bush has been likened to, well, an ape.

But with 20 of the most powerful people in the world strolling into Phipps Conservatory last Thursday, it was only natural to liken leaders to plants. After all, it was 20 of the world’s most powerful people in a super-green building, with presumably 20 species of the world’s greenest plants. Everyone was most likely caught up in a big hubbub of power, prestige, personalities, and... plants.

I’m no plant expert, but apparently some garden aficionados have a quiz you can take online called “Find Which Plant Reveals the Real You,” which will tell you how your “personal style translates into your plant personality.” I’ve always wanted to know! But this article isn’t about me. It’s about leaders. So I took the quiz for what I know about individual leaders of G20 economies. Since I regretfully do not know them on a personal level, I went off on a lot of presumptions and generalizations.

When I took the quiz for Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, I picked answers like “Zen-like balance and minimalism” and “Japanese silver grass.” When I took the quiz for Mexican President Felipe Calderon, I picked answers like “Mexican-inspired crafts and a wreath of dried chili peppers.” Dream house question? Nicolas Sarkozy matches with “Versailles” while Gordon Brown matches with “English cottage.” The quiz lent itself to presumptions and generalizations a little too easily.

It was then time to buckle down and scour the Phipps website in my search for analogous truth. I found that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was most like a coneflower, which is a big, bold daisy that adds “oomph” to any garden. Medvedev isn’t bad looking himself, and quite the character, too. As a youth, he made copies of Deep Purple records, though they were on the state-issued blacklist. As a flower, the coneflower is purple. Tenuous connection? Well, ruminate on this: the coneflower attracts bees and butterflies, as does Medvedev, as evidenced by his lovely wife, Svetlana Medvedeva.

Our German Hausfrau Angela Merkel is quite like the bottlebrush buckeye. Consistently noted for her spot on Forbes’ Most Powerful Women, Merkel compares incredibly well to the exceptionally expansive suckering shrub. Meanwhile, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who as a boy studied by candlelight, can be compared to an azure sage, a perennial that can grow in poor soil conditions.

I got very excited when I came across an ugly carnivorous flytrap, immediately assigning it to Kim Jong Il. Then I realized that Kim Jong Il, his unfashionable gray pajamas, and his no-label sunglasses were nowhere near Pittsburgh. Kim Jong Il’s invitation wasn’t lost in the mail. It was never sent.
What about President Obama? No need to stretch our imaginations to find a plant for him. As of February, Dutch growers are developing a special chrysanthemum that is expected to sell 250 million in the next three years. Those Dutch flower growers like to capitalize off American Presidents. The Reagan flower also sold well. Bush? Not so much.

Time also recently did a number on the personalities of politicians. It likened Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to having the attractiveness rating of a church mouse and suggested Manmohan Singh’s speeches as a natural remedy for sleep disorders. My treatment of comparing leaders to plants is much kinder, especially when all the aforementioned plants in this article are on the Phipps Conservatory Top 10 sustainable plant list for 2009.

Leadership? The ability of the plant to grow and encourage its fellow plants to thrive. Pittsburgh G20 Summit? All these sustainable plants coming together, minus the flytrap, to work toward sustainability, climate, and the environment.