Thursday, September 21, 2017

leadership dot #1938: outline

As a supervisor, it is sometimes difficult to know how deeply to probe into the details of a project and when to hold back.

On one of my coaching calls, I was talking with a client about focusing on the bigger picture instead of getting mired down in the specifics that were no longer his job. I suggested that he use an outline approach and consciously track his level of questioning for a week to really get a feel for where he inserted himself into the conversation and what level of questions he most frequently asked:

Level I. Was he asking appropriate big picture questions that tied the project to overall strategy?
                    Level A. Was he asking high level information about the project?
                                              Level 1. Was he asking about more specific details?
                                                                       Level a: Or was he asking about minutia?

By keeping track mentally, or even literally making little hash marks for a few days, it will help him get a grasp on whether or not he is spending too much time on Level 1 or Level a questions, thus learning things he does not need to know. A supervisor is best when they can spend the time with staff adding value and connecting work to the raison d’etre rather than duplicating someone else’s job.

I asked my client why he felt it important to know all the details about so many things. “What if I am asked a question about something?” he answered. “What if you said ‘I don’t know, I’ll ask my staff member in charge and get back to you’?” I replied. The world will not end.
It takes time to learn information and if it is knowledge that you aren’t using, I’ll bet you have other uses for that precious commodity. A supervisor should be elevating the conversation, not moving it downward into things that should be the staff’s responsibility. Which direction do most of your questions take the discussion?

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

leadership dot #1937: up your game

Having worked on a college campus for 30 years, I have long been attuned to the impact of rising expectations in other areas of life. When Amazon creates an easily searchable, fully mobile website, then students think that everyone’s website is of that caliber. If Chipotle allows you to customize your burrito, then the campus dining hall should have the same capability. If the local high school gives every student a new computer or is equipped with a state-of-the-art science lab, well, then, colleges should be even more technologically advanced. And if there are caps and gowns for kindergarten “graduation”, what does it take to elevate a college commencement to the prominence it deserves?

The bar was raised even higher by Sports Illustrated, which, in a move of genius, created SI Play, a platform that allows any team – from pee wee to high schools – to create their own mobile app – for free. SI Play is a platform for anyone involved in youth sports to share scores, photos and team information. It also tracks practices, travel locations, attendance and even scouting reports. SI Play launched in 2015, but already has 17 million users and has spurred a separate tournament management app and a third for live score sharing (not to mention a treasure trove of content for SI and SIKids!)

Think about it: if there is a professional app and multi-level functionality for the T-ball club, what does it do to raise expectations for your organization? The field isn’t leveled against your competition or others in your industry. You’re playing ball against all stars and, like it or not, things like SI Play should force you to up your game -- even if that game has nothing to do with youth sports.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

leadership dot #1936: find your why

Leadership guru Simon Sinek just published a new book: Find Your Why. It is the companion workbook to his fabulous Start With Why and is designed to help either individuals or teams discover the deep reason they do what they do.

One of the exercises has really caused me to ponder. Sinek urges you to think of specific moments where you can recall the details and emotions – good or bad – that made an impact on you. “What are the stories of specific experiences and people in your life that have really shaped who you are today?” he asks. (For teams, the groups are to “tell specific stories of when you have felt most proud to work for this organization.”)

As I was making my own personal list, I thought of the moments that made an impression on me – often comments that people made or small victories on a long path. I also recalled the moments that were decision points of things that I did not do. I wonder how my life would have been different if I had gone left instead of right in those situations.

Sinek’s method calls for you to share your stories with a trusted partner to fully uncover your “why.” Whether you pursue the entire discovery plan or simply use some of the questions for self-reflection, I believe both the individual and team exercises will cause you to think deeply about the stories that undergird your actions. Articulating your values through language is a powerful driver of intentionality in your behavior.

How does this dot connect with you? Leave a comment and share your observations with others.

Monday, September 18, 2017

leadership dot #1935: false impression

I had another stint as a citizen advocate when I provided input during the public comment period at the local park board. I am trying to change the regulations that currently prohibit dogs on city trails, so I have made my arguments at city council and now at the park board where it was referred.

During both presentations, the members of the committee sit and smile, nod their heads and appear as if they are in agreement, but when they later deliberate, their actions are opposite of what I wish them to be.

I think about the many situations where people falsely give a positive impression that masks their true feelings. Interviewers are always nice and leave the candidate feeling welcomed, even when there is no way they will be hired. Customer service representatives smile and tend to the clients before them, but later vent with colleagues about the problems presented to them that day. Teachers politely chat with parents during conferences even when their child is a source of continual aggravation.

It reminds me of the dot I wrote last week about how it is easier to hear bad news when it isn’t preceded by good news. Postulated body language falls into that category. While still remaining respectful, try to align your expressions with your true feelings. Be gracious to the person, but remain neutral about your next move. Don’t let your smile say yes when you intend your actions to say no.

How does this dot connect with you? Leave a comment and share your observations with others.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

leadership dot #1934: safety

If I asked you what a set of “rules” were for a construction zone, you might list out things like wearing a hard hat or watching for overhead power lines, but I doubt you would include morning and evening exercises. But a Minneapolis firm believes these are essential elements of the workday and includes warm-up stretching in their on-the-job project safety requirements.

Construction is hard, physical work and I suspect that Mortenson realizes that the workers are less prone to injury if they have prepared their bodies as if they were lifting weights in a gym. I am sure it also helps everyone to get focused and ready to begin the serious work ahead.

Think about what your organization should include on its list of daily tasks to improve your safety. Is there a daily ritual you could do such as running a virus scan to locate electronic intruders, wiping down the work space with an anti-bacterial wipe, ensuring that doorways are free from blockage or backing up a key file?

Just like with stretching, precautions don’t need to be extensive or lofty – just routine. Articulate what little steps need to be on your 100% list to help your employees keep themselves safe.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

leadership dot #1933: distinguish yourself

The most interesting takeaway I had from a lecture by Garth Gallagher, the author of Napkin Notes had nothing to do with the notes he wrote on his daughter’s lunch box every day from kindergarten through high school. (Gallagher gained notoriety for his habit in part because he has cancer, so pre-wrote 800+ notes to ensure that Emma would have a note through high school even if he were not alive to write it.)

What I found fascinating was his advice in the Q&A portion of the talk, when he was asked about his cancer care. Gallagher recounted how, for his first appointment with his doctor, he wore a loud orange Star Wars shirt so the doctor would remember him. Gallagher postulated that if the doctor saw him as a human instead of just a number, he would receive better care.

The Star Wars shirt became a recurring theme throughout his entire treatment. He wore a different Star Wars shirt to every appointment. Friends and even strangers started sending him shirts, bringing his current collection to over 55. He noted that doctors, nurses and other staff would comment on his shirt each time, perhaps not even knowing his name, but knowing him as “that Star Wars shirt guy.” He maintains finding his hook has resulted in more personal attention and better care than had he remained indistinguishable from other patients.

Is there a lesson you can take from Gallagher’s eccentric approach to his health treatments? Perhaps you can have a signature that helps identify you at trade shows or dealing with bureaucracy or even in a professional setting such as with Madeline Albright’s pins. There are times to blend in and times to stand out. May the force be with you in whichever way you intentionally choose.

How does this dot connect with you? Leave a comment and share your observations with others.

Friday, September 15, 2017

leadership dot #1932: we the people

When did our focus become more on States rather than on the United? As we prepare to celebrate Constitution Day this weekend, I wonder whether we could have even gotten the constitution passed in this modern era. I’m afraid not.

It causes me to think about what principles should be for all, rather than to be left up to the states. Nevada was once the lone bastion of legalized gambling. Oregon began the assisted suicide movement. Colorado has its marijuana. Few states acknowledged same sex marriage before it became universal. Are we heading toward a sub-divided country where you choose a state because of the freedoms it gives you rather than enjoying those privileges country-wide?

And this is to say nothing of the politics that divide us even within states. Will the dissidence move us to even smaller increments of freedom: legalizing practices by county or city rather than trying to get an entire state to agree on something?

There has been much focus on our differences lately, and it all revolves around what questions are asked. This commercial for a Denmark television station highlights that we have more in common than we think if we frame the question differently. I recommend that you watch and consider the message behind it.

The Constitution begins with: We the people of the United States…. Not we the Democrats or we the white folks or we the good souls of Iowa…we the people. Focus on that one word to help us form a more perfect Union going forward.