Sunday, November 19, 2017

leadership dot #1997: tunnel

I never set out to get a doctorate; I just took one class because I was interested in the legal aspects of higher education. But one class led to another and then to another and then, in 1997, I earned my degree.

The classes, my defense and graduation are all a blur, but what I remember vividly about this process was the day I finished my final draft and took it to the on-campus mail room (yes, we had to send hard copies!) to send out to my committee. There, outside the drop-off window, was my whole staff and a gathering of other employees who made a cheer tunnel for me to walk through en route to the delivery.

That simple act of recognition cost them nothing, but it still gives me goosebumps to think about it all these many years later.

When you want to show someone that you really care, it does not need to be a lavish gift or even a tangible item. Sentiment from the heart is much more valuable than objects.

Photo source:

Saturday, November 18, 2017

leadership dot #1996: posted

Most people know that there is a law requiring employers to post certain job regulations in a prominent place for employees to have access to them: things like non-discrimination clauses, employee rights, minimum wage and other legal notices. But what happens when there is no office or break-room bulletin board?

This situation occurred on a recent construction project on my street. In addition to all the equipment and road signs that were delivered came a big sheet of plywood with notices in plastic holders. This board is sitting out by the mailboxes, presumably for the workers to have access to the required documents. I doubt anyone has read it!

When government officials were drafting the law, I am sure it made good sense to them to require employers to share the information with their employees and to have the notices posted in a prominent location. In their world of offices and meetings, it would be an easy thing to do only no one thought through the various situations in which posting would be ludicrous instead of practical.

Before you require everyone to do something, pause for a moment and think of the hardships this may cause others. It is far better to legislate the intent instead of prescribing the method.

Friday, November 17, 2017

leadership dot #1995: Gen Z

There is a lot of attention being paid to the Millennial generation right now when in reality, it would behoove organizations to spend as much effort preparing for Generation Z. Gen Z, as it is lovingly known, represents the generation born between 1995-ish and 2010 or so. They are the college students of today and the leaders of tomorrow, representing a quarter of the population and soon will have a significant impact on the workforce.

Gen Z grew up with technology and social media integrated into their lives. They have communicated all their lives through screens and will expect the use of technology to be pervasive in their organizations. Gen Z uses this technology to make their lives easier and to receive information/action on demand. Gen Z wants a work/life blend – and the ability to use the resources available to them to work from anywhere at anytime. They are more interested in the community than just themselves and also have a strong interest in entrepreneurship.

Think about the world in which Gen Z grew up: they never had to learn how to use technology – it was omnipresent since they were born. They carry this expectation onto campus and into the workforce, requiring organizations to rethink how they handle processes and transactions of all types. Yet Gen Z is not looking to automate everything; they value experiences, one-to-one interactions and being involved in decisions.

Gen Z employees or entrepreneurs will be the ones to lead efforts on 3D printing, wearable technology, driverless cars, artificial intelligence and workplace inclusion. They will continue the movement to integrate smart learning into every facet of life and become active designers of both social and economic change.

As an organization leader, you can embrace their thinking and be inspired by Gen Z or try to hold on to more established ways of operating. Succeed by articulating and providing value, creating experiences that allow them to interact and paying attention to the user experience. Ready or not, Gen Z is coming and bringing a wave of optimism and motivation that will benefit us all.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

leadership dot #1994: yellow envelope

When Kim Dinan quit her job and set out on an adventure to see the world, a friend wasn’t sure how to commemorate the occasion. What do you give someone who has just sold everything that won’t fit into a backpack?

Her friend decided on a yellow envelope, filled with money and instructions to give the money away to others that they met through their adventures. The envelope came with three conditions: 1. Don’t overthink it, 2. Share your experiences and 3. Don’t feel pressured to give it all away.

What resulted were not only opportunities to help others, but a book and a lecture circuit to share Kim’s experiences. I heard Kim speak of her adventures and how doing something “unexpectedly kind” changes the energy of everything around you.

Like the 1% improvement principle I wrote about yesterday, Kim’s lessons shared the importance of small actions and how a little extra from the yellow envelope made such a difference in the lives of many. “The yellow envelope was magic,” she said. “It was a nudge that caused me to pay attention to opportunities to do good and be kind to someone else.”

You don’t need a literal yellow envelope to share the goodness with others, but it may be something special to pack into your next suitcase.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

leadership dot #1993: 1%

At a recent Diversity Summit, the speaker, Dr. Jermaine Davis, encouraged people to follow the “principle of the slight edge.” He reminded us that Olympic athletes often win a medal by nanoseconds, not leaps and bounds, and that this same idea of incremental improvement can be applied to learning about diversity and inclusion.

It reminded me of a talk by author James Clear who spoke of developing habits that allow for a 1% improvement every day. He recounts the story of Dave Brailsford, the coach of the Brittish cycling team, who believed in the “aggregation of marginal gains.” Brailsford tended to every detail, including bringing pillows on the road so riders slept better, teaching hand washing skills to prevent colds and evaluating the effectiveness of different massage techniques on muscle recovery. His pattern of 1% improvements led to numerous Tour de France titles and Olympic Gold.

Whether it is in weight loss or profit gain, we are too often tempted to look for the silver bullet that will result in a big win. What Davis, Clear and Brailsford show is that the small, repeated behaviors are really the key to long-term success.

Break down your big goal into tiny habits to achieve victory.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

leadership dot #1992: pieces

I spent several hours over the weekend working on a puzzle featuring scoops of ice cream in different flavors. I thought this would be an easy puzzle because of the variety of colors but when I spread out the pieces, all the same color pieces appeared to be the identical and I couldn’t distinguish to which scoop they belonged.

After making little to no progress, I began to see details and features of each piece that revealed their identity: that pecan goes in the scoop in the top left; the cluster of cherry pieces is the pink scoop in the center; the piece with the red connector goes here, etc. All the details became vivid clues and allowed me to complete the picture.

It reminded me of the training exercise where I do a similar thing with oranges. At first, all the fruit looks alike, but then people create distinctions and “identities” for their fruit. Once they craft a story about the fruit, they can easily pick their particular orange out of a bushel.

People, like puzzle pieces or oranges, often look alike when you view them from afar or with broad strokes. It is only when we spend time with them and truly understand their nuances that we come to appreciate the gifts they bring. You never say: “just the piece I’m looking for!” without spending time understanding the specifics of what you need or what you have.

Invest similar time in making connections with other people – by learning about their individuality and discovering what their connection can add to the picture of your world.

Monday, November 13, 2017

leadership dot #1991: red flower

There is a new (to me) philosophy for teaching art to elementary students that involves focusing on self-expression rather than technique. Students are encouraged to pick their own topic to explore, then taught how to use tools and technique to create that art. Instead of being about projects, class is about artistic expression.

When I heard about this concept, I immediately thought of the story about the red flower that was memorialized in an old Harry Chapin song and which is in story form here. In short, a teacher gives explicit instructions so many times that students become reliant upon them and are unable to create on their own, even when given permission to do so.

I think the red flower story has relevance to today’s structured activities for kids – because they grow up always having something on the calendar it becomes difficult for them to create their own fun, even when time permits. And after completing 12+ years of structured schooling, new employees are often challenged in taking initiative at work, instead wait for their supervisor to tell them what to do.

I applaud all efforts that help people – of all ages – truly think about things instead of memorizing them, and bravo to teaching that helps people learn how to conceptualize and understand the rationale of the fundamentals behind what they are studying.

Here’s to creating a gallery of snakes and snowmen and elephants and mice!