Tuesday, August 22, 2017

leadership dot #1908: service call

I upgraded my internet service last week, thinking that since I had the same provider it would just be a matter of some off-site programming somewhere to provide the enhancements. Oh, was I wrong. 

My technician, Jonathan, was at my home for five hours, then called me again in the evening and came back in the morning. To say that there were complications is an understatement, and I was without any internet during all the time he was working.

If I had known in advance this was going to happen, I would have been livid. But instead of being angry, I ended up contacting Jonathan's boss to tell him what a great job Jonathan did in providing service. He kept me apprised of the process, called after hours as he promised, was back promptly in the morning, stayed to ensure I was fully connected and functional, and gave me his cell phone number in case I needed it later. I became a fan of a company of which I had not really been a fan. 

For those who do not believe in investing to keep the best people, please take the Jonathan story to heart. I stopped my service with the cable company because of one person, and I will stay with my internet provider precisely for the same reason. People are not only your most valuable assets, they hold the future of your organization in their hands. 

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

Monday, August 21, 2017

leadership dot #1907: eclipse

A solar eclipse occurs when the moon aligns with the sun and Earth and blocks the sun's light. We now know that it will result in approximately two and a half minutes of total darkness in the middle of the day, but think of the fear this would cause in people who did not understand what was happening. The uninformed could believe that the world was coming to an end.

Do you have a "total eclipse" in your organization -- where a rare event occurs and not everyone knows that it is coming? Does your leadership do something that seems to cause total darkness without cause and that incites fear in those observing it?

To watch the eclipse today, it is recommended that you are equipped with glasses or a pinhole projector. If you are preparing to launch a historic event of your own -- whether that be a merger, major restructuring or change in focus, help your employees have the equipment they will need to be safe when the light returns.

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

Sunday, August 20, 2017

leadership dot #1906: old school

There are some days when I wish I had a warehouse to store everything I have ever owned so that I could cash in on things when they come into vogue the second time around. Such was my feeling when I saw the display of "decorative felt boards" at the craft store.

Back in the day, these old school felt boards were called "spaghetti boards" because the rows of felt look like the pasta all laid out end to end. Organizations had cases of those little plastic letters that the unfortunate person using the board first had to locate, then stick into the 'spaghetti' one by one. The letters were never even, they often fell out and overall the boards were a pain in the neck to use. We were more than thrilled to toss all of it when computerized signs became an option. I can't believe they have returned!

But there they are -- in a glorious end cap display -- featuring the nasty pull-apart letters and the felt boards just waiting for those who want a low tech option for decorating. 
Retro is all the rage these days. Typewriters, turntables and now spaghetti boards are around again. What lurks in your attic or the bowels of your building that you could revitalize and give a second life? 

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

Saturday, August 19, 2017

leadership dot #1905: protection

Leave it to America to jump on an event and commercialize it -- which is just what has happened with the solar eclipse. The rare total eclipse of the sun was last visible in the United States in 1979, but, unless you have been oblivious, you know that the next one happens on Monday (August 21). You may know this not because of any scientific interest, but because suddenly filtered glasses are available for sale everywhere!

For those of a more low-tech persuasion, you can make your own pinhole projector by creating a tube and putting aluminum foil with a pin prick on one end and white paper on the other. (Our library offered a workshop and here is a custom leadership dots version!)

This is the first time the total eclipse is visible only in the United States so it's a big deal. But whether you buy your glasses or make your own viewing tube, to enjoy the big event you'll need to be prepared (no direct viewing!). I think of all those who will do harm by looking without protection or who will miss the event due to lack of preparation. Don't let it be you!

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

Friday, August 18, 2017

leadership dot #1904: right

Three of us asked our weather app to provide the forecast for the next day. My site indicated that there would be "heavy rain." Another person's app said "overcast" for the same day and location. Still a third person's app predicted "sunshine." Of what use is that information?

But it turned out that all three were right.

It poured rain in the early morning hours, then there were several hours of overcast before a long stretch of sunshine. This was followed by an afternoon of clouding over and another dose of heavy rain before it cleared up again.

It reminded me of the old story about the blind men and the elephant -- whether the elephant feels like a rope, a high wall, a fan or snake depends on what perspective you have and what part of the animal you are touching. And whether the forecast is correct or not depends upon what time of day you are looking at the sky.

Think about the weather forecast and the elephant the next time you are sure you are right. You might be totally correct -- and totally wrong -- depending on the context. Take the time to look at the bigger picture before declaring with certainty that your answer is the only right one.

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

Thursday, August 17, 2017

leadership dot #1903: go deep

Today my oldest nephew leaves for college, the first in the family from this generation to head off. Two of my sisters and I do not have children of our own, so Daniel’s achievement of this milestone is a pretty big deal for his doting aunts.

I wrote him a melancholy note (that I will mail to him the old fashioned way once he lets us know his address -- boys!!). In it I offered a single piece of advice: to find one extra curricular activity that interests him and to go deep. “Don’t be casually involved in a dozen organizations: instead pick one and become a leader. You will learn valuable skills. You will gain career experience. You will develop relationships with people that know you well and can serve as friends, mentors or references. You will create connections and have experiences that last a lifetime instead of a semester.”

I think the advice works for anyone starting a new phase in their life. New employees can dabble in many projects, but will become more successful if they go deep in one area. Those who move to a new city can make connections through volunteering or becoming substantially involved in one aspect of the community. Politicians can make a difference if they chose one area to focus their efforts.

Think about how you are allocating your time and see if you can make a greater impact if you go deep. Breadth is overrated.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

leadership dot #1902: evidence

At the recent city council meeting, the police chief recommended the installation of additional traffic cameras in town. He said that the police don’t even take down the accident victims’ stories anymore: they look at the recording before arriving on the scene and already know what happened.

It seems that so much of life is recorded these days that it becomes harder and harder to believe something without “proof.” People pull up old Tweets to provide evidence of what someone has said months ago. Camera phones record everything from amusement ride accidents to tsunamis. Police officers wear body cameras and major league sports have video replays.

The more we rely on external validation, the less attention we pay in real time. Why bother to note the details or take notes when we can see it again?

The trouble is that even images are not “proof” nor do they provide a comprehensive picture of the entire scene or conversation. Cameras only have so many angles. A single social media post could be taken out of context. Even the tangible is subject to interpretation.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

leadership dot #1901: out of ink

I was writing in my morning journal when the pen began to run out of ink. I did not have a spare pen handy, so I kept trying to write and extend its life until the end of my entry.

It occurred to me that the choices I was making about this pen could be a metaphor for how you live life. When do you quit – after one line as soon as the going gets rough or do you stretch it out 10 lines and get the most out of it? Do you push it or move on to Plan B when your original intention starts to fade? Does it have to be perfect to produce or do you press on despite less than ideal circumstances?

Think about how you are living – both when you feel like the pen barrel is full and when your energy begins to fade. Be intentional about how you write the story of your life.

Monday, August 14, 2017

leadership dot #1900: centered

In a conversation about leaders, a colleague and I were discussing how those in power were influenced during their tenure, and how their behavior often seemed to change over time. Unfortunately, we had many examples of people who started out strong but faded after years into the job, but we only had one stark example of someone who remained consistently strong throughout.

In trying to dissect what caused that difference, we concluded that his identity was never wrapped up in being the organization's leader. The power never went to his head so he wasn't tainted by it. Often a company's chief has that role as his or her key identity. S/He may travel, but never fully turn off the job. S/He may golf, but it is still as the CEO hobnobbing with others on the course. S/He could volunteer in the community, but in the context of their position more so than their passion. 

Such was not the case with our outlier example. He embraced many different roles that he played in life. When he was in waders up to his knees in a stream, he was a fly fisherman extraordinaire with a whole circle of friends that had nothing to do with his organization or community. He was a foodie and a wine connoisseur for the personal thrill of it, not to impress. He cherished his role as a husband and father and happily conceded any pretense of power to the women in his family.

We talk a lot about work-life balance, but the core issue isn't a time management one. The real prize is cultivating an identity and remaining centered around the parts of you that aren't reflected on a business card.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

leadership dot #1899: transparency

On a trip to the library, I came across the "Government Documents" section that was totally empty. There may have been a legitimate reason for this: they are in the process of rearranging stacks or the documents may have been converted to all-electronic access, but given the sensitive nature of government transparency, it seems that it would have been more prudent to post a sign with the rationale.


There are many instances when an innocent action without explanation turns into a bigger deal because there is no communication about it. Proactively share the truth before you have to reactively defend it.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

leadership dot #1898: unless

At a recent doctor's visit, there were two signs prominently displayed in the exam room. One encouraged patients to contact their pharmacist first if a prescription refill was needed. The second clearly urged patients to call the clinic as the initial point of contact.

The confusion about people calling the "wrong" place is probably what prompted the signs in the first place, but no wonder patients can't keep things straight. One sign is telling them to do the exact opposite of the other. "Start with us first" unless it is a prescription refill. 

Does your messaging carry an explicit or implied "unless"? Once something has qualifiers, its memorability is lost.

Friday, August 11, 2017

leadership dot #1897: fake

In an episode of Law and Order, the key perpetrator was a musician who hid the passwords to his off shore accounts in his Fake Book. Until I watched this show, I had no idea what a Fake Book was, but apparently it is very real. Musicians use them to quickly learn the essence of a song -- the melody line, keys, chords -- so that they can play a larger variety of songs than they actually know. The Fake Book allows them to improvise -- or fake it -- when playing.

Is your organization in need of its own Fake Book for your staff? Does the receptionist or customer service agent need a resource with the basics so they can quickly serve guests without knowing every detail? Does a new employee need a Fake Book to learn enough to make it through the first challenging weeks? Perhaps you need a Fake Book to leave for the substitute teacher or temporary help when someone is away?

We don't always have the time to write everything out with the thoroughness that would make it complete. Instead of doing nothing, maybe you can fake your preparation by creating a Fake Book. It may not hold the passwords to the off shore accounts, but to an employee who needs it, the information could be just as valuable.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

leadership dot #1896: rabbit hole

When I was doing some supervision training for student managers, we, of course, talked about how to hold their supervisees accountable. I provided some coaching language for them and they did some role plays. Inevitably, the person being coached had a litany of excuses as to why they did not perform well. 

The managers in the training struggled with how to respond to the rationale that the "employee" provided, and I watched as the conversation quickly became derailed. As soon as the manager started discussing or even acknowledging the excuse, the focus on accountability was lost.

If an employee is not performing, does it really matter what their reason is? Yes, if they do not have the knowledge or resources to do the job well, but otherwise the host of personal excuses is irrelevant. If you are late, it does not matter if it is because of traffic, your kids or no parking: you are still late and the responsibility is on you to leave early enough to accommodate such delays. 

I encouraged the managers, and would also suggest to you, to avoid discussing the reason behind a failure to meet expectations. Ensure that the employee knows what the standard is, ask them if they need help in meeting it, and hold them accountable from there. Anything further just leads you down the rabbit hole.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

leadership dot #1895: the county

There have been preparations underway for weeks for the road construction project on my street. We have all come to tune them out -- until the ROAD CLOSED signs appeared on the scene. While none of them have yet to be placed into position, it has caused quite a buzz amongst the neighbors. Many calls have been placed to City Hall and to Councilmen wanting to know the details of the impending detour.

The problem is that it is a county project, and no one at the city is apprised of the details.

But to many residents in this small community, "the city" isn't some nebulous or faceless entity; "the city" means talking to Doug or Sarah or Curt or Craig. To their neighbors, "the city" equates to a person, whereas "the county" is a nameless bureaucracy that cannot help them.

If you truly want to provide customer service, start by putting a name with the one providing the service. Don't hide behind "the administration", "the accounting department", "the C-suite", "the 4th floor" or other generic categories that allow for anonymity or escape. Provide a name and a contact person as early in the process as you are able to create the connection and accountability to make it real.

Departments don't provide service; people do.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

leadership dot #1894: structure

I recently updated an article that provides pragmatic tips for completing a dissertation. I had written the article when I received my degree, but wanted to post it on LinkedIn to help the next generation of doctoral students get the monkey off their back and finish that degree.

I was surprised at how much had changed in those 20 years. When I wrote my dissertation, there was no Excel at the time and my academic advisor did not accept documents via email! I initially encouraged students to put their latest draft on a disc (not a flash drive) and put it in their car each evening so all would not be lost in case of a house fire (as happened to a classmate!). You no longer need dimes to access microfiche, money orders for the copyright fee, or boxes to mail the binders with the latest draft.

Regardless of the mechanics to achieve it, the ultimate aim of a dissertation is still the same: to demonstrate to the committee that a student can synthesize existing research and advance it with original research that moves knowledge forward.

Whether you ever write a dissertation or not, following that framework will be of great help in structuring an argument or proposal for almost any topic. Summarize "what is", then share what you learned that supports or refutes that thinking, and what you recommend as a result.

The skill is in the discipline to actually do it, not in the doing itself.

Climbing the Dissertation Mountain: Pragmatic Tips on How to Finish, click here for a copy.

Monday, August 7, 2017

leadership dot #1893: anchor

I track all of my blog topics on a desk calendar and so it is daunting when I rip off a new month and stare at a blank page. Instead of seeing the 1800+ dots I have written, all I am focused on is the 30 more I have to do.

If you have just lost 10 pounds, but need to lose 10 more, you will be more motivated if you keep the starting point in mind rather than the goal. But if you are one sale away from making your quota, it may help you to focus on those few final calls that you have to make.

One of the tricks of effective leadership is knowing when to look forward and when to look back. Keep the right perspective in mind when looking for an anchor by which to measure your progress. The most motivating number may be the one you have already passed and can no longer see.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

leadership dot #1892: package

The Franklin Covey planners may seem a bit old-school, but their packaging is anything but. The calendars come in this wonderful box: embossed on the front in silver letters it proclaims: "Your World Is About to Change."  Once the box is empty, it supplies another message: "Your World Has Changed." What a great way to capitalize on space others often ignore.

Think about how your product could be used to share your brand's message beyond just your logo. Do you have a tagline or message imprinted on your envelopes or invoices? Can your materials be delivered in a binding that includes information about your organization or its vision? Do tangible products include intentional communication of the "why" behind them as well as the requisite logistical descriptions? Does your box "wow" like Covey's does?

The package you share provides a wonderful opportunity for either education or elation. Be sure to include more than your product in the next piece your organization distributes.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

leadership dot #1891: cacti

Those who are purchasers of tchotchkes or "cute" school supplies will know that woodland creatures have been a hit for several years. Raccoons, hedgehogs, foxes and owls have dominated the accessories market and everything in between: sheets, notecards, clothing, shower curtains, etc. But I have noticed on this year's back-to-school shopping journey that the creatures seem to have returned to the woods -- and in their place are cacti.

Maybe it was the mini-succulent craze that started this, but if you pay attention, you will see cactus-themed items are everywhere. The whole Southwestern theme and color palette is popular as well, but cacti are the king.

So what does this mean for you? Maybe it influences your marketing, your decor, your collecting, your gift-giving -- or just your consciousness. Staying attuned to what is trending should be part of your on-going development as a leader.

Friday, August 4, 2017

leadership dot #1890: linger

There is magic in doing something right away instead of putting it off -- even for a short while.

When I wait too long to get to a bigger project, I struggle to start vs. when I "take a few notes" and start in on it right away. I find that when I write blog entries soon after I get the idea that they are better; old ideas tend to linger and then feel forced. When I outline a session I am presenting right after talking to the client, I get further along with the new training than the one that has been sitting on my desk for a month.

If I take that first step before I have time to dread it, the second steps easily follow. But if I think about something too long, I am apt to talk myself out of it more times than I talk myself into something.

Don't let your energy dwindle as something lingers on your to-do list. Try to make it a habit to attend to something sooner rather than later. Later almost always equates to longer.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

leadership dot #1889: badge

Of the many influences on children and their careers, one of my favorite is involvement in outside clubs and organizations. From my years in admissions, I know that participation in the scouts or 4-H can have a positive impact on the person's development and skills.

I was excited to read that the Girl Scouts have added 23 new badges in the STEM and outdoor areas. Young girls' involvement in these programs now could lead to either a new career path or at least to personal awareness and care in different areas. 

The Girl Scouts have a wide variety of badges for girls to earn. You can see the whole list here, but it includes things like product designer, home scientist, philanthropist, business owner, digital movie maker, woodworker, game visionary, learning the science of style, public policy, mechanical engineering, netiquette and website designer -- many things that girls would not have exposure to if not for their involvement in Scouts.

Whether in a formal program like the badge-earning Girl Scouts or in a more informal way (such as allowances for any personal development or training class), your organization will benefit from encouraging your employees to explore new areas and to learn things beyond their normal job duties. How can you make it exciting to pick up new skills or to dabble in an adjacent field? Even if a peripheral understanding is the outcome and not interest or mastery, it still is a badge of honor to be a continual learner.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

leadership dot #1888: noise

The county is doing road construction at the intersection right by my house. As a result, I hear two noises throughout the day: 1) an intermittent loud banging as the backhoe smashes up new pieces of ground and 2) the continual whirring of a generator.

While both are part of the same project, these two machines produce a very different audible impact. For some people, the occasional loud noise would be most disruptive as it intrudes on concentration. For others, (me!) the infernal background hum is headache-inducing and perpetually distracting. I tune out the big bangs, but can't get the motor motions out of my consciousness.

Think about the "noise" in your organization that is causing distractions for your employees. What components of your work cause a loud clank that affects some of your staff -- such as a sudden change in personnel, a bold new initiative that alters direction or a move? What elements are more like the background buzz -- like an annoying policy, toxic employee or poor office layout? Either way, ignoring the impact is as futile as trying to tune out the noise itself.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

leadership dot #1887: redemption

I am not a Cubs fan, so it is ironic to me that I am writing about the Cubs two days in a row, but an incident warrants it. Yesterday I learned that the Cubs organization gave an authentic World Series Championship ring to someone not directly in the organization: Steve Bartman!

In case you don't know anything about the Cubs, fan Steve Bartman grabbed a foul ball in the 2003 National League Championship -- a ball some thought could have been caught for an out. As a result, he has been the butt of jokes and cause of scorn for more than a decade, and blamed by many as being personally responsible for the Cubs' demise that year.

But yesterday, Cubs owner Tom Ricketts, and president of baseball operations,Theo Epstein, brought Bartman to Wrigley Field and presented him with a personalized championship ring just like the players'. Part of their statement said: "We hope this provides closure on an unfortunate chapter of the story...while no gesture can fully lift the public burden he has endured for more than a decade, we felt it was important Steve knows he has been and continues to be fully embraced by this organization..." Talk about high class!

Do you have a "Steve Bartman" in your organization -- someone who has been ostracized or whose legacy casts a shadow on the current operations? Is there a person who was blamed for doing what he or she thought was right at the time, but has paid a heavy price in the folklore when things did not turn out as originally planned? Maybe they didn't catch a foul ball, but purchased a building or equipment, created a logo or implemented a practice that has long been ridiculed.

Take a page out of the Cubs' playbook and extend an olive branch to welcome your "Steve" back into the game. It is much easier to move forward when the ghosts of the past aren't in play. And much classier too!

Click here to see the full story on WGN.

Thanks Mike!

Monday, July 31, 2017

leadership dot #1886: circumstances

Everyone knows that the Cubs won the World Series last year and led the division for all but one day of the season. But the road wasn't as easy as last year's team made it look. In Tom Verducci's wonderful book The Cubs Way, he pulls back the curtain to share a perspective that would have given Cubs fans even more anxiety than they already had going into the World Series:

"So this is how [Manager Joe] Maddon would begin the World Series for the Cubs, their first World Series game in 71 years: with a rightfielder making only his 19th start at that position all year, his $184 million left-handed-hitting rightfielder benched against a right-handed pitcher, not talking to a pitcher who has a mental block throwing to bases facing a team that led the American League in stolen bases, and a designated hitter who was seeing major league pitching for the first time in 201 days. What could possibly go wrong?" (p. 72)

It would have been easy for Maddon to make excuses or to become pessimistic after their first loss in the Series.  After all, look at the circumstances he was facing. But of course he did not give up and made the most of the talent he had and the culture he had created all season long.

The next time the environment seems stacked against you, re-read the above paragraph and take heart. It is not the external that creates a win or loss, but rather the internal. Victory comes from within.

The Cubs Way by Tom Verducci, 2017.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

leadership dot #1885: fresh

I recently had occasion to contact the consumer products office at the Clorox Company. Everyone knows that Clorox makes bleach, but I did not realize that their portfolio extended to PineSol, Tilex, Liquid Plumr, Glad, 409, SOS and Kingsford Charcoal.

If you take a look at that list, you would be hard pressed to find a more stodgy set of products. I think all of them were around in my childhood and are pretty much the same today: the bag of charcoal is the one I remember from campfires as a kid and I think that Clorox is the same formula grandma dumped into the manual washing machine.

So I was surprised to learn that the Clorox Company spends 2% of its annual sales (about $100 million/year) on research and development. It may look like the same product on the outside, but the cleaning effectiveness has actually been enhanced, the bacteria-fighting formulas updated and modifications made to ensure that the products remain market leaders.

Clorox has been #1 in providing professional cleaning and sanitizing products since 1913, but they don't rest on their laurels. Take a lesson from them and continually invest in improvement to keep yourself fresh.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

leadership dot #1884: forest

Many people think of creativity as creating something entirely new, but being creative can also mean seeing a new use for something or making a slight alteration that results in something different. 

Such was the case at Little Debbie -- the maker of pre-packaged bakery treats. You may be familiar with the classic Christmas Trees -- the delicious white treats in a tree-shape that are available every year only around the holidays and have become a family tradition in many homes.

Imagine the glee when someone got creative and realized that they could use their "tree" production line beyond the Christmas holidays. Little Debbie now produces Happy Camper treats -- green trees, but otherwise identical to their holiday counterpart. Genius!

What new market is right under your nose but you can't see the forest for the trees? Step back like someone at Little Debbie did and see if you can repurpose an existing system for a new use. It just might make you and your boss a Happy Camper!

Thanks bg!

Friday, July 28, 2017

leadership dot #1883: cloverleaf

Have you ever known -- or been -- someone who keeps mulling over an issue in their mind -- going back and forth about pros and cons, options, possibilities, worries, etc.? This is a continual quest for certainty that never arrives, but often comes at the expense of sleep, health or general peace of mind. I think everyone has been guilty of such endless mental debate about one thing or another.

One way to end the internal banter is to think about your mind as a cerebral cloverleaf. You would never drive around incessantly on an interstate cloverleaf -- after a round or two you would make a decision as to where to exit, even if you did not know exactly which road was the right one. Why persist in staying on the cloverleaf in your brain?

The next time you are tempted to go round and round about an issue, think about being in a car instead. Spend about as much time going in circles in your head as you would in a vehicle on a highway exchange -- in other words, make a decision and get off the cloverleaf!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

leadership dot #1882: example

"You are setting an example -- whether you want to or not" read the marquee outside a local church. The quote gave me pause for both is magnitude and simplicity, as well as for the accuracy of its message. People truly are watching.

Think about the example you are setting for others around you. Do your colleagues see you delivering the stellar service that you would hope to receive? Are your children observing you make sacrifices to support causes you admire? Have you committed the time to your friends that will sustain a relationship or does work always come first?

You may think that people aren't paying attention, but when you consider how much you observe about others you'll realize that someone is learning from you. It is through the small actions more than the big ones that our legacy is communicated. Live like someone is watching.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

leadership dot #1881: mix

One of the traits of Generation Z (those born between 1995-2012) is their desire to customize almost everything. The book Gen Z @ Work labels it as Hyper-Custom and it has become an expectation for those in the younger generation to want to have a choice in places where none was offered before.

I thought about Gen Z when I was at O'Hare Airport and saw the Garrett's popcorn stand.  Garrett's has been a Chicago staple since 1949. At first, they offered plain, caramel corn and cheese corn. Then they combined caramel and cheese and became famous for their mix. Later versions with nuts were added, but it still meant about six choices on the menu.

But six isn't enough for today's consumers. Wisely, Garrett's has taken the mix concept further and is trying to respond to demand. The company now features "Which Mix is Your Fix?" and encourages customized combinations in any format that you desire. Combine caramel and butter for the Buttery Goodness Mix or cheese and butter for the Gold Standard Mix. Or any flavors you wish shook together in the bag for a delicious snack.

It is no longer enough to offer just your famous mix that has been popular for half a century. Gen Z wants to create its own mix. Just like they want to create their drink from one of the thousands of combinations in the new Coke fountain machines or read only from a media feed of sources they chose.

Burger King has been saying "have it your way" for years. It's time that your organization began embracing their slogan as your own. Gen Z wants to mix it up -- in more ways than one.

Gen Z @ Work by David Stillman and Jonah Stillman, 2017.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

leadership dot #1880: pain

After a recent medical procedure, I received a booklet about pain management to assist me after I arrived at home. In this flyer there were several aids to help the patient describe the pain to their caregiver.

One section suggested a list of consequences because of the pain: unable to sleep, difficulty in climbing stairs, pain when moving shoulder, etc. Another section provided a list of adjectives to use to describe the pain: burning, cutting, pressing, radiating, shooting, throbbing, etc. The booklet also had a numerical rating scale as well as a set of faces that illustrated various stages of grimacing to help doctors know the degree of discomfort.

While my "number 4" may be different than your "number 4", the information helps set a scale as to the direction your pain is moving and how it compares to previous visits. The list of words also provide much greater specificity than a general "it hurts," significantly increasing the likelihood that the caregiver will be able to provide relief.

What is the equivalent to "pain" in your organization? Do you need to help your customers find language to articulate their satisfaction/dissatisfaction in a more in depth way than just a Likert scale on a survey? Is there a way to give your employees a range of descriptors to gauge their morale and likely retention? Can you provide your board with a comprehensive array of words/drawings to communicate their feelings about the upper management or the direction the organization is heading?

The more specific you can become in the description, the more targeted you can become with the solution. Prescribe a framework to cure the vagueness in your pain points.

Monday, July 24, 2017

leadership dot #1879: describe

A billboard advertising a realtor promoted their work by declaring that they would help the prospective homebuyer do three things: Investigate, Negotiate and Celebrate. I was impressed with how they boiled down the essence of realtor work into these three verbs...

...and, of course, it got me thinking about what words I would use to describe other professions, and my own work.

For me: Evaluate, Educate and Empower might describe how I help assess organizational or leadership issues, provide the tools and then empower others to become great supervisors and to create a healthy climate. My contractor friend meets with prospective clients and helps them to Dream, Decide and then Design before beginning work. Retail workers may Stock, Smile and Sell. Teachers may dispense Inspiration, Education and Application of their lessons. Managers spend their time Supervising, Improvising and Mobilizing. A human trafficking prevention organization promotes their work as Educate, Advocate and Eliminate.

As you try to succinctly describe what you do, it helps you to really think about the core elements of your job. Next you can spend your time enhancing these essential components instead of just listing them with alliteration and rhyme!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

leadership dot #1878: undercover

A colleague recounted a story of when she met a new person and he talked all around the question when she asked him what he did for a living. She heard about volunteer pursuits, community involvement and hobbies, but nothing about his job.

His wife finally intervened and said: "Tell her what you do." With all the secrecy and build up, you may expect an answer like "spy" or "FBI agent" or something undercover. No, the man is an oral surgeon! He has chosen not to share his profession because when he does, invariably everyone has a bad story to share about their oral surgery experience.

How sad that a man with an admirable profession and a substantial amount of training has gone silent about his accomplishments. I think about airline employees or police officers or others who also may become quiet rather than risk the wrath of disgruntled customers who have a story they want to tell.

The next time you want to relay a horror story about a procedure or a profession, remember that there is a person behind those tales. Tell the good stories in addition to the bad.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

leadership dot #1877: cast away

There is a buzz about how Artificial Intelligence is going to change the landscape, but I think the true game-changer is going to be 3D printing. The magic of 3D is becoming more accessible to the masses and transforming things on a daily basis.

The latest example of 3D in action replaces medical casts with plastic ones: custom fit, waterproof, lighter, more airy and even fun with personalized words and messages. No more signing of the cast: now yours comes with motivational sayings printed in. How much more fun is that than the traditional plaster versions?

In the 1967 movie Mrs. Robinson, Dustin Hoffman's character was told "there's a great future in plastics." And with 3D printing, it is even more true today. It's hard to wrap your mind around all the things 3D printing can do, but once you have that vision, implementing it is only a matter of time. 

Think about what you could cast away that is currently done in a clunky or generic manner and head to your local library Makerspace to see if you can't take your idea to a new dimension in 3D plastic.

Friday, July 21, 2017

leadership dot #1876: calculating

My nephew is going to college to study actuarial science -- the art of calculating risk -- and I wish I could deploy him to give me some odds on some personal decisions instead of just having him calculate insurance rates or credit worthiness.

Lately I have been weighing the merits of several decisions that involve a host of unknowns. Should I buy that $500 generator or take the chance that the power won't go out again and risk flooding my basement without a sump pump? Is it worth it to go through the discomfort of a colonoscopy on the chance that they will find something but risk the possibility that in the process they will tear my colon or do one of the other nasty possibilities the doctor listed in his pre-op exam? Will a business loan propel me into an exciting new venture or just rack up debt? Should I buy a $250 CUJO firewall or hope hackers don't bother me? There is no way to have a definitive answer for any of these questions, and yet I must choose one of the options. 

As you face risk questions in your own life or organization, consider not only the pros and cons of each choice, but also the implications from procrastinating or just letting fate decide. It's also helpful to have a self-awareness of your overall tolerance for risk -- if you know you are adverse, you can consciously push yourself a bit past the comfort zone, but if you tend to fly on the aggressive side, perhaps a bit of caution is warranted if you are feeling some doubt. I'm afraid that until someone starts a personal actuary service you're on your own to determine whether to roll the dice or not.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

leadership dot #1875: understanding

A carpenter friend of mine has a set of colleagues that call him to do work when the occasion warrants: putting up siding, doing a drywall project that requires heavy lifting, framing a house, etc. When a two (or more) person crew is needed, they give him a call. Curt also has "a guy" that he hires when needed, otherwise, he works solo. 

The on-demand labor pool described above is pretty small, so they all use each other repeatedly. This gives everyone enough knowledge and familiarity to become immediate contributors -- they know the work and each other, thus the learning curve is minimal before they can jump in and do something meaningful. Their history together makes them exponentially more valuable to each other than just any random rented laborer.

This system works well in construction, but think about how you can you adapt it to a knowledge setting as well. Office workers or entrepreneurs can hire out specific jobs, but envision crafting a way to get a pool that you can use regularly to think with you. Is there a way to create a recurring group of people that have enough of a context to make relevant contributions without spending too much time understanding your goals? Can you cultivate a pool you can call when you want to brainstorm or talk something through? How can you develop a small group of thought leaders that are available when needed to help you advance your work?

Networking events and freelancers are wonderful additions and are great for initial connections or specific tasks. But focus your energy on building those relationships that go deeper and can provide you with recurring value. Having someone who understands how you work is gold.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

leadership dot #1874: essential

When visiting the office of a colleague who works in public relations, I noticed an extra sport coat, dress shirt and tie on the back of his door. I know from my previous time in working with him that this is an ubiquitous feature in his office -- always at the ready to be filmed on television even if he happened to be dressing casual that day. 

For Mike, a press-conference-worthy professional outfit (from the waist up which is all that is shown from behind a podium) is an essential tool for the job. He can't take the chance that he will be in a polo if thrust into the media spotlight as a spokesperson for his organization, so the suit-on-the-door is standard.

Have you considered what tool may be essential in your position under certain circumstances and taken steps to provide duplicates that are always accessible? Maybe your necessity is a flashlight so you can immediately act if the power goes out. Maybe you require a list of codes or passwords for off-site access in an emergency. Perhaps you need a change of clothes out of your professional attire so you can become hands-on if disaster strikes. Or you may need to carry around extra batteries for your equipment or phone so that you are ready to capture that unexpected big moment. Maybe it involves having an extra blog entry "in the cloud" to access remotely if the power or computer fails.

No matter what your role, take a few moments to anticipate the "what if". What is the most likely scenario that disrupts your normal -- and then how can you take one step toward preparation for the unlikely? The answer may suit you well in unfortunate circumstances.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

leadership dot #1873: circuitous path

Yesterday I wrote about my insect bite and related it to the need for organizational Benadryl. As far as the bite goes, Benadryl performed so well and so instantaneously that it got me wondering about the drug itself. Where did this miracle come from?

While I expected that it was invented by a man named Ben, its originator is actually George Rieveschal. While he was conducting academic research on muscle relaxants (not allergy inhibitors), he realized that his formula blocked Histamines and thus lessened the impact of itching and inflammation. Rieveschal pursued his research at Parke-Davis drug manufacturing, and Benadryl became available with a prescription in 1946. For his invention, he received a 5% royalty during the initial 17-year patent period, but not any income after the product became over-the-counter and reached $180 million in sales.

You might expect that Rieveschal was a medical doctor or at least had medical training. Actually, his initial degree was from the Ohio Mechanics Institute of Technology and he sought his first job in commercial art. Fortunately for those with allergies or itches, it was the Great Depression and no art jobs were to be found, so he went back to school and pursued chemistry. He was a chemical engineering professor when he made his initial discovery. 

Those in higher education speak to students all the time about how a choosing a major should not be the major decision than it is made out to be. Rieveschal is a great example of a circuitous path that led to great things, and I am sure the diversity in his education aided in his research.

Regardless of what you studied or what your current career is, pursue your interests with a passion. The next miracle creation could be yours.

To learn more: George Rieveschal, 91, Allergy Reliever, Dies by Dennis Hevesi, The New York Times, September 29, 2007.

P.S. The name Benadryl comes from the technical name of the formula: beta-dimethylaminoethylbenzhydryl ether hydrochloride.

Monday, July 17, 2017

leadership dot #1872: inflamed

While outside reading, I was bitten by an insect. It was so small and fast that I did not even see it -- until a spot on my hand became red. When I woke up, the whole area was inflamed, and by mid-morning I was heading to the store for Benadryl. I could concentrate on nothing else -- all because of something I did not even notice initially.

Is one of your organization's employees like that insect -- stealthily spreading toxicity throughout your organization? Maybe they are not loudly protesting or causing a scene, but if they are buzzing from person to person leaving a negative reaction behind the effect is even more powerful. Others may not even realize what is causing their itch, but it is distracting them nonetheless.

As the leader, you are responsible for administering the equivalent of organizational Benadryl or deploying the swatter. Don't let size fool you. Something so small can have a disproportionately big impact if you don't stop it.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

leadership dot #1871: repurposed

Many newly married women save their wedding dress to become a keepsake for future daughters, but in reality the dress never leaves the box. An organization has found a much better use for the beautiful garments by turning wedding dresses into Angel Gowns for babies who don't survive their short life in the NICU. (Many other individual volunteers across the country also create memory gowns and are currently accepting donations.)

photo credit Justi Underwood Bates on Facebook

Angel dresses honor the magnitude of the moment and allow grieving parents to have a special garment for photos or funerals. Through the work of many, these babies are physically wrapped in love.

Kudos to those who saw a way to make this match by meeting a need for both parents and those who divorce or do not want to keep their dresses forever. Can you make a similar match? Think of something that you have at home or in your organization that just "sits around" and could be repurposed for a much greater value. If you look at your possessions with new eyes maybe you can see a way to give something new life in a different form.

To make a donation of a gown or funds to mail them to hospitals also see: Ansel Morris Trisha Hamor on Facebook or Jessica Heffiner at glorybabyministry@gmail.com

Thanks Meg for sharing!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

leadership dot #1870: informed

It's going to get a lot harder to use the old "check's in the mail" excuse. The United States Post Office is launching "Informed Delivery" which provides a scan of the envelopes of all the mail I am receiving later that day. I can go to my USPS account on line and check to see what will be in the box when the carrier arrives. 

Do I really need to know this? I assume that the post office is trying to accommodate the mobile lifestyles of people who can't conveniently check their mail or who want to see if it is "worth it" to head to the box. But knowing a letter or bill or check is there does little to facilitate its processing, and heaven knows I don't want anyone opening my mail and scanning that too. All it seems to do for me is remove the element of surprise and delight when a true handwritten letter greets me after I turn the key.

Where is that line between helpful information and overload? Think about what you provide to your customers and watch that you don't cross it like the post office did.

Friday, July 14, 2017

leadership dot #1869: equity

Analogies and pictures can go a long way in making a complex topic understandable. I recently came across a picture that illustrates the difference between equality versus equity in a simple three-frame drawing:

Take a moment to reflect and ask yourself how you can apply this concept. What image represents how you are you personally acting as a supervisor or a parent? Which frame best describes efforts in your organization? Is your compensation and promotion program equal or equitable? Do you focus your time on addressing the first, second or third frame?

Reality is definitely not as simple as this illustration, but picturing the goal may help your actions and your organization move closer toward attaining it.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

leadership dot #1868: generator

I wrote yesterday about Farmer Herman needing help in moving his barn. I was about to solicit 344 people to help me move my house as our area was deluged with over 5 inches of rain and 75 mph winds -- all in the dark as the power was out for 14 hours.

In the morning, I was one of the many at Lowes looking at generators and back up plans for a non-functioning sump pump. I asked my contractor friend why he did not already have one. His answer: “They just sit around.” The Lowes manager replied: “Yes, they sit around, until they don’t.” Like now.

What is the equivalent (or maybe even literally) the generator for your organization? Think of the report, client access information, equipment or data that is essential for your operation and how you might have a back up plan if your usual way of obtaining it is not available.

Maybe you could you print out a copy of your staff contacts instead of relying on your phone to obtain them, or send your customer database to the cloud. Another idea is to print out key data on occasion or have a copy of your key data points at home. Perhaps you could purchase a flashlight for each desk in your office or pick up an extra supply of batteries and a radio.

The question is not “if” you will need a detour, it is a matter of “when.” The time to plan for a generator is before the storm, not during it.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

leadership dot #1867: move the barn

If I told you that one solution to prevent flooding in a barn would be to have a group of people move it to a new location up the hill, you may think that I was crazy. But such a feat actually happened. 

In 1988, Herman and Donna Ostry's barn was moved 115 feet to the south, up 6 feet of elevation, turned 90 degrees and set back down! It required 344 people and 20 minutes to accomplish the task.

The story has been captured in a new children's book that is relevant to any organization trying to get a group of people together to solve a "big, big, big problem."  Farmer Herman and the Flooding Barn shares several silly scenarios -- including moving the barn up the hill -- but ultimately the impossible proves to be possible with enough help.

If your organization is facing a daunting task, Farmer Herman may prove to be a valuable story to share with your group. It is short, funny and best of all, true. If their community can move a barn up the hill, what is possible with your people working together? Don't laugh at the answer.

Farmer Herman and the Flooding Barn by Jason Weber, benefiting the National Foster Care Initiative

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

leadership dot #1866: cheese

The obituary for author Spencer Johnson was in the paper yesterday, outlining his death on July 3 and the success he had during his multiple careers. Johnson was best known for his Who Moved My Cheese book, an "A-mazing way to deal with change in your work and in your life." He also collaborated with Ken Blanchard on the classic One Minute Manager, but before that was a children's book author and a medical doctor!

Who Moved My Cheese is a fable -- a 94 page book, stretched with generous type and enhanced by a few illustrations. Who Moved My Cheese tells the tale of Sniff and Scurry the mice and Hem and Haw the people who must confront new circumstances when their source of cheese is moved. It was used widely in organizational change efforts across the world.

The book is not much more than a simple story -- one Johnson told at parties and in speeches before the book's publication -- but which sold 28 million copies and spawned an entire line of merchandise from it. Think of the stories that you are telling to your staff or to your family. Is there an underlying message that could be shared more widely -- through publication, a blog, a video or a podcast? Learning is enhanced through storytelling. Don't let Spencer Johnson be the only one who shares his tale and imparts valuable lessons through simple metaphors.

Source:  "Spencer Johnson dies at 78, found sweet smell of success in Who Moved My Cheese", by Matt Schudel, The Washington Post, July 8, 2017.

Monday, July 10, 2017

leadership dot #1865: settle in

Yesterday as I was folding my laundry, I thought about that elusive sweet spot when things are worn in, but not worn out: when sheets are no longer stiff, but are not tattered; the shoes fit comfortably, but aren't scuffed, or the pillow has that right consistency of not being too fluffy nor too flat. 

I wish I could buy things at this stage of their life cycle, but then, of course, their lifespan would be too short. Part of the natural course is to tolerate some imperfection in exchange for longevity. I have my hair cut a bit on the short side so it isn't shaggy before my next appointment. I know if I leave with a length that I like, I will regret it on the back end so my stylist and I make accommodations.

As a user, you need to align your expectations so that you don't abandon an initiative or a product too early in the process. You should expect some rough spots in the beginning -- whether that be of your new purchase or your foray into a new venture. It takes time to create comfort. Have patience and allow the sheets to soften or the change to settle before you make a switch at the start.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

leadership dot #1864: zentangle

Like many others, I acquired lots of supplies as part of the adult coloring craze, but never found time to use many of them. I have the books and the pencils -- and a multitude of unfinished coloring projects. They just became too big to complete in one sitting and thus were abandoned.

A new craze aims to take some of the therapeutic and relaxing elements of adult coloring and alter them to become something in a more manageable scope. Zentangle offers a platform to create an abstract drawing on a 3 inch x 3 inch "tile" (aka piece of paper). Through the use of repetitive patterns, Zentangle artists can create interesting and unique creations anywhere.

The Zentangle theory summarizes the drawing experience and outlines the parallels it has to life: no erasers are used -- "mistakes" just become new opportunities; you do not begin with a pre-defined outcome; and the marks you make are best when they are deliberate.

Zentangle has been used for motivational training, creativity enhancement, problem solving and to aid in focus. Consider adding some intentionality to your random doodling and see if you (or your team) can create a Zentangle gallery of your own. The zen aspects of the rhythmic drawing may be just the thing to untangle your stress.

Thanks Joan!

Images: Pictured image from here; thousands of others on Pinterest

Saturday, July 8, 2017

leadership dot #1863: FAQs

In December, I purchased tickets for a concert that was held last night. I am a board member of the sponsoring organization so have talked about the date frequently, but I could understand how someone could forget about a their tickets from seven months ago.

But that wasn't going to happen with this show. All of the ticket holders received a detailed email a few days ago -- not only reminding people about the show, but anticipating and answering most questions people would have about it: where do I park? how long is it? do you sell snacks at intermission? where is my seat?  It was beautifully done and an impressive customer service surprise.

Think of ways you can put yourself in the place of your client and become proactive about meeting their needs. What information do they need -- and when do they need it? (This same email in December would have been long forgotten.) How can you anticipate questions and answer them in advance? What answers can you provide that your clients don't even know to ask (providing physical address not just mailing address).

You can simultaneously wow your clients and save yourself from repeatedly answering the basic questions if you think through your communication plan from the perspective of the user. FAQs that are pushed out in a well-timed manner become Fantastically Answered Questions for all involved.

Friday, July 7, 2017

leadership dot #1862: consequences

A new state law allowed for the purchase of fireworks, while leaving it up to each city to determine whether or not to permit the use of the devices. Consequently, we had fireworks for sale at most every big box retailer and countless tents in other parking lots -- selling rockets that could not legally be shot.

As you have already guessed, no one who bought the fireworks paid attention to the prohibition portion of the law. The police investigated 160 complaints -- but did not issue citations for any of them. What kind of message does that send for amateur pyrotechnicians next year?

I would guess that there are rules in your family or your organization that are on the books, but not adhered to. Children are told that you are going to "count to three -- or else," yet parents fail to follow through on the threat. Teachers proclaim "late assignments will not be accepted," but grade them anyway. Organizations say "no personal use of computers" but do nothing when employees check their social media feeds. Driving 5 mph over the speed limit is seen as within an acceptable range and not ticketed. 

Think about where you stand on proclaiming a stand that you do not follow. How do others know which boundaries to honor and which are flexible? What gives your word integrity if you do not always mean what you say? Having no consequences seems more detrimental in the long run than having no rules.