Friday, June 30, 2017

leadership dot #1855: contamination

I believe that many people are environmentally conscious and would do more to recycle if they understood exactly what to do. The lack of consistency in what is recyclable and what isn't causes much confusion and leads to people not recycling what could be repurposed as well as recycling what should not be thrown in the bin. 

It is easy when the product is labeled with a symbol -- although even then each community accepts different things and what they do and do not accept frequently changes. But so many products are not labeled at all. When I lived in St. Louis, the city's mantra was "if you can rip it, we can recycle it," but here, wrapping paper and frozen food boxes and foil-lined envelopes are no-nos.

At a recent conference, they got explicit with their signage to help people out and gave actual examples of where lunch items were to go. Then the next week I was at a school and even their "compostable" lunch containers were directed to go straight into the trash.

What lessons can you adopt from this for your organization? Having some uniform consistency is always helpful, but if not, being clear about the distinctions matters. Having a recycle bin is not enough if people inadvertently contaminate it or bypass it. Specificity counts in matters where there is confusion. And the effort to be clear and to keep things out of the landfill is worth it in the end!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

leadership dot #1854: optimism

I recently read an article by Anthony Tjan entitled "What the Best Mentors Do."  It contained many of the tried and true suggestions about the role of mentors and how to form a nurturing relationship, but he captured one element in a way that I had not considered before.

Tjan wrote that the best mentors "shout loudly with [their] optimism and keep quiet with [their] cynicism. He elaborated that the role of the mentor is to fuel the dreams and not to immediately jump in and ground them with realism. Tjan encouraged mentors to encourage exploration of "unconventional success" and to consider ways that the mentee's dream could succeed rather than fail.

To achieve this end, he recommends practicing the 24 x 3 rule for optimism: "Each time you hear a new idea, spend 24 seconds, 24 minutes or 24 hours thinking about all the reasons the idea is good before you criticize any aspect of it." His rule could apply much more broadly than to just mentoring; see if your world view doesn't change by putting it into practice on the next idea you hear, regardless of the source.

Most would agree that the world needs more leaders, and one of the best ways to develop them is through one-on-one relationships. If you find yourself fortunate enough to be in a mentorship role, be generous with your optimism as well as your time and help your mentee achieve big in more ways than one.

Source: What the Best Mentors Do by Anthony Tjan, Harvard Business Review, February 27, 2017

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

leadership dot #1853: end game

I wrote yesterday about my routine dental cleaning that ended up being a minor surgery at the periodontist. In my pre-op appointment, they explained what would happen (to the extent I would let them!) and sent me on my way. On the actual day of the procedure, I received a sheet with all the post-op instructions.

They had previously told me that this small procedure would take about an hour and have minimal pain. What they did not tell me was that it would alter my eating habits for the next six weeks! Three days of liquids only, followed by four more days of "mushy" food (yogurt, applesauce, creamed soup, oatmeal), followed by ten more days of "soft" food (pasta, steamed veggies, fish). This is all followed by "conscientious chewing" for the next four weeks -- only softer foods chewed on the opposite side -- and staying away from restricted foods like gum, nuts, hard candy, berries with small seeds, and even straws.

It all makes sense -- and, in fact, is not terribly arduous to follow -- but it was a total surprise. I did not have a three-day supply of liquid food (broth, protein shakes, liquid yogurt) in my house -- or even enough mushy food to make it my full diet for four days. I had lunch plans! I was going to Chicago -- the land of good food -- and could not partake! It is summer and there will be fresh sweet corn soon!

Many organizations operate like my periodontist: they share the initial information, but leave out the subsequent implications. Elementary schools don't prepare parents for the on-going costs of field trips and after school activities. New homeowners are counseled on the cost of the mortgage, but not the time and money that is required to keep the home livable. Colleges talk about tuition, but not the cost of fees, supplies or travel home. New parents take classes to prepare for the birth of a child, but are often left on their own to raise it. Ditto for new pet owners, new car buyers and those in a host of other unfamiliar situations.

So lesson #3 from the periodontist visit: Prepare your clients for the end game. It makes it much easier to swallow when expectations are aligned with reality from the start.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

leadership dot #1852: fence post

When I went for my annual dental cleaning a few weeks ago, I was surprised when the dentist referred me to a periodontist for an appointment. I had no pain or symptoms -- but apparently I had a problem.

He described it like this: "If you hit a fence post over and over, it will begin to wiggle, and if it wiggles enough, it will create a pocket around the base of it. Your molar is the fence post and every time you open and close your mouth, you hit that tooth first. So you have a pocket -- that we need to excavate, clean, fill and laser shut." Oh joy!

Three lessons from this experience:
1. Being proactive is a good thing. I went to the original dental cleaning because it was time to do so, not because I foresaw a problem. But because I did, I was able to rectify an issue with a minor procedure and save the tooth from having more serious complications. What systems in your organization need to be on a routine maintenance check? How can you take steps that allow you to catch issues in their infancy rather than when they cause pain?

2. If something is repeatedly the main point of contact, it is prone to need adjustments more frequently. What is the equivalent of your highest molar -- the point in your organization that absorbs the most stress and use? How can you more equitably distribute the pressure points so that one area does not handle all the hits? 

3. Stay tuned for lesson 3 tomorrow!

Monday, June 26, 2017

leadership dot #1851: closure

For a month, I have had a duck nesting in my front garden. I have no idea why she chose my house to lay her eggs, but I was so glad that she did. It has been great fun watching her every day and anticipating the arrival of the ducklings. 

Saturday was the big day. The nine eggs began hatching and we watched through the window as little ducklings appeared and momma expanded to envelop them under her wings to keep them warm. Sunday morning it was the first thing I checked, and they were all there just as they had been the night before. But when I finished reading the paper, they were all gone!

I monitored that duck multiple times daily for a month and then she -- and her brood -- essentially disappeared within a half hour. I am left without any closure or even the pleasure of seeing the ducklings waddle off into the distance. They are just gone.
If I feel this unresolved feeling over a wild duck, I think of all the situations that we create as humans that deny people a sense of closure in far more meaningful contexts. We fire employees and just escort them out of the building without a chance for anyone to say goodbye. We take children from their homes into the foster care system. Friends break up and deprive us from the friend-of-friend relationships. Someone moves away without a chance for a farewell. 

There are many settings where closure is not possible -- a death, an egregious act that warrants immediate removal from the premises, threat or danger -- but there are far more that could be handled with a bit more compassion. Before you deny someone the opportunity to process emotions or at least to say goodbye, ask yourself if it is truly necessary to multiply the grief in this way. Closure is a gift; try to give it generously.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

leadership dot #1850: fidget

If you have been to a store lately, you likely know that fidget spinners are the new craze. For about $7 -- give or take -- you can purchase a cheap piece of plastic that holds a few ball bearings to spin the plastic around. They are one of those toys that is supposed to keep your mind from wandering and give your hands something to do.

I came across my own fidget spinner the other morning while I was eating breakfast:

This little guy spins around and around and the design on the sides makes an interesting pattern. It kept my attention through the whole meal...

...and then I tossed it in the recycle bin as it is the top of the orange juice container.

It reminded me of the empty box that was always the kids' favorite plaything on the holidays. All fun doesn't need to be manufactured. Take a moment away from the commercialism today and make your own fidget for free.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

leadership dot #1849: a word

We are all familiar with expiration dates printed on food products, and normally don't pay much attention to them. But I recently had a new drink whose date stamp caught my eye. 

Instead of the usual "expires on XX" or "use by XX" or even "best by XX", this one read: "Enjoy by XX."

Think of the subtle difference that one word makes. Instead of a negative message about expiring, it plants in your mind that this will be a pleasurable experience. It sets you up with anticipation instead of trepidation.

The next time you have to print a rote message, see if you can do it with a flourish like Naked Juice.

Friday, June 23, 2017

leadership dot #1848: vast

As I was driving across Kansas, I was struck by how incredibly vast our country is. With flat land and wide open spaces, you really can see for miles. It gave me a truer sense than what someone can gain from a plane as to how immense the plains are, and it shed a new appreciation for the scope and scale of the land we call home.

I wonder what can be done to bring that mega-perspective to organizations. People work in silos in part because they see only a small slice of the whole. How can you "put them in Kansas" in a metaphorical way to impress on them the size of the unit or the whole entity to which they belong? Think of the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial Wall that shows the magnitude of the number who died. Or the Women's March on Washington to illustrate solidarity. 

Move beyond the two-dimensional to create the emotional tie that comes from being connected to something much bigger than yourself.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

leadership dot #1847: accommodation

It is human nature to want to give positive feedback and to avoid the negative, and the same principle has carried over to cause grade inflation in many classrooms. Nobody wants to give a D or an F or to risk the push-back that comes when having to justify a less than stellar ranking.

The editors of the famous Chicken Soup for the Soul series had guest readers who rated each of the submissions before they were included in a book. To accommodate for some of the poor ranking hesitation, they changed the scale. Readers could rate the story as a 7, 8, 9 or 10. Somehow giving an entry a "7" felt much better than giving it a "1" even though it accomplished the same end. And by eliminating a middle score, it forced reviewers to pick a side and make some sort of explicit judgment as to the merit of the piece. 

Think about your rating scale and what barriers inherently come along with it. Can you modify your language to make the distinctions more palatable? Is there a way to shrink the options -- or to expand them -- to gain the measurements you are seeking? How can you create a ranking that makes the reviewers comfortable enough to place priority on some but not on others? There is no magic number.

Reported by Laura Brown in How to Write Anything

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

leadership dot #1846: piggy bank

A class I was set to teach this summer was just cancelled due to low enrollment. Had the class occurred, like with the one I am teaching now, my compensation would have been absorbed in the big pot of household funds and I would have barely noticed its impact. But because I am not receiving payment for the second contract, I have found myself acutely noticing the loss of those dollars.

I'm not thinking "I could have used the money to pay insurance," rather: "I could have bought a new computer with that money," or "I could have paid for vacation," or "That money would have paid to remodel part of my basement." When I think of the foregone paycheck as a discrete item rather than part of the whole, it takes on a whole new significance. It has become more like a bonus than part of my regular earnings. The next class I teach is going into a separate pot instead of the checkbook.

Think of how you can play mind games with your own budgeting or that of your organization. Is there a source of income that can be earmarked for something special rather than being lost in the general fund? Can you do something as a side gig to earn some extra cash that can be dedicated to a project? Is there a way to carve out a separate fund from your raise or interest that can serve as working capital for a new idea you have?

There is something powerful about a financial set-aside. Work to create a virtual piggy bank that allows you to do something outside of the norm with a small piece of your income.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

leadership dot #1845: goodwill

In the business communication class I am teaching, last week we covered "goodwill messages" including notes for recognition, thanks or sympathy. The authors wrote: "finding the right words to express feelings is often more difficult than writing ordinary business documents. That is why writers tend to procrastinate when it comes to goodwill messages."* The students in my class agreed. Hardly any of them shared their sentiments in writing, preferring to do so verbally, if at all.

But handwritten goodwill messages always mean so much more. In Jim Collins' speech that I wrote about yesterday, he references a note his wife received from her high school cross country coach -- and how she kept that note for four decades. Something so simple and handwritten had that much meaning that she preserved it for most of her adult life.

Even I hesitated before recently sending a note with a newspaper article to a former student. I wondered whether he would care to hear from me, but instead I received an instantaneous email saying: "It was absolutely wonderful to hear from you again! I appreciate your postcard so much; it made my entire week!" Why did I have any doubt?

The few moments it takes to put pen to paper to share your message has benefits that will far outlast the time it takes to share your goodwill. The next time you're thinking about someone, let the words flow across the notecard rather than just crossing your mind.

*Business Communication Process and Product 8th edition by Mary Ellen Guffey and Dana Loewy

Monday, June 19, 2017

leadership dot #1844: influential

Anyone who knows me well knows that Good to Great by Jim Collins is the most influential book I have read. It changed the course of an entire university, stimulated relationships with some of the people who became my best colleagues and friends, and has been part of my vocabulary and thinking since I first picked it up in June, 2002.

So you can understand why I was delighted to come across a speech Jim Collins gave to the Global Leadership Summit. (His comments were made in 2015, but I just heard them). Collins focuses on his comments around seven questions that frame his learnings from his recent time teaching leadership at West Point.

I encourage you to read Good to Great, and, if you have already done so, to listen to the seven questions that Jim poses to young leaders (young being a relative term!).
  1. What cause do you serve with Level 5?
  2. Will you settle for bring a good leader, or will you grow to be a great leader?
  3. How can you reframe failure as growth in pursuit of a BHAG?
  4. How can you succeed by helping others succeed?
  5. Have you found your personal Hedgehog?
  6. Will you build your unit -- your minibus -- into a Pocket of Greatness?
  7. How will you change the lives of others?
As Collins writes in his book: "greatness is a conscious choice."  Choose great over good today.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

leadership dot #1843: humor

It is easy to put up a sign and convey your message, but to do so in a memorable way requires a bit more care and attention. One bar owner in the Wichita airport did just that as he attempted to attract passengers to stop in for a drink before their flight: Here = Nice Drinks.  Up ahead -- Dunno. Maybe Bears?!  Wouldn't Risk It!

It's handwritten on a chalk board, but that only serves to help it stand out in the sea of commercialism that airports have become.

Your humor doesn't have to be pervasive or lofty, but a dash of it can bring in a smile or two, even if it doesn't bring in a customer. Think of how you can add some whimsy to your next communication.  Dunno, it might save you from the bears.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

leadership dot #1842: sandbagged

Just about a year ago, our city opened a new $37 million airport terminal. It is a beautiful facility, full of light and post-9/11 amenities that serve passengers well. 

But for all the care that was given to the building and the inside of the structure, someone dropped the ball on the outside. Even though the terminal has been open since June 9, 2016, there still are no permanent signs outside. The directional signs are the same ones mounted on sawhorses and held with sandbags that were there on opening day -- when I thought the finishing touches had yet to be completed. Little did I know that they would still be that way a year later! What should have been a package deal apparently was instead done piecemeal and no one paid attention to the details beyond the terminal itself.

Don't let your next big project fall prey to working in silos. You'll soar higher if someone looks at the project as a whole and ensures that budgets and tasks are appropriately assigned for all aspects -- both inside and out.


Friday, June 16, 2017

leadership dot #1841: second place

I think that coming in second should be more of a badge of honor than it is. 

If you are in second place, it means that you were right there in the hunt all the way to the bitter end, but without the glory that comes with winning. You trained, practiced, committed the time and likely did all the things the first place winner did, but without the accolades that come from victory. As Teddy Roosevelt said, you were "in the arena." 

All of the tournaments and competitions are structured so that the second best team in the field that year inherently ends their season with a loss. The Cleveland Indians went further than all but one team in baseball, but were seen as losers rather than ahead of 28 other franchises. Gonzaga made it to the Final Two in basketball -- ahead of 66 other teams in the tournament (not even counting all those that did not make the Big Dance), but North Carolina took home the trophy and the Bulldogs focused on becoming 37-2. The Atlanta Falcons made it to overtime of the Super Bowl, but they, too, walked off the field with a loss instead of being celebrated for being ahead of 30 other teams.

This phenomenon happens outside of sports as well. The number one salesperson is just slightly ahead of the person who sold the next highest level. The valedictorian has a grade point average that is infinitesimally ahead of the saluatorian. The pie that wins the Red Ribbon is just as tasty as the one that takes home the Blue.

Yes, it is nice to wear the Gold and to savor the sweet taste of victory. But let's also applaud those who exert that extra ounce of effort that gets them into the finals in the first place. Sometimes it's not on whether the season ended with a win or a loss, rather at what point and in which arena the team finally had to bow out.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

leadership dot #1840: beyond features

Yesterday, I wrote about the importance of providing language to help those doing the work understand the broader implications of their tasks and the competencies they are personally gaining from performing the tasks. But it is not enough to articulate the features of the work, rather you should aim to make the benefits and outcomes clear.

Per higher education marketing consultant Bob Sevier, a feature is a list of what you have: eg: the college library has 30,000 books. This is often what is promoted. But benefits describe why the feature is important from the perspective of the customer: students care about the number of books because they will have good research resources. An outcome is what happens as a result: students get into grad school because of their strong research background. Colleges promote the library, smart students want to know about their ability to research and parents are actually paying for the outcome.

It is easier, and thus more tempting, to stop after describing features: The student was a volunteer on the programming board, the employee performed data entry, etc. A more robust understanding comes when the benefits are outlined: the volunteer learned time management skills, the employee learned file structure in a data base, etc. Only when the outcomes are clear does the true value come to light: the time management skills learned by volunteering aid in the job performance after graduation or learning the file structure in data entry allows the employee to organize and develop other data collection methods elsewhere in the organization.

It's worth your time to peel back the layers until you get to outcomes to achieve true clarity in your messages and meaning.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

leadership dot #1839: articulate

On a webinar today about the future of higher education, the presenter* commented that it wasn't enough to give college students career competencies, rather we had to also give the students a "level of language" that allowed them to communicate their value to employers. Students learn many employable skills through their involvement on campus, but if they are unable to articulate that connection it does not have the same worth. 

Having negotiation experience from booking entertainers won't give students a heads up in their job if they can't speak about it, nor do their teamwork skills from intramurals add gravitas without an explicit linkage from the field to the conference room.

I think the same principle applies to employees and employers. Many times we give our staff projects without explaining the connection to the greater goal or helping them to understand the value gained by their work. We don't equip staff members with language to communicate the meaning of the organization or their role within it. Their job as training coordinator isn't translated into serving as a vehicle for employee retention or to allowing the company to serve clients in need of assistance. The admissions counselors don't see themselves with relationship-building skills that translate into fund raising.

Think about your role in providing language and formalizing the value of the experiences you provide. As Millennials and Gen Z become more prevalent in the workplace, your ability to illustrate the benefit of their work to them will go far in creating a culture of growth and satisfaction.

*Dr. Justin Lawhead, Dean of Students at the University of Memphis

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

leadership dot #1838: hitch a ride

You may think that professional football players have special privileges that allow them to travel without incident, but that is not always true. Green Bay Packer Davon House found himself stranded in Minneapolis with no rental cars available to get him to Green Bay in time for practice. 

Since my recommended app for stranded travelers has not yet been developed, he Tweeted that he was in the MSP airport and asked if he could hitch a ride with anyone heading his way. 

Two brothers saw the Tweet, and, being big Packer fans, decided that it was worth a day of driving to spend a few hours with a player. They drove House to Green Bay -- and landed a tour of the locker room and a bunch of swag as a reward for their efforts -- not to mention a lifetime of memories. When else do you get to spend four uninterrupted, private hours with someone in the NFL?

I am sure that the brothers did not start out their day planning to drive 500+ miles or to have their photo taken with a professional cornerback, but they were open to the opportunity and it worked out well for them. How can you infuse some spontaneity into your life today? Be open to the unexpected when it knocks (or Tweets!).

Monday, June 12, 2017

leadership dot #1837: ROI

At a recent conference, one of the organizers was masterful at addressing the attendees by name. She was able to greet people with their name, and seemed to always remember those she just met. It was impressive.

When someone commented on her skill, she replied: "Remembering someone's name has exponential ROI (return on investment). It's worth the effort to take the time to do it."

She is so right. Greeting people by their name adds an extra level of care to any service interaction. How can you take the time to embed key names into your memory and to use them as often as you are able?

Sunday, June 11, 2017

leadership dot #1836: caveat emptor

The local grocery store just promoted a fantastic deal on Coke products: 6 six-packs of bottles for $10. Such a bargain!

…until I went to purchase it and noticed that the expiration date was nine days away.

I love a good Diet Coke, but there was no way I could drink 36 bottles in 9 days. No way anyone could, unless they were having a party!

Most people don’t know there are expiration dates on pop, but they are there for a very valid reason. The soda starts to go flat and “old” pop really does taste differently than “new” ones.

So instead of being excited by the bargain, I left dismayed feeling conned into making the trip to the store. When you make an offer, take steps to ensure it isn’t a raw deal for your clients.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

leadership dot #1835: squished

I am all for environmental sustainability, but when it comes to plastic water bottles, I think some of them have taken it too far. Bottles continue to be made with ever-lighter weight plastic – which sounds like a good thing – until it isn’t.

Light weight bottles are still stacked on heavy pallets -- and can't handle the weight. The tops of the bottles cave in, making them almost unusable. At some point, there are diminishing returns and I think some companies have reached that point.

Think about the products and services that you offer and be clear about your ultimate goal. Efficiency at the cost of effectiveness is all wet.

Friday, June 9, 2017

leadership dot #1834: Goldilocks

One of the skills of a good communicator is to know how many layers of a story to tell. It takes some savvy and judgment to assess what the listener really wants to know and to tailor your response to this.

For example, if someone at an airport asks you where you are going, you have many choices from which to respond:
> To Tennessee
> To Knoxville
> To the Hampton Inn in Knoxville
> To Knoxville to go to…. and then share your reason for travel

If it is a casual chat, I may not care for a level of detail and description of the many layers of your journey. But if I am your supervisor talking about a project, the equivalent “to Tennessee” answer will be insufficient. In that conversation, I may want to know not only the “Hampton Inn” equivalent, but maybe even what room and what time you will arrive.

It is worth the time as a supervisor to have explicit conversations with your staff about the level of information that is routinely comfortable for you to have and the method by which you prefer to have it. You can’t fault your staff for telling you too much or too little if you haven’t shared with them what is just right.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

leadership dot #1833: positive surprises

I have a friend who is at Disney World with his family right now. I wish I could have seen the look on his children’s faces when their destination was revealed. The kids were accurately told that they were headed to Chicago – leaving out the part that they were going there to fly from O’Hare to Orlando!

The element of positive surprise often expands the impact of the joy.

> A colleague who brings in coffee one random morning gets more goodwill than if they did a Starbucks run every day.

> A partner who comes home with a bouquet of flowers from the grocery store scores more points than the same blooms on birthdays-only.

> A supervisor who lets the staff depart an hour early on a glorious summer day enhances morale more than on the official HR holidays.

> A friend that drops by with a pan of lasagna when the baby is two months old is appreciated more than all the food shared right at the start.

Think about ways you can infuse something unexpected into someone’s life today. It need not be lofty, merely heartfelt, to add a positive boost to their outlook.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

leadership dot #1832: mingle

I started off my first business communication class by hosting a fake cocktail party – and requiring all the participants to mingle and meet each other. While the idea of business communication often conjures up images of memos, cover letters and proposals, I also think that the ability to network is one of the key skills that need to be part of the student’s repertoire.  

So, off to mix and mingle they went. Awkwardly. Reluctantly. Hesitantly. And then we talked about some opening lines to lessen their discomfort. If you can get a conversation started, often the other person will take it from there. Thus, your key is to work on your opening line.
Some examples:
  • What is your connection to this event?
  • What interesting tidbit can you share about yourself to help me remember you?
  • What kind of work occupies your time?
  • What’s the last new thing you did?
  • What do you like to do for fun?
  • What’s the best thing about your work?
  • Where do you call home?
  • Tell me something good!
Focusing on starter questions will help you ease into the conversation and minimize the awkwardness of being in a networking setting. Practicing them helps too: in the grocery store line, on a plane, at the playground or while waiting for an appointment. If you can get comfortable with the first line, it will make it easier to chat when the stakes are higher.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

leadership dot #1831: laugh

One of the sure signs of a healthy organizational culture is that people laugh together. When I think about the times I have worked with a great team, having fun was always part of the equation.

Decades later, I still smile when I think about the fake purchase orders that we would slip into our boss’s pile to sign upon his return from vacation. We requisitioned a car one year and an office yacht the next. While, of course, we never ordered such extravagances, we did post the signed copy on the office bulletin board for months, just “waiting for delivery.”

When he caught on to our pranks, the following year we made flyers to invite everyone to “Brucefest” at his home. While they were not distributed, we pretended that they were, and prompted people to ask him for directions or to tell them what food to bring. In the end, he relented and actually hosted a great picnic, even though he knew it was all a set up.

At another institution, we commandeered the university president to join in our folly as he wrote, and then read at a farewell party, a letter from a “lawyer” claiming irreparable harm to a client who had been in a tiny fender bender in a university van driven by the exiting employee. This same president also ribbed a new employee on her first day, joining in with others to proclaim she was violating a sacrosanct (but fake) “no denim” rule by wearing a denim vest. I still smile when I think of Jen and her denim all these many years later.

I could recount many more antics of which I was a participant or a target – all in good fun. It is the camaraderie in pulling off the laugh that adds to the teamwork, and the shared story that bonds individuals and shapes the culture.

Think about how you can add some harmless fun to your workplace. Being just a little bit of a rascal is good for everyone’s morale.

Monday, June 5, 2017

leadership dot #1830: servant leader

At a recent conference, one of the participants summed up the multitude of emotions that had arisen during the convening and provided a charge for going forward. To do so, he shared Brewer's poem on the paradoxes of being a servant-leader:

Strong enough to be weak
Successful enough to fail
Busy enough to make time
Wise enough to say 'I don't know'
Serious enough to laugh
Rich enough to be poor
Right enough to say 'I'm wrong"
Compassionate enough to discipline
Mature enough to be childlike
Important enough to be last
Planned enough to be spontaneous
Controlled enough to be flexible
Free enough to endure captivity
Knowledgeable enough to ask questions
Loving enough to be angry
Great enough to be anonymous
Responsible enough to play
Assured enough to be rejected
Victorious enough to lose
Industrious enough to relax
Leading enough to serve

Think about the dichotomies that are outlined in the above poem. Where is your tension? Are you "too much" toward one end of a spectrum and not enough in the middle or on both ends so you can fully embrace the paradox? The goal is to serve and to lead. Take Brewer's poem to heart and see if it can help you do both.

-- as cited by Hansel, in Holy Sweat, Dallas Texas, 1987, p. 29

Sunday, June 4, 2017

leadership dot #1829: can't beat it with a stick

While I was in Minneapolis, I was treated to local delicacy Johnny Pops. These frozen desserts on a stick are part sherbet, part ice cream and 100% delicious. I could have eaten a whole box of them.

Johnny Pops are packaged on the traditional popsicle stick – only with a twist. Instead of the plain version, these treats come imprinted with the Johnny Pop logo and a few words of wisdom. Sticks included: “Laughter is contagious; share it!”, “Take a picture with a friend!” and “Say thank you to a role model.” All of them contained simple, positive messages instead of a blank stick.

Johnny Pops did not need to have fun sayings to make it a great product, but the extra touch did not go unnoticed. What real estate in your service portfolio is currently being underutilized? Is there an appropriate place where you can infuse your personality and surprise your customers? Don’t be a stick in the mud when it comes to creative branding.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

leadership dot #1828: gurgle

A colleague commented that: “when a funnel fills up, some gurgles back up before it goes out.” He was using it as a change metaphor, noting that change doesn’t usually go down smoothly. There is some backlash and hesitation before the complete change is implemented.
How can you plan for the funnel effect in your next change effort? It is helpful to anticipate that there might be some “gurgling” in the process – so you expect it, as do others – and you allow for the delay in your timeline.
Nothing about change flows smoothly.

Friday, June 2, 2017

leadership dot #1827: the error

I hope you enjoyed the brief interlude with guest authors. I'm back today, ready to celebrate the 5-year anniversary of leadership dots!
I recently watched the TEDx talk by Molly Tierney about rethinking the foster care system. Even if child welfare isn't your area of interest, her talk is worth the 10 minutes to think about the parallels with your own line of work.
Tierney became director of an agency and spent several years improving the results. Her department won awards and became a national model. "We became a well oiled machine..." she said. "I regret that this success has not also resulted in us actually helping people." Instead Tierney argues that the reason child welfare isn't working is because there are children in foster care. "It's not that the government is doing it badly; it's that foster care is a bad idea. The error is the intervention."
Think about your organization. Are you doing something that feels good to you and that you may even be successful at doing, but if you really admitted it, is the wrong thing to do.  Colleges are offering remedial classes to students who should not be there, rather than not admitting them, or graduating those students even though they don't have the skills to be productive citizens. Banks are offering special mortgage packages to allow people to buy homes well beyond their price ranges instead of showing them ways to improve their long term finances. Doctors are providing treatments to people instead of helping them stay well.
Tierney cautioned against "mistaking something that feels good to us for something that is actually helping other people." Use her talk as a litmus test for your organization and ask yourself if you are truly working on the right thing.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

leadership dot #1826: good news

Today's dot is written by Alex Jaroslawsky from Hilbert College's Leadership Applications class:
In the world today, media is constantly reporting on topics that will sell or will spark arguments throughout society. Most news is peppered with shootings, police brutality, political scandals, celebrity gossip, and other feel bad stories.
In a refreshing change from the negativity, MSN has a news section of their website titled “good news.” This gives readers a chance to hear about positive events and maybe even unite behind them rather that unite behind the hatred of a scandal or act of terror. One story I read was about an off duty nurse saving a stranger's life after seeing him collapse; another story was about a McDonald’s worker who jumped out of the drive-thru window to save a police officer.      
Too often we focus on things that go wrong in life: how the grass always seems greener for others, or how we wish things could be different. When things go wrong it is good to address the issue, but this should net be dwelled on. Complaining and worrying never benefits anyone. Rather than always focusing on the negatives when something goes wrong, it can be useful for a leader to remind the group of some of the good things that have been accomplished to help boost morale and stay on track instead of becoming derailed by an issue that will eventually pass.
Everyday something bad will happen. It may be minor and only affect a single person, or it may be a catastrophe that makes national news. Rather than let negative events bring us down, is beneficial to remind ourselves of some of the good things that are going on. How can you find ways to hear about the good news and build off of the positive events around you?