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!