Thursday, September 21, 2017

leadership dot #1938: outline

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

leadership dot #1937: up your game

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

leadership dot #1936: find your why

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

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

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

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

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Monday, September 18, 2017

leadership dot #1935: false impression

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, September 17, 2017

leadership dot #1934: safety

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 16, 2017

leadership dot #1933: distinguish yourself

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

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

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

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

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Friday, September 15, 2017

leadership dot #1932: we the people

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 14, 2017

leadership dot #1931: unplug

I recently read an article about Ian Rogers, the chief digital officer for LVMH – the company that owns Marc Jacobs, Givency, Bulgari and other luxury goods. Rogers is a young man, but has a robust resume in many digital roles including Apple Music and iTunes Radio.

What caught my eye were his comments about the value of being low tech, even in his high tech world. Rogers said: “I’ve gone back to analog. I buy real books. I write in real notebooks. I write the things I need to get done on Post-it Notes. I had an iPad Pro and I gave it away. I try not to take my cell phone into meetings.”

You would think that a chief digital officer for an international brand would be plugged in 24/7, but in Ian Rogers’ case you would be wrong. Instead, Rogers has defied preconceived notions about what he should use. He has crafted a mix of tools that help him do his best work – some decidedly old school and I’m sure some are state-of-the-art.

Take a page out of Rogers’ playbook and experiment with what works for you. You may be surprised to find that low tech has a high value for some applications.

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 Source: From iTunes to E-tail by Elizabeth Segran, Fast Company, September 2017, p. 14.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

leadership dot #1930: we're with you

There is nothing like a time of crisis to unify people, and Hurricane Harvey was no exception. The following full-page ad ran in the Houston Chronicle:

To our friends in Texas,

Twelve years ago, you took in hundreds of thousands of us. You opened your homes, closets and kitchens. You found schools for our kids and jobs to tide us over. Some of us are still there. And when the rest of the world told us not to rebuild, you told us not to listen. Keep our city and traditions alive.

Now, no two storms are the same. Comparing rising waters is a waste of energy when you need it the most. But know this – in our darkest hour, we found peace and a scorching, bright light of hope with our friends in Texas. And we hope you’ll find the same in us.

Our doors are open. Our clothes come in every size. There’s hot food on the stove, and our cabinets are well-stocked. We promise to always share what we have.
Soon, home will feel like home again, even if it seems like a lifetime away. We’ll be battling for football recruits under the Friday night lights. You’ll tell us to stop trying to barbeque. We’ll tell you to lay off your crawfish boil and come have the real thing. But for as long as you need, we’re here to help.

The way of life you love the most will carry on. You taught us that. Your courage and care continues to inspire our whole city. We couldn’t be more proud to call you our neighbors, our friends, and our family. Texas forever.

We’re with you, 
New Orleans

What a brilliant message to send to usual rivals as a way to show support in times of trouble. I wrote before about the Red Sox being magnanimous winners over the Cardinals, and this is in the same vein.

You can tell a lot about a person by how they act in the good times. Take the high road the next time you are on top and your rival isn’t, and communicate with good-natured ribbing and authentic class.

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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

leadership dot #1929: flooded

Even more impressive than the contributions of nearly a million pair of underwear in Houston is the story of the H-E-B grocery store chain and their efforts to continue supplying residents with essential needs post-hurricane.

The chain had over 80% of its stores operational despite the huge logistical challenges to do so. It was possible because of planning in advance, establishment of two command centers and a whatever-it-takes culture that empowered staff to operate outside the normal way of doing business. Volunteers came in from other H-E-B stores to help with stocking shelves. The manager talked directly with suppliers and even manufacturers to alter delivery schedules and instead take truckloads of the most needed products. The company took an intensely pragmatic approach: no frozen food, no floral, no variety – just the best sellers and as much bread, mops, bleach and water as was possible to receive. They used helicopters, contracted with the Army and would have used the corporate plane if Trump hadn’t closed the airspace.

I encourage you to read the fascinating full story for a back-of-the-house account of organizational mastery.

H-E-B brings disaster planning to a whole new level. While they could not plan for every situation, they knew what fundamentals to put in place in anticipation of pending crisis, and had the latitude to act once the disaster occurred. Would your organization be as simultaneously prepared and nimble?

Take a lesson from Houston H-E-B and division president Scott McClelland and take steps now to replicate parallel practices in your organization. You’ll be flooded with enough ambiguity if disaster occurs; better to prepare when you aren’t plugging the holes.

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Source: The inside story of what it took to keep a Texas grocery store chain running in the chaos of Hurricane Harvey by Chip Cutter on LinkedIn, September 2, 2017.

Monday, September 11, 2017

leadership dot #1928: basics

Q: What is the most requested clothing item at homeless shelters?
A: Socks


Q: What did author Brene' Brown use her influence to request as donations to Hurricane Harvey victims?
A: Underwear


Most people reading this dot are fortunate enough as to not think about socks or underwear. They come from the drawer in our bedrooms and are an invisible, utility item. But for those who are permanently or temporarily homeless, these basic garments can provide dignity, a feeling of being clean, and a moment of normality.

As a result of Brene’s social media pleas, the Undies for Everyone organization received 177,882 pairs of underwear (and $658,750 in donations that will buy 775,000 additional pairs), helping not only the flood victims, but also those who were in need in Houston before Harvey ever made landfall. The Bombas Company has donated 4 million pairs of socks to homeless shelters, and continues to contribute through its buy one/donate one policy.

People are eager to help after a disaster like Hurricanes Harvey or Irma – or how they felt on this date in 2001. But keep in mind that there are those who need help every day.
Love isn’t lofty. Commemorate Patriot Day today, and also be a patriot on October 11 and November 11 and every month thereafter, by contributing the non-sexy basics that help others to have what you take for granted.

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Sunday, September 10, 2017

leadership dot #1927: complete

I was in line behind an off-duty UPS driver and noticed he was sporting UPS-branded socks that made the “outfit.” I thought it was impressive that a company which has shorts as part of its uniform was wise enough to have low brown socks as part of the ensemble instead of having drivers show up with white athletic socks or worse.

When I commented on them, the driver just laughed. “Funny you mention them,” he said. “UPS provides everything else for us: shorts, pants, shirts, coat, hat and mittens – but if we want UPS socks we need to buy them ourselves.”

I realize there are tens of thousands of UPS drivers so even one pair of socks would be a hefty expense. But why exclude just one small item when it really did make a difference in the overall appearance?

If you are going to brand your employees in a uniform, don’t sock it to ‘em with additional expenses to complete the look.

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Saturday, September 9, 2017

leadership dot #1926: unstated

Often we know a problem exists, but leave it to others to do something about it. One grocery store in Green Bay took a different approach to the problem of pet owners leaving their pooches in the car on hot days. Instead of just hoping that they wouldn’t do it, or they wouldn’t do it for a long enough period to be harmful, Festival Foods created a Pup Spot outside several of their stores.

The Pup Spot provides a convenient and safe place for customers to get their dog out of the hot car while they run in for a few items. It is free, shaded, provides water and a locked crate for customers’ pets. I wish more establishments would provide this option.
When you think of serving your customers, how broadly do you consider their needs? It is one thing for Festival Foods to keep the desired products in stock, but quite another for them to take into account what would make the shopping experience better for their clientele.

Providing good service is meeting the customers’ stated needs. Providing exceptional service requires you to go beyond the obvious to deliver what they need, but don’t state. What is the Pup Spot equivalent for your organization?

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Thanks Amy!

Friday, September 8, 2017

leadership dot #1925: plan

You can tell a lot about a person based on how they use the word “plan.”

Some people use the word as an escape hatch, meaning they will “try” to do something. This occurs in statements like: “I will plan to do X”, but you can hear the hedging in their voice. I will plan to do it, but I am not promising its completion.

Others use plan as a substitute word for commitment. They say things like: “I will plan to do X” and mean that they are scheduling it in and making preparations to do it. It is on the plan to be done.

Your language is not only the gateway to your intent; it is a harbinger of your integrity. Choose your words with intentionality and plan to do what you say.

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Thursday, September 7, 2017

leadership dot #1924: roller coaster

It is harder to receive bad news after you have heard good expectations than it is to learn bad news after bad or right from the start.

> If you think the metrics are trending positively, it is more difficult to deal with when they turn sour.
> If you won the lawsuit, it is harder to lose on appeal than if you had lost in the first round.
> If you have positive lab results and the disease seems to be under control, it makes it more challenging when it relapses.
> If you hear that someone is in an accident, but is “ok”, it is harder to grasp when it turns out not to be so.

I believe we naturally set our expectations on one outcome and anchor our emotions to that. When the tides shift and the news is a reverse of our initial projections, it requires some mental gymnastics to handle the ups and downs of the communication.

Be cautious about setting a positive tone prematurely. Temper your news and outlook with a dose of reality and anticipate the potential outcomes. Save the victory dance for what is truly the last lap.

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Wednesday, September 6, 2017

leadership dot #1923: small

It is one thing to empower your staff to provide great customer service, and another to provide them with the tools to do it.

On a recent trip to Disney World, my friend’s son had a meltdown at the end of the day – a full out, kicking and screaming I-am-exhausted tantrum. Most businesses would cringe at the scene this child was causing, but a Disney a cast member calmly approached and provided a $25 gift card to the nearby arcade. This de-escalated the tantrum -- to the great relief of the parents as well as any guests in the vicinity. You can’t have a screaming child in the Happiest Place on Earth, so Disney provided the tools to allow its employees to rectify a situation that is probably very common after a long day at the park.

Select Disney employees also are equipped with a Magic Pouch that equips them with the tools they need to solve common guest problems: a sewing kit, oil for squeaky wheels on a stroller, screws for eyeglasses repair, etc. The magic pouch has nothing large or lofty, but for those in need of its contents, it would feel like magic that someone is able to provide relief on the spot. Staff members were the ones who came up with the idea and implemented it – they wanted to be able to help guests solve their problems.

What does the Magic Pouch look like in your organization? Do you need to equip your employees with gift cards to distract exhausted children or safety pins to resolve wardrobe malfunctions? Maybe your Magic Pouch contains paper clips and staplers to service a meeting or sunscreen and aloe to address needs at a ball game. I am sure those on the front line in your organization would know what is requested.

The magic of Disney isn’t in the grandiose; it is in the minutiae. As they say: "There's no magic in magic. It's all in the details." The attention to details is possible in your organization, too. Continue to empower in small increments and delight in small ways and the magic will come.


Thanks Mike!

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Tuesday, September 5, 2017

leadership dot #1922: facade

If I asked you to picture a construction zone, you likely would conjure up an image of dust and dirt with materials and machines strewn about. That may be the case for most projects, but not at Disney World. Such reminders of reality would burst the bubble of the fantasyland experience they are trying to create, so when renovations happen in the Magic Kingdom, they do so behind a fa├žade.



The building in this picture is under construction, but the view in photographs is not marred by scaffolding or workers – instead, the camera’s eye only sees the image on a giant tarp that shows what the building will look like when the work behind it is finished. (If you look closely, you can see the folds above the doorway.) I am sure it cost a fortune to do, but if you are Disney, it is just part of the construction cost and what has to be done.

How can you align your expenses so clearly with your values? Think of the experience or service you are offering and what should be provided to align your work with that - -have you allocated the budget to make it a reality? For a hospital, it might be sparing no expense for patient safety. A school might stretch expenses to the limit to improve student learning. A designer may invest in a high-grade paper for their promotional materials. A photographer may require the top-of-the-line camera that strains the budget. And Disney might invest in a building-sized tarp to preserve the fantasy.

We all have things that are core values. The question becomes whether we make the sacrifices to truly live them.

Thanks Mike!

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Monday, September 4, 2017

leadership dot #1921: more like them

Marshall Goldsmith, the father of 360 degree feedback, shared some of his thoughts on a recent LeadStar podcast. He encouraged people to ask themselves: “Who are your heroes? – and then to consider how you can be more like them.”

He gave the personal example of one of his heroes who was very generous with his time and mentored Goldsmith when he was a novice. Goldsmith always admired that, and now is leading an extensive mentoring program where he is “teaching everything he knows” to 100 people chosen for his program. He offers this without cost, rather a promise that the participants pay by teaching others in this way when they are older.

As we reflect on Labor Day and all the heroes among us – those that have advanced labor and prosperity in the country, served in the military, volunteered, been a first responder or provided heroic acts in any way – think about who you would like to emulate and why. Then make your labor for today taking the first step toward that behavior.

Source; Marshall Goldsmith on LeadStar podcast episode #24, August 24, 2017

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Sunday, September 3, 2017

leadership dot #1920: dress down

Last weekend, Major League Baseball celebrated Players Weekend and allowed the players to deviate from their standard uniforms and wear colorful attire on the field. Players were also allowed to use their nicknames on their jerseys instead of the traditional and standard last name.

Players took the field as “Cookie”, “El Mago”, “Mr. Smile” or “Toddfather”. Some used blue or purple bats or colorful cleats. It was the first time the Yankees were not in pinstripes.

All of the special jerseys were auctioned off for charity and the players probably had some fun with the variety. It was like “dress up day” at school where kids get a reprieve from wearing their uniform to come in pajamas or crazy combinations of clothes.

How can you take a page from the MLB playbook and mix up your dress code at work for a day? Maybe you allow staff to come in shorts and flip flops on a hot summer Friday. Or perhaps you go the other way and have a formal day when awards are given. Another option is to encourage spirit wear for local sporting events or to provide special t-shirts for a company occasion.

If a break with tradition can work for the Yankees, maybe your organization can hit a home run by allowing different attire for a day.

Source: Yankees break with legendary jersey tradition by Mike Fitzpatrick for the Associated Press in the Telegraph Herald, August 27, 2017, p. 4B.

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Saturday, September 2, 2017

leadership dot #1919: arrangement

One of the arguments against using solar power is that the panels are an eyesore and detract from the view. The China Merchants New Energy Group elected to do something about that and built a 248-acre solar farm – in the shape of a giant panda! They have plans to expand – and add a second panda to the array.



The solar panels are the same ones that were deemed “ugly”, but because of their arrangement it has become an attraction as well as a functional source of power for thousands.

How can you find a creative way to overcome some of the objections to your project? Maybe your solution lies in how you present the pieces.


Thanks Meg!

Source: Business Insider, Tech Insider: China just built a 250-acre solar farm shaped like a giant panda by Leanna Garfield, July 6, 2017.

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Friday, September 1, 2017

leadership dot #1918: in transition

It is Labor Day Weekend and for many families, this is the first holiday with a student in college. For the student, it could mean the first or second weekend away – a time for everyone when the newness and excitement of the experience is wearing off and the reality is setting in.

I wrote an article about helping families through this transition based upon work by William Bridges in his brilliant book Managing Transitions. His premise is that change is external (college began or for some is just beginning) and that transition is internal (thus everyone goes through the process at their own rate).

Bridges writes that transition happens in three stages: first a loss – where there is conscious or unconscious grief over being without the way of life that we knew before the change; then an interval or limbo period where we are trying to figure out what the “new normal” is, and then a beginning, where the transition is complete and we have settled in to a new chapter.

College families are going through this process, but people have other transitions every day. Certainly those affected by the floods in Houston will face these three steps. Divorce, death, new jobs, new schools or a baby can all trigger a transition in lives.
Whether you are facing a change or know someone who is going through one, keep Bridges’ wise words in mind to help you navigate the rough waters of the process.

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