leadership dot #1705: jazz

Over the weekend, I saw the movie La La Land. The primary character Sebastian (played by Ryan Gosling) is a jazz aficionado, but in a way that plays tribute to Count Basie, Thelonious Monk and the legends from days gone by. He is struggling as to whether to accept a steady gig with his friend Keith who has modernized, even electrified, a new type of jazz music.

“How are you going to be a revolutionary if you’re such a traditionalist?” Keith asks Sebastian. “How are you going to save Jazz if no one’s listening?”

It reminds me of the discussions we are having in the business class I am teaching. Many of our case studies revolve around whether the CEO has the right vision or is best suited for the company given its current stage in the organization’s life cycle. Often the issue boils down to the CEO deciding to become a revolutionary instead of a traditionalist in this moment.

I think we all reach a point in both our personal and organizational lives where we have to wrestle with letting go of the past in order to create the future. You need to “preserve the core” as Collins and Porras* wrote, but “stimulate progress.” You need to honor the music and improvisation of the legends, while embracing the rhythms and beats of a modern audience in order to thrive. What kind of jazz will you be playing?

Built to Last by Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras, 1994



leadership dot #1704: matchy matchy

Many moons ago, I complimented someone who was wearing red shoes and a different shade of red scarf. I asked why she had chosen not to wear her pair of red eyeglasses that day. “Too matchy, matchy,” she said.

The comment has always stuck with me. I am not adventurous in color pairings in my house or wardrobe — in part because of a lack of knowledge, and in part because of ease. It seems that I am not alone as Lowes now sells a new line of window shades that can be the exact color of your paint, allowing the shades to blend into your walls. Maybe that is a good thing, or maybe it is too “matchy, matchy.”

Is part of our larger problem that we are trying to make too many things in our lives “matchy, matchy?” We want to hang with people who look like we do. We have social media feeds with those whose opinions match ours. We frequent the same places, read the same magazines and cultivate our tribe. It’s very comfortable, but is that the aim?

I recommend taking small steps to mix up your world. Clothing is an area where it is relatively easy and inexpensive to experiment. You can wear one combination for a day, and if you don’t like it, you never need to pair the pieces again. That tie clashes with the shirt? Pick a different one tomorrow. Is it going to bring world peace? Not alone, but small steps toward openness need to start somewhere.

Commit to having one less thing in your world this week that is “matchy, matchy.” There is a whole color wheel out there just waiting for you to take it for a spin, and a wide array of diversity wanting to color your world.


leadership dot #1703: misdirection

It seems that nothing is straightforward anymore. In much the same way as I read the cereal box because there is nothing else available, while I was sitting at Sam’s snack bar, I was reading their menu and pricing chart.

Each item is featured in its own display panel, so a side-by-side comparison doesn’t come naturally. I am sure that is by design.

If you just buy a drink, it is 89 cents.

> A hotdog alone is $1.30. A hotdog and drink is $1.70 — so the drink is an additional 20 cents.
> A slice of pizza is $1.98, but a pizza and drink is $2.49 — so the drink is an additional 51 cents.
> A pretzel is 99 cents, but a pretzel and drink is $1.78 — so the drink is an additional 79 cents.
> A pork sandwich is $2.99, but the sandwich, chips and drink combo costs an additional $1.78 — so the drink and chips are actually full price at 89 cents each.

The drink as an add-on ranges from a 77% discount to none. People inherently think that “a combo” price affords them a better deal, but I doubt many take the time to discern the variances. The same is true of sale shopping — as in Kmart’s going-out-of-business sale where the discounted price was still more than the everyday price at other retailers, but people were walking out with a cart full.

With pricing as well as what you read on the internet, a second look often makes sense — or cents, depending.



leadership dot #1702: hidden truth

There has been a lot more attention paid to introverts recently, in part because of Susan Cain’s book Quiet and also due to other business leaders recognizing the untapped potential of those who go inward for their energy. There are many serious studies and resources to help the extroverted understand their more introverted colleagues.

But on a light note, the differences between the temperaments can be summed up in one humorous banner. Instead of the usual HAPPY BIRTHDAY or CONGRATULATIONS you would find strung in big letters across twine at a party, this one says: PLEASE LEAVE BY 9. I laughed out loud when I saw it for the truth that it proclaimed.

There is not one right way to draw your energy or to do your mental processing, but the ways of introversion and extraversion differ in how they do so. Whether through humor or just plain ‘ole understanding, it helps to honor the ways your colleagues are hard-wired and to provide them with outlets to be at their best. Even if it means exiting when you are just getting started.


leadership dot #1701: wise beyond her years

My sister took her 9-year old daughter with her to the Women’s March in Washington last weekend. Afterwards, my niece reflected on her experience to share it with her class.

Here is what she learned:

  • It is important to stand up for your rights
  • My voice matters
  • There are many kind people who believe like I believe
  • Love is better than hate or fear
  • I could speak freely at the march, but I couldn’t in other places
  • I can make a difference, even if I’m a kid
  • It’s not just one day, we have to keep our voices going
  • Women should have the same amount of rights as men
  • Even though it was hard—I was tired—it was important not to back down

In addition to the great lessons she shares above, the act of compiling them highlights the enormous power of reflection. Too often we let our lives whiz by without taking a few moments to consider the impact we are having or the meaning of our experiences. Take a lesson from this wanna-be veterinarian or perhaps president-to-be and learn from your living.

To see Josie’s whole presentation, click here.

leadership dot #1700: flat

In the 1964 book Flat Stanley (by Jeff Brown), a bulletin board falls on Stanley while he is sleeping, and temporarily flattens him. This allows him to be mailed  — which became the inspiration for the Flat Stanley Project. Canadian schoolteacher Dale Hubert had the great idea for children to make a construction paper figure and mail it to far-flung friends and relatives, who posed “Stanley” in photos from all around the globe, and then mailed Stanley back to the student to learn geography. Recently, many organizations have used the idea in conjunction with social media to spur sharing with their own version of Stanley in a photo.

You can create your own adaptation of this exercise, only use it to illustrate concepts a bit more germane to your organization. Have teams make a paper character and appropriately name it for your group, then send them out with a list of photos to procure featuring their character.  (You can limit them to your office, or allow them expanded time/distance/latitude for the assignment.)

Suggestions include:
> Two teams collaborating
> A place where learning is happening
> The mission coming to life
> Innovation in the making
> Someone providing stellar service
> An area that needs improvement
> Something that makes you proud
> Money well spent
> A strength
> Something that helps the bottom line
> With a person everyone should know
> An opportunity

Then have the teams share the photos with the whole group, as a way not only to reinforce their learning, but to expose the others to new ways of seeing the organization. You flat out can’t beat it for a team exercise.

Example of a flat character
Example of a flat character
Someone helping students (financial aid)
Pix of “Someone helping students” (financial aid)

leadership dot #1699: unsterilze

James Garfield had been the United States president for just four months before he was shot in 1881 while walking to his train. The official cause of death is blood poisoning and complications from the shooting, but ignorance and stubbornness played a more substantial role.

At the time, doctors in America did not use antiseptic or take proactive measures to lessen germs and infections. The Europeans had already adopted such practices, but in the U.S. doctors lay Garfield on the train station platform and no less than 12 of them probed his wound with unsterilized fingers in search of the bullet! While they had the best of intentions, hindsight reveals that Garfield would have likely survived the gunshot, even with the bullet remaining inside him, had it not been for the human-induced germs. Instead, he died a grueling 80 days later.

Doctors in the United States soon embraced antiseptics, but at the time their actions were more detrimental than doing nothing. It’s not that they did not know about the Listerian Theory that germs caused disease; they just did not believe it because it ran contrary to their decades of thinking that illness was caused by things you could see.

Consider the ways you may be acting like the doctors in 1881. What knowledge have you dismissed because it does not fit with your current model? Have you done all you can to expose yourself to new thinking and modern advances in your field? Are you open to asking for help when confronted with a problem? Are there things you are doing that are causing more harm than good to your self or your organization? The medical community learned from President Garfield’s death; perhaps you can too.

Thanks to Margo Kemp Johnson for this idea.

Source:  How Doctors Killed President Garfield, CBS News, July 5, 2012. To read more, click here.

leadership dot #1698: democracy

You may have heard that Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus will have its final performance in May. The circus, an attraction that used to draw crowds to fill the big tops and employ a thousand people, is closing after 146 years of entertainment. In 1971, the circus was sold for $40 million but now it is months away from disbanding.

I thought of this over the weekend when I was a scavenger in the shell of our Kmart store, now holding the final days of sales before it closes. In 1990, Kmart was the second largest retailer in the United States, just behind Sears. Kmart had 2,165 stores in 2000 and now it has less than 800 and falling. Blockbuster had over 8,000 stores at one point before its closing.

We know that just a shadow of these businesses remain today, but in their prime it was inconceivable to think of their demise. The circus, Sears and others had been around generations, and most thought they would continue throughout their lifetimes. Entropy is a powerful force, and if you do not tend to the culture and organization, death is more certain than life.

We have been a great nation for 240 years, but nothing guarantees that democracy will continue to flourish on its own. Democracy requires attention, passion, involvement and courage. It requires people willing to make sacrifices to promote it. Don’t let “government of the people, by the people and for the people” become a circus and follow its fate.



leadership dot #1697: women

At the local Women’s March on Saturday, one of the speakers urged women to consider becoming candidates themselves. “If women aren’t at the table, they aren’t being heard,” she said, as if being a woman automatically wired you to address issues of human rights, climate change and immigration in universally agreeable ways. The Women’s March wasn’t because there is a male in the White House, and I don’t support advocating for women just because they are women. It becomes one more variable to polarize us.

Currently, I am represented by females in the Senate and state legislature. I did not vote for either one as they have vastly different policy views than I do. In contrast, I supported male candidates who shared my values though not my chromosome makeup.

No one person can “be” all that they need to consider in their actions. Males don”t automatically ignore females; Muslims don’t inherently ignore Christians; Latinos can’t disregard African Americans; the middle class can’t forget the poor and so on. Those in leadership roles need to develop empathy for all their constituents and cultivate skills such as inclusion, listening, questioning and seeing.

Yes, it would be nice if more CEOs, politicians and leaders were women. But I’ll take more who think like I do any day, regardless of how they look.


leadership dot #1696: gift card

The local independent movie theatre acknowledges that many may have received gift cards from the mega-plex for the holidays. Rather than lose their business to the chain theatre, the indie cinema is offering to redeem the AMC gift cards, dollar for dollar, plus throw in some freebies. They see it as a way for people to experience their theatre for the first time, and, hopefully become converts once they see how much cheaper the concessions are.

What a great idea. Movie theatres have excess capacity, so a few extra bodies in the seats costs them nothing. Pop and popcorn are cheap too, so a few giveaways can be considered advertising and may have a hefty return in the long run. AMC card holders may bring paying friends or spend beyond their gift card limit. And it keeps people away from the competitors and out of the habit of always going there without considering the independent place.

Think about what you have in excess that you can use to lure potential customers away from competitors. Can you offer to provide free services as a trial basis if someone can prove they currently go elsewhere? Do you offer a discounted registration to members of a sister association? Can you replicate the gift card redemption in some other way? It could be the gift that keeps on giving.