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!

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

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.

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!

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.

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.



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.

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.

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

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.