leadership dot #1886: circumstances

Everyone knows that the Cubs won the World Series last year and led the division for all but one day of the season. But the road wasn’t as easy as last year’s team made it look. In Tom Verducci’s wonderful book The Cubs Way, he pulls back the curtain to share a perspective that would have given Cubs fans even more anxiety than they already had going into the World Series:

“So this is how [Manager Joe] Maddon would begin the World Series for the Cubs, their first World Series game in 71 years: with a rightfielder making only his 19th start at that position all year, his $184 million left-handed-hitting rightfielder benched against a right-handed pitcher, not talking to a pitcher who has a mental block throwing to bases facing a team that led the American League in stolen bases, and a designated hitter who was seeing major league pitching for the first time in 201 days. What could possibly go wrong?” (p. 72)

It would have been easy for Maddon to make excuses or to become pessimistic after their first loss in the Series.  After all, look at the circumstances he was facing. But of course he did not give up and made the most of the talent he had and the culture he had created all season long.

The next time the environment seems stacked against you, re-read the above paragraph and take heart. It is not the external that creates a win or loss, but rather the internal. Victory comes from within.

The Cubs Way by Tom Verducci, 2017.

leadership dot #1885: fresh

I recently had occasion to contact the consumer products office at the Clorox Company. Everyone knows that Clorox makes bleach, but I did not realize that their portfolio extended to PineSol, Tilex, Liquid Plumr, Glad, 409, SOS and Kingsford Charcoal.

If you take a look at that list, you would be hard pressed to find a more stodgy set of products. I think all of them were around in my childhood and are pretty much the same today: the bag of charcoal is the one I remember from campfires as a kid and I think that Clorox is the same formula grandma dumped into the manual washing machine.

So I was surprised to learn that the Clorox Company spends 2% of its annual sales (about $100 million/year) on research and development. It may look like the same product on the outside, but the cleaning effectiveness has actually been enhanced, the bacteria-fighting formulas updated and modifications made to ensure that the products remain market leaders.

Clorox has been #1 in providing professional cleaning and sanitizing products since 1913, but they don’t rest on their laurels. Take a lesson from them and continually invest in improvement to keep yourself fresh.

leadership dot #1884: forest

Many people think of creativity as creating something entirely new, but being creative can also mean seeing a new use for something or making a slight alteration that results in something different.

Such was the case at Little Debbie — the maker of pre-packaged bakery treats. You may be familiar with the classic Christmas Trees — the delicious white treats in a tree-shape that are available every year only around the holidays and have become a family tradition in many homes.

Imagine the glee when someone got creative and realized that they could use their “tree” production line beyond the Christmas holidays. Little Debbie now produces Happy Camper treats — green trees, but otherwise identical to their holiday counterpart. Genius!

What new market is right under your nose but you can’t see the forest for the trees? Step back like someone at Little Debbie did and see if you can repurpose an existing system for a new use. It just might make you and your boss a Happy Camper!

Thanks bg!

leadership dot #1883: cloverleaf

Have you ever known — or been — someone who keeps mulling over an issue in their mind — going back and forth about pros and cons, options, possibilities, worries, etc.? This is a continual quest for certainty that never arrives, but often comes at the expense of sleep, health or general peace of mind. I think everyone has been guilty of such endless mental debate about one thing or another.

One way to end the internal banter is to think about your mind as a cerebral cloverleaf. You would never drive around incessantly on an interstate cloverleaf — after a round or two you would make a decision as to where to exit, even if you did not know exactly which road was the right one. Why persist in staying on the cloverleaf in your brain?

The next time you are tempted to go round and round about an issue, think about being in a car instead. Spend about as much time going in circles in your head as you would in a vehicle on a highway exchange — in other words, make a decision and get off the cloverleaf!


leadership dot #1882: example

“You are setting an example — whether you want to or not” read the marquee outside a local church. The quote gave me pause for both is magnitude and simplicity, as well as for the accuracy of its message. People truly are watching.

Think about the example you are setting for others around you. Do your colleagues see you delivering the stellar service that you would hope to receive? Are your children observing you make sacrifices to support causes you admire? Have you committed the time to your friends that will sustain a relationship or does work always come first?

You may think that people aren’t paying attention, but when you consider how much you observe about others you’ll realize that someone is learning from you. It is through the small actions more than the big ones that our legacy is communicated. Live like someone is watching.

leadership dot #1881: mix

One of the traits of Generation Z (those born between 1995-2012) is their desire to customize almost everything. The book Gen Z @ Work labels it as Hyper-Custom and it has become an expectation for those in the younger generation to want to have a choice in places where none was offered before.

I thought about Gen Z when I was at O’Hare Airport and saw the Garrett’s popcorn stand.  Garrett’s has been a Chicago staple since 1949. At first, they offered plain, caramel corn and cheese corn. Then they combined caramel and cheese and became famous for their mix. Later versions with nuts were added, but it still meant about six choices on the menu.

But six isn’t enough for today’s consumers. Wisely, Garrett’s has taken the mix concept further and is trying to respond to demand. The company now features “Which Mix is Your Fix?” and encourages customized combinations in any format that you desire. Combine caramel and butter for the Buttery Goodness Mix or cheese and butter for the Gold Standard Mix. Or any flavors you wish shook together in the bag for a delicious snack.

It is no longer enough to offer just your famous mix that has been popular for half a century. Gen Z wants to create its own mix. Just like they want to create their drink from one of the thousands of combinations in the new Coke fountain machines or read only from a media feed of sources they chose.

Burger King has been saying “have it your way” for years. It’s time that your organization began embracing their slogan as your own. Gen Z wants to mix it up — in more ways than one.

Gen Z @ Work by David Stillman and Jonah Stillman, 2017.


leadership dot #1880: pain

After a recent medical procedure, I received a booklet about pain management to assist me after I arrived at home. In this flyer there were several aids to help the patient describe the pain to their caregiver.

One section suggested a list of consequences because of the pain: unable to sleep, difficulty in climbing stairs, pain when moving shoulder, etc. Another section provided a list of adjectives to use to describe the pain: burning, cutting, pressing, radiating, shooting, throbbing, etc. The booklet also had a numerical rating scale as well as a set of faces that illustrated various stages of grimacing to help doctors know the degree of discomfort.

While my “number 4” may be different than your “number 4”, the information helps set a scale as to the direction your pain is moving and how it compares to previous visits. The list of words also provide much greater specificity than a general “it hurts,” significantly increasing the likelihood that the caregiver will be able to provide relief.

What is the equivalent to “pain” in your organization? Do you need to help your customers find language to articulate their satisfaction/dissatisfaction in a more in depth way than just a Likert scale on a survey? Is there a way to give your employees a range of descriptors to gauge their morale and likely retention? Can you provide your board with a comprehensive array of words/drawings to communicate their feelings about the upper management or the direction the organization is heading?

The more specific you can become in the description, the more targeted you can become with the solution. Prescribe a framework to cure the vagueness in your pain points.

leadership dot #1879: describe

A billboard advertising a realtor promoted their work by declaring that they would help the prospective homebuyer do three things: Investigate, Negotiate and Celebrate. I was impressed with how they boiled down the essence of realtor work into these three verbs…

…and, of course, it got me thinking about what words I would use to describe other professions, and my own work.

For me: Evaluate, Educate and Empower might describe how I help assess organizational or leadership issues, provide the tools and then empower others to become great supervisors and to create a healthy climate. My contractor friend meets with prospective clients and helps them to Dream, Decide and then Design before beginning work. Retail workers may Stock, Smile and Sell. Teachers may dispense Inspiration, Education and Application of their lessons. Managers spend their time Supervising, Improvising and Mobilizing. A human trafficking prevention organization promotes their work as Educate, Advocate and Eliminate.

As you try to succinctly describe what you do, it helps you to really think about the core elements of your job. Next you can spend your time enhancing these essential components instead of just listing them with alliteration and rhyme!

leadership dot #1878: undercover

A colleague recounted a story of when she met a new person and he talked all around the question when she asked him what he did for a living. She heard about volunteer pursuits, community involvement and hobbies, but nothing about his job.

His wife finally intervened and said: “Tell her what you do.” With all the secrecy and build up, you may expect an answer like “spy” or “FBI agent” or something undercover. No, the man is an oral surgeon! He has chosen not to share his profession because when he does, invariably everyone has a bad story to share about their oral surgery experience.

How sad that a man with an admirable profession and a substantial amount of training has gone silent about his accomplishments. I think about airline employees or police officers or others who also may become quiet rather than risk the wrath of disgruntled customers who have a story they want to tell.

The next time you want to relay a horror story about a procedure or a profession, remember that there is a person behind those tales. Tell the good stories in addition to the bad.


leadership dot #1877: cast aside

There is a buzz about how Artificial Intelligence is going to change the landscape, but I think the true game-changer is going to be 3D printing. The magic of 3D is becoming more accessible to the masses and transforming things on a daily basis.

The latest example of 3D in action replaces medical casts with plastic ones: custom fit, waterproof, lighter, more airy and even fun with personalized words and messages. No more signing of the cast: now yours comes with motivational sayings printed in. How much more fun is that than the traditional plaster versions?

In the 1967 movie Mrs. Robinson, Dustin Hoffman’s character was told “there’s a great future in plastics.” And with 3D printing, it is even more true today. It’s hard to wrap your mind around all the things 3D printing can do, but once you have that vision, implementing it is only a matter of time.

Think about what you could cast away that is currently done in a clunky or generic manner and head to your local library Makerspace to see if you can’t take your idea to a new dimension in 3D plastic.