leadership dot #1947: untangled

When one of my necklace chains gets tangled, I invariably want to try to untangle it by hand. It looks so simple, like you could just wiggle it apart and be on your way, but it never is.

What I have found is that using two pins to dislodge a knot is the way to do it. One pin holds the chain in place while the other pin is used to untangle the chain at the knot and efficiently pull it apart. Works like a charm every time.

I think the necklace untangling is a metaphor for how it works to pull apart conflicts in organizations. It seems like it should be easy, but often is not. The more you resist, the tighter the obstruction becomes. A few key tools (or people) go a long way in diffusing the situation: one to hold steady, another to work cautiously to make small movements of progress. The untangling happens with a little loosening here and a little loosening there until the knot has worked its way through the chain and the necklace (or situation) is smoothed out.

Untangling – whether in organizations or in jewelry – is a process of small movements that eventually lead to resolution. Hold steady and go slow to smooth out your knots.


leadership dot #1946: Boomers

I have always been fascinated by the study of generations – maybe because I worked so long on a college campus and could see the differing attitudes and values of the students over time. In keeping with using the dot number (1946) as the inspiration for the content, today I share information about the Baby Boomer generation, so named because there was such an influx of babies after soldiers returned home from World War II.

The years between 1946 and 1964 are categorized as the Baby Boomer generation, representing about one-quarter of today’s workforce. Baby Boomers grew up in an era of prosperity following World War II and lived through Vietnam, landing on the moon and rock ‘n roll. Boomers experienced the Cold War and Woodstock as well as civil rights protests and the women’s movement. Their sheer numbers have made them a force in the economy.

There is much written today about working among the generations as four or five different groups are simultaneously employed. Boomers, who now are primarily in their 50s and 60s, are often supervising Generation X, Millennials (Generation Y) or Generation Z – all of whom have different communication preferences, needs from work and lifestyles.

Those who work with (or for) Baby Boomers will find them to be comfortable with hierarchy and bureaucracy. They have been raised in a more linear world and organizational structure where there are rules to be followed and bosses to be obeyed. While not quite as traditional as the generation before them, many Boomers find their identity tied to their job and thus value the titles, rewards and prestige that come from career advancement. They have a strong work ethic and are willing to make sacrifices or compete against others to climb the career ladder, but strongly believe others should first pay their dues as well.

Baby Boomers can sometimes be resistant to change, fearing that the “new” will render their expertise (thus, them) less valuable. To succeed while working with a Baby Boomer, remember that they have grown up embracing face-to-face communication and value those in-person connections. Baby Boomers bring the wisdom that comes from experience to the workplace. Acknowledge and honor their experience in an in-person exchange and help them understand how meeting the different needs of a younger generation can make the whole team stronger. Boomers are used to learning in order to get ahead; help them learn from you.

leadership dot #1945: ours

A carrier delivers a box from a retailer and leaves it out in the rain, thus ruining the contents. Who do you blame – the store or the driver?

A shirt arrives in the mail, but has a defective seam. Do you find fault with seller or their manufacturer?

You buy a loaf of bread and find that it is moldy – are you aggravated with the store or the baker?

Every organization has a host of partners upon whom they rely to deliver goods and services on behalf of the organization. Those who do service best treat these relationships as part of their internal workings and realize that the organization owns the liabilities others may have caused, rather than redirecting their customers elsewhere.

How do you handle something that was not in your control, but had an impact on your clients? The answer should be: “as graciously and expeditiously as you would handle a mistake you made yourself.”

There is a technical accounting term FOB (“Free on Board”) to determine at what point responsibility of the goods and costs of shipping them transfer between the seller and the buyer. While FOB is used for commercial transactions, the concept can apply to organizations as they consider how to establish customer service policies and relate to their ultimate consumers.

Responsibility and ownership do not transfer when the box is delivered, the shirt is shipped or the bread makes it into the cupboard. The original organization is wise to service the transaction far into the future, regardless of where in the chain a misstep occurred.

A sign in an auto dealer maintenance shop reads: “They buy the first car because of the sales department and every other car after that because of the service department.”

Consider your FOB to mean Forever Our Business and handle issues that arise with aplomb – no matter who caused them.


leadership dot #1944: one in a

Are lobsters yellow? If you answered no, you would be right one in 29,999,999 times, but, as this photo shows, they do appear once in about every 30 million births. And lobsters are blue, orange and split colors as well as the traditional orange, so if you insisted that these tasty crustaceans only come in one color, you would be wrong.

It makes sense that after years of seeing something only one way you would be convinced with some certainty that you are correct in your understanding. Where people get in trouble is that too often they insist that their experience is the only correct answer and that it applies to the breadth of the topic, not just a narrow interpretation.

I am reminded of this meme that was shared on Twitter:

The copy below the drawing claims that there is a “right” answer, but from the narrow context of what we see, there is not. Is it a six or a nine? Yes. But if you backed up or saw a larger context, one answer is likely to be wrong.

Right is a narrow construct. You can be right if the question is tightly defined. The broader your parameters are, the less likely there is a certainty. You are right that most lobsters are orange. But if you expand to consider more of them, a variety appears.

We’d all be better off you make claims of fact with caution and qualifiers that define the limits of your knowledge and experience, and if you were open to nuances that change your answer.

Thanks Meg!




leadership dot #1943: act

How is Ikea’s strategy impacted by what Apple does?

You wouldn’t think that the two influence each other, but when one of the giants makes a shift in direction, it impacts others down the supply chain. Such was the case when Apple recently announced that the iPhone X would have wireless charging. Suddenly a whole new market opened up for wireless chargers.

One of those to capitalize on this was an unlikely beneficiary: Ikea. The Swedish furniture-seller was quick to jump on the news and published a set of great ads promoting its lamps with wireless chargers. They never mention the iPhone by name, but clearly are targeting the next generation of users.

See their brilliant ads with headlines such as “Siri, what lamp should I buy?” and “Apple Juice” here.

It’s one thing to keep abreast of what is happening, and quite another to respond to it – and to do so quickly. This campaign seems to have come together quicker and more easily than you can assemble an Ikea bookshelf!

As you watch what is happening in the news, with your competition or with others in seemingly unrelated industries, go beyond saying “noted” or “humm…” and take that first step to act on your insight.

Thanks Tricia!




leadership dot #1942: towards

I have a plant in my house that was growing like crazy – actually, too much to accommodate the pot it was in and the place where it was located – so I turned it away from the sun to slow the growth down.

And what happened?

The plant reoriented itself and sprouted a whole new batch of growth – reaching back across the plant in the direction of the sun. The light was so compelling that growing “towards” something overrode the obstacles designed to keep the plant at bay.

In your organization, work to be the light that provides a strong “why” or greater purpose that makes your employees determined to move in that direction even when there are barriers. What can you do today to be “the sun” and create a spot of inspiration that your people want to move towards, even when circumstances make it more difficult for them to do so?




leadership dot #1941: own it

I have written before about the importance of color in branding, and it came back to the forefront when the color gurus at Pantone named a special color in honor of Prince. You may not be a fan of his or able to name one song, but I suspect that the majority of readers could tell the color was purple. Prince “owned” purple and used it to his advantage in marketing and branding.

My city underwent a branding exercise a few years ago and should have taken a lesson from Prince’s songbook on how to effectively use color. While their primary logo is in orange, I don’t think I have seen anything else that is. The street signs are blue. The recycling bins are red. The councilmen’s shirts are royal. The bills are in blue. The police car is silver with red lettering. There is not a square of orange to be found in the new building.

It is a lost opportunity to choose a distinctive color and then opt to ignore it. Crayons come in boxes of eight colors or more, but effective brands rely on one or two.

Pantone Love Symbol #2



leadership dot #1940: years

As the “dot” numbering gets deep into the 1900s, the number of the dot has started to remind me of significant events that occurred during those years – which reminds me of a favorite icebreaker in a similar vein.

The facilitator writes different years on strips of paper and tosses them into a basket. Years should be from last year back through the approximate age range of participants, with one year written separately on each strip.

Participants then draw a year out of the basket and share a story with the group of what they were doing during that year or what memory the year stimulates. There will likely be a lot of mental calculating involved as people try to recall how old they were or what they were doing during that year, but it just adds to the fun. I have also heard of people doing the same activity using pennies with different years (if you have the fortitude to assemble such a variety!).

An adaptation of this is to assign each person (or allow people to draw) a year in advance of a gathering and ask people to research what was happening within the organization during that period. It’s a quick way to infuse some stories of the organization and provide context for how things have evolved. You can do several assignments before a group event or have one per meeting over a period of time.

Or you can even play along at home for the next few months and think of what each dot number represents as a year in your world!



leadership dot #1939: dominoes

As I think of the dot number today (1939), I am reminded of that year when Hitler invaded Poland and World War II began. It was the trigger event that started the war, but it got me wondering what led up to that event. First Hitler had to come to power. He had to choose Poland as a place to invade first. He had to negotiate a nonaggression pact with Poland in 1934 “to neutralize the possibility of a French-Polish military alliance against Germany before Germany had a chance to rearm.”* He had to assemble and equip an army. And a thousand other things occurred within Germany, Poland and the world to set the stage for the initial invasion to happen.

I wonder what the first domino was that started this horrific chain of events. More so, I wonder what dominoes are in play right now and are lining up for other events to happen. You could cite steps leading to climate change or the state of U.S. politics, but, closer to home, think about the dominoes in your organization. What small steps are happening now that seem insignificant, but eventually will take on greater prominence – either for good or ill?

Consider who is in your talent pipeline – will that brand new hire become CEO after a few decades – or does the departure of a key employee alter the trajectory of the organization? Is that preliminary research into a new market what will cause your growth to explode? Is there an idea that is percolating now which will eventually become the main focus of your work? Is someone making a decision that puts the organization at a crossroads with its values and will determine its future path?

Hitler didn’t wake up on September 1, 1939 and decide to invade Poland; that strategy was in the works for years before. Who knows what is in the works today.

We can’t predict the future, but we can watch for signs that will alert us to what is already in process and more likely to manifest itself into reality. Pay attention to the “dots” as the inertia of the universe is compelled to connect them with something.

*Source: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Invasion of Poland, Fall 1939

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?