leadership dot #2008: away

I recently listened to the soundtrack to the musical Come From Away – the true story of Gander, Newfoundland, a small town that unexpectedly hosted 7,000 visitors from around the world that were diverted there immediately following the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001.

Gander is a town of only 6,000 yet they housed, fed, clothed and comforted double that number – for five days — when 38 international flights were forced to land in Newfoundland when American airspace was closed. The musical tells the story of Gander’s efforts to accommodate their unexpected guests and relays the scope of their quest to do so. In one song, a resident contributes a tray of sandwiches and the organizer says: “We need 50 more.” “Sandwiches?” “No, trays.”

As an event planner myself, I think of the hours and hours of preparations and countless meetings that would have been involved if Gander had known that a multitude of jumbo jets would be descending upon them. They would have developed spreadsheets, plans, supply orders and made countless other arrangements if this was expected. But somehow they pulled it off anyway, with less than an hour’s notice.

I am in favor of proactive planning, but sometimes I think we invest too much effort into it. Even with meticulous preparations, you cannot anticipate every need or situation and it reaches a point where it is futile to try.

Do your best to be ready for the expected, but allow yourself some latitude to accommodate the unexpected as well.

Thanks Emily for sharing the soundtrack – I highly recommend it to others!

leadership dot #2007: borer

They are smaller than a penny but have been labeled as “one of the most destructive pests ever seen in North America” – referring to the Emerald Ash Borer. This tiny insect feeds off the leaves of ash trees, but its larvae bore through the bark and feed on the tissue under it, thereby cutting off the water flow and killing the tree.

The spread of the disease has been hastened by transportation of wood, wood chips and firewood out of infected areas, and there are currently 14 states under quarantine because of this pest, including my Iowa. It is estimated that within the next several years our state will lose 17% of its tree population with the death of 50+ million ash trees, raising ecological, logistical, aesthetic and commercial questions about how to respond to such a massive loss of timber and the accompanying branches.

While there is not much that can be done to save a tree once it is infected, there are some steps that can be taken to prevent the invasion of the larvae and to prolong the tree’s health.

I think the same is true for organizational “borers” – the insidious few who infect an organization’s culture and diminish its health. There are things an organization can do to foster a climate that keeps the nay-sayers at bay and allows for free flow of trust and information, but once toxins permeate the environment it is hard to rid them except through cutting relationships with those that are spreading the negativity.

Organizational borers are often small and work undercover – like their equivalent the Emerald Ash – and many times management does not pay attention to them until it is too late. Don’t let your culture fall victim to disruption through neglect. Proactively address the little bugs before they bore into your foundation.

Source: Iowa Department of Natural Resources and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach


leadership dot #2006: generalist

Have you ever heard of a hospitalist? I had not until a friend was in the hospital, then I learned that a hospitalist is a doctor who cares for you (just) in the hospital. Instead of having primary care doctors or specialists make rounds, a hospitalist cares for admitted patients instead. The hospitalists are on duty 24/7/365 so a physician is always available to handle emergencies and on-going care.

“Hospitalists know every specialist and department,” reads the brochure. It seems that hospitalists are the healthcare equivalent of a utility infielder in baseball or a stringer in journalism. They are the good voice in the chorus or the administrative assistant who handles a variety of tasks.

In short, their specialty is being a generalist.

There are so many areas today where people specialize: coaches for each aspect of the game, accountants for certain types of businesses, lawyers who practice in one segment of the law and tradesmen who complete one segment of a construction project. All this specialization leads to depth, yes, but it also leads to a more narrow view of the whole.

Think of how you can incorporate the hospitalist concept into your organization. Is there an area which could benefit from a generalist? Or maybe someone to handle a variety of tasks? Or perhaps you just need someone well-trained to handle the extra workload or to increase your capacity at certain times of the year?

Generalists may not be specialists, but they certainly are special.

leadership dot #2005: on second glance

Brian, a city-dwelling friend of mine, recently traveled through a long stretch of farmland to meet with me and remarked on what a boring drive he experienced.

It reminded me of photographer Larry Kanfer who originally lived in Oregon and moved to the Midwest. Kanfer was initially apprehensive about seeing beauty in someplace that was flat instead of full of mountains and forests. He came not only to appreciate the prairie but to publish several volumes of photographs from America’s heartland.

His second book, On Second Glance, shares a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly agree:

“Everyone should look around, carefully and more than once. A quick look will not reveal everything in these images, just as a quick look – out your car window while traveling down the interstate – will not allow you to see the beauty that surrounds you. It is the second glance – and the third – -that will help you appreciate the Midwest.”

 On Brian’s trip home, he reflected on a problem that we had discussed at our meeting and came up with a new and creative solution. “Turns out there’s inspiration in them there corn fields,” he texted. Yes. Yes, there is.

If at first you see a landscape, meet a person or encounter a situation that appears to be “flat”, take a second glance. I’m sure there is beauty and inspiration there, too.

Quote source: On Second Glance, Midwest Photographs by Larry Kanfer, 1992, University of Illinois Press

See Larry Kanfer’s photographs here (mine below).

leadership dot #2004: rock it

For the last year or two, adult coloring books have been all the rage. I guess people have figured out that it takes time – and a lot of it — to complete any of the intricate designs that typify the standard selections. So this year a new form of art is making its appearance: rock painting.

Rocks offer a similar outlet for creativity, but in a much smaller space and time commitment. You can still release your inner child, but do so in a period that allows you to complete your creation before you are old!

There are many benefits to relaxation and art; if you’re still looking for something for that hard-to-buy-for person on your list, maybe a bag of stones and some paint could rock your holiday.

leadership dot #2003: operating system

It wasn’t until I upgraded my phone that I became aware of the dozens of decisions I had made to customize it to me. In the system transfer, all of the main data moved from one phone to the next, but none of the options carried over. Thus I found myself spending an inordinate amount of time trying to make it “mine” again: ring tones, alarms, notification settings, phone favorites, cities to track for weather, the location of apps, and on and on.

I was also confronted with the fact that I have many passwords, most of which I never use as the app is permanently logged in or the network is “automatically” connected. When the apps didn’t remember me, I had a lot of work to do to get them functional again either by looking up the passwords or resetting them.

We take a lot of infrastructure details for granted. You turn on the phone and it will just have all the information you need. You crank up the thermostat and the heat will flow. You start the car and expect to be able to drive it.

A new phone reminded me that I need to be conscious of my contributions toward making my things work. Keep track of passwords. Conduct preventative maintenance. Have back up systems and documentation.

The software systems may alert you when it’s time to install a new version, but nothing else will. Proactively schedule upgrades and bug fixes for the rest of your operations.

leadership dot #2002: trade-off

Everyone knows that drinking water is good for your health, but I have been challenged in my quest to do just that.

I purchased a water cooler to avoid the impact of disposable bottles, but then learned that the water comes in jugs that are a “7” (aka toxic plastic that should be avoided.) I tried to be eco-conscious with a reusable straw, but it grew mold inside of it. I find myself drinking substantially less water than Diet Coke, wondering if some water is better than an intake of double the amount in other fluids.

In water, like with everything, is a trade-off.

You’re likely to experience it today with Black Friday: stay at home and avoid the crowds, but maybe miss out on some good deals. Shop online and get the convenience, but negatively impact the local vendors. Take advantage of the sales, but spend lots of money to do so.

With what and how you drink as well as with what and how you buy, it’s a continual tradeoff to create a balance that works for you. Strive to be conscious of the choices that you’re making.

leadership dot #2001: resurgence

It seems like Thanksgiving is gaining respect as a holiday instead of being lost in the pre-Christmas frenzy:

  • I received Thanksgiving cards in the mail from my insurance agent, financial planner and Hallmark.
  • Yesterday my email inbox was filled with notes of gratitude from everyone from my credit union to Joe Biden!
  • Stores are selling collections of Thanksgiving clothing for kids.
  • A previous dot highlighted how Target was consciously reducing the Christmas Creep.

Maybe Thanksgiving is making a resurgence because people are feeling the need to find good things to celebrate. Maybe people are recognizing the important role gratitude can play in their lives. Or maybe it is just seen as another marketing opportunity.

Whatever the reasons, include Thanksgiving in your organization’s planning for next year. It’s always the right time to be grateful for clients and vendors who make your work possible.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving and thank you for reading leadership dots!

leadership dot #2000: milestone

Nearly a half-million words (497,122) and 11,740 paragraphs later, I share dot #2000 with you. Just as I am astounded that it is Thanksgiving already, I also wonder how I got to two thousand entries. My answer: the same way that I amassed 11,803 buttons: one at a time.

When I started accumulating buttons, I had no grand plan about lining the length of my house with my collection. I just had a few buttons on a bulletin board. And then a few more. When I reached #2000 (after 14 years), my dad made me a special button to commemorate the occasion. It seemed an appropriate way to acknowledge this entry, too.

When I first started writing, I looked to blogger Seth Godin for tactic guidance on how to do it. He wrote every day (including weekends), so I did too. He used short pithy titles, so mine are as well. Seth just posted his blog #7000 – will I follow in those footsteps as well?

If there is a lesson I learn through the dots it is to make a commitment and follow through with it – whether you are in the mood or not. If I wrote only when I felt like it, I would have about 20 blogs instead of 100 times that.

Leadership dots are lessons to inspire you to create a cumulative pattern of intentional culture change, one dot at a time. I hope you have learned something in the past 5 ½ years that has helped you connect the dots in your personal and organizational lives.

leadership dot #1999: no regrets

I have a wise brother-in-law who lives by the mantra of no regrets. “We make the best decision that we can with the information available at the time, then move on to make the next best decision,” he said. They are words to live by.

How much time have you wasted lamenting personal or professional decisions that are not able to be changed? No matter how much I regret that I did not see Michael Jordan play in person even though I lived an hour from the United Center, that opportunity is permanently lost. No need to compound it by spending more time wishing I had. We waste time second-guessing decisions that are now done deals as if beating ourselves up over something will make us smarter the next time. It won’t.

Few people intentionally set out to be reckless or careless. Give yourself a break and accept that the door you chose made the most sense at the time.