leadership dot #2298: bell curve

There was a time when Walter Cronkite was the most credible voice in America. If he said “that’s the way it was” the majority of people believed him. They may not have agreed, but most thought what he said was true. Oh, how we need a Walter.

A friend and I were having a debate over one of the many political issues of the day. I have a strong opinion based upon my sources of news and he has similar passion because of what he has read. The problem comes in when neither of us can prove that the source is neutral.

Is there a modern Walter Cronkite that is a voice that can be trusted or an agreed upon outlet that reports facts with minimal bias? At one point in time, presidents or ministers had the corner on believable messaging to the masses, but today even those positions have become partisan and tainted. Social media exacerbates the rumors, innuendos and false reporting which just perpetuates the divide.

In 1987, the Federal Communications Commission eliminated the fairness doctrine and in 2011 it was finally removed from policy. This law required licensed stations to “both present controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that was – in the FCC’s view – honest, equitable and balanced.” We need that law back.

There is growing venom for those who believe differently and no voice in the middle that shares commonalities instead of extremes. We need a Bell Curve media who reports the middle instead of the soundbites that inflame. In fact, I think we need a Bell Curve Party instead of the polarizing two that we have now.

How can you acknowledge the middle today?

leadership dot #2297: continuing ed

At a garage sale, I stumbled upon the “Smith-Corona Ten-Day Touch Typing Course” – a gem from 1961 that includes a workbook and five records to accompany the lessons. It boasts that you will “hear it on the first day…type it perfectly on the 10th…on a Smith-Corona Portable “(i.e. manual, non-electric typewriter). I can just picture the teen girls sitting by their phonograph pecking away.

Besides the nostalgic rush that it gave me, it highlighted that we have been learning at home for decades. Most people continue to learn well beyond their formal schooling, but instead of doing it with 33-1/3 RPM records, now we count on sites like Acumen+, Udemy, Udacity or edX to provide how-to lessons for millions.

The desire for practical education has always been present (and hopefully always will be). Whether it be a language, DIY home skill, crafting, business expertise, food preparation or something else, I hope you carve out a slice of time this weekend to learn something new. If you can learn to type in 10-days with no visual aids, just think of what an interactive online class can provide for you. The world awaits!

leadership dot #2096: extractive

I attended a racial equity training yesterday where local leaders learned engagement strategies to pilot projects about race. As you would expect, one of the six steps in the process was community engagement. For this section, the presenter really pushed us to outline a process that was an on-going partnership rather than a one-time encounter.

“It is key that you develop a relationship that is not extractive,” cautioned our Race Forward facilitator – with extractive meaning that you go into a community, extract feedback, then go away only to come back claiming to have the answer. Community members who are impacted need to be involved beyond just providing feedback to become engaged in developing the solutions.

I think extractive encounters occur throughout many organizations. Companies run focus groups and made subsequent decisions based upon the one-time opinions of a few. Leaders conduct town hall meetings and take action based on that slice of feedback rather than cultivating on-going communication with employees. Politicians seek input around election time but seem to disappear the remaining portion of their term.

As you seek to learn from your stakeholders, design your process to be an exchange rather than an extraction. Your community engagement will be far richer for it.

leadership dot #2295: blank page

Many people may find a blank page stimulating and open to possibilities, but I find it intimidating. Having the freedom of an empty canvas is not liberating to me, rather it is often paralyzing. As a result, I utilize many strategies to ensure that my page is not blank for long. Once I get something on the page, the subsequent words tend to flow.

To avoid finding your mind and fingers idle as you stare at your computer screen or piece of paper, begin by using another document as a template. I utilize old proposals as a starting point to write a new one, and even if the topics are unrelated, there is always a heading or formatting that I can carry forward to begin. I open old agendas or minutes and modify them rather than typing anew. Before publishing, I write the dots in Word and always paste tomorrow’s dot number and date on the next page so I have initial content instead of nothingness. When I write a grant, I’ll create the document with just the questions and work from there to fill in the answers.

Another strategy is to cut and paste material that you can repurpose rather than creating it from scratch. If you presented on a topic, use that session description or handout to start a newsletter article on the same subject. Repurpose descriptions from your annual report into a portion of your grant application. Modify your job descriptions to become your ad – then your onboarding document – then your evaluation form.

If you have a major writing project ahead, start now to make notes – and collect the Post-its or slips of paper in a folder – that you can assemble and type up when it’s time to begin your work. You’ll be working from a skeleton of an outline from the start instead of wondering what that first point is.

The first word is the hardest one to write. Set yourself up for success by having the beginning already on the page.

leadership dot #2294: muddy

A new supervisor was reluctant to be too direct with her employee for fear of coming across as too harsh. No one likes to be the bad guy!

I encourage a reframing of the mindset from “harsh to “clear”. It isn’t being too harsh when you provide clear parameters and expectations. It is a gift, not a punishment when you communicate what behaviors are positive and which ones are lacking (and why). It is helpful rather than detrimental when there are clear timelines and metrics about performance.

A lack of clarity doesn’t make the employee your friend; it makes them confused and out of alignment with what you need them to provide. And while it is oh-so-tempting to start off by trying to be “nice” as a supervisor, all your ambiguity does is muddy the water about your expectations.

I am reminded of my favorite Marcus Buckingham quote that I have shared before but it never grows old:

Effective leaders don’t have to be charming or brilliant
What they must be is clear.
CLARITY is the essence of great leadership.
Show us who we should seek to serve,
Show us where our core strength lays,
Show us which score we should focus on
And which actions we must take,
And we will reward you by working our hearts out
To make our better future come true.

Remember that it is so much easier to keep the water clear than to make a futile attempt to remove the mud from it.

 Source: The One Thing You Need to Know by Marcus Buckingham, 2005.

The Big Muddy (aka Mississippi River)

leadership dot #2293: spheres and pyramids

In his book It Worked for Me, Colin Powell uses the imagery of spheres and pyramids to describe professional development – and the need to incorporate a broad perspective in leadership training. Powell describes each unit as a pyramid, with each person inside as a sphere. As people gain responsibilities within the unit, their spheres grow in size until they reach the outside border of the pyramid. “Once that happens, the only way to keep growing and rising is to expand outside the pyramid,” he writes.

The problem arises when all the development that has occurred has focused only on the environment and skills required inside the unit (pyramid). Once someone ascends to a higher leadership role, suddenly they have a need to know other skills, such as supervision, strategy, or visioning that they may not have needed or learned within the boundaries of their previous role. The senior leader needs to understand competition, regulations, investments and trends in ways that the spheres in the original pyramid do not. Those who expand beyond their narrow boundaries suddenly are competing for resources in a much larger arena and need to master the political climate effectively in order to secure their needs.

As a supervisor, you can help develop your staff by exposing them to the world that exists outside of their current pyramid – even if they aren’t involved with it yet. Staff may be interested in going deeper with their known skill set, but learning may be richer if they are exposed to industry trends instead. Rather than having your accountant attend another tax seminar, push them to participate in a global economic summit. Send your human resources staff to a technology conference to learn how the world of work is changing. Allow your junior staff member to receive supervision training to prepare them for roles outside their pyramid in the future.

Don’t limit yourself or your staff by restricting professional development to the boundaries that exist. The growth is on the outside.

Source: Chapter 8: Spheres and Pyramids in It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership by Colin Powell, 2012.

leadership dot #2293: not your circus

I have a colleague who was watching with dismay some of the changes happening at her former place of employment. Decisions were being made that were in contrast with the direction she would have chosen and it was painful to her to think about the implications without being able to influence them.

“It’s not your circus, not your monkeys,” I said, quoting a popular meme.

“Yes,” she replied. “But I put up the tent.”

It is challenging to want to control things over which we have no control, and futile to waste energy trying to do so. As I wrote about on Friday, our impact and legacy live on far beyond our tenure in an organization. But our emotional attachment needs to remain in the past, not in the present.

“It is very difficult, if not impossible, to relinquish and attach at the same time,” wrote Erin Hilderbrand. They are wise words to live by.

Let yourself walk away from the old circus and focus your gifts on raising a new big top. Because you pitched the last tent well, the show will go on – without you – and your new monkeys need all you have to give.

Source: Summer People, by Erin Hilderbrand, 2010, p. 113.