leadership dot #2329: mask

I love asking kids what they are going to be for Halloween. Hearing whether they have chosen to be a princess, warrior, video game avatar, scary monster, nurse, cartoon icon, animal or Harry Potter character gives you a peek into their interests and how they see themselves in a way that is hard to decipher at other times in the year.

When it comes to adults, oftentimes the costume is influenced by external rather than internal factors: what can I wear to work? What can I make out of what exists in my closet? What is a costume that doesn’t really look like a costume?

For kids and adults alike, Halloween is a day to take on another persona and be someone that you don’t normally get to be. What if adults did that today – sans costume. If you’re usually the quiet one, for today, be the one to raise your hands first. If you’re seen as independent or private, for today, ask someone else to lunch or to work with you on a project. If you’re prone to be talkative, make it your pledge today to focus on listening.

You don’t need a mask or costume to express a different part of your personality. We can all treat others today by sharing another side of who we authentically are.

leadership dot #2328: you

My mom had a cartoon hanging by her mirror for decades that showed a mutt looking into the mirror and seeing a beautiful collie. I was always drawn to the image because I think for so many people the reality is the reverse: they are collies but see themselves as average mutts.

I thought of this cartoon when I read a Twitter post by Oogimauskii:* “A different version of you exists in the minds of everyone who knows you…the person you think of as “yourself” exists only for you, and even you don’t really know who that is. Every person you meet, have a relationship with or make eye contact on the street with, creates a version of “you” in their heads. You’re not the same person to your mom, your dad, your siblings, than you are to your coworkers, your neighours or your friends. There are a thousand different versions of yourself out there, in people’s minds. A “you” exists in each version, and yet your “you”, “yourself” isn’t really a “someone” at all.”

 You can’t control how others view you or what those multiple different versions of “you” are in the minds of others, but you can choose how you talk about yourself and picture yourself in your own mind. Believe yourself to be that beautiful collie!

*Concept from Uno, Nessuno, Centomila by Luigi

Illustration by Jerry Van Amerongen, 1985

leadership dot #2327: defying stereotypes

If you’re like many people, you grew up singing Old Mac Donald Had A Farm and that tune formed an impression for you of what farming was like. The Land O’Lakes cooperative wants to shake that up a bit and has rewritten the song to suggest that Old MacDonald had a daughter, too. Women now comprise one-third of all U.S. farmers and the cooperative’s Female Farmer Project aims to highlight women’s role in the food chain.

Land O’Lakes has worked with Grammy-winning artist Maggie Rose to “rewrite the song for women rewriting the rules.” The campaign features several videos, one She-I-O: “Old MacDonald had a daughter, Look what she does with what he taught her, She-I-E-I-O…” Another has visuals of women working the farm while the voiceover reads a poem about what once was thought of as their traditional role in raising kids and putting food on the table. The commercial concludes with “keep defying stereotypes in every field”. Both ads are full of powerful images and shake up the impression many non-farmers have of who is running the agricultural industry today.

Do your clients understand who works for your organization? Maybe you are multi-generational, from a wide span of geographies, attended a wide range of colleges or have some other demographic characteristic that could defy some of the stereotypes people hold. Don’t let Land O’Lakes be the only ones doing some myth-busting about their workforce.

leadership dot #2326: someone

When I think of a warehouse retailer like Costco or Sam’s Club, I think of buying paper products and food essentials in bulk. I don’t think of purchasing high-end luxury products, but apparently, they think that some people do. On display was a selection of nine types of liquor – all over $100/bottle. There was even a bottle of cognac for $745.

Maybe those who are willing to pay nearly a thousand dollars for one bottle of alcohol just toss it in their cart with the giant package of toilet paper, but somehow it seems to be sending mixed messages about who the warehouse really serves.

If you define your audience as “everyone” you might do a better job by serving “someone” instead.

leadership dots #2325: differences

Our town has two primary banks that have been in the community for decades. One was recently sold to another company, headquartered about two hours away. I don’t think the ink was dry on the purchase agreement before the remaining bank had banners and signs at all of its locations proclaiming: “BANK LOCAL.”

Previously, local had not been an advantage since the bank that was sold had been family-owned and operating here since 1911, but kudos to the marketing person who immediately recognized that “local” had suddenly become a distinction and jumped all over it.

When is the last time that your organization assessed what its advantages and unique selling points were? The competition changes all the time – adding products and services that now overlap with yours, or, as in this case, deleting a characteristic that formerly was on par with what you offered. An updated benefit review may lead you to rethink your messaging in order to highlight the differences that make your organization special.

leadership dot #2324: be informed

Before I head to the ballot box, I wanted to make sure that I was prepared to make my choices. Millions of dollars have been spent on this mid-term election and I feel like I have been inundated with ads for all of the major positions (x 3 since I live at the intersection of three states). But when I printed a sample ballot, I discovered an entire page of positions that I have heard absolutely nothing about.

We are voting for two county Soil and Water District commissioners and five county Agricultural Extension Council members as well as whether or not to retain seven judges. I had never heard of these people, so I Googled them, looked on LinkedIn and checked Facebook – only to find surprisingly little. Finally, I found a Facebook group an environmentally-forward state representative had created to post statements from the conservation candidates and the university that hosts the extension collected paragraphs about the council elections. I still know next to nothing about the judges.

Why should this be so hard?

I would guess that the vast majority of voters go to cast their ballot thinking that they know the names and positions that will be on it. Many are likely not informed about even those candidates, beyond whether they are Republican or Democrat, but they can’t even rely on that distinction on page 2 of the ballot. It becomes either a total guessing game or they forfeit their vote and leave the back side blank.

With the importance of elections, why isn’t there a standard system whereby everyone can easily check an interactive ballot that allows you to click on the names of all the candidates to read a statement about them? It may be self-written and pure propaganda, but at least the voters would know something about those they are endorsing or de facto voting out. The big push to get everyone to vote is meaningless if people don’t know who they are voting for.

It’s likely that your election officials aren’t going to make it easy for you to be an informed voter. Make the effort to be one anyway.

leadership dot #2323: separation

When I went to get in my car from the parking lot, I took a moment to appreciate the prairie that abutted the lot. I was struck by the deliberate line that someone had chosen of where to mow — and where not to mow. The manicured area had no natural definition; it wasn’t someone’s yard or along a sidewalk, rather someone had arbitrarily decided to mow to one spot and to leave the grass next to it to grow naturally.

We could all be so intentional with the decisions that we make in our lives. Say yes to this but say no to that. Leave work at work and focus on home at home. Put this much into savings and what is left goes into checking.

It’s up to you where to draw the line, but once you do, make it a clean separation. Mow just the grasses that are to be mowed and allow the others to go free.

leadership dot #2322: fitting in

When you start a new job or move to a new city, one of your goals should be to fit into the environment. That doesn’t mean changing who you are, rather being conscious about the symbols and signals you send about making a new place your home.

In the workplace, some of the strategies you should employ from the beginning are to learn (and utilize) the jargon and acronyms. Nothing will highlight your newness faster than pronouncing something wrong, calling a department by the wrong name (eg: business office vs. finance department), or by using the full name instead of the commonly used shorthand. It’s also important to be intentional about appearance, lunch and break norms and communication culture (eg: do people use email, drop by in person or schedule an appointment) and work ethics.

If you moved to a new location for your job, it’s important to assimilate into the out-of-office environment as well. Even though I was very active and consciously immersed myself in the new city, my efforts were offset by other signals I unconsciously sent that trumpeted that I wasn’t from here. I kept my cell phone number so had a different area code than most. I drive a car brand that doesn’t have a dealership here. I live in a new subdivision so my address isn’t familiar to long-time residents. As a result, my involvement made it feel like home to me, but to others, I am still often seen as an outsider.

Fitting in is a two-way process, whether that be at your job, as a tourist or in a new city. You may overtly choose to forge your own path and do things in ways that are different from the others or you may try to replicate behaviors. You may opt to pass on acclimating yourself to the town and instead learn things as you go or you may deeply immerse yourself in its culture. The key is to make your choice with intentionality, knowing that you can always do more or less to both feel like home and to be seen as being at home.

leadership dot #2321: stop doing

In addition to the excellent set of organizational assessment questions, Performance Practice (the resource I shared yesterday) is accompanied by a library of short videos to illustrate the premise of each of its seven modules.

One of my favorites is this four-minute video that provides an example of the leadership module in action. If your organization has ever had an event that is very popular – but perhaps not the best use of your resources to accomplish your mission – Pastor William Attaway’s message may resonate well. He describes a process that his board used to evaluate whether or not to continue an event – and the lessons they learned from the pushback they received when communicating that it would be discontinued.

It is never easy to make decisions that are in the long-term interest of an organization but have emotional implications in the short-term — which is why many continue programs without question. It takes fortitude and forethought to stop doing something, but often that is the only way to free up the resources (human and financial) necessary to do something better.

As Jim Collins wrote as the first line in his best-selling book*: “Good is the enemy of great.” What good event are you doing that should be stopped to make room for greatness?

*Good to Great by Jim Collins, 2001


leadership dot #2320: shared resources

We learn to share as toddlers but as we grow older sometimes we forget that lesson. Cooks decline to pass along their “secret recipe” to those who request it. Leaders hold ideas close to their vest and refuse to vet them with their staff. Facilitators hold back their PowerPoints or only share selected materials with participants. It’s as if sharing the information will diminish its value (or the credibility of the sharer) rather than increase it.

Fortunately for nonprofit organizations, not everyone ascribes to the paucity sentiment. A group of thought leaders and practitioners has developed a robust, actionable and highly credible organizational assessment: The Performance Practice – and made it fully available without charge. The assessment may be used by organizational leaders, boards and consultants with the goal of linking mission and performance to deliver societal impact through meaningful and lasting performance results.

Performance Practice consists of seven modules that may be used in any order depending upon the needs of the organization: leadership, management, programs and strategies, financial sustainability, learning culture, internal monitoring and external evaluation. Each module provides principles, proof points (to allow for measurement and tracking), worksheets and questions to stimulate discussion. It truly is a treasure of a resource – and all for free.

If you are in any way affiliated with a nonprofit institution, I encourage you to find ways to incorporate parts of this tool in your self-assessment, organizational assessment or reflection exercises. It’s not something that you can digest all at once, but it is a gift that can best be appreciated by putting it into practice one piece at a time.

Developed by the Leap of Reason Ambassadors Community

 Tip: You can download each module individually or download “Use All Modules” to download all seven sets of questions at once. See link here for where to download all proof points at once.