leadership dot #2421: chill

Yesterday, the wind chill factor was 52 degrees below zero but if I wasn’t listening to the news, I would have never known it. I stayed inside all day – where my house was the same temperature as always, pipes functioned properly, and I wore the same layers of clothes. It was a sunny day outside, and inside business was as usual.

While the view from the window may have been pleasant, the conditions in the environment were not. The sun was deceiving as the wind chills were literally life-threatening. The Weather Service estimated that frostbite could occur in five minutes of exposure.

The polar vortex is a metaphor for what often occurs in organizations as leaders try to garner support from employees about the changes that are necessary. They are preaching the equivalent of “it’s cold outside” or “climate conditions are altered” but all the employees see is the sun and normal operations.

As thought leader John Kotter says, you must first create a sense of urgency before any transformation effort will succeed. Leaders must share the thermometers and stories about the implications. They must point out the ice on the inside windows and make note of the canceled mail service. Employees should listen to the news and be inconvenienced by rescheduling or altered conditions.

If you’re leading a change effort, create a way for the employees to feel the chill without getting frostbitten by it. Business as usual in unusual circumstances won’t help you transform.

leadership dot #2420: vortex

Living in the Snow Belt is a lesson in resiliency. Mother Nature may inflict record-breaking temperatures, but the good people of the Midwest adapt and roll with the punches.

We have had multiple snowfalls this week, and by the time I am awake the roads have already been plowed and become passable. People just get up and get out the snow blower, making paths through feet-high snow banks that have drifted over the sidewalks and driveways. They bundle up in enough layers to make them look like colorful Michelin Men waddling their way across parking lots and into businesses.

And, like today, when the weather is especially brutal, not only are schools closed, but even garbage collection is suspended in the interest of the sanitation workers’ safety. You just do what you’ve gotta do to accommodate and reschedule.

I imagine that those who don’t live here cannot imagine why people do. (Sometimes I wonder that myself!) But the weather instills a heartiness that permeates other facets of life and serves as a good teacher for how to overcome obstacles. It forces people to develop that elusive skill of “grit” that has become so desired in employees.

Clearly, I am not a fan of the -33 degrees temperature projected for tonight. I will grumble and grouse – and then make adjustments and get through it. Use that as a metaphor for how you can press forward in other areas of life, even when the situation may seem inconceivable to others.

leadership dot #2419: milking the cows

Sometimes I am discouraged by all the things I have to do that are never really finished.

  • As soon as I write this blog, tomorrow’s deadline will loom large.
  • Immediately after teaching a class, the next lesson beckons.
  • Before the clean floor dries, the dogs will want to go out and leave their mark on the tiles.
  • Once I finish dishes, I’ll dirty a cup for hot cocoa to enjoy while I read.
  • You file the expense report and go about business, thus generating more expenses to record.

There is so much of our daily work – at home and in our organizations – that is repetitious and as part of a continual cycle. Just as in the summer we plan on cutting the grass each weekend (and lately it seems to plan to shovel snow every day!), so must we allocate in our mental constructs as well as our literal calendar the time to do that which must be done over and over.

As the adage goes, “You have to milk the cows every day.” While that is true, don’t get so consumed by the milking that you fail to enjoy the splendor of the farm that surrounds them.


leadership dot #2418: whacked

There are probably some people within your organization who do not feel like they have a voice in larger issues or policies, yet some of those people have forfeited their voice by choice. In unhealthy cultures, it is easier to remain quiet, doing your work under the radar rather than paying the price that people who speak up often pay. If raising questions or pointing out issues only results in pushback or creating enemies, why is it worth it? It is often so much easier to just go with the flow.

The same is true about being informed; if you remain blissfully ignorant of the issues, you relinquish your obligation to address them or to engage in finding a solution. You can focus your efforts on the surface instead of tackling the hard stuff that lies underneath.

Cultures that don’t provide the psychological safety and overt encouragement to foster disagreements, challenges and risk-taking fall into a muted rhythm where things hum along without disruption – until they don’t. Avoiding issues does not solve them, rather it just prolongs their emergence and intensifies the reaction that occurs once the festering bubbles to the surface.

If you find yourself in a culture that operates like the old Whac-a-Mole game – where anyone who pops their head out of their hole is beaten down – you have two choices: find a critical mass of “moles” to pop up with you, thus avoiding the silencing of all or find yourself another culture where you can do your best work. It may be uncomfortable to stick your head out and use your voice, but it’s the only way change can really happen.

leadership dot #2417: feminized

Today, First Class postage increases to 55 cents per letter! Maybe part of this significant 10% hike is to pay for the damages the USPS had to pay when they lost a copyright violation lawsuit.

The Post Office printed nearly 5 billion stamps in 2010 featuring the Statue of Liberty image – only it wasn’t a picture of the real thing. Instead, they unknowingly chose a photo of a sculpture outside the New York New York Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. The statue’s sculptor, Robert Davidson, sued for copyright infringement and won a settlement of $3.55 million. He argued that he had significantly feminized the sculpture enough to make it a distinct work of art.

In fairness to the Post Office, they did pay for the picture when they obtained it from Getty Images, a leading seller of stock photos, but apparently, that wasn’t enough of a license to replicate it 5 billion times without attribution.

So, the moral of the story: 1) plan to pay more for postage starting today 2) read the fine print when you contract or license copyrighted material and 3) if you see Lady Liberty in person, know that she’s a bit more rugged than her feminized sculpture pictured on the stamps!

Thanks, Meg!

leadership dot #2416: ripple effect

If you need evidence of how entertainment is changing, look no further than my brother’s basement. There he has a multi-piece sectional with recliners, armrests and cup holders – the works – but no one uses it. Instead, the kids gravitate toward the ripped gaming chair and webbed net trampoline chair – allowing them to get closer to the megascreen and play their beloved Fortnite.

I’m sure that the real piece of furniture cost hundreds of dollars, but it was made for an era of watching movies or even streaming on the television. That is so yesterday! Now the gift list includes headsets and X-box gift cards to allow for greater immersion in the virtual gaming world.

Unless you were paying attention, you may not notice the implications that the rise of video gaming created changes in rec room accessories, but it is there. Say goodbye to microwave popcorn – hands are now otherwise occupied — and hello to megabucks gaming chairs with built-in speakers.

Every change creates a ripple effect of other changes. Make it your job to notice what they are.

leadership dot #2415: art museum

A colleague asked me what process I used to figure out that I wanted to work independently rather than in a traditional job. I told him that it was like going to an art museum.

Most self-help and career coaching books advocate that you ascertain your strengths and do exercises to find your purpose, but for me, it was an evolutionary process that was a lot like looking at art. Initially, could not describe to you what types of paintings struck my fancy but I could instantly tell what I did not like. My process was one of eliminating jobs or aspects of positions that did not appeal to me until I found myself in the metaphorical gallery of works that I loved.

In essence, choosing a career path is like picking a painting to hang in your home. There may be many that are possibilities, but only a select few that really speak to you. Keep wandering through those hallways until you find one that you want to be with for many hours each day.


leadership dot #2414: hyperbole

The word “emergency” has lost its impact and become a commonplace occurrence.

Our city declared a Snow Emergency which just means that cars can’t park on the street so the plows can clear the few inches of snow that was predicted to fall.

The president claims a national emergency for a caravan of migrants on foot at the border.

The hospital Emergency Room treats as many sprains and viruses as it does true life-threatening illnesses.

With each overuse of the word emergency, it lessens the impact for when a true calamity is occurring. Emergency should mean dire, urgent or immediate. Keep your language free of hyperbole to avoid “crying wolf” one too many times.

leadership dot #2413: for now

It’s hard to handle emotions when they rotate between positive and negative as if on a roller coaster:

  • A loss is harder to deal with if you had been pulling off an upset for the majority of the game.
  • It’s worse to hear that your car needs major repairs a month after an accident if you thought you had escaped with only minor damage.
  • A serious diagnosis is harder to accept if the doctor recently told you that your health was fine.
  • Getting fired is gut-wrenching if your last quarter’s results were positive.

You can’t prepare for all the negative situations but try to keep your emotions grounded in short time periods rather than assuming the current status reflects the permanent state. It’s better to internalize that “We’re winning – for now” or that “The car appears to be running well – at this time”. The roller coaster still might take a dip, but at least you’ll be holding on to the handlebars and be better able to absorb it.


leadership dot #2412: most

Most is an overrated designation.

Most people may like you at work, but if your boss doesn’t, you have a serious problem.

Most people voted for Hillary Clinton in the election, yet she did not become president.

Most people may think you are talented, but if the coach doesn’t want you, you won’t make the team.

Don’t waste your energy trying to get the “most” people to do anything. Focus your energy on convincing the right people of your value and the rest will take care of itself.