leadership dot #2602: untainted

While I was in the checkout line, I noticed someone had decided against purchasing a cup of yogurt and left it there. It got me thinking about food safety and all the steps that had to occur correctly for that yogurt initially to be untainted, and now, again for it to remain so.

I know when I buy my yogurt, I don’t give it a second thought. I count on it to be safe, which means that I implicitly trust the minimum wage worker to know enough not to restock the abandoned yogurt from the checkout line, the retailer to promptly stock and maintain refrigeration, trucker to ensure the delivery was made at a controlled temperature, the packing facility to follow cleanliness and purity protocols, and the farmer to feed the cows grass and water free from toxins.

I think of all the painstaking steps that work to keep our food supply safe – from the growing, processing, transporting and selling – and yet we often come close to subverting that whole system by our own food-safety shortcuts. We cook meat without thermometers, leave the potato salad on the buffet line too long and keep unrefrigerated yogurt in the hot car as we continue our round of errands.

Food safety is often determined in final moments before consumption – just as in organizations where the consumer’s experience with you is often determined in the last moment – negating all the preparations and precautions that preceded it. Nonetheless, remain diligent in providing that background of care and honor your role within the system – both as a producer and as a consumer.

leadership dot #2601: tough love

I teach an accelerated version of an MBA class and in my last section students were lamenting at how challenged they were to complete the final paper on time. When I asked for feedback for the class, they suggested that I require an interim assignment where students had to provide their reference list in advance. (Presumably, this will provide an incentive for them to start working on their papers earlier in the course!)

They were quite vocal in their requests and even provided a well-thought-out rationale in writing after the class had ended — but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. It felt too much like coddling. If I try to teach anything in my courses it is relevant life lessons and requiring self-driven forethought and responsibility seemed to be good skills to reinforce (or learn?).

I worry that the bar for personal responsibility keeps getting pushed further and further into adulthood. It used to be that you had to take greater ownership for your actions as you grew as a child. Then it was when you entered high school. Then college was the mark of independence, only now life coaches are there to provide assistance in navigating that system. Are people now on their own when they begin their first job or are onboarding buddies and mentors extending that phase of independence as well?

The conversation in class made me wonder where and how we teach self-accountability today. Our public library has stopped collecting fines – a seemingly unrelated action – but I think learning from a litany of small actions that have consequences is what teaches people to assume responsibility for their outcomes. If being late in returning a book doesn’t matter as a kid, how do people learn to set their own benchmarks and make sacrifices to achieve other goals?

Schools, sports and extracurricular activities have resulted in very structured lives for our youth and I see them challenged in transitioning to a phase where they take responsibility for creating their own schedules and deadlines. The tough love on my syllabus may be the most valuable thing they learn in class.

leadership dot #2600: scientific method

The county fair featured a science demonstration by “Professor Newton” who blurred the line between science and magic. He conducted experiments that entertained the audience but then he shared the scientific explanation behind what they had just seen and related it back to the scientific method.

For many, the scientific method sounds lofty — something that is practiced only by PhDs in lab coats — but Professor Newton boiled its essence down to concepts that even kids could understand:

  • Guess (aka: Develop a hypothesis)
  • Do (aka: Conduct an experiment)
  • Observe (aka: Measure experiment’s results)
  • Answer (aka: Confirm or revise hypothesis)

The simplified formula can be used by adults as well to add some structure to their plans. Rather than just proposing something new without forethought as to what will constitute success, the implementation of a rudimentary scientific method will help clarify expectations, benchmarks and next steps.

Take the advice of Professor Newton and utilize Guess, Do, Observe and Answer for your next project. Those extra moments of analysis will provide some rigor and ability for replication as you move forward.

leadership dot #2599: display

At a garage sale, I stumbled upon a desk and cabinet from a 1950s doctor’s office. I had zero need for either of these furniture pieces, but as you can guess, they both are now mine. I wasn’t looking for them but in as vivid of language as furniture can muster, they told me to take them home.

My sisters rearranged my living room to incorporate the pieces and I “gathered a few things” to put in the drawers. It turns out that I not only have an attraction to current office supplies but I have amassed quite a collection of vintage ones as well, including the perfect typewriter to grace the desk. My new possession has become a mini-museum and allowed me to showcase treasures that had been stored in the back of my closet. I now look at it and smile every day.

I encourage you to find a way to bring your latent collection out of the corners and into a place where at least a portion of it is visible. Display a piece or two somewhere so you can actually see the things that bring you joy. If it’s worth keeping, it’s worth showing.

leadership dot #2598: camp

Two of my pre-teen friends and family are at overnight camp this summer, and since I am an avid user of snail mail, I’ve been invited to correspond.

One of the camps has a standard “no food” policy and checks packages to ensure that well-meaning relatives aren’t tempting the animals in an effort to treat their camper. But the other camp won’t even allow anything larger than a regular business-size envelope – not to keep the critters away, rather to allow the campers to disconnect from Amazon! Apparently last year several participants received daily deliveries courtesy of Prime and the administration (wisely) changed policy to stop it.

It’s one thing to have everything at your fingertips if you’re an adult or living in a metropolitan area but I wonder what it teaches young people when they have near-instant access to everything while at a remote camp. In this situation, I think the good intentions of the sender are misplaced and the young people would benefit more from a week free of technology, commercialism, and instant gratification. After all, isn’t that part of what going to camp is all about?

So, if you are lucky enough to have a summer pen pal, opt for a touch of nostalgia and send correspondence that is as primitive as their environment. Postcards are as much of a treat as Amazon and even more of a novelty in this day and age.

leadership dot #2597: automation

One of the big fears of those who work on the operational side of college admissions was that they would inadvertently send out admit letters to the wrong batch of students. It seems inconceivable, but it happens with surprising regularity. It’s a vivid reminder that behind “automatic” technology is a human who sometimes makes mistakes.

This week I received two notices about electronic rewards which were not sent correctly. A fast-food chain sent me an “oops we forgot your birthday” ice cream cone – fully admitting that they made an omission rather than picking up on my sentiment from yesterday’s dot that they were “extending my birthday celebration.”

Then I received notice from a department store that the five bonus dollars they sent to me were in fact sent in error and they were deactivating them! Seriously!? Why admit a mistake, disappoint a customer, and spend the time/energy/expense to rescind five bucks – the whole point of which is to get you in the store to spend more than five bucks in return?

Technology is a wonderful tool – when the people operating it do so correctly. It’s easy to automate on rote but far more effective to add a human element of review to the program. Take that extra step of caution to ensure you’re using automation to advance your brand instead of apologizing for it.


leadership dot #2596: off season

My birthday is in June and yesterday I received a birthday present in the mail. It was fantastic! Not only was the content wonderful but receiving an unexpected package made it even more special. I may never send a gift at the usual time again.

I have always intentionally delayed my sympathy greetings – having learned from experience that anything which arrives during those initial days of grief is lost in the blur. I send wedding presents very early for the flip side of that same rationale – as the date nears, presents become almost overwhelming among the other preparations. There has been a trend of businesses to send Thanksgiving cards instead of holiday greetings to avoid being forgotten in the shuffle and a friend sent New Year’s cards and a letter to achieve the same effect.

I have never considered sending birthday greetings “off-season” until now but perhaps an added element of serendipity enhances the giving. You can shower love on the actual day with a call, card or text but save some surprise for the gift portion of your greeting. It’s a guaranteed day-brightener!


leadership dot #2595: collaborators

I saw the movie Rocketman over the weekend – the musical biopic about the genius and struggles of Elton John. As important, the movie is also a tribute to Bernie Taupin and the power of collaboration.

Taupin wrote the lyrics for Elton John’s music – for 50 years. John would translate Taupin’s poems into musical magic. They worked together on over 30 albums and he penned the words for most of Elton’s hits including Candle in the Wind, Crocodile Rock, Bennie and the Jets, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me, Daniel, and Your Song.

What stuck with me from the movie is that this dynamic duo found each other through pure chance. Both answered a newspaper advertisement looking for songwriters and were paired anonymously when Elton revealed he only wrote music and Taupin noted he only wrote lyrics. The two had personal chemistry as well as musical symmetry and remain friends as well as collaborators five decades later.

We often expend great energy trying to find the “right” partner for our projects or ventures, but sometimes fate does just as good of a job. Take a lesson from John and Taupin and put yourself out there – answering ads, joining groups, writing a blog or posting on social media – and see if destiny or serendipity doesn’t intervene to match you with someone who can work in concert with you.

leadership dot #2594: power wash

I have been lamenting about my filthy windows since winter. I tried to borrow a power washer to no avail. The person I tried to hire never returned my calls. Finally, my housemate purchased a power washer and tonight we tackled the big task.

It struck me that with my “flippable” windows that tilt in, I ended up doing all of the window washing from inside without any power washer involved. In other words, I could have had this done since March. Yes, power washing the screens made a huge difference. Yes, washing the outside casings and siding makes the house look so much better. But for the part that bugged me the most, no new equipment was needed; it was just a matter of doing it.

Isn’t that the case with so many dreaded tasks? We put off exercising until we join a gym or fitness class when simple walking would make progress toward strength and health. We avoid beginning that project at work until we install new project management software when a simple legal pad could get us started. We eat out because we don’t have 100% of the ingredients instead of making an easy substitution.

The mind works magic when trying to avoid an unpleasant task. The next time you catch yourself listing reasons why you can’t do something until ______, power wash the thought from your head. I’ll bet there is a way, right now, without anything new, that you can take a step forward.

leadership dot #2593: brain freeze

A local convenience store received a delivery of ice on a day with a heat index of 100 degrees. An outside delivery. Where the ice sat untouched the entire time I was in the store.

The one clerk that was moving another pallet of ice from outside into the freezer was called away – by the store manager no less – to help ring up customers.

I’m all for speedy service and not making people wait in line, but I’m more in favor of reasonable priorities. Those who buy that ice – assuming it’s still ice by the time it’s sold – will receive re-frozen lumps instead of cubes. Job 1 should have been to get it inside into the air-conditioning immediately, and having just three people in line shouldn’t have superseded getting it into the freezer.

I suspect the manager was so in the habit of calling for additional help when a line formed that she didn’t intentionally think about the decision she was making and the de facto priorities she was setting. But don’t have a similar brain freeze when you are called upon to direct your employees. What is important under one set of circumstances may be entirely wrong in another.