leadership dot #2633: rip currents

While on vacation at Lake Michigan, we were warned to watch out for rip currents, a force of water that occurs away from the shore. Swimmers can get caught in the waves near a sandbar and feel the pull of water toward the center of the lake.

Instinctively, swimmers fight the current and attempt to head against it back to shore. While this may be their first reaction, it is the wrong one and will only serve to tire the swimmer. A far more effective response is to swim parallel to the shore until you are past the rip current and then you are able to return to the shore with ease.

I think rip currents occur in organizations, too – places where strong emotions or opinions bubble up and create disruptions all those in the area. You may feel trapped in the current of dissent and expend your energy fighting it. Better to take the counter-intuitive route and go about your business in a parallel fashion; ignoring the currents rather than getting sucked into the drama.

leadership dot #2632: about them

In my class, I assigned students to submit a resume, hypothetical cover letter and accompanying job ad. I thought this would be an easy assignment and way for me to get to know the students but it turned into a larger lesson on communication.

I see a resume and cover letter as a microcosm of the communication process as a whole. These documents must be accurate, compelling and succinct. They must bring the content to life in a way that is meaningful for the audience, not the writer and, like most messages, they need to inspire action. Hiring and interviewing are key managerial skills and I believe the students need to role model in that area by having a resume, letter and LinkedIn profile that conveys their strengths and uniquenesses. Let’s just say that I was underwhelmed with what I received.

So, we spent a portion of class working on two key elements of the cover letter: 1) the focus and 2) the closing. The letter should be about THE EMPLOYER, not the candidate. Consider the difference between:

  • “I am applying for ABC position because I have XYZ strengths” – vs. – “I am applying for ABC position because I have XYZ strengths that can help your organization delight and serve its customers.”
  • “I am interested in ABC position because I’ve always admired your organization and am interested in your industry.” – vs. – “I am interested in ABC position because I believe my XYZ skills can help you continue to be a leader in your industry.”

Make it about them!

We also worked to end with a strong statement. Instead of the unmemorable “Thank you for your consideration” or “I look forward to hearing from you”, think of the difference it makes to conclude with something like:

  • “I look forward to sharing further how my experiences could enhance ABC and help create a positive impact on your clients.”
  • “I welcome the opportunity to utilize my experiences to help ABC [do what its website says it’s trying to do] e.g.: become a leader in the community, grow in this region, etc.”

Make it about them!

Whether or not you are actively pursuing a job, I believe it is always a good idea to have a current resume and updated profile. Be ready when an opportunity comes knocking!

leadership dot #2631: bird by bird

A famous piece of writing advice from author Anne Lamott is simply to write “bird by bird”. The saying references a quote her father gave her brother who was struggling to begin a major report on birds that should have been started long before. “Bird by bird,” he said, encouraging him to write about one bird at a time and assemble them into a paper.

“Bird by bird” is great advice, not only for writing but for most things. You prepare department-wide budgets bird by bird. Plan elaborate weddings. Deliver a comprehensive proposal. Complete income taxes. Become a minimalist. Finish an expense report. Pack a household to move. Change systems. It all happens one “bird” at a time.

Instead of feeling overwhelmed the next time a significant task faces you, remember Lamott’s powerful advice. Describing the aviary may seem daunting, but one bird you can handle.

Source: Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott, 1995

leadership dot #2630: the art of interviewing

When I say “interviewing,” most people think of prospecting for jobs, but interviewing has a far greater context. Interviewing is a key managerial skill, a tool to elicit feedback and information from others. If they do it right, managers will “interview” people every day to learn about their needs, problems, solutions and emotions.

Two current leadership “hot topics” are Emotional Intelligence and Human-Centered Design. Both involve components of empathy – gaining an understanding of others – which can be done through interviewing — consulting with others, asking questions and listening to the response.

I believe that a good interview addresses questions about “what is” but also draws observations and inquiries about “what isn’t” – reading between the lines to discover what is eluded to but left unsaid.

Yesterday’s dot was inspired by a loan officer interviewing me not only about finances but also about my favorite leadership concept. I interviewed the students in my class last night to discover their learning objectives for the course. I’ll be interviewed by clients to see if my training style fits their needs and I’ll interview them to learn what they really hope to accomplish from the session even if they can’t yet articulate it themselves.

As a journalism major, the art of good interviewing was highlighted in all of our courses but I believe it should be part of everyone’s curriculum. Learning how to craft insightful questions and seeking to understand what is/isn’t said are skills that would increase civility and benefit far more than just reporters. Try to practice your interviewing skills today by asking someone a powerful question that makes them stop and think.

leadership dot #2629: redux

During some small talk with a loan officer, he asked me what one leadership concept I would share if I only could tell him one. My answer: Indianapolis.

Here’s the concept: more major roads lead to Indianapolis than any other city in the country. The job of the leader is to define “Indianapolis” for their organization and then allow people latitude and freedom to get there in individual ways: going north, southeast, west, etc.; by using interstates, scenic routes or goat paths; and in cars, trucks, buses or bicycles. The “how” becomes far less important than the destination.

So much time is spent – unnecessarily – requiring people to achieve a goal in the same way. You need involvement and buy-in on determining “Indianapolis”, but you can allow so much flexibility in the methods to arrive there. Ultimately, it helps you gain support for the outcome when you don’t limit freedom around the inputs.

I wrote about Indianapolis in one of my earliest dots (see #29) and have used the concept so often that I keep a map of Indiana in my briefcase! It’s a powerful and simple visual to help you and your team stay focused on where you are headed.



leadership dot #2628: preserve and stimulate

There is one consistent theme to the training I am asked to do: change. Whether organizations want to learn how to create it or need assistance in coping with the change already happening, it is clear that not much stands still these days.

One of the tools that I use with organizations is the concept of “Preserve the Core and Stimulate Progress” from Built to Last by Jerry I. Porras and Jim Collins. Although the book is from 1994, many of the concepts, like the visionary companies they studied, continues to endure.

Preserve the Core and Stimulate Progress serve as a yin and yang balance of what successful organizations must achieve. Their example: Disney’s core preserves the “magic” image and “striving to bring happiness to millions” but has stimulated progress by evolving from the Mickey Mouse Club to animated features, theme parks, Broadway shows, television networks and more.

It helps organizations to spend some time articulating the key elements of their core and to realize that many components can be preserved even as the organization evolves. Workgroups, departments and other units can define core values of how they wish to work and the culture that they want to preserve in their area, helping people feel more control over the changes.

Helping people embrace the duality of enduring and changing is a key skill for leaders today.


leadership dot #2627: Sundays

It is surprising to me that traditional car dealers (at least in our area) are not open on Sunday. It’s also interesting to me that many states do not allow alcohol sales before noon on Sundays. Both seem to be vestiges of old “blue laws” when religious leanings prevented shopping or recreation on the Sabbath day. Now, almost everything is available 24/7 so it seems outdated and nonsensical that these two exceptions remain.

I wonder if car dealers will change their policy – presumably still in place for the convenience of their staff rather than for the consumer – when more online car outlets gain popularity. People are getting less and less tolerant about waiting for anything – and if they can’t buy from the dealer on Sunday, they may be apt to pursue other alternatives rather than shop on Monday.

Overall, it seems archaic that in today’s times any product is regulated or chooses to limit their sales availability. When the restrictions were first enacted, there were no online stores or 24/7 supercenters and now both are plentiful. Maybe it’s time to revisit who sells what when – if brick and mortar retailers want the “where” to be with them.


leadership dot #2626: protect

On all the trash containers at Walgreens – outside, in the store and in the restrooms – are warning labels about prescriptions but not about the drugs themselves. Walgreens warns customers not to dispose of any packaging or materials related to their prescriptions in these easy-to-access waste bins, presumably to reduce fraud. I never thought of it, but I suppose it would be easier for someone to take the information materials or empty bottle and have enough information to secure a prescription for themselves.

Walgreens doesn’t need to provide these reminders but they have gone the extra step to help protect their customers. Is there a way for you to do the same? ATM receipts do not contain personal information but many other receipts contain membership numbers, names or other identifiers. People toss countless items with their address and account numbers from mailed statements. Electronics packaging can tip off burglars if it is prominently left on the curb.

Your role in a transaction doesn’t stop when money is exchanged. Expand your customer service another step or two to help your customers protect themselves from unintended harm from doing business with you.

leadership dot #2625: bug book

On one side of the spectrum, some people think that their passion will just reveal itself to them and then others are in a perpetual state of searching through an array of self-reflection techniques. Jim Collins, author of (my favorite) Good to Great utilized a technique that I found intriguing as a new way to learn what helps you get in a state of flow.

Collins deployed the scientific method of observation to himself the same way he used to document movements of bugs in a jar as a kid (Yes, he was a self-proclaimed nerd!). Jim designated a notebook as “A Bug Called Jim” and for a year he recorded his actions and emotions as they related to work. Every day he noted the activities that excited him and those that drained him and after several months of doing so actionable patterns emerged that led him to leave his job and pursue teaching and research.

I have just started a “Bug Book” of my own but already have found that it has made me far more conscious of the tasks that bring fulfillment and those that are done from necessity. I hope I can use the insights to adjust some of my projects or at least to schedule them differently.

Maybe channeling your inner scientific nerd could help you identify happiness amongst that which bugs you.

(As told in Creative Confidence by Tom Kelley and David Kelley)

leadership dot #2624: ruminate

It has been a long time since I have presented a workshop on a topic that is brand new for me but I am doing so in October. I am having so much fun with it already!

Because it is new, I have been very conscious about preparing early. I purchased two books on the subject. I have asked friends and colleagues to send me their resources. I have started making notes. And because it is on my mind, I “suddenly” see articles, social media posts and videos that will help me.

I am sure all these resources were there before but because the topic wasn’t on my radar, they did not make a connection for me. It reminds me again of the importance of allowing time for ideas to incubate.

We all pay attention to the things we are focused on. By planning ahead, we create the space for rumination and the addition of new inputs. Ideas (and workshops!) are better when we incorporate a pre-action phase just to think.