leadership dot #2694: include

If you come trick-or-treating at my house tonight, this is who will greet you at the door. I learned many years ago to engage my pups in the festivities – even though that means standing behind a gate. By allowing them to be a part of the process they are quite content with their supporting role but if I had tried to keep them in the other room the neighbors several houses away would have heard them expressing their displeasure every time the doorbell rang.

I think there are parallels with your employees. They don’t always need to have a voice or decision-making power but, like everyone, they want to be a part of what is going on. It’s fine to set boundaries and limit their engagement but avoid excluding them entirely.

Think about ways you can give your staff more access to the action. Are there ways to provide opportunities to at least observe what is going on even if they don’t participate? Can you create a role that provides them first-hand exposure to what will be talked about tomorrow? Is there a way to capitalize on “new eyes” experiencing your event and learn from that feedback?

It’s ok to put up a gate but don’t leave them out altogether.


leadership dot #2693: delayed

I received a thank you note yesterday in acknowledgment of a gift I made to the organization – in June. I have made several charitable gifts this year and received varying levels of recognition for them but none that impressed me. Why do organizations fail to show love to those who love them most?

The best way to strengthen donor relations is through a thank you note – sharing how the gift will be used, what an impact it made and providing a sincere appreciation for what the donor’s generosity enabled the organization to accomplish with the funds. A generic tax record does not meet those criteria.

It’s the time of year when seemingly everyone wants my money and it’s exacerbated by the multitude of political candidates still actively pursuing my support. Whether you’re running a campaign, charity or just seeking funds for the marching band, please-o-please put as much consideration into how you are going to thank people for that gift as you put into asking them for it.

How you show your appreciation becomes the background from which you make your next ask. Don’t waste the opportunity.

leadership dot #2692: outside voice

Front-line workers in five organizations that are working to create system-wide change were asked to share observations about how the change efforts have (or haven’t) impacted them.

The content that resulted from those interviews wasn’t much of a surprise to any of the organization leaders but the gift of the process was the language the employees utilized. The transcripts moved the conversation away from buzz words and the party line to express real emotion about the work, their reactions and their fears about the change. The comments painted a vivid picture – far richer than any of the leaders could have painted on their own – and highlighted gaps between how the front-lines are experiencing the change and how the supervisors do.

Think about the implications of the process itself for your enterprise. You may believe that you know what your customers or employees think about your organization but without direct contact, you’ll never be able to describe it in their words. The richness of the language of those who experience your products or services can enlighten you in ways that nothing else can. Not only can it help you to listen and learn, but direct feedback can also reshape how you speak and communicate back to your constituencies.

It’s worth the effort to invest in externally-facilitated focus groups or face-to-face interviews to gather the nuances of the external voice. Looking through a window isn’t the same experience as being outside.

leadership dot #2691: huddles

Two takeaways from a conference a colleague attended:

  • Instead of offering only your standard breakout sessions, this conference provided an option for “huddles” – a time when people in similar positions could gather and talk about relevant topics for a three-hour time block. While workshops are wonderful and it’s always great to learn new content, some of the most practical wisdom comes from peers. Huddles are a tangible way to ensure that networking and idea-sharing happen more in-depth than what can occur in other ways at a conference.
  • During one of these huddles, the facilitator gave prompts in three general topic areas (e.g. staff and culture) and then asked each table to discuss the topic using these four questions: 1) What’s right (in our organization relating to this topic)? 2) What’s wrong? 3) What’s confused? and 4) What’s missing? These questions seemed to be broad enough to engender lively conversations but still focused enough to stimulate meaningful idea generation and specific examples.

Think of how you can apply these concepts to your own work. Are there people in similar positions throughout your organization that don’t currently have time to meet to discuss larger issues beyond the nuts-and-bolts? Perhaps you could swap out one of your task-oriented meetings and allow them to huddle instead.

Can you use the four questions to conduct assessments of your own operations or in 1:1 meetings with staff members? Think of how you could frame your evaluations and broaden your thinking by sharing the four questions in advance and having meaningful dialogue on where each of you sees the performance in these quadrants.

Ironically, huddles took less preparation than a traditional workshop and probably produced just as much learning. What can you do to reframe how you absorb or share content that increases its impact?

From the Spire Conference 2019 – Thanks, bg!

leadership dot #2690: time travel

Every month I receive a bill from the city claiming that they read my water meter – the day after the bill arrives. Today, I saw a magazine ad for Talbots prominently stating that it was “photographed in Maine, November 2019”. Amazing how these entities have figured out time travel!

It may seem like a trivial detail but putting forth known inaccuracies just causes me (and, presumably others) to call the whole organization into question. It’s the only line of copy in a two-page spread and it’s wrong. If what they claim in print isn’t true, then what else are they misstating?

There is enough fake news out there without your enterprise adding to it. No one cares if the ad was photographed in October or July but we do care when you lie about it. Stick to the facts, as minor as they may seem. Details do matter.

leadership dot #2689: savor

When Brene Brown wrote her last book, she set out to keep it a length that could be read during one plane ride. It seems that airplanes are now the last bastion of uninterrupted quiet time where people actually can read more than an article or post.

Many people have turned to podcasts or audiobooks to replace the intellectual stimulation that they once received from actual books. Reading a book is a single-focus activity – you can’t do much else while doing it, except for pet the dog on your lap or sip your hot cocoa. Contrast that with audio that can be part of the background while driving, running, working out or doing a multitude of other activities.

Books lost out because they’re not “multi-taskable”.

And that, my friend, is precisely why they are so wonderful.

As the days grow chillier, there is nothing better for me than to curl up with a big blanket and a big book – either to be lost in a fictional world or to learn in my pajamas from non-fictional contributions. Both are a wonder.

Before you completely abandon actual reading (as contrasted with scrolling, skimming, flipping magazine pages, listening or watching) reframe the activity as a treat for yourself and savor it as you would a fine wine or luxurious bath. Some things are meant to be enjoyed slowly and real books are on that list.


leadership dot #2688: 20 minutes +

When I’m working to prepare a lesson, develop a workshop activity or write a blog sometimes the process goes quickly. At moments like this, I’m reminded of a saying a friend shared: “It took you 20 minutes and 20 years of preparation.”

There is a vast difference between “winging it” and relying on years of experience that can contribute to the task at hand. It’s not just for teachers or writers – carpenters require 20 minutes + 20 years to know how to make a cut that’s just right; doctors rely on 20 minutes + 20 years to correctly diagnose a disease; artists use 20 minutes + 20 years to know where to draw that initial outline.

Enjoy those rare moments when your skill comes easily, but don’t discount the years of practice that got you to this point. You are worth your value in years, not minutes.

leadership dot #2687: attribution

Author James Clear shared the following observation in his newsletter: “You know yourself mostly by your thoughts. Everyone else in the world knows you only by your actions.”

It reminded me of a lesson by Patrick Lencioni describing the Fundamental Attribution Error – we attribute other people’s behaviors to their character (internal attribution) whereas we claim the environment impacts our own actions (external attribution). Lencioni gives the example of a dad harshly scolding his kids in the store – we think that he is a mean, angry man – but when we do the same thing, we justify it because we have unruly children.

As Clear says, we know ourselves by understanding the rationale behind our behaviors, but others only see the external result. If we feel misunderstood, we need to translate our thoughts into verbal communication or explicit actions that others can see.

How can you develop congruency between what you are thinking and how you are acting to avoid an observable gap? You need to be giving the behavioral cues that help others know you rather than guessing about you. As many in relationships have lamented: “I’m not a mind reader.” Neither are those around you.

James Clear’s 3-2-1 Newsletter 8-29-19
Patrick Lencioni’s 5 Dysfunctions of a Team video


leadership dot #2686: missed opportunity

I worked 27 years toward something and finally accomplished it – and what did I get? A generic email.

For nearly three decades, I have been making payments on my mortgage and when I finally paid it off all I received was an email with a text-only PDF encouraging me to see them for my next loan. What a missed opportunity.

Not only could my lender have done something to acknowledge the landmark event (a key or “It’s all yours!” card in the mail?) but this should be a marketer’s dream for related businesses. Hardware stores, furniture stores, landscapers and related businesses should jump on the fact that I suddenly (in theory, anyway) have more disposable income that could be redirected to home improvements.

Other businesses have realized the importance of creating a tangible acknowledgment of significant events in their customer’s journey: patients ring a bell for their last cancer treatment, schools have pomp and circumstance for graduations, cruise lines take pictures of smiling passengers, weight-loss organizations make a big hoopla when a customer reaches their goal, etc. Heck, I just got a free appetizer for my yearly “anniversary” of being a member of the steakhouse e-club. Why should lenders dismiss the paying off of any loan – let alone a mortgage – without real recognition?

Think about the key events on your customer’s journey. What can you do to make them powerful experiences that will strengthen the bond you have with them? Technology makes it easy to track everything – apply some of it to make note of events that matter to your clientele.

leadership dot #2685: passion

Presidential candidate Marianne Williamson said that the emotional mood of the nation is different than it was in 2016 – then it was rage but now the tenor is exhaustion. “People want to feel comforted and inspired,” she said.

Whether you are talking about the political climate, the culture at work or the general feeling at home, exhaustion is a key theme. People are stressed about politics, finances, continual changes and the uncertainty that surrounds them. Many are seeking an elusive “work/life balance” as if that will cure their ails.

A different take on the topic comes from church leader Carey Nieuwhof. Instead of trying to find balance he encourages people to find their passion. “Most people who accomplish significant things aren’t balanced people,” he writes. “They’re passionate people. They can’t wait to get up in the morning and attack the day.”

Maybe some of the exhaustion that you’re feeling comes not from overload, but from underwhelm. You’re not excited about the work you’re doing, the life you’re leading or the community in which you’re living. Instead of crawling back under the covers, maybe the solution is to jump out of them and embrace a cause that excites you. You’ll have a lot more energy when doing something you love.