leadership dot #2717: handmade

When my mother worked at JoAnn Fabrics decades ago, it was purely a store that sold material and the supplies necessary for sewing. Oh, how things have changed.

The new store that just opened is renamed simply “JoAnn” and its slogan is “handmade happiness.” Only half of the store is the inventory of the “old JoAnn” and the remaining square footage is packed with supplies for all kinds of hobbies: knitting, painting, drawing, scrapbooking, embroidery, flower arranging, and cake decorating. JoAnn has gone high tech with 3D and laser printing, plus an area full of machines for classes and demonstrations. The fabric-cutting area has even become the “cut bar” where you can check in on a kiosk and shop while you watch your name in the queue.

For me, a non-crafter, just the selection of threads was overwhelming, let alone imagining the possibilities present throughout the store. But for others, the return to homemade items – thanks in part to Pinterest – has never been greater. People are returning to all things retro and making things is part of that trend.

Kudos to JoAnn for evolving with the times. Other fabric stores have gone out of business throughout the years but JoAnn has adapted while still staying true to its core. What lessons can you take from how they have reimagined their mission and market to embrace “handmade” instead of just sewing?

leadership dot #2716: the driver

If I was teaching a human resources class, I would use the movie Ford v. Ferrari as a case study. It’s a fantastic film, about so much more than cars or racing, as it tells the story of the Ford Motor Company’s quest to win the Le Mans car race in the 1960s.

One of the central tension points is deciding who will be the driver of Ford’s car. The project leader, Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) wants Ken Miles (Christian Bale) who is known as both incredibly skilled and equally unorthodox. The Ford executive in charge wants “a Ford Man”, someone else who can portray a more mainstream image for the brand.

I think the movie brings to light the frequent tension in organizations as to what is valued more: innovation or conformity; tradition or experimentation; mavericks or team players. So much of work today involves teamwork and playing nice with others is a necessary trait, so organizations must decide where they draw the line for those who do not fit the standard mold. Do you go with the perceived best driver to win or do you opt for someone more conventional who aligns closely with others? How much independence can you grant without sacrificing the effectiveness of the whole team or project? What is driving your decision: short-term winning or the long-term culture you are creating?

In the 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni argues that it only takes one person to negatively impact an entire group. I myself recently wrote that being a member of a team is part of everyone’s job description these days. And yet, the movie highlights the dilemma of defining exactly what that team is – is it the team of driver and leader only, the race team or the entire Ford organization – and weighing how much latitude you give individual brilliance when deciding that answer.

Take a few hours this weekend and just enjoy a great film – then come Monday you can ponder the implications it may have for what drives hiring decisions in your organization.

leadership dot #2715: pause button

The greatest danger in business and life lies not in outright failure but in achieving success without understanding why you were successful in the first place.”  Robert Burgelman

This mantra from the former Stanford professor rings true in so many situations. When things go well it’s often easy to forego the evaluation process or to make assumptions about what brought on the largesse, yet without this analysis, it is difficult to truly understand challenges when they occur. Guessing about why things worked out as they did is never a good strategy either.

It’s a wise habit to incorporate evaluation and reflection into your ongoing routine. Conduct After Action Reviews or Lessons Learned meetings. Keep a journal. Hold regular Cave Days or thinking sessions. Add reflection questions to your one-to-ones or staff agendas.

There are many ways to hit the pause button before going blindly forward; just remember to do so when you are experiencing success as well as failure.

Source: As quoted by Jim Collins in Turning the Flywheel, A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great, 2019, p. 5


leadership dot #2714: uncomfortable

In addition to sharing their personal story at the All-Community Reads, Jennifer Thompson and Ronald Cotton advocated for reforms of the criminal justice system. “Exonerations are not the criminal justice system getting it right,” said Jennifer. “It’s a miracle and we shouldn’t rely on a miracle to get it right.”

She continued about how the criminal justice system was created and designed to protect white, land-owning males and how it makes us uncomfortable that we have never done anything different to a system that was designed to be racist.

“We have to get uncomfortable first to acknowledge it before we can change it,” she said. “ I appreciate the fact that you’re struggling with it and want to have the hard conversation.”

It reminded me of the work being done in the child welfare arena where people are also having the uncomfortable conversations about the role of race, the impact of trauma caused by the current system and the need to change an entire system that has been embedded in our culture for decades.

We often avoid uncomfortable conversations because, well, they make us uncomfortable. It’s easier to ignore the topic, only scratch the surface or make light of the root causes. But to truly create the change we need to address that which is hardest to discuss.

Aim not for comfort, but instead seek to create an environment where people can be what Alia describes as “safe but uncomfortable”. Make your culture civil, respectful and open – so that discomfort can be put on the table and deliberated, not so it can be hidden away.

leadership dot #2713: forgiveness

The All-community Reads program that I referenced yesterday centered around restorative justice utilizing the book Picking Cotton. The book shares the journey of Jennifer Thompson, at the time a college student who was raped, and Ronald Cotton who spent 11 years in prison for the crime after being identified by Jennifer in a line-up…

…and their unlikely friendship after DNA exonerated Ronald.

I cannot even imagine.

Their book and their public presentation were described as “simultaneously heartbreaking and uplifting” as they recounted the process that led to the wrongful conviction and their subsequent forgiveness of all who were impacted.

When Ronald first met Jennifer and immediately told her “I forgive you”, she realized that he was free, “truly free” and she had to forgive herself for the error, her family for not supporting her, the system for its inherent biases and to forgive her actual rapist. “The burden was too heavy to hold,” she said. “I didn’t want to carry that.”

If Ronald and Jennifer can forgive after the tragedy that they both experienced, perhaps you can find it in your heart to let go of a burden that you are bearing. Give yourself a gift and let go of the anger and hurt that you hold against someone. May you find peace this season.


leadership dot #2712: audience

I recently participated in two large-scale reading programs: one with a shared read across the state and another community-wide event. Both culminated in a live appearance by the author(s) so it was an interesting comparison as to how they approached their talk.

The first author gave what was presumably the same speech that he gives everywhere: sharing an overview of the book, telling the most interesting stories and hitting all the highlights. His lecture was accompanied by a gorgeous PowerPoint which was the only redeeming factor because everything he spoke of was in the book – and the vast majority of the audience was there because they had just read it.

The second set of authors correctly realized that the attendees would likely be very familiar with the book’s contents so instead of repeating it, they chose to sit around a table and informally give a short update about what has happened since they wrote it. After that, they spent the full 90 minutes answering questions and providing new insights and depth to the material, an approach that added to its understanding and entertainment value.

If you are asked to speak in front of a group, whether that be at a meeting, full-scale presentation or even sharing stories in your living room, pause to consider your audience before you utter a word. People will tune out if you’re not tuned in to what might be relevant to them.


leadership dot #2711: sticker

There are many electronic methods that allow you to spread the word about an event, but the University of Wisconsin-Platteville took a decidedly low-tech route to advertise an upcoming concert at the school. UWP promoted its concert by trumpeter Wayne Bergeron by placing stickers on the boxes at the area bakery. It was simple, low cost, novel, and the colorful sticker stood out on the otherwise plain box. I don’t know how many tickets it sold, but it certainly created awareness and, unlike the barrage of ads elsewhere, was hard to miss.

How can you think outside the box (in this case, literally!) to spread your message? There may be a nontraditional partnership just waiting for you to use as a vehicle to get the word out.

Thanks, Amy!