leadership dot #2733: generic

Field researchers from the human-centered design firm IDEO are encouraged to wear “generic clothing” to conduct focus groups and interviews. “It’s better to make yourself as neutral as possible so that you can fit in with people of all backgrounds,” Maggie Zhang writes. “Oftentimes, clothing can communicate social status, or reflect personal taste that others may disagree with. Try to avoid wearing logos or looking too fancy.”

Apparently, the Democratic candidates got the IDEO memo. After seeing 12 presidential hopefuls on the circuit, I am struck by the nondescript nature of their clothes. Most of the men are in jeans with rolled-up shirt sleeves while most of the women are in all-black with a solid color sweater or jacket. There has been a sport coat or blazer thrown in here or there, but they are choosing comfort over business attire and keeping their look as plain and neutral as possible.

For most candidates, their attire is the result of deliberate strategy: what colors show up best in the media, what becomes your “signature look” (as with Hillary’s pantsuits), and what is practical to wear for long hours without wrinkles.

But even for those of us that are without an image consultant, what we wear still communicates a message about us. Put a moment of intentionality into your wardrobe choice this week. Are you going for professional, creative, bold, or traditional? Do you aim to stand out or blend in? Is your message better received if you appear formal or more casual?

Don’t let your attire be your message.

Source: 6 Tips from IDEO Designers on How to Unlock Insightful Conversation by Maggie Zhang



leadership dot #2732: deflated

There is a proliferation of inflatable Christmas decorations this year – the ones that run on motors and blow up to be greater-than-life-size by night to fill yards with colorful characters. The problem is that by day, these same decorations are lifeless parachutes that are just blobs of nylon laying on the lawn. Not only don’t they add to the ambiance, they actually detract from it.

Too often organizations parallel these decorations – focusing only on the moments of a program without consideration to the before or after. Organizations make decisions to add a service that sounds good in the present but don’t pay heed to what needs to happen in the intervening moments to allow the offering to remain viable. People expend their energy on the few moments of inflation when in reality there is set-up, storage and the detraction of deflation to contend with.

Before you invest your resources in the equivalent of a giant inflatable – something that is showy, but really just air – reconsider whether something smaller and more consistent would be better for your organization. If you can only sustain momentum for a few hours, another option is probably the better choice.


leadership dot #2731: sleepout

While you crawl into your cozy bed tonight, over 50,000 people around the world are voluntarily foregoing that option and instead sleeping outside. The Big Sleepout is an effort to raise awareness of homelessness and global displacement by hosting events in 60 cities throughout the world. In the United States, people will be sleeping in Times Square and the Rose Bowl. The aim is to raise $50 million as well as to increase awareness of homelessness and advocate for compassionate policies and solutions.

Kudos to the organizers for choosing a night in December for this event. The forecast calls for 27 degrees in NYC – a far cry from a pleasant night of “camping”. I am sure the event will make a lasting impression on those who participate, and hopefully make them passionate advocates for the issue after they return to their own warm covers.

It’s one thing to talk about your cause and seek support but another to help people personally experience the discomfort even for a brief while. Think about how you can make your cause tangible and real to those whose favor you curry – even if it means making people suffer to get the point.

leadership dot #2730: sheets

I put a dark red sheet as the top layer of my bed to add some festive color for the holidays. Within one day, it was totally covered in dog hair and by the end of the second day, I had it in the washer and reverted back to my beige covering. I am under no illusion that there is less hair on the lighter sheet but I am unable to see it and that makes all the difference.

What is the sheet analogy for your organization? There are certain figures or facts that you want to stand out – places where you should utilize the “dark sheet” to highlight in real-time what is happening. There are other circumstances where knowing something is not worth your time or attention – you can allow those functions to occur in the background or on the “light sheet”.

Maybe the red sheet activities are your key dashboard metrics of intakes or sales – or for this blog, the number of entries published. Perhaps the beige sheet numbers are those which are trackable, but not as relevant, such as total transactions or packages – or the number of words written for this blog.

The ability to focus on relevant information and to ignore the rest is a key attribute of prioritization. Think about strategies you can apply to hide from your view that which does not merit your attention.

leadership dot #2729: lost marbles

You may have heard Brené Brown’s analogy about the marble jar – where trust is earned like marbles accumulating in a jar, one small act at a time, and where it can be lost through a series of small actions, with marbles being taken out for breaches of trust or transgressions.

What you may not have considered is that as a supervisor, your marble jar is inextricably linked to those you lead. When your staff does great things, you get marbles in your jar from the organization as a whole. When they mess up, you lose marbles and credibility.

If you have an employee who continually causes problems and you as the supervisor let it linger on without acting, you will continue to lose marbles when their behavior persists. Their marble jar may be empty – people have written them off and minimize contact – but you continue to pay the price for their poor performance.

I did not initially realize this but learned it the hard way when I did not fire an employee in a timely manner. Even though I was working one-on-one to improve their attitude, their failure to reform ultimately not only cost them their job, but I paid a personal price in my stature because of the delay. In other words, I lost a lot of marbles from my jar because of my inaction even though it was the employee’s actions that negatively impacted the organization’s culture.

If you are the supervisor of a problem employee, the window for resolving the performance issue is small. If you allow the toxic behavior to persist any length of time, it will leech out into the organization and tarnish your leadership credibility. Others will take marbles from your jar because you did not resolve the issue, irrespective of who or what caused it.

leadership dot #2728: nest

While out walking, I found a bird’s nest that was inexplicably laying in the middle of a parking lot. Since there was no nearby tree from which it may have fallen, I carried it home.

As I marveled at the sturdy construction, it occurred to me that this nest was made with no equipment or tools; nothing was purchased or new; there was no prefabrication or blueprint – and yet, I walked with the nest for a mile and never once did a piece of it fall off.

The nest can be a model for organizations. It’s the essence of creativity: taking what already exists and making something new out of it. It’s a lesson in ingenuity – utilizing mud and sticks and straw that by themselves have little value but pasted together form a functional container to safely warm eggs and ultimately house baby birds. And it’s an environmental wonder, doing all this through 100% repurposing of materials.

How can you emulate nest-making? Before you make your next purchase, act as if you don’t have the option to buy new. Apply some bird-like ingenuity and fashion what you already into your solution.

leadership dot #2727: ceiling fan

An Argyle Sweater comic featured two balloons trapped between the ceiling and the ceiling fan. One says: “You flipped the wrong switch again” and the other replies: “Why do we even own a ceiling fan?”

I think it’s an appropriate metaphor for so many situations. Instead of blaming others (or ourselves) for the outcome that is experienced, why don’t we ask why we continue to put up with what caused the problem in the first place?

Instead of stressing about what to get Uncle Joe for the holiday, question whether you should continue the tradition of exchanging gifts. Rather than have repeated angst over how a process is designed, propose a new way of doing things. An option to fretting about the time spent in meetings is to cancel some of them and use other ways of communicating.

The next time you find yourself complaining about what is, force yourself to step back and ask why you are in this situation at all. Instead of repeatedly trying to get the balloons unstuck, you may be far better off by removing the ceiling fan altogether.