leadership dot #2811: end of the story

I frequently receive calls from colleagues wanting advice on how to handle a crisis, prepare for an interview, address a sticky staff problem, etc. I am happy to counsel them and share any words of wisdom I have accumulated over the years…

…and, it would be nice to know the end of the story. I get the calls in distress and I hear about the urgent situation, but never the resolution. Did you get the job? Did you have to fire the staff member? How did your boss react when she learned of your mistake?

Yes, there is a part of me that is curious, but I also see it as a learning opportunity that can improve my advice in the future. What portion of what I told you did you use? What worked? What backfired?

Time is precious, so if you ask someone to share theirs with you, help them benefit as well.

 

leadership dot #2810: capture

A treasure trove of glass plate images was found in a storage room, netting over 500 pictures of life in our city in 1912. Most of the photos were taken by entrepreneurial out-of-town photographers, seeking to earn 35 cents from the businesses which were documented in the shoots.

The glass plates were castaways, abandoned for lack of sales. They were not labeled or in order, necessitating copious hours of research to match architectural elements with known buildings, scouring city directories to align office numbers with tenants and researching history through zooming in on the most minute of details to provide clues as to the identity of the subjects. The result provided a fascinating overview of commercial life at the start of the new century.

The Atlantic reports that 1.8 billion photos are uploaded every day, but I wonder about the historical intentionality from any of these shutterbugs. People take pictures of food and silliness, but who is documenting an overview of business as we know it today? Things we take for granted in our organizations – the people, the layout, the equipment, the norms – often fade into oblivion because they were too obvious to capture at the time. We memorialize our friends and family in photos, but allow organizational history to disappear, or, at best, be captured only on our phones and not in an archival way.

Today, instead of taking pictures just to post on Instagram, be intentional about capturing a snapshot of your organization for future generations. The ordinary will someday become fascinating.

A City at Work Dubuque 1912 – Tim Olson & Mike Gibson    

leadership dot #2809: caution

The Dominican Republic is known for its gorgeous beaches, luxury resorts and abundant sunshine. My trip to Punta Cana from years ago was dreamy and I can see why it’s a destination for thousands of U.S. travelers, brides and tour groups.

But after a series of well-publicized deaths and mysterious ailments, the new Punta Cana ads focus on something besides the ocean: safety.

The Punta Cana Promise proclaims “Safe Dominican Republic Hotels” – saying that they strive to ensure safety and service standards are not only met but exceeded.

Safety is a precarious claim to make – I’m sure that the hotels where the illnesses occurred would have also said that they tried to ensure it. So much about safety is out of the hotel owners’ hands, such as weather calamities, terror, coronavirus, or theft. Hotels fall down, catch fire or become home base for active shooters – none of which were easily preventable.

The more you promise, the higher the expectations are that you will deliver. I think the Dominican would be safer sticking with its beautiful ocean message and your organization should use caution before promising things you cannot control.

leadership dot #2808: obfuscate

Printed on the bottom of my two-foot long receipt from Best Buy was the following:

Cell phones, cellular tablets, and cellular wearables have a 14-day return policy year-round for all customers. Major appliances have a 15-day return policy year-round for all customers. 15-day return policy on almost everything else.

 I wonder if the person who wrote that was paid by the word!

Wouldn’t it have been much clearer for everyone if they said: “Best Buy has a 15-day return policy.”?

Don’t obfuscate the message when it can be said with elegant simplicity.

 

leadership dot #2807: step up

It makes me crazy when someone (often with “director” in their title, no less) claims that they are not empowered to do something. I wonder what they are waiting for: someone to describe the task that is to be done, explicit permission to begin, or maybe they want an up-front guarantee that they won’t be reprimanded if the project doesn’t go as planned. Unfortunately for them, none of those options are likely to happen.

In Moments of Truth, Scandinavian Airlines president Jan Carlzon put it this way: “Nobody puts a proposal for a new comprehensive strategy on your desk and asks you to make a decision about it. You have to put it there yourself.”

Leadership is a verb, not a position. Leadership requires claiming empowerment, whether you believe you have a position that corresponds to your initiative or not. It is having the courage to risk saying or doing what you believe is in the best interest of the organization, even when the idea is unpopular. It means using your voice and experience to define what needs to happen, not just implementing what others have crafted.

The problem in most organizations isn’t that people are overstepping their bounds, it’s that they aren’t stepping up at all.

leadership dot #2806: overlooked

At the end of my marketing communication class, a student asked me to share the one thing I would want them to remember from this term. My answer: the target market drives everything.

I reminded them of the case study about Dove. Cosmetic and personal products had been almost exclusively marketed featuring beautiful models until market research revealed that 98% of women did not characterize themselves as beautiful. As a result, Unilever launched the Real Beauty Campaign featuring ordinary women, targeting those who did not see themselves as beautiful. The viral video Evolution – debunking the beauty myths – was viewed 20 million times and sales of the beauty bars jumped from $2.5 billion to $4 billion in the campaign’s first ten years.

McDonald’s research revealed that their primary customer was blue-collar males who ate at the restaurant several times a week. Have you seen that demographic featured in McDonald’s ads? No, because instead, they chose to target children (who were not eating there at the time), knowing that kids, in turn, would bring in parents and open up a lucrative new market for them.

Bernie Sanders’ popularity is due in large part because he focused on the younger generations in ways no other candidate has by targeting them hard via social media with messages that appeal to their demographic.

The secret sauce of marketing is appealing to those who have been overlooked by others. Instead of spending all of your time chasing after the customers everyone else is, think about who is not currently your client and figure out what message may resonate with them.

leadership dot #2805: I don’t know

Technology is the area where I most freely ask for advice or admit I don’t know something. I’m not afraid of looking stupid because I’m “a dinosaur” and am not expected to know much about how modern devices work. No one is surprised or shaming when I ask because social norms say my generation is not supposed to be tech-savvy. As a result of this liberation, I ask often and have learned a lot.

I think what limits people from this exchange of knowledge on other topics is the hesitation on the part of the asker not the respondent. The hang-ups people have about appearing incompetent or uninformed cause them to feign wisdom that they don’t have or to spend unnecessary time trying to figure something out on their own. It’s not that others wouldn’t freely assist on topics other than technology; it’s that people craft excuses in their own mind about why not to ask.

To create an environment of trust, break the stereotype that those in charge are “supposed” to know the answers. Take the lead in asking for assistance or sharing that you don’t know something. Admit when you messed up and need someone to help you figure out why. Be vulnerable enough to say that you need to learn how to do something, even if it may seem obvious or basic to others. Saying “I don’t know” is the fastest way to accumulate that knowledge. Be brave enough to raise your hand.