leadership dot #2907: don’t

In yesterday’s dot, I recommended adding smell to the repertoire of tools you use to shape your brand or environment. But some brands have taken it over the top.

My personal (least) favorite: McDonald’s candles. Who thought it would be a good idea to have a candle that smells like bun, onion or beef? The six scents are meant to be burned together (another crazy idea) with candles of ketchup, pickle and cheese to replicate a Quarter Pounder. No thanks!

The New York Times issued a candle that had the scent of newsprint and ink – something that may need to be preserved for future generations and Peeps allows you to fill your space with the “fragrance” of Marshmallow Chicks. Many other brands have unofficial candle options crafted by those on Etsy.

Having people love your brand enough that they want to experience it in many forms is admirable but for most companies, having your own candle scent is nonsensical.

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Just don’t.


Thanks, Meg!

leadership dot #2906: smell

Good trainers successfully vary the exercises and format of their workshops to address multiple learning styles and most have long used music as part of their repertoire as a way to shape the environment. But in a webinar I attended, the facilitator suggested a new tool I hadn’t considered: smell.

Specifically, she suggested utilizing oranges – not just in training, but for their calming presence overall. The smell of oranges reduces anxiety and peeling one makes great sense during a program on mindfulness or stress management.

Think of how you can activate the sense of smell in shaping your learning or work environment. For your next workshop, could you bring a wax-melter or diffuser just as you bring music? Could you regularly have fresh flowers as part of your home office set-up? What about a simple candle at the receptionist’s desk to emit a light scent that distinguishes the mood of your office when people enter? Or even the smell of freshly-brewed coffee, popping corn or fresh baked goods?

We have five senses but often overlook smell and touch. Add some new resources to your tool kit and begin to use scent with intentionality.

Webinar:  by Debi Grebenik of Alia, 5-28-20


leadership dot #2905: view

I suspect that many people are missing their coffeeshop “offices” and the ability to work in a location that varies from their usual desk setting. Different environments can spur more creative thinking and often enable you to become more productive because the distractions are limited. Also, when you go somewhere, you take with you the mindset that it’s time to get some serious work done and are mentally more compelled to follow through.

I experienced this myself when I planned to work in the car while waiting during someone’s appointment. During this time, I had a renewed focus and energy and was able to push past a block that I had on one project, outline the content for a handout and have a new perspective on another issue. It was one of the most efficient hours of my week.

You may not yet be able to plop down in Starbucks and commandeer a table for a few hours but don’t give up on the principle of a change in location. Maybe that means just thinking in your car while sitting in a parking lot, moving to your porch or basement, pondering a problem while walking around the block, taking a phone call while you go for a drive, or even rearranging the office furniture.

It has been long enough that for many the temporary home office is feeling normal, and with that comes the downside of a routine. Break out of your environmental rut and try to do your deep work elsewhere. A different view often provides a different viewpoint.

leadership dot #2904: year-round

The founder of the Boston Symphony Orchestra was also responsible for the establishment of the Boston Pops Orchestra, a novel idea in 1885 when it happened. Civic leader Henry Lee Higginson knew that the audience for classical symphony music was limited, so he envisioned a way to expand the orchestra’s reach through offering “light” classics and popular music in the off-season. But his real motivation was to extend the work of the musicians to be year-round, possibly attracting higher caliber performers who welcomed the full-time employment.

In addition to his innovative approach to talent management, Higginson also understood the importance of the environment in which music was played. He oversaw the design of Symphony Hall so that during the Symphony season, the theatre is fitted with straight back chairs in traditional aisles. A specially-crafted elevator is hidden within the floor so that when Pops season begins, the Symphony chairs are stored away underneath and the hall is transformed with cabaret tables and loose chairs around them, allowing for an informal ambiance akin to the lighter music.

Instead of making the Pops Orchestra a lesser version of the Symphony, Higginson had the foresight and vision to create it as an entirely new experience. From the repertoire, to the attire, to the appearance of the hall and other venues where they play, the Pops has achieved acclaim in its own right and doesn’t live in the shadow of the classical orchestra.

Think of whether there are lessons you can adapt to your organization from the symbiotic relationship between the Symphony and the Pops. Can you partner with an entity to design a space to meet both of your needs rather than building or renting two? Is there a way to increase your talent pool by sharing roles for part-time positions so that they become full-time contributors? Have you thought about the look and feel of space that you use for your programs and whether it is aligned with the content and outcomes you desire?

The Pops Orchestra may not have experienced its wild popularity if it was only seasonal and had to adapt itself to the formality of an unmodified Symphony Hall. Don’t force your music to be muffled because of the limitations you create yourself.


leadership dot #2903: inexperienced

When the Boston Pops Orchestra, a national treasure for over a century, needed to hire a new conductor when the legendary Arthur Fiedler retired after nearly 50 years, every director in the country must have jumped at the chance. The orchestra was innovative, popular, and highly regarded – a conductor’s dream.

So, even though the board could have likely hired any of the many brilliant conductors who applied, instead they chose someone who had never before conducted professionally, or even done so in front of a live audience!

They chose John Williams. Williams has been called the greatest film composer ever – he’s won 25 Grammys and received 52 Academy Award nominations – so he is a musical genius in his own right, but writing the orchestrations for Star Wars, Indiana Jones, E.T. and Harry Potter is quite different than conducting them…which is why he said yes to the job. His composing work kept him alone in his studio and it was “an irresistible temptation” to help the orchestra bring his music to life and feel the audience’s reaction to it.

Fortunately for music lovers, Williams was a perfect fit for the orchestra and his music aligned well with the pop style. Everyone won. It’s easy to see this synergy in retrospect, but it was still a risk for the board to offer him the job.

The next time you have a position to fill, remember the Pops and John Williams. Resumes only go so far in identifying candidates. Maybe your best person is the one who has no direct experience in the job but brings energy and attributes that will make them wildly successful anyway.

leadership dot #2902: plunger

What’s the number one item that you should have in your guest bathroom? According to Real Simple, the answer is a plunger. It’s certainly not what I would have put at the top of the list but it makes sense: it’s something that could become necessary and it’s the most embarrassing thing to ask for. The magazine recommends that you preempt any awkwardness and just have it there from the start.

I think about what is the equivalent to the plunger for new employees. Give them a list of key colleagues (preferably with a picture and an office layout map). Reintroduce them at meetings to preclude a lapse of memory of who’s who, especially in this time of remote meetings where every square looks the same. Share office norms such as typical attire, arrival/departure times and time off procedures so they don’t stand out or need to ask.

We’ve all been in a situation where having an accessible plunger was a blessing. Treat your new employees with the same care as you treat your guests and proactively provide them with the tools they may need before they sheepishly have to ask for them.

leadership dot #2901: memorial

One of the members of the armed forces who will be remembered today is Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States and the Supreme Commander of the troops who undertook the Normandy Invasion on D-Day. He was a war hero whose leadership changed the course of history and his service will be memorialized with a monument in Washington, DC.

The tribute has been a long time in coming – the commission to begin work on the monument was appointed in 1999. They selected Frank Gehry as the architect – someone known for his non-traditional style (Guggenheim Museum, Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA) – and then faced long delays because his submissions were deemed as “controversial.” The Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial park was to be dedicated on May 8 of this year, the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day (VE Day), but the pandemic had other plans. I think Eisenhower had less trouble invading France!

Eisenhower could have rested on his military service laurels but continued to make a difference as president. He signed the Civil Rights act of 1957 and sent troops to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. He established NASA. His most lasting legacy may be the creation of the Interstate Highway System which opened up corridors for commerce across America.

Eisenhower may be among the more prominent military members who are remembered today, but all who gave the ultimate sacrifice are deserving of our appreciation and consideration. Be inspired by their perseverance, dedication and service and pledge to make your life worthy of their efforts.

leadership dot #2900: Mr. Bubble

You may not have heard of Harold Schafer but it’s likely that you know the product he sold: Mr. Bubble. Schafer was a door to door salesman that eventually ran a major corporation, the Gold Seal Company, which at one point had products in every home in America.

But Mr. Bubble not only made Schafer a rich person, it created an entire industry of products. In the 1950s, bubble baths were considered a luxury only for movie stars. Schafer wanted to capitalize on the 600 million baths/year and expand the use of products beyond just soap. He insisted on fun packaging for Mr. Bubble and the rest is history. Bath products now account for $325 million in sales and bubble baths are an affordable option for everyone.

Schafer did not invent the process of taking baths, bubble bath or the use of products in the tub rather he saw an opportunity for more people to enjoy something that was, at the time, only for the rich. He made millions on products that only cost a dollar or two by making them ubiquitous in every home.

You may not achieve the success of Harold Schafer but you can learn from him and see gaps between what is and what could be. Why can’t bubble baths be for kids? Why couldn’t high-end mixers be used by ordinary cooks? Why aren’t home security systems affordable for everyone? Rather than focusing on inventing new products or services, reimagine the audiences you serve.

Source: Mr. Bubble – The Harold Schafer Story (movie)

 Thanks, Mark!

leadership dot #2899: bean

There have been many great memes and funny stories during this pandemic but one that made me laugh out loud was the report by a shopper who received one green been with her online grocery order. One. For the cost of two cents.

On the website, customers order beans by the pound and so an order was placed for 1 lb. The store shopper saw the “1” and, well, went no further. I’m sure they got a good laugh from the order as well.

I could write that you need to test your systems, ensuring that the “pound” delineation on the website transfers over to your remote fulfillment tool, or that you need to train your employees to question seemingly irrational purchases, or that you need to have periodic quality checks to match the order with the delivery. All those things are true.

You can’t anticipate everything. So, collect the feedback on the order (which she so clearly provides) and have a regular process to address these kinds of situations after the fact. Better to have only one customer with a “sad, lonely green bean in a large produce bag” than to make it the norm.

Thanks, Jennifer!

leadership dot #2898: time and space

A colleague shared a tough conversation that he had with an employee, then wisely said that he was leaving its resolution until tomorrow. “Time and space give things clarity,” he said.

I couldn’t agree more.

Allowing yourself time to reflect on a situation often produces insights that are hidden at the moment. When I am stuck on writing a dot, I often take the dogs for a walk or do something else. I watched the Senate debate and was unsure of my candidate until I slept on it and suddenly had a clear choice. I recently did a quick analysis of some data and only after I re-examined it did I realize my initial error in the setup.

In the workplace, time and space allow people the opportunity to consider the broader consequences. I disliked answering a request made in the hallway because while it may seem like a good idea on its own, I needed time to think about other implications. Time can provide a buffer to soften disagreements and retain relationships that may be damaged if the conversation continued in the moment. Walking away from a vexing issue allows time for incubation and new options to emerge.

We face a lot of pressure to constantly be “on” and respond instantly to the barrage of communication and issues thrown our way. It doesn’t have to be that way. Set the expectation with others that you need some time to think. Don’t apologize for saying “I’ll get back to you on that.” Shut off the input at a certain point each day to allow time and space to process what you have already encountered. You’ll be wiser and less overwhelmed if you give yourself the grace to ponder.