leadership dot #2983: I’m thinking

I’m a fan of the “three dots in a bubble” that pops up when someone is responding to your text message — and I want to create a counterpart. We need a new icon with three lightbulbs that shows “I’m thinking.”

Not just with texts but with communication in general, there is an expectation of an instantaneous response. We would be better off if there was an easy way to allow people to consider their reply without leaving the recipient in cyber-limbo. You could hit the three lightbulbs to indicate that you need a moment to ponder – to think of the implications beyond the obvious that came to light upon reading the query and to craft a thoughtful response that uses more words than smiley faces.

Currently, we’re faced with the dancing ellipsis that impatiently nudges us to hit “send” in order to pacify the eager recipient who is also watching the dots for them to morph into a message. Until my three lightbulb idea comes to fruition, intentionally ignore the icon boogie and prioritize a wise response over a speedy one.

leadership dot #2982: unorthodox

I have been riveted by The Last Dance mini-series about the Chicago Bulls since it serves as both a trip down memory lane and as a playbook on team dynamics. In a segment on the unorthodox Dennis Rodman, the show recounted a time when he asked coach Phil Jackson for a 48-hour leave to go on vacation in Las Vegas. This was during the time the team was practicing and Rodman was expected to be present daily. With the support of Michael Jordan, Jackson allowed Rodman to go.

It was a big risk to let Rodman loose in a city that exacerbates excess and, as feared, he succumbed to the temptations and revelry of Sin City. Jordan had to go retrieve him on Day 3. But Rodman came back to the team with renewed vigor and dedication and became a key factor in pursuing a Bulls championship.

Not many coaches would have let one of their starters take a “vacation” while on contract but Jackson knew that Rodman couldn’t remain boxed in. If he needed to release some energy, best to let him do it off the court instead of on. It was a pivotal decision, and, in retrospect, the right one for the whole team.

There was hesitation to even hire Rodman because of his eccentricities but performance won out. Are you missing out on some great employees because you want them all to look/act/behave in the same way? Or, do you have an equivalent Dennis Rodman on your team – someone who does not exhibit the same restraint or characteristics as your other employees – and, if so, have you made allowances to allow her to shine?

Take a lesson from Phil Jackson and learn what each of your employees needs then try to accommodate it in order to receive their best. You can embrace personality distinctiveness if the talent is behind it.

Photo by Walter Huang

huangweiqing / Walter Huang [1] – Dennis Rodman, 2001

Wikipedia Creative Commons license

leadership dot #2981: how

I recently asked a colleague for advice on how to do something. His reply: “Maybe you should be saying ‘no’ not ‘how?’”

I had previously not considered turning down the request, but once he said that I knew it was the exact right answer. I was struggling with the ‘how’ to do it because it really was too much to do given the circumstances and I was far better declining outright.

Many times, people find themselves in an untenable situation because they take on more than they should or than is reasonable to do. Nonprofits often keep adding programs or services – figuring out how to get it all done – without setting boundaries regarding how far resources can be stretched. People bend over backward to pull off miracles or routinely carry workloads that are double from when they started in an effort to be a good team player. When I worked in higher ed, I watch the student activities office morph to include community service, leadership development, multicultural programming, parent/family programming and orientation, and many offices today also oversee an entire e-sports program, LBGTQ services and much more as dedicated staff figure out a way to get it all done.

People keep saying “how?” instead of no, often because they feel that they don’t have a choice. If you have the capacity to figure out ways to keep doing more, more, more I’d suggest that you add an additional “more” to your list: conducting an assessment of what is truly valuable. Are people really utilizing both the new and older services? What does the organization gain from stretching its people and finances to the limit? If you started all over, is this the end product you would plan for?

Would I have benefitted from the request I declined? Yes. Did I gain more in mental health and the capacity to do something with an even greater impact? Yes to that, too. Before you figure out “how”, take a moment to consider “if.”

leadership dot #2980: be you

So, it’s Kamala [comma, la] — and of all the responses that immediately flooded social media the one that caught my eye was from none other than Sarah Palin. She’s an unlikely supporter of Harris, but apparently, the implicit bond that comes from being one of only three female major party candidates in history outweighed the political differences and Palin took to Instagram to offer congratulations and some advice to the new nominee.

Much of Palin’s advice are lessons learned from enduring a brutal campaign, but one nugget applies to all of us: “…remember YOU were chosen for who YOU are.” It’s a good mantra to follow whether you are running to become vice president or working in a slightly less visible position. No matter your role, you’re wise not to allow handlers (whether they be well-intentioned friends, family, colleagues, or political operatives) to change your essence into something that fits their mold or image of you.

It’s tempting — especially in the hiring or dating process (same thing) or when you’re seeking to enhance your influence – to try to be what you think the other person wants you to be. This applies whether you are the interviewer or interviewee – there is a pull to become a tad inauthentic when it seems like being our truest selves will work against us. In those moments, resist the urge and let you be you. In the long run, it’s the only winning option.


Kamala in Dubuque Iowa, June 10, 2019

leadership dot #2979: reach out

“There is a great paradox that points to the hopeful path ahead,” writes thought leader Margaret Wheatley in her essay When Change is Out of Our Control. “It is possible to prepare for the future without knowing what it will be. The primary way to prepare for the unknown is to attend to the quality of our relationships, to how well we know and trust one another.”

Wheatley writes that the key to cultivating these relationships is by doing meaningful work together. In this new era of Zoom, it’s easy to divide the work in ways that allow us to conquer it individually instead of as a group but we must fight the urge to do so. She outlines several strategies for strengthening relationships and they remind me very much of the same principles that Daniel Coyle outlines in The Culture Code. It comes down to what he terms as (psychological) safety, vulnerability and purpose.

In Wheatley’s language, the list looks like this:

  • Focus people on the bigger picture – bringing people together so they can look beyond the urgent and prevent inward spiraling
  • Demand honest, forthright communication – information helps alleviate stress
  • Prepare for the unknown – practice with others through scenarios or simulations
  • Keep meaning at the forefront – articulate how the work contributes to meaningful outcomes
  • Use rituals and symbols – encourage shared expressions to celebrate or mourn
  • Pay attention to individuals – take the time to reach out to support and care for each other

Even Wheatley admits that none of her strategies provide new organizational advice. The key is actually implementing some of them – making the time to enhance your culture and the wellbeing of your team – even when chaos is swirling around all of you. Bottom lines may be brutal, hearts may be heavy and the virus may seem never-ending, but the bridge to the other side is built with trusting relationships. Don’t stay on your side of the chasm alone.

For Part 1 of this concept, see yesterday’s dot here.

leadership dot #2978: uncertainty

Thought leader Margaret Wheatley wrote an essay entitled “When Change is Out of Our Control.” She writes: “Uncertainty leads to increased fear. As fear levels rise, it is normal for people to focus on personal security and safety. We tend to withdraw, become more self-serving, and more defensive. We focus on smaller and smaller details, those things we can control. It becomes more difficult to work together, and nearly impossible to focus on the bigger picture.”

Sounds very timely, doesn’t it? Only she wrote the piece in July 2002 when the world was still reeling from the effects of 9-11.

At the time, the terrorist attacks were the greatest disruption that most of us had seen. Whole industries were impacted, the economy took a big hit and 3000 people died. Now we long for that level of outcomes.

But amidst all the gloom, in her signature style, Dr. Wheatly provides a recipe of hope for individuals and organizations: “In order to counter the negative organizational dynamics stimulated by stress and uncertainty, we must give full attention to the quality of our relationships. Nothing else works, no new tools or technical applications, no redesigned organizational chart. The solution is each other. If we can rely on one another, we can cope with almost anything. Without each other, we retreat into fear.”

I thought of her admonition when I had a phone call with my project leader last week. She scheduled it just to chat – no business to conduct and no agenda, just an “I miss you check-in.” It was good for the soul and helped me reconnect to the purpose of what I’m doing for them.

We’re all “COVIDed-out,” but unfortunately, the virus isn’t finished with us. To persist and prevail in these times of uncertainty we need to reach out and nurture our relationships rather than retreat from them. More on her specific strategies tomorrow…

leadership dot #2977: variation

When I worked at a university, we received an order of notecards that were printed in the wrong color. If you did not know that the official brand palette was a certain gold you may not have even noticed the slightly-orange-ish ink, but those of us in the marketing area were adamant that they be destroyed. I remember distinctly someone in a leadership role saying that they would “just use them on campus” rather than waste them, but we knew that if they left the delivery box there would be no control of the brand. The gold would morph into all variations of orange-ish as other things would be printed using the notecard color as the standard.

Although that was years ago, I thought about the incident recently when I was cleaning out some supplies of my own. I found a box of notecards with my name – embossed in all capital letters. At the time I purchased them, having anything be both personalized be affordable was a rarity and so I went with it, even though all-caps were the only option. Now, I was staring at a box of high quality, perfectly functional notecards that were totally “off-brand” and I thought about the previous debacle on campus – and cringed as I proceeded to cut them in half to use as scrap paper!

Everyone plays a role in adhering to standards. You can either preserve your visual identity with rigor or let it go. “Sort-of” isn’t a viable option.

leadership dot #2976: a discipline

One of the many tributes to civil rights leader and Congressman John Lewis came from activist Packnett Cunningham. In Time she wrote:

“Any observation of John Lewis’ life, from his early years to his many terms in Congress, communicates a simple truth: courage is a discipline. In order for courage to change the course of history, as Mr. Lewis’ did, it cannot be episodic – it must be unwavering. We should count ourselves blessed to have witnessed a case study in the continual practice of the discipline of courage from a master teacher in our lifetimes.”

Those words really spoke to me: “Courage is a discipline.” I tend to think of courage as an act, a one-time thing, a momentary decision whether or not to be brave right now – not as a lifelong way of being. But maybe that has been the problem with all of us – we stand up or speak up for something that arouses our passions, and then our ire and voices fade away. We don’t practice the discipline of being courageous continually; of persisting until the wrong is right, and instead retreat or divert to the next crisis at hand.

John Lewis offered many lessons throughout his life. Maybe this is one you can adopt to make it part of who you are going forward.

Source: Marching Orders by Brittany Packnett Cunningham, Time, August 3/August 10, 2020, p. 43


leadership dot #2975: bravado

If you’ve ever wondered why new hires or young whippersnappers approach the world as if they know everything, it could be because of the Dunning-Kruger effect. This theory plots confidence vs. experience and knowledge and the resulting graph resembles a roller coaster.

In the beginning, people are low on experience but very high on confidence (they don’t know enough to be otherwise) but soon they peak and plummet, losing confidence as they gain knowledge and realize that there is more depth than they first understood. Despair follows, when confidence is at its lowest, but rather than hitting bottom, the curve returns upward as confidence returns as knowledge increases. Ultimately, there is a measure of both confidence and experience that results in an expert knowing the complexity of a subject, but being secure in her mastery of it.

Those who are unaware of Dunning-Kruger enter a new arena with a false sense of bravado. Novice political candidates are often in this realm where they boast about making sweeping changes without understanding the difficulty and complexity of actually governing. Incumbents, on the other hand, may hedge their answers in realism as their confidence wanes based on the challenges they have experienced in their earlier terms or their understanding of the depth of the issues. It’s the difference between being a good candidate and a strong public servant – they aren’t the same.

If we are to elevate new voices, it pays for everyone to be cognizant of the Dunning-Kruger effect. Those who come into interviews or volunteer for projects may project high confidence, but it could merely be a reflection of their oblivion to the true complexity of the task. You may do better to bet on someone further along on the curve who acknowledges there are things they don’t know and isn’t blinded by their own cognitive bias about their skills.

u/ GroundbreakingBlood7


leadership dot #2974: representation

A record number of women are leading Fortune 500 companies thanks to the recent appointment of Linda Rendle as Clorox’s CEO. What is the record? A paltry 38. It’s less than 8% of all the chief officers, all of them white. Overall, women are less than 20% of the C-suite officers in the 500 companies, even though women comprise nearly half of the workforce.

The female gap in government was really brought home to me during the Hillary series. Before a record-breaking 1991 election that resulted in a whopping total of four female Senators, there had never been more than two at a time. In the 244 years of our democracy, only 57 women have served in the role – with 26 of them serving now, and 11 being elected since 2017.

Even more astonishing to me, women did not have a restroom off the Senate floor until 1993, literally 200 years after the Capitol was constructed. Female House representatives had it even worse, with no facilities off the House floor until 2011, causing them to be out of range for announcements about upcoming votes.

We’ve got to do better. Take a hard look at your organization and your community and find a way to elevate some new voices. Tap someone on the shoulder to encourage them. Create programs to advance emerging leaders from multiple constituencies. Survey your building and ensure it meets the needs of different groups (e.g. lactation room, prayer space, etc.)

There are many talented, kindhearted and dedicated men out there, but they are not the only ones who can lead. Representation – and restrooms – matter.

a Latina woman and Black woman