leadership dot #3060: intervention

I’ve been surprised by the controversy around whether or not cities should allow trick-or-treating. Why does this require governmental intervention?

Our town leaders decided not to sanction the event but when all the cities around us went ahead with it, they changed course and said that it was up to residents whether or not to participate. I thought that was the case all along: send your kids out if you’re comfortable; have your light on if you’re willing to give out candy. The extra attention makes it feel like one more thing that COVID has taken from us when it really should have been left as a personal choice as it always has been.

I think this holiday can be a reminder for organizations that you don’t have to set rules and regulations about everything. People can work some things out for themselves, deciding whether to participate in social events, contribute to causes, or a host of other semi-voluntary options. Allowing people to decide on their own can contribute to feelings of autonomy and trust – as well as freeing up management bandwidth for the really important stuff!

So, trick-or-treat tonight – or not, just like always. (And just in case you’re wondering: you can stop by my house and pick up a fun treat bag from a table at the socially-distanced end of the driveway!)

Happy Halloween!


leadership dot #3059: in tandem

A colleague is having trouble with the toxic work climate that he inherited. Several long-term employees are not only fighting the changes he’s trying to make, but there are also suspicions that even sabotage may be involved. It’s not pretty. We discussed strategies to “turn up the heat” and impose clear expectations with accountability that will either gain a behavioral change, a self-ejection or result in a forced exit.

As you can imagine, dealing with these personnel issues are consuming much of his time and attention as he can’t move forward with change while there are senior staff barriers. However; nor can he move forward without retaining the members of the team who do buy into the new principles. While it may feel as if you have to be absorbed with tending to the problems, to be successful you must also find time to nurture your treasures. While you are putting pressure on one set of staff, you need to be “showing the love” and building trust with those who you believe can help move you forward.

I likened this to the construction of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis – both sides were built simultaneously before the keystone section was ultimately put into place to finish the structure. If you spend all of your energy solving problems, you’ll complete only one leg and be left with nothing useful. Although it is challenging, you must simultaneously challenge and support as required to build the culture you desire.

leadership dot #3058: buoyancy

These days we’re hearing a lot about the need for grit or resilience but I like how author Dan Pink describes a similar trait: buoyancy. He notes that to be successful at persuasion or to keep going when facing a multitude of rejections, it requires the ability to remain mentally afloat.

A tolerance for rejection was also a theme that Guy Raz discovered in many successful entrepreneurs. He learned that one of the skills of founders is that they have rejection immunity, built by early experiences of repeatedly hearing no. Many entrepreneurs have a mission background that cultivated perseverance in face of hearing no more often than not. While the person may not have had great success as a missionary attempting to convert others to their religion, the frequent rejections developed buoyancy that allowed them to persist when facing business rejections.

There are several strategies for increasing buoyancy that Pink describes in his book To Sell is Human, but one I find so easy to deploy. He suggests asking three questions when something bad happens: 1) is it permanent? 2) is this pervasive? 3) Is this personal? More than likely, you’ll find the answer to be no. “The more you explain bad events as temporary, specific and external, the more likely you are to persist even in the face of adversity,” Pink writes.

As we’re called to persevere in challenging times, consider these questions as a life preserver. The boat may still be on choppy waters, but each wave of rejection can help to instill some buoyancy to keep you afloat during the waves.

To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others by Daniel H. Pink, 2012

leadership dot #3057: arguments

“We don’t necessarily need fewer arguments in America right now, we just need less stupid ones.” So began the podcast with Eric Liu from the Aspen Institute’s Citizenship and American Identity Program. It’s true not only in the homestretch of this super-charged election season but in situations throughout the year.

Aspen has partnered with Allstate Insurance and the nonprofit Facing History and Ourselves to provide training and resources to help people “bring the simmering tensions to the surface” and gain an understanding of the perspective of the “other.” In this spirit, they offered 3 dimensions of a better argument and 5 principles to follow, all with the caveat that a resolution may not be achieved, but the chances of improved understanding increase.

The three dimensions of a better argument:

  1. Understand the history and reckon with it. Most disputes are not new so it is helpful to know the context.
  2. Face the emotions.
  3. Be honest about who holds the power.

The five principles for better arguments:

  1. Take winning off the table. (Aim for understanding instead.)
  2. Prioritize relationships and listen passionately.
  3. Pay attention to context.
  4. Embrace vulnerability.
  5. Make room to transform. Allow yourself the possibility that you might be changed.

The Better Arguments Project offers free resources, opportunity to engage in or host virtual arguments, and the ability to become a Better Argument Ambassador. Instead of reverting to silence or shouting, this path of civil discourse may be the key not only to saving democracy but your personal relationships and organizational culture as well.



leadership dot #3056: buy-in

When you are attempting to make changes to a system, Leadership on the Line author Ronald Heifetz advocates for the concept of “giving work back.” He means that the change will be more effective if the group works together to formulate the change rather than having it imposed on them.

Adaptive challenges [vs. purely technical ones] can only be solved when the people with the problem go through a process together to become the people with the solution,” he writes.

It sounds like common sense but think of the times where this doesn’t occur. Government entities make policy decisions without involving those who are affected. Leaders try to impose a cultural shift before engaging employees. Community problems remain unsolved because organizations try to tackle only one piece of the system without involving the multiple organizations that are impacted.

Instead of “giving work back” to people in order to cultivate their buy-in and support, leaders too often falsely assume that it will be faster or easier if they frame the work themselves, but experience shows that it’s simply not true. Before you jump too far into your next change effort, take the time to engage others in defining the problem and securing their commitment to finding a solution. It may feel uncomfortable to share your power but it certainly will be time well spent.

See the 3-minute micro-lesson here on Giving Work Back.










leadership dot #3055: modeling

We all have heard about the impact of a leader’s modeling on those around her, and Learner Lab’s Trevor Ragan shared a concrete way to illustrate this impact.

Students and the teachers at a school agreed to begin learning something new over a two week period. Participants then showed off their newly acquired skills in an Anti-Talent Show at the end of the time period. What they found was that the core benefit to this wasn’t the gains in harmonica-playing, knitting or juggling. Rather, the key lessons were that the students learned that the teachers also struggled and the teachers were reminded that learning is sometimes hard work and scary. By having the teachers model their wobbly skills, it became a powerful experience for all.

People are always watching the leader and taking cues as to what is valued and what is not. If you work yourself to the bone, wellness decreases in importance, no matter what you say. If you admit your failures, having a growth mindset becomes the standard. If you share information with others, transparency is practiced more frequently.

Ragan encourages leaders to identify what actions they want to see from people and model those actions repeatedly. The teachers in the Anti-Talent show wanted students to know that struggles are part of learning something new and consequently, put their own fallibility on public display. What behaviors do you want to see from those around you? Be intentional about naming them, and more importantly, modeling them, for your family, colleagues, and partners.

Source: The Learner Lab Podcast: How to Improve the Learning Environment with Modeling

Man in a cap, juggling with several balls at once. Dynamics and motor coordination. Balancing. Aquamarine T-shirt. Yellow-red balls. Dark background.

leadership dot #3054: variation

I joined a webinar and in the space to submit chat comments, the dialogue box read: “Say something nice.” What a simple yet effective way to set the tone for participants.

In another setting, a game on my phone shared information about a new feature. Instead of the traditional X to close the notification box, the button said “Awesome.” Another dialogue prompt offered two options for a new feature: “Maybe Later” or “Ready to Install.”

A similar variation occurred on the shipping notification for an online order that read:  “Your order has left the building – cue cheers and happy dances. Our expert team just bid farewell to your fun.”

I love the intentionality that these developers put into their messages. No one would have thought twice if the chat button was blank, the choices were yes and no or the shipping email provided only the facts, yet the extra thought made me both notice and smile in all these situations.

Why not take an extra few moments to craft something creative in your next communique? The routine messages that aren’t so rote are a great way to impart some of your organization’s values and help you stand out in your client’s mind.

leadership dot #3053: global

Today is a special United Nations Day, this one commemorating the 75th anniversary of the global peace institution.

As their website states: “ There is no other global organization with the legitimacy, convening power and normative impact of the United Nations. Today, the urgency for all countries to come together, to fulfill the promise of the nations united, has rarely been greater.”

In 1945, the United Nations was chartered with 51 countries and five permanent members of the Security Council: China, France, Soviet Union, United Kingdom and the United States. Those nations have as many disagreements as commonalities, yet for three-quarters of a century, they have prevailed together to make the world a better place. Working on such topics as women’s equality, climate change, COVID, poverty, space exploration, migration and health, the 193 Member States continue to grind it out toward “peace, dignity and equality on a healthy planet.”

When you feel challenged in finding cooperative partners or wondering how you can persist with other organizations that don’t fully align with you, remember the United Nations. They have overcome significant geographical distances, language barriers and philosophical polarization to find a higher purpose and commonality that they can agree on and work towards.

Let’s celebrate their endurance and use it as a model for our own work.


leadership dot #3052: wellness

A friend of mine was just told by his boss to take a week off for some burnout prevention. The boss himself had recently returned from an extended sabbatical so his awareness of others’ exhaustion may have been more acute, but why isn’t everyone more conscious about proactive wellness? It’s not talked about enough.

My dissertation advocated for some strategies that would aid in employee retention and one of the questions posed to me was how colleges would afford it. Retention is almost always a positive investment. By the time you factor in the cost of a search (and management time to conduct it), training (and management time to provide it), lost opportunities because of a vacant or inexperienced person in the position, relationships and connections that are lost and the toll it takes on reconstituting the department’s culture, it becomes clear that organizations are far ahead when they retain their productive employees.

We invest money in professional development and a host of other perks for our team members. Don’t neglect wellness time as part of that package. Yes, vacations are lovely, but often jam-packed and full of their own variety of stress. Help your staff create time to decompress and truly recharge. Burnout is far, far easier to prevent than to recover from – for both the individual and the organization.

leadership dot #3051: chosen

Yesterday, I wrote about the concept of “going upstream” to do prevention work rather than reacting to the results. In his book Upstream, Dan Heath makes a compelling argument as to why that is where we should invest our time.

He is also is clear that upstream work is chosen. Unlike emergencies where people jump in to react, those who pursue prevention efforts choose the work without an urgent mandate imposed on them to do so. They know that they are not the ones who created the problem, but volunteer (or, more likely, feel compelled) to try to fix it.

Heath points out that we label as heroes those who dramatically come to the rescue of others, but often ignore the more quiet upstream heroes who prevented tragedies in the first place: the engineer who wrote stronger building codes to prevent people from being trapped in fires; the public servant who clarified and communicated evacuation plans; the policymaker who wrote prevention efforts into law. He urges us to do more to acknowledge the quiet heroes who keep the day from needing to be saved.

Maybe your role as a change leader involves the front-of-the-house advocacy to engage and persuade allies, or maybe your role can make an impact from behind-the-scenes change. Regardless of how you do it, I hope that you feel called to dedicate some time toward whatever vexing problem is upstream in your industry or community. People are drowning in a multitude of broken systems and we need your leadership to begin to fix it.