leadership dot #3144: cues

I saw a picture taken at the pre-Inauguration Memorial Service with the caption “Kamala Harris at the Reflecting Pool, in Pyer Moss.” How her life has changed where it suddenly becomes newsworthy not only about what she is wearing but also regarding who designed it.

Harris was wise to know this and to select a Haitian-American designer who has made generous contributions to those impacted by COVID. For the Inauguration itself, she and other key participants showcased other American designers, including some from U.S. design schools. Harris and other platform members were attired in purple as a nod to the unity of blue and red coming together and women across the country wore their pearls as a purposeful choice to represent Harris’ sorority.

You may not find yourself in a position where those around you are inquiring as to your clothing designer but if you’re the boss you can be assured that people are paying attention to many details about you. Cues such as attire, vehicle, work hours, and even eating habits are noticed and noted. Attempt to send your non-verbal messages with the same intentionality as your words.





leadership dot #3143: norms

I’m always telling supervisors that it’s important to outline their expectations and set the tone from the beginning, and Joe Biden provided a good example of what that looks like. As he virtually welcomed his incoming staff, he’s reported to have told them: “If you’re ever working with me and I hear you treat another colleague with disrespect, talk down to someone, I promise I will fire you on the spot. On the spot. Everybody is entitled to be treated with decency and dignity.”

We too often assume that staff understands what is important to us but it is far more prudent to be crystal clear about your values. By sharing what behavior is and is not acceptable it helps everyone know the norms of your culture and how to be successful.

Even if it’s not your first day, it’s never too late to get everyone on the same page. Spell out your expectations – and then hold yourself and others accountable to them.


leadership dot #3142: filtered

I received a follow-up survey from a new service provider – and I did not give a very favorable review. To their credit, the office contacted me via phone to learn more. I elaborated about how the professional had a less-than-stellar bedside manner and did nothing to establish any rapport with me – someone with whom they were presumably beginning a long-term relationship. The staff member seemed very appreciative of the comments…

…and I thought about the awkward position this task had placed her in. Even if she was the office manager, let alone someone with less authority, how might she effectively communicate the negative feedback to the person in charge when the comments reflected poorly on that person’s behavior? I wondered if the leader would genuinely want to hear the feedback or whether they would dismiss the messenger or minimize the themes that were shared.

If the organization is truly interested in learning customer reactions it is more powerful if they are heard directly by someone with the ability to act on the information. With every layer in between response and action, the message is translated, sanitized, and filtered through personal perceptions. Nuances and intonations are lost as is the meaning from what is not said.

It’s beneficial to solicit feedback but more admirable to actually do something with it.


leadership dot #3141: day 1

The Biden team assumes responsibility today without some of the usual debriefings and transfer of knowledge and, sadly, I think of how it parallels what the majority of employees face on the first day of their new job. Most employees leave their positions without an in-person hand-off or without compiling a coherent manual of relevant documentation, leaving the new hire in the dark. Every day, new employees are tossed into the deep end with a pile of HR forms, maybe lunch with colleagues, and then left to their own devices to figure out everything from the technology to the organization’s mission.

It not only doesn’t have to be this way – it shouldn’t be this way — for any role. If you’re the hiring manager, your obligations and responsibilities don’t stop the moment you make an offer or the day the new employee shows up; that’s when your work is just beginning.

If you have a new staff member, focus less on the pageantry of the welcome process and more on the ongoing support that is required to help that person succeed. Lend your attention to the new hire, of course, but also to the colleagues around him or her, especially if they had preferred another candidate. Over time, repeatedly demonstrate that you value an environment that builds trust, allows for missteps, and places a high value on communication.

Just like with the Inauguration, there’s hoopla over Day 1 in a new job, but when people really need your support is on day 12 or 35 or 176 – when all the luster has worn off and the vexing questions remain unsolved. Enjoy the wedding, but focus on the marriage in order to have a long-lasting and successful relationship.

leadership dot #3140: possibility

There seems to be a different feeling in the air – whether due to the new year, the imminence of a new president, the availability of a vaccine, or a lingering post-holiday glow – as people I speak with seem to have more hope and optimism than I heard a few short weeks ago.

I hope this is translated into action by focusing on what can be done instead of being stymied by all the limitations COVID presents. I am reminded of a quote by Michelle Obama: “Don’t ever make decisions based on fear. Make decisions based on hope and possibility. Make decisions based on what should happen, not what shouldn’t.”

Many have spent the greater part of a year in a cycle of reduction, saying no, focusing on what can’t be done, or placing much of their lives in a holding pattern. While everyone still needs to exercise due diligence and practice safety protocols, I hope you capitalize on this window of hope to do your work and lead your lives with a focus on promise instead of regret.

What can you do, given the realities of the moment? I guarantee your answer will generate far more energy than a query about what you can’t.


leadership dot #3139: time out

Just before my friend went under anesthesia, the surgical team gathered around and called a “time out” to ensure that everyone, including the patient, was clear about the procedure they were set to perform. This momentary pause ensured that there was no misunderstanding or mix-up on the chart. The two-minute huddle has prevented irreversible calamities in the past and seems to be a wise investment of time.

I think that time outs have an application far beyond the surgical ward. It would be worthwhile to gather your team and have a time out before a big event or before embarking on a major project. The few seconds of time to clarify agreement can save hours in the long run by making sure everyone is clear on the desired outcome and process to get there before starting down a path.

In this case, the doctor really does know best. Prescribe a time out before your next big start.

Thanks, Curt!

leadership dot #3138: patio

In a nod to the circumstances they face, our local Culver’s appears to be breaking up their new patio area and replacing it with a second drive-thru lane. They also added an all-weather hut to shield their staff from the elements as they manage the traffic and pick-up orders.

It reminded me of the Stockdale Paradox referenced in Jim Collins’ Good to Great: “Confront the most brutal facts of your current reality AND retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties.” Culver’s is acknowledging that they need to invest more into the business, despite the fact that they recently renovated the inside dining room and added that patio, AND they obviously believe their changes will pay off. It would be easy to lament the disruptions brought upon by COVID but instead, they have instituted an approach that moves them forward.

Maybe it’s time to break up the equivalent of your new patio, too.


leadership dot #3137: extrapolate

If you want a peek into the future, just use your imagination and extrapolate what is novel in the present. When I was a kid (many years ago), one of the great treats of going to the zoo was the ability to put money in a machine and watch it form a plastic animal. When I returned there a few decades later, I realized that the Mold-a-Rama was really a precursor to current day 3D printing. Now, in MakerSpaces across the country kids can not only make their own creatures, but they can design them.

Think about what else was that once seemed fascinating but has now become commonplace. Home computers that allow you to edit videos, record music or create professional designs. Online banking. Customizable everything. Delivery services. Ridesharing. Gluten-free food options. Phones with quality cameras.

What’s on the horizon that will soon become ordinary instead of notable? Cars that drive themselves. Travel to Mars. A cashless society. Remote education and permanent work-from-home. Telemedicine. Virtual or Augmented Reality. Insurgent group protests in the U.S. Continued virtual events. Plant-based meats. Enhanced data mining. The list is long. Find one item that aligns with your organization and prepare now to incorporate its use in your future.


leadership dot #3136: vary

My Octopus Teacher (see dot 3135) taught me more about the mollusk than I could have imagined but what fascinated me most was its ability to camouflage. The very intelligent creature “has spent millions of years learning to be impossible to find” and has become quite good at it. Octopuses can change their color, texture, or pattern to blend into the environment and allude predators. They also use their 2000 suckers to adhere shells and other objects (see picture) and configure themselves into an unrecognizable addition on the ocean floor.

We can all learn from the octopus and vary our methods of achieving the desired end. It’s not enough to use the same strategy over and over, rather we must craft various options to utilize as the situation warrants. Too often we make slight changes to our actions – the equivalent of altering colors – but never even think to expand into entirely new ways of addressing a problem – the human version of covering ourselves in 100 shells. You may not have a million years to perfect your skills but inject more creativity into those you do.

An octopus in hiding – covered in suctioned shells to disguise itself


leadership dot #3135: clues

I recently watched My Octopus Teacher, a fascinating documentary about a photographer who dives into the same spot each day for over a year to observe the actions of an octopus. People asked Craig Foster why he went back to that location rather than exploring elsewhere, and he replied that it gave him the opportunity to notice subtle differences that he would otherwise miss.

“Subtle” was also a theme of how he got interested in this quest. Foster had been a photographer in the Serengeti, aided by native animal trackers who followed minute differences as clues to lead them to the big game. He applied the same principle in his work underwater to discover where the octopus was living and where it had recently been.

Too often we gloss over small differences and render them insignificant when, over time, these subtle variations can reveal great value. You likely are not searching for an octopus or lion, but you can adopt the method of consistent observation to track trends, see initial signs of changed behavior, monitor shifts in response, or be the first to spot a divergence that could indicate the start of something significant. Pay attention to the small stuff long enough to ascertain the clues it can provide you.