leadership dot #3152: bags

In my class, I push my students to pay attention to the seemingly minor components that work together to create a brand or culture. Today’s dot is an example of that – an illustration of intentionality and how it can show up in the most mundane of places: the leaf disposal bags. Most vendors choose to emblazon the bag with their logo and purely functional imprints but Lowe’s took a different tactic. Instead of a plain bag, theirs injects some humor.

Is the addition of levity to the lawn bags going to do anything for Lowe’s profits or image? Maybe not. But it is a good example of taking advantage of the small opportunities to express your brand. One instance won’t make a difference; being purposeful about hundreds of them will.

Do everything you do with intention – even the things you initially think don’t matter.

leadership dot #3151: tips

You may have heard of crowdsourcing as a way for the public to contribute funds or ideas toward a shared cause but I recently saw the concept deployed in a new way. Even though I live in a small town 900 miles from Washington D.C., the FBI has posted billboard messages throughout the city requesting tips about anyone involved in the riots at the Capitol. It’s another example of the power of engaging others, albeit in an unorthodox way.

Maybe your organization doesn’t need billboards or a national campaign to gather information but is there a way for you to modify the idea? Perhaps you could solicit employee referrals on a broad scale through social media instead of a literal billboard. Maybe you’re a college seeking intern or clinical placements for your students and should cast a net with the public, not just your alumni. Or it could be that you would benefit from connecting with others who have knowledge about your problem and possibly could help provide solutions.

The FBI has moved upstream from posting “Most Wanted” posters in post offices to asking people to help identify who the offenders are. Think about how can you ask for help earlier and more widely than you have previously done.


leadership dot #3150: bad news

An organization just cut a staff position and the manager reported the news to the affected department as if he had no other responsibility beyond doing so. “They” made the budget cuts was how it was presented.

First, the role of a leader includes advocacy to ideally influence the decision in a different direction or to generate alternatives that could mitigate the impact on the unit. Could a position be moved to part-time or shared with another area? What about a furlough or temporary reduction of hours? Or how about a restructuring that would lessen the negative result for the whole? As I wrote about earlier this week (dot 3147) viewing a decision as all-or-nothing fails to recognize the benefits of compromise or trade-offs.

But assuming that all the options were explored and the position had to be eliminated, the manager still failed to fulfill his duty by presenting the decision without a plan about the implications. When there is a serious disruption, those remaining want to know what the impact is on them and how things will look going forward. This is not the time to go into a meeting with a blank slate, rather the leader needs to impart some calm and stability with at least an initial sketch of what it all means.

If you’re the supervisor and you are personally impacted by bad news, take a moment to do your grieving but get over it before you address the staff. They need from you strength, assurance, and a plan for how you will all get through this together. What “they” decided matters far less than what “we” are going to do about it.

leadership dot #3149: cables

When you think of entrepreneurs and especially technology giants, names like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs come to mind but rarely would Chet Pipkin make your list. Yet, without Chet (or someone like him) personal computing would not be as pervasive as we know it today.

Chet is the founder of Belkin International, the company that makes many of those connection cables that allow your computer to work with your printer, monitor, and other devices. Chet’s company sold in 2018 for nearly a billion dollars, making him one of the wealthiest people in the U.S. His products aren’t glamourous, but they’re functional and meet an unanticipated need that many consumers find they have.

Belkin began in 1982 when self-professed computer geek Chet realized that the barriers to actually make computers were too high but he saw a need that he could leverage into a profitable opportunity. He learned about this gap by hanging out in computer stores and listening to the questions that early purchasers asked, then he anticipated consumer needs and made a product to fulfill them. Today, Belkin cables and adapters are available pretty much wherever computers are sold.

Can you follow the process that Chet Pipkin used and get closer to your users? Is there a way for you to learn what their frustrations are and see if there is a way for your organization to provide solutions for them? How can you look behind the scenes to discover what gap exists that your talents can fill?

The spotlight often shines on the one or two companies or their founders but with every field, there are many more opportunities for greatness beyond the exalted few.

Source: How I Built This by Guy Raz, 2020

leadership dot #3148: reversed

I think of all those who have worked hard and achieved success on a goal only to see it reversed: judicial teams whose conviction is pardoned or overturned on appeal; surgeons whose patients survive the operation but then die of complications or relapse; or legislators whose victories are negated with the next administration.

It’s necessary to temper your expectations when it’s possible that a letdown will follow the victory but it shouldn’t stop you from pursuing the initial quest. Those who become pregnant hold off on the announcement until after the first trimester in case of a miscarriage but they still conceive. Realtors indicate “sale pending” until the financing comes through but they still sell houses. Players look to the officials to check whether points are scored when the whistle is blown but they still take the shot.

If you bask in the glory only to have it reversed, it doesn’t negate your original success. Don’t allow your loss to take you lower because of the momentum gained from the initial high.

leadership dot #3147: trade-offs

Too many people have forgotten the art of compromise. If “your side” doesn’t achieve 100% of what it is striving for, the decision is denounced instead of celebrating the movement that was made. Often, people frame results as “won” or “lost” instead of focusing on the fact that something was accomplished.

Today rarely is anyone happy with a decision. For example, President Biden announced new immigration policies that were immediately called out by several groups wanting him to go further AND by conservative groups that opposed his actions. Biden halted the construction of the Keystone pipeline that pleased environmentalists and angered the Canadians. He has the most diverse Cabinet in history but was criticized because there are not enough Latinos included.

Dissatisfaction happens in every organization, not just in the political setting. To be an effective leader, you must remain focused on the overall goal and work to advance results to achieve it – without regard to whether or not people are happy about your decision. Reward your team for coming to a compromise by asking what the different parties have given up and where some movement was made. Continue to encourage trade-offs rather than hard-ball negotiations. Do what is right for the organization instead of what is popular. Stop evaluating issues through an all-or-nothing lens.

Real movement happens when we learn to embrace the gray.

leadership dot #3146: pros and cons

A facilitation tool that can help move groups to shared understanding involves everyone initially listing all the pros of an argument (written on a whiteboard or flipcharts for people to see), and when the entries are exhausted, then listing all the cons. Many times when the complete lists are placed side-by-side, people are able to form more objective conclusions and are able to become detached from the emotions surrounding the issues.

I successfully used this technique to reach a verdict with a jury that was near deadlock but once all the evidence in support of conviction was written out and all the rationale against it, enough people changed their vote to reach a majority decision. I’ve also seen its effectiveness with other groups when the discussion swirled around so many points that it was hard to weigh which argument was more compelling.

As a facilitator, you need to be vigilant to keep the listings singularly-focused (as there is great temptation to compile both lists simultaneously) but if successful you may find the solution that alluded you was there all along.

leadership dot #3145: Satan

One of the best commercials I have seen in a long time is for Match.com where Satan is matched with Two-Zero-Two-Zero (“please call me 2020”). In a fun and cheeky way, the clip shows the newly-paired couple stealing toilet paper, sitting by a Dumpster fire, and being from Hell – making the point that there is someone out there for everyone.

Rather than glossing over the hardships of the past year, Match.com played up on all the negative aspects of 2020 and brought levity to our plight. Can you do the same? Is there a way to humorously tie in your message to the gray days of winter or uncertainties that your clientele faces? Is it possible for you to acknowledge that everything isn’t rosy while simultaneously offering hope?

It’s a fine line to address the negative with laughter and sensitivity but if you can pull it off, it’s a match made in heaven.

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.