leadership dot #3272: legislate

At 11 minutes before midnight on the last night of the session, our state legislature passed a measure that went into effect immediately. Whether you agree with the bill or not, it signals how legislating has become reactionary — focused on the short-term political element rather than the long-term impacts any legislation imposes. No bill needed to be put in effect in the dark of night.

Politics has become volleyball — one side overturning the acts of the previous administration, only until the new administration can come in and do the same. With the loss of moderates in both parties, we have forfeited the middle, and along with it, the essential element of compromise.

On this Memorial Day, we honor those who died in the performance of their military duties while serving to protect democracy and the American way of life. Let us hope that those who are living will see clear to make those sacrifices worthwhile by focusing on the long-term health of the country instead of the just political gain of the moment.

leadership dot #3271: knowledge

I just completed a two-night retirement planning course that came with over 200 pages of workbook and a supplemental session. I think I left with more questions than answers and an overall numbing of the complexity of estate planning.

From long-term care, Medicare, life insurance, avoiding probate, required minimum distributions, tax planning for these distributions and just about everything else, the course highlighted the many ways that a savvy individual can maximize their assets in retirement and beyond.

And what about those who aren’t as fortunate to pay for a course, invest the time, hire a lawyer, financial planner and accountant, and learn all the advantages and loop holes? Estate planning becomes one more contributor to generational wealth inequities and perpetuates the gap between the rich and poor.

I have long been an advocate for personal finance as a required course in high school and college, and this conviction is even stronger today. If you are a leader — whether that be of a business, Girl Scout troop, nonprofit, or group of friends — do yourself and others a favor and broadly share wisdom and resources about financial planning. Doing so will make you richer far beyond a purely monetary sense.

leadership dot #3270: signs

When the pandemic forced the cancelation of many celebrations, some families shared their well-wishes via yard signs. Whether for graduations, birthdays, anniversaries, or weddings the signs were a prominent way to create a festive mood, safely from outdoors.

It’s a practice that I hope continues.

Having a public acknowledgment of a significant event lends itself to community celebration. Neighbors can comment on the milestone. Strangers honk as they pass by. Even if you don’t personally contribute to the well-wishes, it brings a momentary smile when you see that something delightful is happening near you.

Think about how you can capitalize on the yard sign trend to promote events in your organization, recognize your star employees, celebrate a milestone achievement, or simply declare a message of joy. We need all the signs of hope that we can get.

leadership dot #3269: first time

Reputations are so fragile. I recently had an extremely bad experience at one of my favorite restaurants. The clerk and manager on duty were so rude and the response from the owner was non-existent, souring me on the whole place. Now, instead of eating there several times a month, it will be a long time (if ever) before I return.

When I’m having a bad experience with something, I often say: “If this was the first time…” – implying that if it was the first time I used this/went there/etc. it would be my last. I seem to be more forgiving of experiences where I have had a previous positive interaction. But that grace can only go so far.

And what about all those occasions where it is the first time – and thus the last. Not everyone earns the opportunity to have a second chance. What can you do to increase the likelihood that your service or product will get it right the first time – or at least learn from people what you are doing wrong so that you can correct it in the future?

Your reputation rides on each employee and every interaction. Work hard to make a great first impression — every time.

leadership dot #3268: minimized

We start all of my managerial communication classes with practice in making introductions, elevator speeches, and happenstance conversations with the big boss. We also spend as much time on related skills such as critical thinking, teamwork, problem-solving, attitude, and self-confidence as we do on writing and speaking.

Some may call this content “small talk” and “soft skills” but that language diminishes the importance of these characteristics. If you think about which of your bosses or colleagues has been successful, it’s likely the emotionally intelligent ones who have the essential skills that encompass these traits.

Language matters. Don’t minimize the pivotal role that people skills play in organizational success by calling them soft or small. It’s the hard truth that they are largely responsible for creating an effective workplace.

leadership dot #3267: leisure

Thanks to the miracle of the internet, I’ll be able to teach a class tonight from Texas. When I was coordinating schedules to plan this visit, it seemed like a good option but now I regret the decision. It’s supposed to be a vacation, but teaching a class forces me to pack responsibility and my thinking cap in my luggage. I thought the point of a leisure trip was to leave them at home!

My students have also lamented the demands their employers place on them when they are theoretically away. While the internet and smartphones make it “easy” to join in on a meeting or respond to email, even a small interruption that brings us back to the work world negates a large benefit of time off.

As summer approaches and travel restrictions loosen, be vigilant with your time away and that of your team. This year more than most, we need a deep recharge of our mental batteries, free from distractions and minor obligations that suck us back to zero and reset the refresh scale. Even though you can take the internet with you, it makes a lousy travel partner and is best left at home.

leadership dot #3266: tone

Shoes are to fashion what tone is to communication.

If I wore my little black dress with stilettos, I could go to a gala. The same dress with flip-flops would pass without notice at the beach. One element of the outfit sets the frame for everything else.

The same is true in communication. If you start an email with “Thanks homie” (a real example from a student), I don’t care what comes next, it won’t be perceived as professional. A string of emojis or text-friendly abbreviations may work for a friend but instantly makes the entire message too casual for an office setting.

Tone can be brilliantly illustrated through videos of labradors Olive and Mabel whose owner switched to YouTube commentary of the dogs while on pandemic-induced hiatus from his job as a Wimbledon announcer. He makes an everyday event into an internet sensation by just changing his inflection.

We spend a disproportionate amount of time laboring over the clothes, the words, or the subject matter and too often forget the smaller details that create the overall effect. It’s the tone that makes all the difference.

leadership dot #3265: gain

I wrote some of my recent dots on the patio and while it is certainly not the most efficient way to produce content, it is one of the most pleasant. What I lost in the accessibility of my materials was outweighed by the benefits of enjoying the breeze and soaking in a rare glimpse of the sun.

By a strict measurement, we often lose something in a modified process but often forget to account for what we gain. We lose some collaboration while working from home but gain a greater sense of control over our personal schedule. We forfeit some freedoms when doing our data collection independently but gain a more robust picture when it is standardized and aggregated with others. Yes, some of the liquid remains in the bottle when we buy refillable products but we use less energy waste to produce and ship it.

Altering your process in big or small ways often has surprising benefits. Focus on the benefits rather than the cost when deciding how to implement your next process.

leadership dot #3264: pods

April showers bring May flowers — and May showers! While other areas of the country may be experiencing a drought, our area has seen plenty of precipitation. There are two ways to handle this: fight it or embrace it. The former is futile, but those who acknowledge the possibility of inclement weather are able to go about their business without interruption.

Such is the case at one drive-through where order takers are equipped not only with rainwear but moon suit-esque pods that keep their workers dry. Our clerk said they were cumbersome but were better than getting wet!

What potential barriers can you anticipate — and prepare for — to allow for continuous function of your essential processes? Whether it be rain or drought, the weather is not the only thing out of our control but being proactive in response is in our hands.

leadership dot #3263: fireplace

The latest amenity at the newly-renovated Newbury hotel is a wood-burning fireplace in selected rooms. Not only do they supply the wood, but you also receive the services of a “fireplace butler,” presumably someone who can build the fire for you and prevent you from burning down the hotel! While this ambiance-creating service sounds delightful on a cold Boston night, its price tag will give you a chill: a starting rack rate of $1187/night for a single room (up to $1804 for a suite).

The fireplace phenomenon reminds me of the rock-climbing wall craze that swept college campuses a few years ago. In the quest to outshine competitors and make themselves more appealing, colleges kept adding new amenities — free laundry, fitness centers, swimming pools, technology commons, and apartments. The rock-climbing wall became the symbol of excessive expenditures that needlessly drove up the price of an education.

There was a day when a hotel offering color television, air conditioning, internet access, or breakfast was a selling point. Now, they are standard features even at the budget chains. Would a fireplace in your hotel room be nice? Absolutely. Is a rock-climbing wall fun? Probably for some. But before you add features just because another organization has them, consider whether the race to offer “more” or “new” outweighs its cost. Good old-fashioned customer service might be the most valuable option you provide.