leadership dot #3517: introducing

Southwest Airlines sent out an email to introduce its incoming CEO, Bob Jordan, to their Rewards members. Mr. Jordan wrote a traditional letter sharing his enthusiasm for the position — something that could be a template for the new CEO of any airline — but then Southwest took it a step further and helped people get acquainted in a very Southwest-like way.

True to their brand, the airline introduced Bob with informality and humor. In a 2-page infographic, they shared such trivia as what he eats for breakfast, his favorite Winter Olympic sport, whether or not he wants to scuba dive, and what he wanted to be when he grew up. They sprinkled in a few facts such as his degrees and family information but mostly it was irrelevant and irreverent. They made him human and made their message one that could only be used by Southwest.

We’ve all seen the boring bios that introduce new leadership to stakeholders. Maybe you can take a page from Southwest’s playbook to allow your next introduction to be one that makes people actually want to meet the guy.

leadership dot #3516: pencil

I’m re-watching The West Wing television series and one of the lines has stuck with me. Chief of Staff Leo McGarry (John Spencer) admonishes his staff by saying: “We spent millions of dollars developing a pen we can use in space, and the Russians used a pencil.”

How many things in our own lives do we overcomplicate? Today, instead of overthinking something, opt for the simple route. The solution is likely already in front of you if you’re open to creatively seeing it.

leadership dot #3515: be sensitive

The marketing machine is getting ready to promote the litany of spring holidays: Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, etc. While it may be good for business, not everyone feels joyous about all these occasions. The Day of Love is tough for those who are alone; Mother’s Day is hard for those who have lost a child or are unable to conceive one, and the list goes on.

Etsy has demonstrated sensitivity to this issue and sent an email: “Do you want to opt out of Valentine’s Day emails? We understand that Valentine’s Day can be a tough time. If you prefer not to receive Valentine’s Day emails from us, you can opt out by clicking below. You’ll still get tons of other great content from Etsy.”

Before you jump on the holiday promotion bandwagon, consider how you can empathize with members of your audience who may consider the days reminders of pain instead of glee.

leadership dot #3514: reflecting

In most of the graduate classes I teach, I require the students to write weekly synthesis papers that incorporate the week’s materials and apply the concepts to their personal experiences. It’s my version of “academic journaling” where the mere act of reflection triggers insights that would otherwise remain unrealized.

As a whole, we don’t devote nearly enough time to reflect. We’re faced with a barrage of inputs — from the news, our work, podcasts or social media, (and in this case, class lessons) — and without a dedicated time to process it all, much is lost and never applied.

I think it’s important to incorporate a habit that slows us down for a few minutes to think about what it all means. For some, that may be journaling. For others, it may be letter writing. Still others might find reflection happens in social circles. And for my students, it happens with synthesis papers.

For yourself and for those over which you have influence, build a reflection opportunity into your routine. You’ll be surprised at the nuggets that reside just below your consciousness that are just waiting to be revealed.

leadership dot #3513: absent

Yesterday, I wrote about the importance of conversational collisions (dot 3512), the serendipitous interaction that occurs when two people run into each other and can begin to engage. Collisions won’t be happening with the newest member of our city council — who thinks she is able to be effective living a thousand miles away as a snowbird each year. Participating virtually in just the meetings for three months each winter seems to be good enough for her without any further involvement or first-hand experience of what life in our city is like.

And there is nothing in place to prohibit this. No guidelines about in-person attendance. No provisions against moving out of state for a quarter of your term. No responsibilities for council members outside of meeting attendance, however loosely “attendance” is defined. An attempt failed to put something in place to address this retroactively, so she skates by.

Every organization should have fundamental operating practices on the books — things that seem like common sense but are better for everyone if they are clarified in advance. Reactionary policies can feel like personal attacks whereas addressing responsibilities and norms upfront can save angst and resentment down the road.

The time to put guidelines and expectations in place is before you need them. Once someone does something outside the bounds once, it becomes a precedent. It’s much easier to prevent deviations than it is to undo them.

leadership dot #3512: collisions

I’ve been thinking about all the synchronous experiences we used to have as a community.

— People got their news from one of three networks — at either 6pm or 10pm each night — or read it in the (one) local paper
— People gathered at one of a few main services at their church
— Interactions occurred when people shopped at the local mall or downtown strip of stores
— There may have been only one or two “diners” or “supper clubs” for those rare occasions when people ate out
— Everyone waited in line to vote in person on the same day

The growth of specialization led to separation and fewer common experiences. We’re no longer living essentially the same life as our neighbors. We’re not having those “collisions” (as Tony Hsieh called them) and learning to know our people as individuals instead of a generic generalization.

It’s easier to dislike or distrust a nameless person. It’s easier to assume that you have nothing in common because you haven’t shared those moments together. It takes more work to ask questions and establish connections — but it’s worth the effort. Start a conversation with someone new and learn about the world as others have experienced it.

leadership dot #3511: flow

During a discussion or meeting, the participants often have to make a facilitation choice to manage the flow of the dialogue.

In some situations, the comments should attempt to start something: calling on people, raising questions, making follow-up comments that move the conversation in the desired direction, or prompting feedback on specific points of view. The goal is to get a broad spectrum of input and to engage the participants.

In other cases, the comment needs to manage the facilitation by stopping something: cutting off side conversations, redirecting a boisterous participant, bringing a rambling discussion to an end by explicitly setting a limit (“ok, we’ll take one more question…), or allowing only new points to be made. Here the speaker is attempting to manage the flow by ending dialogue that is outside desired parameters.

Before you make your next comment, consider your purpose for doing so. If the conversation is off the rails, you can try to start something or you can achieve the same end by trying to stop the current flow. Everyone in the group can (and should) contribute to its facilitation. Be intentional about how your words can impact the communication tide.

leadership dot #3510: trends

Trend forecaster Jeremy Gutsche makes the argument that the post-pandemic period will provide some of the greatest business opportunities of our lifetime. He lays out his premise in one of his TrendHunter keynotes, looking back at the Spanish Flu and Black Death followed by the Roaring ’20s as a backdrop for what he predicts could occur post-Covid. Commenters on his post are quick to point out that the Great Depression followed the frivolity of the 1920s but some of his points seem spot on.

Gutsche’s main premise is that crisis leads to urgency which leads to action which leads to innovation. The disruption from Covid has created opportunities for many while at the same time devastating others. Of course, Gutsche advocates being one of the people or organizations that sees the openings caused by the “grand reprioritization” to position yourself to help resolve the tensions the crisis created. He cites 13 trends to monitor, including a surge in entrepreneurship, automation of labor, proliferation of leisure, polarized political debate, and new media and new heroes that excite us.

Gutsche’s keynote doesn’t provide any answers rather it is an hour of disrupting complacency and raising possibilities to be explored. It’s evident that the post-pandemic world will not be the same as the pre-pandemic one. Are you prepared to capitalize on that?

leadership dot #3509: handwriting

There is a meme circulating on the internet that says: “Someday we old folks will use cursive as a secret code.” I don’t think that day is too far off. Handwriting of any sort is disappearing from use and will soon be seen as quaint.

Today is National Handwriting Day — another of those “who cares?” holidays — but it’s a good reminder that the personal touch conveyed through a pen can carry more emotion and meaning than keystrokes. I am a prolific long-hand letter writer, and I also save the correspondence I receive. There’s nothing like pulling out a letter my Mom or sister sent me to feel a closeness to them I can’t capture through just a photo.

Hallmark is trying to make handwriting more convenient through a line of “Sign & Send” cards that allow you to take a picture of your handwritten messages and then they insert it into a card and mail it for you. Not quite the same, but better than a text! Hallmark will even send your first Sign & Send card free if you’re a rewards member.

Our handwriting is a unique expression of who we are. Share some of your essence today and celebrate National Handwriting Day by dropping a note to someone you care about.

leadership dot #3508: container

The Four Winds is a wonderful novel set in the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. The story follows a woman facing the challenges of poverty on the Great Plains as the Depression, water shortage, and howling winds all took their toll.

Every resource was scarce and precious, including fabric. The novel’s Elsa commented: “Everyone made clothes from grain and flour sacks these days. The manufacturers of the sacks had even begun putting pretty designs on the material. It was a small thing, those floral patterns, but anything that made a woman feel pretty in these hard times was worth its weight in gold.”

Elsa was referring to the Kansas wheat companies which when they realized women were repurposing their bags, started using flowered fabric with labels that washed out. It was a generous and thoughtful step to help people through the hard times.

Have you ever considered how people use your “containers” and whether you could add an extra touch to add value to something that otherwise may be thrown away? For example, my mattress box was printed with a list of suggestions of how to reuse it. Breads Bakery in New York sells their cake loaves wrapped in a short story so you can have a “cake break.” Many Mall of America stores provide bags that can be reused (dot 2480).

Provide some extra intentionality about your product through its entire lifecycle, including what your customer does with the container it comes in.

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah, 2021, p. 63