leadership dot #3545: teamwork

The conference basketball tournament program listed the Players of the Week for the 14 weeks of the conference season. The team that won the conference and conference tournament did not have any players listed. The team with a named player for five different weeks ended up sixth out of nine conference teams.

It’s a reminder that effective teamwork is truly a group effort. You don’t need a superstar on your team to be a winner. Synergy is better than individual brilliance.

leadership dot #3544: note

A friend shared an article advocating that candidates stop sending thank you notes after interviews. “It’s an archaic, ridiculous practice,” one comment read. Call me a dinosaur, but what harm could it do? I have evolved from insisting the note be handwritten to making peace with email, but I still think that not doing them is forfeiting an opportunity.

A post-interview thank you note, in my opinion, should include something that could not have been written before the interview. You could reference a specific exchange that occurred, highlight additional skills that relate to what was discussed or comment on a specific project/aspect of the work that was shared with you in the interview. I think it gives you another chance to share something about yourself, shows you have manners, and keeps your name top of mind. Why wouldn’t you do one?

Yes, the job market favors the candidates right now, but if you’re interviewing, presumably you want the job. Take advantage of every avenue to impress, including with a well-crafted and timely follow-up note.

Thanks, Emily!

leadership dot #3543: empathy

This is Taka, a dog that now serves as a therapy dog for burn victims. Animal Channel reported that he received burns in a house fire but now helps comfort others who have similar experiences.

Taka has turned something that could clearly be a disadvantage into a strength. Think of how you could do so as well. What challenge have you faced that could help give others hope? What trait do you have that could be desirable in certain situations? (e.g. Those who have no sense of smell often work in industries where this is a strength — think sewers, garbage, leather or sugar manufacturing, etc.).

Any variation creates unique advantages. Embrace yours and help others with similar diversity feel less alone.

leadership dot #3542: capturing

With my coaching clients, I often encourage them to develop a way to capture the essence of selected experiences. This involves taking informal notes about any situation relating to a skill or perspective they are currently working to address. Examples could include:
— The situations or comments that really frustrated you or made you feel small
— The times you felt like you used your voice or were courageous
— The ways you are being “interrupted”
— The responses you give in triggering situations
— The situations when you felt really good about how you performed
— The times when you felt unprepared

By making a few notes about the scenario, it forces people to take a moment to reflect on the elements that contributed to it and brings the situation into their conscious thought. Capturing creates the opportunity to see themes which can help to avoid or replicate the situation in the future. More importantly, it creates a record that allows for perspective. If you look back on your challenges from a month (or year or decade) ago, you’ll see the evolution and hopefully, your personal growth.

It doesn’t have to be lofty, but capturing bullet points about key situations can illuminate the incremental change that is otherwise so hard to see. In order to connect the dots, you first have to collect them.

leadership dot #3541: understand

I went to an information session about a big project that is being proposed for our city. This wasn’t a forum to express opinions for or against the construction, rather it was to learn from the engineers and city staff what was being considered.

As we were walking out, a resident was asked why he came and how he felt about the project. “I came because I was upset by what my friends and neighbors told me about it,” he said. “But I was misled. After listening to this tonight, I’m in support of the project.”

I love this man! Think of how much better it would be if everyone took the time to learn the facts and be open enough to change their mind if the new information warranted it.

Even if you don’t have access to a formal information session about issues, you likely do have the ability to ask questions to a reputable source. Confirm facts with your boss about a change effort before you form a position. Talk to a government representative before you take a social media post as the truth. Ask the project leader about why they chose a certain option before you jump in to oppose it.

Investing the time to understand is always time well spent.

leadership dot #3540: small talk

At the start of each of my managerial communication classes, I force the students to engage in small talk. Each week I devise different scenarios: they are at a conference reception, they are at a meeting with people from other parts of their company they don’t know, they are senior leaders introducing junior leaders to another colleague, they are hosts or guests, etc.

I think that the art of conversation is one of those managerial skills that can set you apart. Fluency with in-person small talk is becoming a lost art — due to both technology and remote work — and actually practicing it is the only way to gain proficiency — or at least a level of comfort.

It may come in handy to know that the higher-ranking person is introduced to the lower-ranking person, and it certainly will improve connections if introductions are followed by a detail about the other person. It also helps if all conversations are designed to ask open-ended questions with the goal of finding a “hook” upon which to string further comments.

One of my students wrote on their evaluation: “I hate the small talk; it’s a great idea.” As you work with interns or new employees, add opportunities for small talk into the onboarding process and explicitly mentor people about its value. There’s nothing small about the skill of making connections.

leadership dot #3539: regret

In his fascinating new book, The Power of Regret, Dan Pink explores the unexamined emotion that leads us to feel angst about what could have been. He writes that we look back on regrets with two different perspectives: the outcome could have been worse (leading us to say “at least…”) or the outcome could have been better (causing us to think “if only…”).

For example, if you lose your wallet you may say: “At least I didn’t have much cash in it.” You regret the bad outcome but focus on the fact that could have been worse. “At leasts” make us feel better about the situation.

On the other hand, if you lose your wallet you may say: “If only I wasn’t distracted after I paid the bill.” You focus on the idea that you could have had a better outcome. “If onlys” make us feel bad — but the research shows that 80% of our regrets fall into this category. We’re hard on ourselves!

Pink’s book explores how our regrets actually serve us well going forward. They decrease the likelihood that we behave the same way in the future, and, if we pay attention to what we regret, it helps us realize what is important to us. (If we didn’t value the outcome, we wouldn’t regret not achieving it.) We’re also a lot more likely to regret not doing something, rather than doing it. So, for me, acknowledging my regret of not seeing Michael Jordan in person has motivated me to pay the money and make the effort to see performances live since then.

Don’t regret ignoring what causes you to say “if only” or “at least”. As Pink argues, there is great power in learning from what comes next in those statements.

The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward by Daniel H. Pink, 2022

leadership dot #3538: POTUS

I just had a conversation with a colleague about how one organization does and another doesn’t do a good job of recognizing past leaders. Even if those new to the fold don’t know the earlier chief officers or fully know their story, there is value in knowing their name and their place in shaping the organization to become what it is today.

Who are the leaders that we recognize on today’s holiday? Is it just Washington that we honor? Or maybe it is Lincoln and Washington? President’s Day or Presidents’ Day? The answer is — it depends. The federal holiday specifically recognizes Washington; some states also recognize Lincoln, and others recognize all who have held the office of President of the United States. Given the challenges of the job, I’m comfortable acknowledging all of them today for their service.

So, today take a moment to refresh your memory of the 45 different men who have served as POTUS. How many can you name without looking it up? Can you give a nugget of information about them beyond their name? Maybe, instead of doing Wordle or scrolling your social media feed, use Presidents’ Day to read about the leaders who have shaped our nation.

leadership dot #3537: mystery

We’ve all heard the expression “Don’t judge a book by its cover” but our librarians gave the saying a new spin. They took several books and covered them in plain paper, hiding the cover but sharing a few details about the story inside. Examples included:

  • Psychological fiction: complex, sympathetic, thought-provoking
  • Historical fiction: intricately plotted, suspenseful, richly detailed
  • Literary fiction: mystery, coming-of-age
  • History: non-fiction that reads like fiction — compelling, well-researched, life stories

The library display encouraged people to “go on a blind date with a book” by taking a chance on something without seeing the cover or knowing the author. What an appropriate theme for the month.

The display took some time and effort on the part of the staff but had minimal other costs. Could your organization (or family) take advantage of the mystery theme and package tasks in a grab bag format where everyone takes one task to do (e.g. clean the office refrigerator, take inventory of supplies)? Could you anonymously assign people to have lunch or a Zoom chat together to foster relationships? What about a blind date with an assortment of reports that need to be read and synthesized?

Don’t judge a library by its stodgy reputation. There are many things to learn from today’s library — including how to make content appealing.

leadership dot #3536: lasagna

If there have been times when you may have wondered how you could get involved in your community without making a major commitment to volunteer with an organization or to serve on a governmental committee, Lasagna Love may be your answer.

Founder Rhiannon Menn started the organization at the beginning of the pandemic as a way to deliver a homemade meal to her neighbors. Her simple act of kindness evolved into a nonprofit organization that now has 25,000 volunteers delivering lasagna meals in three countries. People sign up to cook with as much or little frequency as they desire and are matched with those who request a monthly meal. “Local lasagna mamas and papas” (as the volunteers are called) have so far delivered 150,000 pans of love.

This all started with a mom wanting to spread kindness in her community. You don’t have to be lofty in your dreams or effort to do good work — just begin.