leadership dot #3576: data

At a public meeting, a director was asked to quantify the impact of the change that was being discussed. While he gave a correct answer, he failed to frame it in a way that did anything to support the proposal. He gave a factual number rather than using the data to tell a story. When I shared my dismay about this to a friend, I was dismissed with the reply that the director is not a professional speaker. That may be correct as well, but in this situation, he needed to be.

At some point, almost everyone is called upon to communicate some aspect of data: budgets, sales, participation, attendance, fundraising results, survey responses, etc. People who want to be effective need to learn how to share raw numbers within a context in a way that makes them meaningful. Truly, the ability to use numbers to tell a story is a key leadership skill.

In their book, Making Numbers Count, Chip Heath and Karla Starr make the case that “numbers aren’t the natural language for humans” and recommend translating them into “human terms.” The authors suggest rounding numbers and anchoring them with concrete and familiar concepts. Their example: instead of saying “A very small percentage of Fortune 500 CEOs are women,” they suggest saying “Among Fortune 500 CEOs, there are more men named James than there are women.” Now that tells a story!

The ability to intentionally frame your numbers in relatable terms complements your words and creates a powerful communication tool. Consider which has more impact: saying you have written 3,576 dots, or saying that you have written a dot every day for almost 10 years? Put some context on your data instead of presenting it naked.

leadership dot #3575: cards

When I was a supervisor, I used several non-traditional ways to communicate messages to my staff. A targeted leadership dot may convey a lesson that I wanted to reinforce. Sharing unique-flavored Oreos (dot #389) helped to normalize risk-taking. And there was always a card or postcard with an appropriate message taped on my door.

I recently stumbled upon the box of those cards and it brought back a flood of memories. The “Imagine” card when we were dreaming about the future during strategic planning. The “Hurdles are in your life for jumping” card when we faced a setback. The “10 Things to Make Besides Money” to remind staff members of their purpose. And the one that hung most often: “You become successful by helping others become successful.”

I have dozens of cards that were one more way to not only share my personality but to foster motivation and inspiration with those who passed my door — or maybe even to remind myself. If you’re the supervisor, everything you say and do sends a message. Take advantage of your ability to infuse your lessons in subtle and continuous ways.

leadership dot #3574: notebook

Kevin Maguire, author of the blog The New Fatherhood, writes that the one piece of advice he gives to new parents is to: “Buy a small notebook, keep it handy, and write down things you notice.” Maguire goes on to say that the writing doesn’t need to have any deadlines or set pattern, rather to “simply start recording the things that itch your brain. They may be significant milestones, but they’ll just as easily be minor, almost imperceptible, events that you alone observed.”

Maguire titled this entry in his blog “noticing” and it’s a strategy that I recommend to many of my coaching clients. You can’t change your behavior until you notice what is triggering your actions. You can’t feel good about the changes until you notice that small modifications are taking place. You can’t replicate what brings you joy until you notice the small things that make your heart smile. And you can’t quell the demons until you notice when they sneak into your thoughts. We have good intentions to become more conscious about our actions, but without intentionally writing them down even the observations we do notice are lost before they can constitute a meaningful pattern.

Put pen to paper and record what you notice about a segment of your life: watching your kids grow up, using your voice for change, acquiring a new skill, conducting outreach efforts for your organization, sustaining a loving partnership, or any other aspect that warrants your attention. Just the act of noticing will make your experience much richer.

leadership dot #3573: cue

At a recent speech, composer and orchestrator Luke Flynn shared some insights about the process of making music for movies. What I learned is that most of the composition is done in very short increments, called cues. Cues are often only a minute or two long and then are pieced together to complete the film. The short cues are easier to redo if there is an instrumental change and allow for more precision when editing them into the show.

People could benefit from adopting some of this process to their own lives. If you are looking to change a habit, think of it in one-minute increments instead of a whole day. If you are fighting negative self-talk, shake it off in micro-units and piece in positive thoughts for as many other segments as you can muster. If you’re working on a major project, tackle it in short pieces that can be assembled together instead of trying to address the project in its entirety.

We tend to forget that the whole of anything is comprised of many pieces. Take a lesson from music composers and orchestrate your success one cue at a time.

Composer Luke Flynn

leadership dot #3572: backstory

Even people who aren’t from Boston know some of the city’s icons: Faneuil Hall and the Freedom Trail, its rich history of sports, or their great educational institutions like Harvard or MIT. So, it was smart that a display at Logan Airport helped to shed some light on something many people didn’t know had Massachusetts ties: children’s book authors.

From Dr. Seuss to Curious George, Clifford the Big Red Dog, the Pigeon who wanted to drive the bus, Make Way for Ducklings, Judy Moody, The Dot, The Donut Chef, and Rotten Ralph — all have authors with ties to the Bay State. Logan airport features them in colorful murals as part of a children’s play area but they also use it to plant the economic development seed in future authors’ minds: “Massachusetts is home to some of the world’s most beloved children’s book characters…They’ve all come to life in Massachusetts, a place where poets, writers, illustrators, and authors thrive.”

Before your next speech, article, or display do some research to uncover a unique connection or backstory that makes your message more interesting. It’s easy to focus on the things that everyone knows but the magic happens when you put a new twist on things people never knew were connected.

leadership dot #3571: chocolate

A brown diamond is rare, but to many, they are less appealing than the traditional clear sparkling gems. In a marketing move that is as brilliant as the stone itself, LeVian jewelers branded their darker-toned diamonds as “chocolate diamonds.” To go even further, they partnered with Godiva chocolates and now offer The Godiva Truffle, the Strawberry Heart, and the Ganache Heart all adorned with the golden gems. Dazzling!

Two takeaways from this innovative partnership: 1) LeVian capitalized on the rarity of the dark color to turn a potential negative into a strength, and 2) while jewelry and chocolates are often given together as gifts, they are usually separate items. Kudos to the person who thought to combine them into one more appealing package.

I have said this before but think broadly when considering potential collaborators. A luxury food company may not see a diamond miner as a likely union, but the pairing may turn out to sparkle for both of them.

leadership dot #3570: risk aversion

One of the lessons we discussed in my managerial communication class is the concept of framing. A Harvard study and other research show that how you initially frame the issue impacts the outcome, even if two scenarios have an identical bottom line.

What was fascinating to me is that if the issue is framed as a loss, people are more willing to take risks in their answers. But if the same scenario is framed as a gain, people become risk averse.

For example: If you frame the question as a move to prevent deaths (losing something), people are more willing to support the same proposal than if it is presented as saving lives (a gain). People will take more risks to prevent food insecurity vs. to gain well-fed children or to prevent layoffs rather than to save jobs. Logically, it makes no sense but numerous studies have shown our aversion to risk is impacted by the loss/gain frame.

The next time you prepare a proposal or grant first ask yourself if you desire an outcome that is riskier or more stable. Then, develop your argument with language that frames the question to describe a loss or gain and see if these mental gymnastics we all play will work in your favor.

leadership dot #3569: satisfaction

In his book The Truth About Employee Engagement, Patrick Lencioni writes that there are three root causes that will make a job miserable:

  • Anonymity — Employees need to feel that they are known as people with lives outside of work. “People who see themselves as invisible, generic, or anonymous cannot love their jobs, no matter what they are doing,” Lencioni believes.
  • Irrelevance — People must understand how the work they do makes a difference for someone else, whether that be customers, colleagues, or aiding the manager.
  • ImmeasurementIt’s Lencioni’s made-up word to mean the opposite of measurement. To achieve satisfaction, employees must be able to measure on their own what progress looks like and be able to have frequent (daily) means of assessing success.

And who is responsible for this? Gallup research confirms: “It’s the Manager.” Supervisors play such a key role in ensuring the factors that make for a negative culture are not present. They can take a bit of time to really know their employees and make those personal connections to show that they care. Supervisors can help employees articulate the impact of their work and understand the explicit connections between what they do and who benefits– beginning in the onboarding process. Employee engagement and satisfaction also increase when supervisors help employees craft a workable measurement (quantitative or qualitative) so employees are able to see when they are making a difference.

The surprising thing to me was that this book was written in 2007, long before the hiring challenges and “Great Resignation” plagued employers. Yet, addressing all three of these issues can be done without cost! Invest a bit of time on a daily basis to do the most important work of a supervisor — keeping your great people committed to the organization.

Source: The Truth About Employee Engagement: A Fable About Addressing the Three Root Causes of Job Misery by Patrick Lencioni, 2007

leadership dot #3568: evolve

There is a thought experiment in philosophy that asks “at what point is a ship no longer the same ship?” If many boards are replaced, is it still the same vessel? What if most or all of the boards are new?

The question occurred to me when I was attending The Lettermen concert. For those too young to know, The Lettermen was a chart-topping musical trio in the 1960s and 1970s. While two of the three original members have died and the other is semi-retired, new members still perform under The Lettermen name and even count their recorded albums as part of a continuous legacy. The modern group’s bio reads: “For more than 50 years, The Lettermen have kept the meaning of harmony alive…” yet one of these men has only been with the group for three years. Somehow, this seems like a tribute band and not THE Lettermen.

The same thing recently happened with a Duke Ellington Orchestra performance. Although the Duke himself has been dead since 1974, the orchestra bills itself as “carrying on the tradition” because relatives are involved in musical selection and conducting so they are adamant that it is an extension of the original. I guess only a few “boards” have been replaced on the Duke Ellington ship while The Lettermen have replaced them all. At what point is it misleading to call it the same ship?

Certainly, the products and services you offer will continue to evolve — but let the old name phase out and allow a new identity to occur. While it’s tempting to retain a beloved and profitable brand name, resist the temptation to call it the original when that no longer exists.

leadership dot #3567: altitude

Business strategists often encourage people to think at the “30,000-foot level” as a way to see the big picture and overarching view. It sounds like good advice, but I recently flew in a jet at that altitude and found the view to be blurry with the ground obscured by clouds. What I could see was so small as to not be discernable.

I also recently was a passenger in a 2-seater prop plane that flew at 1,000 feet. From there, the view was magnificent. It was clear enough that I could literally count the cows as well as follow the creeks, see houses and overlook an entire valley. The 1,000 feet view provided me with a context that could be meaningful.

Sometimes, we set goals so high that they are too lofty to be achievable. I think that aspiring to a 30,000-foot view is one of those times. You don’t need to look out the window of a metaphorical jet; just get high enough to see your landscape from a prop plane or even a balcony. You need perspective, not altitude sickness.