leadership dot #3606: chalk

An icebreaker on a recent Zoom call asked participants to share one thing they wished their parents told them. My answer: “to keep practicing at art.” I was never good at drawing — but always enjoyed it. I didn’t have the education or encouragement to continue long enough to become good and so I dropped it — but I still look with envy at those who have mastered the craft.

Art seems to be on my mind lately, not only from this icebreaker but from Crayola which has extended its brand and now offers an entire pallet of sidewalk chalk for those budding artists who want to deploy their creative skills outdoors instead of inside with crayons. Just the sight of the box is inspirational — there’s nothing like a new box of [chalk/pencils/crayons/Sharpies] to tantalize a wanna-be artist.

Nearly every nice day, my neighbor kids are out drawing with chalk, creating rainbows, dragons, and hearts among other designs. I want to cheer them on and encourage those little Picassos…

… or maybe I will join them. This weekend, pledge to pay attention to the child inside of you and do something that brings that little kid joy.

leadership dot #3605: arbor

One hundred and fifty years ago, there was no talk of climate change or even environmental protection and on the vast prairie of the new Nebraska Territory, there were barely any trees to protect. Yet, J. Sterling Morton had the foresight to realize that the area needed trees to help hold the soil, function as a windbreak, provide fuel and serve as building material in the new settlements.

So, when Morton became secretary of this fledgling territory, he created the first Arbor Day in 1872, offering prizes for the largest number of properly planted trees. Over one million trees took root that day! His efforts sparked similar programs and today Arbor Day is recognized in all 50 states, with today marking the official 150th anniversary.

I can relate to the treelessness Morton faced as I saw it myself moving into a new development that had previously been a farm. There was not a tree in sight in our subdivision, but fortunately, our covenants had the same respect for trees as Morton and required trees to be planted in every yard. Now, just 13 years later, my trees are taller than my house and provide shade, homes for birds and squirrels, and endless enjoyment as I watch them bud out and then turn vibrant fall colors.

The Chinese proverb reads: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” Follow Morton’s legacy and make tree-planting part of this weekend’s activities. You and the Earth will both benefit.

leadership dot #3604: hints

We see what we look for, and nowhere was that more apparent than when I re-watched the Ted Lasso series. On my original viewing, there was a big surprise at the end of the second season. But when I watched the show again, I saw numerous clues throughout the first two seasons that foreshadowed what occurred. It wasn’t a surprise at all the second time around. In fact, it was surprising to me that it was a surprise the first time because there were so many hints that this may occur.

It got me wondering what we miss in real life — things that are almost predicted, yet ignored because they don’t fit with your current worldview or opinion of someone. Are there signs around you about a possible job layoff or firing that you are brushing off? Or a relationship break that is about to occur but you don’t want to acknowledge it? Or maybe your business or finances are trending downward in a precipitous way that you dismiss as temporary instead of addressing them?

Among the many lessons that Ted Lasso has taught me, add to the list “paying attention to those nagging disconnects that I want to overlook.” We’d be faced with a lot fewer surprises and rarely be blindsided if we did.

leadership dot #3603: on hand

Monopoly was created during the Great Depression and to save costs, the game did not come with tokens to indicate your space on the board. People were encouraged to use small objects that they had at home — buttons, pennies, earrings, and yes, a thimble. The thimble has become one of the prized tokens in the iconic game.

In another case of relying on what is on hand, Hewlett-Packard’s Golden Banana award is modeled after a real banana which was all a manager had to give immediate recognition to an engineer who had solved a vexing problem. It is now a corporate symbol and engineering’s most coveted award.

Anyone who has seen a child open presents knows that the box is often the most popular “gift,” and many summer days have been spent creating forts or spaceships out of boxes that were laying around the house. This desirability helped the lowly cardboard box to be enshrined in the Toy Hall of Fame.

Too often, we use our lack of something as an excuse to delay. The next time you don’t have exactly what you need, think of the thimble, banana, and box and see if improvising with something on hand doesn’t get the job done just as well.

leadership dot #3602: checkmate

In the movie Training Day, Denzel Washington tells his partner that “This sh*t is chess; it ain’t checkers,” as an admonition to acknowledge the complexity of the work and take it more seriously. It’s a good mantra for anyone in a leadership position.

Thinking like a chess player involves seeing the whole “board” or organizational landscape with all of its interrelated parts. It requires you to anticipate several moves in advance and consider the many options that are available to you, as well as acknowledge that each of the “pieces” or people have different roles to play.

Lead your organization like a chess master and focus on the strategic moves that help to achieve your ultimate goal. Thinking ahead will help get you ahead.

leadership dot #3601: more than

I attended an appreciation dinner for people who had ushered for the university’s performing arts series. As part of the program, door prizes were drawn for students, and comments were made about how few students were working for the facility this year. The director lamented that they were only able to pay minimum wage and lost many students to Target and other retailers who were paying double that. He encouraged those students who were there to recruit their friends and hoped that next year there would be more students on staff.

Only the thing is that the room was primarily full of ushers who had volunteered to do the exact same job — for free. It was an opportunity to see the whole arts series without cost. Many ushers are couples, making their 2 hours of service a cheap payment for a lovely “date night.” And think about the hundreds of people who come to these shows and pay for the privilege of doing so.

It’s not just about the money.

It’s selling an on-campus job for its convenience, flexibility, time off during breaks, relationship to an arts or hospitality management or technical major, ability to cultivate relationships with people you will see throughout your time on campus, opportunity to learn new skills, a chance to work with friends, and a way to feel belonging and connection to the university they have chosen as their home. It’s not just the paycheck — and if that’s how it’s promoted, it’s no wonder the students are working at Target.

If you promote your next job opening strictly based on salary, you had better ensure it’s a generous one. Yes, people work for the income, but there is oh so much more to be gained from a healthy work culture. Sell that.

leadership dot #3600: reciprocation

Tips have been on my mind lately since we discussed Robert Cialdini’s Principles of Persuasion in my recent class. Studies in restaurants illustrate his principle of reciprocation and how we are more likely to say yes to those we owe. Ever wonder why you get those little mints with your bill? It’s because one mint is likely to increase the amount you tip by 3%, two mints increase your generosity by 14%, and if the waiter gives you one, starts to walk away, and then turns around and gives you another, tips go up by 23%!!

While I may or may not be influenced by mints, those who humor me usually get more of my funds. I never know when or if to tip for carry-out places like a food truck or sandwich shop but two tip requests recently caught my eye:

  • A mobile fish truck was in town serving the entree of fish and chips. Attached to the truck was a bucket that said: “Fish and Tips.” Very clever.
  • I also got a smile at Pita Pit whose tip jar reads: “What’s a Pita spelled backward?” Ha, ha.

Whether through gifts or through humor, pay attention to the ways service industries are trying to influence your giving — and if you’re on the receiving end of tips, test out Cialdini’s principle of reciprocation. If you think about all those “gifts” you receive in the mail with solicitation requests (address labels, notepads, bookmarks, stickers, etc.), there must be something to the theory.

leadership dot #3599: vials

There is much talk about work/life balance but I think the goal should be work/life integration…finding ways to be your authentic self in all settings and even combining different areas of your life into one holistic experience. A Michigan nurse anesthetist, Donna Dzialo, managed this by combining art with reflection on her Covid experience at work.

Dzialo collected 6,000 drug vial caps in over 400 varieties to create a “COVID Time CAPSule” work of art. She relied on contributions from others throughout the hospital to make her sculpture and reflect on the myriad ways that her work and the pandemic intersected. I’m sure the creation was good therapy in these trying times.

You may not be inclined to the arts but I hope you find a way to merge what’s good for your soul with the activities you need to do. Inspiration is all around you…be like Dzialo and CAPitalize on it.

Thanks, Colleen!

COVID Time CAPSule by Donna Dzialo

leadership dot #3598: bias

It’s easy to get so wrapped up in your own point of view that you fail to consider you might be wrong. This is exacerbated by social media and our news feeds that share content every day confirming your reality without presenting an unbiased and neutral view that allows you to question your assumptions and consider opposing thoughts.

While working on his theory of evolution, Darwin feared this confirmation bias and took steps to avoid it in his work. He accomplished this by maintaining two separate notebooks. In one, he documented all the evidence that supported his theory. In another, he compiled all the observations that refuted his hypothesis. Reading through both, Darwin was able to make a more rational assessment of his conclusions.

What steps are you taking that allow you the ability to challenge your thinking? Perhaps a two notebook method could be a good strategy for you. Maybe appoint a devil’s advocate for your meeting. Or consider utilizing a confidante that can be a truth-teller for you and help point out flaws in your assumptions.

However you choose to do it, protecting against the bias that predisposes you to confirm your views is an essential leadership skill. There are two sides to every coin. Seek them out.

leadership dot #3597: I see

Some of the most powerful words we can say to another are: “I see _____ in you.” Oftentimes, our greatest strengths are so innate that we can’t see them ourselves and need others to reflect them back to us.

Think of how empowering it would be for a hiring manager to say “I see such potential in you due to your ability to synthesize information,” or to share other specific reasons why they were hired. You would set the new employee for success by starting them out with confidence. A supervisor could say to a staff member in their 1:1 meetings: “I see such warmth in your ability to deal with diverse groups of people.” You can bet the employee will take that feedback and continue to exude grace in their relationships. A parent could say to their child: “I see artistic talent in you,” perhaps encouraging a life-long love affair with drawing.

We tend to see the negative in ourselves and take the positive for granted. Help others see the light within by explicitly calling out their gifts and contributions.