leadership dot #3637: propped up

I’m a fan of historical preservation but sometimes the building is too far gone. In my opinion, such is the case with an old brewery in town — the site of many lawsuits and last-ditch efforts to avoid the wrecking ball. When I drove past it recently, half of one side was gone, there was a pile of bricks on the sidewalk, and much of the structure was buttressed with two-by-fours. It doesn’t look safe.

I think we’ve all been involved in a project like this where the intent is noble but the best course of action would be to stop working on it. People are always hesitant to “throw in the towel” as it presumably signals defeat but often it is the more prudent thing to do. Whether it’s with an old car that keeps needing one repair after another, a proposal that continually hits roadblocks, or even a relationship that is on-again-off-again, if you find yourself repeatedly propping things up just to buy more time, direct your energies elsewhere. Not everything is worth saving.

leadership dot #3636: missing

Memorial Day is a day to remember those in our armed forces who died while serving. A local restaurant is one of many that use the occasion to remember another category of people who answered the call of duty: those who are missing. The Defense Department reports that over 80,000 Americans who served are still missing today, with half presumed lost at sea.

A Missing Man table is a symbolic way to acknowledge the servicemen and women whose fate is unknown. Each element of the display has meaning:

  • The white of the tablecloth represents the purity of motives
  • The rose symbolizes their life
  • The yellow ribbon reminds us to account for them
  • The salt represents the tears of their families
  • The Bible shows strength of faith
  • The inverted glass reminds us they are not able to toast with us
  • The empty chair is because they are missing

Just as the designation of Memorial Day was designed to create a pause and reflection to remember those who died while serving, the Missing Man table acknowledges those who never came home. Take a moment today to think about all those who gave the ultimate sacrifice to ensure the freedoms we enjoy today.

leadership dot #3635: outside

If your doctor gave you a prescription that read: “Take for 2 hours/week with a minimum of 20-minute increments,” you may balk at what she was asking you to do. But for some patients in Canada, that’s exactly what is prescribed — accompanied by a free pass to the national parks. PaRx is a health initiative of our northern neighbor that seeks to incentivize the health benefits of being outside by providing free park access to those who may not be able to afford it. The hope is that the physical and emotional benefits of unwinding a few hours a week can effectively cure some ailments without drugs.

It’s an idea that can have long-term as well as short-term benefits and is economical for Canada to provide as the government runs both the parks and the health care system, making it a natural pairing. We often think too narrowly when considering the resources we have at our disposal. By looking at the entire organization, or even the whole community, I’ll bet you find that there are supports that are available to you — often for free or low cost. A walk around the block or stroll in your local park can clear your mind and help you think about those resources or with whom you could partner.

As you mark the start of summer this Memorial Day weekend, I hope your weather cooperates for you to spend some time outside. You don’t require a national park pass to take advantage of the benefits of sunshine and fresh air.

leadership dot #3634: standards

The Department of Transportation put up new signs for the US Route 52 extension through town and they are making me crazy. The “52” does not follow the universal graphic standards for road signs and is a different font even from the US 20 sign on the same post. Didn’t someone notice this?

(sign on the Left how it is now — notice the different shape of the “2”s and thickness of the numbers — vs. sign on the Right of how it should be)

The DOT isn’t the only one ignoring standards. The nearby shopping center has also butchered the font on its stop signs — causing me to cringe as with nails on a chalkboard every time I drive by.

These minor differences probably go unnoticed by the majority of people who see them, but that doesn’t make them acceptable. There are times when creativity and modifications serve as enhancements, but this isn’t one of those times.

Neither was the time when notecards were printed with the wrong color for our university logo. The office that ordered them wanted to use them anyway — they were “close enough” — but, wisely, we immediately recycled them and ordered replacements. The same should happen with these signs.

If you allow variation without consequences you cede control and forego any hope of graphic or brand integrity. Be vigilant about maintaining your standards or it’s like not having them at all.

leadership dot #3633: maintain

Electronic billboards have become ubiquitous and most people don’t really think about them as they drive by. But the size and scale of these digital advertisements came into perspective when I encountered one of them being replaced. It took six men, an oversized semi, a multi-story crane, and a whole lot of effort to get it down without damage to the billboard or building below it.

Everything, even outdoor signs, need to be maintained and replaced. They may last for years like buildings, roofs, roads, the electrical grid, or other infrastructure — but eventually, they require care. And the more they are taken for granted, the easier it is to forget about ongoing attention and upkeep.

You may not be responsible for physical assets, but everyone interfaces with equipment or processes that require tending. Consider creating a routine schedule to update and evaluate that which is under your purview. Have you reviewed that form in the last decade or do you still ask for fax numbers? Do you have emergency protocols that are current? Is your policy manual stored on a floppy disc? Were your flashlight batteries last replaced during the Clinton administration?

Take the billboard replacement as a sign that routine maintenance is important, even when it requires significant effort to achieve.

HALF of the electronic billboard down for repair

leadership dot #3632: alternatives

With garage sale “season” upon us, I always think about a sale several years ago where the owners were trying to find a new home for a golden retriever. I had two retrievers at the time so I declined to adopt a third, but I often wonder if I wasn’t the one that was meant to have that dog. I have similar emotions when I think about another of my dogs — there were two puppies who were almost identical and I sometimes wish that I had taken both of them home…

…but then I remember that if I had adopted the garage sale dog or taken both puppies, I wouldn’t have the dog I have now — the one that has been such a delightful and funny pet.

As Dan Pink wrote in his Power of Regret book, when we look back with regret, we too often imagine only positive scenarios in our mind — where everything turned out for the better because of our actions. We never think that the dog may have been up for adoption because it was mean or that two puppies together would have bonded with each other instead of humans. Instead, we only think that we “missed out” on all the good and forget that we created other opportunities because we took a different path.

If you find yourself looking back with longing, inject some reality into your flashbacks. If you look hard enough, I think you’ll discover that your actions ultimately created alternatives, not regrets.

leadership dot #3631: explicit

A newer employee debriefed an event with his boss and they bantered with some pretty tough critiques about what had happened. These weren’t visible shortcomings, but rather things they noticed from behind-the-scenes. As the review concluded, the supervisor counseled the employee not to share the harsh feedback with those who had just attended the event; “With them, we want to remain positive,” she said.

A few days later, the organization’s leader requested an action that the employee did not believe would work. The original lesson came to mind — and he knew that he must remain positive about the change and own it — telling his staff that “I” decided to try the new process rather than calling out the leader.

I love that the boss helped the newer employee to understand the influence he has on those who look up to him and reminded him to be intentional about the emotions and tone that he conveys to others. And because the employee internalized the lesson, he knew that he needed to take ownership in the second scenario and not let his misgivings trickle down to negatively impact his team.

It’s likely things could have played out differently if the supervisor had not been explicit with her initial teachings after the debrief. Especially with a newer employee, the natural reaction is to continue venting with others or at least to convey that there were problems, and it’s also plausible that there would be grumbling as the staff worked through a new process that did not make sense to the leader. Instead, a few minutes of intentional instruction mitigated a river of negativity now and imparted lessons that will pay dividends in the future.

If you are a supervisor, developing your staff is your most important job. Take those extra few minutes to be clear about your expectations — both what you want your employee to do and how you want them to act.

leadership dot #3630: that way

Our Target store is undergoing a renovation and right now everything is in disarray. They are moving whole sections to temporary locations while other spaces are remodeled and it is challenging to find anything as there seems to be no logic to the short-term placement.

In anticipation of this disruption, Target HQ provided flexible signs that can be changed to reflect the latest configuration. A great idea, but…

…for the signs to be any use at all someone has to populate them!

When you are undergoing a change effort — whether rearranging a store or something more significant –expend as much effort communicating as you do making the change itself. You don’t want to frustrate people by having them go this way then that way — all seemingly without a map.

leadership dot #3629: only one

Two different coaching clients were sharing reflections from conferences they recently attended and both remarked that it was reaffirming to hear that others shared their experiences. “I thought we were the only one who had that problem, ” a client said. “It was nice to know that I wasn’t the only one who felt that way,” said another.

Almost no matter what your emotion, experience, or question is, you aren’t the only one to have it — but it often feels that way. Thus is the power of networking and relationships. If you’re vulnerable enough to share your doubts, it’s likely that there is someone out there to relate to what you are going through. The mere fact of knowing you’re not alone is often enough to diminish your fears and raise your confidence. It’s the “being the only one” that is often scarier than what you are facing.

Take advantage of conferences, coaching, professional associations, learning circles, mastermind groups, virtual affinity groups, or even Google to find others who can validate your experiences. You don’t have to fly solo.

leadership dot #3628: bins

There’s a new store in town that sells returns or rejects from Amazon and Target, all thrown together in bins. It’s more of a treasure hunt than shopping but I got in on the experience. Each day the price decreases, from $7/item to $10 for a big IKEA bag full of as much as you can cram into it.

So, I went on the bag-for-ten-bucks day. There were several items that I was excited about and would have purchased individually, but then I started putting all sorts of goodies in the bag — mostly because they were “free.” I got decorations I don’t need, items for my sister (that she doesn’t need either!), and a host of other finds that I may or may not ever use.

At the time, it was great fun to rustle through the bins and discover things of interest that I could take home without additional cost — or, I should say, without additional money. Dealing with, storing, and remembering all these things definitely has a cost.

After the fact, the words of a mentor came to mind: “Too much of a good thing is still too much.” She meant it in terms of commitments, but I think it applies to treasures in the bins as well. If I go in the future, I’ll stick to the pay-per-item days where I know I truly value what I’m bringing home.

Don’t get caught up in a frenzy where you say yes — to anything — without thinking through the consequences.