leadership dot #3703: muscle

It’s often So. Much. Easier. just to do things yourself or to tell others what they need to do — but that is a short-term solution. To truly build capacity in others you need to strengthen their critical thinking abilities and help them learn how to analyze, decipher, and decide on their own.

I liken critical thinking to a muscle — that you can only build through repetition and use. As a supervisor, you can help your staff members build that muscle by crafting ways to give them reps. Examples of this include:

  • Instead of instantly jumping in to answer a question, ask the person what they would do.
  • Ask for an option or two instead of going with the first alternative that is presented.
  • Incorporate questions in various settings — during meetings, in 1:1s, while on-site.
  • Cultivate ways for staff to provide an analysis of a scenario — either in real-time or a post-event debriefing.
  • Frame your questions to require more than one answer: “What was the best part of the project and what would you change?
  • Require reflection often — not just at performance evaluation time. Ask people to share what they learned after a conference or webinar as well as how they might adapt it to your situation.
  • Develop your coaching skills by using one of Michael Bungay Stanier’s 7 Essential Questions when working with your staff.

As a supervisor, you can develop your critical thinking muscle as you ascertain learning styles and determine who needs extra confidence in this area. For example, beginners may need advance notice that their thinking skills will be in play, others do best when allowed to write out their thoughts instead of speaking them, and some may need to be explicitly called on if you want them to share.

It may be easier at the moment to give an answer or to attend to that detail, but investing the time to build capacity is a critical skill for the long-term success of both you and your staff. Take your mental workouts as seriously as your physical ones.

leadership dot #3702: oversight

The new Elvis movie shares multiple stories at once: the influences on Elvis’ music, the juxtaposition of Elvis’ act vs. the norm at the time, the changing societal environment during his rise, and his relationship with his manager, Colonel Tom Parker.

Elvis Presley sold more records than any other single recording artist, yet spent much of his last days feeling trapped in a performance schedule that held him back. He landed there because of dubious ethics by his manager and through uncontrolled spending of his initial largesse. It was a combination that put him into financial and emotional debt and negated any happiness his money initially brought.

There have been too many stories of business managers, accountants, or relatives that put personal interests above their clients. At the end of the day, you are responsible for your own well-being: emotional, spiritual, physical — and financial. You can delegate to someone to keep your books or manage your investments, but you can’t abdicate responsibility for overseeing them.

Having financial freedom influences the quality of your whole life or organization and is too important to leave totally in the hands of others, even if you think they have your best interests at heart. Stay involved, educated, and curious when it comes to your money or you, too, might end up in the Heartbreak Hotel.

leadership dot #3701: hitch

Over the weekend, I was able to see the Budweiser Clydesdales. Having lived in St. Louis, I have seen them many times before, but they never fail to thrill me. Such stately, magnificent animals!

It’s obvious that Anheuser Busch/inBev invests millions into this operation as there are three traveling teams, each with three custom semi-trucks, a team of six handlers, customized pens, and even branded manure pails. The Clydesdales scream Budweiser because everything around them reinforces that message.

The horses did not make their first public appearance until 1933 when they paraded down the street with the beer wagon to celebrate the repeal of Prohibition. It was such a hit that Busch, Sr. sent a hitch to New York and the horses made a tour of New England, including a stop at the White House. Since then, the teams are on the road 300 days/year and Budweiser and Clydesdales have become synonymous.

There is nothing that inherently connects a hitch of 2000-pound horses and beer, but the novelty, repetition, and intentional reinforcement of the brand for close to a century have created a promotional symbol that is recognized the world over. My takeaway from seeing the Clydesdales (again) is to stick with it. Too often, we change logos, looks, or campaigns because we get tired of them. Instead, hitch yourself to a symbol for the long run and build the instantaneous recognition that endures.

You can see Gus and Bud the Dalmations in the pen next to Jeff. Dalmations were originally part of the team to guard the wagon and horses when the driver made deliveries, so they continue to ride on the wagon today.
“Bud” — 19.1 hands — 2200 pounds!

leadership dot #3700: ten minutes

Some of the best time management advice I know sounded too simplistic when I heard it but became a game changer for me. The founder of IKEA shared this gem:

Divide your life into 10-minute units and sacrifice as few of them as possible in meaningless activity.”

Ingyar Kamprad

I have been amazed at how much I can accomplish in that small of increment — and how many times I previously let ten minutes go by doing nothing as I transitioned between meetings, arrived early to an appointment and waited, or scrolled through social media instead of dedicating the time to accomplishing a small portion of a larger task.

When you reframe your day to “what can I accomplish in the next ten minutes?” a variety of options present themselves that set you on a path to greater achievement. Just paying attention to the amount of time you spend on “meaningless activity” can be an eye opener as well as motivation to rethink how you are spending your most precious resource.

Give the ten-minute mantra a trial today and see if it doesn’t shift what you do or don’t do in ways that will be more rewarding in the long term.

leadership dot #3699: move over

We’ve all seen the signs on the highway: “Slow Down or Move Over” when approaching flashing lights or construction. We’ve seen them but too often drivers pay little attention to the warning and speed by.

The Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission added a twist to their signs in an attempt to give drivers pause and help them really think about the consequences of ignoring the message. It created a Memorial Sign Program that personalized the warning signs near the milepost where a turnpike worker or highway patrol officer was killed while on duty. By adding the name, Commission members sought to both honor those who were lost and prevent future tragedies.

Master teacher Parker Palmer said that the role of education was to create the intersection of the big picture and the personal story. The Ohio Turnpike achieved just that with its sign program. The strategy is one that you can use in your organization, too. By varying what is expected and breaking the routine you can cause people to pay more attention to messages that are typically ignored. Adding a specific tribute serves as a powerful way to convey the impact of the warning and takes it from the hypothetical to the very real. What can you do to move your story to become more personal?

Thanks, Ken!

leadership dot #3698: presence

While the internet makes everything accessible in two-dimensional form, there is still nothing like seeing something as its full, three-dimensional, tangible self. Many organizations recognize the limitations that distance creates for people to have this experience, so they have developed strategies to take things to them. Broadway shows have touring companies. Art galleries have traveling exhibits of some of their most famous pieces. The Clydesdales march in parades around the country. Bookmobiles bring the library into neighborhoods. Sports teams travel to other countries (and cornfields).

The State Historical Museum of Iowa has gotten in on the action. A custom-built recreational vehicle now serves as a traveling museum and appears throughout the state. Today, the Iowa History 101 Mobile Museum will be at the Farmer’s Market, enticing people to see over 50 artifacts in person. It will give families the opportunity to learn a bit about the state’s heritage, and perhaps motivate them to visit the full museum on their next trip to Des Moines.

Think about what your organization could take on the road. Whether you go place-to-place or share your resources with other locations, expanding your presence benefits everyone.

leadership dot #3697: dream

For the second time in as many years, Major League Baseball played a game on the Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa (population 4,561). While working as temporary staff at the game, I continually marveled at the logistical feats required to make this event — in a literal cornfield — happen (see dot #3351). But mostly, I thought about Denise Stillman.

Denise visited the Field of Dreams while on vacation in 2010 — then not much more than the preserved baseball field and original house from the movie. But like Kevin Costner’s character in the film, she saw a vision for what baseball meant and what the field could be. A big vision.

I heard her describe that vision and she was a commanding presence. After she spoke, I could see her dream of a youth sports complex that hosted traveling teams from throughout the Midwest. I believed her when she said the site could become a “mecca for traveling baseball” and that it could rival Cooperstown as a host site for Little League tournaments. Her energy and passion were contagious — except to the land’s neighbors.

The surrounding land owners partnered to form a collaborative to oppose Stillman and her plans — wanting to keep all that traffic and outsiders away from ruining the small-town Iowa feel. They sued her for improper zoning — repeatedly. She sued them for interference and defamation. Finally, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled and allowed her to play ball, five years after she acquired the site.

But during that time, Denise was diagnosed with cancer. Instead of seeing her dream come to fruition, she spent her final working years with lawyers — but still acting as if she would prevail. It was her vision and persuasive lobbying efforts during this time that convinced Major League Baseball to do the unthinkable — build a temporary stadium in a cornfield and play a game there. They signed the contract four months after her passing.

After the success of the first MLB game, everyone sees the vision that Denise was the only one to see for years. Today, investors have an $80 million plan to develop the site with fields, a hotel, a team dormitory, and an outdoor amphitheater — and multiple entities are jumping on board with million-dollar grants for infrastructure and even a permanent stadium.

Denise Stillman is a role model to all of us — reminding us to dream big, and to keep dreaming, even when there are two outs in the ninth and the wind is blowing in. Persistence does pay off. People did come, Denise. People most definitely did come.

Plaque at the original movie site

leadership dot #3696: guest services

Major League Baseball took seriously all aspects of the games played in the cornfield. Consequently, the Field of Dreams information booths were staffed by the heads of guest services — from the San Francisco Giants and Atlanta Braves. These powerful ladies were flown to Iowa for a week to ensure that MLB processes were followed for how this area was run.

For example, lost and found items were placed in a bag, sealed (like those evidence bags you see on television crime shows), and details of where the item was found were recorded. Each item was then cataloged on a form using a QR code and details were noted when the item was claimed. It was an impressive system.

And then there was the ring. Each of the ladies has their own World Series ring, but Kelli wore hers because it was a special occasion and she knows “people like to see it.” It is a monstrosity, especially on a woman! Kelli generously allowed us to try it on, take photos, and handle the diamond-clad Tiffany masterpiece as she explained the meaning of every single element on the ring. It was a treat!

Four takeaways from my guest services encounter:

  1. Every aspect of your operation matters. It would have been easy to allow local staff to run the information booths, but MLB wanted to bring major league quality to the entire experience and invested in doing so. The presence of MLB staff made guest services better.
  2. Systems are important, even for lost and found. There is an acceptable way to do things and a professional way. Strive for excellence, even behind the scenes.
  3. The World Series ring that Kelli has is the exact same ring (except for her name, of course) that the players themselves have. All the roles in the organization are important and warrant the same attention and recognition for those who perform them. Remember that you can be a champion off the field, too.
  4. Kelli knew that seeing the ring would be a treat for others so she wore it more to share than to be uncomfortable all day by wearing it herself. Most of us have something that is routine for ourselves but means something to others (petting a dog, seeing the big boss’ house, touring non-public spaces like an under-construction building). Be generous in giving people a glimpse of something that costs you nothing but is special for them.
Everything has symbolism: Three big diamonds on top for the three World Series the Giants have won as Giants; five smaller diamonds on the bottom for the five championships the Giants won before there were official World Series. On the sides: her name, engraved replica of the trophy and the year, and the Golden Gate bridge. Around the side, engraved stitching in the pattern found on baseballs. Inside, the scores of the Series games and the Tiffany signature. On top, diamonds — lots and lots of diamonds!

leadership dot #3695: toes

I have a fantastic nail technician so when I asked her to paint flowers on my toes to match the fancy new shoes I got, she was happy to oblige. And the pedicure was fantastic — she is a true artist and my toes serve as a mini-gallery for her work:

When you see her work up close — as she does when she creates it and I do when I’m sitting in the chair watching her — it is beautiful. But it appears differently when I stand up. Then, my eyesight doesn’t allow me to see the individual flowers and instead, it looks like the big toe has not been polished.

For the next six weeks, it serves as a continual reminder for me about the importance of perspective. If you are heads-down and only focused on your portion of the work, you may do it differently than if you had the big-picture in mind.

Think about toes when you approach your next project. How will your work be seen by those who use it?

leadership dot #3694: alternately

It stinks when you lose your job. There’s no getting around it. Your paycheck, identity, routine, and network are all wrapped up in your employment, and it is a deep level of stress-inducing awful when you are let go.

To complicate matters, just as you’re feeling your worst you need to project your best in order to interview well. You want to stay in bed but instead, you need to be perky and articulate. It’s tough.

It’s unrealistic to believe you can be fired and just carry on as if nothing happened. It’s also counterproductive to wallow for any length of time. I describe this juxtaposition as a yin-yang — and encourage those in this situation to keep that balance in mind. You need to be sad — for a bit — then you need to establish boundaries that provide a barrier to the gloom and allow the positive to be put forth.

The yin-yang applies to other traumatic events. A divorce. A death. An accident or trauma. To move forward, work hard to mentally compartmentalize and craft boundaries that juggle the gymnastics of grieving and persisting — not expressing both simultaneously — rather alternately — so that each emotion can be expressed without overriding the other.