leadership dot #550a: part 2

In addition to using your notebook as described yesterday, create a second function by starting in the BACK of your notebook and working forward. In this section, I dedicate one page for each employee I supervise and committee I am on. I use these pages to keep a running agenda of things I need to discuss with the person/group during the next time I meet.

Where the synergy develops is when I am in one meeting and something is said that I need to tell one of my employees (or my boss). I can instantly turn to that page in the back (of the same notebook I am using to take meeting notes) and write that I need to discuss the item with that person. No forgetting, no time spent developing meeting agendas — it just naturally evolves.
This back section also works beautifully when it comes time to do employee evaluations. I have a whole record of things we discussed over the whole year, not just what I remember from recent meetings. After I do an evaluation, I just draw a line across the page and I know where to start for the next review period. When my employees use this system too (as many do!), they too have a record of what accomplishments and issues evolved during the year.  
I put a piece of light cardboard at the start of the back section and keep an index of the pages (which I number by hand). When someone’s page fills up, I simply continue their list on the next free page in the back section and renumber their page on my index. (See picture).
So, I keep working notes front to back and write agenda/discussion items back to front — but with everything work-related in one single notebook. You, too, can reap the benefits of organizational simplicity with this system!
Final thoughts on this process tomorrow.
Originally published in modified form on December 3, 2013
I start in alphabetical order, but you can see it doesn’t always stay that way!

leadership dot #549a: organization magic

Many people say, “I need to get more organized.” One way to do it is to utilize a notebook system. One of my mentors taught me this when I was first elected to chair a national organization, and I have been using it for the 20 years since.

The notebook system is really two notebooks and a to-do list in one. You can use any spiral notebook for this process, but paper seems to be the winner even over electronic systems. I know several people who have switched.

People can use this system any way that suits them, but this is my preferred method:  Start in the front and keep notes from all your meetings. It comes in so handy to have all your notes in one place. People who take notes and then file them with the appropriate project or committee folders invariably need those notes at another meeting or during a conversation with someone else. Keep it all together and I’ll bet you will be surprised how often you refer back to things. Don’t devote one whole page to a meeting — when your notes end from one topic, just draw a line and move on to the next meeting.  

If you have a task or something that requires follow-up action from you, make a check box next to it in your notes. You’ll instantly know that you need to do something, and it won’t get lost when filed away in a folder, etc. Thus, your notes become a running to-do list — and since you will get in the habit of carrying your notebook with you, you’ll have many opportunities to see the unchecked boxes as a trigger to get things done.

More tomorrow on Part 2 that really makes the magic of synergy occur.

Originally published in modified form on December 2, 2013
Sample page from one of my notebooks

leadership dot #484a: perspectives

My two dogs bark like crazy fools when they are out in the yard and someone walks within six houses of mine. It doesn’t matter if the walker is alone or walking dogs of their own, the response is always resounding.

But when I take my dogs for a walk and I am the passerby, they never utter a sound. Every other dog that we pass either barks, howls, or yipes loudly, but my two just stroll on their merry way in silence.

It seems to be an apt metaphor for change. If you are cozy in your own yard, going through your routine with pleasure, you bark like crazy when change approaches from the outside. You are adamant that your happy equilibrium not be disturbed and you are quite vocal that you want nothing to do with it.

But if you are on the outside, there seems to be nothing to fear. You are going about your business without thought of the impact you have on others, even if those others have four legs.

Employees often “bark” when change from the outside approaches. Managers often are puzzled as to why there is so much fear or resentment. The next time you are on either side of the change effort, think about my dogs. Sniffing each other before barking may be a good strategy.

Originally published in modified form on September 28, 2013

leadership dot #485a: one-third

If you count holidays and weekends, they constitute about one-third of the year.  It doesn’t feel that way, but it is true.  Think about what impact that has:

> for those in the tourism or recreation industries, you can rejoice that consumers really do have a lot of disposable time
> for dieters or those exercising to lose weight, it means you really can’t fall off the wagon every weekend and holiday and still expect to shed the pounds
> for those in office settings, you need to consider how you serve your customers and prospective customers during the one-third of the year that you are not there to answer the phone
> for retailers, it provides a bonanza of opportunities for themed sales
> for educators, you need to consider how to provide a year’s worth of learning in a year minus one-third and summer
What opportunities lie in weekends and holidays for you or your organization?  Maybe you can start taking advantage of them today!
Originally published in modified form on September 29, 2013

leadership dot #443a: neighbors

For several blocks in one area of town, all of the houses have large cement planters in their front yard. It is a historical district, so I suspect that these containers have held flowers for generations. They live on today, filled with blossoms in every house that has one. The arrangements are all different but still are unified by the planters themselves.

It is a simple step, but I believe one that distinguishes it as a neighborhood instead of a collection of houses next to each other.

What can you do to unify your work unit, organization, or block? How can you insert an element of cooperation into something you do so that it gives you an identity and point of pride? I have said it before: cooperating on something universal and simple makes it easier to work together on the hard stuff.

Originally published in modified form on August 18, 2013

leadership dot #442a: defense


When I took driver’s ed many moons ago, I still remember our teacher’s adage to watch out for cars that were banged up or appeared to have been in an accident. He believed that more often than not it was a sign that the owner was not driving with a defensive posture. “Many accidents can be avoided if the driver is alert enough to play defense,” he said.

Undoubtedly, the parent who posted the sign in this picture was trying to help the other drivers be a little bit more careful when driving around this vehicle.

Being proactive is important, but another component of the work we all must do is more reactive. Part of driving — and part of working in an organization — is playing defense. We need to take the wheel and be alert to what others are doing in the area.

Part of your role in offense is helping others to play better defense around you. Utility trucks put cones out when they are parked. Companies use “caution” signs when the floor may be wet. Cups come with warnings about the temperature of beverages. What can you do to help those around you be aware of a situation and prevent problems before they occur?

Originally published in modified form on August 17, 2013


leadership dot #424a: rock or hard place

There are often times when people are faced with choosing between two less than desirable options.  I believe people cope with the negative outcome much better when they are the ones to make the choice.

> If you are the one who picks between a crack ‘o dawn flight or a long layover, you’ll be much more tolerant of it than if a travel agent imposed such a bad schedule on you.

> Students who have to choose between an 8 am class or a Friday afternoon class will be more understanding of the option if they make the decision instead of an advisor.

> I believe people will tolerate pain better if they are the ones deciding to live with it vs. having surgery — rather than a doctor mandating one way or the other.

> Budget cuts that individual departments make seem to be more palatable than those imposed by the CFO.

The list could go on and on.  Keep this in mind when you are faced with a negative situation for your staff or organization, and try to give those impacted as much decision power as they can have in the matter.  

In the play Another Antigone, one of the characters says: “If you can choose, it’s not tragic.”  Try to allow your people that choice.

Originally published in modified form on July 30, 2013


leadership dot #416a: mattering

As part of her research on adult students in higher education, professor Nancy Schlossberg developed the theory that adult learners will persist if they believe that they “matter” to someone at the institution. This could be a professor, a classmate, advisor, or learning resource specialist — the “who” was less important than the fact that the student believed someone would notice (and care) if they were not there.

I think her concept of “mattering” has far broader implications than adult students. I think it applies to any organizational context in which we find ourselves. We want to know that our presence makes a difference and that our work is valued.

When you notice someone’s absence, do you always acknowledge it the next time you see the person? When co-workers are out on vacation or maternity leave, do you explicitly welcome them back and show them that they were missed? If someone misses a meeting, do you try to get them caught up and let them know their absence mattered?

We aren’t always quick to show acknowledgment and appreciation to those who do show up either. I was at a wedding of a colleague, and I was very glad to see so many of my other colleagues in attendance, but I didn’t tell them all that it mattered to me that they were there.

Try to be intentional this week in letting others know that their presence and contributions do matter to you and the organization. It will feel good for both of you!

Originally published in modified form on July 22, 2013

leadership dot #392a: thumbs up

I recently had a tour of a newly developed space that was being utilized for commercial and non-profit use. Someone asked if a particular company was going to open a facility in this district. “Their board wants to have a thumbprint, not a footprint” was the answer.

What a great way to consider the options. You don’t need to think of moves or major projects in terms of an all-or-nothing proposition. You can have a branch office, an express version of your service, or a kiosk-like storefront.  

Testing the waters is a prudent strategy and one that may preserve options for you down the road. Think of making just a thumbprint next time you are asked for your time or resources in support of a new venture. It’s a way to signal that you give the project a “thumbs up” without over-committing to the unknown.

Originally published in modified form on June 28, 2013


leadership dot #390a: one more

I am a big fan of the Solitaire game that is on my phone. I can complete a round in just a few minutes, and it has provided numerous moments of mindless fun while waiting in line or for appointments. Somehow, I get lost in it and the time seems to go by much faster.

I have noticed that often there are times when I feel completely stuck, then I discover one more move, and it triggers a whole series of additional moves. Frequently, it makes the difference between winning a round and losing it.
I wonder if there are moments like that at work when I am ready to give up, but if I looked a little harder, I could find that next step that leads to a solution.  
As Kenny Rogers said: “You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em.”  You also have to know when to avoid the temptation to fold ’em too fast and re-deal. Take a second look at your problem and see if you can’t find the one more move you can make.
Originally published in modified form on June 26, 2013