leadership dot #3840: absorb

In her book The Light We Carry, Michelle Obama provides personal reflections and her strategies for dealing with things when they feel overwhelming. Her mantra: “Any time your circumstances start to feel all-consuming, I suggest you try going in the other direction — toward the small.” In her case, this was knitting.

Obama called knitting the “gift of absorption” — something that allows you to redirect your mind away from the big stuff so that you are able to gain perspective when you return to it. She urges people to give themselves permission to “duck out of the storm” and actively engage in a smaller activity that refreshes them.

For Obama, she rested her brain by being a beginning knitter — someone who had to initially concentrate on the steps and count her way through a tangible process. For me, it’s writing letters by hand. When the world seems too big, I pick up a pen and leave everything else behind, even when I’m writing about The.Big.Thing. The act of writing transports me.

It could be cooking, crafting, gardening, woodworking, or a million other options, but I believe Obama is spot on with her notion of going toward the small. Cultivate an activity that can hijack your brain and absorb all your worries for a spell. You’ll discover that going small is really a big deal.

Source: The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times by Michelle Obama, 2022

leadership dot #3839: matched

My sister, who lives in Boston, adopted a puppy — in Illinois. It wasn’t ideal, nor was it from a lack of trying to procure a dog closer to home. For two years, she went through the arduous process of trying to get a dog in Massachusetts — writing essays, supplying references, submitting to a home visit — and still no luck.

I have friends going through a similar process trying to adopt a child. They had to prepare reams of documents, create a book of pictures, have home visits and financial background checks, and meet with pregnant moms in person. And still no baby.

I also have very experienced and talented colleagues who are looking for a job. They have applied to numerous places and have been searching for months but remain unemployed…

…yet, I simultaneously hear that shelters are bursting at the seams, children are in need of loving homes, and employers can’t find good talent. In this age of abundant information, there appears to be a gap in matching needs with those who can fill them, or there is a flaw in the process that makes matching harder than it needs to be.

There is a golden opportunity for those who can make connections. Since the mass systems aren’t effectively doing the job, make it your mission to play matchmaker whenever possible. Make referrals for employment. Advocate as a reference rather than just having your name listed on their resume. Pay attention to what people need or have to offer and connect the two. Use your network to help others. And offer support to those looking for a match, in whatever form that may be.

leadership dot #3838: on brand

I am a huge Ted Lasso fan and the fictional character feels like an old friend. It’s been more than a year since we connected via the Apple TV series and I miss “him.” But, I was recently reminded why I love him via a series of notes that “Ted Lasso” wrote for each of the players on the U.S. Men’s National Team. They were posted on billboards in the players’ hometowns, promoting the World Cup in a most unique way.

An example: “Luca, There must be something in San Diego water to make it one of the U.S.’s happiest cities. Or maybe it has to do with the sunshine. Or all the surfing. Or the surfshine. Or maybe it’s the iconic folks born here that’s bringing ’em joy. They got a legendary skateboarder. A legendary children’s poet. A legendary anchorman. And, of course, a legendary soccer player, Luca de la Torrific. I’m not a scientist or San Diego-ist, but my studies show this city’s about to crank up the happy once you stroll onto soccer’s biggest stage. You’re gonna give them something to smile about from the top of the podium. Best of Luca, Ted Lasso.”

The idea of the billboards and the way they are written are so very Ted. And a great way to promote soccer as well as remind fans that Ted Lasso Season 3 allegedly is still in production and not to forget about him.

The Ted Lasso character has cultivated a certain voice and vocabulary that creates his unique brand. Learn from him how to authentically communicate who you are.

leadership dot #3837: top

It seems that every surface that can hold advertising is filled with it – above the rim of a backboard, on floors, in toilet stalls, and on gas pumps. One previously unused piece of real estate was the top of pill containers – but the Veteran’s Administration has even capitalized on that.

A recent prescription refill from the VA included a message with numbers for the Veteran’s Crisis Hotline listed on the bottle lid. It’s a subtle way to push out an important resource and to have it remain accessible to the patient.

While I’m not advocating for ads to be placed everywhere, there may be opportunities for you to share your message in unusual locations. Can you top the VA in where you place yours?

leadership dot #3836: tart

A friend brought the dessert for dinner — individual slices of key lime pie packaged in a box. As I ate mine, I remarked on how tart it was — so tart that I did not want to finish it, so I gave it to the person who had remarked that he didn’t think the pie was tart at all. Once he took a bite, he changed his tune. “Wow, yours really is tart,” he said. “Much tarter than mine.”

It was yet another example of how we all experience different realities. He did not consider that because his pie was not excessively flavorful that mine could be. My pie must be the same as your pie, and my worldview must be the same as your worldview, right?

Whether you are comparing the taste of your dessert, the merits of current issues, or an opinion about the weather, leave space for others to have a different perspective than you do. Curiosity provides the grace we need to harmoniously coexist.

leadership dot #3835: hustle

When I lived in St. Louis, I was a huge Cardinals fan and my favorite player was Scott Rolen. This week, the unassuming third baseman was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. In a moment of shared pride, I dug out my Rolen jersey, bobblehead, and baseball card, and I reminisced over the autographed photo that captured me illicitly wearing his actual helmet for a nanosecond.

Rolen impressed me (and others) because of his excellence in the fundamentals. He won 8 Golden Glove Awards in addition to being a solid hitter. He was low-key and in the background behind the huge shadow that Albert Pujols cast, but Rolen’s contributions to the team were integral in winning the World Series and contributing to many other successes.

A St. Louis Post Dispatch article best described why I admired him: “Not content to cruise on his abundant talent, Rolen displays the scrappiness of a utility man. When is the last time you saw Rolen give less than 100 percent? When is the last time you failed to see him hustle? When’s the last time you saw him strut? Answer: Never.”

For years, I had a picture of Rolen and the above quote hanging by my desk at work. I wanted to play my game like Rolen played his. You, too, can become a Hall of Famer in your field by emulating his humble nature and continual dedication to the basics.

Welcome to the Hall of Fame #27!

leadership dot #3834: self-awareness

In my work teaching adult students, I continue to be surprised at how little self-awareness many have. As we work on resumes or talk about communicating their strengths, nuggets about valuable traits trickle out as a casual afterthought or I point out connections instead of their realization that they have valuable skills and experiences.

Knowing yourself — your strengths, deficiencies, dislikes, and triggers — is truly a competitive advantage. The things that make us who we are — and different from others — can be superpowers if you are aware of them.

One way to learn about yourself is to complete assessments that help illuminate and clarify personality traits. There are dozens of options available to target different characteristics, but all provide insight that can help increase understanding of how you prefer to operate and how you interact with others. (I have compiled a sampling of assessment examples that can serve as a starting point if you wish to explore.)

I still vividly remember taking the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator when I was in a college leadership class. It gave language to my introversion and validated that I was not the only one whose energy was depleted by being in social situations. This knowledge not only gave me comfort; it also gave me the power to choose staff to complement me, pick aspects of work that kept me out of the spotlight and gave additional urgency to self-care and time alone. I shudder to think of the missteps I would have made without this self-understanding.

Learning about yourself is a continual journey. Take advantage of reflection or assessments to reveal the nuances that help you articulate your authentic self.

leadership dot #3833: reversible

For halftime entertainment during a college basketball game, a group of sixth-graders showcased their own version of run-and-gun basketball. They didn’t keep score or set up any fancy plays, but instead had a fast-paced few minutes of shooting.

There were only two players on the combined bench and when someone went out of the game it was only to take off their uniform — turn it inside out — and put it back on, now in the color of the other team! Seconds later, they would be back on the court, running as hard as ever, trying to score for the team they had just opposed.

Organizations would be better off if employees treated their work like these players did and assumed whatever role was needed. Instead of being siloed or territorial and only focusing on their own interests, employees could see themselves as members of the whole and swap responsibilities just as easily as the players changed jerseys.

Think about the metaphorical uniform that you wear. Does it only have one side that you claim as your identity, or do you freely turn yours inside out and play different positions? Those with flexibility are much more valuable on the court and in an organization.

leadership dot #3832: vacuum

Last year, I purchased a new television. While that might be a delightful task for some people, I dreaded every minute of it. So, so many choices. Brands that were exclusive to a particular retailer, making it hard to do any comparison or even to find reviews. Options that I did not understand. I ended up buying one because some teenager in the electronics department had a preference for one model and that sealed the deal.

I went through a similar experience this weekend trying to buy a vacuum cleaner. It was turbo this, and pro that — making a plethora of options that were more confusing than helpful. Even the salesperson at Lowe’s thought they had too many choices — over 25 models ranging in price from $78 to $599. Does a cute golden retriever on the box really mean that it is better on pet hair, or is that just a marketing tool? Again, no reliable comparisons or a clear explanation of differences. Ultimately, I purchased one of the most basic models — because the salesperson had a husky and it worked for him.

These two shopping experiences highlighted for me the value of reducing the overwhelming amount of information that is available to us. The more you can simplify options — may by reducing them or by providing a human to translate — the greater sense of service you will provide. Not everyone is looking for additional options, in fact, many people value less.

leadership dot #3831: librarians

I recently read a Facebook post that said: “Do not mess with librarians. The inner strength required to meticulously care for history’s greatest works of literature and then just let total strangers borrow them willy-nilly is Jedi level stuff.” I think they are even more amazing than that!

I’m not sure where the stereotype of a buttoned-up old librarian came from because today those who work in libraries are some of the most innovative people around. Every time I go into our main library there is a different display around a new theme (this month: A Decade of New York Times best sellers) and books are also arranged to correspond to current events or holidays.

In addition, our librarians seem to go the extra effort to make it easy for people to utilize materials. They have created several series of bookmarks that help readers narrow down the available choices and direct them to resources or books of similar themes. One series is themed around New Year/New You and provides bookmarks for Building Habits, Cleaning, Starting a Business, Travel, Learning a Language, and more. Another series highlights Recommended Reads in multiple categories: Biographies & Memoirs, Nonfiction, Romance, Historical Fiction, etc. All these free bookmarks are handy ways to encourage additional library use.

Instead of letting your customers fend for themselves or become overwhelmed with all that you offer, follow the lead of the librarians and continuously help others narrow down your services to what is most helpful to them. Creativity and curation go a long way in making something useful.

Facebook Post by Jonathan Edward Durham @thisoneOverhere