leadership dot #3918: real-time

When a friend had surgery, I was still informed about every step of his progress even though I was hours away. I received frequent text messages from the hospital, such as: “The patient is being prepped for surgery,” “The patient is in the operating room,” and “The patient is in recovery.”

Surgical patients aren’t the only thing being tracked these days. It is common to have access to real-time information about the status of most things: children’s grades in school, baggage checked with the airlines, location of people through “Find My”-type apps, what mail is coming today, online orders, and pizza or package delivery times. I know more about where that box coming from Amazon is than I do about where car keys are (although, with a Tile device I could track that, too).

The availability of tracking information used to be a bonus or distinguishing feature, but it is coming close to being an expectation. Your organization needs to embrace ways to keep your clients informed as to the status of your work for them — preferably with real-time access. “Where’s Waldo?” was a fun phenomenon in the 1990s, but “Where’s My Project?” isn’t an option in 2023.

leadership dot #3917: no mow

As the warmer weather approaches in the Midwest, many homeowners are outside tending to their lawns. Some people are urging them not to start cutting grass for another month. “No Mow May” is a conservation initiative that began in the United Kingdom but is gaining popularity in North America. By allowing the grass to grow longer in May, it creates a habitat for pollinators before the flowers are plentiful. Bees can use the dandelions and taller grass as refuge and fuel until the season is in full bloom. It also turns out that not mowing as frequently is also good for the grass — pleasing many who see mowing as a weekly chore during the summer.

No Mow May is another reminder that sometimes the smartest thing to do is doing less of what you were doing. All good initiatives don’t need to involve adding. Consider stopping your weekly mowing ritual and ending other practices that are performed more from habit than from benefit.

leadership dot #3916: horizon

I attended a retirement seminar (gasp!) and the primary lesson shared by the presenter was that ten years from retirement it is important to shift from growing your assets to protecting them (from taxes and probate). It’s a challenging mindset for someone who has always been a saver.

I think about this as I see long-standing institutions closing — Iowa Wesleyan University shuttering its doors after 181 years and Milwaukee’s Cardinal Stritch University after 86 years. It’s happening to major retailers like Bed, Bath and Beyond which has recently filed for bankruptcy, and Tupperware which is on the brink after a 77-year run. Had they continued to focus on growth instead of protecting the assets that they had or reinventing themselves with a downsized scope?

Whether you are viewing things as an individual or an organization, it’s important to keep your time perspective in mind. Just because your methods worked yesterday, doesn’t mean that they are the right ones for today or tomorrow. Longevity may be more important than short-term gains.

leadership dot #3915: sniff

As anyone who has walked a dog knows, sniffing takes time. My dog can spend a full five minutes in one spot and if I allow her to follow her nose on walks it doubles how long we are gone. Usually, I give it a few minutes and then hurry her along.

But I received a training tip from my veterinarian encouraging me to allow my dog to take its time. “Let your dog sniff,” it read. “Not allowing them to exercise their nose can be a form of sensory deprivation. Being smell-blind may be stressful for them.”

I think of the parallels between allowing time for dogs to sniff and giving employees unscheduled time for creativity at work. Too often, we rush both pooches and staff to “hurry up and do your business” so we can finish quickly and move on to what’s next. But just as dogs can become smell-blind, we cause employees to become creatively-blind when we rush things and don’t allow time for “organizational sniffing” — poking around on new projects, pondering new ideas, or informally interacting with colleagues.

If you keep your staff on a tight leash and don’t allow the freedom for ideas to incubate, you’re focused on quantity instead of quality of thought. Grant them the time to sniff a bit and see what new things they can discover.

leadership dot #3914: unseen

I came across an uninstalled fire hydrant, the first I have seen just lying on the ground. It reminded me of the iceberg analogy — where you only see a small portion while the majority remains hidden.

The fire hydrant is a vehicle to access a larger system; without this connection, it would be worthless. The same is true in organizations — you may have the people, but without the interlocking relationships and shared knowledge individuals have very little power.

Pay attention to the infrastructure in your organization — building trust, creating a safe climate, and appreciating your team for the contributions they make. What is unseen is what creates the impact.

leadership dot #3913: audition

I’ve been re-watching Friday Night Lights and remarked about how perfect Kyle Chandler is in the Coach Eric Taylor role. The other actors are wonderful and the script does a great job of developing the story, but in my opinion, Chandler makes the show.

I’m always in awe of casting agents who somehow seem to find just the right person to bring a character to life. Choosing between Great Actor A or Great Actor B can re-shape the whole movie as no matter who is chosen creates their own imprint on the work. Not that one is good or bad, so to make the right choice, agents and directors need a clear idea of what they are looking for in that audition. Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, Rachel McAdams, Kate Hudson, and Kirsten Dunst were all considered for the Andy Sachs role in The Devil Wears Prada, but it would have been a different movie without Anne Hathaway.

The same is true in a hiring situation. Managers may be faced with several resumes that represent qualified potential employees, but to cast the right person in the role they need to know the attributes and traits that are most desirable in the position — spending time to craft a vision of what they are looking for beyond the generic job description duties, and then developing a position description and interview questions that align with that.

Who you “cast” onto your team will influence your culture and performance outcomes for the length of their employment. Invest the time to be clear about what a star looks like in this particular role before you “audition” anyone.

leadership dot #3912: empowered

I recently facilitated a session about supervising college students. One of the feedback comments said that they wished I would have told more stories about the problems I had with student employees and how I resolved them. The truth is, I don’t have that many stories to share — about problems with students or professional employees — largely due to how I was clear about expectations right from the start.

I am reminded of a story that Michelle Obama shared about how her mother gave her an alarm clock when she started kindergarten. Mrs. Robinson taught her daughter how to use it; she worked with her to consider all that had to be done in the morning so Michelle knew what time to set it, and then she empowered her to use it. No nagging, no hounding, no problem stories to share.

I have said before that I think supervisors cause as many problems as employees do because they don’t have ongoing conversations about responsibilities or performance. But if you set people up for success by giving them the clarity and tools they need, my experience has been that most will rise to achieve. Start from that premise.

leadership dot #3911: go bananas

Inspiration can come from anywhere, and if you’re looking for some energy around creating a guest experience you should check out The Savanah Bananas. They are as non-traditional of a baseball team as you can find — the Harlem Globetrotters of the diamond — but their crazy formula is working — with a sell-out for every game and a 500,000-person waitlist!

The Bananas are a collegiate summer league team in Georgia with the goal of making baseball fun. They provide as much entertainment as athleticism with stunts like players on stilts, players wearing kilts, hitting with a bat on fire, choreographed dancing by players on the field, and senior citizen cheerleaders. Oh, and they win the league championship, too.

The owners are trying to “create the best fan experience in the world” so have taken steps to eliminate all the annoying aspects that usually come with attending a game. There are no ticket fees, service fees, or convenience fees. There is no advertising in the stadium. The ticket price even includes food and drinks!

Replicating the full Bananas experience may not work for everyone, but I’m sure there are elements that you could adapt. Check out some of their online videos and find ways to go bananas with an aspect of your organization.

See Savannah Bananas or Jesse Cole (owner) on LinkedIn
or Books by Jesse Cole: Fans First, Find Your Yellow Tux, or Banana Ball

leadership dot #3910: chairs

My medical clinic was recently renovated and what I noticed more than the new paint, carpet, or fancy stone walls were the new chairs. The new seating was designed to accommodate various body types and physical needs. There were regular seats, some oversized, some double-sized (like for a parent and a child), and some taller for those who have difficulty bending down to traditional seating levels. It was obvious that the variety was intentional and it showed a caring recognition of the clientele.

Have you looked at your lobby through this lens? Do you have spaces to make your visitors feel comfortable, whether they are 3 years old or 300 pounds? Have you accommodated space for wheelchairs and those who accompany them? Does your building feel welcoming and reflect the culture of your organization?

Your seating arrangements can be another way to live into your value of inclusivity.

leadership dot #3909: blind

I have written before (dot #1693) about the JoHari Window — four quadrants that help identify how you see yourself and how others see you. In addition to being a tool for self-awareness, the JoHari Window is an ideal way to frame feedback conversations.

Too often, we shy away from giving feedback and we’re not big fans of receiving it, either. But considered through the JoHari lens, feedback is almost the only way that we can move information from the “Blind” quadrant into the “Open” quadrant where we are able to act upon it. Just because no one has the courage to tell you that your speech was awful, that you are seen as aloof, or that you have spinach in your teeth doesn’t mean those things don’t exist. If they remain unsaid, you continue to be blind to them even though others are fully aware. The reverse is true, and if you’re not told that you’re smart, or that your report was well laid out, or that you have a great sense of style, you will remain oblivious to strengths you can build on.

The next time you find yourself in feedback situation — either as a giver or receiver — harken back to the brilliant work of Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham and remind yourself that the goal of most communication is to move from Blind to Open. Sharing feedback with others provides them with that true gift of knowledge.