leadership dot #3979: submit it

I answered a Request for Proposal to lead a project that I was excited about. I have done some other work for the organization and not only believe in what they’re doing, but I enjoy working with the people. I wanted to do this!

The head of the organization forewarned me that politics may be involved in the selection — others with influential connections were submitting and there may be pressure to go with one of them. I was very close to not throwing my name in the ring or doing the work to develop a proposal where there were low odds of success. But I went ahead and submitted — and was chosen!

It was a good reminder to let others be the ones to say “no” to you — don’t prematurely say it to yourself. Take those chances. Ask for the job/donation/help. Put in a proposal you may not win.

Stop editing the script and give others the opportunity to say “yes.”

leadership dot #3978: chairperson

I’m volunteering for a community action group and the core committee needed to decide who was going to work in each area. A few hands went up right away to help with the communications and grassroots efforts. It was also easy for those who work in financial areas to volunteer for the money aspects of the project — fundraising, treasurer, etc. And when it came to being chair no one raised their hands — except me. Not by default, but rather because that is my sweet spot and likely why I was asked to be on the committee.

I think the ability to develop comprehensive agendas, run efficient meetings, keep conversations on task, and organize the myriad details that go with a project such as this is a skill set that is undervalued. Anyone can sit at the head of the table, but not everyone is effective there. I happen to love it and was happy that they took a chance on one person’s recommendation and gave me the reins.

We were fortunate that the initial organizers invited people to serve who had a variety of skills and would naturally gravitate to work that was meaningful to them. If you are in a position to assemble a group, you would be wise to do the same. And if your wheelhouse revolves around leading and organizing, embrace that talent. It is far less stressful to run a meeting than to suffer through a bad one.

leadership dot #3977: ongoing

It can be for me to get motivated to do tasks that are ongoing. I put off washing my car because I’ll know it will just get dusty again. Dishes and laundry are never finished; as soon as you do them, there are dirty dishes in the sink or dirty clothes in the basket, making it less appealing to start. Same with writing dots, paying bills, answering emails, or grocery shopping — the tasks are permanent residents on my to-do list.

I try to trick myself by making lists of what needs to be done today — allowing me the satisfaction of crossing something off. And no dainty checkmark for me — I obliterate the item with a jumbo black Sharpie as if it was redacted. It not only gives me tangible credit for completing a task, but it is also a reminder that these ongoing maintenance issues consume time and need to be taken into account when considering what can be accomplished in the allotted time. I follow the five-minute rule — if you can do it in less than five minutes (feed the dogs), it’s better to do it directly rather than putting it on the list, but everything else is there.

I also try to make tasks into a routine so I start them without thinking — summoning the same motivation to “just do it” that I use when an undesirable meeting is on my calendar. Sundays are for vacuuming and laundry — done by rote rather than deliberation. I never want to do these things but they’re on the list so I just plug away whether it is writing a dot, vacuuming, or mowing the lawn.

Think about ways you can make ongoing tasks less mentally arduous. The work is always there but the dread doesn’t have to be.

leadership dot #3976: volunteerism

Long before there was an internet or field of project management, Herbert Hoover was mastering complex logistical challenges. He was tapped to lead relief efforts to evacuate Americans stranded in Europe at the outbreak of World War I. He then remained to chair the Commission for Relief in Belgium where he mobilized volunteers at home and abroad to feed those in war-torn regions. Hoover continued his service during World War II — after he lost the presidential election to FDR — helping to avert mass famine by feeding over a billion people in 57 countries before he died.

Hoover’s formula was “centralize ideas but decentralize execution,” a good mantra for people to follow today. He was able to bring together partnerships of anyone he could find — using hungry people to unload box cars of food, enlisting teachers and hospitals to distribute food to children, and even engaging American housewives to observe “Meatless Mondays” and “Wheatless Wednesdays” to prevent shortages at home.

I’ve been thinking about Herbert Hoover and his valiant years of volunteerism, crossing the ocean in perilous conditions 40 times to inspire the effort, and I’ve wished there were more people with his spirit today. I’ve recently felt the impact of a lack of volunteers, either to assist at an art fair that had to be canceled due to lack of help or when challenged to find those willing to solicit signatures on a bond petition. Everyone is “too busy.” I’m sure that Hoover felt that way at times but made helping not only his country but starving people in many other countries a priority, even when Americans fought against them.

The essence of the American spirit is volunteerism. You don’t have to do heroics as Hoover did but contributing your time is needed now more than ever. Make it a priority to say yes when asked to help.

Photo from Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, West Branch Iowa

leadership dot #3975: secretary

Over the Juneteenth holiday weekend, I visited the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum. There I learned much about Iowa’s native son who became the 31st president, especially his approach to leadership while he was Secretary of Commerce.

When Hoover began as Secretary in 1920, it was considered a minor Cabinet post without much influence or power. However, Hoover applied his engineering background and his ability to formulate partnerships to make the department a “hub of the nation’s growth and stability.” He created standardization for commercial uniformity of most housing components, including electricity, plumbing, and gas meters that made it easier and more economical for people to build their own homes. He regulated the new airline industry and insisted on standard safety features such as lights for all runways. Hoover oversaw the Uniform Vehicle Code to standardize motor vehicles and traffic ordinances and created standards for radio stations.

By the time he finished his service in 1929, detractors joked that he was “Secretary of Commerce, Undersecretary of Everything Else,” but his influence helped the country boost productivity and increase employment in the short term, and made life easier for everyone else in the decades that followed.

Hoover didn’t shrink his leadership or minimize his outreach based on the perception of the agency he was appointed to lead. Instead, he brought with him a large vision and worked to expand the agency’s infrastructure to fulfill that potential — a role model for you to do the same.

leadership dot #3974: birthday

I recently had a birthday and the automated emails went into overdrive. I received greetings from my credit union, insurance agency, dental insurance, periodontist, alma mater, and a dozen other businesses. The American Red Cross (on my actual birthday) wanted me to forego gifts and ask people to donate instead. A little late for that!

I also received a host of “free birthday gifts” that were really marketing ploys in a weak disguise. Get free soap with a purchase. Get free popcorn (when you buy a ticket) at the movies. Get a free cookie or scoop of ice cream (as if that is all you will order at the restaurant). Ditto with a free appetizer at the steakhouse, or one-month free for a streaming service. Discounts of 5% or 20% at two stores could be genuine benefits if I don’t go crazy shopping because of them.

The birthday greeting that made the best impression was a card from my financial advisor — which included a free scoop of ice cream. To me, that seemed like a genuine gift instead of being self-serving when it came from the restaurant itself. I also appreciated a free sandwich from a fast food establishment — something substantial which I will definitely use — and enjoyed a “birthday video” from the university where I teach.

The bottom line is that you may feel clever by sending a personalized birthday message, but know that it is a crowded field. Because automation makes it so easy, so many are doing it and it loses its luster quickly. Save your wishes for blowing out your own candles.

leadership dot #3973: QR

Magazines used to be pervasive in waiting rooms — there would be a variety of publications in a stack for you to peruse during the inevitable delay of the doctor. Then came budget cuts and a pandemic, and in many places, the magazines disappeared.

A brilliant solution to this can be found in a doctor’s office in Boston where they have a QR code for patients to scan to receive a free magazine that they are able to read while waiting. It’s free to the user, contactless, and provides an opportunity for the publication to entice new readers with a current sample. A win-win for everyone.

QR codes had their day then faded, but they seem to be making a resurgence due to/after Covid. Is there a way for you to deploy the simple-to-use technology to give customers and potential customers access to your materials? It may be a great way for you to provide low-cost samples of the resources you offer.

leadership dot #3972: compassionate

A friend had to take her dog to the emergency vet due to seizures caused by ingested gum. (Xylitol sweetener is super-bad for animals.) This, of course, required tests and treatments — and a four-hour wait, an average length for this type of visit.

It seems that the vet was focused solely on the medical experience and failed to take the total experience into account. There was no area for the pet parents to eat a meal. No grass for the pets to use when they left. The building was located away from retail or food, making it inconvenient for people to grab a meal during their wait. Instead, my friend had to leave to get dinner and then eat it on the concrete steps outside the building. What happens in the winter?

Of course, the medical care was (and should be) the primary focus, but why miss the opportunity to tend to the human care as well? Anyone who is at an emergency vet is full of anxiety. A bit of attention to provide the humans with a compassionate experience could go a long way in addressing the worry that comes from needing to be there in the first place. Delivering good service encompasses everyone that is involved in the transaction.

Thanks, Laura and River!

What could have been….

leadership dot #3971: grimace

McDonald’s is heavily promoting its Grimace Birthday Meal with a catchy campaign featuring the purple Grimace monster that allegedly is Ronald McDonald’s best friend. He’s celebrating his birthday all month and invites people to enjoy his special meal.

But the “special meal” is the same fries they always offer, with the same entrĂ©e, and the same vanilla shake just with a dash of purple berry flavoring. It’s 100% gimmick but it seems to be working.

Grimace is totally made up, the birthday is arbitrary, and he was introduced 52 years ago so it’s not even a milestone — but someone thought that this could be a summer promotion to generate interest and mix things up. People love new, and they love nostalgia, and Grimace’s purple shake provides both.

Can you take a marketing lesson from the golden arches and concoct something new for your organization? Maybe your mascot has a birthday. Perhaps you celebrate one of the zillion holidays that have been designated. Or maybe you make a fuss about a countdown (e.g. celebrating 12 more days of summer). Think about how the world of made-up and reality can intersect to your benefit. Purple birthday shake, anyone?

leadership dot #3970: hook

If you’ve ever watched a comedian, you know that the best of them develop a hook — a phrase or image that they keep coming back to throughout their performance. This repetition helps to develop a connection with the audience while forging a bond of familiarity.

The same thing happens with relationships — you develop that inside joke or touchpoint that gets referred to many years after it first occurred. Such is the case with one of my friends who would make this (horrid-looking) concoction of orange pop and vanilla ice cream for her dessert in the cafeteria. That was literally 20+ years ago but we still joke about it.

It turns out that she is not the only one who enjoys the combination. When one of her colleagues realized that he had found another Orangesicle aficionado, he gifted her with a make-your-own-kit. Because he acted on it, the orange connection became more than a one-off comment that would be forgotten — and now is likely to be the hook between them for years to come.

Connections can take many forms: food, pop culture, vacation spots, animals, hobbies, etc. but it takes intentionality to turn them into a hook. The next time you hear a possible linkage with someone, do something to give it staying power, even if it means perpetuating the (nasty) combination of orange pop and ice cream!

Love to you, Jen. All in fun!