leadership dot #3069a: long-term

Leadership Dots is taking a brief break for the holiday weekend. Enjoy some favorites from the past years.

One of the hardest jobs of a leader is to make the long-term feel real. Most things that benefit the future require change and often sacrifice in the short-term, and, unless the leader can make her team really internalize the benefits, it’s a long slog of resistance.

How to convince someone that…

  • eating that cupcake today could cause diabetes.
  • the extra effort is worth it to open a new market even though today’s sales are fine.
  • wearing an uncomfortable mask could mitigate COVID spread in the community.
  • the new way of work will produce better outcomes in the future, even though it seems counter-intuitive now.
  • the excessive use of disposable plastics is related to climate change which is related to the wildfires in the West.
  • the pain of cost-cutting or retrenchment today will ultimately create a healthier organization.

Following a leader who has a realistic view of sacrifices is wiser than choosing someone who focuses on immediate gains without consideration of the implications. The shorter your time perspective – whether it be for your health, wealth, or livelihood – the more negative impact your actions are likely to have on the long term. Start by thinking about how you want it to be in the future and act accordingly today.

Originally published in modified form on November 9, 2020

leadership dot #4040: positive potato

The Superintendent watched a basketball game in March and learned about Shaka Smart’s EGBs (dot #4039) — and it became the seed that started the planning for the School District’s opening session for staff. Over the course of several months, multiple brainstorming sessions, and a host of iterations, EGBs, and energy were coupled with a Positive Potato theme and became a series of intentional exercises, props, and metaphors to kick off the new academic year.

Some examples: the leadership team went on a scavenger hunt to places with an “energy” theme such as a solar farm, a radio station, an energy drink store, and an electric vehicle charging station. Staff members rode buses to the session and had “hot potatoes” to foster interaction and silliness along the way. People participated in the classic science experiment to power light bulbs by hooking potatoes together to generate energy.

I loved hearing the story of how the event evolved. My two takeaways: 1) The best ideas happen over time. The Superintendent first mentioned the EGB idea months, not weeks, before it happened. This allowed time to engage others, refine ideas, and make the event special. 2) Themes only work when there is purpose behind them. Having a Positive Potato message could have been cheesy, but the District was able to tie it to generating an attitude and mindset for the year and consciously link the concepts to meaningful lessons the Superintendent wanted to convey.

The School District generated energy by evolving a theme around energy in a brilliant example of intentionally connecting the dots. Take a lesson from their playbook and look ahead a few months on your calendar. What event will be better if you start ruminating on the idea now? Like potatoes, ideas take a long time to become fully baked.

Bravo Dubuque Community School District!

leadership dot #4039: generating

Of course, Marquette University basketball coach Shaka Smart tracks offensive and defensive statistics — but he gives extra attention to tracking the EGBs of his team. EGBs — or energy generating behavior –are the difference-makers for Smart who sees these actions as the key to creating the energy required to win.

Smart urges his team to generate 3,000 EGBs per game. He found that level of energy ignites the offense and defense and makes Marquette more powerful on the court.

EGBs in the basketball sense could be high-fives, chest bumps, or deflecting the ball. In an office setting, EGBs could be a nod of appreciation to a co-worker, a smile to someone in the hallway, or a word of encouragement to a colleague. EGBs at home might look like a Post-it note on a mirror, giving thanks for a delicious meal, or an “I’m glad you’re home” when someone walks in.

Experiment by tracking the EGBs you generate in a day. You have the power to generate energy for everyone around you by adding more EGBs to your actions. Very small steps can go a long way toward being that catalyst.

leadership dot #4038: pay it backward

I recently received a shout-out from a person who used to work for me. She had achieved success in her new job and shared her accomplishment with the message: “Cheers to YOU — and all you taught me.” There was no need for her to acknowledge any influence I had in her achievement, making the nod of appreciation even more meaningful.

Many years ago, I received a similar note from someone who took the position I vacated. He thanked me for leaving the documentation and notes in a way that would help him be successful. It was my intent to do just that, but it was still touching that he made the effort to let me know he noticed.

We often hear about paying it forward and that truly is a good thing to do. But paying it backward and acknowledging the impact people have had is a powerful thing to do as well. Let your appreciation flow both ways.

leadership dot #4037: arrr

A Facebook post shared a library check-out that allowed the patron to select “Pirate” as the language for the receipt. The New Castle Colorado Library added a twist of whimsy to an otherwise mundane function and made someone smile because of it.

How can you follow their lead and add some humor to your forms or receipts? You may not opt for Pirate but the options are limitless as to how you can stand out from the crowd. Avast Ye Hearties — don’t be a Scallywag — put some creativity into your next message.

Post by Carole O’Brien

leadership dot #4036: quackery

One of the early professions highlighted at the Grohmann Museum (dot #4035) was quackery. The museum noted that in the mid-19th century, there were 50,000 street hawkers working in London alone, selling all manner of medicinal “wonders” to those whose diseases were more advanced than the legitimate medical knowledge at the time.

I never thought of quackery as a profession, but now I wonder if the next iteration of a Men at Work display will include art depicting the modern-day charlatans — those who use social media to peddle “wonders” of all types — miracle products to make life easier, dubious cures for ailments, or offers too good to be true. Whether via Influencers or the plethora of advertisements, quackery is alive and well in the present day.

The lesson to take from this is to be vigilant and skeptical when something seems suspicious. Snake oil salesmen no longer come to your town pushing their carts; now they are right at your fingertips behind your smartphone glass. We want things to be cheap and easy, but they rarely are.

leadership dot #4035: at work

I visited a fascinating museum about Men (and Women) at Work. The Grohmann Museum features pieces at the intersection of art and work and arranges them in loose chronological order to allow patrons to see the evolution of both.

The top floor features heavy oil paintings in large, ornate frames depicting occupations of an earlier time: blacksmith, leather tanner, railroad worker, and hay harvester. As the floors descended, the works became more modern and illustrated professions such as computer scientists and respiratory technicians working to save a patient with Coronavirus. The museum provided a powerful visual reminder that the work of today, just like the art of today, has changed over time.

As media pioneer Marshall McLuhan famously said: “The medium is the message.” Nowhere is that more true than at the Grohmann Museum in Milwaukee. The Grohmann can serve as a model for your organization to tell its story — using methods of the day to illustrate your work at the time and allowing the art to evolve along with the content.

leadership dot #4034: refills

It’s back to school for many districts and universities, and the bookstores are buzzing. I visit college bookstores whenever I can as I’m always curious about the latest products of interest to college students (and I’m an office supply junkie). I was surprised to see a display featuring multiple sizes of lead refills with many sold out. I did not think students still used mechanical pencils…

…until I remembered that I was at the Milwaukee School of Engineering bookstore. Those doing technical drawing and drafting require lead and the store was ready to serve them.

It’s a good example of knowing your audience — such a display may last a lifetime in other settings, but for MSOE, lead is an important commodity.

Whether you are selling lead, writing a memo, pitching a project, or buying a gift the first rule to follow is knowing who it’s for. Keeping your recipient in mind will help you stay on point.

leadership dot #4033: look back

I had dinner with some people that have known each other for decades. It was fascinating to hear their banter about parents, childhood homes, evolving medical issues, multiple jobs, and long-ago events. This rich history not only provided a background but a context for the current stories and happenings in their lives.

I also recently spoke with someone preparing to retire and she commented on the organizational knowledge that will be walking out the door with her. She is currently invited to meetings to share the history or evolution of projects, providing others with an understanding of the lessons learned and the decisions that were made. This background, too, provides a helpful context for moving forward and will be lost when she leaves.

Too often, we undervalue history. Grandparents, elders, long-time employees, or others who have been involved long enough to see something (or someone) at multiple stages of development can provide a perspective that informs and enlightens the present-day circumstances. Looking back may help you move forward.

leadership dot #4032: microjoy

Awareness of microaggressions has been part of equity training for several years but I’ve seen a new twist on the concept of “micro” in other contexts.

One involves “microvalidations” to affirm colleagues, by acknowledging their presence, sharing appreciation for contributions, and giving people your full attention. Harvard Business Review notes that microvalidations are especially important for historically marginalized populations, but they offer support and respect for everyone.

Another take on the micro concept involves becoming aware of microjoys. Author Amy Maclin sees these as tiny, accessible moments that we often overlook but which can add a spark to ordinary days. Maclin believes they are always there, but they require practice to pay attention to them and take a moment to acknowledge that they made you smile.

The idea of micro resonates with many people because it doesn’t sound like one more thing to add to the to-do list. You can easily nod to someone as you pass or relish a moment with your wagging dog vs. just walking by but both actions add positive vibes to your day.

See what tiny opportunities present themselves to you. The more you pay attention, the more they seem to appear.

Another round of blossoms on my Fuschia plant — they look like tiny ballerinas and provide me with a microjoy