leadership dot #2854: plate

There’s nothing that brings on a groan in a workshop quicker than saying: “Let’s start with an icebreaker.” Whether you’re an extrovert or not, the warm-up activity has developed quite the reputation as a touchy-feely waste of time. It’s not true!

In a podcast through IDEO, the international design firm, facilitator Dav Rauch makes the case for why starting with an introductory activity is crucial, whether it be at a workshop, meeting or class. He sees it as a way to prepare the audience by shifting their brain functions from left (pattern recognition) to right (opening up the possibility to change or create). Without that shift, anything that is said will be vetted through the lens of previous patterns and the brain won’t allow you to see new options.

“The warmup isn’t the cherry on top,” Rauch said. “It’s the plate beneath the meal. The warmup preps the brain so that they can actually hear what you’re presenting.”

If you have to make a presentation, frame your introductory activity in ways that help participants understand its value rather than seeing it as only fluff. As Rauch reminds us, no athlete does their work without first warming up. Decision-makers and learners should be no different.

Listen to the :45 podcast here.


leadership dot #2853: infrastructure

There have been many comparisons of the COVID pandemic to the Spanish Flu of 1918 and certainly, our ability to function during these times is much greater than it was then. But take a moment to also consider the technological and infrastructure improvements that have occurred as recently as the past decade.

If we had been asked to shelter-in-place even a few years ago, it would have exacted a much greater toll than it is now. Think of all the underlying systems that were in place before COVID that have enhanced our ability to carry on while still sheltering in place:

  • Many homes already had computers with cameras, internet access, cloud drives for documents, scanners, etc. that provided the infrastructure to allow working from home to be possible
  • Amazon had the inventory and ability to deliver almost anything to your door
  • UPS and FedEx have warehouses, staff, planes and trucks to make those deliveries possible
  • Grubhub, DoorDash and many other systems were already in place to deliver from restaurants and many groceries already offered delivery services
  • Zoom and services like Facebook Live made working, schooling or attending church services from home accessible to anyone with a computer and internet
  • Online learning systems like Moodle or Canvas were already in place even for those in face-to-face instruction, long before they became the base for remote college courses
  • Many stores had already developed systems to allow for online ordering and drive-thru pickup
  • Libraries had contracts to allow online access to books, movies and magazines
  • Streaming allowed almost limitless access to enough entertainment to last through the pandemic
  • Much of banking was already conducted online and through mobile deposits
  • Telemedicine systems were already developed and available
  • Uber and Lyft could provide transportation when public transportation was reduced
  • And, of course, the power grid and bandwidth expansions that allow all our technology to run

Infrastructure isn’t sexy but it is the backbone of our ability to create and function effectively. From roads and bridges to the internet and cloud, tending to the underlying systems that make our work possible needs to remain a priority rather than an afterthought.

What other systems are you using today that have become an invisible part of your life’s fabric? Never take any of them for granted.

leadership dot #2852: sliding doors

The Gwyneth Paltrow movie Contagion is experiencing a revival but the movie of hers that more accurately sums up the COVID situation for me is Sliding Doors. In that film, the viewer sees two parallel stories – one when she catches the elevator and one where the doors slide shut before she can enter. In both scenarios, a mixture of good and bad occurs — confirming there wasn’t one perfect way for life to unfold.

I’ve thought about this movie a lot lately to help me keep perspective during the virus. I know it seems like everything that is happening is bad but there are seen and unseen benefits that will result. Things will be different than they would have been without COVID, but not necessarily worse. You may have averted being in an accident because you weren’t out on the road. On the trip you take next year instead of now, you may meet a lifelong friend. The job you didn’t get because of cancelations may free you up to create something that will result in more clients down the line. The time you spend with family now may solidify a bond that lasts a lifetime. You may have avoided getting into a damaging argument at work because the meeting where it occurred never happened. And on and on.

We’ll never know what twists our life’s path takes because of the virus – or because of any action or inaction we take every day. Instead, we need to take solace that it is what it is and make the best of the world that we find ourselves in at this moment.


leadership dot #2851: hearts

If you need any proof of the power of social media not only to share information but to inspire action, look no further than your neighborhood. Chances are good that you’ll encounter many homes displaying cut-out hearts – part of a movement appropriately called Hearts in the Windows – aiming to show love to health care workers and others on the front lines of the COVID response. Or maybe you’ll see homes with teddy bears, placed there for children to find on contactless scavenger hunt walks.

Both are symbols from growing Facebook groups to show connectedness and love in these times of isolation. On my block, there are hearts in the windows, on the sidewalks and even in yards. Lots of love being spread around!!

I remember that after 9-11 most homes displayed a flag or visible symbol of their patriotism and solidarity. Now would be a good time to display your own symbol of connection during this new national crisis.

leadership dot #2850: zoom

I, like many others, have been on a host of video conference calls lately and it has been interesting to see the backgrounds people use for their calls. The popular Zoom software allows people to replace their actual surroundings with various settings: the beach, the Golden Gate bridge, magazine covers, the outdoors, etc. And whether it’s to cover up their overdue-haircut hair, very casual attire or improvised home “office”, more and more people are opting to call utilizing virtual environments instead of real ones.

It’s a lost opportunity.

Visiting someone else’s office gives you an instantaneous glimpse into their personality and often provides a moment of connection. Seeing another’s “space” – whether their office or home – allows you to see more of their humanity, even if it involves a bit of chaos in the background.

Video conferencing is being utilized en masse to help people stay connected to each other when they are unable to be physically together. Don’t blur out a piece of yourself and replace it with something generic. Seeing you in your real environment is the window to that connection.

leadership dot #2849 A or B

Author Dan Heath provided advice on the type of feedback that was most helpful to him as he shared drafts of his books. Instead of asking for “global feedback” – for example, asking what early readers thought or how the structure was framed – he found it more productive to ask for comments on specific aspects of the book.

He likened feedback to a consumer being asked about what beer they like – it’s often hard for them to articulate. But when asked whether they like Beer A or Beer B better, people almost always instantly have a firm opinion.

Heath recommends framing your feedback questions in terms of whether people like A or B. In book terms this could translate to asking whether a specific story conveyed the point of the chapter effectively or whether the reader found a specific concept useful. Asking these types of questions – and asking them early enough in the process so you can actually use the information before you become too invested in what you have developed – has worked best for him.

Think of how you can adopt this method of inquiry to feedback that you need to receive. It can be on simple matters – instead of asking “What would you like for a snack?” instead you could ask “Would you rather have walnuts or candy?”. On work projects, you can provide an outline and ask for their opinion if section A should be before or after B. When asking someone to critique your website you may ask if the navigation button should be on the bottom or left.

Heath said that “you may get answers to meta-terms but you can’t trust them because people don’t have the language to describe” what they actually feel or mean. Especially when much of our feedback is coming remotely where we can’t pick up on body language nuances, strive to remove the vagueness and frame your requests in terms that can prove to be truly helpful.

Source: Dan Heath in So you want to write a book podcast

leadership dot #2848: three stages

In this time of uncertainty, it seems appropriate to revisit the seminal work by William Bridges on Managing Transitions. As I have shared before, Bridges believes that transitions occur in three stages:

  • First is the endings After any transition, there is a loss and an ending. Currently, people are experiencing loss of health or income but even the fortunate are experiencing the end of routine, normalcy, safety or close human contact.
  • Next comes the neutral or limbo stage. In this period, things are uncertain and unsettled. Many are in this stage now as they are adjusting to week 2 or 3 of working from home – it’s not how it will be, but it’s better than it was a week ago. The interval stage presents an opportunity to question old habits, see things with a new lens and to explore new ways of being but processes are still very much in limbo.
  • Finally, there is the beginning. In this phase, the “new” begins and people are able to craft their future and become open to growth.

As you move through the implications of COVID, acknowledge the losses that you are feeling in the transition. Recognize that you – and your family, staff, friends – are all experiencing their own individual losses. The safe, known and stable is no longer.

And it is also healthy to understand that where many are now is, at best, the neutral zone. We’re in a confusing, scrambled and dynamic time and it’s natural to temporarily be uncertain and unsettled. You won’t have to homeschool and hunt for toilet paper forever. You won’t always have “extra” time at home. Stores will reopen. People will return to offices and kids will go back to school. This is just how it is now.

It’s also important to remember that when the shelter-in-place is lifted and the crisis is deemed “over” that you’ll go through another transition: figuring out what life is like post-COVID. You’ll need to acknowledge the new losses you’ll have: being back on the road instead of at home, wearing dress clothes instead of leggings, time spent in commuting, or the struggles to enforce a rigid bedtime and alarm.

And you’ll eventually experience another interval stage, too. What conveniences will remain? Where will you eat lunch after your favorite eatery closed? How do you process the deaths of those you knew and loved? What is a staff meeting like when it is once again in person?

We’ll all come out on the other side of this as different people and everyone will undergo transitions in different ways while the new dynamics are sorted out. Be conscious of Bridges’ three phases to help you navigate these changing times.