leadership dot #2913: pup cup

If you want an example of knowing your audience, Dairy Queen’s Pup Cup may be it. The local establishment sells ice cream, of course, to owners of dogs who want to provide a treat for their canine “kids.” But to make the item special the DQ includes a Milk Bone on top.

That bone is not there for the dog; it’s there for the human. It’s not as if the dog is asking for either the dessert or the treat, but by catering to the pet parents Dairy Queen can generate additional business for itself from those who want to spoil their companions.

Think about who your true influencer is. The dog may be the end user, but the human is the one handing over the cash. Whose tail should you try to make wag?

leadership dot #2912: surrender

I was able to get my hair cut yesterday after missing four appointments as a result of the virus. There are many times between my regular three-week visits that the length or thickness of my hair makes me crazy and I am anxious to see my stylist, but, unbelievably, this wasn’t one of them.

When my hair started to grow out during the early days of shelter-in-place, it made me go nuts. But after a while, I just gave up and by last week, I was wearing it around the house using the band from my journal as an improvised headband. It wasn’t worth the mental energy to fight with it anymore.

The same is true in many other situations. People are bothered by being “a little” wet, but at some point, to fight it is moot. It matters when you are somewhat tired but then you reach a stage where the exhaustion turns to giddiness and you stop suppressing the yawns. You may try to stay clean when working outdoors, then a little mud turns into a lot and you just give up. You may get worked up every single time you do your expense reports, but is it worth it?

The trick is figuring out where that resignation point is and acknowledging it. Save yourself the annoyance and mental energy that it takes to fight with yourself as you try and manage something which is futile to control. To use Elsa’s famous phrase: “let it go!” Surrender and you can be at peace.

leadership dot #2911: what and how

There are two parts to storytelling – you have to know the story and you have to know how to tell it. We often consider the process as a whole, but the two elements are distinct and separate.

There are many examples where this challenge plays out. I see people of all ages struggle with articulating their strengths – understanding what they even are, let alone communicating them in a resume or cover letter. Leaders are often aware of the accomplishments of their organization, but become challenged in making them concise and compelling in media or grants. Organizational leaders right now are wondering whether or not to put out a message about the social unrest – they have a vehicle to share a message, but are wrestling with what to say or what story they have to tell. Every day I have to dig deep to determine not only a message for a dot, but a lesson that has relevance to those reading it.

I think it makes our communication more effective if we treat the knowing and telling as two components instead of one. Begin with the story itself — raising your consciousness of what makes you or your organization different from others in a similar role, keeping track of anecdotes and figures that bring the story to life, and always being mindful of the environment and the messages that are currently relevant to your audience. Then you can focus on how to tell the story – relying on past experiences regarding the most effective media to reach your clients, drawing on lessons you’ve gleaned from other writing that struck a chord with you, and utilizing an established look/tone/voice to communicate your messages.

Think about what you’re best at – what you say or how you say it – and work to find others to help you enhance your weaker part. To be effective, you need to have both elements in synch.


leadership dot #2910: how to

YouTube has become the go-to resource for learning how to do things. Want to fix your pipe? Learn how to record a podcast? Know how to teach your child math? There’s likely a video showing you precisely what you need to do. YouTube is the second-most visited site in the world with 30 million visitors and 5 billion new uploads – each day!

This kind of volume makes YouTube a great resource for learning – and its heft shapes the consciousness and expectations of everyone. Over a trillion people have used the service, frequently finding it a straightforward and easy way to fix or create something.

But there are many things in our organizations and lives that can’t be taught in a short video snippet. Systemic change, deep-seated healing, organizational culture and relationship building don’t occur in a 30-minute how-to. People may wish they did, but it doesn’t work that way. There is no YouTube video on how to magically cure the virus, mitigate the impact of racism, stop police brutality or revitalize a crippled economy.

The serious work that needs to be done – the real work that makes an impact – doesn’t come with a 5 Steps Checklist on how to do it. As an organizational leader or concerned citizen, you may be tempted to focus on the urgent and look for that quick fix. But if you can put your strategy on YouTube, it’s the wrong one. The answer you need requires grace, time, openness, action and missteps. “How to” on the important stuff is all about hard, not easy, but must begin within each of us.


leadership dot #2909: OPOQ

Back in the day when I worked at a drug store, we had coding on the shelves that served as our inventory and ordering system. Two simple numbers helped keep the shelves stocked — OPOQ: Order Point Order Quantity. In other words, a 2/4 meant that when there were only two of those items remaining (order point) it was time to order 4 more (order quantity). It took the guesswork out of the process and allowed a high school student like myself to manage the ordering for the department because there were clear guidelines on when it was time to act.

I think that OPOQ can serve as a useful point of documentation for not only office supplies and pantry items but as a type of gauge to have conversations about comfort level with risk. Think of Order Point as Action Point – at what stage should action be triggered?

You and your manager (or partner) should agree on parameters by which action should be taken or when the other needs to be informed. You likely won’t quantify it with a simple two-digit number, but a shared understanding is very helpful of whether tolerance is low or high, whether you have the autonomy to act or need to check-in, and the level of communication that the other would like to receive. If one person is likely to observe a situation and let it play out before intervening (a high action point), and the other believes in course corrections as soon as a deviation is noted (a low action point) – it would be beneficial to know this and come to some agreement before being faced with a decision-warranting scenario. Similar discussions in advance about the amount of action that is required (action quantity) in hypothetical situations could also prove worthwhile instead of learning the information during real dramas as they are playing out.

What’s your personal OPOQ? Pay attention to your own behavior and see if you can develop an understanding of where you fall on the action/response spectrum to allow you to communicate those values to others.

P.S.  Happy 8th Anniversary Leadership Dots!


leadership dot #2908: promises

At long last, I was able to take my very dirty dogs to a grooming appointment. The groomer said: “Oh, it shouldn’t be long for just a bath.” As a result, I opted not to go home, expecting a phone call in about an hour or so. Two and a half hours later, I went back in only to learn that one dog was still wet and had not yet been trimmed!

That same day, I received a package in the mail. This was an item that was originally billed as “two-day shipping” and it actually took four, but they told me that it would take five days so I was actually excited that it came “early.”

It’s all about the expectations. Had my groomer said: “See you in three hours,” I would have gone home, gotten work accomplished and been fine with it. As it was, my interpretation of “not long” caused me to be furious about the whole situation. Never mind how clean the dogs were – it was a bad experience.

Contrast that with a company who took twice as long as normal to ship an item, but made me happy about it because they set my expectations for it to be even longer. It’s much better than other retailers who have taken longer to ship things, did not pre-warn me about delays, and then tried to mollify the situation by offering a coupon with the late delivery. It doesn’t work that way.

People can tolerate a lot of things – if their expectations are aligned with reality. It’s part of what makes COVID harder – original expectations were for a few weeks or maybe a month, but never through all of 2020.

Give great care to the expectations you set – whether stated or implicit. You can delight people but only if you manage promises carefully so you are able to deliver more than people expect.

leadership dot #2907: don’t

In yesterday’s dot, I recommended adding smell to the repertoire of tools you use to shape your brand or environment. But some brands have taken it over the top.

My personal (least) favorite: McDonald’s candles. Who thought it would be a good idea to have a candle that smells like bun, onion or beef? The six scents are meant to be burned together (another crazy idea) with candles of ketchup, pickle and cheese to replicate a Quarter Pounder. No thanks!

The New York Times issued a candle that had the scent of newsprint and ink – something that may need to be preserved for future generations and Peeps allows you to fill your space with the “fragrance” of Marshmallow Chicks. Many other brands have unofficial candle options crafted by those on Etsy.

Having people love your brand enough that they want to experience it in many forms is admirable but for most companies, having your own candle scent is nonsensical.

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Just don’t.


Thanks, Meg!