Intentionally connecting the dots in life and in organizations
Author: leadership dots by dr. beth triplett
I'm the chief connector at leadership dots where I serve as "the string" for individuals and organizations. Like stringing pearls together to make a necklace, "being the string" is an intentional way of thinking and behaving – making linkages between things that otherwise appear random or unconnected – whether that be supervising a staff, completing a dissertation or advancing a project in the workplace. I share daily leadership dots on my blog to provide examples of “the string” in action.
I use the string philosophy through coaching, consulting and teaching to help others build capacity in themselves and their organizations. I craft analogies and metaphors that help people comprehend complex topics and understand their role in the system. My favorite work involves helping those new to supervision or newly promoted supervisors build confidence and learn the skills necessary to effectively lead their team.
When you’re involved in any type of change effort it’s natural to focus on the future. But we often get so caught up in what we want to have happen or what we’re trying to make happen that we forget to take that moment and reflect on the change process itself. More specifically, we fail to look back and capture the decisions that we wrestled with, the inflection points that shaped what came after them, the struggles and steps just to get started, or the first glimmers of success.
By the time a project is over, all those memories are overshadowed by the present and we lose the opportunity to learn from them. In contrast, if we document some of the earliest stages of a change effort we can use the learning as a reminder the next time we’re fresh out of the gate and feel like we’re not making any progress at all. We can see that it took us a few months to align our human infrastructure and figure out a game plan. We can be reminded that some of those earliest choices are the most important ones as they shape everything else. We can reflect on where we need to move more quickly and where going slower is ultimately more prudent.
The next time you embark on a new initiative, set some reminders to pause and take stock of what you’ve been up to. Looking back at the early, small steps can be invaluable knowledge in the future.
When most people think about being lucky, what comes to mind is an event or situation that proves to be beneficial. But in his book BE 2.0, master teacher Jim Collins describes another phenomenon that can have a greater impact on your outcomes — that of “who luck.” Collins describes this as finding that key person in your life whether it be a mentor, partner, colleague, boss, or friend — someone who alters your life by crossing your path.
Collins believes that his life is shaped more by the “whos” than the “whats” that brought him good fortune, and if you reflect on your own circumstances the same is probably true. The right people can bring us success at our joint pursuits, open up opportunities, or simply make our lives fun.
Think about the people who have been “who luck” for you. I know my former boss/now friend is on the top of the list, and as a result of his greatness, I have a host of colleagues who joined in working for him and creating most of my professional highlights. Earlier bosses served as mentors and changed the trajectory of my career. I also had “who luck” to land with the best bunch of siblings.
Take a moment to reflect on — and appreciate — those with whom you have been lucky to cross paths, and attempt to be the one who provides “who luck” to others who cross yours. It is the people that make the magic, not the events.
Source: BE 2.0 Turning your business into an enduring great company by Jim Collins and Bill Lazier, 2020
I have written before (dot 2202 and dot 2672) about my pearl analogy — how small strengths, initiatives, or programs can be strung together to form a “necklace” or cohesive whole. The string that serves as the through-line is a critical element — if you aren’t sure what you’re trying to achieve, it’s hard to know which “pearls” should be included and which are distractions.
But I think the most important part of the necklace is the clasp. The clasp is the element that not only holds it together in the short term, it also ensures viability over time. The connector keeps the pearls from entropy — falling off when people are no longer paying attention to assembling them. In a project, the metaphorical “clasp” is often overlooked — people are so excited to have all the pearls strung that they rejoice in the moment and fail to take those extra steps to strengthen the work for the future.
A string with a bunch of pearls is not a necklace without a clasp. Don’t stop short of making that final connection that allows the work to be useful for years to come.
A friend was sharing about his earlier years which included being a smoker. He recounted how he tried numerous methods to kick the habit: declaring his intentions publicly, tossing his supply, and giving himself incentives but none of them lasted. When I asked how he finally stopped, he said: “I ran out of cigarettes and just didn’t buy anymore.” He didn’t proclaim that he was quitting; he just made the choice and honored it.
What is the parallel action in your life where you can make an internal declaration without fanfare and stick to it? Maybe you start walking or running every day. You elect to make one healthy choice at every meal. Perhaps you give up soda. Do meditation each morning. Save $X from each paycheck. Publish a blog.
Sometimes the buildup or dread is worse than the action itself. If something is important for you to start or stop, make that your next move instead of all the ancillary acts around it. As Nike reminds us, “Just Do It.” Without a fuss.
I’ve been having some trouble with one of my ears and the first time I went to the otolaryngologist, he recommended a steroid shot into my inner ear. I said “N.O. way.” We tried some other treatments but they had no results, so, very reluctantly, I conceded to have the shot. Not just one, but three over the course of three weeks.
While the shots did not yield the impact I had hoped for, I did live through them. I will even admit that with the initial numbing medicine, they weren’t as bad as I imagined in my mind. And I need to remind myself that if I had done them in the first place, I could have avoided the terrible side effects from the first treatment that was far worse than the shots.
Eleanor Roosevelt said: “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” She was right. We can do that thing. We can get the injections. We can fire the star performer if there are ethics violations. We can rebuild after tragedy. We can grunt through one more task to finish that project.
Your mind may scream “no” but if your gut knows it’s what you should be doing, let your mouth say “yes.”
An interesting factoid — 92% of people would rather talk about their dog than any other subject. Ok, I read it in an advertisement for dog treats but I believe that it’s true — or at least it is for me. Ask me about my dogs and I get chatty!
Pets are a source of joy for people — close to their hearts but not too personal to share. Keep this in mind the next time you’re with a group of strangers and need to strike up a conversation. You could ask: “Any four-legged members of your family?” or “Who has puppy stories to share?” or “My dog makes me laugh — how about yours?”
Just as pets wiggle their way into your heart, let them do the same with your conversation. Human tongues will be wagging!
Think of how many millions have been made because of the flavor pumpkin spice. What started off as a coffee enhancement has morphed into just about every product imaginable: breads, cereals, nuts, candles, soaps, sanitizers — if it is scented, I guarantee that pumpkin spice is an option. I even saw a cartoon that parodied offering “pumpkin spice vaccines” since everyone seems to be attracted to whatever is offered in that flavor!
Can your organization jump on the bandwagon? Even adding some pumpkins to your print subliminally links you to something that is popular with the masses. As the fall weather changes, your offerings might benefit from a bit of spicing up, too.
When I think of Legos, I think of little kids sitting around a pile of them building things but the company sees it differently. Legos is deep into the adult market and is continually adding kits that challenge the patience, dexterity, and wallet of their customer.
Whereas model cars used to be built with assembly kits and glue, today’s gearhead can buy Legos for many special models, including the Porsche 911, and Ferraris. Lego announced that they are adding a bonsai tree package and a floral bouquet collection that are designed to “encourage mindfulness” in adults. Each kit has over 700 pieces for people to inadvertently step on!
Lego kits also continue to become more elaborate. You can make a model of the White House or Disney Castle with Legos. A Colosseum kit retails for $549.99! The Imperial Star Destroyer is $699.99! Many others are several hundred dollars and are still back-ordered or listed as “hard to find.”
Think about your audience. Have you focused something only on youth that could also be adapted for adults? Or in reverse, could children benefit from a “young-adult” version of your service as many authors have done? Age is fluid in people’s minds — and should be in your targeting.
I was asked to teach a Global Business Communication class and said yes, even though I have no personal experience with the subject. Despite that (or maybe it’s because of that?), class is going exceedingly well. I brought in guest speakers each week to bring to life their stories from different countries. I have empowered the students to research and share. We have done debates, a simulation, skits, and case studies that have added to the understanding. We are all learning a lot.
I shared this example with a coaching client to illustrate that he doesn’t have to be the expert in something to be effective. Maybe his talent lies in curation, facilitation, or empowerment. Instead of lamenting that he doesn’t know everything about a subject, he could redirect that energy to assemble a few people who could contribute or crowdsource for ideas on one of many platforms.
It reminds me of the story of Rob McEwen* who purchased an abandoned gold mine and had no luck in finding anything of value, so he shared his seismic maps and offered $500,000 to anyone who could tell him where to look. He received 1400 responses from people using a variety of techniques and found $39 billion worth of gold!
We put too much pressure on ourselves to know it all. The real genius comes from being humble enough to ask for input and a willingness to co-create.
*Source: Create the Future by Jeremy Gutsche, Fast Company Press, 2020, p. 112-113.
In addition to sparking my curiosity about minimalism, the movie Nomadland shed a light on the modern-day transience of a group of people — and reinforced the importance of belonging. You may think that those who live in a van or RV roam aimlessly and alone, but the movie portrayed much more intentionality and structure to their movement and highlighted the communities they create along the way.
Many of today’s nomads go from seasonal-job to seasonal-job, working in such places as warehouses during the holidays and in hospitality during the summer tourist season. They have a routine where they return to the same locations — thus know others and have friends. Nomads often rotate between designated RV parks, again where they build community and rekindle relationships, creating a neighborhood complete with entertainment (e.g. outdoor movies or campfires) and camaraderie. While they do not have houses the modern-day nomads depicted in the film certainly have homes.
I thought about this lifestyle as many organizations wrestle with the question of remote work. It may seem that the employee is requesting to detach from the culture that is built in person but there may be a way to create routines and protocols that create community even from a fluctuating base.
The need to belong is powerful. Capitalize on that desire to create opportunities for those with less anchoring to still feel the connection to the whole.