leadership dot #2023: home stretch

I recently helped my sister complete the home stretch of submitting her doctoral dissertation. My job was to proofread the paper, help with formatting and put the list of references in proper APA style. We spent 13 hours a day, for two days, engrossed at the kitchen table completing these tasks.

In addition to learning proper comma placement for a government document/no author citation, it brought to light how we often underestimate the time it takes to create and maintain a solid infrastructure. For this paper, it required an extended period of time just to print the 216 pages, let alone proof them. I made substantial progress on a reading book while sitting at the printer waiting for the job to complete.

Our two days together was also a reminder that people bring different strengths to the table. My sister is visionary and excels at the big picture, but would have gone nuts if she had to plod through APA to get her references in order. She could do it, but it would have been harrowing. I can’t say that the task was fun for me either, but it was far better suited to my temperament.

On the next big project that you encounter, think about my sister’s dissertation. Remember that the message will be weakened if the mechanics become a distraction, so allow much more time than you expect to attend to the details and finishing touches. Find a partner with a different skill set than you have to complement the assignment of tasks and make them more palatable for all. And, of course, have more paper and toner on hand than you anticipate!

The last two days turned a draft into a dissertation. The devil isn’t in the details; the magic is.

P.S. Today is her defense: congratulations to Dr. Amy!!

leadership dot #2022: prepared

Before a snow flurry fell, I took dozens of actions to get prepared for the impending change of seasons:

Outdoors, I cleared the patio, put the hammock and grill away, moved plants indoors, cut back all the bushes, removed the hose, put my snow tires on and brought in the bird bath then the bird feeders. Inside I moved the sweaters to the prime drawer, put my sandals away, threw an extra cover on the bed, took the polish off my toes and ended pedicures. I stopped cutting the grass, bagged all the leaves and swapped the lawn mower for the snow blower in the garage.

Mother Nature sent all kinds of signals that winter was coming: the water in the dog’s dish freezes, the plants die, and gradually I go from wearing sweaters to coats to coats/mittens/scarf/hat. No one told me to stop wearing shorts or to turn off the air conditioner – it just made sense to do it.

Organizations should model their change efforts after the change in seasons. Help people understand what is coming and allow them to take steps along the way to prepare themselves physically and mentally for what is ahead. Point out the positives – like pomegranates, sweet potato fries, dogs on the bed at night and hot cocoa. Help them make minor adjustments to become ready for the new reality.

A night of steady 50mph winds brought us winter overnight and we went from 60 degrees to 30 degrees for highs. We may not like the change, but we were ready for it – which may be all you can ask for in your organization.

leadership dot #2021: waiting

While the hustle and bustle of the holidays swirled around me, I found myself sitting in a room with my siblings, aunt and uncle with nothing to do. We were all at the hospital while my mom underwent surgery so no one wanted to leave, but there was really no other option except to sit and wait. And tell stories.

We talked more in those few hours than we have in the past year. We heard about our grandparents, our mom growing up, what the third cousins are doing and other family news that would normally not be shared except via Facebook.

I see these relatives every Christmas, but normally the conversation revolves around the basketball game on television, what presents were under the tree, the meal and its preparation/clean up or other trivial chat. There are so many diversions and so many in attendance that the dialogue is exchanged in snippets, not paragraphs, unlike during the long hours in the hospital waiting room.

Don’t wait for a somber occasion to slow down the clock and have a good old-fashioned story hour with some of your relatives. Use the upcoming holiday gatherings to pull up a chair and actually talk with each other, sans technology, and learn a bit more about those roots on your family tree.

leadership dot #2020: spelling

For many people, myself included, dictionaries are about the spelling and looking up how to properly do that vs learning what the meaning or root cause of the word might be. One of my very favorite apps is dictionary.com. It says a lot about how I spend my time!

Having an electronic version makes it nice that I don’t have to lug a big dictionary around with me, but what I really love is the “did you mean?” feature. When you look up words in a print version— presumably because you don’t know how to spell them, you are left with no assistance if you are off the mark. But dictionary.com will provide you with a whole list of related or possible suggestions — and presto you can insert it and be in your way.

Think about how your organization operates. Are you like the print dictionary where all the information is there and fully accessible to clients — IF they know what to ask or where to look? Or are you like the app where you provide all the same resources PLUS anticipate what your clients might really mean and give it to them in that format instead?

There is a reason the print version is yellowing on my shelf.

leadership dot #2019: cut

There are so many actions that we take that can’t be undone: cutting a piece of lumber, trimming your hair or filing down fingernails – once it’s done you can’t go back. I learned this lesson the hard way after my laser surgery and the subsequent smoothing out of my tooth – the periodontist was a bit too aggressive and there is no “putting just a bit more back on.” It is what it is, even though It affects me every day.

When you are making a decision or doing something that is unable to be reversed, take that extra moment to follow the old carpenter’s adage: “Measure twice, cut once.” It’s sound advice for everyone.

leadership dot #2018: trigger

A great way to get gift-giving ideas is to walk the scrapbooking aisle at a craft store. There, amongst the paper themes and sticker collections, you will find a visual gallery of niches to inspire you. You’ll be able to glean ideas of many hobbies/interests/demographics/backgrounds and hopefully connect one to a similar interest your recipient has. While the stickers won’t be your actual gift, a quick search on Etsy or Google will provide you with a host of gift-giving options to fit that niche.

It’s hard to come up with ideas from scratch so you can use the scrapbooking options as a trigger for other things. And believe me, stickers come in every niche: high school band, Germany, wine lovers, dancers, hunters, firefighters and beyond.

Take advantage of the idea gallery just waiting at your local craft store and see if a gift-giving idea doesn’t stick.

Thanks, Tracy!

leadership dot #2017: portrait

One of the nicest traditions of December is the Help-Portrait project, where those with talents in photography, hair or makeup provide photographs for anyone in need. The goal is to create a smile and a memory for those who could not otherwise afford to have their picture taken.

I learned of this project through a colleague whose campus sponsors a Help-Portrait session every December. It is one of the most rewarding programs they host, as families are given a gift that will last for generations.

My childhood home was lined with portraits: each of us at 3 months, 6 months and every year thereafter through high school. Multiply that by five kids and there was a rotating art gallery of favorites. I think of the families who are not fortunate enough to capture these memories, or even to afford school pictures each year. The Help-Portrait meets that need for them.

We normally think of taking pictures, but these are the portraits that give. You don’t have to be a professional or create an elaborate event to give the gift of photography to another this holiday season. Consider organizing a Help-Portrait event instead of another holiday party and provide a memorable evening for all.

Thanks, Dave!