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.
There has been much written about the importance of developing habits that you tend to daily but I think that oftentimes puts unnecessary pressure on people. Jerry Seinfeld is known for his calendar where he placed a big “X” if he wrote a joke that day, but did it really need to be so rigid?
Especially in these unusual times, providing yourself with some grace and flexibility may do more to help you actually achieve your goals. For example:
Set your goal to reach out to 10 customers/week instead of holding yourself accountable to two per day.
Instead of saying you’ll read every night, make it your goal to read two books/month.
Rather than committing write a daily dot, I pledge to publish one, allowing me the flexibility to write in advance.
Pledge to walk 70,000 steps each week instead of feeling bad if you don’t get in your 10,000 each day.
By building in some flexibility into your goal-setting, you’ll have the opportunity to achieve your end result without the guilt of straying from your linear schedule. In the end, it’s the accomplishment, not the tracking that matters. Take realism into account and give yourself the latitude to stay focused on the big picture, even when life intervenes.
What do turkey feathers, highway drainage pipes, a newspaper for antique collectors and zipper stops have in common? They seem like lowly items that could pass through the world unnoticed, but each of these products made their founders so much money that they could literally give millions of dollars away.
Edward Warren had the insight to substitute turkey feathers into corsets, providing strength yet flexibility, and his success in the garment world provided him with the resources to gift 1,952 acres for Warren Dunes State Park, including three miles of pristine beach along the shores of Lake Michigan that now benefit over a million visitors each year.
Joe Chlapaty has already donated over $80 million to his alma mater, a sliver of wealth earned from Advanced Drainage Systems, his company that makes the unglamorous yet in-demand plastic corrugated pipe that lines highways and drainage ditches across the country.
The Antique Trader, a newspaper (in the pre-internet era) for antique collectors, became so popular that it allowed founder Edward Babka to donate $60 million to his hometown university in addition to the other projects he had already funded on campus and throughout the city.
Irwin Zahn created a machine that allowed blue jean manufacturers to crimp brass around the bottoms of zippers, and his handy zipper stop helped fund assets in excess of $23 million for the Moxie Foundation before it began to sunset.
When we think of inventors, often the famous come to mind. Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, or Steve Jobs. All are worthy of their praise and attention but few of us will achieve that legendary status. Instead, strive to be like Warren, Chlapaty, Babka or Zahn – and be someone who sees a need for the ordinary and functional – and fills it in a way that improves not just the process, but hopefully creates a legacy to leave behind as well.
If only everyone would adapt as quickly as manufacturers to the pandemic! If you walk in any store or scroll through your social media feed, you’ll find a host of products targeted at new needs. There are “Hygiene Hands” and “Germ Keys” to allow you to be touchless, a full fashion assortment of masks, screen backgrounds to set up a home studio, UVC light and sanitizers in every size. Companies have jumped on the bandwagon to promote branded masks and virtual backgrounds – things that would have been laughed at in January but are now in hot demand.
Retailers have rearranged their space to provide a full selection of pandemic-related products in the front of their store or an aisle of masks along with the school supplies. They are capitalizing on new demand and leveraging their ability to meet it.
And what about your organization? Have you introduced new offerings in light of all the changes 2020 has brought? Have you shifted how you feature things, maybe resurrecting that previous resource that suddenly has new relevance? Or created new training for staff that focuses on wellness or physical safety instead of traditional professional development?
It’s time to reevaluate your branding and your services to see if some rearranging might be warranted to meet the needs of today.
How’s this for a bucket list: walk in space and reach the deepest point in the ocean? Most people would never achieve either but Kathy Sullivan has completed both. She was the first woman to walk in space (in 1984) and this summer was part of an expedition that reached the Challenger Deep, nearly 7 miles below the surface.
Kathy Sullivan was trained as a geologist, became an astronaut, eventually was appointed as the Administrator for the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). When the current administration ended her tenure*, what’s an ex-astronaut to do except get involved with exploring the underside of the Earth instead of the skies above it.
Unlike Kathy, most of us don’t think big enough. Take a moment this weekend to think about your bucket list. Maybe space and the ocean depths are out of your league, but surely you can stretch more than going on a trip or becoming your ideal weight. It’s never too late to expand your world.
*read more about this in Michael Lewis’ The Fifth Risk
If you have to deliver bad news, follow this advice shared with my sister long ago: create a visual with the undesirable message and direct your participants’ attention to it as you present. The goal is to have their memory of the unpleasantness associated with something other than you!
The visual doesn’t have to be fancy or formal: it can be budget figures written on a whiteboard, a new structure drawn out on a flip chart or a PowerPoint slide that outlines the changes – anything that focuses the attention “over there” instead of on you personally. It’s a small thing but over time you don’t want the image of your face popping into your team’s head when remembering bad news.
Separate the message from you personally by diverting their attention to “there.”
In Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham, the main character protests over and over that he does not like green eggs and ham – until he tries them. I feel a bit like that about remote presenting.
While there is still nothing that compares to the value of face-to-face, I’ve come to see the benefits that can accrue from synchronous instruction. Video conferencing platforms allow for multiple ways to input – verbally, written via chat, or more privately through breakout sessions – and have elicited feedback from those who may have remained silent in a large group setting. I’ve benefitted from the opportunity to do show and tell, bring in guest speakers from out of state, and to meet some of the family members and pets. Each time I present, I’m learning how to add a new feature or try a new technique – providing me with professional development in the process.
It helps that both the participants and I are becoming more equipped and comfortable with the technology that is used. It doesn’t seem so foreign anymore and we’re able to spend more time on the content than the process of accessing it. Being remote has even allowed for greater follow-up options and individual consultations that may not have been possible with pre-COVID travel schedules.
While white eggs are still preferable to the metaphorical green ones, my earlier hesitations were overblown. Is there a similar situation that you’re facing where you keep putting off something that you have not even tried? Are you avoiding the “green eggs” on principle, without having proven reasons for your dislike? Maybe it’s time to try a helping. You may be pleasantly surprised.
If you watched the early days of Grey’s Anatomy, you’ll know that Meredith and Christina always referred to each other as “their person.” They were the Plus One who provided a support system that ensured they weren’t going through life alone.
In the coaching work that I do, I feel like “the person” for most of my calls. It isn’t that I have an abundance of brilliant insights, rather that I’m there for someone to talk through their issues and have someone to reflect back what they are hearing. Work challenges can be lonely, as they often involve colleagues or supervisors making it awkward to process things with them, so it’s much more helpful to have a neutral “person” to serve in that sounding board role.
I believe that everyone is better with “a person.” Hopefully, you’re fortunate enough to have someone in that role for life issues: a sibling, partner or BFF. Make sure you have that capacity for work issues, too. Maybe it’s someone else in your industry, a colleague from your past employment or volunteer work, or a coaching relationship – but we all need someone in our corner to listen, prod, push and to create a safe space to process the hard stuff.
The water from the hose I was using to fill my birdbath suddenly stopped flowing. I turned to discover that it had gotten a kink in the hose. A perfectly good hose with one kink stopped everything.
The same is true with your staff: one kink (i.e. a troublesome employee) can halt the efforts of your entire team. As a supervisor, you may be tempted to overlook this temporary disruption and justify in your mind that it isn’t always that way, that sometimes the process flows smoothly, but unless you tend to the issue swiftly, everything else will slow to a trickle.
Today is the International Day of Peace, a United Nations-sanctioned holiday that is commemorated around the world. The day is designed to encourage people to pause and “for all humanity to commit to Peace above all differences.”
The UN Resolution that established the day calls for 24-hours of nonviolence and ceasefire. While I doubt that many readers of the dots walk around with literal weapons or impose physical violence, I believe that all of us are guilty of disrupting the peace through making misspoken comments, causing unintentional hurts or allowing unresolved conflicts to fester in our relationships.
As the elections draw nearer, the pandemic tests our patience and the uncertainty that surrounds us takes its toll it becomes more frequent that our actions can cause discord more than they forge harmony. For today, make your own commitment to encourage peace – in your home, your community and in your heart.
It can be tough to be upbeat as the pandemic lingers on so we need to infuse positive self-talk and affirmations wherever we can. Such was the idea behind Notes to Self socks that come with positive messages sewn into the material.
Founder Laura Schmidt read that the subconscious mind is most open to new thoughts in the morning and evening and decided to leverage one of the activities people routinely perform at that time – getting dressed/undressed. Notes to Self socks are designed to provide a quick word of encouragement that will last throughout the day: I am strong, I am a great teacher, I am confident, I believe, etc.
Two lessons to take from this: 1) capitalize on existing habits to add some positivity and affirmations into your life and 2) pay attention to those fleeting ideas that you have, even if they seem a bit crazy. Sewing affirmations onto socks may be outside the mainstream, but they have sold “hundreds of thousands” of them as well as donating over 70,000 pair to homeless shelters.
Rather than just a Post-it note of kind words on your mirror, maybe times call for wearing your affirmations around with you all day!