Intentionally connecting the dots in life and in organizations
Author: leadership dots by dr. beth triplett
Dr. beth triplett is the owner of leadership dots, offering coaching, training and consulting for new supervisors. She also shares daily lessons on her leadershipdots blog. Her work is based on the leadership dots philosophy that change happens through the intentional connecting of small steps in the short term to the big picture in the long term.
Rather than trying to figure out how to get customers to come to you, maybe the answer is to go to them instead. Chicago Public Libraries did this with their innovative program that offers story hour in laundromats throughout low-income neighborhoods in the city.
It’s the perfect setting for outreach: bored kids, parents available for large blocks of time and frequency as most do their laundry every week. The librarians bring stories and games to create awareness of the library, demonstrate modeling to the parents and build literacy skills in the children. It is a win-win-win.
The laundromat is an untapped resource for all sorts of other activities that could benefit from the confluence of kids, parents and time. Organizations could offer activities, music lessons or camps, community groups like scouting or 4H could host meetings there, companies could hold focus groups or taste testing with a captive audience or schools could conduct professional development classes like financial literacy or ESL.
The neighborhood laundromat is a hub for a lot more than just washers and dryers. Follow the library’s example and capitalize on a population just waiting for engagement.
I wrote last week about Goose Island’s ingenious plan to offer free beer for a year to any of the “armchair kickers” who could make a 43-yard field goal – the distance that the Bears’ kicker missed in the playoff game.
They put this stunt together on the fly – and it had a major kink in it: giving away free beer in Illinois is illegal. So, they punted that plan and offered a free ticket to any NFL game instead. Not as glamorous, but still a nice prize.
No one won it.
None of the 100 participants could make the kick, although some did provide some entertaining flubs in the process. As expected, the promotion drew a crowd well beyond the participants, garnered extensive news coverage, and probably made a few people think twice about how difficult the kick really was (all without the defense rushing at you and blocking it with their hand — the NFL actually ruled the Bears kick as a block, not a miss).
In addition to silencing 100 of Cody Parkey’s critics, Goose Island also donated $20,000 to the Bears kicker’s favorite charity. Nice gesture!
All in all, the field kick promotion was timely, creative and a great way to tap into Goose Island’s target market. Follow their example and jump on spontaneous branding opportunities that occur. Even if you have to punt and make a few modifications along the way, you still score big in the end.
If your signature beer is a dark stout, why not carry the darkness theme throughout your whole company? Surly Brewery in Minneapolis has done just that and modeled their whole organization along with a brusque theme.
No light fluffiness or pumpkin spice here: their beers have names like Overrated, Furious, Todd the Axe Man, Fiery Hell, Cynic, Sour and Dumpster Fire. Their corporate volunteerism is called “Give a Damn”. Their website is in dark colors and sassy language.
And it’s working for them. They produce over 29 million pints/year. Their city-block-sized Beer Hall and pizza gardens are overflowing. The gift store is a tourist attraction in itself.
Not all messaging or themes need to be full of unicorns and rainbows. Use Surly’s darkness as an example of how authenticity in your branding can shine the light on your products.
Every second Wednesday of the month, literally for five decades, my parents had dinner with another couple. For my whole life, we knew that “Dinner Club” was a sacred time not to be interrupted – as kids we were banished from the living areas and as we grew older, we knew that anything else had to be scheduled around it.
These two couples traded off cooking dinner in their homes every month, often coming up with themed menus, costumes and decorations. They carved out this time through raising multiple children each and living an hour apart, but somehow, they always managed to have that evening together.
As I reflect on the funeral of the final surviving member of the quartet today, I think about how this crazy Dinner Club of theirs modeled what a commitment to friendship looks like. It’s not just an occasional call (or now staying in touch via social media), rather it involves making the time to actually be together in person. It means setting plans on a regular basis and keeping them, despite strains on time, budget or babysitters. It means the children of your friends drive hours to attend funerals because they know what the relationship meant to their parents.
You can have many acquaintances, but it is a gift if you have a few good friends. Treasure those that are in your close circle and make it a priority to laugh together face-to-face.
A colleague recently remarked: “As the leader, I have one foot in the here and now and another foot in the future. My job is to figure out how to marry the two.”
It is an insightful observation and an ongoing challenge to balance what are often competing demands. There is urgency in the present but opportunity in the long-term. There are many others who are working in the daily operations and it can be lonely thinking about what lies ahead. The present is much more concrete and tangible while the future is replete with unknowns and ambiguity.
As a leader, you need to create your own system for juggling this continual tension. Carve out time on your calendar for planning and reflection. Attend professional development opportunities that focus on strategy rather than tactics. Have tools that trigger you for events months in advance. Cultivate a network that challenges your thinking and pushes you to think beyond the day-to-day.
Leading in the present is only half the role. Your organization and team count on you to take that other step to lead them into the future as well.
I received an email from a former colleague who was alone in a hotel room – reminiscing about the time she and I attended a conference and roomed together so another colleague could have a room alone. The thing is, that was twenty years ago!
I have absolutely no recollection of the action, but it has stuck with her for two decades. She wrote: “I’ll never forget how you roomed with me because you felt [our colleague] would appreciate her own room since she had kids at home. I was always struck by your insight. Today I find myself alone in a hotel room. It’s heavenly!!!”
In ways that you don’t notice or expect, your actions are shaping the culture and communicating to others what is important. People take cues and make meaning out of the smallest actions – and may remember them decades later. As I teach my leadership class, everyone is watching the behavior of the leader. Be intentional about what there is to see.