leadership dot #3672: just did

I had a conversation with a colleague whose employee has just resigned. As she prepares for the transition in his final days, she has been reviewing a list of tasks he has prepared so she can assign his duties to others. This will work well — until something arises that he “just did” and did not think to put on the list. “You don’t realize what people do until they don’t,” she said. How true!

It happens at work, of course, but also at home when one of those in the household is unavailable. Locations of supplies or equipment. Passwords. Maintenance items. Shopping and inventory management. Financial responsibilities. The list goes on.

There are so many tasks that we “just do” without thought or effort, but for others to do them requires both. Prepare in advance for your absence by maintaining an ongoing resource of key information that others would need if you were out of commission or move on — or better yet, trade-off duties with others so you are not the only keeper of the knowledge.

Whether due to your absence, resignation, or death, you’re not going to be the one doing it forever. Don’t act like you are.

Thanks, Natalie!

leadership dot #3671: civic duty

The newly-elected second President John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail about the transfer of power between himself and George Washington. Adams noted Washington’s jovial mood and wrote: “Methought I heard him think Ay! I am fairly out and you fairly in! See which of us will be happiest.”

On this day when we celebrate our independence, Washington and Adams provide a good reminder that democracy is not easy. To keep America as the Land of the Free, we must all become engaged in civic duty. It is essential — but not enough — to vote. We need to be active participants in the political or legislative process.

The Fourth of July is about more than fireworks. Let the day remind you that independence came at a cost, and it requires continual sacrifices to maintain it.

leadership dot #3670: personal

Many retailers partner with charitable organizations to encourage customers to add a donation to their purchases. Our local Walmart added a twist to the solicitation by hanging signs at each register that read: “My goal is $100. Will you please help me reach my goal by making a donation?

By making the appeal a bit more personal, I presume that it increased donations or at least added to the cashier’s motivation to ask for them. Instead of having customers feel like their dollars were going to a far-off research hospital, the extra contribution was much more immediate — helping the person right in front of them.

Creating this hyper-local impact was a great idea. The next time you need to make an ask — for a favor or funds — make it as personal as you can. People are much more inclined to assist something or someone close to them.

leadership dot #3669: beautify

Are my eyebrows Stud or Strut? Those are the actual names of Mac Brow Stylers, and I certainly couldn’t tell from the microscopic color sample on the web. To me, it was a toss-up between Stud, Strut, Fling, and Genuine Aube, resulting in a trip to the mall to ascertain the difference in person.

The plethora of beauty products and the useless names that companies give them have combined to create an explosion of in-person retail outlets. Even though there is an Ulta store a stone’s throw away, our tiny Target has done a multi-million-dollar renovation and devoted an inordinate amount of space to cosmetic display tables with new lighting. Kohl’s has seen fit also to do a major renovation that reduces the footage of items-you-can-only-get-at-Kohl’s and dedicates it to the second Sephora outlet in a town of 60,000. Not to be left behind, Walgreen’s is also redesigning its store to put those pricey beauty products in a more prominent location.

It seems that retailers have determined that, at least for the first purchase, cosmetics are tactical and one of those things people still want to buy in a store. The margins are high, the demand seemingly great, and the number of products is never-ending.

Maybe it’s time that you reviewed your space allocations, too. Can you reduce your front area since you have less traffic with people working from home? Should your guest room become a true home office? Does your backroom have the space it needs to handle your infrastructure and security functions? Would the porch get more use if renovated into a sunroom? Take a lesson from the big retailers and beautify your square footage to achieve maximum value from the space you already have.

leadership dot #3668: API

There is a small sticker on my computer keyboard that reads: API. It’s the abbreviation for Assume Positive Intent, put there as a reminder to me before I fire off a nastygram or an email that will have a tone I later wish to retract.

Many business leaders have touted API as some of the best advice they have been given, and I agree with them. Assume Positive Intent doesn’t mean being a pushover or accepting excuses — rather it means asking more questions and learning the full story before making assumptions — and responding based on those — vs acting on a presumed conclusion you may ultimately find to be false. For example, instead of a snipe in an email admonishing colleague for not sending you a report, you could API and respond instead by simply asking if it was shared — preserving your relationship when you learn it was posted in Teams, just not in an email where you were looking.

API gives you the ability to escalate later if circumstances warrant but it saves you from regrets and walking back what you said by acting initially from a less charitable perspective. Assume Positive Intent and allow for the option of grace before you go negative.

leadership dot #3667: reply

One of the challenges of communication is when people respond to your question with a tangential thought or another question. It’s a reply, but it isn’t an answer. Examples include:

  • Q: Are you going to the meeting? Reply: Can you believe there is another meeting about this project?
  • Q: Where do you want to go to dinner? Reply: I had a big lunch.
  • Q: Can I consider this report finalized and send it to the boss? Reply: I heard she is getting ready to go out of town.
  • Q: Do you want me to make reservations at 5 pm or 7 pm? Reply: It’s a half-hour from where we’ll be.
  • Q: Are you able to help me with this task? Reply: The new assistant starts next week.

These types of responses do nothing to facilitate progress or move the conversation forward. What does the reply even mean? It certainly isn’t a definitive response to what you asked.

If you pay attention, I suspect you will hear many non-answers to your queries. Be conscious that you aren’t hearing them come from your own lips.

leadership dot #3666: purge

After yesterday’s dot (#3665) about my storage system, a friend asked:

Any advice for me: I have a lot of organizing and purging to do. Office stuff. It’s hard to do when there’s so much. I read an article recently about minimalism and how it’s hard to start when the job seems so big. It seems like it would be never ending and would prevent me from using time now for more enjoyable things. Any ideas on how to make this fun?

Drat! I have no magical advice on how to make boring tasks fun. Susan Power wrote: “The motivation is in the doing.” I think about that a lot (usually when it comes to writing the next dot — I’m rarely motivated to start but the motivation comes from doing.) So, the trick is to start. I’d suggest:

  • Put an hour appointment on your calendar (daily for 2 weeks or weekly for 2 months, etc.) and hold to it like you do for everything else. It’s not “do I feel like purging — it’s My 2:00 appointment says purging time, so I’ll do it.” Stop thinking that it has to be fun to start — it never will be. It will be fun when you finish, and things are organized/clear/etc.
  • Schedule the time so that you have a reward at the end. Do it for 1 hour then watch TV or read or eat lunch, etc. Or do it in chunks — Do 1 drawer then X or this pile then X.
  • See if you can do the purging in a different place than your office. Somehow purging on the patio or in the sunshine is less arduous (says the woman trying to read and sort 3600 dots!)
  • Great music helps!
  • Keep a pile of what you’ve purged (i.e.: don’t take it to recycling/shredding right away) so you can see progress even though it won’t feel like there is any.
  • Depending on the state of things, you may need to sort then prioritize — put things into piles by category, THEN read and purge. (For example, when I cleaned out my Mom’s office, I quickly sorted things by insurance, utilities, medical records, etc. – tossing the very old insurance benefit booklets and obvious recycling as I went – but saved the purging that required thought until a second round after the piles were sorted.)
  • Only keep things where you’re the source. If you have a lot of minutes or documents from work or volunteering, I’d ditch those and rely on the organization to supply them if ever needed.
  • As I said in my dot, I keep things in small folders — each topic has its own so I can find them again. Shopping for office supplies (colored folders, etc.) can make the task more fun but don’t get hung up on logistics of “what goes in the red folder?” etc. As you can see in the picture, my folders are ragged, handwritten, reused — and work perfectly.

Whether it’s with purging or any other daunting task, I guess my best advice is to stop seeing it as “a lot.” As Anne Lamott wrote: “bird by bird” — one step then the next. You don’t have a lot to do; you have a little to do a lot of times. You could complete the first “little” in the time you spend avoiding doing “a lot.”

leadership dot #3665: saved

When I started my first professional job, I took an empty box that held reams of paper and covered it in contact paper, making it my first filing “cabinet.” As rudimentary as it was, the box served as a useful way to collect, organize, and, most importantly, retrieve handouts or resources that I would later use for inspiration or workshop material.

Many years later, that same system has morphed into 39 boxes, some of which have contents older than the people I am sharing them with. What has worked for me over the years is to not only save materials but to create a separate file folder for each topic, no matter how small. If it’s a key article that I use repeatedly, it has its own folder so I can easily find it. If it’s one article on something new, it starts from scratch, too. There’s nothing lofty about it — reused file folders, handwritten titles, Post-its to label the boxes, etc., but this system has allowed me to begin content development from something, never having to face the dreaded blank piece of paper that is sure to cause a creative block.

I take my method for granted since I’ve been doing it for so long, but it was brought to consciousness by author Dan Pink. He isn’t a resource-hoarder like I am, but he shared that he gets an empty box when he is just beginning to consider a new project. Then when he discovers resources as his idea incubates, he tosses them into the box — books, articles, etc. Once he’s ready to get serious about writing, he has a ready-made collection of places to start.

If you’re not proficient and devoted to one of the sophisticated and powerful tools that are now available to help with the curation process, give the humble box method a try. It has saved me (as well as saved my resources) so many times, proving over and over that it’s much easier to turn something into something more.

leadership dot #3664: external context

A recent article caught my attention:

“Thousands of people marched through [the streets] on Saturday in a protest over the soaring cost of living. Huge crowds flooded into [the city] for the rally to demand that the government do more to help the people faced with bills and other expenses that are rising more quickly than their wages. [The leader] has been criticized for being slow to respond to the cost-of-living crisis. Inflation has been surging…Prices were already rising before the war in Ukraine, as the global economic recovery from COVID-19 pandemic resulted in strong consumer demand.”

It sounds like something that could be written about any city in America with President Biden being blamed by many for the economic state of affairs. But the article above was written about Britain — the protests in the streets of London and criticism directed at Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Knowing that financial pain is not a localized phenomenon may not do anything to improve an individual’s situation directly, but it does illustrate that the problem is more complex than one person can address.

The article provides an external view and perspective — something that is valuable for leaders to do on any topic. By helping people in an organization understand where they stand vis a vis others like them, people can more appropriately calibrate their reactions and response. Knowing that they are not alone in confronting a problem often provides solace and lessens the distress (see dot #3629).

It’s easy for leaders — and, in turn, those in front-line or middle management positions — to be consumed by an internal focus. Wise leaders turn their attention outward and intentionally share an external context to help everyone have a more realistic view of where they stand.

Source: Thousands protest soaring costs in London by the Associated Press in the Telegraph Herald, June 19, 2022, p. 23A

leadership dot #3663: village

It’s easy to list the amenities of living in a larger town, but sometimes we forget about the opportunities that come from living in a village. Mineral Point, Wisconsin (population 2,400) capitalized on its smallness to provide special recognition for its high school graduates. Senior pictures were printed on banners that adorned the streetlights throughout Main Street, showcasing each student in a public moment of glory.

Mineral Point High School has a total enrollment of 200. I’m sure they have faced challenges due to their limited size, but it also allowed them to make this display possible.

No matter where you live or work, there are advantages and disadvantages relative to size. Capitalize on the pluses that align with your scale to balance out the inconveniences that also accompany it.