leadership dot #2279: coming home

I remember that September 11 was on a Tuesday 17 years ago; Cabinet meetings were always on Tuesdays and I was heading there when I heard the fateful news. For many, Patriot Day (the commemorative designation given to September 11) means little. Yes, they may recall what happened in New York, Washington DC and Pennsylvania, but they don’t feel it. This is unfortunate as America could use a dose of the patriotism that the heinous acts of terrorists inspired.

I was moved by September 11 in ways that are hard for me to describe. I went to see the site in November 2001 while portions of the rubble were still being removed. I have been to the Memorial Museum and seen the artifacts that bring the tragedy to life. I saw the musical Come from Away and was reminded of the blessings that occurred by strangers on that day.

But for those of you that don’t have a visceral connection, I urge you to listen to the 3-minute Story Corps account by Joe Dittmar. Story Corps is collecting first-person recordings from those who were there as a way to preserve our history and share the story with others. Joe recalls what it was like being in the Twin Towers – and what it was like coming home.

Today may you all remember that America is our home and treat those around you with the compassion that being home entails.

Never forget.

North Pool, National September 11 Memorial Museum

leadership dot #2278: culture

The book I chose for class, The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle, had me nodding my head the entire way through it. “YES!” I wanted to shout as he recounted story after story about how little actions add up to create significant enhancements to an organization’s culture and individual behavior.

Coyle outlines three skills that his research shows are necessary for an effective culture:

  1. Build Safety
  2. Share Vulnerability
  3. Establish Purpose

To create safety means that it must be safe for team members to speak up and to embrace candid feedback. He advocates going beyond “not shooting the messenger” who delivers negative news but to actually embrace that person and thank them for sharing the news that the leader needs to hear.

To create vulnerability, the leader must demonstrate this first by admitting challenges and continuously encouraging input from others. “I screwed up” and “I need your help” are two key phrases that are infrequently in the leader’s vocabulary but should be. Coyle writes that vulnerability creates trust and must come first, not the other way around as is commonly believed.

In order to establish purpose, leaders must take care of each other and cultivate the culture as the first order of business. By sharing frequent stories, inside phrases, reminders of the reason for existing and creating high-purpose environments leaders reinforce the connection to something bigger than the moment and create a safe and meaningful culture that allows groups to learn quickly and to become more successful.

It is not easy to admit vulnerability, to hear negative feedback or to prioritize taking care of colleagues as the primary mission but the initial discomfort is far outweighed by the benefits a safe culture provides. Coyle’s book provides a set of action steps to help develop the three skills, and all are small steps that are repeated with consistency over time even when they are uncomfortable at first. Start today by purposefully letting your guard down and saying: “I don’t know” or “I need your help” and help your whole team make it a habit to express those sentiments as well.

With the tight labor market, changing generations and the high cost of employee turnover you can’t afford not to pay attention to culture as your organization’s most valuable asset.

The Culture Code: Secrets of Highly Successful Groups by Daniel Coyle, 2018

leadership dot #2277: scary

It is early September, yet stores are loaded with aisles and aisles of Halloween decorations. It used to be that the focus of this holiday was on the costumes and candy, but home décor has seemingly exploded with all things Halloween and fall. There are now collectible village sets, linens, Vampire Blood candles, and pumpkins in every conceivable size and material. It has become a full-on major merchandising holiday.

I had been noticing the increase in volume and how stores now highlight Halloween instead of just having a display, but what really tipped me off to the growth was the addition of purple and orange-handled storage totes. Just like the red and green version for Christmas decorations, now a different set is needed to keep the Halloween decorations the other ten months of the year.

Before you jump on the must-decorate-for-fall bandwagon, think about the energy that is required to keep and maintain all those goodies in the off season. What happened to carving live pumpkins that survive for the season and then are tossed into the compost bin? Can’t some colored corn cobs and dried corn stalks suffice for your entrance way? Or an array of mini-gourds to spice up the mantle?

You can acknowledge the change of seasons without commercializing it.


leadership dot #2276: gyro

What’s a business to do if their main product is difficult to pronounce? That is the challenge facing Greek restauranteurs across the U.S. as American customers see “gyro” and think of pronouncing the “g” as in gyroscope or gyrating.

There are several strategies to alleviate the discomfort patrons may feel, especially those who know it’s not gy-ro but can never remember what it is. Some menus list the items with a picture or a number so diners can just point. But others have become more creative.

A restaurant in New York City named their chain with the phonetic spelling: “The yee-ro joint”. Another’s website has a prominent arrow: “How to pronounce it? – Play to find out!” and then links to the hysterical Jimmy Fallon and Luke Bryan’s official music video: “I don’t know how to pronounce gyro.”

Every organization has something that trips up others. Instead of ignoring it or dealing with the ongoing stumbles, address it head-on in a way that educates but doesn’t embarrass those with the uncertainty.


leadership dot #2275: current

I believe that current events are as vital to learning as classic theories. So, the book I chose for my class was one of the top business books of 2018 – chosen because of that reason. I believe that students should be reading best sellers and timely articles. Every marketing professor should have the new Nike ad on their syllabus this semester and ethics classes should be talking about the release of confidential documents.

Educator Parker Palmer said that learning occurs “at the intersection of the big picture and the small story.” I think timely stories make the lessons more relevant, and I hope at least one student opts to continue reading contemporary business materials after realizing their value through my class.

Think of ways you can connect the big picture with small stories in your world. Do you discuss the newspaper or your news feed with family members or colleagues – even if it sparks disagreement? Have you taken a moment to reflect on the impact of something you read and how it relates to others besides yourself? Can you find ways to infuse current events into your presentations or meetings (perhaps through nuggets)?

It is much easier to proceed as if events were occurring on a linear path but taking a moment to critically assess the current events may be of benefit to your thinking and actions.

leadership dot #2274: learner

In a few weeks, I am teaching a class that I have taught before. It should be a piece of cake to dust off the syllabus, make a few edits and I’d be ready to go. It would be that way, except for the fact that I elected not to use the same book, and in fact, not to use a textbook at all. Instead, I chose to use a current business book – that I had not read when I selected it – which means I need to read the book before I can even begin with the syllabus revision.

Do not read the above as complaining; as I said, all the extra work was voluntary and the idea of doing it self-imposed. I write about this not for pity or accolades, rather to reflect on what caused me to make such a decision. I guess that it is because at my core I am a learner. I learned by reading a new book, figuring out how to teach it, and selecting accompanying cases to make the points. I usually glean things from each class, but a new book ensures that I approach the course as a student, too.

I know that capital L “Learner” is one of the official Strengths-Finder delineations, and it describes me well, but being a learner is something to which everyone should aspire. Just as the MBA students would likely not pick up this book and read it without prompting, it’s possible that neither would I. I used the class as an excuse to make time to do some reading (aka learning).

What situations do you have that can serve as a catalyst to push you to do things that would be of your benefit, but that you may not do otherwise? Maybe you can submit to present at a conference on a topic that is not your core expertise. Perhaps you can volunteer to do something that is outside your comfort zone. Or you could possibly raise your hand the next time a new task force comes along at work.

Everyone is better off when we are both learners and teachers, whether or not a classroom is involved.

leadership dot #2273: kindling

Yesterday I advocated keeping reflective notes to aid in your ability to see situations from a broad perspective. Today I encourage you to capture not just your emotions or commentary about your experiences, but to also develop a method of saving and collecting as many of your ideas as you can. Even if they have no apparent use at the moment, old ideas have a way of morphing into something valuable – maybe even years later.

Lin Manuel Miranda recently shared that he wrote the melody to one of Hamilton’s hit songs when he was 16 and another when he was 10 years old. He tweeted: “Learning to pilfer your own thoughts and doodles for something later is another tool in your toolbox.”*

I keep a notebook of potential leadership dot ideas. Sometimes items sit on the list for ages as incomplete thoughts, but then later connect with a new reflection to give the lesson clarity and depth. I have files (ok, files and files and files and files) of articles, handouts, and reference materials that often lay dormant – until they become perfect resources at the right moment.

A colleague recently called me a “repository of information” – quite the high compliment for me – and indicative of my pack-rat nature of clipping out articles, screen-shotting tweets, making notes and hoarding them all to create a matrix of ideas that can coalesce to provide the perfect training tool or analogy almost on demand.

A blank page is a productivity and creativity drag for almost everyone. It is far, far easier to start with something, even if it is rough, old and not quite on target. Keep track of those nuggets and ideas that cross your path. One day you can use them like kindling and assemble a few tiny twigs to get your creative fires blazing.

*Lin-Manuel Miranda, @Lin_Manuel, 8/29/18