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.
In my Managerial Communication class, we’ve had four guest speakers: the university president, a public relations professional, the police chief and a manager of internal communications. While they all had varied styles and nuanced messages, they shared these themes:
Connect your messaging to your mission. All of them talked about the importance of linking your communications (internal and external) to the purpose of your organization and the goals you are trying to achieve – meaning you have to know what they are and have them in mind before you start sharing.
Focus and repeat. Once is never enough. You need to share your message multiple times for it to be heard and understood.
Relationships are key. Organizations don’t succeed autonomously. Work to develop partnerships and individual connections with others.
It’s all What you say, what you wear, your remote meeting background, the medium you use, your word choice, how the office lobby looks – it all sends a message so be intentional about what you are trying to say.
The lessons above are all intertwined and can be applied to organizational messaging as well as personal branding. Think about how they apply in your situation and use them to be more intentional in communicating what is important to you.
If COVID taught us nothing else, it made it clear that things are able to change much more quickly than we had accepted in the past. We’ve become microwave decision-makers – altering long-standing policies and practices at record speeds. Between the virus and race revolution, things such as to-go cocktail regulations, virtual notarizing, working from home, NASCAR policies, decades-old brand packaging, statue displays, and even state flags have changed more quickly than you can zap a pizza. Which is good…
…and it’s not.
I am cautious about this lightning speed of altered direction. I have always valued a bit of time to ponder the implications of a decision – almost anyone can convince you that something is a good idea if they are only presenting a singular point of view. The real trick in decision making comes in when the decider has to wrestle with multiple points of view and long-term consequences of the choice, something that is difficult to do under pressure or without the opportunity to hear different perspectives.
I get it that people want things to change quickly – not just on the current big social issues, but in general, an answer never comes soon enough for those wanting the choice to be made. But having to reverse a decision when new facts come to light makes it worse for everyone. There is untold wasted energy, the leader loses credibility and a wishy-washy culture inhibits others from putting the next idea forward or speaking up.
If you’re the leader, be intentional about the expectations you set around making decisions in your organization. Some things are better when they are slow-cooked instead of microwaved.
It was a most unexpected answer. When former Admiral William McRaven — a Navy SEAL, leader of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, part of the Saddam Hussein capture and the rescue of Captain Richard Phillips — was asked what he worries him most about what’s going on in the world, he didn’t list China, Russia, Iraq or Iran – in fact, he didn’t list a country at all.
McRaven said that he has long seen K-12 education as the “number one national security issue” facing the U.S.
“Unless we are giving opportunity and a quality education to the young men and women in the United States, then we won’t have the right people to be able to make the right decisions about our national security. They won’t have an understanding of different cultures, they won’t have ideas, they won’t be critical thinkers. So, we have got to have an education system within the United States that really does teach and educate men and women to think critically to look outside their small microcosm, because if we don’t develop those great folks, then our national security, in the long run, may be in jeopardy.”
McRaven illustrates a perspective that more leaders should have. It’s not just about the issues that are facing you today; it requires thinking about the challenges that you could have many tomorrows from now. It’s also about considering the inputs that will make your work possible instead of just focusing on the outputs that you hope to have.
Enjoy one of these beautiful summer days and escape somewhere to do some real reflection. What is the #1 issue that you should be worried about? Then go about five layers deeper to uncover the real answer – and craft a plan to do something about it. Your true issues probably aren’t in some faraway land, rather in your own backyard.
Listen to his conversation at the Aspen Ideas Festival here.
It is interesting to me about how controversial and political wearing a mask has become. In most establishments, there is an explicit “No shirt, no shoes, no service” regulation, but people don’t protest about that violating their rights. There are laws that require people to wear clothes in public or be arrested for going naked and those laws aren’t flagrantly violated, even in swimming pools or at beaches. Drivers who can’t see without glasses must wear them per their license and you must don a hospital gown or x-ray shield when getting certain medical procedures. Why is mask-wearing so different?
Part of the reason is the polarized political climate and mixed messages about COVID. If government leaders had modeled mask-wearing and consistently required their use, masks would already be as pervasive as wearing sunglasses in the summer.
But another contributing factor is the newness of the practice. People don’t like to change and resist anything that alters their normal habits. When you ask people to do something that requires intentionality instead of rote you should expect pushback – not based on the merits of the action rather simply because it is different. That’s where requiring masks everywhere pays dividends; the more often you do something, the sooner it blends into the routine and the resistance fades.
Pay attention to how mask-wearing (or not) plays out in your community: the irregular enforcement of it vs. strict adherence; the reasons for objection vs. the rationale given in support; the modeling of who does/does not wear one – all represent great lessons for you the next time you seek to implement a change in your organization.
Cedarburg, Wisconsin is one of those quaint little towns with a main street of boutiques that attracts people from the region and one of the “must-go-there” shops sells gourmet caramel apples. Not just any apples, mind you, but apples on steroids, coated in their luscious chocolate and a variety of toppings.
It’s hard to select one when your choices are macadamia coconut, patriotic sprinkles, s’ mores, wild hibiscus sea salt, butter pecan, rocky road, Oreo, cashews, peanuts, pistachios, Reese’s Pieces, Butterfinger, Heath, M&M, Snickers, strawberry shortcake – covered in white chocolate or dark – plain or decorated like a bride or groom or teacher’s apple – it just keeps going on.
These apples aren’t cheap, mind you, but they were so big that we had to cut them into sections and eat them in multiple sittings because they were too rich to savor all at once. Worth the price and angst in deciding!
Here is a tiny store in a tiny town that has a tiny product line – and yet makes itself a destination. They have taken one item and done it better than most, continually evolving their products to make them even more desirable and unique.
Take a lesson from Amy’s and imagine how you can keep your offerings small enough to become a big deal.
A colleague shared a memory of her time as a tourist going to the top of the Empire State Building. (Can you even remember when we used to do things like that?) The observation deck is on the 78th floor and the elevator ride can prove to be a bit nerve-racking and ear-popping for some guests.
To combat this, the tour operators devised a way to divert people’s attention and equipped the top of the elevator car with a computer screen. On the way up, riders watch an animation of the building being constructed, and on the way down the building’s Art Deco logo morphs into a U.S. map. The ride only takes 30-45 seconds but with this forethought, it becomes a memorable and enjoyable experience for the tourists rather than one filled with angst.
Put yourself in the shoes (or the elevator) of those using your service. How can you eliminate some discomfort or increase the pleasure – or in the case of the Empire State Building – achieve both simultaneously? There are ways to wow all around you if you elevate your thinking toward that goal.
Please indulge me in one more dot from Pelosi. In the book, Molly Ball writes: “Pelosi learned to listen to what people were actually saying, not what she wanted to hear – and to get it in writing if possible. ‘You’d be a great whip!’ was not a ‘yes.’ Only a commitment to vote was a yes…The ability to hear what people were actually saying would, in the years to come, be a crucial component of Pelosi’s vote-counting skills.”
I think many managers could learn from her strategy. It is so easy to dismiss thoughts and opinions that run counter to our thinking or to hear only what we hope people are saying. We become focused on what we want to see – and therefore, see lots of examples to support our case – without having the broad perspective to notice what is truly happening in the landscape. We ask for feedback in settings that make it challenging for respondents to be truthful or vulnerable, and we interchange “being nice” with “agreement.”
One of the ways managers can cultivate a strong culture is to listen to not only what is actually being said, but to listen for what isn’t. The more you can accurately assess reality, the greater your ability to influence it.
In yesterday’s dot, I shared how Nancy Pelosi is able to achieve results. One of the ways she is able to do so is because she masterfully and intentionally seeks to cultivate knowledge about people. (I’ll bet she uses the preferred name I wrote about in dot 2930!)
In Pelosi, Molly Ball writes:
“Not only did she know every one of her members by name – a difficult enough feat in a 435-member body that turns over every two years – but she knew their history, their district, their ideology, their spouse and kids and parents. If she found out your wife was having surgery or you were going through a divorce, she’d call repeatedly to check in. Orchids from her favorite DC florist would appear, for thanks or congratulations or sympathy, before you thought you’d even told anyone what was happening. The most powerful woman in America somehow had time to show up for a child’s school play or a parent’s memorial service. If your mother died, you got a handwritten condolence note along with a poem written long ago by Pelosi’s own mother.”
It’s one thing to cultivate relationships on the surface, but another to put in the extra effort to make them personal. Pelosi’s methods reminded me of the film Erin Brockovich in which the title character knows all about her hundreds of plaintiffs and those connections built the trust that was required to persist in the lawsuit against PG&E, and of Sheldon Yellen, CEO of BELFOR Holdings who handwrites 9,200 cards to employees each year as a way to express his gratitude.
Time is such a precious commodity that often we revert to easier ways of fostering and maintaining relationships: a birthday greeting via Facebook, pre-signed holiday cards, or staffing out correspondence rather than adding personal notes. But the energy invested in really knowing people – and personally showing that you care – goes a long way in building a culture of collaboration and connection that paves the way to work together.
Nancy Pelosi is a polarizing figure and if you can get past that, you could learn a great deal from the woman on how to get things done. I just finished reading Molly Ball’s fascinating biography Pelosi in which she describes the Speaker as “operational” and then gives countless examples to bolster her point.
Operational in Pelosi’s case means that she was “committed to getting things done above all, and had the ingenuity to figure out a way to do it. Everything was about results.”
When AIDS was still too taboo of a topic to address, she garnered support for research funding by bringing the NAMES Quilt to the National Mall – and lined up activists to lift it every twenty minutes to overcome the Park Service’s attempt to deter her by saying the Quilt would have to be raised that often to avoid harm to the grass. When she hit a wall and could not get the votes for the Affordable Care Act without a stricter ban on abortion, she swallowed her pride and appealed to the most liberal women to back down on their insistence on the clause, sharing her vote tally sheets to show there seemed to be no other way. When the DREAM Act was in jeopardy, she collected stories of Dreamers and read them to the House – for 8 full hours without interruption – in order to put a human face on the bill. She ensured a bill on the war in Iraq would pass by splitting it into two, allowing one faction to vote for domestic spending but not the war funding and another faction to vote for the reverse.
When Pelosi was asked how she was going to round up the votes required to pass the Affordable Care Act, she replied: “You go through the gate. If the gate’s closed, you go over the fence. If the fence is too high, we’ll pole-vault in. If that doesn’t work, we’ll parachute in.”
Whether or not you agree with her politics, Pelosi is a master at getting the job done. The book can inspire you to think more broadly about how to find solutions to the problems you face and to become more “operational” in your work. Don’t stop when the gate is closed.
Organizations collect so much data about us but they too often fail to add a field that would make a difference: that of preferred name. I’m officially an “Elizabeth” – and no offense to others with that name who like it, but I most definitely do not.
So, when I receive mail or an email to “Elizabeth” I know that it’s someone who doesn’t know me and they lose points for pretending to do so. How hard would it be to ask “preferred name” as one of the zillion questions on forms you need to fill out and then to actually use it?
I received an email yesterday that not only used Elizabeth but wished me a Happy Birthday (on the wrong day!) What they meant as a nice public relations/customer service gesture backfired twice. They would have been ahead not to send it at all.
Marketers know that the sound of your own name is a key component of messaging. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but if you’re a Rose and someone refers to you by your official name of Rosa, it’s just not the same.
p.s. Trivia: my lower case “beth” came from crossing off the Eliza part of the name and little b beth is what remained. Elizabeth