leadership dot #3012: generate

Whether you’re starting a side hustle, writing a case study for a class or just working on a creative project, there are many times when having a clever name for a business would come in handy. No need to expend brainpower to come up with one on your own: website host WordPress offers a nifty Business Name Generator that can be fun to use, even if you’re not seriously thinking of incorporating a company anytime soon.

By entering the key names for your business, the software will instantly show you a host of options. For example, “Bakery” yields Bakery Beautiful, Harmonic Bakery, Bakery Jet and Canopy Bakery among about 30 other options. You may not love any of them, but they could serve as a stepping stone to other options.

A friend once shared a brainstorming technique where you focus on one topic and write everything down that you can for 10 minutes. Then you do it again for 20 minutes more. In the second session, you’re more likely to get beyond the obvious and reach truly creative names. Let the Name Generator get you started and see where you go from there!

leadership dot #3011: cameo

With so many events moving to an online format, you may be struggling to find a way to make the occasion special. While being remote has its disadvantages, it also opens up new opportunities for creative recognition.

One such way is with cameo.com. Various entertainers are available to record personalized messages that can be incorporated into Zoom-type calls. These have been used to present the top awards at banquets, part of showers or wedding celebrations, at virtual graduations, for appreciation or really for any occasion. You could have Bret Favre, Mandy Moore, Dennis Rodman or Chef Rick Bayless as a guest for your next big event, or choose from one of 30,000 others in categories such as Game of Thrones, reality TV stars, comedians, impersonators, queers or musicians to target the celebrity to your audience.

It’s harder to “wow” participants online, but Cameo might provide a new twist that allows you to infuse some personality into your event. Whether you use them or one of the other similar services out there, don’t just try to replicate in-person via the online format. Take advantage of new modalities to create unexpected memories.

leadership dot #3010: endure

It’s hard to believe that it has been 19 years since the tragedy of 9-11. It was, at the time, the biggest shock since Pearl Harbor and effectively shut down the country for weeks.

But then it was over.

Just as I will always remember 9-11, people today will tell stories about COVID for the rest of their lifetime. It is another collective moment with grave and far-reaching implications.

Only this one has no end in sight.

Essential workers and others in a multitude of positions have been on COVID-overdrive for over half a year now. Creating plans. Redoing plans. Pivoting right. Going back to the left. Implementing Plan A, then Plan B and even Plan Q. Oh yeah, throw in a couple of natural disasters, a widespread social justice movement and divisive politics. It is exhausting.

Leaders of those directly impacted by any of these crises need to acknowledge the stress this year has brought on and take steps to mitigate the incident fatigue that is consciously or unconsciously plaguing so many. Supervisors should acknowledge that these are unprecedented times and explicitly give permission or mandate that key personnel stop doing anything that is not mission-critical. Vacation or time off should be required, even if the employee doesn’t feel like they can be gone. Senior leaders should model relying on each other for moral and literal support to share some of the load.

The terrorist acts on 9-11 were over in 73 minutes. The derecho lasted just hours. The hurricane a day. Most wildfires are extinguished within weeks. Crises do not usually endure with such intensity for months, but since COVID doesn’t appear to be ending any time soon, Job 1 is to make your ability to operate sustainable. Even people with a positive attitude cannot thrive under daunting conditions indefinitely. Acknowledge the toll that the pace and continued uncertainty are taking and shift to strategies that allow people to endure for the longer run.

leadership dot #3009: remote

I’ve been working as an Enumerator for the Census, and I’m sure future dots will have tales of my time in the field. But today, I am struck that while I’ve been working for the organization for five weeks, I have had two hours of in-person training on Day 1 and only one brief call with a human since I began. It gives new meaning to remote work – my entire availability, caseload, results, and pay is conducted through the government-issued iPhone. I speak to no one.

I don’t desire any hand-holding or micromanaging, but one phone call after the first day in the field would have been nice. Even a check-in email that asked if I had any questions would have been welcome. But radio silence. Just work when you want, if you want, for as long as you want – whatever you put into the program on the phone seems to be fine.

If you have remote employees – whether they be permanently remote or just COVID-related — it’s easy to assume that “no news is good news” and that they are being productive on their own. This definitely could be the case. But some small personal contact could pay big dividends in employee morale and loyalty. If you have invested the resources to train someone, you should dedicate equal effort to retaining them.

Don’t be a stranger to your staff and colleagues – no matter where they are located. Pick up the phone.

leadership dot #3008: isolated

On an urban campus, parking places are at a premium so when the human resources department allocated five slots to the student life office, they thought the staff members would be elated. They were – until they learned that the spots had to be vacated by 5pm and were available only Monday through Friday. Since most of the office’s work occurs in the evenings and weekends, that perk suddenly lost its luster.

I’ve heard several tales lately of HR offices being out of touch with the work of others in their own organization. At one school, performance evaluations were scheduled to be due in August – usually the busiest month of the year in preparation for opening. Why would they make such a time-consuming task due at the same time? On another campus, administrators were verbally promoting employee engagement and interaction with students but withdrew the staff meal benefits that encouraged this practice.

It’s not just HR that becomes isolated. The pace of work, doing most work remotely, and the budget cuts that have added to the workloads of the remaining staff – all are contributing factors to people worried more about getting their work done instead of taking the time to develop relationships and understanding with others. Don’t let it happen to you.

Everything you do has an impact on someone else, either inside or outside of your organization. Your work will have more meaning – and likely more effectiveness – if you know those who benefit from your services. Make the time to ask before you act.


leadership dot #3007: introduction

“What do you do?”? is the easy default opener when meeting someone new. With just one question we learn so much about a person as their identity is often wrapped up in their job. “I’m an accountant, a teacher, or a nurse” is an easy way for people to find a launching pad for conversational connections.

But for the 30 million who are unemployed right now, “What do you do?” becomes tricky. It can even bring on waves of shame or self-doubt, even though it shouldn’t. What you do is a vastly different proposition than who you are. That hasn’t changed whether or not you have a current position; if you were talented, amazing, generous and creative before the pink slip, you remain so today.

Be conscious of those who are seeking jobs right now and rephrase your introductory questions or casual queries. Things like: “Tell me a nugget about yourself; What’s something you learned in the last month?, or What do people say about you a lot?” get the conversation rolling without that awkward moment of angst for those who don’t have a position or title to share with you right now.

leadership dot #3006: relaxation

Thanks to its official designation, today is more like “Labor-less Day” rather than one of labor for most Americans. The holiday has been on the books since 1882 when the Central Labor Union created it as a way to celebrate its workers. We’ve been parading and picnicking ever since.

A version of Labor Day is celebrated around the world, but traditionally on May 1. It made the September calendar in the States to add a day off in the four months between Fourth of July and Thanksgiving when breaks are few are far between.

You should follow the Labor Union’s example and be deliberate about when you take time off. With the pandemic still present, it’s going to be a long slog through the cold months. Take a moment now to block out your own holidays and time for relaxation. Mark yourself out for a random Wednesday here and there to break up a week. Take off a Friday or Monday to make a long weekend. Carve out a few mornings where you can stay in the cozy covers instead of facing winter’s bite. Do it now, while your fall and winter calendars are free enough to allow you that flexibility.

All of us are engaged in some form of labor. Be intentional about taking a respite from it, not only today but on other days of your choosing.


leadership dot #3005: it’s a bird…

A meme on social media shares the picture of a goat – or is it a bird? Depending upon which area of the picture you focus on, you’ll see two totally different creatures. Most can eventually see both, but one or the other will pop into view instantly.

Hold it as a possibility that, like with this meme, two different things can be true simultaneously. You can be happy to be working from home and missing your colleagues. You can enjoy being around your kids and wishing they were back in school full-time. You can believe that Project A is important and Project B, even though there are only funds for one.

Learn to embrace the duality even though you may vehemently embrace one side. Even if all you see is the goat, the bird is still there.

Posted on Facebook by Shannon Murphy-Burt > Beyond the Far Side, July 2020

leadership dot #3004: who’s there?

There are now masks that come in styles to fit all personalities, but what we really need are masks with one of those “HELLO, My Name Is…” icons on the front. I had a hard enough time identifying people before COVID, and now that I only see half their face I am doubly challenged.

And I am not the only one. While in the store, a young girl came up to me and excitedly greeted me with “Hello Mrs. McDonnell!!” I had to deflate her when I pulled down the mask while assuring her she is not the only one who is currently confused.

As schools begin, new hires are acclimated into the office environment and in any other circle where deep familiarity is not present, do what you can to help others match names with faces (in other words, with eyes!) and make it easier to remember who is hiding behind that shield. We must remain physically distant but using someone’s name helps with the connection for which we all long and need.

leadership dot #3003: bad apples

Imagine having a school superintendent that improves ratings to become the top #4 of public school districts in the country; is beloved by the school board, parents, teachers and students, and projects an appearance of professionalism wherever he goes. Such was the case with Dr. Frank Tassone in Long Island – seen as a hero in the community – all while he simultaneously orchestrated the largest public school embezzlement in history.

The movie Bad Education tells the story of how things appeared wonderful on the surface, with both Tassone and his CFO Pam Gluckin being lauded for their performance and impact on rankings – while they and their families defrauded the Long Island district out of $11 million.

The School Board was blinded by their admiration for Tassone’s accomplishments. The auditor trusted the CFO after many years of dedicated work. Others only saw the impression Tassone and Gluckin worked hard to project, creating such an aura that gave them protection from questioning or doubt.

How were they discovered? By those who saw the facts instead of the false narrative: a hardware store salesman that became suspicious about a delivery address and an eager school newspaper reporter who uncovered discrepancies while researching an article!

Checks and balances are set up for a reason, and it’s best when they are put in place right from the start. Routinely review credit card statements and expense reports, not just when you think there is a problem. Require dual approvals or signatures for major expenses. Vary your auditor if not your whole auditing firm after a few years. Have an outside consultant conduct a program evaluation.

The vast majority of people are doing honest work. Good apples aren’t threatened by external reviews, rather they welcome them as a way to discover any bad apples in the bunch.

Fresh apple and slice of rotten unhealthy apple fruit isolated on a magenta background