leadership dot #2941: marriage

Without fireworks, cookouts and all the usual trappings of the Fourth of July, it won’t seem like a holiday to some, but it’s still Independence Day with or without pyrotechnics.

It reminds me of times when people are so focused on the big, flashy wedding that they forget that what’s actually important is the marriage. Today, the real reason for celebration isn’t in the night sky rather to commemorate the founding of our country and the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Take a moment to appreciate the gifts of democracy, freedom and our never-ending quest for equality. It may be fun to have fireworks or a fancy wedding, but the real value comes from the work you do afterward to sustain it.

leadership dot #2940: only forward

Ah, the turtle. It’s often dismissed as a creature and I’m sure it’s often ridiculed as a college mascot. They seem so slow!

But while turtles may not win any speed records, they have several characteristics to which we should all aspire. In the farewell address of the University of Maryland President Wallace Loh, he talks about the Terrapin turtle (UMD’s mascot) and points out that it only walks forward. “And how does he do this?” Loh rhetorically asks. “One step at a time by sticking its neck out.”

Think of how your life would be different if you only walked forward. Instead of harboring regret, backtracking, reversing decisions or even standing still you could accomplish so much in your life by persisting one step at a time. You don’t have to be fast; you merely must be consistent.

Take a lesson from the misunderstood reptile. Forward, even slowly, is a great way to get ahead.

leadership dot #2939: intentional

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.

leadership dot #2938: slow-cooked

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.

leadership dot #2937: unexpected answer

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.

 

leadership dot #2936: cover up

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.

leadership dot #2935: tiny

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.

leadership dot #2934: elevate

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.

Thanks, Emily!

“Going up” movie on the building’s construction

 

leadership dot #2933: actually

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.

Quote from: Pelosi by Molly Ball, 2020, p. 82

 

leadership dot #2932: relationships

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.

Quote from: Pelosi by Molly Ball, 2020, p. 156