leadership dot #3225: do

I watched an online conversation with actor and writer Dan Levy that could have doubled as a commencement speech. In a far more serious tone than his David Rose character on Schitt’s Creek, Levy shared some of the ups and downs of his path to the awards podium.

When asked about the genesis for his show, he replied that he “had to do something unconventional for myself.” He created the hit series to provide a venue to act because he is “terrible at auditioning.” Rather than let his nerves stop him, Levy wrote himself into a character and became so in-demand that auditioning is no longer required.

What stuck with me most were his closing comments about the advice he would give to college students. “If you want something, actually do what you want to do and success will come. Doors will open if you have the work to show,” Levy said. “If you actually follow through on what you want, you will be ahead of 99% of the people. It is so rare for people to follow through.”

Think about all the things you have said you wanted and then assess how many of them you have actually done something about. Instead of talking about writing a show, starting a company, or learning a language, take Levy’s advice and follow your intentions with action. Who knows how far it could take you.

leadership dot #3224: showered

I’d like my organizational leadership class to watch the entire season of Ted Lasso as a case study of how to create a culture. (If you haven’t yet had the pleasure, the Apple TV+ show is about an American football coach hired to coach a British soccer team. Instead of failing as the new divorcĂ©e owner hoped he would in order to spite her ex, Lasso brings effusive optimism, pure transparency, and genuine concern that not only inspires everyone but makes for very entertaining television.)

One of Lasso’s earliest moves is to install a suggestion box to allow the players to leave anonymous comments. (In keeping with yesterday’s theme of achieving gritty outcomes, the box consisted of a shoebox decorated by the equipment manager’s young niece.) Through this process, he learns that the shower pressure in the locker room is weak. A few days later, the players are surprised when the enhanced pressure almost knocks them to the ground.

The shower was a tangible way for Lasso to show the players that they mattered. It was the start of a host of small changes that added up through the season to transform how the team interacted with each other in the locker room — which translated to how they performed on the pitch (field). There is no silver bullet to culture change, rather it happens one showerhead at a time.

Building a strong culture happens when leaders listen. Let Ted Lasso show you what it looks like in action.

leadership dot #3223: urgent

I finally got my first COVID vaccine. In addition to being awed by the science that made the shot possible, the environment created a palpable sense of seriousness — something big and important warranted the work that went into creating this temporary distribution facility.

I wasn’t just walking into a doctor’s office to get a routine shot; my vaccine was in a pharmacy that was visibly and substantially jury-rigged into a vaccination site. You could see the dismantled shelving units piled up in a corner, the exposed 2x4s and unfinished drywall, the half-painted walls that displays used to cover, residual marks the shelves left on the flooring, and wall signs that were reminders the space used have a very different use.

My shot was administered by a pharmacy technician whose reassignment of duties also signaled that this wasn’t business-as-usual, rather an exceptional need that called for deploying any and all resources that were available to address it.

The temporary and almost McGyvered nature of the environment conveyed a sense of urgency to me — something important was happening here that justified such a hurried retrofitting and obvious displacement of the normal transactions. Truly, it gave me pause.

The next time you are undertaking a big change effort, keep this vaccination site in mind. Maybe the way to convey urgency isn’t to present it with a neat and tidy bow, rather get quickly to the work at hand even if it’s a bit messy around the edges.

leadership dot #3222: manageable

A meme on Facebook shared a wise lesson: “Google can bring you back 100,000 answers, a librarian can bring you back the right one.” It is a reminder that in this age of information overload, the value lies in curation not in quantity.

Part of the value of leadership coaching is that people are able to get resources on issues that are vexing them, rather than being directed to a library full of self-help books. Fitness trainers help people develop exercises that target individual needs instead of requiring them to sort through numerous diets and workout plans. Financial planners craft personalized investment strategies instead of leaving clients to sort through the maze of options on their own.

What are you doing to make information manageable for your clientele? Narrowing their inputs may ultimately broaden your impact.

leadership dot #3221: pinned

If you look at these two pins they look identical unless you squint and look closely at the teeny-tiny number at the bottom. The problem is that number should be the whole point of the pin: one represents 3 gallons of blood donations (24 pints) while the other represents 14 gallons (112 pints). The sameness belies the vast differences in what they purport to recognize.

Consider, too, whether a pin is an appropriate recognition at all. The Red Cross has been handing out these same pins for decades but they serve little useful purpose. Why not provide a car decal with the emphasis on the number or something more visible to allow the donor to share pride in their accomplishment?

The Red Cross missed the mark by making their recognition about them (the red cross in the middle) instead of about the donor (the number more prominent). Take a critical look at what you share and ask whether it provides real value to the recipient or it’s just something you do.

leadership dot #3220: prompts

As people prepare to return to the office, some reacclimating will be required. Colleagues have been apart for months and during that time new team members may have been added. Don’t discount the value of time spent on relationship-building.

Knowing your colleagues often makes work more enjoyable and provides a sense of belonging. People are more likely to go the extra mile for those they know and to give others the benefit of the doubt. Those relationships also create psychological safety, allowing vulnerability and trust to be present which, in turn, can foster creativity and a healthier culture.

Building relationships is much deeper than just breaking the ice, and helping your team know something about each other beyond job titles is a worthwhile investment of time. These 30 prompts can help facilitate those initial conversations. Even if your staff “knows” each other, I’ll venture that you’ll learn even more by using one or two of these questions to open your meetings.

leadership dot #3219: despite

A trip to the periodontist is no fun. I know it, you know it — and even the periodontist knows it. From the moment I arrived in the office, all of his staff acknowledged that it was I likely I would rather be anywhere else. From comments like: “How was your day — up until now?” or “Are you excited to see us today? — not!” the staff did their best to empathize with the fact that all of their clientele is there reluctantly.

Yet, even though it was a (literally) painful experience, it also was one of the best service environments that I have seen. There was thorough and helpful pre-appointment communication. The staff had light banter back and forth while doing what they could to make me comfortable. The doctor was personable and took the time to explain things to me, tell funny stories while he was drilling away at my bone, and even gave his cell phone number so that I could “text him or call, even at 2 a.m. if there is a problem.”

A new staff person was shadowing my procedure and commented that she began working there because “the staff genuinely likes each other — and that makes such a difference.” It does — for both the employees as well as the patients.

If the periodontist can create such a positive culture despite providing a service that is inherently expensive, painful, and dreaded, think of what you can do in your environment where the rewards are likely more desirable. You may not have control over your work but you do have the ability to shape how you do it.

leadership dot #3218: checkup

I just had some oral surgery done on a tooth that wasn’t bothering me. When the dentist recommended that I make an appointment to have the procedure done, I protested, saying “It doesn’t even hurt!”

“That is the whole point,” he replied. So off to the periodontist I went.

Teeth aren’t the only things that need “six-month checkups” so that you can be proactive in addressing issues before they become real problems. Make the time in your organization to conduct regular assessments and tend to warnings before they evolve into trouble.

leadership dot #3217: chicks

The farm store had their shipment of chicks on display before people came in to pick them up and the containers became a treat to the other shoppers — many of whom gathered around to listen to the little birds and watch them peck at their food.

The display was deceiving because it made it look so simple to have a few cute little chicks of your own. People forget that those little yellow fuzz-balls will grow up into full-size chickens with additional needs, including an outdoor coop and daily feeding. Two lists helped people see that it quickly becomes an expensive venture with several “must-haves” including a heat lamp, thermometer, waterer, feeder, starter feed, shavings, and hanger. Another list provides “highly recommended” items including amprolium for coccidiosis, food-grade diatomaceous, and hydrated lime — whatever any of that is — and that’s just to get started with the chicks. The lists offset the cuteness with reality.

Sometimes projects are similar to the chicks in that they start out looking so manageable and appealing but end up being a substantial commitment. All we see in the beginning is the upside (cute birds, free eggs) but fail to consider the resources and time that must go into the process to achieve the results. We say yes to the project (buy the chicks) and then must own by default all that goes with it, when had we investigated more thoroughly upfront, we would have reassessed the value of the benefits.

The next time you become entranced with a new idea, do some homework before you jump right in. Create your own “lists” to help you understand what you are truly getting into before you begin. There is no easy way to get a golden egg.

leadership dot #3216: refrigerator

Over the weekend, I did a deep clean of my house. When I was finished, I couldn’t even tell.

I knew that behind the refrigerator was now free of dust but wasn’t able to see it there before. I knew the baseboards had been wiped but who really pays attention? I washed all the rugs but when I put them back they appeared just as they were before the laundry.

What did I notice? I took the comics off the refrigerator to begin anew. That one visible signal reminded me of the other work that had occurred.

When you do work behind the scenes remember to leave that beacon for yourself and others. Change the color of the header on an updated form. Move the artwork after a deep clean of the lobby. Add a note on the webpage indicating the last update. Put a vase of fresh flowers on the table.

You can enhance your motivation for the next project when there is tangible evidence of your last one.