leadership dot #3414: tired

If you have a smartphone, the default setting will kick it into “low battery mode” when the power level reaches 20%. At this point, the phone is programmed to stop showing new emails, reduce background app refresh, stop uploading photos to the cloud and dim the screen brightness — all steps that preserve battery life and allow the key functions of the phone to continue.

Why do people have such a hard time admitting when they have hit the “low battery mode” setting in their life? Instead of taking steps to reduce output and maintain their energy level, too many ignore the signs of fatigue and power through as if they had a full charge or they see slowing down as a sign of weakness instead of a natural occurrence that impacts many, especially in these uncertain times.

The next time your internal battery starts to reach that red zone, listen to the indicators and take steps to conserve juice just as your phone would do automatically. Push to the side that which is not time-sensitive or essential. Forego social media and head to sleep instead. Cut back on a commitment or two. Take a few moments for yourself if possible.

Treat your personal battery with the same care you do your phone. Low battery is not a warning to be ignored.

leadership dot #3413: otherness

There is a sweet spot between hiring people who are different from the norm but not so different that the culture does not accept them. One clear example comes to mind where I hired someone who pushed the envelope — just what we needed — but was ultimately let go because his “otherness” was seen as a negative by the wrong people. Previous employees and professional association colleagues also have played a contrarian role or brought a perspective that was outside of the rest of the group but were dismissed because of this.

To ensure that the differences are an asset instead of a liability, it helps to be clear from the start what you are looking for in your hire. If the hiring team (and those above them) agree that the organization needs someone to shake the status quo, ask the tough questions, offer perspectives that will be uncomfortable to hear, it’s helpful to return to that agreement when the new hire actually does those things.

People often say that they value someone who is different than they are but in the end, many revert to someone like themselves as it is often easier to dismiss the “other” rather than to integrate them into the culture and learn from the view they bring. Be intentional that it’s not the case with your organization.

leadership dot #3412: it is

“It is what it is” continues to be a popular saying, gracing notebooks, memes, plaques, and more. I’ve said it myself hundreds of times.

But Paul, one of the participants in a session I was facilitating, changed how I feel about the catchphrase. He shared that it is one of his least favorite sayings, preferring instead to say: “It is what you make it.” Rather than passively accepting a bad situation, you have the choice in your reaction and response.

I think Paul is right. See if you can change your intention — and ideally, also your language — to reflect greater ownership and action going forward.

leadership dot #3411: notifications

Why, in 2021, are we still crouching in front of public restroom stalls to check if they are occupied? Or guessing whether the dishwasher is “dirty or clean”? Or interrupting meetings because we did not know someone was using the room? Or making unnecessary trips to the community mailbox on the corner only to discover the mail has not yet come?

It would seem that a mainstream notification solution for ordinary, frequent inquiries would have been developed by now — whether yet another app, an electronic monitor to display the status, or even the low-tech solution of “vacant/occupied” that some enlightened designers have incorporated. If the US Postal Service can email me a scan of the mail I’m getting, surely they can find a way to ping me when the mail is actually here.

If you are able to provide notification for a mundane but repetitive inquiry about the status of something in your organization, please do it. Rid us of the equivalent of checking for feet in the restroom stall. While we tolerate it, there has to be a better way.

leadership dot #3410: bosses

I recently presented a two-day workshop on supervision and the refrain I heard over and over was: “I wish I had known this earlier in my career.” As we acknowledge National Bosses Day today, I encourage you to provide supervision training to those who have that function as part of their role.

Far too often, we promote someone who is good at their job into a new position that involves supervision. But those responsibilities bring with it a need for a substantial mindset shift — from being an independent producer to succeeding through facilitation and the success of others. It’s not something that happens intuitively — or easily — and many times the new supervisor was without both formal training and even informal mentoring to use as an example. It’s a collision waiting to happen.

A solid supervision framework can provide the mental shift and functional structure to realign expectations and set the new supervisor up for success. If you’re a supervisor, become a great one by giving those who have people responsibilities under you the resources necessary to make it a happy day for bosses every day.

leadership dot #3409: Honeycrisp

We think that apples come from trees, but they also come from scientists. At the University of Minnesota Horticultural Research Center, they don’t just grow things, they develop them. Their star product is the Honeycrisp apple, but they also have engineered the Zestar and several other branded apples and grow 316 varieties of pumpkins, squash, and gourds.

In apple development, horticulturalists are striving for a winning combination of three factors: 1) the flavor (which includes color, crispness, sweet/tart, juicy, firmness, etc.); 2) the shelf life (where Honeycrisp shines), and the growing season. Scientists have been able to extend the harvest for apples in Minnesota from August to October, allowing farmers to maximize the use of the equipment and labor rather than having their entire crop condensed into a short window.

It reminded me of the metaphorical “three-legged stool” that we attempted to balance in college admissions: the number of students, their academic profile, and the net revenue that each contributed after scholarships. We could easily achieve two of the criteria, but achieving all three proved challenging. I imagine the same is true of apple grafting.

Organizations often focus on one or two metrics, but the secret is in the elusive blending of attributes. What is the flavorful combination of characteristics you are seeking to attain? Identify the trifecta your organization needs to create its own winning “Honeycrisp.”

leadership dot #3408: payment

I’ve recently seen the juxtaposition of old-fashioned payments and the innovative uses of modern ones.

A friend got a new car loan and received a paper coupon book in the mail, presumably to tear off a page to mail with a monthly payment. Other friends receive paper envelopes to make weekly donations to their church — even though they send an annual check. Residents of Hudson, Iowa are lamenting the purchase of their local utility in part because they “won’t be able to walk or bike down the road to pay in person.” All these situations are carryovers from a previous era when the paper check was the primary mode of payment.

Today, more and more vendors are taking advantage of Venmo or Square that allows almost everyone to accept credit. A church in New Mexico had an iPad anchored at the entrance to accept electronic contributions from tourists. Native Americans were selling their handmade crafts from a blanket, but you could pay with a credit card. A farmer with a pumpkin stand on the side of the road listed her Venmo account for payment. Even a man who was begging for money on the street corner had a Venmo address on his cardboard sign!

Consider the temperament and comfort level of your audience. Are you able to give people a choice of payment method (e.g. one church asks parishioners if they want the envelopes before automatically sending them)? Are you able to accommodate both paper and electronic technologies? Have you incorporated enough options to handle the multitude of options available today? As cash fades from everyday use, it may be time to revisit what is king in your payment system.

Thanks, Amy!

leadership dot #3407: visibility

It’s standard practice at a two-day meeting that I attend regularly to have a spread of snacks out during the gathering. It’s a veritable buffet of goodies and all of us partake liberally in the treats. We finally met again in person after a long pandemic hiatus, and to help slow the spread of Covid, all of the snacks were in individual packaging. We hardly ate anything.

It truly was “out of sight, out of mind.” The principle applies not only to food but to all kinds of behavior. If our colleagues are out of sight, it’s easier to forget about making the connections. If we aren’t having social engagements with friends, we too often fail to call to sustain the relationship. If the warning light doesn’t pop up on the car, we don’t think about getting an oil change. If there aren’t automatic withdrawals from our paycheck, retirement planning fades.

If you want to change behavior about something, visibility matters. Treats in the dish look appealing and make it easy to enjoy. Snacks in a package require effort and intentionality and are far easier to ignore. Make that which you wish to encourage visible and put that which you hope to forget one step away from being seen. That thin layer makes all the difference in action.

leadership dot #3406: streaks

I was driving and my windshield looked fine — until I turned and was facing the sun. Then, the glass appeared to be full of streaks. I used the windshield washer and wipers with no effect. I washed the glass again when I got gas and even wiped the inside. Better, but still streaky.

I think that toxic people are like the streaks of organizational culture. Many times you don’t even notice them, but then you turn into the sun and their presence becomes disruptive. When you see them, you may try to remove them, but it is difficult to do. Their residue frequently remains whether they are visible to you or not.

What are the “streaks” in your organization? Consider how you can shine some sunlight to learn what clouds your culture.

leadership dot #3405: almost

I have been looking for a new tote for quite some time. While I was in New Mexico, I saw one that was very close to the ideal but it had a quirk that I knew would drive me crazy so I left it behind. Now, I measure all the other options against that one, and the more time that elapses, the more perfect the one that got away becomes.

But when I really think about it, I know that if I had made the purchase, I would not be happy with it and would have been annoyed the whole time I had it. Right now, I’d likely be writing about how one small flaw can ruin the perception of the whole!

When we make a decision, it’s easy to second-guess or only remember the “pro” side of the equation. Unless we’re really intentional about it, we block from our memory the negative analysis that led us to the conclusion we reached and only remember the good aspects that we forfeited. It’s a sure path to unnecessary regret.

Give your decision due diligence — whether that is regarding a relationship, purchase, project, or life transition — and then don’t look back. Trust that you truly made the right choice, not that you “almost” did.