leadership dot #3088: fridge

Food banks and food pantries provide an essential service for those in need of groceries or household products, but often this results in processed foods and dry staples. A new movement is seeking to provide some nutrition for those in need by stocking refrigerators with perishables and healthier options.

The Love Fridge is a Chicago organization that sponsors seven refrigerators throughout the city. Each appliance is sponsored by an organization that checks for “fridge manners”, verifies the temperature and keeps items stocked.

Most efforts to help people involve traditional methods that have been around for years but The Love Fridge creates a new venue for distribution. Perhaps you can adopt a similar vein of innovation to distribute services to your clientele. Putting refrigerators out in the open may have sounded crazy but so far, the refrigerators have provided 30,000 pounds of perishables to those in need. How can you go a bit crazy with how you provide what you offer?

leadership dot #3087: format

I’m frequently asked by clients if they can record my remote sessions so that others can watch them later. So far, I have declined.

I think that there is a difference between a webinar where recording and replaying make perfect sense – and an interactive, remote experience. I am not convinced that there is sufficient value in a replay of my sessions where I make liberal use of chat, breakout rooms, exercises and independent reflection. What I have been doing has been designed to be engaging and live, not watched solo after-the-fact.

Maybe as COVID continues I will be persuaded to alter my approach or to provide content in a format that has planned reproduction and future uses, but for now, I remain only a live presenter. Whichever you offer – or book – it’s important to be clear about which path you are choosing. The experience will be richer for everyone if the design matches the intent.

leadership dot #3086: interrupted


The balloons will still be on television, but the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade won’t be following its traditional route through New York City. It’s yet another impact of COVID as the Big Apple tries to preserve some traditions while minimizing the crowds and spread of the virus.

But the biggest impact of all will be that Santa won’t be available for visits in Macy’s flagship store – for the first time in 160 years. The company determined that St. Nicholas was a “high-touch, high-traffic” experience and that it wasn’t wise for a quarter of a million people to sit on Santa’s lap this year. Instead, they are offering “Santaland at Home” allowing children to do a remote visit with the Jolly Old Elf.

It’s not just Macy’s that is adapting holiday traditions this year. Many families did not “go over the river and through the woods” or won’t be sharing Christmas in person. Instead of lamenting the loss of time together and rituals that we know and love, keep the bigger picture in mind and focus on long-term health and happiness while creating new experiences for yourself.

May you have a wonderful Thanksgiving – even if it’s a turkey sandwich at home.

leadership dot #3085: pivot

If you asked someone to tell you one of Albert Einstein’s many discoveries, most people would start by naming his Theory of Relativity. They may not know what it means, but E=mc2 has been printed on enough t-shirts and mugs that it has become iconic.

But Einstein did not win his Nobel prize for his most famous work, not because it wasn’t worthy of such an honor, but because politics intervened. The Theory of Relativity is a theoretical construct and applied physicists blocked recognition efforts on that account alone. After several failed attempts to give Einstein the Nobel he deserved, colleagues took a different approach and nominated him for an award for his photoelectric effect – an applied concept, and he received the prize.

If one path closes to you rather than expend energy on repeated attempts to overturn the resistance, perhaps the best tactic is to pivot to another approach. Learn from Einstein and remember that ‘tis better to receive a Nobel for a different theory than to be devoid of the honor because of stubbornness or a technicality.

leadership dot #3084: remote

I’m frequently asked for tips on working remotely. What people really want to know is how to create work-life balance as well as how to maintain connections with colleagues when there is no metaphorical “water cooler” to gather around.

I’d suggest three areas for you to focus on: developing some personal habits to separate work from home, setting boundaries, and making the time to invest in work relationships.

Personal habits

  • Create routines and structure that help you distinguish between work and off-hours
  • Follow a routine to begin your workday as if you were going in the office – including shower, attire, etc.
  • Designate a workspace that you use regularly (even if you have to pack it up at the end of the day)
  • Take care of your mental health. Work from the patio one day. Stop for a few moments to go outside. Maintain your social connections.


  • Establish then abide by no email/communication dead zones: nothing outside of set hours is to be sent or replied to – give people the “right to disconnect”
  • Use auto-scheduler to send emails only during designated hours to minimize pressure to respond Red, yellow, green signs to help older kids know when interruptions are ok
  • Use your calendar to block out time for project work and lunch


  • Allow those introductory minutes for informal conversations and chit-chat
  • Structure team-building questions on the agenda – a bit of relationship-building is as valuable as other content (After a few meetings of sharing your actual workspace, creative use of virtual backgrounds can provide an icebreaker opportunity: picture of kids, where you’d like to be, favorite animal, etc.)
  • Fill people in personally about important developments; don’t rely just on email or minutes

There is no magic bullet or one-size-fits-all answer that will work for everyone. Make tiny steps of progress that fit with your situation and allow you to persevere with sanity.

leadership dot #3083: complex

I’ve recently participated in two online classes to learn more about the Enneagram, a personality assessment tool. I am certified in other instruments so I’ve been hesitant to invest time in something that is complex enough to require multiple classes to understand it but have enjoyed gaining a new level of understanding about my strengths and what I tend to run away from.

I think the Enneagram is like so many other things where the complexity provides its power even though it creates an initial barrier to access it. Einstein is said to have dismissed high-level mathematics as too abstract until he later realized he needed to know it to prove theories that he could not physically demonstrate.

In a similar vein, Excel works well for common purposes, but SPSS or more robust software is required to handle advanced calculations. Simple hammers work for DIY projects but not professional construction, and home kitchen implements are adequate for families but not for banquet preparation.

And so it goes. Don’t be scared off by tools that are complex and non-intuitive. Taking the time to harness that deeper understanding can unleash a new layer of power to you.

leadership dot #3082: rotten apple

The keyboard on my computer frequently sticks – causing the spacebar to malfunction and the words to mushalltogetherlike this. As you can imagine, it’s quite annoying. So, when I finally had access to an Apple Store, I eagerly took it in for repair.

“Yes, we’d be happy to replace it. Yes, you need a whole new keyboard, not just a fix. Yes, it’s faulty – we’ve had many of them and would replace it for free even if you did not have the AppleCare service program.” Great. Until we came to the kicker: “Just leave it with us and we’ll have it back to you in 7-10 business days.” Gulp.

Two weeks without a computer seems impossible to me. There are the daily dots. Zoom meetings. Documents. Calendars. Well, everything is on my computer.

Apple is worth $2 trillion and is considered the most valuable company in the world. Wouldn’t you think that they could do a better job of handling problems like this? Provide a loaner computer. Do repairs on-site. Expedite repairs that need to be sent out so it takes a day or two, not a week or two. Be proactive in offering options for repair instead of having people make service appointments only to be told: “yeah, we know, but mail it in.”

Problems happen. But if you become aware of them in your organization, try to be more empathetic and responsive in addressing them. Handling issues well can actually endear your customers to you even more than if something bad did not happen. If only Apple had learned that lesson.

leadership dot #3081: grandfather

I’ve had a programmable thermostat for four years and had been very happy with it. Then this week, I received a $65 invoice for a year of service. I’ve never paid an ongoing maintenance fee before and was quite surprised to receive this bill. No warning, no “oh-you-get-four-years-free-then-we-start-charging-you” – just pay now or we’ll cut off your ability to use the scheduling or remote access functions. What?! Needless to say, I have a new thermostat from a new company where I fully expect to pay once and be done.

In a similar scenario, a private Facebook group I belong to has many members up in arms because the course creator is deleting the group and moving to a plan where a $97/month membership fee is required to continue. We were led to believe that the group support was part of our course purchase, and many are vocally displeased that the terms are being modified mid-cycle. Our one-time payment has morphed into an ongoing expense.

How you enact a change is as important as the change itself. No one likes to receive an unpleasant surprise without much warning or to learn that the terms have suddenly become far less favorable than what was promised when the purchase decision was made. If you need to alter your offerings, don’t only focus on the additional revenue you’ll gain. Rather, be sure to factor in the goodwill that you’ll lose. Grandfather clauses that allow previous terms to continue were created for a reason.


leadership dot #3080: HR

There seems to be a mismatch between the available jobs and the skills/interest of those able to fill them.

If you’re in health care or want a front-line service job, I think you are able to have your choice of employers. There are billboards all over town seeking to hire people for permanent positions or seasonal help. Bath and Body Works attached a “come work for us” message as part of their mass mailing of coupons. A local manufacturer has signs in the yards of their employees as a way for them to recruit colleagues. Referral or sign-on bonuses are plentiful, putting the employee in the driver’s seat to be choosy.

Yet, about 12.6 million people are unemployed in the United States right now, many of them professionals and skilled workers who are still seeking a job without the openings that align with their talents and abilities.

It all points to the increasing role of human resources in organizations – and society – not just as the paperwork-processors, but as a key leadership role that can strategically forecast and plan for the alignment of talent and workforce needs. As jobs become more technical and specialized, it isn’t like previous times where you could put an ad in the paper and easily find qualified people to fill your needs.

To me, it also highlights the critical role that leadership and culture play in organizations today. As I have written about earlier this week, retaining employees becomes as essential as hiring them. With the increased ability to work from anywhere, people have more freedom and the mobility to jump ship if your conditions are not conducive to work-life balance, meaningful work, or an equitable environment.

HR has, too often and for too long, been in the background as a support function. The current climate calls for that area to have a set at the senior leadership table. Without the right people, there is no organization.

leadership dot #3079: remote engagement

One of the casualties of the pandemic is the loss of office camaraderie. As we work from home and have most (all?) of our interactions via the screen, it can be difficult to feel connected with our colleagues.

Here are a few strategies to increase employee engagement during your virtual time together:

  • Infuse fun remotely:
    • Hire someone from Cameo.com to give a message to your team
    • Utilize Tribute.co to create a video tribute for a retirement or promotion
    • Happy Hour over Zoom
    • Share a favorite meme
    • Virtual contests (eg: craziest hat, wildest sox, funniest virtual background)
    • Whimsical polls (eg: are you wearing shoes, slippers, socks, nothing on your feet)
    • Show and tell (eg: share family members or pets, show home or hobbies)
    • Scavenger hunt
    • Posting on an internal network (eg: childhood photos, hobby, recipes, holiday wish list)
  • Do more time on synchronous events for the whole team/department:
    • Lunch and Learn with an outside speaker
    • Book club discussion
    • Town Halls
  • Provide employees with tangibles when possible:
    • E-gift cards, even for small amounts
    • Food delivery coupons to buy individual meals for a group lunch
    • Mail a box with a branded item(s)
    • Send handwritten notes, postcards or birthday cards
    • Sugarwish (allows you to curate your own box of candy)
    • Themed gifts (eg: Llama cookies and note You’ve done a llama hard work lately)
  • Mark occasions such as holidays and changing of the seasons
  • Celebrate individual and department wins – including the fact you have survived another milestone

Your culture isn’t any less important just because you aren’t together in person. In fact, it may be even more critical to foster engagement from a distance. Consider ways that you can add some appreciation, levity, and participation for your team and keep the morale up even when your time in person is down.

photo credit Caryl Stern