leadership dot #3695: toes

I have a fantastic nail technician so when I asked her to paint flowers on my toes to match the fancy new shoes I got, she was happy to oblige. And the pedicure was fantastic — she is a true artist and my toes serve as a mini-gallery for her work:

When you see her work up close — as she does when she creates it and I do when I’m sitting in the chair watching her — it is beautiful. But it appears differently when I stand up. Then, my eyesight doesn’t allow me to see the individual flowers and instead, it looks like the big toe has not been polished.

For the next six weeks, it serves as a continual reminder for me about the importance of perspective. If you are heads-down and only focused on your portion of the work, you may do it differently than if you had the big-picture in mind.

Think about toes when you approach your next project. How will your work be seen by those who use it?

leadership dot #3694: alternately

It stinks when you lose your job. There’s no getting around it. Your paycheck, identity, routine, and network are all wrapped up in your employment, and it is a deep level of stress-inducing awful when you are let go.

To complicate matters, just as you’re feeling your worst you need to project your best in order to interview well. You want to stay in bed but instead, you need to be perky and articulate. It’s tough.

It’s unrealistic to believe you can be fired and just carry on as if nothing happened. It’s also counterproductive to wallow for any length of time. I describe this juxtaposition as a yin-yang — and encourage those in this situation to keep that balance in mind. You need to be sad — for a bit — then you need to establish boundaries that provide a barrier to the gloom and allow the positive to be put forth.

The yin-yang applies to other traumatic events. A divorce. A death. An accident or trauma. To move forward, work hard to mentally compartmentalize and craft boundaries that juggle the gymnastics of grieving and persisting — not expressing both simultaneously — rather alternately — so that each emotion can be expressed without overriding the other.

leadership dot #3693: your timing

Too often, we underestimate the importance of the “when.”

  • Meeting the “right someone” when you are not open to a relationship may alter your future vs. meeting them at a different stage in your life
  • Pitching a proposal at an opportune moment may allow it to proceed but sharing the same idea with bad timing may doom it
  • Buying an investment when the market is down could reap a much higher payback than buying the same stock when the market is high
  • Your business idea may be ahead of its time and fail but have success years later
  • Finding an exciting new house/job/pet doesn’t matter if you aren’t ready for it
  • You ask for a donation right after the donor received a big bill vs. receiving a dividend check
  • A great sale on cherries isn’t a bargain if your refrigerator is already overflowing with fruit

Instead of only focusing on the situation itself, consider whether the timing is what you should tinker with. The same thing that is a “no” now can be a “yes” later — and vice versa.

leadership dot #3692: steamroll

This weekend was the Sales Tax Free weekend in Iowa, designed to save residents money on back-to-school essentials. It’s always a busy time in stores as people take advantage of the price break and go shopping, whether or not they have school-age children to outfit.

Yet, this was the same time period that the landlord of the shopping center scheduled to have the parking lot re-paved. Half of the lot was cordoned off, including the entire section in front of the popular TJ Maxx. Maybe the crew was free because no other retailer wanted to schedule at that time?

It’s a classic example of isolated thinking. The timing worked for the paving company and the property manager apparently did not consider the whole picture and anticipate this conflict.

Have you been guilty of the same narrow thought — scheduling something without asking about the impact on others or checking to see what else is occurring in your family/organization/community? Before you make your next commitment, take a broad view of potential conflicts before you steamroll over everyone else.

leadership dot #3691: brew

I know that dogs are humans’ best friends, but this new product takes it a bit too far. Anheuser-Busch has developed a new Dog Brew product, a tasty bone-in pork butt broth specifically made for canines. It’s a pricey concoction, $15 for 4 cans, but presumably serves to promote healthy digestion and provide extra nutrients to Fido.

What I suspect is truly behind the brew’s development is a way to utilize byproducts from the making of actual beer. It’s a risky move, in my opinion, as the similarity of packaging could confuse humans and lead them to drink the product (yuck!), or, worse yet, lead people to think that giving real Busch to dogs is acceptable when alcohol is toxic to pets.

Category-jumping may bring in some revenue but completely strays from Busch’s core business. Don’t risk your reputation by grabbing at any bone for a buck.

leadership dot #3690: painting

I’m having the inside of my garage repaired and painted, a job I definitely do not want to do myself. But my painter, Paul, seems to actually enjoy the work, more than for the income it brings.

“I like painting because it provides instant gratification,” he said. “I can tell right away what I have done vs. doing electrical work where the first thing I have to do is figure out what somebody else did wrong. Painting you can see.”

I think all of us need some aspect of our work that provides tangible results. Creating a formula-driven spreadsheet. Clearing our inbox. Submitting a grant. Mowing the grass. Cooking a meal. Cleaning out a closet.

It’s fine to toil in settings that have a long-term impact as many non-profits do but to keep up the motivation and momentum, sprinkle in some short-term accomplishments. Remind yourself that you are making progress by painting the equivalent of your wall.

leadership dot #3689: 3 hours

I returned an item at Dick’s and the cashier noted that there was a coupon attached to my receipt, providing me $20 off a $100 purchase. I thought I would give it to my sports-crazed nephew, who undoubtedly spends that amount with regularity — but then I noticed that the coupon was “valid for 3 hours.” Seriously?

My mind immediately flashed to yesterday’s dot (#3688) about stupid rules, but my second thought was “well, at least I’ll get a dot out of it.” I have found that aggravating situations often have lessons buried in them, helping me clearly see what not to do. People often say they learn supervision by doing everything opposite from what their bad boss did; the same principle applies to service situations. If you find something ridiculous, chances are your employees or customers will, too.

leadership dot #3688: raincheck

Our local grocery store is running a week of daily specials and I went to purchase my bargain-priced butter — only they were sold out. I asked if they were offering rainchecks and the answer was “we stopped giving them out at 5:00.” This arbitrary decision didn’t sit well with me, so I asked why. The clerk said: “That’s what management told us to say if customers asked.”

What?! I wonder how the clerk felt as he parroted back this ridiculous line.

The situation made me think of the Harvard Business Review article that I quote often in my supervision sessions. Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones surveyed employees to determine what characteristics made up the “best workplace on Earth.” One of five answers: “Stupid rules don’t exist.”

Employees don’t want to deliver BS excuses to customers and see them infuriated because the policies don’t make sense. They want to be the “helpful smile in every aisle” as they allegedly were hired to be.

Don’t put your staff in the position of being the bad guy. If you determine that an undesirable policy is absolutely necessary, communicate it widely to help set customer expectations, make it universal, and have someone with authority available to enforce it. Throwing in an apology, regret, or an ounce of compassion wouldn’t hurt either.

Stupid rules are just that — stupid — and cost more in ill-will for everyone than they save.

leadership dot #3687: potatoes

If I asked you which state grew the most potatoes, I’ll bet most could correctly name Idaho. But what’s your guess for what state is number two or three?

Until this weekend, I would have had no idea, but through a very clever partnership, I learned that Wisconsin is the third-largest grower of spuds in the U.S. (Washington State is number two.) The Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association helped create this awareness by sponsoring a touring music and dance troupe, the Kids from Wisconsin. The Kids travel the state and perform almost daily for two months, reaching 120,000 people. They end the first portion of the show by having the audience sing along to a little jingle about Wisconsin potatoes, they capture it on an iPad, and I’m sure that someone will post it on social media, reaching an even larger audience.

It seems like an unlikely pairing — kids between ages 15-20 and locally-grown potatoes — but it is actually a smart vehicle to increase recognition among the hundreds of adults who watch the Kids perform. The first step toward changing consumer behavior is raising awareness and the Growers certainly achieved that goal with an ad in the program, t-shirts, and most importantly, active participation by both the singers and the audience. Follow their cue and forge a partnership with a source that can engage your potential users in a tactical and unexpected way.

leadership dot #3686: wet

I have a canvas chair that stays out on my patio. Invariably, wetness soaks through to my pants when I sit on it in the morning. The chair doesn’t look wet. It doesn’t feel wet. It doesn’t matter if it has rained or not. The canvas holds moisture and soaks through with pressure.

Every time, I feel it and think that today will somehow be different — that the problem will have miraculously gone away — and so I sit on it again, only to become wet in inopportune places.

This chair could be an analogy for how many people or organizations address their issues. We know that the problem is unresolved. We know bad things will happen if we do what we have always done, or worse yet, ignore it. We know that nothing has changed. Yet, somehow, we believe that because we can’t see the problem, it is not there. As a result, we behave accordingly and face the undesirable consequences, often again and again.

A problem doesn’t have to be visible to be real. Don’t be fooled into behaving otherwise.