leadership dot #3513: absent

Yesterday, I wrote about the importance of conversational collisions (dot 3512), that serendipitous interaction that occurs when two people run into each other and can begin to engage. Collisions won’t be happening with the newest member of our city council — who thinks she is able to be effective living a thousand miles away as a snowbird each year. Participating virtually in just the meetings for three months each winter seems to be good enough for her without any further involvement or first-hand experience of what life in our city is like.

And there is nothing in place to prohibit this. No guidelines about in-person attendance. No provisions against moving out of state for a quarter of your term. No responsibilities for council members outside of meeting attendance, however loosely “attendance” is defined. An attempt failed to put something in place to address this retroactively, so she skates by.

Every organization should have fundamental operating practices on the books — things that seem like common sense but are better for everyone if they are clarified in advance. Reactionary policies can feel like personal attacks whereas addressing responsibilities and norms upfront can save angst and resentment down the road.

The time to put guidelines and expectations in place is before you need them. Once someone does something outside the bounds once, it becomes a precedent. It’s much easier to prevent deviations than it is to undo them.

leadership dot #3512: collisions

I’ve been thinking about all the synchronous experiences we used to have as a community.

— People got their news from one of three networks — at either 6pm or 10pm each night — or read it in the (one) local paper
— People gathered at one of a few main services at their church
— Interactions occurred when people shopped at the local mall or downtown strip of stores
— There may have been only one or two “diners” or “supper clubs” for those rare occasions when people ate out
— Everyone waited in line to vote in person on the same day

The growth of specialization led to separation and fewer common experiences. We’re no longer living essentially the same life as our neighbors. We’re not having those “collisions” (as Tony Hsieh called them) and learning to know our people as individuals instead of a generic generalization.

It’s easier to dislike or distrust a nameless person. It’s easier to assume that you have nothing in common because you haven’t shared those moments together. It takes more work to ask questions and establish connections — but it’s worth the effort. Start a conversation with someone new and learn about the world as others have experienced it.

leadership dot #3511: flow

During a discussion or meeting, the participants often have to make a facilitation choice to manage the flow of the dialogue.

In some situations, the comments should attempt to start something: calling on people, raising questions, making follow-up comments that move the conversation in the desired direction, or prompting feedback on specific points of view. The goal is to get a broad spectrum of input and to engage the participants.

In other cases, the comment needs to manage the facilitation by stopping something: cutting off side conversations, redirecting a boisterous participant, bringing a rambling discussion to an end by explicitly setting a limit (“ok, we’ll take one more question…), or allowing only new points to be made. Here the speaker is attempting to manage the flow by ending dialogue that is outside desired parameters.

Before you make your next comment, consider your purpose for doing so. If the conversation is off the rails, you can try to start something or you can achieve the same end by trying to stop the current flow. Everyone in the group can (and should) contribute to its facilitation. Be intentional about how your words can impact the communication tide.

leadership dot #3510: trends

Trend forecaster Jeremy Gutsche makes the argument that the post-pandemic period will provide some of the greatest business opportunities of our lifetime. He lays out his premise in one of his TrendHunter keynotes, looking back at the Spanish Flu and Black Death followed by the Roaring ’20s as a backdrop for what he predicts could occur post-Covid. Commenters on his post are quick to point out that the Great Depression followed the frivolity of the 1920s but some of his points seem spot on.

Gutsche’s main premise is that crisis leads to urgency which leads to action which leads to innovation. The disruption from Covid has created opportunities for many while at the same time devastating others. Of course, Gutsche advocates being one of the people or organizations that sees the openings caused by the “grand reprioritization” to position yourself to help resolve the tensions the crisis created. He cites 13 trends to monitor, including a surge in entrepreneurship, automation of labor, proliferation of leisure, polarized political debate, and new media and new heroes that excite us.

Gutsche’s keynote doesn’t provide any answers rather it is an hour of disrupting complacency and raising possibilities to be explored. It’s evident that the post-pandemic world will not be the same as the pre-pandemic one. Are you prepared to capitalize on that?

leadership dot #3509: handwriting

There is a meme circulating on the internet that says: “Someday we old folks will use cursive as a secret code.” I don’t think that day is too far off. Handwriting of any sort is disappearing from use and will soon be seen as quaint.

Today is National Handwriting Day — another of those “who cares?” holidays — but it’s a good reminder that the personal touch conveyed through a pen can carry more emotion and meaning than keystrokes. I am a prolific long-hand letter writer, and I also save the correspondence I receive. There’s nothing like pulling out a letter my Mom or sister sent me to feel a closeness to them I can’t capture through just a photo.

Hallmark is trying to make handwriting more convenient through a line of “Sign & Send” cards that allow you to take a picture of your handwritten messages and then they insert it into a card and mail it for you. Not quite the same, but better than a text! Hallmark will even send your first Sign & Send card free if you’re a rewards member.

Our handwriting is a unique expression of who we are. Share some of your essence today and celebrate National Handwriting Day by dropping a note to someone you care about.

leadership dot #3508: container

The Four Winds is a wonderful novel set in the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. The story follows a woman facing the challenges of poverty on the Great Plains as the Depression, water shortage, and howling winds all took their toll.

Every resource was scarce and precious, including fabric. The novel’s Elsa commented: “Everyone made clothes from grain and flour sacks these days. The manufacturers of the sacks had even begun putting pretty designs on the material. It was a small thing, those floral patterns, but anything that made a woman feel pretty in these hard times was worth its weight in gold.”

Elsa was referring to the Kansas wheat companies which when they realized women were repurposing their bags, started using flowered fabric with labels that washed out. It was a generous and thoughtful step to help people through the hard times.

Have you ever considered how people use your “containers” and whether you could add an extra touch to add value to something that otherwise may be thrown away? For example, my mattress box was printed with a list of suggestions of how to reuse it. Breads Bakery in New York sells their cake loaves wrapped in a short story so you can have a “cake break.” Many Mall of America stores provide bags that can be reused (dot 2480).

Provide some extra intentionality about your product through its entire lifecycle, including what your customer does with the container it comes in.

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah, 2021, p. 63

leadership dot #3507: treasure hunt

State governments currently hold about $49 billion in unclaimed funds — refunds from utilities, payments on insurance claims, and other money that was rightfully due to their residents. My sister’s estate is due $144.22 of that pot and for the past nine months, I have been trying — unsuccessfully — to get it from the State of Illinois.

So far, over three rounds of communications, I have sent in 20 pages of documents, including a notarized form, certified will, proof of addresses from decades ago, official death certificate, proof of relationship, and notarized small estate affidavit. It’s not enough. They are requiring a death certificate from the mother of her roommate in the 1990s (who may very well be alive) because they jointly signed up for the utility and she is due half of a $89.26 rebate. And, with no death certificate, there is no refund at all.

Illinois’ State Treasurer professes to being “committed to returning property in its possession to its rightful owners” but I don’t believe it. I think the system incentivizes them to keep the $3.5 billion they hold so the state can benefit from the interest they earn off the forever-unclaimed money. If they truly wanted to reunite people with their funds in this “Great Treasure Hunt” they would not require such arduous paperwork and would have a simple form as other states have done.

If a process seems like it isn’t working for someone, ask yourself who it is working for. There is likely an unspoken motivation behind why the system was established as it was. Illinois’ system — like most systems — is doing exactly what it was designed to do.

leadership dot #3506: setback

A friend who is working on his dissertation lamented that the work reminded him of what happens after a big snow. “I shoveled for a half hour and cleared the end of the driveway,” he said. “And then the plow kept coming by. It’s progress, then setback.”

It’s clearly an apt analogy as anyone who has ever written a dissertation will attest, but the “one step forward, one back” aspect applies to most projects. You try something and fail. You hire someone, then have a learning curve while training them. You submit a project idea and it’s rejected. You lose weight then gain a few pounds back after a binge.

The trick is to adjust your mindset to know that the snow and the plow are both coming again — to see that as a natural phase of the process rather than a barrier or reason to quit. Shovel the driveway again and keep at the work. Eventually, you will achieve your goal.

Thanks, Dave!

leadership dot #3505: golden ticket

Nowhere does hope spring more eternal than when it comes to the chance at winning a prize. Millions buy lottery tickets every day even though there are astronomical odds against hitting the jackpot. On a smaller scale, people opt for “mystery boxes” and grab bags in hopes of scoring a bargain or special deal.

To capitalize on this frenzy, the folks at the Cincinnati Zoo partnered with local Graeter’s ice cream to commemorate Fiona the Hippo’s fifth birthday by adding a surprise to their promotion. Graeter’s has emulated Willy Wonka’s five Golden Tickets and created a Fiona chocolate bar, also with a quintet of winning vouchers. Of the 7500 sold, only five will gift the recipient with a “Fiona kiss painting.” The quest is on to find one!

People really like the opportunity to be a winner. Is there a way you could add an element of suspense or chance to your offerings — either explicitly like Graeter’s or on a more subtle level that surprises people? Maybe you could recognize someone who turns out to be the XXth customer, celebrates a loyalty anniversary with you, or is able to draw a prize based on a level of purchasing? Without making a major investment, you can help people have the thrill of the hunt or experience the joy of winning just by holding a bit back for them to discover by surprise.

Thanks, Lucy!

And here’s another example shared after I posted this: Budweiser is hiding golden cans that make you eligible for a $1 million prize!

leadership dot #3504: preserve

Our family recently digitized 90 rolls of home movies. These were Super 8 gems not only from my childhood but from Mom and Dad’s dating years and before. Some of them I had never seen before so I spent an afternoon during the holidays watching them all.

Steven Spielberg won’t be optioning them anytime soon but they provided an interesting perspective. It was like someone was on the outside looking in — an unfiltered view of what life was really like. There I was, at about 10 years old, with a pad of paper on Christmas morning writing down all the gifts I received as I opened them. I guess the organization gene is part of the DNA.

While not much has changed with my habits, certainly the environment has evolved. Everyone smoked cigarettes, seemingly all the time. People certainly dressed up far more than they do today, especially at Easter. The kids even had corsages! There were so many people in the movies that were important in our lives at the time but with whom we are no longer in touch today. And don’t get me started on the hairstyles!

The movies froze a moment in time and provided a look back that mere memories could never replicate. While I’m not advocating taking footage of your organization or office, some intentionality around capturing history is important. Even routinely collecting the organizational chart and budget would paint a picture of the way things were. Think of how positions have evolved, let alone the people who hold them, and how budgets have shifted just in technology and benefit allocations.

You’ll appreciate today more if you take an occasional trip down memory lane. Make sure you preserve the ability to do it.