leadership dot #4063: gradually

When does summer become fall? I think about this as I watch the season I love slowly slip away and autumn take her place.

There are some transitions that have a clear demarcation — you start a new job, receive a degree, get married, etc. But like in nature, other transitions happen through a slow evolution — your relationship becomes serious, your work on a project morphs into your whole job, or one day your anger becomes advocacy.

There are usually celebrations for the distinct transitions but those without a clear demarcation warrant acknowledgment, too. Even if we slide into something, it’s important to have a moment of recognition that we are entering a new phase.

For example, consider an independent contractor who accepts fewer gigs and one day finds themselves retired. There would be no gold watch or cake in the break room — their job calendar would just be blank, but their retirement is just as significant as someone who punches out for the final time.

Raise your consciousness of the gradual transitions you — and others in your circle — are making. When norms don’t lend themselves to a public affirmation of the change, be the one who notices it.

leadership dot #4062: remembrance

The board room of our credit union headquarters includes a wall of photos featuring past board members. The pictures are arranged in an artistic way, minimizing the impact of some images in black and white, some in color, and even some cut out of a printed piece. I like how they have made the wall more randomized and visually appealing instead of a staid and linear display of faces.

Mostly, I like how they have found a way to honor past board members. Too often, people serve and are forgotten, even those who held leadership positions in the organization.

How can you adapt the credit union’s idea to recognize key people from your past? You could do so for your family tree as well as for your organization’s history — merging art with remembrance, and the past with the present.

Dupaco Community Credit Union Headquarters, Dubuque, Iowa

leadership dot #4061: coach

I attended the launch party for a colleague’s new book (yeah!). One of the heartiest thanks he gave was to his writing coach. “I’d still be on Chapter 1 if it wasn’t for her,” he said. Instead, he has a finished book that is on the market now.

Kudos to him for not only knowing that he needed help but for actually seeking it out — and then using it. Too many times people struggle on their own, sometimes successfully but oftentimes spending far more energy than would be required with help.

Whether it is to write a book, lose weight, learn new computer systems, improve your supervisory skills, or do a DIY project, don’t go it alone. Seeing out assistance can help you achieve your goal with more speed and less anguish. Remember, even the pros have coaches.

leadership dot #4060: time horizon

I have been crazy busy this fall, so last week when I wasn’t, the temptation was to coast a bit and maybe even take a half-day off. It’s the wrong strategy though, as going slow on a slow week just makes a busy week busier. Instead, I tried to even things out — using gaps in presentations as the opportunity to prepare for the next round so that everything doesn’t pile up at once.

The best way I know to achieve this is through the use of a desk calendar that helps me see what is coming. If I look at my Outlook or weekly schedule, it may seem as if I have time to spare. If I look at my monthly calendar, my mind knows that it better shift into gear now.

As you rise in the organizational hierarchy, your time horizon needs to expand commensurately. While front-line staff may focus on the customer in front of them or the work they have to do today, those in leadership roles need to think months, years, or even a decade into the future when planning their work. Figure out your appropriate time window and ensure it remains visible to you when scheduling. Just looking at what is on your calendar “today” is deceiving.

leadership dot #4059: adapted

When was the last time you had to wait in line to use a store’s fitting room? I wouldn’t be surprised if your answer was “never.”

Rather than have the rooms sit perpetually empty, our Target store converted one of the stalls into a Nursing Room. It is essentially a dressing room with a cozy chair and small table — no other adaptation required — but it provides a functional and welcoming space for those who need it.

Not all changes have to be lofty. A little forethought plus some simple repurposing can have a positive outcome. Think of what better use you can make of space that is currently designated but unused.

leadership dot #4058: exit sign

I recently stayed at an Airbnb and this was the sign above the stairway — the word EXIT on a paper plate:

This is how building codes get developed — because someone thought it was acceptable to mark the exit with a paper plate.

If you notice similar sloppy transgressions in your organization, it behooves you to stop the practice as soon as you see it. It’s much better to regulate your own policies than to have them officially imposed on you.

leadership dot #4057: replaceable

It’s a paradox that those who help make themselves replaceable at work actually become more valuable instead of irrelevant. People who can train and delegate to others multiply their impact instead of diminishing it. I’d welcome someone who worked themselves out of a job and gladly find other challenges for them to conquer.

I think it’s important to explicitly communicate the value that delegators and innovators provide. You want people who expand their roles and empower others instead of hoarding information, resisting technological improvements, or insisting on doing things “the way they’ve always been done.”

Celebrate those who find a better way — especially if it means that their role changes along with it. Those are the people who can help you move forward.

leadership dot #4056: Georgia

Quick — what’s your answer to this question: “What is the #1 fruit grown in Georgia?”

Or how about this: “What state grows more peaches: South Carolina, New Jersey, or Georgia?”

If you’re like most people — and if you didn’t change your instinctive answer because you thought it was a trick question — you would have answered “Peaches and Georgia.” You would be wrong on both counts — by a lot.

It turns out that blueberries are the number one fruit crop in, um, the Peach State. Last year, blueberries accounted for $350 million of economic activity while their signature fruit was responsible for just under $85 million. California (due in part to its size) is the leader with 500,000+ tons of peach production, while South Carolina and New Jersey are next. South Carolina produced more than twice as many peaches as Georgia and has been ahead of Georgia since 1984.

All this is to say that it’s important to verify information and to question our assumptions. At one point, peaches and Georgia were synonymous, but that was decades ago. Circumstances and outcomes change. Our ability to change our beliefs needs to change as well.

leadership dot #4055: location

What impressed me most about the Milwaukee School of Engineering campus wasn’t the physical spaces or buildings, but rather the location of the President’s Office. It was prominently and visibly located overlooking the student dining area, thereby conveying a powerful message about the school’s culture.

Most leaders are tucked away in the corners of an administration floor, far from the interactions with mid-level employees, let alone customers. But this design chose to place the president adjacent to the student hub where they could be reminded daily of who they were serving.

Think about what the location of your offices says. Are the leaders positioned so that they have occasional and chance encounters with others who aren’t part of the hierarchy? Does the floor plan create unnecessary divisions and reinforce status differences? Could morale and interaction be improved with a change in proximity? Don’t underestimate how location serves to communicate culture.

leadership dot #4054: cheesy potatoes

My young niece recently cooked dinner for the family. Sloppy Joe’s were the entreĆ© so she made those first, and while those cooked she steamed the broccoli and boiled the spuds. Finally, she made a delicious recipe as the base for parmesan-crusted potatoes.

Only as she prepared to put the potato dish in the oven, she realized that they were to bake for 30 minutes. By this time, of course, the sandwiches and vegetables were ready to be eaten. She pivoted and baked the potatoes until the cheese melted — about 10 minutes — and we enjoyed them without a crust instead. It all worked out and was a very tasty meal but cheesy potatoes weren’t the plan.

Many times, people do the equivalent at work — starting with the easier projects first, doing one project at a time without considering the whole, or failing to backward engineer the timing to ensure that things are done in the most effective order. It results in rushed — and less than ideal — output of the more complex assignments. You may turn something in, but it’s cheesy potatoes as a weaker substitute instead of what you could have accomplished.