leadership dot #3016: rap

Today is Constitution Day in recognition of the signing of our country’s most important document on September 17, 1787. The Constitution outlines the framework for the government, something we often take for granted unless it isn’t working!

Since many schools have eliminated “Civics” from their core curriculum, the government requires all colleges that receive federal aid (i.e., almost all of them) to conduct Constitution Day education to make people aware of these fundamental principles that guide our democracy. Even the adults could use a refresher and this rap video may be a way to provide it.

The rapper YelloPain merges a very contemporary storytelling method (rap) to share the importance of voting and to explain the three branches of government in an edgy way that makes it more relevant to young and diverse people. It’s worth your 4 minutes to take it all in.

YelloPain is right that all the attention, especially in this election cycle, is focused on the presidential race, but the real difference-makers can be the Congress, state legislators and even local public servants. Make it a priority to learn the background of all those on your ballot and, most importantly, to cast your vote to keep our Constitutional values alive.

leadership dot #3015: answer

A colleague was lamenting that her staff members continually turned to her for answers instead of resolving the problem or making decisions on their own. She provided an example of when an employee came to her with a situation and asked what to do about it. I asked her what reply she gave and she told me her response – followed by a silent moment of recognition.

The supervisor had given the employee the answer to the question and it finally dawned on her that it was no wonder people kept coming to her for answers – because she kept providing them! Instead of telling others what to do, a far more effective strategy in this situation is to reply with a question. Asking “What do you think you should do?” would be a good start.

It’s hard to develop independence and autonomous decision-making without practice. While it may be tempting – and likely much easier — in the short run to reply with the answer, you’ll never get out of that dependence loop if you keep doing so. The next time you’re asked a “how” question, utilize the moment to do some coaching instead of answering. Help your employee think through options and prioritize scenarios. Giving them confidence instead of prescribing responses is far better for everyone in the long term.

leadership dot #3014: gardener

I heard a nugget today that sounds simple but sums up much of what it takes to be an effective supervisor:  “Water your flowers and pull your weeds.”

New supervisors often struggle with one side of the equation. They either spend all of their time on their problem employees and assume their stars will succeed on their own, or they encourage their high-performing staff members and hope the low-performers will come around. Neither is a good solution.

To create a desirable culture and empower your staff, you need to nurture those who show promise and deal with those who don’t – either by coaching them to meet your standards or by letting them go. It’s never easy to fire someone, but if all other avenues have been exhausted, it’s the necessary action for the good of the team. The more you allow them to linger, the more they will choke off the energy of those who would otherwise flower.

Treat your role as a supervisor like that of a dedicated gardener. You’re responsible for tending to everything that grows in your plot.



leadership dot #3013: interim

In a true sign of accepting reality, our mall converted one of the prime retail spaces into a rest area/mini-library. It’s located at the crossroads of the mall’s two wings, in theory, the busiest spot in the mall. It was once the home of a jewelry chain and when that went out of business, instead of leaving it available for another tenant, the mall tore out all the walls and doors and made it into an open area.

It’s a great space to take a break – if there was anyone around who needed one. I’m not sure if it was designed for walkers, mall employees or the mythical harried shoppers but, like most of the stores around it, it sits vacant.

I think about all the unused space that surrounds us – bankrupt stores, unoccupied office buildings, restaurants that didn’t survive the pandemic, schools with reduced enrollments – there is a wealth of built-up infrastructure that is currently unused. If you’re the owner of such space, rather than allow it to sit vacant to entropy think about a creative new use for your real estate. Can you rent it as a temporary office for parents who need to do Zoom calls with some privacy? Convert it into a studio for those forced to shift from in-person to remote presentations? Offer it as a voting place? Give shelter to some in need?

Space that sits vacant depletes energy from all who see it. Capitalize on the opportunity to give something or someone a new home, even if it’s just for the interim.

Converted jewelry store at the mall

leadership dot #3012: generate

Whether you’re starting a side hustle, writing a case study for a class or just working on a creative project, there are many times when having a clever name for a business would come in handy. No need to expend brainpower to come up with one on your own: website host WordPress offers a nifty Business Name Generator that can be fun to use, even if you’re not seriously thinking of incorporating a company anytime soon.

By entering the key names for your business, the software will instantly show you a host of options. For example, “Bakery” yields Bakery Beautiful, Harmonic Bakery, Bakery Jet and Canopy Bakery among about 30 other options. You may not love any of them, but they could serve as a stepping stone to other options.

A friend once shared a brainstorming technique where you focus on one topic and write everything down that you can for 10 minutes. Then you do it again for 20 minutes more. In the second session, you’re more likely to get beyond the obvious and reach truly creative names. Let the Name Generator get you started and see where you go from there!

leadership dot #3011: cameo

With so many events moving to an online format, you may be struggling to find a way to make the occasion special. While being remote has its disadvantages, it also opens up new opportunities for creative recognition.

One such way is with cameo.com. Various entertainers are available to record personalized messages that can be incorporated into Zoom-type calls. These have been used to present the top awards at banquets, part of showers or wedding celebrations, at virtual graduations, for appreciation or really for any occasion. You could have Bret Favre, Mandy Moore, Dennis Rodman or Chef Rick Bayless as a guest for your next big event, or choose from one of 30,000 others in categories such as Game of Thrones, reality TV stars, comedians, impersonators, queers or musicians to target the celebrity to your audience.

It’s harder to “wow” participants online, but Cameo might provide a new twist that allows you to infuse some personality into your event. Whether you use them or one of the other similar services out there, don’t just try to replicate in-person via the online format. Take advantage of new modalities to create unexpected memories.

leadership dot #3010: endure

It’s hard to believe that it has been 19 years since the tragedy of 9-11. It was, at the time, the biggest shock since Pearl Harbor and effectively shut down the country for weeks.

But then it was over.

Just as I will always remember 9-11, people today will tell stories about COVID for the rest of their lifetime. It is another collective moment with grave and far-reaching implications.

Only this one has no end in sight.

Essential workers and others in a multitude of positions have been on COVID-overdrive for over half a year now. Creating plans. Redoing plans. Pivoting right. Going back to the left. Implementing Plan A, then Plan B and even Plan Q. Oh yeah, throw in a couple of natural disasters, a widespread social justice movement and divisive politics. It is exhausting.

Leaders of those directly impacted by any of these crises need to acknowledge the stress this year has brought on and take steps to mitigate the incident fatigue that is consciously or unconsciously plaguing so many. Supervisors should acknowledge that these are unprecedented times and explicitly give permission or mandate that key personnel stop doing anything that is not mission-critical. Vacation or time off should be required, even if the employee doesn’t feel like they can be gone. Senior leaders should model relying on each other for moral and literal support to share some of the load.

The terrorist acts on 9-11 were over in 73 minutes. The derecho lasted just hours. The hurricane a day. Most wildfires are extinguished within weeks. Crises do not usually endure with such intensity for months, but since COVID doesn’t appear to be ending any time soon, Job 1 is to make your ability to operate sustainable. Even people with a positive attitude cannot thrive under daunting conditions indefinitely. Acknowledge the toll that the pace and continued uncertainty are taking and shift to strategies that allow people to endure for the longer run.

leadership dot #3009: remote

I’ve been working as an Enumerator for the Census, and I’m sure future dots will have tales of my time in the field. But today, I am struck that while I’ve been working for the organization for five weeks, I have had two hours of in-person training on Day 1 and only one brief call with a human since I began. It gives new meaning to remote work – my entire availability, caseload, results, and pay is conducted through the government-issued iPhone. I speak to no one.

I don’t desire any hand-holding or micromanaging, but one phone call after the first day in the field would have been nice. Even a check-in email that asked if I had any questions would have been welcome. But radio silence. Just work when you want, if you want, for as long as you want – whatever you put into the program on the phone seems to be fine.

If you have remote employees – whether they be permanently remote or just COVID-related — it’s easy to assume that “no news is good news” and that they are being productive on their own. This definitely could be the case. But some small personal contact could pay big dividends in employee morale and loyalty. If you have invested the resources to train someone, you should dedicate equal effort to retaining them.

Don’t be a stranger to your staff and colleagues – no matter where they are located. Pick up the phone.

leadership dot #3008: isolated

On an urban campus, parking places are at a premium so when the human resources department allocated five slots to the student life office, they thought the staff members would be elated. They were – until they learned that the spots had to be vacated by 5pm and were available only Monday through Friday. Since most of the office’s work occurs in the evenings and weekends, that perk suddenly lost its luster.

I’ve heard several tales lately of HR offices being out of touch with the work of others in their own organization. At one school, performance evaluations were scheduled to be due in August – usually the busiest month of the year in preparation for opening. Why would they make such a time-consuming task due at the same time? On another campus, administrators were verbally promoting employee engagement and interaction with students but withdrew the staff meal benefits that encouraged this practice.

It’s not just HR that becomes isolated. The pace of work, doing most work remotely, and the budget cuts that have added to the workloads of the remaining staff – all are contributing factors to people worried more about getting their work done instead of taking the time to develop relationships and understanding with others. Don’t let it happen to you.

Everything you do has an impact on someone else, either inside or outside of your organization. Your work will have more meaning – and likely more effectiveness – if you know those who benefit from your services. Make the time to ask before you act.


leadership dot #3007: introduction

“What do you do?”? is the easy default opener when meeting someone new. With just one question we learn so much about a person as their identity is often wrapped up in their job. “I’m an accountant, a teacher, or a nurse” is an easy way for people to find a launching pad for conversational connections.

But for the 30 million who are unemployed right now, “What do you do?” becomes tricky. It can even bring on waves of shame or self-doubt, even though it shouldn’t. What you do is a vastly different proposition than who you are. That hasn’t changed whether or not you have a current position; if you were talented, amazing, generous and creative before the pink slip, you remain so today.

Be conscious of those who are seeking jobs right now and rephrase your introductory questions or casual queries. Things like: “Tell me a nugget about yourself; What’s something you learned in the last month?, or What do people say about you a lot?” get the conversation rolling without that awkward moment of angst for those who don’t have a position or title to share with you right now.