leadership dot #2695: unlikely friendships

At the last primary debate, the last question asked was “tell us about a friendship you’ve had that would surprise us.” All but one of the Democratic candidates shared examples of Republicans, as if being civil with someone across the aisle was surprising.

It reminded me of the story of Donna Red Wing, executive director of One Iowa, the state’s largest LGBT advocacy organization, who decided to honor her deceased friend by continuing her work on reconciliation. So, Donna thought about who was the “most unlikely person on the planet” she could reach out to and landed on Bob Vander Plaats, the president of the Family Leader, an organization that seeks to inspire Christ-like leadership. While quite nervous at first, the two have developed an uncommon friendship – exchanging conversations as people beyond their positions. It’s worth your 5 minutes to hear their reflections.

Donna and Bob still see the world from very different perspectives and haven’t changed their position on any of the major issues. Their lesson is that you “can fight the good fight in the court of public opinion, but you don’t have to hurt each other.” It’s a good mantra for everyone.

Think about the question that the debate moderator asked or that Donna asked herself – what would your answer be? Maybe today, inviting an unlikely person to coffee could be the start of an uncommon friendship that could increase civility in your office, your family circle or your community. Toast your lattes to the advice of the late Stephen Covey: “Seek first to understand.”


leadership dot #2693: delayed

I received a thank you note yesterday in acknowledgment of a gift I made to the organization – in June. I have made several charitable gifts this year and received varying levels of recognition for them but none that impressed me. Why do organizations fail to show love to those who love them most?

The best way to strengthen donor relations is through a thank you note – sharing how the gift will be used, what an impact it made and providing a sincere appreciation for what the donor’s generosity enabled the organization to accomplish with the funds. A generic tax record does not meet those criteria.

It’s the time of year when seemingly everyone wants my money and it’s exacerbated by the multitude of political candidates still actively pursuing my support. Whether you’re running a campaign, charity or just seeking funds for the marching band, please-o-please put as much consideration into how you are going to thank people for that gift as you put into asking them for it.

How you show your appreciation becomes the background from which you make your next ask. Don’t waste the opportunity.

leadership dot #2692: outside voice

Front-line workers in five organizations that are working to create system-wide change were asked to share observations about how the change efforts have (or haven’t) impacted them.

The content that resulted from those interviews wasn’t much of a surprise to any of the organization leaders but the gift of the process was the language the employees utilized. The transcripts moved the conversation away from buzz words and the party line to express real emotion about the work, their reactions and their fears about the change. The comments painted a vivid picture – far richer than any of the leaders could have painted on their own – and highlighted gaps between how the front-lines are experiencing the change and how the supervisors do.

Think about the implications of the process itself for your enterprise. You may believe that you know what your customers or employees think about your organization but without direct contact, you’ll never be able to describe it in their words. The richness of the language of those who experience your products or services can enlighten you in ways that nothing else can. Not only can it help you to listen and learn, but direct feedback can also reshape how you speak and communicate back to your constituencies.

It’s worth the effort to invest in externally-facilitated focus groups or face-to-face interviews to gather the nuances of the external voice. Looking through a window isn’t the same experience as being outside.

leadership dot #2691: huddles

Two takeaways from a conference a colleague attended:

  • Instead of offering only your standard breakout sessions, this conference provided an option for “huddles” – a time when people in similar positions could gather and talk about relevant topics for a three-hour time block. While workshops are wonderful and it’s always great to learn new content, some of the most practical wisdom comes from peers. Huddles are a tangible way to ensure that networking and idea-sharing happen more in-depth than what can occur in other ways at a conference.
  • During one of these huddles, the facilitator gave prompts in three general topic areas (e.g. staff and culture) and then asked each table to discuss the topic using these four questions: 1) What’s right (in our organization relating to this topic)? 2) What’s wrong? 3) What’s confused? and 4) What’s missing? These questions seemed to be broad enough to engender lively conversations but still focused enough to stimulate meaningful idea generation and specific examples.

Think of how you can apply these concepts to your own work. Are there people in similar positions throughout your organization that don’t currently have time to meet to discuss larger issues beyond the nuts-and-bolts? Perhaps you could swap out one of your task-oriented meetings and allow them to huddle instead.

Can you use the four questions to conduct assessments of your own operations or in 1:1 meetings with staff members? Think of how you could frame your evaluations and broaden your thinking by sharing the four questions in advance and having meaningful dialogue on where each of you sees the performance in these quadrants.

Ironically, huddles took less preparation than a traditional workshop and probably produced just as much learning. What can you do to reframe how you absorb or share content that increases its impact?

From the Spire Conference 2019 – Thanks, bg!

leadership dot #2687: attribution

Author James Clear shared the following observation in his newsletter: “You know yourself mostly by your thoughts. Everyone else in the world knows you only by your actions.”

It reminded me of a lesson by Patrick Lencioni describing the Fundamental Attribution Error – we attribute other people’s behaviors to their character (internal attribution) whereas we claim the environment impacts our own actions (external attribution). Lencioni gives the example of a dad harshly scolding his kids in the store – we think that he is a mean, angry man – but when we do the same thing, we justify it because we have unruly children.

As Clear says, we know ourselves by understanding the rationale behind our behaviors, but others only see the external result. If we feel misunderstood, we need to translate our thoughts into verbal communication or explicit actions that others can see.

How can you develop congruency between what you are thinking and how you are acting to avoid an observable gap? You need to be giving the behavioral cues that help others know you rather than guessing about you. As many in relationships have lamented: “I’m not a mind reader.” Neither are those around you.

James Clear’s 3-2-1 Newsletter 8-29-19
Patrick Lencioni’s 5 Dysfunctions of a Team video


leadership dot #2683: nicer

With so many signs regulating our behaviors, they tend to lose their effectiveness. One way to stand out from the communication overload is to rethink the wording on your signs and utilize nontraditional verbiage to get your point across.

One organization did this with a sign to discourage employees from exploring unused space on the floor of the office building they were renting. Instead of “do not enter” they changed it to: “Your wandering curiosity and Dupaco’s leased space stops here. Please do not venture past this point.” How much nicer is that?

The next time you need to make a sign, take an extra few moments to craft a message that conveys your point in a memorable way. You can achieve the same intent but with a smile.


leadership dot #2673: helping hand

I’ve recently been asked for advice on how – or even whether – to give advice to others in the organization that “don’t report to me” but could use some coaching.

The “whether” question is easy – if your paycheck comes from the same organization as theirs you have a vested interest in helping everyone become the best they can be. There shouldn’t be silos that inhibit enterprise enhancement.

And, giving feedback to others involves taking a risk, one that is greater if you don’t have a hierarchical line to them giving implicit permission to do so. What I recommend is informally asking the person if they would like some feedback that you think would be helpful to them or if you could share a suggestion on how to approach something. By giving the person a choice and a bit of space before you jump right in, you help them become more open to hearing from you.

You could say something like: “Rosa, I see you struggling with that report. I’d be happy to share a few tips that have worked for me if you’d like – just let me know.” Or “Sam, I remember what it’s like to be new here. If you’d like to grab a coffee and hear some of my lessons learned, I’d be happy to do so.” Or “Whew, Simone, that was a rough meeting, wasn’t it? Let me know if you’d like to debrief.”

Feedback offered in a genuine spirit of helpfulness oftentimes gives us information about ourselves that others can see but of which we are blind. Be open to receiving the gift of feedback and be courageous enough to offer it.