leadership dot #3699: move over

We’ve all seen the signs on the highway: “Slow Down or Move Over” when approaching flashing lights or construction. We’ve seen them but too often drivers pay little attention to the warning and speed by.

The Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission added a twist to their signs in an attempt to give drivers pause and help them really think about the consequences of ignoring the message. It created a Memorial Sign Program that personalized the warning signs near the milepost where a turnpike worker or highway patrol officer was killed while on duty. By adding the name, Commission members sought to both honor those who were lost and prevent future tragedies.

Master teacher Parker Palmer said that the role of education was to create the intersection of the big picture and the personal story. The Ohio Turnpike achieved just that with its sign program. The strategy is one that you can use in your organization, too. By varying what is expected and breaking the routine you can cause people to pay more attention to messages that are typically ignored. Adding a specific tribute serves as a powerful way to convey the impact of the warning and takes it from the hypothetical to the very real. What can you do to move your story to become more personal?

Thanks, Ken!

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 #3683: shaka

Hawaiians know it as the shaka, meaning hello or symbol of okay. I know it as the Hang Ten gesture, used by surfers to communicate “hang loose.” It can convey good, how are you, or a host of other greetings — all through the hand gesture of a raised little finger and thumb.

Legend has many origin stories for the gesture, but the Polynesian Cultural Center attributes it to Hamana Kalili who lost three fingers of his hand in a sugar mill accident, leaving him only the thumb and pinky. He used his remaining digits to communicate when the sugar cane rail cars were cleared for departure and others copied his shorthand, much like using a thumbs-up sign.

Kalili could have seen his loss of fingers as a shortcoming but instead turned his accident into a distinctive greeting that is still used far beyond the islands. Do you have a liability that instead may become a unique calling card if you embraced it? Perhaps you could hang loose about your misfortune and turn it into a signature feature.

leadership dot #3679: edits

One of the most memorable things I saw at Pearl Harbor was the annotated speech President Roosevelt gave to Congress. Today, most people know the line “a day that will live in infamy” but those words did not appear in the original draft. Initially, it read: “Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date that will live in world history, the United States of America was simultaneously and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.” It was wisely edited, with world history replaced by infamy and simultaneously replaced by suddenly. The speech itself became one that will live in infamy.

Think of what was happening when this address was written. There wasn’t an earlier draft on the shelf; there were no computers to make easy revisions, and the central government had to be in chaos trying to learn about the damage 5000 miles away. Yet, people took the time to ponder over word choices and make deliberate changes to maximize the impact of the communication.

You would be well served to follow Roosevelt’s example and take care with your messaging, especially when things around you are swirling. The less clear the situation, the more clear your communication needs to be.

leadership dot #180a: not guilty

My advice from being called twice to serve on jury duty: if you have to be on the jury, be the foreman.  

If I am going to spend my time at the trial and deliberation, I want to see a productive outcome (verdict) as a result. So if I have to be there, I’m going to step up and lead the discussion to help us stay on topic.

The same principle applies to meetings outside the legal arena. If you have to be at a meeting, act like the foreman. Take an active role in the discussion to frame the issue, bring out the various views, point out the commonalities and move the group toward action. The foreman is a facilitator, not a dictator, and it is a good model to follow.  

You don’t need to hold an official position of power to help move the meeting along. If you have been convened with the purpose of deciding, step up to the role. Whether your goal is group consensus or majority rule, you can help drive the discussion to facilitate action.  

Don’t just sit there and be guilty of leaving the verdict of the meeting in someone else’s hands.

Originally published in modified form on November 28, 2012



leadership dot #3670: personal

Many retailers partner with charitable organizations to encourage customers to add a donation to their purchases. Our local Walmart added a twist to the solicitation by hanging signs at each register that read: “My goal is $100. Will you please help me reach my goal by making a donation?

By making the appeal a bit more personal, I presume that it increased donations or at least added to the cashier’s motivation to ask for them. Instead of having customers feel like their dollars were going to a far-off research hospital, the extra contribution was much more immediate — helping the person right in front of them.

Creating this hyper-local impact was a great idea. The next time you need to make an ask — for a favor or funds — make it as personal as you can. People are much more inclined to assist something or someone close to them.

leadership dot #3668: API

There is a small sticker on my computer keyboard that reads: API. It’s the abbreviation for Assume Positive Intent, put there as a reminder to me before I fire off a nastygram or an email that will have a tone I later wish to retract.

Many business leaders have touted API as some of the best advice they have been given, and I agree with them. Assume Positive Intent doesn’t mean being a pushover or accepting excuses — rather it means asking more questions and learning the full story before making assumptions — and responding based on those — vs acting on a presumed conclusion you may ultimately find to be false. For example, instead of a snipe in an email admonishing colleague for not sending you a report, you could API and respond instead by simply asking if it was shared — preserving your relationship when you learn it was posted in Teams, just not in an email where you were looking.

API gives you the ability to escalate later if circumstances warrant but it saves you from regrets and walking back what you said by acting initially from a less charitable perspective. Assume Positive Intent and allow for the option of grace before you go negative.

leadership dot #3667: reply

One of the challenges of communication is when people respond to your question with a tangential thought or another question. It’s a reply, but it isn’t an answer. Examples include:

  • Q: Are you going to the meeting? Reply: Can you believe there is another meeting about this project?
  • Q: Where do you want to go to dinner? Reply: I had a big lunch.
  • Q: Can I consider this report finalized and send it to the boss? Reply: I heard she is getting ready to go out of town.
  • Q: Do you want me to make reservations at 5 pm or 7 pm? Reply: It’s a half-hour from where we’ll be.
  • Q: Are you able to help me with this task? Reply: The new assistant starts next week.

These types of responses do nothing to facilitate progress or move the conversation forward. What does the reply even mean? It certainly isn’t a definitive response to what you asked.

If you pay attention, I suspect you will hear many non-answers to your queries. Be conscious that you aren’t hearing them come from your own lips.

leadership dot #3652: gardens

Our botanical garden has a section of beds that are planted with a different theme each year — this year’s version being Games People Play. Each of the gardens uses flowers to represent a familiar pastime representing such games as Candyland, Minecraft, and Duck Duck Goose. Examples include alternating red and black flowers to form a living checkerboard, marigolds in even rows to serve as a football field, battleships hidden amongst the flowers, and impatiens encircling a rose bush to depict Ring Around the Rosie.

If you walked through the section without realizing an underlying theme, the gardens would not seem to fit together. There were dozens of plant varieties, multiple colors, and seemingly incongruous layouts. But once you recognize the connection, all the beds tie together nicely and use flowers to tell a story.

The human mind likes patterns and a good theme delivers them, thus is its power. Themes are the throughline — the thread that brings cohesion to elements that would otherwise appear random. They provide a beautiful blend of coherence and individuality, simultaneously creating focus and latitude.

Whether you are planting gardens, hosting a party, writing an annual report, or preparing a speech, ensure that you have a theme that provides a logical framework sprinkled with a creative surprise or two. Connect those dots!

Tic Tack Toe garden

leadership dot #3650: broken promises

A hot topic in our town is whether or not to invest millions to renovate the aging civic center and theater. It has been a contested issue for quite some time, involving task forces, consultants, and a costly delay due to COVID. The City Council was working on language to put the financing before taxpayers when “in a sudden shift” this week they decided not to move forward with a referendum.

I am disappointed by the change of direction by most of the council members, but one, in particular, is of special concern. She was sworn in on April 4 — just two months ago. Her quote in the paper yesterday: “I promised voters that I would vote to put this to referendum, but I can’t in good conscience do that now,” she said.

Before you make promises you can’t keep in order to gain favor, be intentional about your language. Allow for leeway to change your mind based upon additional information, especially if you are new to a role. Don’t say what people want to hear before you know if you can deliver it. The only real asset leaders have is their integrity.

Source: Council nixes Five Flags referendum by John Kruse, Telegraph Herald June 8, 2022, p. 1A