leadership dot #1998: answers

How often have you been in a meeting where the pretense was to gather input, but really the person in charge already had determined all the answers?

At a recent event, I participated in an icebreaker that can help you to illustrate this point in a light-hearted and humorous way.

One participant was given a plate with strips of paper marked QUESTIONS. The person sitting next to them was given a plate with strips marked ANSWERS. Person A drew a question then person B drew an answer to respond to it. All of the answers are interchangeable, and some provide hilarious combinations. After person B answers, the plate of QUESTIONS is passed to them and the ANSWERS are given to person C and it keeps going around the table until everyone has asked and answered a question.

For example:

Q. Would you like to be a millionaire?
A. No, once I tried, but it ended up a disaster.

Q. Do you have any shortcomings?
A. People do not speak about it aloud.

Q. Do you love children?
A. During my lunch hour.

Use this to show the futility of having pre-conceived answers without acknowledging what the question is – or just use it as a fun icebreaker at your next event (or Thanksgiving dinner). It avoids that awkwardness of not knowing what to say because the answers are provided for you!

(Get a sample list of questions and answers here.)

Thanks to Kayla Morrison for sharing.

leadership dot #1996: posted

Most people know that there is a law requiring employers to post certain job regulations in a prominent place for employees to have access to them: things like non-discrimination clauses, employee rights, minimum wage and other legal notices. But what happens when there is no office or break-room bulletin board?

This situation occurred on a recent construction project on my street. In addition to all the equipment and road signs that were delivered came a big sheet of plywood with notices in plastic holders. This board is sitting out by the mailboxes, presumably for the workers to have access to the required documents. I doubt anyone has read it!

When government officials were drafting the law, I am sure it made good sense to them to require employers to share the information with their employees and to have the notices posted in a prominent location. In their world of offices and meetings, it would be an easy thing to do only no one thought through the various situations in which posting would be ludicrous instead of practical.

Before you require everyone to do something, pause for a moment and think of the hardships this may cause others. It is far better to legislate the intent instead of prescribing the method.

leadership dot #1985: narrative

I attended an interview with Iowa Public Radio’s Charity Nebbe and author Heather Gudenkauf, and while Heather said many interesting things about her latest novel, one comment by Charity stuck with me.

Charity was speaking about the depth of Heather’s characters and remarked about how important developed stories are in today’s society. “YouTube is story-less,” she said. “The videos have no arc or narrative.”

I had not thought about YouTube in this way, but her comment is true for much of what is on social media. Instead of watching the whole movie and enjoying the richness of plot and character development, many people consume their “art” through an equivalent of the trailer or bite-size portion of the whole. We see the surface without the depth.

While this may make for light fun and entertainment, there is something to be said for the robust full-version of a movie, play or book. I don’t think characters like Scarlett O’Hara, Moby Dick, the Little Women or Romeo and Juliet would have become legends for decades if they only were on YouTube!

As your organization undoubtedly spends substantial time cultivating your social media strategy, don’t forget to allocate some resources to tell your full story. Your history, legacy, mission and vision weave together to create an arc and narrative beyond 140 characters or a two-minute video. Plot out your plot as part of your complete messaging story.

leadership dot #1977: discussion

A quote on the radio said: “arguments find out who is right; discussions find out what is right.” I like the distinction.

Too often, a conversation devolves into an argument and the focus changes from learning to winning. In a conversation, there is banter, but with civility and empathy; the focus remains on the content rather than the person.

The distinction reminded me of lessons from the book Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull. Ed is the co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios and president of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation. In his book, he describes “Dailies” where the animators show their in-process work to others each day in order to receive feedback on the details of their work. Ed writes: “By making the struggles to solve the problems safe to discuss, then everyone learns from – and inspires – one another. The whole activity becomes socially rewarding and productive. To participate fully each morning requires empathy, clarity, generosity and the ability to listen.”

Pixar has demonstrated how good discussions can work to make people more creative as they work together to improve the product. Keep your focus today on what is right, not who.

Radio source: Direct from Hollywood with Ryan Seacrest
Quote from Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull with Amy Wallace, 2014, p. 195.

leadership dot #1963: radical candor

As we commemorate Bosses Day today, I remind all bosses and aspiring bosses that one of their most important functions is to provide feedback to employees. One model that helps to frame the spectrum of feedback options was developed by Kim Scott, author of the 2017 book Radical Candor.

Kim’s premise is that for effective feedback, the person must Care Personally and Challenge Directly. If someone has accomplished both aspects, she terms their feedback as Radical Candor – where you can provide direct and helpful feedback to help the person grow.

People often Care Personally – a lot – and because of their focus on being nice, they fail to challenge directly. Kim believes this is Ruinous Empathy, luring the person into a false sense of security because they have not received the honest feedback they deserve.

The opposite extreme is Obnoxious Aggression – feedback that is given without care and thus is often ignored or seen as not helpful.

On her website (radicalcandor.com), Kim shares stories and provides many more examples of the quadrants in action, but I believe this simple diagram will provide you with some fodder to consider today.

Where do you fall on the Care Personally/Challenge Directly spectrum? Have you truly shown your employees (or colleagues, partner, children, etc.) that you care about them? Do you care enough to provide the honest feedback that they would benefit from hearing or do you avoid it to keep yourself comfortable?

We’d all be better off if we delivered feedback with Radical Candor, keeping the civility and care as part of the equation while still saying what needs to be said.

Radical Candor handout

Thanks to Meghan for connecting me with this resource!

leadership dot #1957: curate

A new exhibit at the Smithsonian features 77 photographs of President John F. Kennedy – nothing extraordinary there, except that all of them were purchased on eBay.

I imagine the Smithsonian as an elite institution with access to behind-the-scenes, never-before-seen artifacts (which I am sure is true), but for this exhibit, they chose to display only materials previously seen by thousands. And, again by choice, the materials were exhibited in their original form – without enlargements or enhancements for the display.

What struck me about this is that everyone had access to this Smithsonian-quality exhibit. You could have curated the exact same thing in your home or office. The magic is not in the items themselves, rather in the compilation of them.

What items can you assemble en masse to create a story of your own? Maybe it involves a wall of photographs, a collection of magazine covers or record albums, historical documents from your organization or ticket stubs from the events you have sponsored.

Whether from your archives or via eBay, your story is waiting to be told. Be resourceful like the Smithsonian and gather the visuals you need to tell it.

Source: Smithsonian displays JFK photos by Alex Gangitano for the Tribune News Service, in the Telegraph Herald, May 14, 2017, p. 5C.

leadership dot #1952: historian

The goal of the Iowa Barn Foundation Barn Tour was to allow people access to historic barns, but what I enjoyed more than seeing the building was the farmer who provided our “tour.” Jack Smith is the proud (and I do mean proud!) owner of a barn built in 1917. It is a formidable structure and in great condition, but the real treat was hearing Jack get giddy over being able to share his history with visitors.

Jack has amassed quite a collection of antique farming implements and machines, tinkering with them to learn how the contraptions functioned. Some are still a mystery today. He has scoured old equipment catalogs to research the origins and usage of pieces that he inherited. He has a collection of flour bags with ancestors’ names stamped on them and even purchased a sign from the sawmill where the barn itself was first milled. Rather than display the goods as in a museum, Jack entertained guests with stories that brought the history to life. He said: “Isn’t it cool” more times than a kid on Christmas.

I would bet that there are “Jacks” in many organizations – or in the ranks of their former members. Think of how you can capture the enthusiasm and knowledge of these passionate historians. Could you ask them to become ambassadors and provide in-person storytelling to groups of new employees or guests? Perhaps you need to record their tales to immortalize their observations and reflections. Maybe you just need “your Jack” to walk through your facility and identify its background so that you can create signs or ways to share it with others.

That barn became so much more than a grand old building because of the love the owner imparted. Find ways to communicate the love that formed your organization in a way that shows its heart, not just its words.