leadership dot #2276: gyro

What’s a business to do if their main product is difficult to pronounce? That is the challenge facing Greek restauranteurs across the U.S. as American customers see “gyro” and think of pronouncing the “g” as in gyroscope or gyrating.

There are several strategies to alleviate the discomfort patrons may feel, especially those who know it’s not gy-ro but can never remember what it is. Some menus list the items with a picture or a number so diners can just point. But others have become more creative.

A restaurant in New York City named their chain with the phonetic spelling: “The yee-ro joint”. Another’s website has a prominent arrow: “How to pronounce it? – Play to find out!” and then links to the hysterical Jimmy Fallon and Luke Bryan’s official music video: “I don’t know how to pronounce gyro.”

Every organization has something that trips up others. Instead of ignoring it or dealing with the ongoing stumbles, address it head-on in a way that educates but doesn’t embarrass those with the uncertainty.


leadership dot #2272: keep track

I recently coached a colleague through the range of emotions and potential actions as a result of a major organizational change. She was wrestling with the implications of the new structure and what that means for her. One of my suggestions was that she keeps track of her feelings and behaviors so that at a later date she is able to review them and have the benefit of perspective.

Rather than approach her task as a diarist, I also encouraged her to make notes like a journalist or researcher – collecting relevant pain points and moments of pride that could be assembled into a case study or teaching scenario in another setting. The outside perspective may add some objectivity into her data collection and help document the roller coaster ride more fairly.

This doesn’t need to be a lofty process; rather just making a note or two when something of significance happens – the good, bad and ugly. By collecting these pieces, she will have the ability to assess the whole and hopefully gain some clarity as to what her next action should be. The change and how it was handled was a big negative, but do a compilation of small things throughout the coming months offset that? It’s hard to know in the moment, but much easier to see when in writing and when noted in the moment instead of by recollection.

The next time you are facing a dilemma, see if approaching it from a third-party perspective doesn’t help you. What would someone from the outside looking in highlight about your situation? Can you use your experience – whether a success or challenge – to enlighten someone else? Are there steps you can take to infuse some distance between the heat of the moment and making meaning of the action?

Whether you grab a notebook, computer or app on your phone, treat a major change like you are an explorer out discovering new lands and keep track of the little things along the way. Later, it will help you make sense of the journey.

leadership dot #2266: user manuals

After you have worked for or with someone for a while you learn their work style – and the quirks and preferences that comprise it. But why make people wait or make your colleagues guess how you do your best work?

It is becoming more popular to provide a “user manual” as part of the onboarding or transition process to help others know how to most effectively work with you. User manuals are frequently compiled with information from someone other than you – by asking current people who report to you what it is really like as one of your direct reports or colleagues. A user manual shares information about how you prefer to work with people and preferences that may help new staff to know about your style right from the beginning rather than after months of experience.

An example of some of the comments from a direct report that are included in my user manual:

  • She believes that nothing is sacred…meaning that just because we’ve done something a certain way, it’s encouraged to ask why or offer a new solution.
  • She makes decisions…sometimes too quickly, which can be frustrating when it’s not the decision you want. However, you can make your case and she will listen. 
  • She is extremely organized, and always follows through. I have NEVER met someone who follows up like she does. If she asks you to do something, she will hold you accountable to it.

Wharton professor Adam Grant wrote about compiling a user manual and suggests asking others these questions when you are gathering information:

  • What brings out the best in me?
  • What brings out the worst in me?
  • What do you see as my strengths and weaknesses?
  • What are my blind spots?
  • If tomorrow was your first day working with me, what information about my personality would help you work with me more effectively?

 Overall, compiling a user manual is an enlightening experience – it’s both fascinating to hear how others describe your style and illuminating for new colleagues to have their expectations more closely aligned to the reality of working with you. Take some of the guesswork out of your working relationships and share the good, bad and even ugly up front.

For additional information and examples, click here.

leadership dot #2265: handwritten

A colleague, who anointed me as the Queen of Handwritten Notes and dubbed herself the Runner-Up, sent me an article about a company that has automated the process in the college admissions arena. Yes, that is correct, a machine is replicating “handwritten” notes, apparently with such realism that unsuspecting prospective students believe the school took the time to pen a note themselves.

Isn’t the whole point of handwritten to be personal and authentic, and doesn’t automation fly in the face of that?

The lesson that I take away from this reinforces the power of a legitimate handwritten note. In these days of mass production, a note with penmanship stands out among the junk mail, email, form letters and the like. Even cards for occasions such as birthdays or Christmas are being replaced with social media posts, e-newsletters or texts, all of which allows a handwritten note to make an impression.

I am saddened by this company who will now inject cynicism into the process and cause people to question whether their correspondence is really handwritten or not. Hopefully, the next note you receive will contain a personal sentiment and you’ll know that a machine did not craft it.

Quit trying to be things that you are not. If you are a large university, handwritten notes aren’t you – capitalize on your size and send tickets to a big sporting event instead. If you’re a big company, use your leverage to get a big name to endorse your product instead of pretending to be small. If you’re a big organization, handwrite notes to a select group of donors instead of pretending to be intimate for the masses.

There is enough fake communication out there these days without your adding to it.

Thanks, Bethany!



leadership dot #2260: preparation

Usually when seeking to present at a conference, you submit a proposal with an outline or objectives, but once selected to present you are on your honor to adhere to what you proposed. I have presented at many conferences where that has been the case, but the organizers of an upcoming conference have taken their quality control to a new level. For this event, I have received multiple instructions and I need to submit my slides three weeks in advance. After they are reviewed, I’ll have a 20-minute phone call to go over my content and ensure that the presentation is interactive and advanced enough for the audience.

I welcome the clarity that the organizers are trying to provide. It feels like they are trying to set me up for success rather than leaving me on my own and the results to chance. It has caused me to up my game and really think about the material that I am sharing in hopes that it meets their exacting standards.

It occurs to me that these organizers are spending more time to set and manage expectations for my 70-minute session than many supervisors do for much more extensive and impactful assignments. How many times has your manager given you a task and then let you go do it without any conversation about expectations or parameters? Have you, as a supervisor, done the same for your employees?

You may not want or need to hold someone’s hand or go through this extensive of a review process if the person or project is familiar, but it provides a good model to follow for new ventures. Be clear about what you are seeking, and then take care that both parties understand how to translate those expectations into tangible actions.


leadership dot #2254: last leg

When I was touring the Old Courthouse in St. Louis (now a museum), I came across a pile of boxes pushed off to the side of an exhibit. One was open, so, being the marketing geek that I am, I will admit that I peeked into the Federal property to see their latest National Park Service campaign.

What I found wasn’t their newest marketing efforts, rather a previous one. The thought, expense and effort that went into it were all wasted as it sat, nearly untouched, in the corner. The planners had presumably done due diligence on the front end but failed to get buy-in from those who would actually implement it.

How many times have we each been guilty of doing the same thing? Administrators create a sensible new policy but don’t share the rationale with those on the front end. Product developers create the latest new gadget without asking targeted users whether it meets their needs. Politicians enact new regulations without understanding the impact on those who must follow them.

Don’t stop short when you are doing your planning. Handing off the baton is not enough; you must stay engaged in both strategy and implementation until the finish line, not just until completing your leg of the run.


leadership dot #2253: elephant

One of my favorite landmarks in St. Louis is the Eads Bridge. Built in 1874, it is an intricate structure that was one of the first steel bridges in the United States. It is much more beautiful than the concrete giants that span the Mississippi now, and at the time it was considered revolutionary…

…but the structural stability of steel was severely doubted. No one had ever seen a bridge built in quite this fashion and there were predictions that it would fall into the river when the first load of cargo crossed it.

To allay his detractors, designer and builder James Eads staged an elaborate grand opening where 14 locomotives and a real elephant crossed the bridge first. Not only did they make it safely, but the bridge is still operational today, almost 150 years later.

Eads could have performed stress tests or shared loads of data with the public, but nothing would have made the same impression that a live elephant did. While an elephant actually “only” weighs about 10,000 pounds, it is perceived as a giant. The elephant was the visual that made the safety real.


The next time you need to convince doubters or establish credibility for one of your projects, don’t forget about the elephant. The impact of visuals stomps all over the impact of data any day.