leadership dot #2641: plain talk

A sign in a local park states: No Domestic Animals. So, bring your lions, tigers and bears but leave those ferrets at home.

I wonder what prompted the wording. Do people really bring anything besides dogs into public parks? In an effort to be all-encompassing, the policymakers have muddied their message and left the regulation open to more interpretation.

If you mean “no dogs” just say that plainly. Don’t try to make a simple message more complex than it needs to be.


leadership dot #2632: about them

In my class, I assigned students to submit a resume, hypothetical cover letter and accompanying job ad. I thought this would be an easy assignment and way for me to get to know the students but it turned into a larger lesson on communication.

I see a resume and cover letter as a microcosm of the communication process as a whole. These documents must be accurate, compelling and succinct. They must bring the content to life in a way that is meaningful for the audience, not the writer and, like most messages, they need to inspire action. Hiring and interviewing are key managerial skills and I believe the students need to role model in that area by having a resume, letter and LinkedIn profile that conveys their strengths and uniquenesses. Let’s just say that I was underwhelmed with what I received.

So, we spent a portion of class working on two key elements of the cover letter: 1) the focus and 2) the closing. The letter should be about THE EMPLOYER, not the candidate. Consider the difference between:

  • “I am applying for ABC position because I have XYZ strengths” – vs. – “I am applying for ABC position because I have XYZ strengths that can help your organization delight and serve its customers.”
  • “I am interested in ABC position because I’ve always admired your organization and am interested in your industry.” – vs. – “I am interested in ABC position because I believe my XYZ skills can help you continue to be a leader in your industry.”

Make it about them!

We also worked to end with a strong statement. Instead of the unmemorable “Thank you for your consideration” or “I look forward to hearing from you”, think of the difference it makes to conclude with something like:

  • “I look forward to sharing further how my experiences could enhance ABC and help create a positive impact on your clients.”
  • “I welcome the opportunity to utilize my experiences to help ABC [do what its website says it’s trying to do] e.g.: become a leader in the community, grow in this region, etc.”

Make it about them!

Whether or not you are actively pursuing a job, I believe it is always a good idea to have a current resume and updated profile. Be ready when an opportunity comes knocking!

leadership dot #2631: bird by bird

A famous piece of writing advice from author Anne Lamott is simply to write “bird by bird”. The saying references a quote her father gave her brother who was struggling to begin a major report on birds that should have been started long before. “Bird by bird,” he said, encouraging him to write about one bird at a time and assemble them into a paper.

“Bird by bird” is great advice, not only for writing but for most things. You prepare department-wide budgets bird by bird. Plan elaborate weddings. Deliver a comprehensive proposal. Complete income taxes. Become a minimalist. Finish an expense report. Pack a household to move. Change systems. It all happens one “bird” at a time.

Instead of feeling overwhelmed the next time a significant task faces you, remember Lamott’s powerful advice. Describing the aviary may seem daunting, but one bird you can handle.

Source: Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott, 1995

leadership dot #2630: the art of interviewing

When I say “interviewing,” most people think of prospecting for jobs, but interviewing has a far greater context. Interviewing is a key managerial skill, a tool to elicit feedback and information from others. If they do it right, managers will “interview” people every day to learn about their needs, problems, solutions and emotions.

Two current leadership “hot topics” are Emotional Intelligence and Human-Centered Design. Both involve components of empathy – gaining an understanding of others – which can be done through interviewing — consulting with others, asking questions and listening to the response.

I believe that a good interview addresses questions about “what is” but also draws observations and inquiries about “what isn’t” – reading between the lines to discover what is eluded to but left unsaid.

Yesterday’s dot was inspired by a loan officer interviewing me not only about finances but also about my favorite leadership concept. I interviewed the students in my class last night to discover their learning objectives for the course. I’ll be interviewed by clients to see if my training style fits their needs and I’ll interview them to learn what they really hope to accomplish from the session even if they can’t yet articulate it themselves.

As a journalism major, the art of good interviewing was highlighted in all of our courses but I believe it should be part of everyone’s curriculum. Learning how to craft insightful questions and seeking to understand what is/isn’t said are skills that would increase civility and benefit far more than just reporters. Try to practice your interviewing skills today by asking someone a powerful question that makes them stop and think.

leadership dot #2622: they will come

If you’re 77-years old and want to allay the fears of Iowa voters that you’re spry enough to be president, what better way to do it than to play a softball game at the Field of Dreams? Such was the strategy of Bernie Sanders and staff who challenged members of the press in a light-hearted duel.

Of course, it was more of a campaign rally than an athletic event, complete with special buttons, free pennants and paper megaphones. In addition to the usual propaganda, they also distributed baseball cards featuring Sanders as #46 (the next president). He “bats right, throws right and thinks left.” Clever!

I have seen many other candidates over the years – all in traditional settings. It would have drawn a crowd just by having the game, but the food trucks, banners, celebrity announcers (Susan Sarandon and Yogi Berra’s granddaughter) and giveaways all served to make it memorable for its spectacle even if you didn’t agree with the politics.

The next time you need to convey a message, put as much thought into the venue as to the words themselves. Sometimes just changing up where your communication is delivered could set you up to hit it out of the park.

leadership dot #2607: semantics

I went to a restaurant that appears to have a Ferris Wheel on its premises. It looks like a Ferris wheel, acts like a Ferris wheel and I’m sure that most everyone believes it is a Ferris wheel – but as I learned upon boarding, it is not a Ferris wheel as permanent Ferris wheels are prohibited within the city limits.

To get around this rule, the owners added a rudimentary plywood table and drink holders in each basket and christened it as a “Vertical Revolving Patio” – and obviously received approval by the zoning board. Genius.

Think of the equivalent of your “Ferris wheel” – a program or change that you are trying to make but is prohibited. You may not need to alter the essence of what you are trying to do, rather just make a slight modification to fit within the restrictive parameters. How can you create your own “vertical revolving patio” so you’re able to achieve great heights with your plans?

This is NOT a Ferris wheel!
This simple modification turned it into a Vertical Revolving Patio!

leadership dot #2606: willpower to wait

Everyone knows it is dangerous to text while driving but people did it anyway so states responded with laws prohibiting it. Since enforcement of these rules is difficult, more states are moving to hands-free driving, making it illegal to hold a phone no matter what the reason. New York is trying to provide incentives to wait-to-text by installing frequent signs and 91 “text stops” along their interstates. Insurance companies are urging states to go even further and ban all phone use in cars.

I am reminded of the famous “Don’t Mess with Texas” ad campaign. While the state has since adopted it as a mantra and symbol of their rebellious independence, the slogan originated to stop litter on Texas highways. The brilliant ad agency believed they needed to appeal to people’s pride in their state rather than point out the obvious that littering was bad. I think the same applies to texting.

Everyone knows what behavior is best for them; drivers know there are places to pull over just a few miles down the road, and most would agree that hands-free can reduce some distractions. But none of the current laws, ad campaigns or gimmicks will move the needle on behavior until something changes the identity of the texters.

Instead of hard-to-enforce laws, governments and insurers should spend their resources to come up with the next identity-changing frame. Maybe you can be the one that causes people to see themselves as undesirable if they pick up the phone behind the wheel as in “Don’t let the phone win — Have the willpower to wait.”