leadership dot #2189: sign

I’ve been enduring road construction near my home and each week brings a new traffic pattern or set of conditions. There are so many changes that the contractor has resorted to covering up signs with duct tape or ignoring the signage all together.

This one appropriately describes the situation – there may be work or it may be closed – it just depends.

I wonder if organizational employees sometimes feel like this is the mantra of their management. Something is going on, but no one is sure what that is. Leaders send mixed signals or unclear messages which, in many cases, is worse than not communicating at all.

Messages that fluctuate depending on which way the (leadership) wind is blowing cause more confusion than necessary. Help your employees know which road to take by providing accurate and timely information instead of leaving them to guess.


leadership dot #2168: stars

Like all good tourists, when I was in Hollywood I strolled Hollywood Boulevard and looked at the Walk of Fame. I thought about the thrill that must have been for those whose name is permanently engraved on the sidewalk and how for many it would represent a highlight of their career.

We reveled in seeing the stars – as if it were the star themselves. Tom Cruise, Marilyn Monroe, Alex Trebek, Bob Hope, Harrison Ford, Walt Disney, Matt Damon, Amy Grant, Michael Jackson – blocks and blocks of the biggest names in entertainment and we were standing where we know they once were.

But we also traversed over dozens of stars whose names we did not recognize at all – Viola Dana, Clyde Cook, Gabby Hays, Faye Emerson, Madge Bellamy, Barbara Whiting, Meriam C Cooper, Eerlin Husky, Yma Sumac – all famous enough to be immortalized on the Walk of Fame, but not enduring enough to become household names (at least in our circle).

Your organization likely does not have a literal walk of fame but think about the people who would be on it. What are you doing to keep their legacy alive? How do you tell the story of your founders or legends in your industry so that the subsequent generations would at least recognize their name? It’s nice to do recognition in the moment, but even better if you allow the star to keep shining over the long term.

leadership dot #2163: non-question

It is mostly a waste of time when the manager at a restaurant goes between tables and asks diners: “How is your meal?” I’ll be that they most frequently hear “fine” or something similar. It is a non-question — just something to say rather than a request for a real answer. It interrupts the diner’s meal and I would venture to bet that it pays a little dividend for the restaurants.

Such a lost opportunity!

What if instead, the manager asked: “What is one thing we could do to become better?” or “If you were the manager, what is something you would change?” or even “What was the worst part of your experience today?” These types of questions would force the diners to give more substantive answers and a savvy manager could track (literally or intuitively) the frequency of responses. It would allow them to take action in a way that was meaningful.

Instead of a token public relations sweep through the restaurant, managers would be well served to use the time to truly learn something from those who know them best. Whether of your diners, employees, donors or clients, make it a point to ask real questions, not those which elicit an automatic, generic (non-) response.


leadership dot #2162: letter

My 6-month-old puppy was spayed yesterday, an action that was traumatic for her (and me!), but in the scheme of things, very ordinary. There were no complications and after a few hours, they sent her on her way.

It was routine surgery and I’m sure any vet in town could have performed it in essentially the same way. But what set my vet apart was that in addition to the pills and wound-care instructions, Emma came home with a letter that explained her experience:

Today was a very special day for me!…My day started when the veterinarian and the nurse made sure I was OK to have surgery. They looked me over carefully and then took some blood samples for tests…After this step, I was given some medication which made me feel a little sleepy. While I was relaxing, they told me I would soon fall asleep and, when I woke up, the surgery would be all done…They told me not to worry, because I would be given pain medicine before I even woke up, and they would also trim my nails while I was sleeping!…It seemed like only a few minutes but then I woke up and the nurse told me surgery was all over. I was kept warm and comfy with soft blankets, and the nurse called my family to tell them how everything went.

 These are [some of] the instructions from the veterinarian to help take care of me for the next few days:

  • Don’t let me lick or scratch at my incision site. If I can’t leave it alone, I may need an Elizabethan collar (the Cone of Shame!) to keep me away from it.
  • No bathing (yay!) or swimming for the next 7-10 days.

…So that was my big day! Everyone at Colonial Terrace Animal Hospital was very nice and made me feel special! They said my family is lucky to have me (and I know I am lucky to have them), and that I was a wonderful patient!

 I have had many dogs spayed over the years, and none of them have come home with anything but the standard, rote instructions. In fact, it seems that everything that requires directions comes with plain, technical language.

Why not take a few extra moments to make your communications memorable? Especially for situations like spay surgery that happen frequently, an investment up front can pay multiple dividends and help you become the Top Dog in your client’s mind.

leadership dot #2118: bridge

Part of my construction detour involves back roads with a one-lane bridge. I imagine that the bridge was initially installed for tractors or even horses with buggies and no one has felt it warranted the expense of upgrading it after all these years.

Bridges are the trickiest part of building a road. They cost the most to construct and present the greatest design challenges for engineers as it is difficult to span a gap and create a seamless interface with two opposing sides.

I think the same is true in organizations. Bridge-building among colleagues is often the most stressful and time-consuming part of a task. Creating relationships when there are opposing views necessitates delicate maneuvering and often requires great energy and patience. But just as a highway bridge can save miles of driving, a solid work connection can make things much easier on the organizational journey.

Building a one-lane bridge is an economical solution for a low traffic road, but it doesn’t work for organizations. Bridges need to allow for two-way communication and mutual understanding. On-going attention must be paid to ensure their stability.

Think about the organizational road on which you are traveling. Does it have a modern bridge, a one-lane crossing or are you just staying on your own side without reaching out to others? Bridge building may not be easy, but the benefits of a two-lane exchange span the entire organization.

leadership dot #2111: connection

There is much written about the importance of belonging and the positive impact it has on well-being, but I have always been hesitant to fully embrace the concept as an organizational goal. Belonging is not something that can be easily facilitated or practiced every day. Belonging can also be seen as an extroverted concept and conjures up images of being part of a large group or team, something that is not comfortable for everyone.

I am much more in favor of the concept of “mattering” as described by Nancy Schlossberg and discussed in dot #416. Schlossberg’s research showed that people needed to feel that they mattered to someone else – a more personal concept than belonging – and something more easily accomplished one-to-one and in short-term situations. Mattering is the feeling that you matter to someone else and you would be missed if you were not there.

Another concept that resonated with me is that of “responsiveness”, written about in Power of Moments by Chip Heath and Dan Heath (see more about their book in dot #2107). The Heaths describe responsiveness as the core tenant of successful relationships. To achieve it, partners must provide: understanding, validation and caring – in other words, “attunement” to how we see ourselves, respect of who we are and what we want, then the taking of supportive steps to help meet those needs. Responsiveness makes relationships stronger and more secure, whether they be of personal or professional nature.

Hospitals that are more responsive to patient needs receive higher satisfaction scores. Employees who believe their supervisor is responsive to them as a person have greater engagement and productivity. Teachers who are more responsive to their students help them learn more effectively. Customer service representatives who are more responsive to their clients are perceived as serving them better.

While belonging to a tribe may be the long-term goal, an initial positive connection can be cultivated more quickly and frequently through one-on-one responsiveness and mattering. Whether you are on a client call, meeting with a colleague or supervising an employee, begin by learning what is important to them and then respond in a way that shows that it matters.

leadership dot #2101: point of view

People generally want to be right. What makes it more difficult, even for open-minded folks, is to absorb the concept that while they may be right, others may be right, too.

This simple exercise can help illustrate the point.

If you look at the figure from this perspective, it is a 3:

From this side, the same shape is an M:

But from this way, it looks like a W:

And from the other direction, it appears to be an E:

Someone might see this drawing and report that it was an E, 3, M or W – and be correct.

The next time you hear a statement that differs from yours, think of this dot. Ask yourself whether they literally have a different point of viewing rather than a different point of view.


Thanks, Mike!