leadership dot #3896: platitudes

The old Field of Dreams movie slogan “If you build it, they will come” seems to have morphed into an organizational mantra of “If we say it, it must be true.”

I hear it espoused when talking about organizational culture and when organizations boast about a great work environment when I know the reality to be different. I hear bosses say that they welcome feedback and have an open-door policy but I privately hear their staff members are afraid to speak up. I see organizations proclaim their commitment to diversity and inclusion but continue to take actions that are the opposite of support.

Just because you put a nice saying in your lobby or orientation packets doesn’t make it so. The real evidence shows up in behavior, not platitudes.

leadership dot #3894: extraneous

My washer and dryer have a handy feature that allows the machines to notify me when a load is finished. It worked well for months, but then LG decided that it needed to give me laundry lessons in addition to the notification. For example: “Your wash is complete. Here’s a tip — the next time you need to sanitize items try using citric acid during the rinse cycle.” While some might find these tidbits helpful, I found them annoying and shut off the messages completely.

Sometimes, too many bells and whistles can turn into nothing but noise. Your message will have more impact if it is delivered with brevity and clarity. Leave out the extraneous.

leadership dot #3893: yard tags

Start with the good news first. If it’s bad news, soften it with a context-setting introduction. It’s a practice that works well for business communication but apparently, our city didn’t get the memo.

I received a flyer in the mail that starts out: “Free yard waste pick-up days will no longer be offered this year.” What?! Why?! But if you read further, it says: “Instead, property owners are allowed 24 FREE yard waste tags per season, per property.” It’s a far cry from the 40 bags we had previously been allowed on the free days but it’s the good news of this message. Why bury it?

And why spend the money mailing a flyer but making residents now go to City Hall to pick up the tags during the inconvenient hours of Monday-Thursday 7:30 am – 4 pm? It would have softened the blow if the tags had been mailed instead of just the announcement.

When creating your message, consider it from the perspective of the one receiving it. If you must make a change, do all you can to mitigate the impact on those affected. Mail the tags with the message!

leadership dot #3883: sayings

The Season 3 premiere of Ted Lasso is today and I couldn’t be more excited to have it return after a long hiatus. One of the things that makes Ted’s character so loveable — and memorable — is his use of metaphorical sayings. Instead of saying “shake it off,” Ted reminds his players to “be a goldfish” (which allegedly has only a 10-second memory). He “believes in believe” and sees actions that “smell like potential.” His repeated use of catchy mantras helps his message stick into the minds of his players (and viewers!) and communicates his message in a unique way.

All of us have sayings that we use to convey not only our meaning but our personality as well. Apparently, I have a lot of sayings, too. For one memorable birthday, some staff members made a “beth dictionary” capturing my often-used phrases such as “noted,” “Indianapolis,” or “specificity.” They aren’t as original as Ted’s but embedded powerful meaning in my staff’s thinking throughout the years.

Think about what language you use to convey your philosophy and how repeated use of memorable phrases can help your staff hear your voice in their head even when you’re not around. “Connect the dots” with “intentionality”!

leadership dot #3878: crickets

An intentional marketing strategy calls for stores to put some of their “loss leaders” or discounted items right at the entranceway as a way to entice consumers to put an item in their cart. Target has its “Bullseye” section of $1-5 items, and other stores put seasonal merchandise or tempting treats right when you enter. Retailers have proven that if customers put something in their cart, they are more likely to add items to it, so displays are frontloaded to jumpstart that buying process.

The same psychological trickery can benefit you in meetings. If you are faced with crickets during your time together, a way to circumvent the silence is to structure your agenda so that others begin talking right from the start. Early engagement sets the tone for people to continue their participation and signals that you are not the only voice at the table.

You can accomplish this through a rotation of “nuggets” (dot 108), check-in questions, or an icebreaker, and by assigning others to lead the opening exercise or by sharing responsibility to have different people kick off the meeting with a fun activity or treat. You can also inject some silliness like Kim Scott’s “Whoops-a-Daisy” to encourage people to open up. What you do is less important than having others become active at the beginning. It’s the meeting equivalent of putting one thing in the cart — one comment often leads to others.

Even if you’re the convener, don’t carry the whole load yourself. Instead, create a consistent structure for others to use their voice and wisdom to create the engagement you seek.

leadership dot #3876: just right

I had lunch with two friends who are both parents of high schoolers. While we were there, one received a text informing her of a few errands her daughter was doing after school. “I don’t need to know all this detail,” she said to us. “I wish she would just tell me that she’ll be home at 5 pm.”

The other mother retorted with the opposite view. “I wish I knew that kind of detail,” she said. “Sometimes my son leaves to pick up friends and I don’t know where he has gone or when he’ll be back.”

The difference in perspective was an illustration of what it’s like to work for different bosses. Some — including those who aren’t micromanagers — want to know the specifics that may impact their work or other obligations. Others prefer to know the end result and feel no need to be informed about the steps along the way.

Neither approach is better than the other but it’s helpful for you as an employee (and as a child!) to know what level of information your supervisor is comfortable having. There is no need to annoy with too much or too little information when a conversation about expectations can enlighten you for all your communication going forward.

leadership dot #3863: hanging

The university where I teach expects that all the adult classes will have a “learning team” or group project component so I often hear feedback about troubles students encounter with this assignment. I think they would rather do all their work independently, but learning to navigate a team environment is as important to learn as the content of their project.

The biggest aggravation I hear is that one team member does not pull their weight or even participate at all. My response: teams, as with any partnership, are never equal. Hopefully, they aren’t totally lopsided but sometimes you have to do more than your “fair share” for the project to succeed.

What should you do when (not if) you face a dysfunctional team member? If possible, talk with them face-to-face and clarify what they can do. While you need to focus on the end product, it is just as important to preserve the relationship. If you don’t make it safe for them to share their reality, create conditions for them to save face, or allow them to say “I am swamped all next week and can’t do anything” then you wreck the relationship AND the work product. “Never promise more than you can perform” were words I used often. It gives the person an out.

It goes back to Covey’s Circle of Concern/Influence — you only control what you can influence, not what is your concern. You have to rely on faith that the boss will know what is really going on and take action separately to correct the situation or enact appropriate consequences. That is not your direct concern. Your job is to accomplish the end product so knowing a team member is able/willing to do nothing is FAR better than having them promise to do something and then leave you hanging.

leadership dot #3857: timely

Even if you’re not a football fan, most people are aware that an NFL player collapsed during a game in January and required resuscitation on the field. That player, Damar Hamlin, is now pairing with the American Heart Association to promote CPR education and solicit donations so that others may be saved by CPR as he was.

It’s a smart partnership and kudos to the Heart Association for jumping on the opportunity. They are using Hamlin as a spokesperson to promote their 60-second video teaching hands-only CPR techniques and challenging people to tag three of their friends after they do so. If their campaign is successful, it could not only raise millions but also save lives.

When the Association did its annual planning, Hamlin wasn’t on anyone’s mind and certainly wasn’t included in their strategy. But someone recognized that plans should be living documents and evolve as circumstances change. Creating a campaign around a very visible event where CPR was the hero was not only timely but smart.

Take two lessons from this dot: first, use 60 seconds to gain a lesson in CPR, and second, be alert for opportunities to leverage something new. Timing is everything in both cases.

Thanks, Meg!

leadership dot #3854: valentines

Happy Valentine’s Day!

The printed expressions of valentines were first promoted by Esther Howland in the 1800s. She made fancy lace-filled cards from her house in Massachusetts and began selling them. The idea caught on and now 145 million valentines are sold in the U.S. every year, generating $1 billion in sales. We’ve come a long way since Howland’s handmade beauties.

Whether you have another love, love a friend, or rely on puppy love, today is the day to celebrate connection. It’s not too late to send a greeting to someone who means something to you and let them know that they matter to you. Love feels in short supply these days; don’t be stingy with sharing yours, especially today.

leadership dot #3851: flush

I have never understood why it is necessary to have signs in the stalls of every public women’s restroom reminding them not to flush sanitary products in the toilet. You can’t do this anywhere; you’ve never been able to do it; it does not matter what product you are using — and yet, the signs are omnipresent.

For once, someone was able to make a sign that communicates the message but does so in a memorable way. The Citzens Bank Opera House signs read: “Please do not flush feminine hygiene products, wipes, hopes or dreams down the toilet.” If you must have a sign for this purpose, this is the one to have.

Someone made the extra effort to put some thought into a routine message — making it both catchy and classy. The next time you need to post a sign, let the one who does that be you.