leadership dot #3010: endure

It’s hard to believe that it has been 19 years since the tragedy of 9-11. It was, at the time, the biggest shock since Pearl Harbor and effectively shut down the country for weeks.

But then it was over.

Just as I will always remember 9-11, people today will tell stories about COVID for the rest of their lifetime. It is another collective moment with grave and far-reaching implications.

Only this one has no end in sight.

Essential workers and others in a multitude of positions have been on COVID-overdrive for over half a year now. Creating plans. Redoing plans. Pivoting right. Going back to the left. Implementing Plan A, then Plan B and even Plan Q. Oh yeah, throw in a couple of natural disasters, a widespread social justice movement and divisive politics. It is exhausting.

Leaders of those directly impacted by any of these crises need to acknowledge the stress this year has brought on and take steps to mitigate the incident fatigue that is consciously or unconsciously plaguing so many. Supervisors should acknowledge that these are unprecedented times and explicitly give permission or mandate that key personnel stop doing anything that is not mission-critical. Vacation or time off should be required, even if the employee doesn’t feel like they can be gone. Senior leaders should model relying on each other for moral and literal support to share some of the load.

The terrorist acts on 9-11 were over in 73 minutes. The derecho lasted just hours. The hurricane a day. Most wildfires are extinguished within weeks. Crises do not usually endure with such intensity for months, but since COVID doesn’t appear to be ending any time soon, Job 1 is to make your ability to operate sustainable. Even people with a positive attitude cannot thrive under daunting conditions indefinitely. Acknowledge the toll that the pace and continued uncertainty are taking and shift to strategies that allow people to endure for the longer run.

leadership dot #2993: bypass

A new bypass highway just opened after decades of planning. It is surrounded by pristine countryside, void of all commercial development and even housing. I’m sure it won’t remain that way for long, but for now, it provides the prettiest drive in town.

The Economic Development folks are bragging that it will impact the city for decades, but they only expound the positives. I think about the farmhouses that used to be isolated which now find themselves on a major highway. I worry about all the businesses that will be hurt by the diverted traffic, as they find their once-prime location now off the beaten path. I wonder what tourism will be lost as vehicles zip around the city instead of through it, seeing the great River and downtown.

I’m also sure new opportunities will abound as subdivisions and shopping areas grow near the exits. The highway will save time and lessen congestion. People will stop using the “unofficial bypass” as they no longer cut through residential neighborhoods to get from one end of the city to the other. As with most things, there is an upside as well as a down.

As you contemplate major projects of your own, don’t get seduced by looking only at the benefits. You may decide that the price you pay is worth it, but remember that all good things come with a cost.

 

leadership dot #2931: operational

Nancy Pelosi is a polarizing figure and if you can get past that, you could learn a great deal from the woman on how to get things done. I just finished reading Molly Ball’s fascinating biography Pelosi in which she describes the Speaker as “operational” and then gives countless examples to bolster her point.

Operational in Pelosi’s case means that she was “committed to getting things done above all, and had the ingenuity to figure out a way to do it. Everything was about results.”

When AIDS was still too taboo of a topic to address, she garnered support for research funding by bringing the NAMES Quilt to the National Mall – and lined up activists to lift it every twenty minutes to overcome the Park Service’s attempt to deter her by saying the Quilt would have to be raised that often to avoid harm to the grass. When she hit a wall and could not get the votes for the Affordable Care Act without a stricter ban on abortion, she swallowed her pride and appealed to the most liberal women to back down on their insistence on the clause, sharing her vote tally sheets to show there seemed to be no other way. When the DREAM Act was in jeopardy, she collected stories of Dreamers and read them to the House – for 8 full hours without interruption – in order to put a human face on the bill. She ensured a bill on the war in Iraq would pass by splitting it into two, allowing one faction to vote for domestic spending but not the war funding and another faction to vote for the reverse.

When Pelosi was asked how she was going to round up the votes required to pass the Affordable Care Act, she replied: “You go through the gate. If the gate’s closed, you go over the fence. If the fence is too high, we’ll pole-vault in. If that doesn’t work, we’ll parachute in.”

Whether or not you agree with her politics, Pelosi is a master at getting the job done. The book can inspire you to think more broadly about how to find solutions to the problems you face and to become more “operational” in your work. Don’t stop when the gate is closed.

Source: Pelosi by Molly Ball, 2020

leadership dot #2926: Juneteenth

A year ago, June nineteenth went unrecognized by many people who were unaware that it commemorates the day the last slaves in the U.S. were told of their freedom when word finally reached Texas 30 months after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.

But the recognition of the date has gained much more prominence as part of the current race equity revolution. This year, employees at Nike, Twitter and other corporations have the day off in observation; the Juneteenth flag is flying over the Wisconsin State Capitol for the first time in history, and several marches and rallies are planned for the day.

If you’re not familiar with the story, you can watch a short video here or read more about what has been called America’s Second Independence Day here.

You know when a social change is taking place by observing the little things that are altered. In the span of less than a month, Band-Aid has announced that after 99 years of only making its product in white flesh tone, it is now committed to offering new products in a range of light, medium and dark blacks and browns. Quaker Oaks is retiring the Aunt Jemima brand after 131 years. Other brands, such as Uncle Ben’s Rice, Cream of Wheat and Mrs. Butterworth have also committed to changing their imagery. Change happens slow, then it happens fast.

At one time, not that long ago, any of these changes would have been unthinkable. Hopefully, next year it will be equally unimaginable that most people fail to recognize this holiday and the history it represents.

 

leadership dot #2910: how to

YouTube has become the go-to resource for learning how to do things. Want to fix your pipe? Learn how to record a podcast? Know how to teach your child math? There’s likely a video showing you precisely what you need to do. YouTube is the second-most visited site in the world with 30 million visitors and 5 billion new uploads – each day!

This kind of volume makes YouTube a great resource for learning – and its heft shapes the consciousness and expectations of everyone. Over a trillion people have used the service, frequently finding it a straightforward and easy way to fix or create something.

But there are many things in our organizations and lives that can’t be taught in a short video snippet. Systemic change, deep-seated healing, organizational culture and relationship building don’t occur in a 30-minute how-to. People may wish they did, but it doesn’t work that way. There is no YouTube video on how to magically cure the virus, mitigate the impact of racism, stop police brutality or revitalize a crippled economy.

The serious work that needs to be done – the real work that makes an impact – doesn’t come with a 5 Steps Checklist on how to do it. As an organizational leader or concerned citizen, you may be tempted to focus on the urgent and look for that quick fix. But if you can put your strategy on YouTube, it’s the wrong one. The answer you need requires grace, time, openness, action and missteps. “How to” on the important stuff is all about hard, not easy, but must begin within each of us.

 

leadership dot #2866: essential staff

If you would have asked me a month or two ago what defined “essential” staff, I would have given you the typical answer of managers and facilities leadership, and, more broadly defined, I would have included nurses, teachers, farmers and police. I would have not considered truck drivers, grocery store clerks, restaurant cooks or corrugated-box-makers, but all those have taken on new importance in this unusual time.

 

It’s not that their role has changed or that it has become more important; it’s just that we noticed the jobs they do and the people that do them.

 

Take a lesson from the pandemic and become more conscious of those whose often-behind-the-scenes jobs are the ones that keep your home and organization running. Show appreciation to the people who maintain your infrastructure and feed your supply chain. Take a moment to recognize who should even be on your list and deserving of your recognition.

 

Who’s added to my list today? The mailman, my hairdresser, the clerk doing my grocery shopping for my pick up, the technician keeping my wi-fi functioning and the mastermind behind online banking. Vow not to take for granted those whose work you rely on, even if you never see them in person.

 

leadership dot #2845: power of one

If you’re looking for something to watch during your time at home, I’d recommend McMillion$, the six-part documentary on HBO that outlines the McDonald’s Monopoly game fraud. They couldn’t have picked more colorful characters if they had cast them, but this is a true story with the real players who are cinematic gold.

Two takeaways from this series:

  • It was one person, working alone, who masterminded and carried out the entire scheme to steal the winning game pieces and sell them to others, netting himself a cool $24+ million in the process. If you played the game in the 1990s and thought you would “never” win, you were right because Jim Jacobson controlled all of the big winners within his network – for years.
  • It was one person, working alone, who tipped off the FBI and let to the end of the scheme as well as the arrest and conviction of many of its players. Had this person – whose identity is left a bit ambiguous in the show – not called the Bureau, the scam could still be going on today.

Whether for good or for ill, one person has the power to make an indelible, lasting impact on things far outside their own circle. Use your power wisely.

leadership dot #2833: it’s impossible

The next time you think something is “impossible”, remember this week.

When you hear yourself saying “there’s no way we could…”, remember this week.

If you think that massive disruption of a system is too big to be achieved, remember this week.

And if you’re gridlocked, thinking that major changes require months of planning, remember this week.

When the “why” is compelling enough, people, businesses and whole systems can turn upside down with virtually no notice. Remember that the next time you’re trying to initiate a change instead of reacting to one.

 

leadership dot #2772: paint

A friend once said that “paint was the coolest invention.” That thought always stuck with me because when you think about it, it really is an amazing tool. Paint has the ability to transform a space – and with relative ease and reasonable cost.

Paint is that elusive item that can create a big impact but requires little effort to implement. Think about what the equivalent of paint is for your organization. What can you do to realize results in the short term without a significant investment? Perhaps it is allowing employees a day to work from home. Maybe it is rearranging your reception area. Or maybe it’s making that call to a partner and finally agreeing to work together on a project. Or it could be literally painting a wall – in your home or office – to make a statement with color.

Another benefit of paint is that it’s not permanent. It can last a long time if you want it to, or you can repaint tomorrow. And so it goes with change. Try something. Experiment. Start. And if it doesn’t work out, you can always apply another coat and try again.

leadership dot #2666: assembly line

To set a 1910 context for the movie Seabiscuit, the film starts out by describing the newly-invented Model T. When Ford began producing the car, it required 13 hours to assemble. Within five years, a vehicle rolled out every 90 seconds. “The real invention wasn’t the car,” the movie narrator claimed, “It was the assembly line that built it.” The process of building a car was replicated by other businesses and let to the industrial era of automation.

There have been other inventions that became a linchpin for others to use in new ways: the touch screen ushered in kiosks, smartphones, and tablets. The chimney allowed for skyscrapers and multi-level buildings which resulted in urban centers. ATM machines created a culture of self-service in industries far beyond banking.

But all transformative changes don’t need to occur through technology. Think of smaller enhancements you can create that have a ripple effect throughout your organization or beyond. Your onboarding process becomes a model for others in your profession. A new way of pricing is replicated by others (think subscription services). A whistleblower documents a complaint and inspires others to have the courage to do the same – changing the trajectory of leadership in the organization. You take the time to document a process and it enables others to build on your learning and achieve results that would have initially seemed impossible.

We often focus on the end results and only with time can we come to appreciate the true impact of our work. Keep building your equivalent of the Model T, realizing that your assembly line could turn out to be the real gem.