leadership dot #3951: drops

A bug divebombed directly into my eye and caused an irritation that necessitated a visit to the doctor. He prescribed eye drops that came in a teeny-tiny bottle for $65. The entire contents are less than a thimbleful (if you’re old enough to know what that is!) or, in other words, far less than a soda bottle capful. Not much!

I put the prescribed drop in my eye while I was still at the pharmacy and a miracle occurred. The eye that had been in pain for 36 hours was relieved before I made it to my car.

For many things, we think that bigger is better, but the eye drops reminded me it’s the impact that counts, not the size. If you have the right strategy, right idea, or right hire, you don’t need to focus on volume. Great power can come from a singular source.

P. S. Happy 11th Anniversary Leadership Dots! Another example of how small drops (aka dots) can have a bigger impact.

leadership dot #3935: air

A good example of a positive instigator (dot #3934) can be found in Sonny Vaccaro whose story is told in the movie Air. Sonny was responsible for expanding Nike’s influence in basketball and identifying players to sign endorsement deals.

This was the situation in 1984: Nike held only 17% of the basketball sneaker market, behind industry leaders Converse and Adidas. Michael Jordan had never played an NBA game. The NBA had rules requiring 51% of player shoes to be white. Players never had a shoe designed for them, nor did any athlete receive revenue sharing for a product line they endorsed.

Yet, Sonny became a champion instigator to save the fledgling Nike basketball division from being closed down (as was under serious consideration). He fought to concentrate 100% of the advertising money on one player. He went to Jordan’s home to speak with his mother when Jordan’s agent wouldn’t arrange a meeting. He enlisted the support of Jordan’s former coach (George Raveling) to give credibility to Nike. He and two others spent the weekend at HQ designing a prototype of the first Air Jordan. Sonny did an audible during the scripted presentation to the Jordans and infused an emotional appeal that changed the situation, then forwarded Mrs. Jordan’s revolutionary demand that Michael would share in the revenue of sales.

We know the end of the story — Air Jordan now is an entire division at Nike with $4 billion in annual sales. If Nike had followed convention, they would have split their 1984 advertising funds to sign three players that would have had less impact than a dunk shot.

It seems obvious now that Michael Jordan would be a mega-star and Air Jordans would be a hit, but at the time it was a huge gamble for Nike and would not have happened without Sonny Vaccaro’s instigation. He changed not only the business but the entire sports marketing game with his passion and persistence.

What project in your organization is worthy of the grit required to be an instigator? Maybe the person who becomes its champion should be you.

leadership dot #3908: pivotal

One of my mentors, now age 80, is on a mission to document some of his life’s stories for his grandchildren. He bought a laptop for this explicit purpose and is committed to capturing some history and insights that he can share with others.

One of his stories is about “how I found my career.” I love that phrasing because it reflects reality — that a career often finds you, rather than you finding it through assessments, aptitude tests, or well-meaning advice. It also implies that landing on a career is a journey — not something that you magically know upon graduation from college, or heaven forbid, high school.

His story has also inspired me to reflect on how I found my career. I am not an elementary teacher as was my initial thought; I’m not an accountant like the tests recommended I should be, and my career wasn’t even in journalism as my college major suggested. There have been many twists and turns along my path but I think it all began with the “Usherettes” organization in high school — a group reserved for freshmen and sophomore girls who wore long polyester skirts and ushered at the annual school musical. Because of that “experience,” I joined the “Host and Hospitality” committee of the Union Board in college (ushering at events) — and my Union Board involvement led to an eventual graduate assistantship and then a professional position in student activities which kicked off my career in higher education.

Two takeaways from today’s dot: 1) reflect on how you found your career — not just your first job, but the pivotal experience that kickstarted your eventual professional journey; and 2) consider how minor or serendipitous that initial experience really was. For many, it started with a tap on the shoulder and someone suggesting you get involved in something. It wasn’t positioned as the starting point of your career, but rather someone seeing a fit between you and an opportunity. Be that someone for someone else. You may be the catalyst that helps another find their eventual life’s work.

leadership dot #3870: improve

“Participating in the world as it is does not disqualify you from trying to improve it.”

I read this quote on Twitter and it has really stuck with me. The tweet pointed out that the inventor of the engine used a horse every day, the inventor of the light bulb worked by candlelight, and the inventor of steel only had iron. People used what was available to them to make things better.

The same opportunity is available to you.

Maybe you won’t become the inventor of a world-altering tool but you can apply the principle to improve your situation (and beyond). Work around a bad boss. Create a new policy that revolutionizes an aspect of how your organization operates. Start an affinity group to help ignite a movement. Advocate for a change in your industry. Adopt a new practice that others can emulate. Mentor one person and encourage them to do great things.

I hear all the time that people are overworked and under-resourced. It may be true. There are always conditions that are less than ideal. Improve the world anyway.

Tweet by The Other 98% (@other98)

leadership dot #3835: hustle

When I lived in St. Louis, I was a huge Cardinals fan and my favorite player was Scott Rolen. This week, the unassuming third baseman was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. In a moment of shared pride, I dug out my Rolen jersey, bobblehead, and baseball card, and I reminisced over the autographed photo that captured me illicitly wearing his actual helmet for a nanosecond.

Rolen impressed me (and others) because of his excellence in the fundamentals. He won 8 Golden Glove Awards in addition to being a solid hitter. He was low-key and in the background behind the huge shadow that Albert Pujols cast, but Rolen’s contributions to the team were integral in winning the World Series and contributing to many other successes.

A St. Louis Post Dispatch article best described why I admired him: “Not content to cruise on his abundant talent, Rolen displays the scrappiness of a utility man. When is the last time you saw Rolen give less than 100 percent? When is the last time you failed to see him hustle? When’s the last time you saw him strut? Answer: Never.”

For years, I had a picture of Rolen and the above quote hanging by my desk at work. I wanted to play my game like Rolen played his. You, too, can become a Hall of Famer in your field by emulating his humble nature and continual dedication to the basics.

Welcome to the Hall of Fame #27!

leadership dot #3822: catalyst

I recently wrote an article about our region’s Community Foundation and the work it has been doing for the past twenty years. During its two-decade history, the Foundation has served as a “catalyst and convener” to tackle some of the area’s toughest challenges: access to health care, brain health, literacy, small-town vitality, energy, access to college or training, resources for immigrants, and equity, just to name the more recent subjects.

My takeaway from the conversation was that you don’t have to have the answers in the beginning. The Foundation utilizes community conversations, convenes diverse leadership panels, leverages challenge grants, brings together a wide range of partners, conducts assessments and audits, showcases data, and starts the process of determining solutions to vexing issues.

It’s frequently the case that people agree that X is a problem, but don’t agree on a plan to resolve it. Too often the process gets stuck there and nothing gets over this hump to at least enact something toward a full solution. The Community Foundation serves in the role of the instigator — to use Collective Impact and strategic learning models, system approaches, and good old-fashioned listening to help people articulate the issues and commit to a starting point.

We spend so much time arguing about the problem and what doesn’t work. It would be far more productive for all if you served in a “community foundation” role for however you define your community and get the ball rolling on solutions.

leadership dot #3723: impact players

As I read Impact Players by Liz Weisman, I thought of several wonderful staff members that I was lucky enough to supervise throughout my career — the ones who were indeed Impact Players. Weisman outlines five mindsets — that lead to different behaviors — of those who multiply their impact vs. those who are contributors. There are many contributors who do strong and valuable work, but Impact Players make a greater mark on the organization, by reframing their response in these five areas:

  • Messy Problems: Seeing the opportunity to solve them as a chance to be useful vs. a distraction
  • Unclear Roles: A chance to provide (often temporary) leadership to bring people together to clarify responsibilities — stepping up, then stepping back to let others own the situation once things have been made clear
  • Unforeseen Obstacles: Rather than escalating the problem or seeing it as a hassle, Impact Players work to resolve the issue
  • Moving Targets: Adjusting to changing goals allows Impact Players to build new capabilities and skills — they are seen as another opportunity rather than a detour from the “real work”
  • Unrelenting Demands: Impact Players attempt to “make work light” for those around them, providing a productive work environment for others

Impact Players “do the job that’s needed” vs. just doing their job. Sometimes that means going above and beyond to solve system problems or organizational issues that cross boundaries but they take the initiative to do so, spending their time working on what is most important for their manager and the organization as a whole. They tackle the thorny issues that others avoid — and as a result, contribute the most value.

Regardless of your position, everyone can adopt the mindset of an Impact Player. Wiseman’s book provides many examples and strategies — and is realistic enough to know that most players only exhibit three of the five practices. The key is to reframe how you think about your role and get started making a difference with your work.

Impact Players: How to take the lead, play bigger, and multiply your impact by Liz Wiseman, 2021

leadership dot #3722: 700

On Friday night, Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals joined the 700 Club — men who have hit 700 home runs in their major league career. It is baseball’s most elite club — with only four members* in the history of the game. Three times as many men have walked on the moon as have accomplished the feat of 700 homers.

You would think that someone with such power and ability would have been a highly-coveted draft pick, but you would be wrong. Albert came via Maple Woods Community College and was the 402nd player chosen in the draft — a 13th-round pick in 1999. It reminded me of Tom Brady, a 199th pick, who has quarterbacked his teams to seven Super Bowl wins.

Both these men will head to their respective Hall of Fames based on talent, yes, but also hard work and dedication. Use them as a reminder not to let others determine your worth. It doesn’t matter if you’re picked first or 402nd, you can take charge of your destiny and forge a path to greatness.

*Other members: Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth

leadership dot #3706: steady

Queen Elizabeth has died. Of course, I did not know her, but I feel like I did. She has literally been the Monarch for my entire life.

While the Queen did not have a direct impact on me, her reign provided a steady presence in an otherwise tumultuous world. Our presidents come and go, Britain is in the European Union and then out, and wars have started and ended during her tenure. But the Queen was always there, clutching her mysterious purse and waving the Queen’s wave. It was comforting in a subliminal way.

It’s hard to imagine how Charles will alter the course of history as King or what the implications of the Queen’s passing are for anyone, especially with a brand new Prime Minister. But we now add the British royalty to the list of changing aspects in our world.

If there is a constant in your life, take a moment to acknowledge it. Whether that be a long-time employee, an elderly relative or neighbor, a legacy shop owner, or a multi-decade friend, don’t take their presence for granted. They may have always been there, but won’t always be there as yesterday has shown.

Condolences to all who knew the Queen privately but must now mourn her publicly. Rest in peace.

leadership dot #3704: legends

I took my 14-year-old niece to the movie theater and there was a giant display advertising Top Gun Maverick. She inquired as to what “Top Gun” was and had never even heard of the movie, let alone seen it. Gasp! So, as part of the Camp Aunt beth educational series, we rectified that last night.

During the movie, I pointed out that Goose’s wife was a young Meg Ryan and my niece replied with “who?” She had never heard of Ryan, Sleepless in Seattle, When Harry Met Sally, You’ve Got Mail or any of the other classic rom-coms. I am going to need her to come for two weeks next year just so we can have a film class!

Think about your organization and its equivalent to Top Gun or Meg Ryan. What have you done to help the next generation of employees, members, or donors learn about some of the greats in your past? You may assume that “everyone” knows about the legends and legacies but what is obvious to those who have lived it may be a mystery to those who must keep it living.