leadership dot #3504: preserve

Our family recently digitized 90 rolls of home movies. These were Super 8 gems not only from my childhood but from Mom and Dad’s dating years and before. Some of them I had never seen before so I spent an afternoon during the holidays watching them all.

Steven Spielberg won’t be optioning them anytime soon but they provided an interesting perspective. It was like someone was on the outside looking in — an unfiltered view of what life was really like. There I was, at about 10 years old, with a pad of paper on Christmas morning writing down all the gifts I received as I opened them. I guess the organization gene is part of the DNA.

While not much has changed with my habits, certainly the environment has evolved. Everyone smoked cigarettes, seemingly all the time. People certainly dressed up far more than they do today, especially at Easter. The kids even had corsages! There were so many people in the movies that were important in our lives at the time but with whom we are no longer in touch today. And don’t get me started on the hairstyles!

The movies froze a moment in time and provided a look back that mere memories could never replicate. While I’m not advocating taking footage of your organization or office, some intentionality around capturing history is important. Even routinely collecting the organizational chart and budget would paint a picture of the way things were. Think of how positions have evolved, let alone the people who hold them, and how budgets have shifted just in technology and benefit allocations.

You’ll appreciate today more if you take an occasional trip down memory lane. Make sure you preserve the ability to do it.

leadership dot #3501: out of stock

In a rack of greeting cards, there were several selections that were sold out. Anticipating this, Hallmark used their dividers to communicate fun messages instead of leaving the slots blank. Examples include: “Bet you’re wondering what this one said,” “Go figure. This was probably the perfect card,” and “Don’t worry, the card fairies are busy making more.”

The lighthearted tone fits well with the irreverent Shoebox series theme and the humor makes the poor selection more tolerable. Somehow, reading a funny divider feels much better than seeing a blank reminder that the card is out of stock.

Supply chain challenges are causing shortages everywhere. Foresee where your gaps may be and proactively consider how you might mitigate them through humor or other strategies.

leadership dot #3500: safe place

While out on a walk, another dog darted out of the owner’s garage and came charging at me and my pooches. In the ensuing chaos, one of my dogs slipped out of her collar and ran away — at full, gazelle-like sprint about a quarter of a mile uphill in the snow (seriously!). Miraculously, she was sitting outside my door when I made it home. She instinctively knew to go to her safe place.

I’ve been thinking about safety of a different sort as in my class we’re covering psychological safety. Harvard professor Amy Edmundson is the guru of this area and defines the concept as “a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.” It means feeling like you belong in the environment you’re in and it allows you to express emotion, trust others, admit struggles, ask for help, and raise concerns. It creates a safe place to be yourself.

It’s no surprise that safety is one of the lower tiers of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Whether running away from a growling dog or admitting to bewilderment on a topic, we need to first feel safe for anything constructive to follow. Do your part to cultivate the type of culture where it’s a secure place for others to land — both physically and psychologically.

leadership dot #3494: crisis

Yesterday, I wrote about Plano High School’s impressive display to encourage athletes to aspire to the next level of play (dot 3493). Something else caught my eye when I was there: all of their windows are clearly labeled from the outside. Unfortunately, I suspect this is a proactive measure in case of an active shooter or another catastrophe.

Setting aside the sadness that this is necessary, kudos to them for acknowledging the potential need and taking action on their crisis management efforts. It would be more comfortable to pretend that tragedy could never happen in their rural setting but perhaps their nod to reality could mitigate some harm should the occasion occur.

Many organizations have a crisis plan — often on a shelf or hard drive and long forgotten. Maybe it’s time to take yours out and actually do something to help you be as ready as possible for the emergency you can foresee.

leadership dot #3493: next level

As a way to inspire students to pursue sports at a higher level — or more importantly, to help them believe that they can — Plano (IL) High School has a prominent display of athletes who are competing at the “next level.” Their gym hallway features two displays: a board listing the names, college, and sport of all recent collegiate athletes, and larger photos showing the same information for those who received a Division 1 scholarship to play.

It’s an impressive list, especially for a school of only about 700 students, and I’m sure it serves as an aspirational goal for many who would otherwise think their small-town background made D1 sports unattainable. And, of course, the quest to add one’s name to that recognition makes them better at their sport while at Plano — a win-win for all.

It’s one thing to say that people in your organization move up the ladder or go on to do amazing things but it helps others fulfill that aspiration when you make it real for everyone. Think of how you can visually acknowledge the achievements of people who are doing the kind of “next level” work that you desire. A plaque of front-line workers who became team leads? A display of all the interns who accepted full-time positions? Former volunteers who later joined the staff? Assistant managers who went on to run their own store elsewhere? Your sous chefs who earned their own kitchen?

Employees are inherently thinking of their next move; help inspire them to think in the direction you desire by subliminally creating a vision to shape their aspirations.

leadership dot #3469: after

The final project topic in one of my classes was about veterans and the lack of services as they transition out of military duty. It got me thinking about all the times we end something — especially something structured — and are left to our own devices to be successful (or not).

It happens with those who leave the armed forces, but also with incarceration, foster care, high school, college, or retirement. One minute we’re in a regimented environment with others calling the shots, and the next minute we are independent and responsible for our own wellbeing. Many drift around in limbo, overwhelmed with the choices and ambiguity of their new situation.

Transitioning out happens in less dramatic situations as well — such as completing a physical therapy regimen, finishing a contract with a personal trainer, or achieving the goal in a weight loss program. You say: “hooray I’m done,” but forget that the lack of discipline or structure comes with the temptation to abuse the freedom.

We pay attention to the “transitioning in” process with orientation, onboarding, or boot camp. Give credence to the other end of the cycle and dedicate similar resources to help those with what comes “after” they finish their relationship with you.

leadership dot #3466: stations

I previously wrote (dot 3439) about how phone cases allow people to express their personalities. I think churches do it through their Stations of the Cross. I am always fascinated by the differences in style to communicate the same story. Some are modern, some traditional, and others are symbolic, such as using materials from a previous building to create the stations.

What are you doing with your space to communicate the character and culture of your family or organization? Try to capitalize on your ability to tailor almost everything to represent your style and be intentional about having everything in your space reflect who you are.

leadership dot #3448: gas

If you fill your car with gas, you can empty the tank by going on a significant journey like a road trip — or you can deplete your fuel by running errands for a few days. Either way, eventually you’ll be on empty.

A similar pattern happens with time — each day your allotment is on “full” and you can do something meaningful or memorable with it, or you can piddle it away in small increments that don’t amount to much. Either way, the day ends and your “tank” goes back to zero.

It’s up to you how you use your energy — the petroleum or the physical kind. Don’t run out of either kind of gas without anything to show for it.

leadership dot #3447: diversion

As you exit the interstate heading onto St. Louis University, there is a giant billboard depicting a scene of their beautiful campus. It’s very eye-catching and for the few moments you’re on the exit ramp, it’s really all you pay attention to — which is their point. If you look more closely, you’ll see that the sign is affixed to a dilapidated building with broken or boarded-up windows — not exactly the impression that fits with their brand.

I’m sure there are good reasons why they haven’t purchased the building, fixed it up, or torn it down, so for now, they have opted for diversion.

At least you can see what they are trying to cover up — which is not always the case with more manipulative marketers, media conglomerates, or social media influencers. Just like magicians, more people are mastering the art of diversion — causing you to believe one thing when it really is just a sleight of hand.

It’s a good practice to get in the habit of looking beyond the metaphorical billboards to see the broken windows next to them. That which is designed to grab our attention is intentionally diverting it away from something else.

leadership dot #3446: writers

How can you use physical space to tell a story? Well, if you’re the Iowa Department of Transportation, you use rest areas to help travelers gain a sense of place while highlighting some of the state’s unique features.

One facility along I-80 showcases the Iowa Writer’s Workshop — a renowned creative writing program that has produced many best-selling authors, Pulitzer Prize winners, and National Book Awards — and Iowa’s role as “the center of writing in America”. The rest area greets visitors with a multi-story pen to symbolize the physical act of writing, and then features quotes from Iowa authors in various displays both inside and outside the facility. It’s like a mini-museum along your route.

It would have been easier, and probably cheaper, to make a generic restroom with some picnic tables and vending machines — and it would have also forfeited the opportunity to entertain and educate the thousands who stopped there. Iowa had the “write” idea. Take a lesson from them and use your space wisely as a way to share your story.