leadership dot #3144: cues

I saw a picture taken at the pre-Inauguration Memorial Service with the caption “Kamala Harris at the Reflecting Pool, in Pyer Moss.” How her life has changed where it suddenly becomes newsworthy not only about what she is wearing but also regarding who designed it.

Harris was wise to know this and to select a Haitian-American designer who has made generous contributions to those impacted by COVID. For the Inauguration itself, she and other key participants showcased other American designers, including some from U.S. design schools. Harris and other platform members were attired in purple as a nod to the unity of blue and red coming together and women across the country wore their pearls as a purposeful choice to represent Harris’ sorority.

You may not find yourself in a position where those around you are inquiring as to your clothing designer but if you’re the boss you can be assured that people are paying attention to many details about you. Cues such as attire, vehicle, work hours, and even eating habits are noticed and noted. Attempt to send your non-verbal messages with the same intentionality as your words.





leadership dot #3140: possibility

There seems to be a different feeling in the air – whether due to the new year, the imminence of a new president, the availability of a vaccine, or a lingering post-holiday glow – as people I speak with seem to have more hope and optimism than I heard a few short weeks ago.

I hope this is translated into action by focusing on what can be done instead of being stymied by all the limitations COVID presents. I am reminded of a quote by Michelle Obama: “Don’t ever make decisions based on fear. Make decisions based on hope and possibility. Make decisions based on what should happen, not what shouldn’t.”

Many have spent the greater part of a year in a cycle of reduction, saying no, focusing on what can’t be done, or placing much of their lives in a holding pattern. While everyone still needs to exercise due diligence and practice safety protocols, I hope you capitalize on this window of hope to do your work and lead your lives with a focus on promise instead of regret.

What can you do, given the realities of the moment? I guarantee your answer will generate far more energy than a query about what you can’t.


leadership dot #3139: time out

Just before my friend went under anesthesia, the surgical team gathered around and called a “time out” to ensure that everyone, including the patient, was clear about the procedure they were set to perform. This momentary pause ensured that there was no misunderstanding or mix-up on the chart. The two-minute huddle has prevented irreversible calamities in the past and seems to be a wise investment of time.

I think that time outs have an application far beyond the surgical ward. It would be worthwhile to gather your team and have a time out before a big event or before embarking on a major project. The few seconds of time to clarify agreement can save hours in the long run by making sure everyone is clear on the desired outcome and process to get there before starting down a path.

In this case, the doctor really does know best. Prescribe a time out before your next big start.

Thanks, Curt!

leadership dot #3135: clues

I recently watched My Octopus Teacher, a fascinating documentary about a photographer who dives into the same spot each day for over a year to observe the actions of an octopus. People asked Craig Foster why he went back to that location rather than exploring elsewhere, and he replied that it gave him the opportunity to notice subtle differences that he would otherwise miss.

“Subtle” was also a theme of how he got interested in this quest. Foster had been a photographer in the Serengeti, aided by native animal trackers who followed minute differences as clues to lead them to the big game. He applied the same principle in his work underwater to discover where the octopus was living and where it had recently been.

Too often we gloss over small differences and render them insignificant when, over time, these subtle variations can reveal great value. You likely are not searching for an octopus or lion, but you can adopt the method of consistent observation to track trends, see initial signs of changed behavior, monitor shifts in response, or be the first to spot a divergence that could indicate the start of something significant. Pay attention to the small stuff long enough to ascertain the clues it can provide you.

leadership dot #3133: distinct

For those of you non-Midwesterners unfamiliar with the Fannie Mae Meltaways, the candies are tiny cubes of melt-in-your-mouth chocolate mint deliciousness that come in two colors: brown and green. For reasons unknown to me, I have always only eaten the brown ones. I asked my sister if they tasted the same as the green and her answer was that she has only ever had the green ones. This called for an experiment!

In case you are curious, both brown and green Meltaways taste exactly the same. Why they make two colors is a mystery to me, most likely it is simply for merchandising and visual appeal. But the experiment served as another reminder that we all carry unconscious biases around. We make contrasts and value one over another when there is no rational reason to do so and no differences actually exist.

Be cautious in applying the label of “better” to anything before you understand whether it actually merits a distinction.

leadership dot #3109: naughty

In a nod to holiday humor, the speed detector signs in our town have changed their messaging for the season. Now, instead of flashing “thank you” when you’re driving within the limit, the sign shows a green “NICE” and, my favorite, when you exceed the speed instead of a generic “slow down” you are greeted with a red “NAUGHTY.”  I will confess that I speed up every time just to get a good laugh.

This adjustment in the signs cost nothing but a few moments of re-programming time yet it adds an aura of festivity to the season. Subtle changes like this – where you intentionally consider all aspects of the environment and your messaging can add up to create a culture or mood in very effective ways.

Santa may not know if you’re naughty or nice, but your audience certainly does. Make the time to tend to the details that will put you at the top of their list.

leadership dot #3101: exposure

At the Massachusetts Conference for Women, Doris Kearns Goodwin relayed a story about Eleanor Roosevelt who was the first First Lady to hold routine press conferences — but Eleanor added a restriction: only female reporters could attend. Because of this caveat, many curmudgeonly male editors across the country were forced to diversify their workforce, often for the first time.

At the same conference, Admiral Michelle Howard recounted how her supervisor intentionally sought to add women and people of color in the entry-level administrative or assistant roles, not because they were lofty positions, rather because it gave those folks exposure to how the system worked and gave them experience to apply for higher positions someday.

All of us, in our own spheres of influence, have the obligation to create opportunities for others. Can you invite people to shadow you to gain exposure to operations that can benefit them later? Is there a way to expand your talent pool to include those without the direct experience normally hired into your roles? Maybe you could restructure your hierarchy to provide more deputy or entrée positions that could feed your leadership pipeline with diverse perspectives? Or could you perhaps mentor someone and help boost their confidence?

The more doors we help to open, the bigger our world becomes.


leadership dot #3099: shop small

‘Twas just over two weeks before Christmas and I had my shopping complete but what excites me most is that I’m having an Amazon-free Christmas. This year, I intentionally shopped local, with only two of my dozens of presents ordered online from the direct retailer.

I enlisted other’s talents to create a few gifts rather than buy them. I’ll be gifting homemade, handmade, and heirlooms as well as a few non-traditional ways to share some cash. I went to a small-town shopping area and let myself be inspired by what was in the stores rather than setting out to look for something specific. I could see the delight in the eyes of the business owners when I made purchases there – making me feel as if I was giving them a gift instead of just buying one.

But in addition to helping the economy, I feel good about helping the environment. This year an estimated three billion packages will be shipped – 800 million more than last year. I think about the sheer volume of three billion boxes, never mind the plastic bubble inserts or the gas that trucks use to transport them from warehouses to homes. I’m glad I didn’t require daily deliveries of my treasures.

It has been said that where you shop for the holidays this year will determine where you will be able to shop next year – meaning that if small businesses don’t make up some of their pandemic losses during this season, they may not be around in 2021. So, do your economy, environment, and recipients a favor and use these remaining shopping days to visit those local places. I guarantee the owners will be far more excited than Jeff Bezos that you are shopping with them.

leadership dot #3087: format

I’m frequently asked by clients if they can record my remote sessions so that others can watch them later. So far, I have declined.

I think that there is a difference between a webinar where recording and replaying make perfect sense – and an interactive, remote experience. I am not convinced that there is sufficient value in a replay of my sessions where I make liberal use of chat, breakout rooms, exercises and independent reflection. What I have been doing has been designed to be engaging and live, not watched solo after-the-fact.

Maybe as COVID continues I will be persuaded to alter my approach or to provide content in a format that has planned reproduction and future uses, but for now, I remain only a live presenter. Whichever you offer – or book – it’s important to be clear about which path you are choosing. The experience will be richer for everyone if the design matches the intent.

leadership dot #3079: remote engagement

One of the casualties of the pandemic is the loss of office camaraderie. As we work from home and have most (all?) of our interactions via the screen, it can be difficult to feel connected with our colleagues.

Here are a few strategies to increase employee engagement during your virtual time together:

  • Infuse fun remotely:
    • Hire someone from Cameo.com to give a message to your team
    • Utilize Tribute.co to create a video tribute for a retirement or promotion
    • Happy Hour over Zoom
    • Share a favorite meme
    • Virtual contests (eg: craziest hat, wildest sox, funniest virtual background)
    • Whimsical polls (eg: are you wearing shoes, slippers, socks, nothing on your feet)
    • Show and tell (eg: share family members or pets, show home or hobbies)
    • Scavenger hunt
    • Posting on an internal network (eg: childhood photos, hobby, recipes, holiday wish list)
  • Do more time on synchronous events for the whole team/department:
    • Lunch and Learn with an outside speaker
    • Book club discussion
    • Town Halls
  • Provide employees with tangibles when possible:
    • E-gift cards, even for small amounts
    • Food delivery coupons to buy individual meals for a group lunch
    • Mail a box with a branded item(s)
    • Send handwritten notes, postcards or birthday cards
    • Sugarwish (allows you to curate your own box of candy)
    • Themed gifts (eg: Llama cookies and note You’ve done a llama hard work lately)
  • Mark occasions such as holidays and changing of the seasons
  • Celebrate individual and department wins – including the fact you have survived another milestone

Your culture isn’t any less important just because you aren’t together in person. In fact, it may be even more critical to foster engagement from a distance. Consider ways that you can add some appreciation, levity, and participation for your team and keep the morale up even when your time in person is down.

photo credit Caryl Stern