leadership dot #2849 A or B

Author Dan Heath provided advice on the type of feedback that was most helpful to him as he shared drafts of his books. Instead of asking for “global feedback” – for example, asking what early readers thought or how the structure was framed – he found it more productive to ask for comments on specific aspects of the book.

He likened feedback to a consumer being asked about what beer they like – it’s often hard for them to articulate. But when asked whether they like Beer A or Beer B better, people almost always instantly have a firm opinion.

Heath recommends framing your feedback questions in terms of whether people like A or B. In book terms this could translate to asking whether a specific story conveyed the point of the chapter effectively or whether the reader found a specific concept useful. Asking these types of questions – and asking them early enough in the process so you can actually use the information before you become too invested in what you have developed – has worked best for him.

Think of how you can adopt this method of inquiry to feedback that you need to receive. It can be on simple matters – instead of asking “What would you like for a snack?” instead you could ask “Would you rather have walnuts or candy?”. On work projects, you can provide an outline and ask for their opinion if section A should be before or after B. When asking someone to critique your website you may ask if the navigation button should be on the bottom or left.

Heath said that “you may get answers to meta-terms but you can’t trust them because people don’t have the language to describe” what they actually feel or mean. Especially when much of our feedback is coming remotely where we can’t pick up on body language nuances, strive to remove the vagueness and frame your requests in terms that can prove to be truly helpful.

Source: Dan Heath in So you want to write a book podcast

leadership dot #2844: score

Whether you’re aware of it or not, the musical score in a movie shapes your response to what you are seeing in the film. If the sound is scary, you’re more likely to see and feel some sense of danger or impending dread. If the music is uplifting, you’ll anticipate a positive outcome and look for signs of happiness.

I often wonder what real life would be like if it came with a musical score. Would we be more cautious when driving if all of a sudden the bass tones started and the music became ominous? Could a hypothetical score of trumpets during our isolation serve to lighten our mood?

While our life’s journey doesn’t come with audible accompaniment, we can utilize our minds to shape our own reaction to life’s events. If we allow a dark cloud to follow us, we shape our response to everything we see. If we take on a more positive persona, it, too, will shape our world.

Pay attention to the “score” you let your thoughts create. Whether through utilizing actual music or through mental modeling, let the background soundtrack of your life today add to your environment instead of depressing it.

leadership dot #2841: happiness

In his TEDx talk, psychologist and author Shawn Achor humorously lays out a serious case against the belief that if we work hard it will result in success which will result in happiness. Achor’s research shows that the opposite is actually true: that if we are happy, our brains function at a higher level and success is more likely to follow.

Achor notes that most people assume the external world predicts happiness levels but actually 90% is predicted by the way your brain processes the world. Therefore, if you change the way you view the world, you can change the way you view reality.

He offers these suggestions for rewiring your brain by performing them 21 days in a row:

  • 3 Gratitudes: writing 3 new things to be grateful for every day trains your brain to scan for the positive
  • Journaling about 1 positive experience each day allows you to relive it
  • Exercise teaches the brain that your behavior matters
  • Meditation allows the brain to focus instead of multi-task
  • Random Acts of Kindness allows you to act on your gratitude

Our world is a bit topsy-turvy right now and it can seem hard to find the joy in current conditions. Spend 12 minutes watching Achor’s very funny speech and then adopt one of the above practices to shift your focus to something more positive. Starting with happiness can shift your reality and help you emerge from isolation with a new formula for success.



leadership dot #2832: collapse

In 2010, portions of the Atwater bluff along the shores of Lake Michigan collapsed due to excessive rain. The flooding eroded the hill and cut off access to the beach for Milwaukee’s residents.

Instead of creating a wall to secure the sands, local engineers realized that utilizing natural plants would provide a more sustainable solution. Organizers stabilized the bluff with over 3000 native plants whose deep roots serve to hold back the hill and provide a natural habitat for area birds and insects. The area is now designated as a Monarch Butterfly Waystation and many other creatures benefit from the plants and shrubs. The native vegetation also provides a scenic vista to line the Lake while allowing natural sand dunes and grasses to develop.

Sometimes, it takes a disastrous event to cause people to stop and reassess what is best on the path forward. I doubt that people would have invested the effort to intentionally create a natural ecosystem on the bluff if the stormwater had not severely damaged it but the end result is an enhancement.

As you live through your own version of bluff collapse, take advantage of the opportunity to rethink what comes next. You have a chance to rebuild in a way that is better.


leadership dot #2830: fluent

Too often we default to thinking that to do more, we need to acquire more but a local store showed that is not always the case. Best Buy leveraged its existing resources by identifying the languages spoken by its employees and making a simple poster that lets people know this diversity was available.

Photos of the staff included information about which languages they were fluent in and others that they understood. It also included a “hello, my name is…” in those languages.

Even in our small town in the Heartland, that day there were associates who could communicate in Hindi, Arabic, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and French. How welcoming for customers who also spoke those languages, especially when trying to communicate a problem to the Geek Squad.

Think about what resources you have in your organization that you could more intentionally share. Est-ce que tu parles français?


leadership dot #2825: first see

In their new book Leading with Gratitude, authors Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton write that there are two aspects to appreciation: seeing it and expressing it. “Gratitude is not just giving credit where it’s due, it’s knowing where it’s due,” they write.

People must cultivate the first skill of seeing opportunities to recognize before they are able to provide that feedback to others. They theorize that managers are often “hyper-focused on finding problems,” and as a result spend more time on what is going wrong instead of going right. Creating a culture of gratitude begins with seeing small wins and creating milestones that will provide reward markers along the way.

Once you see positive behavior, their mantra is “give it now, give it often, and don’t be afraid.” They point out that the championship trophy is given right after the game, not at the next practice or meeting. Immediately tying appreciation to action is a more powerful expression of gratitude than waiting, and, if it’s genuine, leaders can never give too much of it.

Think about on which side of the equation you need to be more intentional. Do you need to work on your “seeing” — paying more attention to what is working, who is making contributions behind-the-scenes or noticing progress along the journey? Or is your challenge “expressing” – taking the time to write a quick note, acknowledging someone’s behavior or publicly thanking a team?

Learning to lead with gratitude – as a manager, parent, coach or in any other role – is a skill that requires practice like any other. Strengthen your “seeing” or “expressing” muscles with a bit more intentionality today.

leadership dot #2819: outdoors

I unexpectedly had an hour free in Milwaukee this week and capitalized on it by going to the shores of Lake Michigan. Even though I was only a few miles from the heart of downtown, it seemed like a million miles away. I encountered only a handful of people. Heard waves instead of traffic. Saw multiple shades of blue and the sun glistening on the water. Sat on the bench and let the wind carry away all my thoughts.

After only an hour, I came back refreshed and renewed in a way that only nature can do.

For many, the only fresh air they breathe in a day is between their car and the office. Don’t let that be you. Instead, experiment with a 15-minute immersion in nature and see what impact it can have on your mood and focus. A walk around the building is much more of an energizer than the candy bar you are hoping provides the same effect and a few minutes sitting outside on a bench during your lunch hour will make you more productive in the hours that follow. Walking the dog around the block can even be more relaxing than an hour of television.

Not every city is lucky enough to be along a Great Lake but everywhere has pockets of the outdoors that can become a refuge for you. Don’t let this free, accessible mental health elixir go to waste.