leadership dot #3897: portable

As I prepare to go on a week-long work trip, it still gives me pause as to how portable the “office” has become. When I first started working, we were tethered to the physical place because of the stacks of pink message slips with information to return the phone calls we had received, our incoming mail that was delivered by the postman, and of course the pile of inter-office envelopes — those reusable manilla envelopes with dozens of lines and the string to re-close them around the paper loop. You had to be there to function.

Now, between my laptop and phone, I have my entire office with me. All the documents are there. The messages and phone calls. Directions and instructions. All in one place. All able to continue uninterrupted from Iowa or Boston or Paris.

Certainly, there are advantages to this portability and seamless ability to stay connected. And, as with every upside, there is a downside that makes it hard to dis-connect. Work is always there, just a click away.

While we might have stressed over what awaited us when we returned from being away, there was little we could do about it. Work had to wait until we were back at work. It’s not a bad practice. If you are out, be out. Keep the laptop closed and let the emails mount. Work can wait.

leadership dot #3891: sought after

I just conducted a seminar for supervisors of college student employees. As part of the program, participants listed out the skills that students gain from working in their departments. The list included traits such as communication skills, accountability, time management, and teamwork.

I then shared a list of the soft skills (also called human skills) that employers are seeking. For example, Zip Recruiter reports that the most in-demand soft skills were: communication, customer service, time management, analytical thinking, the ability to work independently, and flexibility.

Unsurprisingly, many of the skills the participants listed were also on the list of sought-after traits, but the realization did not move much past intuition. Rarely did employers make the explicit connection that working for them would equip the student with valuable, marketable, and sought-after skills that are hard to learn in a theoretical environment. Too often, they focused on the pay rate or job duties rather than the intangibles that actually have greater value.

The same scenario occurs in many other environments. The “seeker” shares factual information about the opening — whether they are seeking volunteers, temporary help, or full-time employees — but they fail to leverage the culture, sense of belonging, learning opportunities, and other outcomes that can accrue from the position.

To be successful in this hiring climate, reframe your ask to make it more comprehensive and compelling. People can earn money at dozens of places these days. Saying “help wanted” puts the focus on what you want. Be explicit about what they want by sharing what you offer beyond the buck that entices someone to join your organization.

leadership dot #3890: garden

A colleague was dealing with some naysayers who were causing a ruckus about a policy they did not like. The question before them was whether to address the negativity or press on anyway.

We likened the situation to a garden, where those against things were like weeds. You can spend all your time pulling the weeds and focusing on that — OR — you can spend your time planting more flowers so that the beauty becomes the focus and the weeds are overlooked by most who view your garden.

Especially in this climate, there will always be people who don’t like what you are doing (see dot 3889). While it’s important to listen to credible input, at some point you need to move forward and do what you think is best for the organization even if some are against it.

You will never be rid of all the weeds, no matter how diligent you are. Even if you can’t see them, roots are forming beneath the surface ready to break through at any moment. But the same is true with seeds, with goodness that lies dormant until it blooms. Keep focusing on the hope that seeds bring and let the beauty outshine the beast.

leadership dot #3888: wheelhouse

I had a prospecting call to speak with a potential client about facilitating a retreat for her staff. She provided context about the current organizational challenges and we discussed a variety of topics that could be covered in the extended session.

For most of what she wanted, the subjects are well within my wheelhouse but one area is not. As a follow-up, I sent her my thoughts on how the day could be structured and potential ways of achieving the outcomes she desired. Rather than create disappointment or surprises down the road if I am hired, I also included a sentence that read: “I’m very comfortable with all these topics and could present them with opportunities for contributions from the team utilizing the lens you mentioned, but presenting specific content on that portion is not where my expertise lies.”

I could have proceeded by only focusing on the areas where I have strength, and maybe from a business standpoint that would have been a wiser thing to do, but I would rather not get the date than be hired and not meet expectations.

Take every opportunity to align what you promise with what you perform. It’s a great way to add “integrity” to your wheelhouse as well.

leadership dot #3883: sayings

The Season 3 premiere of Ted Lasso is today and I couldn’t be more excited to have it return after a long hiatus. One of the things that makes Ted’s character so loveable — and memorable — is his use of metaphorical sayings. Instead of saying “shake it off,” Ted reminds his players to “be a goldfish” (which allegedly has only a 10-second memory). He “believes in believe” and sees actions that “smell like potential.” His repeated use of catchy mantras helps his message stick into the minds of his players (and viewers!) and communicates his message in a unique way.

All of us have sayings that we use to convey not only our meaning but our personality as well. Apparently, I have a lot of sayings, too. For one memorable birthday, some staff members made a “beth dictionary” capturing my often-used phrases such as “noted,” “Indianapolis,” or “specificity.” They aren’t as original as Ted’s but embedded powerful meaning in my staff’s thinking throughout the years.

Think about what language you use to convey your philosophy and how repeated use of memorable phrases can help your staff hear your voice in their head even when you’re not around. “Connect the dots” with “intentionality”!

leadership dot #3880: dealing

The annual indoor garage sale at the fairgrounds draws hundreds of people — at one point I was literally surrounded and couldn’t move in either direction. It’s a fun event where people are usually wheeling and dealing for such minor amounts.

A lady was selling a pin for $2 and wouldn’t take less. Another vendor had a $5 item and wouldn’t budge on the $3 price. But another lady offered her $5 items for $2 — or $1 each if I bought multiples and I think she would have gone even lower than that.

It all comes down to what you value — and not just in the monetary sense. Certainly, I could have afforded the $2 but I thought it was too much. She obviously thought $1 was too little, but beyond that, she was willing to risk not selling her items — valuing money over a reduction in inventory. Other vendors were just anxious to get rid of things — happily taking less in return for the freedom of not hauling or storing the goods.

Before you jump into any project, know what’s most important in the end. Having a defined goal in mind will drive all your behaviors along the way.

leadership dot #3862: something’s fishy

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, so for many Catholics and others who follow the practice, it means eating fish today and on Fridays. As a result, the fish fry has become a popular Lenten fundraiser for many organizations.

Our local entertainment guide published a list of the events and restaurants that serve fish and it seems that everywhere offers cod on the menu during this time of year. In a town of 60,000, an incredible 108 entries were included, many offering all-you-can-eat buffets and special fish offerings just for the season.

But the practice actually calls for Catholics to “abstain from eating meat” which is different than eating fish. It provides many more options for people: salads, eggs or omelets, vegetables, plant-based products, rice, beans, vegetable lasagna, chickpeas, tofu, etc. But nowhere do we see salad fundraisers, pancake dinners, or seafood pasta fundraisers. It’s all fish.

If you are attempting to capitalize on a practice, take a broad view of the opportunities it presents for you. You may be successful in offering fish fry #109 or you may be better off providing an alternative menu that helps you to stand out apart from the crowd.

leadership dot #3860: receipts

Over the weekend I spent some time sorting receipts for my taxes. It’s not my favorite task but it did provide a forum for a bit of reminiscing. Looking at the receipts I saw charges for a favorite restaurant that has gone out of business, trips that I took, gifts I bought, and big household purchases I made. The exercise confirmed that dogs are expensive, I am a regular at the Post Office and I’m a good bargain shopper!

You can tell a lot about a person — or an organization — by looking through the expenditures for the year. Where we spend our time and money is a window into our values and priorities and the ledger or box of receipts makes it clear what is in favor.

When you do your taxes this year or partake in the annual audit, do more than look at the numbers on the page. Take some time to reflect on what the expenses are saying about you and whether that reflects the way you wish to live or do business. Spending time to learn about your spending habits can reap big dividends for you.

leadership dot #3852: roots

I read about a tradition in the United Kingdom whereby a traditional court hearing — complete with a jury and a black robe and wig-wearing judge — takes place every year to assess whether the British coins met their established standards. Known as the Trial of the Pyx, it has occurred every year since the 12th century and is designed to keep the coinage uniform, free from counterfeiting, and within regulatory requirements. Nearly 8000 coins are tested over three months before a verdict is provided to the master of the mint. It’s a unique tradition but one of many that keep history and heritage alive in Britain.

What does your organization do to anchor the present to its earlier roots? Some organizations celebrate or have the day off to commemorate their Founder’s Day. Others feature displays or photographs that showcase key figures in the development of the organization. Some only look back on anniversaries or at times of leadership transition.

Keeping your history alive can help team members feel a sense of belonging and connection to a bigger purpose. You probably don’t have an elaborate tradition that dates back centuries but I’m confident you have an aspect of your organization’s development that is unique. Be intentional about carrying out a tradition that recognizes what has made you be you.

leadership dot #3849: doing more

A colleague has been asked to assume the duties of another person during a vacancy in that position. She is happy to do so, but when I asked her what she was not going to do in her own job she did not have an answer.

It is important when you are assigned extra responsibilities — whether temporarily covering for a person, handling an extra project, or addressing additional volume — that you stop for a moment to consider the big picture. What gives? You may eliminate some tasks altogether, you may put some things on the back burner, or you may do projects with less thoroughness than before, but something is going to be done differently.

It’s helpful to assign those priorities with intention. Perhaps your current job duties are more important than the new ones you have acquired, and they should take precedence. Or maybe your current job should be put on hold and all your focus shifted to the new tasks. I remember when I was VP for Enrollment and our admissions director left. I asked my boss how much of my time should be spent in the interim director role and he said 90%! If you don’t have an incoming class, it has major implications for the whole institution, so I moved my office and delegated or delayed my other duties for a year.

What you shouldn’t do is think you can handle everything. Working a few extra hours is one thing but doing so every day isn’t a sustainable strategy. When things get piled on, it’s worth a moment of assessment and reflection before you dig in.