leadership dot #3006: relaxation

Thanks to its official designation, today is more like “Labor-less Day” rather than one of labor for most Americans. The holiday has been on the books since 1882 when the Central Labor Union created it as a way to celebrate its workers. We’ve been parading and picnicking ever since.

A version of Labor Day is celebrated around the world, but traditionally on May 1. It made the September calendar in the States to add a day off in the four months between Fourth of July and Thanksgiving when breaks are few are far between.

You should follow the Labor Union’s example and be deliberate about when you take time off. With the pandemic still present, it’s going to be a long slog through the cold months. Take a moment now to block out your own holidays and time for relaxation. Mark yourself out for a random Wednesday here and there to break up a week. Take off a Friday or Monday to make a long weekend. Carve out a few mornings where you can stay in the cozy covers instead of facing winter’s bite. Do it now, while your fall and winter calendars are free enough to allow you that flexibility.

All of us are engaged in some form of labor. Be intentional about taking a respite from it, not only today but on other days of your choosing.


leadership dot #3003: bad apples

Imagine having a school superintendent that improves ratings to become the top #4 of public school districts in the country; is beloved by the school board, parents, teachers and students, and projects an appearance of professionalism wherever he goes. Such was the case with Dr. Frank Tassone in Long Island – seen as a hero in the community – all while he simultaneously orchestrated the largest public school embezzlement in history.

The movie Bad Education tells the story of how things appeared wonderful on the surface, with both Tassone and his CFO Pam Gluckin being lauded for their performance and impact on rankings – while they and their families defrauded the Long Island district out of $11 million.

The School Board was blinded by their admiration for Tassone’s accomplishments. The auditor trusted the CFO after many years of dedicated work. Others only saw the impression Tassone and Gluckin worked hard to project, creating such an aura that gave them protection from questioning or doubt.

How were they discovered? By those who saw the facts instead of the false narrative: a hardware store salesman that became suspicious about a delivery address and an eager school newspaper reporter who uncovered discrepancies while researching an article!

Checks and balances are set up for a reason, and it’s best when they are put in place right from the start. Routinely review credit card statements and expense reports, not just when you think there is a problem. Require dual approvals or signatures for major expenses. Vary your auditor if not your whole auditing firm after a few years. Have an outside consultant conduct a program evaluation.

The vast majority of people are doing honest work. Good apples aren’t threatened by external reviews, rather they welcome them as a way to discover any bad apples in the bunch.

Fresh apple and slice of rotten unhealthy apple fruit isolated on a magenta background

leadership dot #2995: elbow grease

In preparation for my sister’s visit, I scrubbed and sanitized my floors Cinderella-style, down on all fours with the bucket and sponge. I usually use a Swiffer which appeared to satisfactorily do the job but when I saw the floors from a new perspective, I could tell that I had just been hitting the surface instead of achieving a deep-clean.

I wonder what the equivalent is in your organization that could use more intensive scrutiny. Maybe a cursory update of your policies suffices in the short-term, but an in-depth review may be warranted. Perhaps your website remains adequate while only receiving sporadic attention but may be due for an overhaul to actually become an asset. Or maybe you only skim the surface with your employee engagement efforts instead of anchoring your strategy with a deep and meaningful plan.

It’s tempting to take the easy road and achieve some improvement with minimal effort, but for your work to truly shine you occasionally need to use the elbow grease.

leadership dot #2987: attract

Almost every day I find a feather in my yard and when I do, it brings to mind Dumbo and the story of the magic feather. (For those unfamiliar with the Disney classic, Dumbo’s sidekick Timothy Q. Mouse gives Dumbo a feather and claims its magic properties allow him to fly, instead of Dumbo’s oversized ears doing the propulsion.) Of course, my feathers imbue me with no more specialness than Dumbo’s, but I always smile and envision what I would accomplish if they did.

The part that I sometimes forget is that I have feathers every day because I have seven bird feeders and two bird baths in my yard, and constantly have a smorgasbord of bird food available. I have feathers precisely because I take steps to attract birds.

Consider what you are trying to attract and apply this principle in other aspects of life. If you want creativity, fill your space with whiteboards and other idea-generating stimuli. If you’re seeking fitness, keep the weights and walking shoes where you run into them every day. If you desire greater spirituality, surround yourself with others who share your beliefs.

It works both ways: if you have bird feeders, you’re going to get feathers and if you want feathers, you need to attract birds. Are you intentionally feeding the outcome you crave?


leadership dot #2986: lulled

As I stood on the river’s edge listening to the waves lap up on the shore, I found myself getting hypnotized by the rhythmic motion. My friend recalled his days on Navy ships where sailors would get lulled into what they called the “Sound of the Siren” when waves in the ocean put seamen in a trance, often to their detriment as they fell asleep and went overboard.

On land, professional drivers take steps to avert “white line fever” where the operator becomes so fixated on the road ahead that they become hypnotized by the line instead of alert to what is in front of them. The same phenomenon occurs during blizzards where the focus shifts to the swirling snow instead of the road.

What metaphorical waves are lulling you into complacency? Is your attention diverted by the rhythm of the rut that is all around you instead of being focused on the true issue at hand?

It’s very easy to become seduced by the sound of the siren – whether you’re on a ship or in the office. Take care to stay alert enough to avoid being mesmerized by the routine.


leadership dot #2966: martini glass

I’m coaching a client to complete their dissertation and one of the key components of the work is getting the logic flow solid enough to pass his advisor’s muster. He started with a broad statement of purpose and has moved into more granular detail, ultimately resulting in the specific research question for his research. His advisor calls this the “martini glass” – where you begin with a broad perspective and ultimately narrow to a targeted argument.

We’ve spent so much time on this one component that I am ready to use a real martini glass myself, but she is right that if he can get the elements and flow right in the beginning, everything that follows will be easier.

Too often, we fail to make the time to think through a solid logic flow before we just jump right in and start doing. Before you begin your next big project, draw yourself a martini glass. Put your purpose at the top, your supporting points to follow and your specific course of action just above the stem.

For example, the martini glass for the dots could be:

The ability to see things from a new perspective is a skill worth cultivating.
Stories and examples are actionable ways to learn new concepts.
I have honed the ability to connect the dots and explain their meaning in memorable ways.
A blog is an effective format that allows me to share my thinking.
I’ll write daily leadership dots to help others learn to see with new eyes.

Writing out this flow helps me remain focused on the goal of the dots – that it is not any of the specific lessons, rather to provide examples that teach people how to see things differently and make connections on their own.

Try it for yourself. Sketch out your own martini glass as an up-front method of keeping your purpose and process in focus. Just the act of doing so will enhance your thinking.

leadership dot #2947: getting to know you

When we’re face to face with colleagues, we act as if we’re building connections – a quick hello or “how are you?”/”fine” – but those interactions really aren’t creating the meaningful relationships that we desire. Such exchanges of niceties are merely rote actions without real engagement. The remote environment has highlighted that we don’t always have the connections that we thought we did – and now we’re on screen in full view of having to create them. It’s part of why video meetings are so exhausting.

While it may be tempting to jump right into tasks when starting a Zoom call, it is more important than ever to build connections first. Author and thought leader Shenandoah Chefalo recommends that you flip the usual ratio of meetings to make it 2/3 relationship building and 1/3 task functions. “Connection, connection, connection,” she says. “Build the relationship first, then task.”

It may seem strange to dedicate time toward getting to “know” someone with whom you have previously worked with in person, but chances are there is still much about them that is new to you. What are their current challenges working from home or in the midst of social change? What’s the best part of life today?  What have they learned lately?

Or you could reprise a highlight from grade school and take advantage of the opportunity to do “show and tell.” In my classes, I met my students’ children, guinea pig, cat, and dogs as well as saw bookshelves and new décor – none of which would have been possible in person.

Zoom is exhausting! But perhaps not for the reasons you initially thought. Take the time to build more meaningful connections that will last far beyond the virus and help you be more effective with your tasks now.

leadership dot #2946: gatekeeper

As part of the Aspen Ideas Festival, I heard journalist Maria Ressa reflect on how the information infrastructure has changed. She noted that journalists are no longer the gatekeepers rather, the technology (social media) companies are, but they are not moderating the posted content.

As a result, it has become a vicious circle on both sides of the aisle; lies are targeted to you, thereby people begin to doubt themselves and their own beliefs, and it creates a fake bandwagon approach so others believe it as well. “Exponential attacks on social media have to stop or we will lose democracy,” she warned.

Her talk was still resonating in my mind when I read the following statistic: “The average person will spend a total of approximately 6 years and 8 months on social media over their lifetime!*” If it’s anywhere close to true, it is an astonishing figure and accounts for why the country has become so polarized. If for literally years, you hear one point of view, targeted to you, you are likely to accept it as the only truth even if there is another perspective.

Now more than ever, you own the responsibility to analyze and curate the news that you absorb, and to be intentional about seeking out multiple points of view. Follow thought leaders on social media from different demographics than your own. Seek out reputable sources beyond the easy-access pervasive apps. Question what you hear and consider what is missing from the coverage. If journalists have been replaced by propaganda machines, it’s up to you to be the gatekeeper.

*Source: Snack Fact from Robinhood Snacks, July 6, 2020

leadership dot #2944: formula

As part of the Aspen Ideas Festival, two speakers made comments that stuck with me – and as I later pondered how to incorporate them into my life, I realized that they were in direct opposition with each other!

One idea came from opera director Yuval Sharon who spoke about the concept of “doubling” that he used in the development of his recent production. He literally doubled his core artistic team, hiring two directors, two writers and two composers for his opera Sweet Land, intentionally done to create a dialogue between different points of view.

In contrast to working in pairs, historian and author Erik Larson spoke of how he does not use research assistants for his work. Even though scouring the archives can be extensive and tedious, he is not convinced that someone else would have his instincts and look for the same things so he does all of his research himself.

It was fascinating to me that on this national platform, one person applied the strategy of doubling in the artistic field where individuals are often heralded as the stars for their work, and another advocated the process of working solo in research which is often a team effort.

Maybe the real lesson is that those who shine in their field are the ones who utilize methods outside of the norm; who break the boundaries of what “should” happen and find ways to find new insights – either by including others or excluding them in certain phases. Don’t approach your projects by rote; rather intentionally consider whether your work could benefit from doubling or independence. There is no one formula for innovation.

leadership dot #2939: intentional

In my Managerial Communication class, we’ve had four guest speakers: the university president, a public relations professional, the police chief and a manager of internal communications. While they all had varied styles and nuanced messages, they shared these themes:

  • Connect your messaging to your mission. All of them talked about the importance of linking your communications (internal and external) to the purpose of your organization and the goals you are trying to achieve – meaning you have to know what they are and have them in mind before you start sharing.
  • Focus and repeat. Once is never enough. You need to share your message multiple times for it to be heard and understood.
  • Relationships are key. Organizations don’t succeed autonomously. Work to develop partnerships and individual connections with others.
  • It’s all What you say, what you wear, your remote meeting background, the medium you use, your word choice, how the office lobby looks – it all sends a message so be intentional about what you are trying to say.

The lessons above are all intertwined and can be applied to organizational messaging as well as personal branding. Think about how they apply in your situation and use them to be more intentional in communicating what is important to you.