leadership dot #3503: injustice

In his TED Talk that has been watched over 53 million times, Simon Sinek shares his story of the Golden Circle and the importance of “starting with why” instead of automatically beginning with the “how” or the “what.” He gives several examples of why switching the order of your message can make it inherently more powerful.

One of the examples he uses is the namesake of today’s holiday. “Why did Martin Luther King, Jr. lead the civil rights movement?” Sinek asks. “He wasn’t the only man who suffered in pre-civil rights America and he certainly wasn’t the only great orator of the day. Why him?” Sinek’s answer is that all the great and inspiring leaders in the world, including King, “think, act and communicate” by first focusing on the “why” in their messages and making that their central theme.

“I am in Birmingham because injustice is here,” King wrote in his letter from jail. “…I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”

King’s message is as powerful today as it was when he wrote it in 1963. May it serve to help us become more united as a country by embracing King’s “why” and working to preserve our interdependence instead of posturing to advance only our own cause.

leadership dot #3497: plausible

Have you been in a situation where as soon as you reached a plausible explanation, you ran with it and never bothered to consider other scenarios that could be at play? Perhaps you jumped on one medical symptom and reached your own diagnosis without digging deeper. Maybe you had a problem with a project and never pursued it long enough to find out there was another reason for the underperformance. Or maybe you accepted a valid excuse for why someone left your organization without truly understanding their real motivation.

We like it when we find “the answer” — often embracing it more for its expediency than for its correctness.

It’s tempting to accept a rationale that is reasonable. But as much as we benefit from coming to decisions and moving on to the next thing, be on guard that you don’t stop your thinking prematurely. Too fast is often too soon.

leadership dot #3487: estate

Ah, the day of resolutions! In addition to pledging to lose weight, eat healthier, start to exercise, save money, or any of the other standard pledges, I implore you to make one more commitment and actually stick to it: get your estate plans in order.

As I’ve learned from managing the affairs of my dad, mom, and sister it’s a complicated process even if very little money or no property is involved. The more you can document your wishes, your passwords, your assets, and the stories behind your possessions, the easier it makes it. Take advantage of tools like Apple’s (new) Legacy Contact, Android, or Facebook’s permissions to give others access to your platforms upon your passing. Start with a basic will and both health and financial power of attorney and then build from there. Even if you have a do-it-yourself version, it’s far better than leaving it all up to the State.

Of the three million who died last year, I’ll bet most of them put this off until “later.” Don’t let that be you. Today when you’re full of resolve, pinky swear that you’ll take this task seriously in the coming year. It’s the best gift you can give to your loved ones.

leadership dot #3486: mental health

A growing number of organizations are offering mental health days in addition to the vacation and sick time provided as benefits. This year, several colleges provided a serendipitous day off — canceling classes and closing offices to allow people time to rejuvenate. Some organizations provide a “wellness day” — closing business early on Fridays or pledging not to schedule meetings on a certain day of the week. One church I know offers staff “retreat days” once a quarter where they are able to take time to reflect and refresh.

Being proactive about your wellness is as important as prevention is to your physical health. Whether you are lucky enough to have mental health time provided or whether you need to find ways to squirrel away some time on your own, resolve to make time for this important aspect of your wellbeing in the coming year.

leadership dot #3481: pick now

We’ve all heard or been a part of drawing names to exchange holiday gifts but most name-picking occurs in late fall when there is time pressure to select something in the short term. It doesn’t have to be that way.

I recently learned of a great holiday tradition that you may wish to consider for your family. Why not draw the names now? This allows the giver a full year to find — or even better, to make — that perfect something for their recipient. You can spend the year crafting a one-of-a-kind present, or purchasing the ideal gift you find on your summer vacation, or even just listening more closely to what would make the receiver’s heart sing.

So before everyone goes their separate ways from holiday gatherings, throw those names into the hat and start a new tradition of planning ahead.

leadership dot #3479: pro

Lowe’s has a “Pro” parking lot — a section designated for contractors and other professionals to give them quick access to the lumber and hardware section of the store. I got a chuckle when I was there — seeing the unmistakable white blob of a spilled can of paint on the asphalt.

Even the pros make mistakes and lead an imperfect life.

Remember this as you engage in your last-minute Christmas scurry. Not everything will go smoothly. It won’t all be as you had envisioned or hoped for in your mind. You’ll drop that can of paint. As Elsa sings in Frozen, “Let it go.” The holidays are about mindset as much as material things. Enjoy the thrills as well as the spills and make it a merry one regardless of what gets thrown your way.

leadership dot #3478: rentals

There has always been a market for renting items but lately, the scope of what you can borrow seems to have exploded. Here are three examples:

— In the United Kingdom, you can rent a Christmas tree from Rental Claus. Trees come in pots and you take them home for three weeks before returning them for future reuse. You may even elect to rent the same tree the following year — as many have done — becoming so attached to it that you give it a name and make it part of your holiday tradition.

— In the summer, you can rent someone’s personal pool. No need to worry about crowds at the public swimming hole, with Swimply you can pay by the hour to have a private dip in your neighborhood. Much cheaper than dealing with chemicals and buying your own!

Sniffspot allows you to rent a backyard or acreage for your pet to play. It’s a personal dog park that allows Fido to get his exercise without fear of aggressive dogs or overbearing humans.

Rentals help everyone: the environment as you reduce consumption, the renter who gains income from something they possess already, and those who rent who don’t have the burden of long-term maintenance. As you think about how to allocate your funds in the coming year, consider rentals to fulfill your needs. The freedom from ownership may provide you with the extra time to truly enjoy the experience.

Thanks Amy, Amy, and Meg!

leadership dot #3470: long game

If you want to watch an inspirational movie, track down King Richard, the story of Venus and Serena Williams’ father. Will Smith is terrific in the role as he plays out the backstory of the Williams sister’s rise to tennis fame. The movie plays out like a fairy tale — with a dad who wrote a 72-page plan when his daughters were born about how he was going to make them tennis stars — and wouldn’t you know, it actually happened.

Mostly, it’s a story about the long game — and putting in the grit that it takes to succeed. One of the most memorable scenes is when Venus — who grew up in such poverty that some of the sisters had to share single beds — turns down a million-dollar sponsorship contract as a teen because she saw better things ahead.

Richard Williams convinces an elite coach to take the unknown sisters on in exchange for 15% of their earnings. The coach played the long game too and came out handsomely as Venus has amassed $41.8 million in winnings and Serena $94 million. You do the math!

So many of our decisions focus on the impact they will have in the short run. If you want to reinforce the power of perspective and patience, this is the movie for you.

leadership dot #3468: rare

Author Scott Berkun writes that there are three kinds of people who are rare in this world:
1. Those who are excellent communicators
2. Those who find interesting and useful ideas
3. Those who can convert an idea into an interesting plan.
“It’s exceptionally rare for one person to be good at all three,” he writes. “If you think it’s you, you’re probably wrong.”

Berkun is referencing the context of making a pitch about a proposal but his principle applies in other situations. Most high-level tasks require a combination of skills that are typically not found in the same person. The truly talented among us have a support team that provides the background information, details, and context to allow for a successful presentation/article/meeting/speech.

The next time you are involved in a project where the stakes are high, ask yourself what skills are required for success — and receive an honest assessment of where your gaps are. Even the pros have speechwriters, research teams, graphic artists, and coaches. You want the mic to drop because of success, not hubris.

Source: The Myths of Innovation by Scott Berkun, 2010

leadership dot #3464: keep creating

The Great Gatsby was considered a failure until 150,000 copies of it were printed by the Council on Books in Wartime to distribute free copies to soldiers in World War II. Author F. Scott Fitzgerald never realized commercial success from the work before he died.

The iPod was invented by Tony Fadell, the VP of strategy and new ventures at Phillips, but they did not pursue production of the MP3 player. Microsoft, Motorola, Palm, Nokia, and Blackberry — all leaders in the electronics industry — also passed on the opportunity to promote the device which eventually sold 400 million units and 35 billion song downloads.

“Take Five” is the best-selling jazz single of all time, made popular by the Dave Brubeck Quartet. But when Paul Desmond wrote it, he joked that he’d use his share of royalties to buy an electric shaver!

Don’t self-edit your own idea or let the initial reactions of others prohibit you from putting it out in the world. Changes that push boundaries may take time to be accepted but are often worth the wait. Keep creating and keep sharing what you believe in!