leadership dot #2682: a plan

A recent Frazz comic strip features Caufield saying “Plan, they say, so I plan: I decide I’m going to be a millionaire with a muscle car.” To which Frazz replies: “Yeah, that’s more like a dream.” “Then what’s a plan?” Caufield asks. Answer: “The stuff in between nothing and the dream.”

It’s a tricky distinction to go after something visionary – and to simultaneously attend to the minute details but that intermediate stage is what makes the creative possible.

Think about where your skills lie: are you the dreamer who can come up with lofty ideas and see things that are beyond what is possible now – or do your talents gravitate toward taking others’ visions and giving them the plans required to see them realized?

There is a wide gap between nothing and a dream. Where are you best suited to contribute?

leadership dot #2678: say yes

I was asked to teach a class next term that I have never taught before; I said yes. When I’m asked to do a workshop on a topic that is new to me, I say yes. I’ve written articles on things that I initially knew next to nothing about and even had jobs that required a substantial learning curve – but they all turned out well because I am able to “be the string” and connect concepts into a cogent whole.

Everyone can use the same process, ideally with some advance planning time. Now that I know my course topic for next semester, I will start paying attention to things that will fit with the subject area. I’ll see things on social media and in the news that will trigger other resources. I’ll ask colleagues for ideas and referrals (it’s on integrated marketing if you have anything for me!). I’ll read some things which will reference other resources and the accumulation process will begin in earnest. I keep collecting ideas until a pattern emerges that ties them all together.

For my last session, I included resources from no less than eight different people – each one contributing a piece of the puzzle that I assembled. I had books, articles, websites of organizations, videos, handouts and examples from current events. Since the session is over, I still find myself seeing new stories that would enhance the message, so I collect them, too, in preparation for the next time I use the topic.

I love the process of developing new content and find that it works for articles, sessions, classes and even projects around the home. Once you start focusing on a topic, the universe responds and provides you with ample examples to meet your needs.

Don’t get stuck in a rut because you’re afraid to venture into new territory. The path will illuminate itself, step by step, once you get started.

leadership dot #2673: helping hand

I’ve recently been asked for advice on how – or even whether – to give advice to others in the organization that “don’t report to me” but could use some coaching.

The “whether” question is easy – if your paycheck comes from the same organization as theirs you have a vested interest in helping everyone become the best they can be. There shouldn’t be silos that inhibit enterprise enhancement.

And, giving feedback to others involves taking a risk, one that is greater if you don’t have a hierarchical line to them giving implicit permission to do so. What I recommend is informally asking the person if they would like some feedback that you think would be helpful to them or if you could share a suggestion on how to approach something. By giving the person a choice and a bit of space before you jump right in, you help them become more open to hearing from you.

You could say something like: “Rosa, I see you struggling with that report. I’d be happy to share a few tips that have worked for me if you’d like – just let me know.” Or “Sam, I remember what it’s like to be new here. If you’d like to grab a coffee and hear some of my lessons learned, I’d be happy to do so.” Or “Whew, Simone, that was a rough meeting, wasn’t it? Let me know if you’d like to debrief.”

Feedback offered in a genuine spirit of helpfulness oftentimes gives us information about ourselves that others can see but of which we are blind. Be open to receiving the gift of feedback and be courageous enough to offer it.

leadership dot #2670: waterlogged

In September, we had four times the normal rainfall. By October 2nd, we had already surpassed the monthly average by an inch. I feel like I am living in the stereotype of rainy Seattle, but unlike the Northwesterners, I am not prepared for this waterlogged climate.

Because of misplaced optimism, I am currently suffering through another muddy season as I did in the spring but I am ready to throw in the mud-covered towel and admit this is how the climate is changing for good. Just as I make winter tolerable by having the right tires, snow equipment and clothes I’m feeling that I now need to rethink my expectations and preparation for spring and fall.

It seems that 13 inches/month instead of the usual 3” is the new normal so it’s time to do things differently: bury the sump pump drain instead of having it dump into the middle of my yard, buy cute rubber boots and a real rain slicker, and have my next dog be mud brown instead of English Cream.

We have two choices when conditions change: accept them or fight them. You can remain miserable and lament that things are not how they are “supposed” to be or you can adapt your behavior to improve your situation. Don’t be a victim and just stand by while circumstances rain on your parade.

leadership dot #2668: coffee maker

I handle logistics for an organization’s innovation cohort – arranging meals, travel, accommodations, communication, hospitality – but one thing that I don’t do is make coffee. Making a good pot seems to require a magic touch, like a chef putting just the right amount of ingredients into a big pot of soup.

The Keurig K-cups give the illusion that there is a standard amount of grounds to make the perfect cup, but my experience with filling a coffeemaker is quite different from that. Even with elaborate written instructions, the author of them still varies the portions and defines “heaping” differently than others do. As a non-coffee drinker, I have no manner to judge whether I’m on the mark or not. Cohort members joke with me about it because I do most any other task but I have concluded that it’s best to leave the coffee making to the coffee drinkers.

Is there an equivalent to coffeemaking in your organization – something that can be done to accommodate personal preference rather than trying to standardize it – or can you develop your own version of K-cups to take the guesswork out of a variable process? Or maybe it’s just best to leave some tasks for others.

leadership dot #2665: whistle

Relationships are like tea kettles. Whether a romance or collegial partnership, everyone that is in a relationship needs a way to vent off some steam at some point in the relationship. Structuring an outlet for that to occur, just as on the kettle, keeps the contents from boiling over. It is a thoughtful and prudent component of the design.

What have you done to create a release valve for your relationship? Friends can plan activities or pursue interests with varied sets of friends. Colleagues can create autonomy and work on some projects independently. Couples can take separate mini-vacations or join an organization without their partner.

Whether for a day or as an on-going pursuit, finding ways to whistle on your own is a healthy component of any relationship.


leadership dot #2664: resilience

In a workshop on resilience, Dr. Jasmine Zapata gave each of the participants a handful of rubber bands and asked us to conduct a “scientific experiment” to list 7 observations about the elastic tools. In addition to the obvious such as they stretch and return or were different sizes and colors, the group generated quite a list, including:

  • If you stretch it over and over, it gets easier to stretch
  • It is malleable to any shape that you want
  • When you double or triple them, they become harder to stretch
  • They hold things together, yet can “fly” – they hold/store energy
  • They make a distinctive noise
  • They have not changed much in decades
  • They are separate but can easily be connected

After this experiment, we related these characteristics to resilience in humans – and many of the characteristics hold true. People have the ability to stretch and become stressed, yet are able to return to their original shape only to be stretched again. If you stretch something too far it may break, but can often be tied back together to continue on. People – like rubber bands – handle their flexibility differently – some are weaker and some are stronger but all have the ability to stretch.

Two takeaways from the workshop: 1) give yourself credit for the resilience that is part of you, just as it is inherent in the rubber bands and 2) whether using rubber bands specifically or another set of items, the “scientific experiment” is a useful teaching technique that causes participants to look at something ordinary in a whole new light.

The next time you’re facing a stressful situation, act like a rubber band where the tension is just temporary before you return to your original shape.