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 #3892: loop

I was in the car for about five hours this week and I sipped on my favorite Diet Coke for the whole trip. While it kept me hydrated and entertained, it also kept me up into the wee hours of the night. And what’s the “cure” for feeling groggy after a fitful night of sleep — why caffeine, of course, so more Diet Coke it was. And so the cycle goes.

Think about the behaviors you have in your life that are self-defeating like this scenario is. One thing leads to another and causes an infinity loop that is difficult to break. You don’t have money so you borrow at high interest rates so you have less money. You fire some people because of attitude leaving you with vacant positions and even lower morale. You claim you don’t have time to onboard staff and outline their expectations so you spend more time dealing with discipline problems caused by your lack of clarity.

It’s easy to take the easy way out in the short term. Expand your time horizon before you act and consider if what seems good now will still quench your thirst later.

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 #3885: spectrum

All skills can be viewed on a spectrum — on one end, people know only the bare minimum of how to do something and on the other end are true experts that understand both how to perform the skill and the mechanics behind it.

Too often, we view ourselves — or those we supervise — in a binary way, thinking we are good at something or we aren’t. It leads to undue anxiety or imposter syndrome, and probably influences career choices more than we care to admit.

Instead of considering how to master something, think of it in a more gradual approach. Aim to get one step further on the spectrum. Getting better is a less stressful route to getting good.

leadership dot #3882: the right way

One of my housemate’s responsibilities is to take out the trash. Every week when he does it, he puts the wastebasket in my office back in a different position and rotates the newspaper recycling bin sideways. I constantly found myself putting it back in the “right” position.

And then I stopped.

It was a reminder to me that if I can’t get comfortable with — or at least let go of — such a minor, inconsequential change, no wonder people that I consult with have such a hard time accepting the major changes they are often asked to implement.

Does it really matter if the newspapers are horizontal or vertical? If the toilet paper rolls over or under? If the towels are folded in halves or thirds? If the seat is up or down? No. No, it does not matter.

Pay attention to the small things in your life that you do a certain way, then force yourself to mix it up and make tiny adjustments to the way things are. Learning to embrace variations in all their forms will strengthen your change muscle in preparation for the truly heavy lifts.

leadership dot #3877: soft

You may have used the term “soft skills” to describe those intangibles that are desirable in employees but the language makes “hard skills” seem more valuable. In an effort to create some parity in importance, some are shifting the terms to “human skills” and “technical skills.”

No matter what label you use, developing your personal and interpersonal skills can enhance your emotional intelligence and enhance your contributions to your organization.

Based on its large database of job listings, ZipRecruiter created a list of the eight most-in-demand non-technical skills: communication, customer service, scheduling, time management, project management, analytical thinking, ability to work independently, and flexibility.

Another listing from the Farm Credit Knowledge Center offers a list of ten: creativity, teamwork, dependability, assertiveness, problem-solving, communication, flexibility, time management, accountability, and leadership.

Think for a moment about where you shine. Is there a way for you to leverage this in-demand ability to secure more meaningful projects within your organization or consider applying them in a different job? Can you become a mentor for others who are challenged in that area and thus help the whole organization flourish?

And on the flip side, which skill set do you need to develop? Consider whether you can strengthen those muscles by volunteering (within the organization or in nonprofit roles) for a stretch task or by applying professional development to hone your abilities.

Take care to develop these assets in yourself and your staff and look for them in potential hires. There is nothing soft about the value these skills provide.

leadership dot #3870: improve

“Participating in the world as it is does not disqualify you from trying to improve it.”

I read this quote on Twitter and it has really stuck with me. The tweet pointed out that the inventor of the engine used a horse every day, the inventor of the light bulb worked by candlelight, and the inventor of steel only had iron. People used what was available to them to make things better.

The same opportunity is available to you.

Maybe you won’t become the inventor of a world-altering tool but you can apply the principle to improve your situation (and beyond). Work around a bad boss. Create a new policy that revolutionizes an aspect of how your organization operates. Start an affinity group to help ignite a movement. Advocate for a change in your industry. Adopt a new practice that others can emulate. Mentor one person and encourage them to do great things.

I hear all the time that people are overworked and under-resourced. It may be true. There are always conditions that are less than ideal. Improve the world anyway.

Tweet by The Other 98% (@other98)

leadership dot #3869: Sam

In Dr. Seuss’ memorable book, Sam adamantly professes his dislike of green eggs and ham — before he tries them — but once he does, he changes his tune.

Recently, I’ve encountered a few “Sams” who had the humility to admit that they have altered their opinion of suggestions that they had previously dismissed. One person was told that the key to her culture and employee morale issues was to first focus on workforce wellbeing. She couldn’t believe that was the path to take but trusted the consultant enough to try it, and now is a vocal convert who has invested in several additional interventions in this area.

A similar comment was made by another colleague regarding executive coaching. When he was on a board and the executive asked for coaching to be included in his contract, it seemed like a frivolous ask. Now my colleague has contracted for coaching for several members of his staff and wholeheartedly proclaims the benefits for his organization.

I’ve heard others shun surgeries — until they go through with it and can’t imagine why they lived so long with the pain. I fought getting my first Blackberry (how’s that for dating myself!) but within a week of having one I couldn’t imagine being without it. I was against remote presenting until I became comfortable with it (dot 3023). There certainly are many in the political arena who are against proposals before even reading the first page.

Even after all his protestations, Sam ultimately does try green eggs and ham. At least experience what you’re against before you claim not to like it.

Sam with ham statue at the Dr. Seuss Museum in Springfield, MA

leadership dot #3865: slippery slope

I slipped on the ice (dot 3864) trying to get the newspaper and fell down on the frozen grass. It wasn’t serious but I felt discombobulated and jostled from the unnatural trajectory that my body took so I decided to follow the precautions and rest for a bit before jumping into my day.

Do you know that it is very hard to be in that limbo state of “rest” without doing something or falling asleep? True rest means not reading, watching television, or looking at screens. When I sat there and did that, the natural temptation was to doze off — thus morphing from rest to sleep which is another thing entirely. Maintaining that balance to just stay at rest is actually difficult (for me anyway).

I wonder how many other ways we ask people to work within narrow parameters that are harder to meet than they sound. We’re told to do our physical therapy exercises, but not too many of them. Keep an emergency fund of accessible assets but don’t leave too much in liquid investments. Spend time with friends and family but don’t jeopardize your career growth by doing so.

The ideas of balance or rest sound wonderful until you try to put them into practice — then they feel hard to achieve. Don’t beat yourself up unnecessarily when you are challenged in doing something that sounds like it should be simple. Maintaining balance on ice or in life isn’t easy.

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.