leadership dot #3139: time out

Just before my friend went under anesthesia, the surgical team gathered around and called a “time out” to ensure that everyone, including the patient, was clear about the procedure they were set to perform. This momentary pause ensured that there was no misunderstanding or mix-up on the chart. The two-minute huddle has prevented irreversible calamities in the past and seems to be a wise investment of time.

I think that time outs have an application far beyond the surgical ward. It would be worthwhile to gather your team and have a time out before a big event or before embarking on a major project. The few seconds of time to clarify agreement can save hours in the long run by making sure everyone is clear on the desired outcome and process to get there before starting down a path.

In this case, the doctor really does know best. Prescribe a time out before your next big start.

Thanks, Curt!

leadership dot #3132: glasses

I recently bought new eyeglasses – one of my least favorite things to do. This is a purchase that I will use daily for the next several years and that costs a significant amount of money and yet I can’t see without mine on in order to select a new pair. Thus, I need to rely on the opinion of a stranger to determine how they look on me – all while wearing a mask. It’s hard to imagine it turning out well.

So, what happens is that I end up with a pair that is eerily similar to the ones I already had. I have worn the new specs for a week without comment from anyone.

I think they are a metaphor for change. As the risk goes up (cost, longevity) our propensity for taking a risk goes down. Firms like Warby Parker have tried to minimize that risk by allowing you to try on things at home where you can get the opinion of people who know you without the time pressure of being in a store (and by reducing the cost). Or if they were cheap “cheaters” it would be easy to go out on a limb and try a new color or shape, but for 700 bucks I want to be pretty sure it’s something I like.

The next time you are initiating a change effort at work, remember the experience of buying glasses. How can you mitigate some of the risk if you want people to make big leaps in innovation? Without some adjustment of risk/reward, you’re likely to get an incremental change that others may not even notice.

leadership dot #3130: school

It has been fascinating to me to see how the market has adjusted to changing demand due to COVID. I’ve written before about the plethora of masks, sanitizers, and new tools that are now everywhere but a new crop of products is catching my attention: that of homeschooling aids.

I have seen store displays of curriculum guides and workbooks to help the parent thrust into the new role of teacher. I received a sign-of-the-times mailing with the headline: “Do you feel your child is falling behind? We offer free developmental screenings…” Tutoring services seem to be popping up everywhere.

Think about whether your organization can help fulfill some of this new demand. Can you offer learning guides about your group that could serve as a case study or exercise for a piece of the curriculum? Is there a way you can share existing resources for parents to use to teach one of the standard subjects? Or could you offer a video chat to serve as a resource and engage the students in a visual experience instead of a field trip?

You may find yourself gaining new insights as well as delivering them for it is through teaching that we learn.

leadership dot #3129: appeal

Another lesson from The Trial of the Chicago 7 is the danger of concentrating too much power in one person’s hands. The judge in the original trial – Julius Hoffman – was obviously agitated with the defendants and showed “significant prejudice” against them and their attorney. Overall, he issued 175 contempt charges during the trial, all of which were reversed upon appeal.

The concept of checks and balances is a valuable one – not just for the government but for all organizations. It may occur formally as with the appeal option in the courts, or it may be more informal through trusted and truthful advisors who are in a position to speak truth to power. Regardless of the format, creating a system to allow other perspectives to be heard (and often, more rational thoughts to prevail) is a good practice to institutionalize. Don’t let your emotions have undue weight in your decision-making.

leadership dot #3128: approaches

Part of my holiday viewing was The Trial of the Chicago 7 – a documentary about protesters at the 1968 Democratic Convention. The fact that Aaron Sorkin wrote it was enough to entice me but it proved to be an illuminating view on a piece of history that I really knew little about.

All seven on trial were arrested for their role in protesting the Vietnam War but that’s where the similarities ended. Two were Yippies – radically left members of the anti-war protests. Two were members of the Students for a Democratic Society who approached their advocacy with more intellect than charisma. One was an older father who was literally a Boy Scout leader, engaged in the protests through total non-violence, and two were doctoral students and individual protesters who were later acquitted on all charges.

It was striking to me to see the differences in how these seven approached the same cause. I was reminded that leadership can come in many forms and there is no one “type” of personality that is more successful than others in motivating people to act. The best way to inspire others is to be authentic.

leadership dot #3126: control

The run-off elections for two Georgia Senate seats are today and most people are saying that the outcome “will determine control of the Senate.” Let us not forget that there are 98 other Senators already elected, and, although Georgia is the last to decide, they are not the only ones who determined control. All the voters in the other 49 states determined who controls the Senate; had there been a big majority of either party the Georgia election would barely have made the news.

We give disproportionate emphasis on what happens last. The batter who hits the final home run; the hero who comes in and saves the day in the movies; a good score on the final exam even though the student struggled all term, or the donor who gives last and puts the fund drive over the top – all are important but because they are last doesn’t make them more significant than that which came before them.

Resolve to pay more attention to what comes first. The actions that occur early are the ones that truly set the tone. Having a strong start may not be as glamorous as a heroic action in the end, but it makes such drama unnecessary.

leadership dot #3125: correct

There are many people out there that work very hard to do things in the “right” way, but I believe that in the majority of cases, there is no “right” answer. People make choices and decisions all the time that are a matter of judgment, opinions, or values. Their determination is a result of their skills and the information they have available at the time, and very often their choice is a matter of preference, not certainty.

We expend a lot of mental energy unnecessarily trying to find the elusive correct answer. Do yourself a favor in 2021 and reframe your search for “right”.  Because the boss picks “A” over “B” doesn’t mean that “A” is right; it simply means that is the one she picked.

leadership dot #3124: thaw

During one of last year’s storms, my bush became encrusted in ice. I debated whether I should do something about it or whether my intervention would cause more harm. Ultimately, I decided to leave it alone and the bush is thriving today.

I think that with people, as in nature, there are times when you’re better off letting things resolve themselves on their own. Every problem doesn’t need you to insert yourself in finding a solution. Consider letting the situation thaw before you automatically rush to address it.  Too much heat can cause a fire.

leadership dot #3122: embrace you

During the University of Nebraska’s virtual graduation, there were clips from the typical litany of well-wishers from the many constituent groups: deans, alumni, trustees, etc. They were all decked out in their Big Red attire and shared the standard greetings and best wishes to the graduates, and they all blurred together in their sameness – except for one.

Graduate Dean Tim Carr toasted the graduates wearing shorts while sitting in a lawn chair in the snow. “In our grit, our glory,” he said, concluding with “SNOW Big Red” (instead of everyone else’s Go Big Red.) I think he is the only message that may be remembered by the graduates.

There is so much pressure to conform – in what we wear, what we say, and even how we think. As you start this new year, take a lesson from Dean Carr and be yourself. You embracing you is the best thing that can happen in 2021.

leadership dot #3116: evergreen

Hope is a beautiful thing – except when it crosses over into an unrealistic expectation. Such is the case at Home Depot that hopes to sell its evergreen inventory for “up to 50% off” – the day after Christmas. I am not sure who they think will make such a purchase.

The delusional pricing is an example of not being attuned to reality – either to the buying patterns of your audience or even to the calendar. While the greenery may last for several more weeks and still both look and smell wonderful, it no longer has the value that it did a mere 24 hours before.

As the new year approaches, people are filled with anticipation about what could lie ahead. Anchor those expectations in reality to keep your hope evergreen.