leadership dot #2734: disappoint

A senior leader was giving advice to a new supervisor who was struggling with prioritization. The manager wondered how he could get everything accomplished in a reasonable timeframe – responding to emails, returning phone calls, and attending to all the demands on his time.

“You can’t,” was the advice that was given. “I walk into the office every day and wonder ‘Who will I disappoint today?’” The voice of experience knew that her priorities would not allow her to respond to everyone in as timely of a manner as they hoped. By delaying some replies or by saying no to some requests, it allowed her to remain strategically focused on what was important. She set the priorities, not the urgent pings of email, the ringing of the phone or even people in her doorway.

Author Seth Godin asks the same question in a broader context: “Whom shall we disappoint?” as people work to create something new. That which does not disappoint someone is probably too watered down and compromised to be truly bold or creative. It’s a great question to ask when you are making decisions on new initiatives.

Those who are most successful are the ones who realize that saying no is a powerful tool. You can’t thrive by being everything for everyone. If you’re not disappointing someone else, you’re thwarting your own priorities.

Who will you disappoint today?

leadership dot #2733: generic

Field researchers from the human-centered design firm IDEO are encouraged to wear “generic clothing” to conduct focus groups and interviews. “It’s better to make yourself as neutral as possible so that you can fit in with people of all backgrounds,” Maggie Zhang writes. “Oftentimes, clothing can communicate social status, or reflect personal taste that others may disagree with. Try to avoid wearing logos or looking too fancy.”

Apparently, the Democratic candidates got the IDEO memo. After seeing 12 presidential hopefuls on the circuit, I am struck by the nondescript nature of their clothes. Most of the men are in jeans with rolled-up shirt sleeves while most of the women are in all-black with a solid color sweater or jacket. There has been a sport coat or blazer thrown in here or there, but they are choosing comfort over business attire and keeping their look as plain and neutral as possible.

For most candidates, their attire is the result of deliberate strategy: what colors show up best in the media, what becomes your “signature look” (as with Hillary’s pantsuits), and what is practical to wear for long hours without wrinkles.

But even for those of us that are without an image consultant, what we wear still communicates a message about us. Put a moment of intentionality into your wardrobe choice this week. Are you going for professional, creative, bold, or traditional? Do you aim to stand out or blend in? Is your message better received if you appear formal or more casual?

Don’t let your attire be your message.

Source: 6 Tips from IDEO Designers on How to Unlock Insightful Conversation by Maggie Zhang



leadership dot #2721: seek

Many times, we fail to appreciate people until they are no longer with us. In the moment, we often focus on what annoys us about others without pausing to remember their gifts. We fail to appreciate the good things that colleagues bring to the team and instead highlight their shortcomings. We wish for coworkers to leave, only to realize what they achieved behind the scenes after they are gone. We long for politicians after their term has ended, only appreciating in retrospect that their merits outweighed any disagreements we had with their policies.

In this season of Thanksgiving, seek to find the good in others now, without waiting until you recognize the positive only when you are without it. Even that person who is making you crazy likely has redeeming qualities if you look for them.

leadership dot #2719: irregular

For most people, this is an irregular work week. Many have Thursday and/or Friday off – unless, of course, you’re in retail or travel and then you have Friday and/or Thursday most definitely on. Schools don’t have a full week and many businesses have different hours. In other words, we’re forced out of our routine.

Think of how you can take advantage of this disruption. Can you use the slower pace to dedicate some time to deeper thinking or work on a project you have on the back burner? Maybe the time can become productive by getting out of the office and visiting a customer who also has a slower pace? If you’re expecting increased activity, can you boost morale with an office guessing pool (how many customers will we have by 9am?) or a catered meal in the midst of the chaos?

Your mind may be on the holiday but don’t waste these days leading up to it. Give thanks for the change in routine and the opportunity to think and do differently because of it.


leadership dot #2715: pause button

The greatest danger in business and life lies not in outright failure but in achieving success without understanding why you were successful in the first place.”  Robert Burgelman

This mantra from the former Stanford professor rings true in so many situations. When things go well it’s often easy to forego the evaluation process or to make assumptions about what brought on the largesse, yet without this analysis, it is difficult to truly understand challenges when they occur. Guessing about why things worked out as they did is never a good strategy either.

It’s a wise habit to incorporate evaluation and reflection into your ongoing routine. Conduct After Action Reviews or Lessons Learned meetings. Keep a journal. Hold regular Cave Days or thinking sessions. Add reflection questions to your one-to-ones or staff agendas.

There are many ways to hit the pause button before going blindly forward; just remember to do so when you are experiencing success as well as failure.

Source: As quoted by Jim Collins in Turning the Flywheel, A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great, 2019, p. 5


leadership dot #2713: forgiveness

The All-community Reads program that I referenced yesterday centered around restorative justice utilizing the book Picking Cotton. The book shares the journey of Jennifer Thompson, at the time a college student who was raped, and Ronald Cotton who spent 11 years in prison for the crime after being identified by Jennifer in a line-up…

…and their unlikely friendship after DNA exonerated Ronald.

I cannot even imagine.

Their book and their public presentation were described as “simultaneously heartbreaking and uplifting” as they recounted the process that led to the wrongful conviction and their subsequent forgiveness of all who were impacted.

When Ronald first met Jennifer and immediately told her “I forgive you”, she realized that he was free, “truly free” and she had to forgive herself for the error, her family for not supporting her, the system for its inherent biases and to forgive her actual rapist. “The burden was too heavy to hold,” she said. “I didn’t want to carry that.”

If Ronald and Jennifer can forgive after the tragedy that they both experienced, perhaps you can find it in your heart to let go of a burden that you are bearing. Give yourself a gift and let go of the anger and hurt that you hold against someone. May you find peace this season.


leadership dot #2710: indicators

Today’s smartphones provide a wealth of data to the owner: heart rate, number of steps, sleeping habits, screen time, etc. They are sophisticated monitoring machines yet fail to alert the owner when something as simple as voicemail has reached capacity. This week alone I learned from another that my voicemail box was full and experienced the same frustration when I was unable to leave a message on my sister’s phone. Why can’t the phone tell us that?

The same principle applies to cars – vehicles monitor gas mileage, tire pressure, average speed and a host of other measurements but don’t tell the driver when a headlight or taillight is burned out. There should be a notification system for something that you can’t see on your own yet is important for visibility and safety. Instead of the annoying “advances” in lane mitigation systems, I wish they would have added a “bulb-replacement-needed” indicator instead.

In the race to add more bells and whistles sometimes the fundamentals are overlooked. Don’t make the same mistake in your organization. Before you monitor something, make sure it’s what matters to the user.