leadership dot #2565: less

When my niece was in town, we visited an organic pig farm – combining her love of (all) animals and my desire to do activities that she couldn’t do at home in the big city. We learned from the farmer that he has a sustainable and profitable operation with 100 sows – one-fourth of the number he had a few years ago.

This contraction was done on purpose as he determined that he could meet the demand of his best customers with far fewer pigs – thus reducing his expenses and greatly increasing his quality of life. As a result, he cut out direct-to-consumer sales, focused on his key clients, sold some of his land and is doing quite well with a far more manageable number of animals.

It is the natural inclination of people to “add” in the quest to achieve “more”. We reflexively make additions to our to-do list, our product offerings, our calendar and our strategic plan. But, as was confirmed on the farm, the real magic comes when we subtract the right things.

leadership dot #2553: hope

I spent the majority of the past three weeks of my life writing a Federal grant. The process gave me flashbacks to dissertation writing where it is overwhelming, all-consuming, stressful and seemingly impossible – and then suddenly you somehow finish. Only there was one major difference between a dissertation and a grant…

…I knew that if I completed my dissertation, I would earn a degree. With a grant, you may end up with nothing. All that work could result in no more than a rejection. School is a sure thing whereas grant writing, a business venture, making art or a host of other activities are done on pure speculation – yet they are where the real difference is made.

With your students or those with whom you have influence, help them cultivate their risk tolerance. We don’t teach enough of it in the educational system and yet it’s a critical skill for progress to occur. Help people take chances, to invest time in possibilities without letting the chance of failure overwhelm them, and to live life from a position of hope.

Writing a grant may get you nothing (at least from this round of proposals) but not writing a grant is certain to limit the ability for your idea to flourish. I have a paperweight that reads: “What would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?” Do that.

leadership dot #2550: longhand

Staples recently ran an ad touting that they were “bringing back the fine art of notetaking and launching an entire new collection.” Since when did notetaking go out of style?! I’m probably in the minority, but I have never stopped taking notes or using notebooks of all shapes and sizes.

Harvard Business Review just published an article that confirmed what I have known all along: taking notes in longhand has many advantages.

Maggy McGloin of HBR writes: “Research shows that when you only use a laptop to take notes, you don’t absorb new materials as well, largely because typing notes encourages verbatim, mindless transcription…And while there are plenty of ways to work smarter with digital tools, you may remember more if you leave the laptop or tablet at your desk and try bringing a notebook and pen instead.”

It may be old school, but I know of no better way to remember things, organize ideas or keep track of details than a trusty notebook. Watch for those Back-to-School displays to start popping up and stock up on your own collection for a bargain.


leadership dot #2547: remembering

It has been called the most significant 24-hours of the 20th Century, yet today many Americans don’t know the history of D-Day. The Allied Forces’ victory at Normandy is considered the turning point in World War II – a heroic series of battles that saved Europe from Nazi rule. The invasion on France’s beaches literally changed the world – 75 years ago today.

 The victory was monumental at the time and those who were alive when it happened can recall where they were when they learned of the raid. Today, most people don’t appreciate the magnitude of the war, let alone one battle within it.

The same thing happens with other key points in history. In less than 20 years, emotions generated by the terrorist attacks of September 11 have waned and Patriot Day has become just another day for those not directly impacted. On November 22, people are thinking of Thanksgiving instead of JFK.

Consider the history you need to preserve in your organization (or family, etc.). What were the turning points that made your organization what it is today? Who were the leaders and what risks did they take? What were the battles that were won – and lost – and what lessons were learned along the way?

History fades into the past without intentional efforts to keep it alive. Be your organization’s – and community’s – storyteller and help honor the key events of the past in the present.

Monument Des Braves St. Laurent-Sur-Mer, Omaha Beach France


leadership dot #2544: wheels off

When someone describes a problem, you’ve probably heard them use the expression: “The wheels came off.” Well, in this case, one literally did.

It may look like the owner of the truck was just changing a tire but actually, it was far worse that than. The entire wheel was laying on its side, likely from a broken tie rod or ball joint. The wheel was still attached but it definitely wasn’t functional.

It’s not like the truck died without warning. It had a “For Sale” sign in its window so obviously, the owner knew it was time for a replacement vehicle. He just pushed it a bit too far.

Heed the moral of the story: Don’t force things past their limit. When it’s time for a rest – of your body, your equipment or your relationships – listen to the signs. Don’t drive your “truck” until the wheels come off.

leadership dot #2543: humming

A friend of mine had a hummingbird feeder in her yard and I was fascinated by watching the little birds drink the nectar. So this spring, I decided I would get a feeder of my own.

I have now invested in a feeder, a shepherd’s pole to hang the feeder, a funnel to pour the sugar water into the feeder, an extra bag of sugar – and a good amount of my time. The result: I have seen zero hummingbirds use it…

…only I know they are there because my housemate shared this picture just to rub it in. I do the work, make the mixture, buy all the equipment and he sees the hummingbirds.

Hmm…it made me wonder why I started this adventure – was it only for my pleasure? What about the benefit of others who may see them? Or the benefit of the hummingbirds themselves who have fresh, delicious sugar water waiting at the ready?

Think about what else is out there that we don’t do for ourselves. Can you make the world a little better place for others – whether they be humans or otherwise? I know I will keep mixing the nectar. What will you do today?

P.S.  Speaking of things we don’t do for ourselves…Happy 7-year Anniversary to leadership dots….on to Year 8!

leadership dot #2541: artist

“One day, people who don’t believe in you will tell everyone how well they know you.”  — Kent Youngstrom

Kent is an artist — and an inspiration for others who aspire to be. He shares lessons about his journey toward claiming the identity of being an artist, the self-doubt that preceded his embracing of the title, and some of the inner glory that came once he owned it.

I have his quote in my office and think of the many times that I have faced doubters who have later claimed proximity to success. It’s a tough job to forge a new path, to strike out on your own or to do something out of the ordinary. It is most certainly lonely.

But hopefully, the work you create or the difference you make will lead to personal satisfaction, regardless of what others believe. Keep making your art.