leadership dot #3384: cannot

I’ve been having some trouble with one of my ears and the first time I went to the otolaryngologist, he recommended a steroid shot into my inner ear. I said “N.O. way.” We tried some other treatments but they had no results, so, very reluctantly, I conceded to have the shot. Not just one, but three over the course of three weeks.

While the shots did not yield the impact I had hoped for, I did live through them. I will even admit that with the initial numbing medicine, they weren’t as bad as I imagined in my mind. And I need to remind myself that if I had done them in the first place, I could have avoided the terrible side effects from the first treatment that was far worse than the shots.

Eleanor Roosevelt said: “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” She was right. We can do that thing. We can get the injections. We can fire the star performer if there are ethics violations. We can rebuild after tragedy. We can grunt through one more task to finish that project.

Your mind may scream “no” but if your gut knows it’s what you should be doing, let your mouth say “yes.”

leadership dot #3372: too fast

I was whizzing through a Solitaire game last night, quickly putting many of the cards onto their respective Aces.

And then I got stuck.

It seems that I put too many of the cards there instead of leaving them in the rows where they could serve as connections to the other cards I needed to play. By putting some of the cards from the Aces back into the game, I was able to complete the round as a winner.

It reminded me of change efforts and the downside of trying to go too fast. Sometimes, we zip along on our own and make lots of progress — but fail in the end because we have not spent the time to make the bridges necessary for ultimate success. We then need to backtrack which, of course, takes more time in the end.

Play both Solitaire and the game of life with enough intentionality to value connection over speed.

leadership dot #3360: responsibility

I was working with a client who lamented that her boss was all task-focused in their 1:1 meetings and he was not providing her with any professional development or coaching. I asked her what she was doing to bring growth topics into the meeting: putting specific questions on their agenda, asking to read an article or book together, requesting that occasional meetings be development-only focused, or explicitly sharing her concerns and asking for what she needed. While the supervisor usually takes the lead in this area, if they don’t there is a better course of action than just accepting the void.

We could all do more to take responsibility for ourselves.

If you want a new assignment, take the initiative to create one. Learn new software or skills via YouTube. Take advantage of the free professional development courses on the web. Seek out your own mentor.

The same principle holds true in your personal life. You don’t need a mask mandate to decide to wear one if you believe it will help keep you well. You can make decisions to eat in a healthy manner regardless of what is served. You shouldn’t rely on your partner for birth control.

Instead of expecting someone else to meet your needs, take ownership for meeting them yourself.

leadership dot #3350: solved

I started my car and was greeted by a warning indicator: “Emission system problem.” That is never good. The service advisor checked the warning codes and asked me if I had been anywhere particularly dusty lately. (Yes!) He then put my car through their carwash and viola — the problem was fixed!

Oftentimes, simple solutions are the most effective. How many times have you rebooted your phone or computer and it has corrected the problem? A nap or few hours of sleep can be restorative to your mood and your health. Walking can provide as beneficial exercise as a fancy gym.

The next time something isn’t going right for you, attempt to first address it in the least complicated way possible. The easiest answer is often the best solution.

leadership dot #3348: fun-draiser

Taped to the community mailbox were flyers advertising a kickball tournament to benefit cancer. These were obviously handmade and promoted the “Fun-draiser” to Kick Cancer.

I was impressed with the overall initiative and the detail that went into their planning. Flyers were up weeks ahead. It listed details such as when to be there and reminded people to bring chairs. Work went into writing out all the information and drawing the pink ribbons.

It reminded me that good deeds don’t need to be lofty. Some neighborhood kids had the idea, got out a pencil and highlighter, and created a fundraiser. How can you use your resources to do something good today?

leadership dot #3345: grazing field

If you’ve ever been to a petting zoo, you know the goats jump all over you, either to eat the food you purchased or to nibble on whatever else you may have with you. Mostly, they are obnoxious. But when I was on the goat trek where the animals were free to roam in the woods, they acted more like docile dogs. If I could have taken one home as a pet, I would have welcomed it.

My experience reminded me of the quote from Zen Master Shunryū Suzuki: “The best way to control cow and sheep is to give them a big grazing field.”

It works for people as well. If you feel constrained, whether from too little time or autonomy, too little money, or any other factor, things begin to close in on you, and the constraint becomes an additional negative factor to contend with. You feel the original pressure and now the weight of being under the gun. Under stress, you often (metaphorically) jump all over people.

We do our best work when we have the equivalent of a “big grazing field.” Intentionally try to create one for yourself and your staff. Allow ample time to complete projects. Build in buffers. Be conservative in setting deadlines and delivery expectations. Create free time in your personal schedule to recharge and reduce some of the pressures. Don’t overschedule weekends and vacations.

Creating space may feel like a luxury but in reality, it provides the freedom to be your best self.

leadership dot #3328: riding

While I was out shopping, a mom was pushing her cart with two children hanging on to the outside of the basket. The children decided that they would rather walk and asked permission to get off. “I’m not stopping until we get to the school supply aisle,” she said firmly. “You wanted to ride, now you have to live with your choice.”

Bravo! Her children’s future teachers and employers will thank her for teaching the lesson of consequences. Too often, people are allowed to change their decisions and behavior without rationale or regard to the implications. Stopping the cart is minor but these types of small, cumulative lessons may teach her kids to pause before committing to something if they know they are expected to actually fulfill their intentions.

Pay attention to your own behaviors and check yourself on how well you follow through on your declarations. Your word should be solid — both to others as well as to yourself.

leadership dot #3324: renovation

A friend just moved into a new house and gave me a tour. There were both cosmetic and substantive changes that he is planning to make in every room, and several of the renovations were already in progress. The result was that the whole place is torn up and none of the rooms are functional. He can’t be unpacked anywhere while he simultaneously works on flooring, painting, wall removal, and electrical re-wiring.

It reminded me of starting a new job where you come in and see a host of problems and immediately create a wish list of projects and changes that you want to make. It is tempting to jump right in and (metaphorically)tear the place up, but just as in my friend’s house, trying to tackle too many enhancements simultaneously only results in chaos.

Whether you are reimagining a house or an organization’s culture, tackling too much too soon never works out well. In my experience, it is best to pick an aspect or two to gain a quick win and then repeat the process as often as necessary until you achieve your desired results. With any kind of renovation, you’ll never be done, but it helps to finish something rather than starting on everything.

leadership dot #3318: blocks

Since grade school, our brain has been trained that we do what is on the calendar whether we feel like it or not. We show up for English class at 9:00 or baseball practice at 6pm even if we’d rather be doing something else. At work, we attend meetings every day even though we may not feel motivated to do so but they’re on the calendar, so we go.

It helps to channel that habit and use it to complete projects by scheduling them onto your calendar. I used to have a daily to-do list with two columns: appointments and tasks. I would always keep my scheduled commitments, but it was easier to fudge on the task column and not get to something that I didn’t feel like doing. When I switched tactics and started putting the most important to-do items on my calendar as well, I found myself completing more – because I started. I still didn’t feel like doing the tasks, but just as with meetings, motivation was not a consideration. At the appointed time, you just begin what is on the calendar without questioning it.

The other thing task-scheduling helps accomplish is that it becomes a visual reminder of how much you have to do. If there are appointment-free blank gaps in a day, your brain can easily read that as “free time” and fill it with other non-productive activities. Blocking out one hour to give a presentation is quite different than filling in the other four hours to prepare for it. A task-laden calendar helps provide an accurate gauge of whether or not you have the capacity to take on more.

Just as with scheduled appointments, I take advantage of my autonomy and give myself the flexibility to move things around, but rearranging the commitments is different than managing them all on a separate to-do list. You’ve got decades of practice in using appointments as your guide. Use that ingrained habit to help you do more than get to the next meeting.

leadership dot #3317: bullseye

I have worked with people who are hard on themselves and feel let down if their project does not turn out perfectly. It makes it difficult for them to be satisfied or to take pride in their outcome when their focus is solely on what could have been better.

In these cases, I remind my clients that no one hits the bullseye every time. Nor should you expect to. Hitting the absolute center is a rare accomplishment and points are still scored by hitting the rings around the bullseye. We create the target not so much to establish a goal of hitting it dead on, but to provide expectations that frame the parameters of where we are aiming.

Yes, you should aim for the center. And you should also be content hitting any of the cascading rings. When you put the dartboard in perspective against the whole wall, you will realize that the entire target is within the range of acceptable behavior. Your expectations and ability to be satisfied should align with that.