leadership dot #2932: relationships

In yesterday’s dot, I shared how Nancy Pelosi is able to achieve results. One of the ways she is able to do so is because she masterfully and intentionally seeks to cultivate knowledge about people. (I’ll bet she uses the preferred name I wrote about in dot 2930!)

In Pelosi, Molly Ball writes:

“Not only did she know every one of her members by name – a difficult enough feat in a 435-member body that turns over every two years – but she knew their history, their district, their ideology, their spouse and kids and parents. If she found out your wife was having surgery or you were going through a divorce, she’d call repeatedly to check in. Orchids from her favorite DC florist would appear, for thanks or congratulations or sympathy, before you thought you’d even told anyone what was happening. The most powerful woman in America somehow had time to show up for a child’s school play or a parent’s memorial service. If your mother died, you got a handwritten condolence note along with a poem written long ago by Pelosi’s own mother.” 

 It’s one thing to cultivate relationships on the surface, but another to put in the extra effort to make them personal. Pelosi’s methods reminded me of the film Erin Brockovich in which the title character knows all about her hundreds of plaintiffs and those connections built the trust that was required to persist in the lawsuit against PG&E, and of Sheldon Yellen, CEO of BELFOR Holdings who handwrites 9,200 cards to employees each year as a way to express his gratitude.

Time is such a precious commodity that often we revert to easier ways of fostering and maintaining relationships: a birthday greeting via Facebook, pre-signed holiday cards, or staffing out correspondence rather than adding personal notes. But the energy invested in really knowing people – and personally showing that you care – goes a long way in building a culture of collaboration and connection that paves the way to work together.

Quote from: Pelosi by Molly Ball, 2020, p. 156


leadership dot #2917: bottleneck

I had to have the “tough love” talk with a client that I am coaching about his dissertation. Each week, we talk about tasks that should be done and too many weeks went by when I was having the same conversation over and over. It seems that the problem boiled down to the fact that all the tasks were small, therefore, it seemed like no big deal to push them off a day or two – or ten. We talked about the implication that each delay caused, and, as we plotted the calendar, he realized that the targeted graduation date was at risk unless he took the little tasks more seriously.

The dissertation process is similar to so many other things where a big project is broken into hundreds of smaller tasks. In fact, many time management experts recommend that specific strategy. The problem comes in when those little things become too easy to put off. Eventually, a bottleneck ensues, and no matter how small the tasks, there are just too many of them to finish in the allotted time.

It happens when getting ready for a board meeting, preparing for the holidays, writing a grant, submitting an RFP or leaving on a major trip. All the little things become a big thing as they back up and get condensed into shorter and shorter time frames.

Don’t dismiss the minor things on your to-do list if they are the initial steps to making a big thing happen. The importance of a task is not always proportionate to its size.


leadership dot #2910: how to

YouTube has become the go-to resource for learning how to do things. Want to fix your pipe? Learn how to record a podcast? Know how to teach your child math? There’s likely a video showing you precisely what you need to do. YouTube is the second-most visited site in the world with 30 million visitors and 5 billion new uploads – each day!

This kind of volume makes YouTube a great resource for learning – and its heft shapes the consciousness and expectations of everyone. Over a trillion people have used the service, frequently finding it a straightforward and easy way to fix or create something.

But there are many things in our organizations and lives that can’t be taught in a short video snippet. Systemic change, deep-seated healing, organizational culture and relationship building don’t occur in a 30-minute how-to. People may wish they did, but it doesn’t work that way. There is no YouTube video on how to magically cure the virus, mitigate the impact of racism, stop police brutality or revitalize a crippled economy.

The serious work that needs to be done – the real work that makes an impact – doesn’t come with a 5 Steps Checklist on how to do it. As an organizational leader or concerned citizen, you may be tempted to focus on the urgent and look for that quick fix. But if you can put your strategy on YouTube, it’s the wrong one. The answer you need requires grace, time, openness, action and missteps. “How to” on the important stuff is all about hard, not easy, but must begin within each of us.


leadership dot #2890: hill climbing

I’m reading The Everything Store, an analysis of Amazon’s first twenty years, and once again it’s a company and founder that looks like they were a guaranteed success when the reality was anything but. Amazon may be a monolith today, but it had its share of failures along the way and tangents that cost the company millions.

But the part they did get right, besides Jeff Bezos’ prescient understanding of how big the internet would become and how e-commerce could function on that platform, was the notion of continual progress. Amazon started with rudimentary software that later was entirely replaced. They changed from warehouses to distribution centers to fulfillment centers as their understanding of the order process evolved. They began with books before adding music and videos then gradually adding other product categories before they became the store for it all. Amazon took gradual steps with its customer interface, first adding One-Click then Supersaver Shipping and currently Prime as their fulfillment processes allowed them to become more sophisticated.

“Slow and steady progress can overcome any challenge,” said Bezos and he has demonstrated that with a flourish over the life of the company (although not always being tolerant of the “slow” part). It’s a good mantra to live by, not just for Amazon, but for any organization and in your personal life. Slow but continuous effort toward running adds up to a marathon. Regular but small deposits can help amass a nest egg. Deliberate but positive choices in food selection can minimize a weight challenge. Daily practice can allow you to learn an instrument or language. Slow but steady progress can overcome all the challenges inherent in turning a side hustle into a legitimate business.

Bezos also advised that you don’t have to climb the mountain all at once, rather you climb a hill, see the next hill and then climb it. Set your sights on being Queen of the Hill before you aim to conquer the whole mountain.

Source: The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone, 2014

leadership dot #2839: ignored

A few weeks ago, when I did my health insurance renewal, I received a separate form in the mail asking me the number of employees at Leadership Dots. I promptly returned it and replied “one” to the only question the form asked.

This week, four insurance benefit books were delivered to my house by UPS. Each is about 100 pages, and they promptly landed in the recycle bin.

I am not sure why Wellmark bothers to print these books at all — surely the information could be made available online or in print only by request — but if they are mandated to publish them, why ignore the data that they just went through an expense to collect?

Stop collecting data or start using it. Little pockets of waste create a culture that tolerates big amounts of it.


leadership dot #2838: finger prick

For the first time in a week and a half, I ventured outside my house – to give blood. I know the need continues even in these unusual times and I figured they would be taking as many precautions as they could (they were).

If you’ve never given blood, the process begins with a health screening and a finger prick to get a drop of blood to test for iron levels, then the actual blood draw begins.

The process of the donation is painless – except for that dang finger prick. I had no pain where the needle went into my vein, but my fingertip throbs a day later.

I see it as a metaphor: sometimes we become numb to the big issues but the small annoyances are the ones that bother us the most. We expect the big things to be uncomfortable and mentally prepare for them but little pain points can test our patience or take us by surprise.

Last week, we made mental adjustments to accommodate some of the bigger changes. Don’t let yourself get tripped up by the small aggravations that make your way to you this week.


leadership dot #2804: alternating

In the movie Apollo 13, engineers in the simulator are trying to determine in what sequence the space shuttle computer systems can be re-started given the power that remains after an explosion. One of the options offered is to draw power from the lunar module but another engineer cautions that they will lose considerable power in the switch. In the end, they do utilize that supplemental power source and, as we all know, the shuttle returns successfully.

We aren’t all so fortunate as to have an alternate source of power or to have the capacity to lose energy but still have positive consequences. I am feeling this first-hand this week as I try to divide my focus between a looming grant deadline and preparation for an upcoming residency, as well as attending to the ongoing projects that are always on my plate. It’s all important and as I go deep in one task, the sense of urgency of the other beckons me to work on it for a while. Not a good plan!

As our minds and attention alternate between projects or address interruptions, we lose energy when we try to re-power our work. If you take a phone call or stop for an appointment, you can’t just pick up where you were – it requires a bit of backtracking to reconnect with the thought you vacated. If you work on “this” for a while and then “that” for a bit, you’ll produce less than if you had stayed with one or the other for the same period.

One moment of lost power is inconsequential, but several of them throughout the day can alter your productivity on all your work as you never really obtain full focus on anything. Solid, uninterrupted big chunks of time are rare, but carve out precious, uninterrupted smaller bits of time in your calendar. Then align your to-do list with the time increments you’re likely to have available and stick with one thing during each of them. You’ll find that your best work happens in blocks, not bites.

leadership dot #2789: poll

The long-awaited Iowa Caucus is tonight and the Iowa Poll was supposed to have been released on Friday to add some clarity to who may win. But this poll, seen by many as the one-to-watch, was canceled due to a data integrity question that was brought to their attention.

One caller enlarged their screen to read the script, and, in doing so, cut off the name of one candidate. The order of the candidate names rotates and no one knows how many times it happened or what (if any) impact it had.

With so much at stake, it would have been easy to discount just that caller’s results or to claim it did not matter, but the Des Moines Register and CNN agreed with the polling service to cancel the poll since the results had been compromised.

I can’t overstate the anticipation candidates have for this particular poll’s results. It is timed right before the caucus and often gives candidates a last-minute boost to their campaign. CNN planned an hour-long special to analyze the results. The Register gains national prominence as it releases the results and many caucus-goers look to the paper to help determine their final candidate choice.

If you think the actions of one person do not matter, use this poll as an example. An innocent mistake had big financial implications and could have an impact on the results of the caucus itself. Yet, how refreshing to see that integrity won out in the decision to cancel it. Kudos to those involved for making the hard choice to do the right thing. Let their actions guide you when you’re in your next tough spot.


leadership dot #2763: 27 seconds

The University of Maryland Men’s Basketball team led in a game for only 27 seconds of the 40 minutes of play. Fortunately for them, two of those seconds were the last two of the game. The team went ahead 3-2 in the opening minutes, then trailed, sometimes by as much as 15, until a long 3-point shot tied the game with :19 remaining and a free throw with two seconds left sealed the win.

You can use the game to motivate yourself or your (organizational) team about the value of never giving up. It would have been easy to consider the game a lost cause or to hold back on the effort thinking it useless, but the Terps stayed with it until the end and came out victorious.

t’s also a lesson on the flip side. I’m sure that the Illini thought they had their first conference win locked up, and I would not be surprised if the players lessened their intensity while cruising ahead by more than a dozen points for an extended stretch. Yet, as the lead slipped away, the momentum and energy were hard to regain.

Like basketball, most things in life accrue in small increments. Point by point, bit by bit, and moment by moment actions occur that change the ultimate outcome. Keep the end goal in mind and persist, no matter what side of the lead you are on.

leadership dot #2738: opt to act

There is no One. Big. Thing. that can solve the climate issues that we are facing but many people doing many things is a good first step. Toward this end, outdoor outfitter REI is encouraging people to participate in a weekly Opt to Act challenge to incorporate more environmentally-friendly practices into their routine. “On their own, none of these 52 actions are going to save the world,” reads the REI website, “But each week offers a chance to incorporate more eco-friendly behavior into your everyday life. And if we all start being better, together, we can do a lot of good.”

The outfitter has prepared a checklist suggesting actions people can take each week. Most require only modest effort, such as using public transportation to one event this week, set your thermometer one degree lower this week, count the number of single-use plastic items you use this week or go meatless one day this week. I think it illustrates that helping the environment can become part of your habits and doesn’t have to involve a major sacrifice or lifestyle change.

Access the checklist here and Opt to Act responsibly in 2020.