leadership dot #3411: notifications

Why, in 2021, are we still crouching in front of public restroom stalls to check if they are occupied? Or guessing whether the dishwasher is “dirty or clean”? Or interrupting meetings because we did not know someone was using the room? Or making unnecessary trips to the community mailbox on the corner only to discover the mail has not yet come?

It would seem that a mainstream notification solution for ordinary, frequent inquiries would have been developed by now — whether yet another app, an electronic monitor to display the status, or even the low-tech solution of “vacant/occupied” that some enlightened designers have incorporated. If the US Postal Service can email me a scan of the mail I’m getting, surely they can find a way to ping me when the mail is actually here.

If you are able to provide notification for a mundane but repetitive inquiry about the status of something in your organization, please do it. Rid us of the equivalent of checking for feet in the restroom stall. While we tolerate it, there has to be a better way.

leadership dot #3402: battles

The Rise Above exhibit about the Tuskegee Airmen (dot 3401) was in town partially to raise awareness for a fund-raising campaign to commemorate a local Airman. Robert L. Martin is a hometown boy who joined the elite Red Tail Squadron, and there is an effort underway to rename the airport terminal in his honor.

It sounds simple, doesn’t it? You just change the name. But — like with the Squadron itself — nothing is ever easy. The FAA and the Federal government were involved. The Regional Airport Commission and City Council had to pass motions. Federal funds cannot be used so IRS a petition for non-profit recognition was filed.

It became more than just a name change. You need an impressive outdoor sign. That requires architectural design fees and sign construction. You need indoor signs and an educational video (or what’s the point if no one knows about him?). It has turned into a big project with many grassroots fundraising efforts.

I am confident those involved will “triumph over adversity” as the Red Tails themselves did but use their experience as an example in your own work. Turning a “great idea” into reality isn’t easy to do. If the idea is worth pursuing (as this one is), you need to commit to it for the long haul and take satisfaction from the wins at each stage. Stay focused on the individual battles and don’t let complexity win the war.

Captain Robert L. Martin’s daughters in town as part of a fundraising effort in conjunction with the Rise Above exhibit

leadership dot #3380: curation

I was asked to teach a Global Business Communication class and said yes, even though I have no personal experience with the subject. Despite that (or maybe it’s because of that?), class is going exceedingly well. I brought in guest speakers each week to bring to life their stories from different countries. I have empowered the students to research and share. We have done debates, a simulation, skits, and case studies that have added to the understanding. We are all learning a lot.

I shared this example with a coaching client to illustrate that he doesn’t have to be the expert in something to be effective. Maybe his talent lies in curation, facilitation, or empowerment. Instead of lamenting that he doesn’t know everything about a subject, he could redirect that energy to assemble a few people who could contribute or crowdsource for ideas on one of many platforms.

It reminds me of the story of Rob McEwen* who purchased an abandoned gold mine and had no luck in finding anything of value, so he shared his seismic maps and offered $500,000 to anyone who could tell him where to look. He received 1400 responses from people using a variety of techniques and found $39 billion worth of gold!

We put too much pressure on ourselves to know it all. The real genius comes from being humble enough to ask for input and a willingness to co-create.

*Source: Create the Future by Jeremy Gutsche, Fast Company Press, 2020, p. 112-113.

leadership dot #3376: trade

Many people are baseball card collectors so they were delighted when the Topps Truck showed up at the game and started handing out packets of free cards. I’m sure there were no Mickey Mantles in the giveaways, but for some people, it resulted in an addition to their collection.

What I liked best was that next to the truck they had a board where people could leave any duplicates they received and take other cards that were new to them. Not only did it expand the net result for many, but for everyone, it provided a new level of engagement and intrigue. Serious fans returned to the board numerous times throughout the evening and I think some enjoyed it more than the game itself.

This nearly no-cost feature made a big difference in the experience. Is there a way for you to replicate the idea at your next function? Have a table where people can share extra resources? Swap recipes? Trade unwanted baby items? Create an in-person Little Library?

Providing options to swap is an easy way for people to feel like they received a benefit for free.

leadership dot #3369: towels

When you think of partnerships, oftentimes elaborate collaborations come to mind involving sponsorships, letters of agreement, and many meetings. But it doesn’t always have to be that way.

An example of a low-key partnership involves our city pools and the local aquarium. The city donates all of the unclaimed beach towels that accumulate over the summer. The aquarium then uses them to transport ducks and turtles and they provide bedding for the popular otters. It’s great for the budget and the environment and both entities benefit from the arrangement.

Think about the small ways you can work with other organizations to benefit both parties. Collaborations don’t have to be lofty to be effective.

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 #3344: utilitarian

If there is to be one symbol of the pandemic beyond facemasks, I nominate the cardboard box. Never before has such an unglamorous, utilitarian item played such a major role in our day-to-day life.

It took just one glance at the weekly recycling bin to realize the number of items shipped in the lowly container. Boxes became pervasive during the pandemic, delivering everything from food to futons. Where would e-commerce be without cardboard?

But cardboard wasn’t just used for shopping. Countless organizations utilized boxes in an attempt to package up some of the emotion that was lost from not being in person. You name it and swag was being sent via mail to commemorate an occasion: graduation boxes, Christmas boxes, birthday boxes, conference boxes, and more. Boxes full of love to simulate connection.

The box also served as a make-shift play toy, entertaining kids for hours. Whether it was making a fort, a robot, or a doll bed, cardboard could be fashioned into just about anything. It fascinated kids enough to earn a spot in the National Toy Hall of Fame.

Cardboard is the unsung workhorse of our daily life. You don’t think about it but look around. Your food boxes, toilet paper rolls, tissue boxes, Amazon deliveries, Chewy boxes, furnace filters and so much more rely on this sturdy paper.

Think about what is the equivalent to the “cardboard” of your organization — that piece of unnoticed infrastructure that drives so much else. Are you maximizing its value? It’s often what we don’t pay attention to that offers the greatest opportunity for leverage.

leadership dot #3339: ingrained

At the conclusion of the drum corps show, members who were “aging out” were individually thanked for their contributions. The returning members of the color guard stood on the sidelines during the ceremony and, without any prompting, all clapped in unison then simultaneously put their hands behind their backs and stood at attention in between each recognition. The 20 or so members in line all acted in unison as if it were a choreographed portion of the show — clap, stand at attention, clap, etc.

At this point in the season, it is ingrained in the corps members how to act when performing — no matter where they are on the field. Standing as they did was as natural to all of them as slouching would be to others. I’m sure they had been practicing that pose all summer and so did it without further instruction or thought.

Think about the behaviors you wish to ingrain in those on your team. An outstretched hand to everyone who walks in? A rigid back when playing an instrument? A certain posture as the game begins? A genuine smile when answering the phone? Intentional repetition of the details will become an automatic subconscious enhancement to your performance.

leadership dot #3336: driving

If you would have asked me if I had time in July to drive to Boston, and back, and then to Boston again I would have thought you were crazy. But I did the equivalent of that last month when I drove over 3700 miles. About 500 of them were for a vacation in Michigan, but the other 3200 were spent on day trips, airport runs, and in-town adventures while hosting family.

If I had planned a trip to Boston, it would have been a big deal but the local miles did not seem that significant. Yet, at the end of the day, my mileage added up to more than a trip East would have been. It is another example of how small things can accumulate into something bigger.

Think about your equivalent of driving 3000 miles locally. Is it a pile of your artwork that should be compiled into a portfolio or gallery show? Or a daily run around the block that you could use as training for a marathon? Maybe you should turn those notes into an article or novella and pursue publishing.

We often use the lack of time as an excuse but if we add up the minutes (or hours) we spend on the piecemeal components we realize that time is not the issue. Define the big goal you are driving towards and focus your efforts to reach that destination.

leadership dot #3315: appreciating

In a Harvard Business Review article, the authors described the gap between managers and employees when it comes to effective recognition. “Managers incorrectly assumed employees knew how they felt about them,” they write, and managers “reported that communicating appreciation seemed really complicated,” although the employees did not share those concerns.

In contrast, employees shared five ways that managers could effectively express appreciation:

  1. Touch base early and often. The small talk, morning greeting and time to share stories is as important as any task-related work.
  2. Give balanced feedback. If you only share praise, it comes off as disingenuous; only criticism is deflating. Employees want both types to know that you are interested in their development.
  3. Address growth opportunities. Help your staff find new ways to share their talents and learn.
  4. Offer flexibility. It’s not just about remote work or flex scheduling but giving employees control over aspects of their job is an indication of trust.
  5. Make it a habit. Build giving appreciation into your routine and find ways that allow you to frequently and authentically share your appreciation with your team.

Employee retention is more important than ever. Consider incorporating some of these tips into your regular practice to help demonstrate to your team that you truly value them. Just thinking that your employees are great is not enough. Show them!

The Little Things That Make Employees Feel Appreciated by Kerry Roberts Gibson, Kate O’Leary and Joseph R. Weintraub in Harvard Business Review, January 23, 2020.