leadership dot #3678: aloha

Throughout Hawaii, there were signs encouraging people to “Drive Aloha!” — a campaign to promote courteous and considerate driving in the state. We found ourselves practicing the Aloha spirit and allowed several drivers to pull out in front of us, gave large margins for merging, and overall drove with a more responsible and mellow temperament than usual.

Those on the mainland would be wise to Drive Aloha as well. You, and those around you, would benefit from your making this your mantra for the summer whereby in small, yet meaningful ways, you practice giving consideration to others on the road. It’s a modest action but every way we care for others brings us one step closer to creating a community. See if you can’t Drive Aloha today — no matter what state you’re in.

leadership dot #212a: towering achievement

As one of my staff members reflected on the year, she described it as gray. “Nothing really big happened,” she said.  

But when I looked at her year, I saw a collection of little wins: process improvements, staff training gains, outreach efforts, a record of accuracy and service, etc.  I feared that if she did not take satisfaction in these achievements her staff would not see their significance either, setting everyone up for a “gray” year next year.

The analogy I used to describe this to her was that she had a bunch of little boxes.  Her job as a manager was to tie a ribbon around them and make them into an impressive tower of gifts.  Big wins don’t need to come in big chunks or be a silver bullet.  Small, continuous improvements can add up to produce significant benefits as well.

Originally published in modified form on December 30, 2012


leadership dot #161a: lily pads

Q:  There is one lily pad floating on a pond. Every day the number of lily pads in the pond will double. If it will take one month to cover the entire pond with lily pads, on what day will the pond be half-covered?

A:  On the 29th day

If this was a change initiative project, everyone who wasn’t directly involved in the implementation would be “wowed” on day 30 when the full effort was unveiled. People think that change happens in big increments instead of a series of small ones, and it is this illusion that allows change to take on mythical powers. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Change happens in little steps, often involving a lot of grunt work, do-overs, trial & error, and frustrations. Only after enough persistence in this mode does a true “breakthrough” occur.  

Change is not lofty. Change is not mysterious. Change is not caused by those who are lucky. Change happens because everyday people put in the effort, over time, to take baby steps toward a goal. They connect the dots.

Today is Day 1. What steps are you taking to fill your pond on Day 30 (or 300)?

Originally published in modified form on November 9, 2012

leadership dot #86a: care by example

One of our service offices had a temporary table set up this week to handle the opening-of-school rush. The person working had made a handwritten sign, on a piece of notebook paper, with the loose leaf “fringe” still attached.

Another employee walked up to the table and removed the sign, replacing it with a typed version. “We’re better than that,” he said as he crumpled the original paper. 

I did not witness any of the above, but it made such an impression on someone who did that he retold the story to me and, no doubt, to others. Little things do matter. First impressions do count. 

Kudos to the employee who acted to improve the situation, instead of just complaining about it. Rather than just shaking your head, let’s follow the example to take those extra few moments to make something a bit better in your organization. 

Originally published in modified form on August 26, 2012

leadership dot #3666: purge

After yesterday’s dot (#3665) about my storage system, a friend asked:

Any advice for me: I have a lot of organizing and purging to do. Office stuff. It’s hard to do when there’s so much. I read an article recently about minimalism and how it’s hard to start when the job seems so big. It seems like it would be never ending and would prevent me from using time now for more enjoyable things. Any ideas on how to make this fun?

Drat! I have no magical advice on how to make boring tasks fun. Susan Power wrote: “The motivation is in the doing.” I think about that a lot (usually when it comes to writing the next dot — I’m rarely motivated to start but the motivation comes from doing.) So, the trick is to start. I’d suggest:

  • Put an hour appointment on your calendar (daily for 2 weeks or weekly for 2 months, etc.) and hold to it like you do for everything else. It’s not “do I feel like purging — it’s My 2:00 appointment says purging time, so I’ll do it.” Stop thinking that it has to be fun to start — it never will be. It will be fun when you finish, and things are organized/clear/etc.
  • Schedule the time so that you have a reward at the end. Do it for 1 hour then watch TV or read or eat lunch, etc. Or do it in chunks — Do 1 drawer then X or this pile then X.
  • See if you can do the purging in a different place than your office. Somehow purging on the patio or in the sunshine is less arduous (says the woman trying to read and sort 3600 dots!)
  • Great music helps!
  • Keep a pile of what you’ve purged (i.e.: don’t take it to recycling/shredding right away) so you can see progress even though it won’t feel like there is any.
  • Depending on the state of things, you may need to sort then prioritize — put things into piles by category, THEN read and purge. (For example, when I cleaned out my Mom’s office, I quickly sorted things by insurance, utilities, medical records, etc. – tossing the very old insurance benefit booklets and obvious recycling as I went – but saved the purging that required thought until a second round after the piles were sorted.)
  • Only keep things where you’re the source. If you have a lot of minutes or documents from work or volunteering, I’d ditch those and rely on the organization to supply them if ever needed.
  • As I said in my dot, I keep things in small folders — each topic has its own so I can find them again. Shopping for office supplies (colored folders, etc.) can make the task more fun but don’t get hung up on logistics of “what goes in the red folder?” etc. As you can see in the picture, my folders are ragged, handwritten, reused — and work perfectly.

Whether it’s with purging or any other daunting task, I guess my best advice is to stop seeing it as “a lot.” As Anne Lamott wrote: “bird by bird” — one step then the next. You don’t have a lot to do; you have a little to do a lot of times. You could complete the first “little” in the time you spend avoiding doing “a lot.”

leadership dot #3661: creating

Jim Henson, the genius behind the Muppets, wanted to work in television from the moment he saw his first image on the small screen. It was a new medium then and not many opportunities existed in the field. When the call went out for teenagers who could “manipulate marionettes” for Roy Meachum’s Junior Morning Show, Jim knew that this was the opening he had been waiting for.

So, this enterprising high school student checked out two books from the library, taught himself puppetry, and landed the job — for three weeks before the show was canceled for violating child labor laws!

This is just one fascinating anecdote from Jim Henson The Biography that has entertained me this summer. Henson was a master businessman as well as a creative genius but my takeaway from his story is to just start. The original Kermit wasn’t a frog, but rather a generic hand puppet made from his mother’s blue wool coat. Obviously, Henson continued to modify it and give it personality, but only after using the rough version in several shows.

He started doing appearances on others’ shows, before creating his own commercials, then worked on Sesame Street, then his own television show, and eventually branched out into movies. The evolution of his empire was incremental, gradual, and the result of much trial and error. He continually fought the “puppets are only for children” stigma, struggled to get funding, and had many setbacks during his career. But Henson always found a workaround or waited until the timing was right to try again and achieved great success as a result.

Henson made pieces of cloth and feathers come to life — as vividly as he did with his dream to work in television. Take a lesson from him and keep creating ways to get one step closer to your goal — even if the path isn’t at anything like what you imagined it would be.

Source: Jim Henson: The Biography by Brian Jay Jones, 2013

leadership dot #3658: distracted

As part of a workshop I attended, we participated in a group exercise where we had to plan a fundraising event. We were deciding on a location and the question arose whether it should be indoors or outdoors. “Definitely indoors,” one colleague said. “Outdoors all it takes is one gnat and you lose their attention. All the focus goes to the gnat.”

It’s so true. A friend was chilled at an outdoor concert and could only pay attention to her goosebumps instead of the music. I’ve been diverted the same way over a very itchy mosquito bite that momentarily overruled any other input, and by a developing blister that consumed my mind during my walk. And just ask Mike Pence about how much attention was paid to the fly on his hair instead of his words at the vice presidential debate!

We develop strategies to mitigate large distractions but it’s often the smallest ones that derail us. Take the details into consideration if you are hosting an event or meeting: aspirin, bandages, bug spray, tissues, etc. Keeping participants’ attention requires more than good content.

leadership dot #3574: notebook

Kevin Maguire, author of the blog The New Fatherhood, writes that the one piece of advice he gives to new parents is to: “Buy a small notebook, keep it handy, and write down things you notice.” Maguire goes on to say that the writing doesn’t need to have any deadlines or set pattern, rather to “simply start recording the things that itch your brain. They may be significant milestones, but they’ll just as easily be minor, almost imperceptible, events that you alone observed.”

Maguire titled this entry in his blog “noticing” and it’s a strategy that I recommend to many of my coaching clients. You can’t change your behavior until you notice what is triggering your actions. You can’t feel good about the changes until you notice that small modifications are taking place. You can’t replicate what brings you joy until you notice the small things that make your heart smile. And you can’t quell the demons until you notice when they sneak into your thoughts. We have good intentions to become more conscious about our actions, but without intentionally writing them down even the observations we do notice are lost before they can constitute a meaningful pattern.

Put pen to paper and record what you notice about a segment of your life: watching your kids grow up, using your voice for change, acquiring a new skill, conducting outreach efforts for your organization, sustaining a loving partnership, or any other aspect that warrants your attention. Just the act of noticing will make your experience much richer.

leadership dot #3573: cue

At a recent speech, composer and orchestrator Luke Flynn shared some insights about the process of making music for movies. What I learned is that most of the composition is done in very short increments, called cues. Cues are often only a minute or two long and then are pieced together to complete the film. The short cues are easier to redo if there is an instrumental change and allow for more precision when editing them into the show.

People could benefit from adopting some of this process to their own lives. If you are looking to change a habit, think of it in one-minute increments instead of a whole day. If you are fighting negative self-talk, shake it off in micro-units and piece in positive thoughts for as many other segments as you can muster. If you’re working on a major project, tackle it in short pieces that can be assembled together instead of trying to address the project in its entirety.

We tend to forget that the whole of anything is comprised of many pieces. Take a lesson from music composers and orchestrate your success one cue at a time.

Composer Luke Flynn

leadership dot #3554: brush strokes

I attended an Immersive Van Gogh experience where the works of the 19th-century painter took on a new life. Thanks to innovative technology, paintings were expanded to several stories in height, allowing participants to view them from a totally new perspective. The magnified dimensions allowed us to see the individual strokes and uneven depths of the oil paint — providing a whole new dimension to the works.

The exhibit reinforced that even masterpieces are a series of brush strokes — one after another that combine to create the finished painting. Van Gogh’s genius may have been knowing what to paint or what color to use, but he also had to function as every other painter does by applying the oil one stroke at a time.

We often focus only on the finished work and forget what is behind it. Songs are written after a few notes are paired with one thought, and then another. Buildings are constructed one board or brick at a time. Cultures are created by a series of small comments or decisions.

The next time you need to analyze something, consider it from a micro view and examine the individual components that make up the content. By seeing the brush strokes, you may learn how to create a masterpiece of your own.