leadership dot #2642: coins and towels

A local college just held their inaugural football game and the coach was quoted as saying: “What keeps me up right now is the one critical thing I might have forgotten about. It’s the little stuff. The coin for the coin flip. The towels for the balls…There were basic things that I didn’t even think about…I’m almost not even worried about the football yet.”

His comments underscore the importance of that foundational infrastructure that is so second nature everyone takes it for granted. It’s only when an event happens for the first time or in a different environment that people become conscious of the details: when a meeting is held off-site, a meal is planned for the park instead of the kitchen, sleeping involves a tent instead of hotel, etc. Suddenly, people realize that they need to plan to have enough chairs, to bring the forks, and to remember the pillow and flashlight.

Doing something for the first time or doing it in a new location triggers another dimension of planning. Don’t overlook the complexity that “new” brings. You need to have the coin and towels before you can kick off.

Source: Miguel Regalado as quoted in “Pride primed for 1st game in program history” by Brenden West in the Telegraph Herald, August 31, 2019, p. 1B.

leadership dot #2636: frivol

Today is back-to-work time for many after a three-day weekend. I know for myself that I wish I had a do-over for the time. I did a little bit of work and a lot of procrastinating about doing more work. The end result is that I don’t feel like I was really productive, nor do I feel like I took a true break and had serious relaxation. I just frivoled away the weekend doing little bits of projects and little bits of avoidance-of-projects. It doesn’t make for great motivation or rejuvenation.

I am reminded of the children’s book Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday by Judith Viorst. Beloved Alexander frivols away his money until at the end of the story he has a pile of purchases with nothing really to show for it. For example, he rents a snake for an hour, buys a half-melted candle at a garage sale, and loses some coins in a magic trick — leaving him without his dollar or anything of substance.

I’m not usually like Alexander, but I was this weekend. What about you? Think of under what circumstances you exhibit Alexander-like tendencies where little bits of time (or money) pass without intention or results. Instead, try to go all-in with rest or work – and then go all-out. Trying to straddle the middle produces more guilt than benefits.

Alexander, Who Used to be Rich Last Sunday by Judith Viorst, 1978 (a classic!)

leadership dot #2631: bird by bird

A famous piece of writing advice from author Anne Lamott is simply to write “bird by bird”. The saying references a quote her father gave her brother who was struggling to begin a major report on birds that should have been started long before. “Bird by bird,” he said, encouraging him to write about one bird at a time and assemble them into a paper.

“Bird by bird” is great advice, not only for writing but for most things. You prepare department-wide budgets bird by bird. Plan elaborate weddings. Deliver a comprehensive proposal. Complete income taxes. Become a minimalist. Finish an expense report. Pack a household to move. Change systems. It all happens one “bird” at a time.

Instead of feeling overwhelmed the next time a significant task faces you, remember Lamott’s powerful advice. Describing the aviary may seem daunting, but one bird you can handle.

Source: Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott, 1995

leadership dot #2621: shifting

I have noticed lately that the relative size of products is shrinking each time I purchase them. The dog treats are just a wee bit smaller in the new package. Snack bags used to be in boxes of 50 for $1, then 45 and now 38. Fountain beverages were 32 oz. and now are only 30 oz. in some places. The scrubbing pads used to be packaged 10/box but are replaced with 8/box for the same price.

Unless you are really paying attention or happen to have both the old and new side-by-side, you likely won’t notice these changes…

…until they reach a tipping point and you do.

The same is true of organizational culture. It’s barely perceptible when civility first takes a hit or morale shifts a little in the wrong direction or the vision becomes a bit fuzzy. People don’t notice when the standards start to lax or the transparency begins to fade – until the culture reaches that tipping point and suddenly the lapses aren’t so insignificant anymore.

Most changes – for better or worse — occur incrementally. It’s far easier to pay attention and address minor shifts rather than being oblivious until an obvious change has occurred.


leadership dot #2611: it’s nuts

A friend was flying to do some construction work and wanted to take lithium batteries for his power tools. Unsure of the TSA regulations, he researched the website, spent an hour on hold to talk directly with a TSA representative, printed out the rules and size limits and was as prepared as he could be to get through airport security with five batteries and a charger.

That part of his luggage screened without issue. What tripped him up? A coconut!

In addition to the batteries, he was taking home a coconut mailed from World War II. Coconuts have husks and what is commonly known as a coconut is actually inside. TSA doesn’t like things that show up on their scanner “inside” something. The batteries went through once. The coconut four times (before it was allowed to fly.)

Think about other things in life that are like this – where we overprepare for what we expect to cause an issue and instead find difficulty with something that we never gave a second thought. We check the car’s tires before going on vacation but fail to fill the windshield washer fluid. We purchase hundreds of dollars of back-to-school supplies and forget the sandwich bags. We spend hours on a PowerPoint presentation and leave the clicker back in the office.

Yes, it’s wise to do your homework and prepare for the big things – but it’s often the little details that make you go (coco)nuts. Mind them as well.

Thanks, Curt!


leadership dot #2535: while waiting

For many people, time spent waiting is time “wasted” — but not for the Gardner family. Every day, instead of being irritated by the time spent in the school drop off or pick-up lines, they would read books. The goal was to complete the A to Z Mystery Series this year and this week they accomplished it – with even a few days in the school year to spare!

Reading while in line is a great habit to instill in children (and yourself!). We all know that inevitable waits will occur yet we tend to treat them as unexpected. As a result, we fail to prepare for them – or to use the minutes to actually do something besides “wait”.

There is no one I know that doesn’t wish they had more time. Take a lesson from these children and be more effective in using the time you do have.

Thanks, Jeni!

leadership dot #2527: assemble

Oftentimes, people procrastinate about writing a speech or proposal or delay their efforts to design a workshop or presentation. These things seem so big that they become daunting and in the absence of a clear starting point it becomes easier to avoid the task as long as possible.

I smiled when I read Adam Grant’s Originals and he talked about Martin Luther King, Jr. “assembling” his speeches rather than writing them outright. He had key points he wanted to make (much like yesterday’s dot) and would craft whole speeches by rearranging components to fit the need and audience.

A similar technique that has served me well is compiling notes over time – written with just one concept per piece of scratch paper or index card. If I’m working on an article or educational session, I begin with a pile of paper and brainstorm all the ideas that come to me about the topic, writing only one idea per sheet. Then I keep the pile handy for a few days (or weeks) and just add to it as another idea comes to me. When my incubation time has ended and it’s time to get serious about creating the final piece, I sort them all on my counter or floor and, presto, I have an instant outline.

In the picture below, I used this method to develop a six-session nonprofit training program – I had a big pile of ideas, then sorted them into logical delineations for the six workshops. The little sheets are easy to group together, rearrange, add to and remove. Once you get the piles organized in a way that makes sense, you can type them up into an outline and fill in content, or just leave them in an ordered pile and work from that.

It’s intimidating to start from a blank page or to figure out where to begin on a big project – so don’t. Start with one idea on an index card, and then another, and then another. Soon you’ll be well on your way to assembling your masterpiece.