leadership dot #2950: spider

Over 20 years ago, author Sally Helgesen shared her theory of organizational structure in her book The Web of Inclusion and it still has relevance today. She contrasted the traditional hierarchical model with a web organizational model, maintaining that the later provided more strength and engagement for all involved.

Picture the traditional model – all in boxes – vs. a web model where there is complexity and interconnectedness. The traditional model has only one “Big Cheese” whereas in the web everyone has influence and can lead from the middle. Straight line communication is contrasted with collaboration and interdependence. In the hierarchy, the top leader is the focus whereas in the web model the organization revolves around its purpose.

Ideally, the entire organization would be structured around a web model, but if your leaders aren’t that enlightened yet, think about what you could do to create such a framework in your area of influence. How can you become an “organizational spider” and weaver those connections within your community? What mission or purpose remains in the center of your “web”? Who are other “spiders” who have the potential to help you build webs? (Never underestimate anyone!)

You also need to be on guard for “arachnophobia” and pay attention to people who want to kill the change-making spiders or who simply resist change. Not everyone will embrace the web-making so it’s important to have the persistence of the Itsy Bitsy Spider who kept climbing that water spout over and over.

In the end, empowering others to be part of a web lends strength and purpose to everyone. It’s worth the effort to weave – one strand at a time.

Fond memories Tracy!

leadership dot #2948: billy

For the past week or so, a herd of goats has been cleaning the countryside along a road I travel. It is fascinating to watch them performing “sustainable vegetation management” as they munch away on weeds, thistle, grass, ragweed, poison ivy, honeysuckle and more. The “Goats on the Go” business moves their herd to different locations throughout town as an eco-friendly way to clear growth. I love this idea!

Goats have really come into their own lately. What used to be seen as a lowly farm animal is now used for brush-clearing as well as goat yoga classes where the animals help people to de-stress while they stretch. The products from goats – milk and cheese – are in-demand food items, and their coats yield cashmere fiber that can be spun into yarn for knitting. They are so much more than the head-butting animals in the petting zoo trying to nudge their way into your food supply!

Is there an equivalent “goat” in your organization – something that has been underutilized for years but can provide value when applied in new ways? The voracious appetite of the animal has proved to be a lucrative business model instead of a liability. Their desire to climb all over everything has endeared them to a new market of yoga participants. Consider the downside of your resources and reframe them in a way that converts it into an asset.


leadership dot #2945: sketch

One of the recurring themes at the Aspen Ideas Festival was, of course, change. Between COVID and the race equity revolution, there was plenty for speakers to discuss.

For me, activist Stacey Abrams succinctly captured the crux of the issue. “There is an amazing tension around what should be and how quickly it should happen,” she said. “We agree that things should change, but to what?”

Defining the details is where the challenges lie for all leaders. People are much more adept at describing what is bad than they are at articulating what the desired state looks like, let alone having agreement on the process to get there. But the more clarity you can achieve about the end goal, the more likely you are to overcome barriers to achieve it. Foster informal conversations about what “it” looks like. Have people write white papers to clarify their thoughts (in their own minds as well). Spend a staff meeting creating vision boards. Make lists of the key characteristics you’re looking for in the solution or objectives you’re trying to meet.

Georgetown Professor Michael Dyson noted that “sudden is not sudden; it is a build-up” with movement that has been out of sight for years finally coming to the surface. Even if the necessary change in your organization isn’t imminent, it’s worth your time now to start sketching what the future looks like. It’s much easier to obtain buy-in when people can help fill in the detail than after you present them with a completed painting.

leadership dot #2936: cover up

It is interesting to me about how controversial and political wearing a mask has become. In most establishments, there is an explicit “No shirt, no shoes, no service” regulation, but people don’t protest about that violating their rights. There are laws that require people to wear clothes in public or be arrested for going naked and those laws aren’t flagrantly violated, even in swimming pools or at beaches. Drivers who can’t see without glasses must wear them per their license and you must don a hospital gown or x-ray shield when getting certain medical procedures. Why is mask-wearing so different?

Part of the reason is the polarized political climate and mixed messages about COVID. If government leaders had modeled mask-wearing and consistently required their use, masks would already be as pervasive as wearing sunglasses in the summer.

But another contributing factor is the newness of the practice. People don’t like to change and resist anything that alters their normal habits. When you ask people to do something that requires intentionality instead of rote you should expect pushback – not based on the merits of the action rather simply because it is different. That’s where requiring masks everywhere pays dividends; the more often you do something, the sooner it blends into the routine and the resistance fades.

Pay attention to how mask-wearing (or not) plays out in your community: the irregular enforcement of it vs. strict adherence; the reasons for objection vs. the rationale given in support; the modeling of who does/does not wear one – all represent great lessons for you the next time you seek to implement a change in your organization.

leadership dot #2916: promises

When I worked at a university, we were always cautious about promoting the fact that we were a “safe campus.” We were – up until that point – but it was out of our control whether the safe status would continue. One incident prompted by someone else could abolish the safety record and it seemed prudent to focus on promising what we could guarantee vs. what was more of a hope.

I think organizations find themselves in a similar situation as they prepare to re-open when COVID restrictions are lifted. Can they assure us that it is safe to do so? No. They can point out precautions that they are taking (and presumably were taking before the virus) but should not absorb the risk associated by making unsubstantiated claims to promise safety.

I also wonder whether leaders are considering the long-term impact of thousands of dollars and person-hours that are being expended to deliver that extra mile of precaution. Have you seriously weighed whether it is justified for your organization to invest significant resources to UV-light or sanitation bomb a facility every day vs. wiping down heavily-trafficked surfaces? Have you investigated whether it the best use of your organization’s funds to super-sanitize after every transaction, or would moderately- improved precautions show better stewardship and return on investment? Maybe you have decided that it is worth it for your organization to go all-in and implement very visible and extensive precautions, but have you still stopped short of promising that they will be fully effective?

Be intentional about deciding what you will and will not do. People like it when you do “more” and tend to get upset when you revert to “less.” Before you promise “safety” or enact a host of new measures, consider how long you are willing to do so and whether the overall cost of your efforts are prudent. There is no definitive end in sight to the virus, so whatever you choose to do, you may be doing it for quite a long time. How will you justify “stopping” or cutting back without creating a public relations issue when you do so?

Beyond a certain point, safety becomes a personal responsibility and consideration. Think carefully before taking long-term ownership to provide something that is beyond your scope to deliver.

leadership dot #2892: graduate together

Tonight at 8pm ET, the four major broadcast networks and multiple streaming sites will simultaneously air a live tribute entitled Graduate Together: America Honors the Class of 2020. The thousands of high school seniors who are missing out on their own live celebration would be wise to take lessons from this broadcast forward with them to college and beyond.

How could such a show, that features such dignitaries as President Obama, the Jonas Brothers, LeBron James, Malala Yousafzai, Megan Rapinoe and others, be approved as a “roadblock” where the networks show the same thing at once? How could such a lineup come together within weeks? The answers provide a real-life lesson in the power of collaboration.

  • Graduate Together is sponsored by the Entertainment Industry Foundation – who just happens to have the four broadcast network executives on its board. Lesson: Choose the right partners and you can move mountains quickly.
  • There was an online petition naming President Obama as the most desired commencement speaker and requesting that he give the primary address to the class. Lesson: Involving those for whom the event is intended can be a compelling voice for action.
  • Ultimately, a partner executive who was a former employee of the President facilitated the outreach and connection. Lesson: Utilize your networks and cultivate relationships from your past that may prove beneficial in the future.
  • The program is sponsored by the LeBron James Family Foundation, XQ Institute and the Entertainment Industry Foundation – combining resources of those who work in the media, with high school students and with celebrities. Lesson: Create a broad coalition outside of your industry to pool a broad range of resources and connections.

I’m not sure that a one-hour show, no matter how special, will soothe any of the hurt or loss that this year’s seniors are experiencing but kudos to all who are trying to commemorate them in the only ways possible right now. Hopefully one of the speeches in this event will resonate with the graduates and the lessons learned from producing the event itself will take on new meaning in the days and years ahead – and will serve as a model for you as well of how to be nimble and make things happen in times of great change.

https://graduatetogether2020.com       #GraduateTogether

leadership dot #2889: changing demands

Yesterday’s dot covered Gallup’s research finding that “70% of the variance in team engagement is determined solely by the manager.” Yowza! If you’re that critical as a manager, what should you do in your role?

Fortunately, Gallup also outlines six steps to align the culture with the new way of work that appeals to everyone, but especially Millennials and Generation Z. Successful managers should work to create a culture that addresses these changing demands of the workforce:

From My Paycheck to My Purpose
Employees want to work for organizations with a mission and purpose.

From My Satisfaction to My Development
Employees are pursuing a job that provides personal development as the prized perk.

From My Boss to My Coach
Forget the domineering boss; employees today want leaders to help coach and develop them.

From My Annual Review to My Ongoing Conversations
Everything in life is instantaneous, and employees today want their feedback to be as well.

From My Weakness to My Strengths
Of course, Gallup, the creator of the Strengths movement would recommend this, but whether you pursue the official Strengths assessment or just focus more on positive development, employees today want to build on their strengths vs. focusing on weaknesses.

From My Job to My Life
A great job is the #1 dream, but to achieve that it means having both a paycheck and fulfilling work. Having a great job has become an essential element of having a great life.

Pause for a moment and consider where you stand on these six spectrums. Really, they boil down to two key elements: purpose (#1 & 6) and personal development (#2, 3, 4, 5). Where do you shine as a manager? What area deserves more of your attention? You could make a significant impact on your team by moving toward the new way of managing – and probably enjoy work much more.

Source: It’s the Manager by Jim Clifton and Jim Harter, Gallup Press, 2019

leadership dot #2888: manager

One of the world’s leading research firms conducted a massive study about the future of work, including tens of millions of in-depth interviews of employees and managers across 160 countries. And what did they learn: “Of all the codes Gallup has been asked to crack dating back 80 years to our founder, George Gallup, the single most profound, distinct and clarifying finding – ever – is probably this one: 70% of the variance in team engagement is determined solely by the manager.”

It’s a fact that I’ve believed for a long time and experienced as both an employee and as a supervisor – the manager makes all the difference. “Clever benefit packages, new scoring systems, free lunches and on-site volleyball courts are great. But they don’t change growth outcomes. Only improving your ratio of great to lousy managers does,” write Jim Clifton and Jim Harter in their book on Gallup’s research. “Usually, there isn’t a single lever to create change. In this case, there is: It’s the manager.”

Gallup also learned that the great global dream – higher than having a family, children, home and peace – is to have a good job that provides a living-wage paycheck. For it to be seen as a great job, you need the paycheck that a good job provides plus you must be engaged in meaningful and fulfilling work and feel you are “experiencing real individual growth and development in the workplace.” Thus, the primary job of the manager becomes increasing human potential as a method of organizational success.

Hopefully, you’ve been lucky enough to be among the 15% who feel engaged at work at some point in your career. Like those charts that show the spread of COVID-19, the manager’s influence permeates their team and changes the dynamics of the work. But it always comes down to the people – and putting the care of those people first. Taking care of them takes care of the outcomes that follow.

[More on Gallup’s 6 recommended changes tomorrow]

Source: It’s the Manager by Jim Clifton and Jim Harter, Gallup Press, 2019

leadership dot #2879: devil

It has been said that the “devil is in the details” and if that’s the case, the devil lives in the Uniform Code proposal process! As a continuation of my exploration of emojis, I came across the proposal form for individuals to suggest new emojis for inclusion in the standard code. Let me tell you, it’s no small task. The process is multi-layered, thorough and about as detailed as I have seen. It’s a wonder that any new emoji are actually added, let alone the 117 this year.

I doubt you plan to submit an emoji for consideration, but take a peek at the proposal to use as a gauge for the level of detail that you desire. Often a source of misunderstanding between supervisors and employees revolves around how many layers of detail to include; the emoji form can serve as a benchmark: provide this level of detail or steer far clear of this much minutiae.

The whole purpose of the Unicode Consortium is to standardize the code that makes intra-platform communication possible so you can’t blame them for their precision. You certainly don’t need to emulate it for every project but it’s nice to have an example on hand if you need to invite the devil to drop in.

leadership dot #2862: games

In a fascinating TED talk, Tom Chatfield lays out the argument that virtual games have the “power to motivate, compel and transfix us” and that the principles that make that attraction possible should be applied as rewards in countless additional settings.

Some of his suggestions:

  • Experience bars that show progress – motivating people by a feeling of constantly progressing instead of holding back rewards until the very end.
  • Rewarding effort not just outcomes – games often give credit for trying (e.g. points for playing the game, not just winning it).
  • Rapid, frequent, clear feedback – you know in real-time how many points you are accumulating and you know the consequences for your action (X points for capturing the icon). Chatfield stresses that it is hard for people to learn if they cannot link their consequences to actions.
  • Peers watching us – other people seeing us accumulate status or points really crates the energy to do more.

Think about ways that you can incorporate gaming principles in your operations:

  • Showing progress bars for longer actions such as filling out a series of HR or tax forms, completing assignments for a course or degree, or achieving a savings goal at the bank.
  • Reward effort through tracking attempts: “points” for just going to the gym even if you don’t complete the workout; celebrating those who make proposals even if they aren’t funded or praising relationship calls even if they don’t result in sales.
  • Rapid, clear feedback: smart energy meters that show real-time use of electricity or water, cars that display changes in gas mileage, tracking that shows revenue brought in by each contract
  • Peer involvement: sharing current results company-wide, buddies or support groups to impact weight change or fitness goals or allowing peers to see cookie sale progress in real-time.

Gaming, e-sports and virtual reality is a multi-billion-dollar industry. It’s not because people like dragons or farms or angry birds but because these environments are strategically and intentionally designed to compel extended involvement and release of dopamine. Apply those principles to stimulate the same excitement and persistence toward goals that matter to you.

Watch the 17-minute TED talk here.