leadership dot #2219: unimaginable

When the first plane flew into the World Trade Center on 9-11, many, including government officials, were unsure of the cause. It was only when the second plane smashed into the South Tower that it became apparent we were under attack.

Even after both buildings had been hit, the fire chief treated this as a fire on the upper floors. He told the mayor that they could rescue “everyone below the fire”, implying that all the casualties would be above where the planes hit. People in the South Tower were told to remain in their offices and there are numerous recordings of office workers telling loved ones that they were safe.

But, as we all know now, the scope of the disaster was far beyond a fire on a few floors. The unusual construction of the towers – with its interlocking steel exteriors to support the weight of the building – also made it susceptible to its demise. And such a massive implosion had untold impacts on anything in its wake on the ground.

At the scene, the governor remarked that he expected to find piles of desks, computers and furniture in the rubble of 110 floors of office space. But there was none. Within 102 minutes both buildings had collapsed, pulverizing everything in its path. And despite extensive forensic and archeological excavating, there were not even remains found for 40% of those who died in the buildings.

Not that anyone could have ever predicted that two of the tallest buildings in the United States would be decimated in under two hours, but If there is a lesson for future disasters, it is to assume the worst and to act accordingly. To err on the side of caution may be trite, but it is also true.

leadership dot #2218: save

Just as a trip to Honolulu should include a visit to Pearl Harbor, so should a trip to New York City include a visit to the 9-11 Memorial and Museum. Already the memory of that fateful day has faded in the American consciousness, but a trip to the Memorial will bring back all of the emotion that you felt 17 years ago.

I applaud the foresight that people had to gather and preserve elements of the attack in order to be able to vividly tell the story in the future. Pieces of twisted steel, missing person flyers, ashes, destroyed vehicles and answering machine recordings all served to make the disaster real. I wonder who painted “save” on one of the support pillars or picked up newspapers from that morning to illustrate the ordinary way the day began.

I doubt there was a Port Authority archivist, or anyone specifically assigned to gather artifacts at the site, but our history is much more memorable because someone had the presence of mind to do so. Many organizations don’t have the forethought to save key elements of their organization’s history and it is lost forever. Don’t let your organization be one that relies only on two-dimensional mementos to tell its story.


leadership dot #2217: trunk

Except for a quick $6 Uber ride due to heat and feet, when we were in New York, we took the subway everywhere. It is far more than a mode of transportation; it makes city life possible. Over 8.5 million people could not live and work in a 300 square mile area without the subway as its core infrastructure. I’m sure that with over 800 miles of track, it is a continual, proactive process to keep the trains running and while we were there, many stations had notices about scheduled maintenance and the resulting schedule changes.

The subway is like the trunk of the tree that moves water and nutrients to all of the branches. It transports not only people but many of the resources they require to exist at home and at work. You don’t pay much attention to the trunk until something goes wrong, but without it, energy could not move throughout the tree and grow.

What is the equivalent of a subway in your organization? What transports the essential ingredients for your organizational health? And what care are you taking to maintain it?

leadership dot #2214: derogatory

I am used to having my bag checked and walking through security when going into public places, but when I toured Yankee Stadium they took it to a whole new level. We had bag checks and metal detectors – just to get in the gift shop on a non-game day. Our tour group of 20 was escorted not just by a tour guide, but also four security guards who accompanied us on the entire hour-long tour and monitored each corner of our group. Where we were – and were not – allowed to go was tightly enforced with the seriousness of national security rather than “just” a baseball stadium. I had to wonder what it was like there on an actual game day.

Maybe one of the reasons for such a tight watch is the passion that the Yankees engender – either for them or against. Signs throughout the stadium allude to robust behaviors of the visitors and those “damn Yankees” aren’t having any part of it. “The use of derogatory language by fans in the stadium will not be tolerated and violators will be disciplined,” read the signs. I wonder what that even means as it sounds like you will be sent to the naughty corner or have your mouth washed out with soap!

While the Yankee precautions seem to be a bit on the extreme side, in all cases of discipline it is much more effective to be proactive instead of reactive. Better to charge more for the tour and avoid any potential incidents than to have a stowaway in the press box; good to be prudent and give fair warning to the obnoxious fans rather than to remove them arbitrarily.

Where does your organization have the potential to encounter negative behavior? Whether through personnel or policy, don’t strike out in this important risk management area.

leadership dot #2212: grass

In addition to hosting baseball, Yankee Stadium is also the home field for the New York City Football Club (soccer) even though the seasons overlap. As a result, the grounds crew at the stadium needs to convert the playing field from baseball to soccer and back as frequently as for one match.

On the day we were there, the crew was out laying new turf to cover the infield dirt and anchoring the soccer goal stands in the outfield. Later the pitcher’s mound will be leveled and the field restriped – all for one soccer meet before the Yankees return to baseball. This seems like the kind of transition that many would label as either impossible or not worth it, but obviously, the Yankees’ ownership feels that it is economically viable to do on a regular basis.

Are you limiting yourself or your organization too much by seeing yourself as only a single-service provider? If the stadium can make regular accommodations from one sport to another, perhaps you can expand your reach by exhibiting the same flexibility toward being a two-option organization. The grass could be greener if you adapt to where you place it.

leadership dot #2207: develop

It used to be that there was a photo developer on every corner. Drug stores, department stores, drive up kiosks, separate one-hour photo stores – everyone had a substantial amount of space and equipment dedicated to processing pictures.

And then came the camera phone and sharing took place digitally instead of through print. Approximately 52 million photos are uploaded onto Instagram each day, and none of them need a developer for processing.

Some stores still offer photo developing, but I wonder how long they will continue to utilize prime retail space for such functions. Target, for example, has a large photo center in the front of one of its stores – it was virtually empty while I was waiting to meet someone. It seems that they could be more profitable by offering other goods or services instead of having a large, unused area showing signs of entropy. While I am sure these centers were quite profitable in their day, I believe their time has come to an end for most retailers.

Think of whether you have services in your organization that are past their prime and should be reimagined – in other words, how to capitalize on the growth in picture taking while acknowledging the decline in photo developing.

Are you dedicating space and assets toward something that once provided you with benefits but no longer does? Maybe it’s time to develop a new plan about how you picture your future.

leadership dot #2206: quiet

In the midst of all the hustle and bustle at LaGuardia airport, travelers now have the option of a respite. Soundproof cubicles with a writing shelf are available to rent in 15-minute increments (for $30/hr). It reminded me of old-fashioned phone booths, only with an Internet connection and place to sit down.

These booths provide a place to conduct calls, participate by video or just get work done without distraction. They bill it as “a workspace to think, create, connect and recharge.” I could use one of them in my home!

In a world of open office spaces and community gathering points, there is still something to be said for quiet. The Jabbrrbox vendor found a way to conveniently make it available at LaGuardia through rental of personal booths. Perhaps you should do a noise audit at your organization and create your own quiet boxes if necessary. Providing a silent option can golden to some employees.