leadership dot #2839: ignored

A few weeks ago, when I did my health insurance renewal, I received a separate form in the mail asking me the number of employees at Leadership Dots. I promptly returned it and replied “one” to the only question the form asked.

This week, four insurance benefit books were delivered to my house by UPS. Each is about 100 pages, and they promptly landed in the recycle bin.

I am not sure why Wellmark bothers to print these books at all — surely the information could be made available online or in print only by request — but if they are mandated to publish them, why ignore the data that they just went through an expense to collect?

Stop collecting data or start using it. Little pockets of waste create a culture that tolerates big amounts of it.


leadership dot #2835: gentle

There have been comparisons of this week to the terrorist attacks on 9-11 but something felt very different for me. Some of my thoughts were summed up in a Tweet by Matt Haig*: “News is normally a fading shock. A terrorist attack, say, that hits us and then we absorb it and its impact fades. We aren’t used to a rising shock. I think that’s what makes our current news so psychologically hard.”

 When 9-11 happened – or a tornado, hurricane or fire – it happens and then it is done. With COVID, there is ongoing anxiety as the threat looms. Life seems even more surreal because some people right in our own circles are living in ordinary ways while there is a massive disruption for others. There isn’t that same universal, common experience that often follows a tragedy.

Two takeaways from this for me:

  • There is a need to attend to our mental wellbeing as well as our physical environment. Yes, it’s important to hunker down and social-distance but it’s also necessary to impart some self-love. Even if you’re not sick or out of a job, the uncertainty alone makes for stressful times. Don’t dismiss the anxiety – attend to it.
  • Remember how you feel and draw upon that empathy when there are parallels in your organization or family life. Don’t drag out the threat of layoffs and let concerns about company viability linger to cause ongoing stress. If a friend or family is gravely ill, be gentle around the anxiety that comes with the unknown.

Life needs you to take extra care when a negative is likely to escalate before it dissipates.


leadership dot #2832: collapse

In 2010, portions of the Atwater bluff along the shores of Lake Michigan collapsed due to excessive rain. The flooding eroded the hill and cut off access to the beach for Milwaukee’s residents.

Instead of creating a wall to secure the sands, local engineers realized that utilizing natural plants would provide a more sustainable solution. Organizers stabilized the bluff with over 3000 native plants whose deep roots serve to hold back the hill and provide a natural habitat for area birds and insects. The area is now designated as a Monarch Butterfly Waystation and many other creatures benefit from the plants and shrubs. The native vegetation also provides a scenic vista to line the Lake while allowing natural sand dunes and grasses to develop.

Sometimes, it takes a disastrous event to cause people to stop and reassess what is best on the path forward. I doubt that people would have invested the effort to intentionally create a natural ecosystem on the bluff if the stormwater had not severely damaged it but the end result is an enhancement.

As you live through your own version of bluff collapse, take advantage of the opportunity to rethink what comes next. You have a chance to rebuild in a way that is better.


leadership dot #2817: 24 hours

One of the Big Box stores promotes itself as being open 24 hours, leaving you to infer that it means the whole store is available to shoppers. This would be a myth.

The pharmacy and deli are closed. Ditto for the bottle redemption center. There were no “human” cashiers; only self-service. And most annoying of all, customer service closed at 10pm so there was no way to do the return that was the reason for our trip.

To them, each of these areas is its own little fiefdom with separate rules for the different kingdoms. To me, it is all part of one store and, if the store is open 24 hours, that means the whole store should be.

Take a look around your organization from the customer point of view. Do you function like the 24-hour store where parts of your organization do things differently than others and aggravate customers who don’t see the pieces as being separate? Do you provide what is convenient for the customer, even if it’s inconvenient for some of the staff? Or do you provide excuses for why something is not instead of taking ownership of the process as a whole?

If you promote 24-hour service, deliver it — or stop claiming you do.


leadership dot #2813: limit

On this day in 1951, the 22nd Amendment to the US Constitution was ratified — but it stopped short of doing the most good. Number 22 limits the tenure of the presidential office to two terms but allows members of Congress to serve indefinitely if re-elected. I believe the country would have been better off if there were term limits for those members as well as for the president.

It becomes a vicious cycle in politics as well as organizations that the more people stay, the more power they amass and, all too frequently, the less in tune they become with what is really happening on the front lines. People who are in leadership roles for too long naturally become comfortable with the perks and privileges that power provides and, even if subconsciously, become invested in preserving that status for themselves.

It’s hard for a president, elected official, board member or officer of an organization to step down from their role. If things are going well, there is no incentive to leave. If things are going poorly, it feels like jumping ship. And, especially if it’s your full-time job, it is even more difficult to voluntarily forfeit a paycheck and benefits and cast yourself into transition — which is exactly why policies should be in place to remove the decision-making from the equation.

Do your organization a favor and set the parameters now for the future and support those attempting to create term limits for Congress. The system works better if, after X years, a term ends, and the service is finished without a debate.

leadership dot #2799: reciprocal

It’s easy to shake hands, smile for the cameras and proclaim that you’re partners with another organization when you think that you will benefit from the arrangement. But it’s a whole different story when your partner needs something from you.

Such is the case with our “sister city.” In 1983, the governor signed a formal agreement with a city in China, hoping to “bolster U.S.-China relations.” I’m sure people thought it would benefit us, and maybe it has, but now that city is asking us to send large quantities of medical supplies to help control the coronavirus in their area.

This poses many interesting questions. Should we do it? Who should pay for it? How would we even get them there since many carriers have temporarily stopped traveling to the country? We have a medical supply company in town and everyone looks there first, but I’m sure their demand has skyrocketed and they are able to garner premium pricing – why should they be expected to make a donation? The same is true for the hospitals; should they be held responsible for meeting the obligations of the whole city?

I am not sure how this will be resolved, but it serves as an interesting lesson when considering partnerships in the future. You shouldn’t sign an agreement because of what you think you can get if you’re not willing to retain the partnership when it’s time to give.

leadership dot #2798: duplicity

When I went to mail a package, the clerk quoted a price of $24 instead of the $15 flat rate that I was expecting. I had used an official Post Office box and couldn’t understand why it did not qualify for the “one rate, any weight” postage. It turned out that I had unknowingly used the “mailing box” instead of the “flat rate box”.

As a result, I experienced bureaucracy at its worst.

Both boxes are distributed at the Post Office. They are so similar that they remind me of those “find the differences” pictures – where everything is exactly the same except for the most minute details. These boxes are less than ½ inch different in dimensions: 13.375 vs. 13.625 by 12.125 x 11.875 (yes, they list the size to three decimal places!) – so alike that the only real difference is the name the Post Office gives them.

Because of my egregious error, I got out of line, discarded the incorrect mailing box and repackaged the same exact contents in the clone of a box — and paid $9 less as a result.

What would it have taken for the Post Office to use one box where the clerk could just check off the flat rate option or to have crossed off the wrong title and used it anyway? I wonder if the duplicity isn’t intentional deception: how many people mailing a box even know that there is a flat rate and instead pay whatever price they are quoted.

Don’t let this kind of nonsense happen in your organization. Designate one day to do some “bureaucracy-busting” in your area. Offer incentives for people to point out ridiculous practices like three-digit measurements on a box or twin packaging at different rates. Celebrate those who are brave enough to question your status quo or who make things easier for the user. Maybe you could even mail them their prize – using the proper box, of course.