leadership dot #2884: music

The New York Times called Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber the most commercially successful composer in history. He’s the man behind The Phantom of the Opera, the longest-running show on Broadway that has grossed over $6 billion in revenue during its run.

So, if you were a producer who had the opportunity to invest in another show by Webber featuring the same Phantom characters, chances are that you would have invested. It would have been a mistake. Love Never Dies was a flop, and never made it to Broadway at all.

Despite all of his successes — Webber composed a number of hits that were on Broadway for years, including Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Cats, Evita, Jesus Christ Superstar and Sunset Boulevard – he also had a litany of shows that never became mainstream: Starlight Express, Whistle Down the Wind and Aspects of Love. His By Jeeves was so bad that it closed after just a month in London, but Sir Webber kept writing music and still has multiple shows on Broadway today.

The only sure-fire formula that guarantees success is perseverance. Your chances of doing great work improve by producing a lot of work and continually learning from it. Keep making music, even if some of what you produce seems a bit off-key.


leadership dot #2866: doors

I recently enjoyed the Temple Grandin movie that chronicles the life of the film’s namesake, an autistic woman who grew up to become an international figure in autism – and cattle handling. (I wrote about the unusual pairing of careers in dot 2150).

What impressed me most was the number of barriers that Temple overcame before she achieved success. Think about it:

  • She was autistic and often had difficulty reading social cues, causing her to be called a freak and be ridiculed since childhood.
  • She was a woman attempting to forge a career in the ultra-macho male world of cattle handling.
  • She was only a graduate student when she first published her revolutionary ideas on cattle handling, challenging ideas long held by those far more experienced than she.
  • She was a trailblazer and innovator, and like others who have gone first, she was dismissed with skepticism and called crazy.

Any one of her challenges could have stopped a less hearty person from pursuing their dream, but Temple persisted in the face of all four simultaneously. She bought a pickup truck and covered it in mud to fit in and drive past security at the feed lot. She talked her way into getting a press pass to gain access to the cattle ranches. She got her idea published in a trade magazine to give it credibility to do her master’s thesis on the variations of moo-ing (technically called the “agitation of cattle”).

Temple’s mentor told her to visualize her transition from high school to college as being a door that opened up onto a whole new world. “All you have to do is decide to go through it,” he said. She used that metaphor to persevere and go through doors throughout her whole life, no matter how uncomfortable it was for her to do so. And because she kept walking through these doors, over half of the cattle in North America are now handled in humane systems that Temple Grandin designed.

What door do you need to walk through to make your impact? If an autistic, female, graduate student can revolutionize cattle handling, you can achieve your dreams, too.


leadership dot #2852: sliding doors

The Gwyneth Paltrow movie Contagion is experiencing a revival but the movie of hers that more accurately sums up the COVID situation for me is Sliding Doors. In that film, the viewer sees two parallel stories – one when she catches the elevator and one where the doors slide shut before she can enter. In both scenarios, a mixture of good and bad occurs — confirming there wasn’t one perfect way for life to unfold.

I’ve thought about this movie a lot lately to help me keep perspective during the virus. I know it seems like everything that is happening is bad but there are seen and unseen benefits that will result. Things will be different than they would have been without COVID, but not necessarily worse. You may have averted being in an accident because you weren’t out on the road. On the trip you take next year instead of now, you may meet a lifelong friend. The job you didn’t get because of cancelations may free you up to create something that will result in more clients down the line. The time you spend with family now may solidify a bond that lasts a lifetime. You may have avoided getting into a damaging argument at work because the meeting where it occurred never happened. And on and on.

We’ll never know what twists our life’s path takes because of the virus – or because of any action or inaction we take every day. Instead, we need to take solace that it is what it is and make the best of the world that we find ourselves in at this moment.


leadership dot #2651: persevere

It took the Chesters seven years to establish momentum on their farm (see dot #2649) but my experience has been that three years is the sweet spot. When I switched jobs and went to a new campus I was always unsettled until year 3 when I finally knew the majority of people in the hallways and understood the rhythm of events. My time serving on boards is always richer after three years; suddenly I could synthesize the background and context of items and how they related to the future. And with my business, the completion of three full years has marked a turning point of additional business and opportunities.

I believe that the first year of any enterprise is overwhelming; you are flooded with information, still trying to adopt a new identity and you don’t know more than you do know. If you approach the beginning with anything but a learning mentality, you’re doomed. Year One provides knowledge and understanding, but not results.

During the second year, you have your feet underneath you and are able to make some progress but it is still a time of great experimentation. You correct some of the things you messed up in Year One. You try some new things. You begin to build some relationships and plant seeds for future opportunities, but very little blossoms. You begin to wonder if this adventure was a misstep.

In the third year, some of the relationships you cultivated start to become meaningful. Just as I wrote about with the flywheel yesterday (see dot #2650), continual efforts in the same direction produce benefits. You begin to hear some buzz and even referrals. You feel like you know what you’re doing (most of the time). You can focus on the output instead of spending the majority of your time on the infrastructure. After you persist through the three-year curve, synergy starts to happen and the unheralded work of the initial years begins to flourish.

People are used to instant gratification, but creating a sustainable enterprise doesn’t work that way. If the project has enough impact and meaning for you, it’s worth the work to persevere through Year Three.

leadership dot #2644: not ordinary

One year ago today, I was at a meeting with several participants from out-of-town. As they prepared to leave for the airport I was struck by the ordinariness of their departures – they casually said goodbye and left with the business-as-usual confidence that they would board their planes and reach their destination as they had always done. Fortunately, they were right, but it provided a stark contrast to those who boarded the ill-fated planes on this date in 2001. I’m sure they, too, left for the airport with carefree indifference and anticipation of a safe journey.

I see signs of this clash of expectations throughout the year. The crosses on the side of the road, especially the one at a local intersection that I pass through daily, that mark where someone lost their life. The girl in the emergency room wearing brand new shoes – not expecting that it would be the only day she wore them. Those who were just shopping, praying, dancing or driving who were shot down as part of another mass attack. All people doing ordinary things that ended up in a fateful way.

One of the lyrics from Come From Away* says: “It’s like any of us could have died on Tuesday, and we’re dared to see things differently today.” Don’t take your today for granted. Dare to see your life with new eyes and possibilities that capitalizes on all the “Tuesdays” you are given.

And mostly, don’t ever forget those who lost lives and made sacrifices on September 11, 2001. Today is not just another day.

*Quote from “Costume Party” on Come From Away Original Broadway Soundtrack, lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein




leadership dot #2616: mile marker 1

Musician Lzzy Hale bought her house because it had a mantle to display her prized trophies: one, a Grammy that her band Halestorm won in 2012, and her “other favorite trophy”, the Schukill County Fair 3rd place trophy that the band won in 1997. She describes that as “equally monumental – mile marker 1.”

Halestorm has been performing over 20 years with another Grammy nomination and many other mile markers along their path, but Lzzy stays grounded by remembering the band’s humble beginnings and the roots that got the group started.

We often focus on the end goal but sometimes forget the importance of mile marker 1. It’s easy to diminish the importance of that initial landmark – when someone actually pays you for what you do, when you are quoted for the first time, when you receive that initial recognition – but it can be that early beacon of hope that keeps you going forward.

Starting on a long journey is tough. By the time you have slogged through hundreds of steps to get to the first mile, you need a marker to acknowledge that even though there are many steps to go, those initial ones have meant something. So, even if it’s a third-place trophy from a county fair, cherish the markers that indicate all those incremental steps are getting you somewhere.

Thanks, Mike!

leadership dot #2450: sustain

A recent article in the New York Times asked: “Can America Still Build Big?” and raised questions as to whether the country still has the ability to complete big infrastructure plans. Part of the challenge comes from big projects being complex – thus requiring intra-agency/bipartisan cooperation, long term funding, extended constituent support, and most vexing, the willingness to wait before seeing results from the investment.

California’s attempt at building a high-speed rail has faced legal challenges, environmental protests, waning support and extensive delays. Its viability is threatened even though the state has the funds and had initial backing for the project from voters.

The stalling of the rail project reminded me of another scene from the I am Jane Doe movie on human trafficking (see dot #2449). The U.S. Senate began investigating the primary clearinghouse website and went so far as to take legal action against its owner when he failed to show up for a Congressional subpoena. But three of the primary members of that Senate committee are no longer in office, so again, a resolution languishes.

Part of your change effort needs to include intentional strategies on how to sustain the process. While you likely are tempted to dedicate your resources to create change, you can’t forget about garnering support over and over and over throughout the work. It’s not enough to have an initial victory; you must be vigilant in keeping that support over the length of the project, whether or not you remain in charge.

Big things take time. Invest big time in building your coalition to help you achieve big goals.

leadership dot #2431: thin mints

It started out as an ordinary enough phone call: “Hello, Aunt beth; I’m selling Girl Scout cookies. Would you like to buy some?”

After I listened to the menu of options, I agreed to buy three boxes.

“Would you like another box to make it an even $20,” my niece asked.


“And can I interest you in adding some Thin Mints to your order – you wouldn’t want to forget those!”

I admired the persistence of this young saleswoman and thought that if nothing else, the Girl Scouts were teaching assertiveness.

I wonder how many times you have settled for the initial “order of three” instead of asking for what you really wanted. The next time you have a desire, couple it with the courage to express it – and put your request out there so it has the possibility of being answered. Thin mints, anyone?

leadership dot #2420: vortex

Living in the Snow Belt is a lesson in resiliency. Mother Nature may inflict record-breaking temperatures, but the good people of the Midwest adapt and roll with the punches.

We have had multiple snowfalls this week, and by the time I am awake the roads have already been plowed and become passable. People just get up and get out the snow blower, making paths through feet-high snow banks that have drifted over the sidewalks and driveways. They bundle up in enough layers to make them look like colorful Michelin Men waddling their way across parking lots and into businesses.

And, like today, when the weather is especially brutal, not only are schools closed, but even garbage collection is suspended in the interest of the sanitation workers’ safety. You just do what you’ve gotta do to accommodate and reschedule.

I imagine that those who don’t live here cannot imagine why people do. (Sometimes I wonder that myself!) But the weather instills a heartiness that permeates other facets of life and serves as a good teacher for how to overcome obstacles. It forces people to develop that elusive skill of “grit” that has become so desired in employees.

Clearly, I am not a fan of the -33 degrees temperature projected for tonight. I will grumble and grouse – and then make adjustments and get through it. Use that as a metaphor for how you can press forward in other areas of life, even when the situation may seem inconceivable to others.

leadership dot #2223: window

Of the 40,000 windows in the World Trade Center, one survived the 9-11 terrorist attack. A window from the 82nd floor of the South Tower is on display in the Memorial, seemingly unscathed from the mayhem around it.

One of the docents at the Museum sees this window as a lesson of hope: No matter how fragile you think you are, you can deal with a big impact and still come out intact.

Keep this window in mind when your environment becomes volatile and remember that there is the possibility for you to come through it.