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.

“Ok.”

“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.

leadership dot #2177: lonely

Except for in a political context, you don’t hear much about only two percent of the population doing anything. So, when the graduation speaker shared that only two percent of the adult population in the United States has earned a doctorate degree, it struck me as a very small number. I earned my Ed.D. over twenty years ago and did not realize to what a small fraternity I belonged.

Then at a recent meeting with a cohort of innovation leaders, the Rogers Adaptation Curve was shared as a framework for the charge ahead of them. Only 2.5% of the population is considered as an innovator, giving context to the minority in which these leaders found themselves. The cohort was formed to provide support and counsel to similar change-oriented people since they were in such short supply in the general population.

Think about where not only you fall, but where others in your organization land. Whether it is in pursuit of a doctorate or on a mission to reimagine the child welfare system, anyone seeking to be part of a two percent finds themselves in a lonely position. What can you do to provide a safe environment, access to like-minded people and the inspiration to persevere until they reach the end they are seeking?

One may be the loneliest number, but two percent isn’t far behind.

leadership dot #2145: undaunted

The story of Lewis and Clark has always fascinated me – I wonder what it must have taken for these men and their crew to explore unknown territories with so little to guide them. People today set out on what they feel are “adventures” when they turn off the GPS, but Lewis and Clark knew nothing about the territory that they would face.

Can you even imagine setting out on a journey that you believed would be all on water, only to learn that most of your travels would be on land? And not just flat land; the explorers did not know that the Rocky Mountains existed. It would be daunting to cross the Rockies today, let alone 200 years ago on horseback, especially when you did not expect them to be there!

Lewis and Clark had every excuse to quit along their journey. The conditions were so much rougher, the mode of transport totally different and the time frame (two years and four months) significantly longer than they originally expected. And after surviving grueling conditions to reach the ocean, they then had to return – over the same rough terrain.

When you want to tell your boss that you are going to quit because you have hit a barrier, think of Lewis and Clark looking over that first peak and realizing that there were miles more mountains instead of the northwest water route that they were seeking. The obstacles you face at work are nothing.