leadership dot #3695: toes

I have a fantastic nail technician so when I asked her to paint flowers on my toes to match the fancy new shoes I got, she was happy to oblige. And the pedicure was fantastic — she is a true artist and my toes serve as a mini-gallery for her work:

When you see her work up close — as she does when she creates it and I do when I’m sitting in the chair watching her — it is beautiful. But it appears differently when I stand up. Then, my eyesight doesn’t allow me to see the individual flowers and instead, it looks like the big toe has not been polished.

For the next six weeks, it serves as a continual reminder for me about the importance of perspective. If you are heads-down and only focused on your portion of the work, you may do it differently than if you had the big-picture in mind.

Think about toes when you approach your next project. How will your work be seen by those who use it?

leadership dot #3694: alternately

It stinks when you lose your job. There’s no getting around it. Your paycheck, identity, routine, and network are all wrapped up in your employment, and it is a deep level of stress-inducing awful when you are let go.

To complicate matters, just as you’re feeling your worst you need to project your best in order to interview well. You want to stay in bed but instead, you need to be perky and articulate. It’s tough.

It’s unrealistic to believe you can be fired and just carry on as if nothing happened. It’s also counterproductive to wallow for any length of time. I describe this juxtaposition as a yin-yang — and encourage those in this situation to keep that balance in mind. You need to be sad — for a bit — then you need to establish boundaries that provide a barrier to the gloom and allow the positive to be put forth.

The yin-yang applies to other traumatic events. A divorce. A death. An accident or trauma. To move forward, work hard to mentally compartmentalize and craft boundaries that juggle the gymnastics of grieving and persisting — not expressing both simultaneously — rather alternately — so that each emotion can be expressed without overriding the other.

leadership dot #3680: sunk

The attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 was a surprise more for how it happened than the fact that it happened at all. The United States knew that Japan, Germany, and most of Europe were at war so the US military took steps to protect its fleet in Hawaii. They trained soldiers to protect the beaches. Lined up battleships in a row so as not to block the channel exit. Kept all the fighter planes parked tightly next to each other in the middle of the airstrip to protect them from external sabotage. Limited their reconnaissance to preserve manpower and planes for when they had to fly out of Hawaii to engage.

Pretty much everything the military did made it easier for Japan to devastate the operation when it bombed Pearl Harbor. The US believed that years of history would repeat themselves and that it was “a well-established premise that any decisive battle would be fought at sea.” And in that area, we were superior — with nine mighty battleships at the base to dominate the Pacific and serve as “the mightiest weapons of war.”

Those in command operated sensibly based on their fundamental beliefs, but of course, we now know that their premise was flawed — and from that fateful day forward, the aircraft carrier, not the battleship, would dominate the military arsenal.

Japan surprised Pearl Harbor by using new types of weapons, traveling 4000 miles under radio silence, and developing a new platform from which to change the method of attack. Your competitors are busy doing the same. Are you acting like the Pearl Harbor officers and plowing forward without questioning your core tenants or assumptions? You might have visible symbols of power — your equivalent of battleships — but if your organization faces a new method of attack your plans could be sunk. Don’t plan tomorrow based only on yesterday.

leadership dot #144a: overwrite

I walked into my grocery store and my brain instantly knew that it was remodeled.  It was much more open through the front areas so I tried to picture how it had previously looked. I couldn’t do it. In an instant, my brain had overwritten what it was like “before”.

I think it works this way with most people and remodels — the new lighting at work that was so startling on the first day is now a non-factor. The new paint at home that made the room look so different is now just part of the background. And the same is true with civil engineering — one of the reasons I am so fascinated with it — that road or bridge seems like the most natural thing to be there. Even if we witness the construction process, after the first few days we don’t even pay attention to how different the new traffic pattern is.

It takes less time than you think for the new to become old; for things to stop being noticed and to become part of the routine. Two sides to this coin:

> You can take advantage of the brain’s capacity to overwrite things. Think about what you want to rewrite in your life — a habit? a brand element? the way your office looks? It doesn’t take long to replace a concept in your head.

> But because the brain has a great capacity to overwrite things, you need to continually keep feeding in the messages that you want to stick or it will be replaced with something else new.

Originally published in modified form on October 23, 2012


leadership dot #3668: API

There is a small sticker on my computer keyboard that reads: API. It’s the abbreviation for Assume Positive Intent, put there as a reminder to me before I fire off a nastygram or an email that will have a tone I later wish to retract.

Many business leaders have touted API as some of the best advice they have been given, and I agree with them. Assume Positive Intent doesn’t mean being a pushover or accepting excuses — rather it means asking more questions and learning the full story before making assumptions — and responding based on those — vs acting on a presumed conclusion you may ultimately find to be false. For example, instead of a snipe in an email admonishing colleague for not sending you a report, you could API and respond instead by simply asking if it was shared — preserving your relationship when you learn it was posted in Teams, just not in an email where you were looking.

API gives you the ability to escalate later if circumstances warrant but it saves you from regrets and walking back what you said by acting initially from a less charitable perspective. Assume Positive Intent and allow for the option of grace before you go negative.

leadership dot #3664: external context

A recent article caught my attention:

“Thousands of people marched through [the streets] on Saturday in a protest over the soaring cost of living. Huge crowds flooded into [the city] for the rally to demand that the government do more to help the people faced with bills and other expenses that are rising more quickly than their wages. [The leader] has been criticized for being slow to respond to the cost-of-living crisis. Inflation has been surging…Prices were already rising before the war in Ukraine, as the global economic recovery from COVID-19 pandemic resulted in strong consumer demand.”

It sounds like something that could be written about any city in America with President Biden being blamed by many for the economic state of affairs. But the article above was written about Britain — the protests in the streets of London and criticism directed at Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Knowing that financial pain is not a localized phenomenon may not do anything to improve an individual’s situation directly, but it does illustrate that the problem is more complex than one person can address.

The article provides an external view and perspective — something that is valuable for leaders to do on any topic. By helping people in an organization understand where they stand vis a vis others like them, people can more appropriately calibrate their reactions and response. Knowing that they are not alone in confronting a problem often provides solace and lessens the distress (see dot #3629).

It’s easy for leaders — and, in turn, those in front-line or middle management positions — to be consumed by an internal focus. Wise leaders turn their attention outward and intentionally share an external context to help everyone have a more realistic view of where they stand.

Source: Thousands protest soaring costs in London by the Associated Press in the Telegraph Herald, June 19, 2022, p. 23A

leadership dot #3663: village

It’s easy to list the amenities of living in a larger town, but sometimes we forget about the opportunities that come from living in a village. Mineral Point, Wisconsin (population 2,400) capitalized on its smallness to provide special recognition for its high school graduates. Senior pictures were printed on banners that adorned the streetlights throughout Main Street, showcasing each student in a public moment of glory.

Mineral Point High School has a total enrollment of 200. I’m sure they have faced challenges due to their limited size, but it also allowed them to make this display possible.

No matter where you live or work, there are advantages and disadvantages relative to size. Capitalize on the pluses that align with your scale to balance out the inconveniences that also accompany it.

leadership dot #3656: expand

The traditional gift for Father’s Day usually means ties or tools but a Massachusetts company has something different in mind. This holiday, they are promoting “Bro-tox” — yes, Botox but for men. As with women, it helps alleviate wrinkles and frown marks and enhances the appearance of men who receive it.

“Bro-tox” is another example of how the lines between genders are blurring. There used to be a clear distinction between products only men used and products just for women, but now a product is purchased by anyone who needs its features.

If you have limited your audience because of previously-held beliefs that limited you to only male or female, it is time to rework your messaging plan. There are fathers out there who may love the gift of Botox instead of a drill. Expand your thinking to include them.

leadership dot #3644: intertwined

A high-speed chase ended with the perpetrator missing a curve and heading straight into someone’s house. Imagine being in bed and hearing that noise!

Because the vehicle tore through the brick into the house itself, the electricity and water had to be disconnected, and now the owner is displaced. It won’t be easy, inexpensive, or soon that the repairs are made, making this a long-term hardship for the tenant — the one who was not a criminal or involved at all in the chase.

Too often, we are forced to live with the consequences of another person’s actions. We consider the impact of our behaviors or decisions as they affect us or our organization but fail to take others or the community into account. We see it with societal issues such as mask-wearing and gun safety, but it happens on the personal level as well. We use chemicals that seep into our neighbor’s lawn and kill their grass. We allow our dogs to bark at 6 a.m. on a weekend, waking everyone within earshot. We cut people off in traffic or invade another’s privacy with a post on social media.

We’re all more intertwined than we consciously consider. Bring value to those connections by cultivating sensitivity to how your actions intersect with others.

leadership dot #3624: dissonance

When I was touring Smith College, my friend pointed out the interesting juxtaposition of some of their buildings. The practice of the college is to build new additions with the current style rather than trying to replicate the historical nature of the structure they are replacing. As a result, there are modern buildings next to ornate brick architecture. Sometimes, the two styles are even seen in the same building as is the case here:

At least there is a neutral transition in between — which is not always the case. I was in an art museum enjoying a wonderful display of Rock ‘n Roll photographs. These were displayed on deep purple walls — but right around the corner was a display of 17th Century Flemish oil paintings hung on a pastel background. There was no runway in between and no transition — you moved from a black and white shot of Keith Richards to a heavy oil painting by William van de Velde the Younger!

Our brain likes patterns. Whether you are designing buildings, hanging a gallery, or even giving a routine presentation when you choose to mix things up, allow some processing space in between. People need a moment to reconcile the dissonance that contrast creates.