leadership dot #2853: infrastructure

There have been many comparisons of the COVID pandemic to the Spanish Flu of 1918 and certainly, our ability to function during these times is much greater than it was then. But take a moment to also consider the technological and infrastructure improvements that have occurred as recently as the past decade.

If we had been asked to shelter-in-place even a few years ago, it would have exacted a much greater toll than it is now. Think of all the underlying systems that were in place before COVID that have enhanced our ability to carry on while still sheltering in place:

  • Many homes already had computers with cameras, internet access, cloud drives for documents, scanners, etc. that provided the infrastructure to allow working from home to be possible
  • Amazon had the inventory and ability to deliver almost anything to your door
  • UPS and FedEx have warehouses, staff, planes and trucks to make those deliveries possible
  • Grubhub, DoorDash and many other systems were already in place to deliver from restaurants and many groceries already offered delivery services
  • Zoom and services like Facebook Live made working, schooling or attending church services from home accessible to anyone with a computer and internet
  • Online learning systems like Moodle or Canvas were already in place even for those in face-to-face instruction, long before they became the base for remote college courses
  • Many stores had already developed systems to allow for online ordering and drive-thru pickup
  • Libraries had contracts to allow online access to books, movies and magazines
  • Streaming allowed almost limitless access to enough entertainment to last through the pandemic
  • Much of banking was already conducted online and through mobile deposits
  • Telemedicine systems were already developed and available
  • Uber and Lyft could provide transportation when public transportation was reduced
  • And, of course, the power grid and bandwidth expansions that allow all our technology to run

Infrastructure isn’t sexy but it is the backbone of our ability to create and function effectively. From roads and bridges to the internet and cloud, tending to the underlying systems that make our work possible needs to remain a priority rather than an afterthought.

What other systems are you using today that have become an invisible part of your life’s fabric? Never take any of them for granted.

leadership dot #2803: a hell of a job

President Warren Harding is quoted as saying about the presidency: “My God, this is a hell of a job.” It’s impossible to know the true scope of any position before you take it, but I can’t even imagine the surprises that a U.S. president finds after the inauguration.

The sheer breadth of responsibility is daunting, even before you learn the nuances or have to face the issues with serious time pressures. One current candidate’s website lists where they stand on the following topics: affordable housing, climate change, consumer protection, criminal justice reform, disability, election security, Electoral College, equitable public education, extremism, foreign policy, gender equity, gerrymandering, gun laws, health care, higher education, immigration, inclusive economy, Indian country, infrastructure, judicial system, LGBTQ rights, minimum wage, national service, organized labor, political representation, racial justice, reproductive rights, rural economy, special interests, veterans and voting rights. Who would want the job?!

Shortly after President Warren Harding took office, he said: “I am just beginning to realize what a job I have taken over. God help me, for I need it.” As we celebrate this President’s Day, let us wish blessings on all those who have and will hold the position and give them the strength to rely on others to guide them in understanding the issues they face. The same holds true for you.

leadership dot #2782: homework

The Iowa caucuses are a week from today – and by all accounts, the field is still wide open. Candidates continue to come into town; they are spending millions on ads; every day I come home to a different door knocker that a canvasser has left for me, and the mail brings little besides glossy brochures. It’s hard to sort through the propaganda and get to the issues, but the Washington Post has devised an easy way to help you narrow your choices.

The Post has developed an assessment of 20 questions about where you stand on key issues. The form will show you all the (Democrat) candidates who agree with your position and at the end tally your totals. I was surprised by some of my alignment, and it reaffirmed my top/bottom choices, but overall, I was glad that I seemed to have chosen “my” candidate based on substance instead of glitz.

It’s important to spend a few minutes to clarify where you stand on the issues and to learn which one of the candidates merits your vote in the upcoming caucus/primary. Homework isn’t just for those in school.

(Take the assessment here.)

leadership dot #2781: journey

When I was in Minneapolis, I checked ahead on my app to see how long it would take to get to a restaurant where I was meeting a friend for dinner. The answer: 20 minutes. Only when I went to leave for this engagement it was closer to the 5pm rush hour and the same app now said 38 minutes to travel the same distance. Yikes!

In my small town, it takes the same amount of time to go a mile no matter what time of day you are traveling. I never think about the time I am leaving or factor in traffic. “How long it takes” is a finite response, not variable. But in a big city, if I ask you “how long”, both 20 minutes and 40 minutes would be correct.

I think this simple example can serve as a model to help you express empathy. Instead of jumping in with an answer or thinking that you know what is correct, pause for a moment and consider the other person’s perspective. Are they leaving at Noon or 5pm? From a big city or a small town?

Everyone’s journey – whether literally or metaphorically – is influenced by their personal context.


leadership dot #2780: print this

Many emails come with a notice in the signature that includes “Don’t print this email.” or “Please consider the environment before printing this email.”

Thus, it was a surprise when I read the email from my printer who takes the opposite view:

Notice!  It’s OK to print this email.  Paper is a biodegradable, renewable, sustainable product made from trees.  Growing and harvesting trees provide jobs for millions of Americans.  Working forests are good for the environment and provide clean air & water, wildlife habitat, and carbon storage.  Thanks to improved forest management, we have more trees in America today than we had 100 years ago.

 It’s a perspective that you don’t hear very often but one that caused me to pause.

Your point of view is shaped by the information that you have and how it intersects with you personally, so for a printer, printing is good, even if it is an email. The signature is very on-brand, even if it is environmentally controversial.

To print or not to print — Don’t overlook the role that your emails play in conveying your values and message.

leadership dot #2774: wonderland

I am struck by how different the attitude toward winter is between people. I can barely tolerate the season whereas others seem to embrace it. I was recently in Minnesota and saw several people who have dedicated their entire front lawn to create a temporary ice rink. My niece’s entire 6th grade class went on a 4-day overnight outdoor environmental education trip this week. Festivals carry on as if winter were just another season instead of a reason to cancel everything and stay indoors.

I live in the Midwest and while I know that I will have to deal with cold and snow, I spend a lot of energy dreading the end of autumn and hoping for the start of spring. How much better would it be if I had something to look forward to in the winter months.

While I have no plans to construct an ice rink, in the spirit of gratitude, I have made a mental list of things I appreciate about this season. My list includes items like pomegranates, being able to snuggle up in a huge pile of blankets, laughing at my crazy dog as she roots through the snow with her nose digging for balls and cranberry English muffins.

Tonight as you’re transitioning to sleep, consider the things that make this season wonderful for you. Changing your perspective may help you have a warm heart, even if the thermometer says otherwise.

leadership dot #2731: sleepout

While you crawl into your cozy bed tonight, over 50,000 people around the world are voluntarily foregoing that option and instead sleeping outside. The Big Sleepout is an effort to raise awareness of homelessness and global displacement by hosting events in 60 cities throughout the world. In the United States, people will be sleeping in Times Square and the Rose Bowl. The aim is to raise $50 million as well as to increase awareness of homelessness and advocate for compassionate policies and solutions.

Kudos to the organizers for choosing a night in December for this event. The forecast calls for 27 degrees in NYC – a far cry from a pleasant night of “camping”. I am sure the event will make a lasting impression on those who participate, and hopefully make them passionate advocates for the issue after they return to their own warm covers.

It’s one thing to talk about your cause and seek support but another to help people personally experience the discomfort even for a brief while. Think about how you can make your cause tangible and real to those whose favor you curry – even if it means making people suffer to get the point.