leadership dot #3892: loop

I was in the car for about five hours this week and I sipped on my favorite Diet Coke for the whole trip. While it kept me hydrated and entertained, it also kept me up into the wee hours of the night. And what’s the “cure” for feeling groggy after a fitful night of sleep — why caffeine, of course, so more Diet Coke it was. And so the cycle goes.

Think about the behaviors you have in your life that are self-defeating like this scenario is. One thing leads to another and causes an infinity loop that is difficult to break. You don’t have money so you borrow at high interest rates so you have less money. You fire some people because of attitude leaving you with vacant positions and even lower morale. You claim you don’t have time to onboard staff and outline their expectations so you spend more time dealing with discipline problems caused by your lack of clarity.

It’s easy to take the easy way out in the short term. Expand your time horizon before you act and consider if what seems good now will still quench your thirst later.

leadership dot #3889: autonomy

In the “Ask Amy” advice column this week, a nurse noted that when the pandemic started, people who were forced to work from home complained about how difficult it was, and now that employers want staff to return to the office, those same people are complaining about going back. As a health professional who never had the choice to work remotely, she was asking for advice on how to deal with the whining.

I don’t think the complaints are about being in the building or not. People were uncomfortable with the first change in part simply because it was a change, and now they are uncomfortable with returning because it too is a change. It’s so easy to get into a routine (aka: rut) and any attempt at disruption is met with resistance.

Working from home has also provided people with a higher degree of autonomy and flexibility than they have in an office or cubicle. Autonomy — freedom to choose when you do the work — is one of the key levers of employee satisfaction, and there is admittedly more of it at home sweet home.

Another key driver of engagement is understanding why. If the work itself or the policies that surround it have a purpose and make sense, people accept them more readily and without complaint.

Everyone understood why the offices closed in 2020. If employers are receiving pushback about a return, it would help if the employer would articulate why in-office is being reinstated and what advantages they expect to realize from the shift.

Employees want meaningful work and choices in how they go about accomplishing it. Whether from home, an office building, or some combination, employers benefit when they provide both.

leadership dot #3887: nowhere

Look at a map with Japan on the left and the United States on the right. There, in the middle of nowhere sits Hawaii. It is 4000 miles from Honolulu to Tokyo and 2500 miles to the US mainland — and miles and miles from any other civilization.

A display in the Hawaii State Art Museum pointed this out — and noted that rather than see themselves as isolated, Hawaiian leaders saw themselves as having a strategic advantage because of it. Hawaii was “in the middle” — located in between two superpowers that they knew would have increased commerce after World War II. Hawaiians sought to capitalize on their location as a key shipping port and grew in importance in the entire Pacific Rim region.

Every downside has an upside (and vice versa). Instead of regretting its lack of neighbors, Hawaii saw it as an opportunity. Is there a way for you to leverage your uniqueness instead of lamenting it? Maybe being “the only” is an advantage.

leadership dot #3884: sorting

I’m trying to re-read and sort through my past dots — and with almost 4000 of them, it’s no small task. At first, I spent too much time trying to create just two piles: book-worthy and not. I struggled with so many of the entries trying to decide in which stack to place them.

Then, I re-did my methods and created three piles: yes, no, and maybe. This has made the task so much easier! There are obvious “yesses” and obvious “no’s” and everything else goes in the middle bin, allowing me to easily move on to the next one.

It’s the 10-20-70 rule and I think this process can apply to other things in life that need sorting. Cleaning out the closet: yes automatically goes back in, no is off to the donation center, and maybes remain in a box to see if you really miss them. Purging files can follow the same pattern. Packing a suitcase. Deciding what to keep when moving or preparing for an estate sale.

Don’t waste your energy making decisions about fine gradations during every sort. Do the easy delineations first, and then haggle over the remaining 20%.

leadership dot #3882: the right way

One of my housemate’s responsibilities is to take out the trash. Every week when he does it, he puts the wastebasket in my office back in a different position and rotates the newspaper recycling bin sideways. I constantly found myself putting it back in the “right” position.

And then I stopped.

It was a reminder to me that if I can’t get comfortable with — or at least let go of — such a minor, inconsequential change, no wonder people that I consult with have such a hard time accepting the major changes they are often asked to implement.

Does it really matter if the newspapers are horizontal or vertical? If the toilet paper rolls over or under? If the towels are folded in halves or thirds? If the seat is up or down? No. No, it does not matter.

Pay attention to the small things in your life that you do a certain way, then force yourself to mix it up and make tiny adjustments to the way things are. Learning to embrace variations in all their forms will strengthen your change muscle in preparation for the truly heavy lifts.

leadership dot #3881: forefront

I interviewed a coaching client to enable me to craft a new resume for her. We went beyond the obvious list of positions to go deeper into her motivations, moments of pride, and how she went about her work. After our conversation, I provided her with a list of themes I heard and outlined what I saw as her strengths.

She was amazed at what I articulated — characteristics that were true, but she had not considered highlighting. From her perspective, they were embedded in her DNA so she never thought to call them out as qualities she possessed that others may not.

It happens all the time where you take something for granted that others see as a uniqueness. You get so close to something — yourself, your organization, your surroundings — that what is there becomes invisible. It takes someone else to put your reality in context against others and point out what is different.

The next time you’re working on something important, build in time to have another set of eyes look at it. Having a coach, a consultant, or even an opinion from a trusted confidante can illuminate what you can’t see and bring the obvious from the background to the forefront.


leadership dot #3876: just right

I had lunch with two friends who are both parents of high schoolers. While we were there, one received a text informing her of a few errands her daughter was doing after school. “I don’t need to know all this detail,” she said to us. “I wish she would just tell me that she’ll be home at 5 pm.”

The other mother retorted with the opposite view. “I wish I knew that kind of detail,” she said. “Sometimes my son leaves to pick up friends and I don’t know where he has gone or when he’ll be back.”

The difference in perspective was an illustration of what it’s like to work for different bosses. Some — including those who aren’t micromanagers — want to know the specifics that may impact their work or other obligations. Others prefer to know the end result and feel no need to be informed about the steps along the way.

Neither approach is better than the other but it’s helpful for you as an employee (and as a child!) to know what level of information your supervisor is comfortable having. There is no need to annoy with too much or too little information when a conversation about expectations can enlighten you for all your communication going forward.

leadership dot #3869: Sam

In Dr. Seuss’ memorable book, Sam adamantly professes his dislike of green eggs and ham — before he tries them — but once he does, he changes his tune.

Recently, I’ve encountered a few “Sams” who had the humility to admit that they have altered their opinion of suggestions that they had previously dismissed. One person was told that the key to her culture and employee morale issues was to first focus on workforce wellbeing. She couldn’t believe that was the path to take but trusted the consultant enough to try it, and now is a vocal convert who has invested in several additional interventions in this area.

A similar comment was made by another colleague regarding executive coaching. When he was on a board and the executive asked for coaching to be included in his contract, it seemed like a frivolous ask. Now my colleague has contracted for coaching for several members of his staff and wholeheartedly proclaims the benefits for his organization.

I’ve heard others shun surgeries — until they go through with it and can’t imagine why they lived so long with the pain. I fought getting my first Blackberry (how’s that for dating myself!) but within a week of having one I couldn’t imagine being without it. I was against remote presenting until I became comfortable with it (dot 3023). There certainly are many in the political arena who are against proposals before even reading the first page.

Even after all his protestations, Sam ultimately does try green eggs and ham. At least experience what you’re against before you claim not to like it.

Sam with ham statue at the Dr. Seuss Museum in Springfield, MA

leadership dot #3867: bandage

Everyone has heard how medical debt can be as debilitating as the disease and wreak havoc on a patient’s finances. While there have been many efforts to curb the cost of health care and to provide insurance coverage to more Americans, the problem persists. It is estimated that over $100 billion of medical debt is in the collections process.

An organization, RIP Medical Debt, has taken an unusual approach to help alleviate the burden for low-income patients — it utilizes donations to buy medical debt from hospitals and collection agencies for pennies on the dollar and then randomly relieves debt in bulk. Since its origin in 2014, it has relieved more than $8.5 billion for patients. CEO Allison Sesso noted that many of the debts are between $500-$5,000 — incurred by insured clients who cannot cover the deductibles. Not only does she reduce the patient’s financial burden, but the organization also reduces the stress that comes with being in collections or having unpaid obligations.

This strategy isn’t going to fix the problem or address the source of anything that causes it, but for the people RIP Medical Debt helps, it can be lifesaving. Is there a new point on the spectrum of a vexing issue that you can focus on? While you’re working on the root cause maybe there is an innovative way to temporarily provide some relief for those impacted by what you’re trying to solve.

Source: Buying Medical Debt to Forgive it, Interviewed by Tom Murphy, February 12, 2023

leadership dot #3862: something’s fishy

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, so for many Catholics and others who follow the practice, it means eating fish today and on Fridays. As a result, the fish fry has become a popular Lenten fundraiser for many organizations.

Our local entertainment guide published a list of the events and restaurants that serve fish and it seems that everywhere offers cod on the menu during this time of year. In a town of 60,000, an incredible 108 entries were included, many offering all-you-can-eat buffets and special fish offerings just for the season.

But the practice actually calls for Catholics to “abstain from eating meat” which is different than eating fish. It provides many more options for people: salads, eggs or omelets, vegetables, plant-based products, rice, beans, vegetable lasagna, chickpeas, tofu, etc. But nowhere do we see salad fundraisers, pancake dinners, or seafood pasta fundraisers. It’s all fish.

If you are attempting to capitalize on a practice, take a broad view of the opportunities it presents for you. You may be successful in offering fish fry #109 or you may be better off providing an alternative menu that helps you to stand out apart from the crowd.