In preparation for my sister’s visit, I scrubbed and sanitized my floors Cinderella-style, down on all fours with the bucket and sponge. I usually use a Swiffer which appeared to satisfactorily do the job but when I saw the floors from a new perspective, I could tell that I had just been hitting the surface instead of achieving a deep-clean.
I wonder what the equivalent is in your organization that could use more intensive scrutiny. Maybe a cursory update of your policies suffices in the short-term, but an in-depth review may be warranted. Perhaps your website remains adequate while only receiving sporadic attention but may be due for an overhaul to actually become an asset. Or maybe you only skim the surface with your employee engagement efforts instead of anchoring your strategy with a deep and meaningful plan.
It’s tempting to take the easy road and achieve some improvement with minimal effort, but for your work to truly shine you occasionally need to use the elbow grease.
As I stood on the river’s edge listening to the waves lap up on the shore, I found myself getting hypnotized by the rhythmic motion. My friend recalled his days on Navy ships where sailors would get lulled into what they called the “Sound of the Siren” when waves in the ocean put seamen in a trance, often to their detriment as they fell asleep and went overboard.
On land, professional drivers take steps to avert “white line fever” where the operator becomes so fixated on the road ahead that they become hypnotized by the line instead of alert to what is in front of them. The same phenomenon occurs during blizzards where the focus shifts to the swirling snow instead of the road.
What metaphorical waves are lulling you into complacency? Is your attention diverted by the rhythm of the rut that is all around you instead of being focused on the true issue at hand?
It’s very easy to become seduced by the sound of the siren – whether you’re on a ship or in the office. Take care to stay alert enough to avoid being mesmerized by the routine.
If you’ve ever wondered why new hires or young whippersnappers approach the world as if they know everything, it could be because of the Dunning-Kruger effect. This theory plots confidence vs. experience and knowledge and the resulting graph resembles a roller coaster.
In the beginning, people are low on experience but very high on confidence (they don’t know enough to be otherwise) but soon they peak and plummet, losing confidence as they gain knowledge and realize that there is more depth than they first understood. Despair follows, when confidence is at its lowest, but rather than hitting bottom, the curve returns upward as confidence returns as knowledge increases. Ultimately, there is a measure of both confidence and experience that results in an expert knowing the complexity of a subject, but being secure in her mastery of it.
Those who are unaware of Dunning-Kruger enter a new arena with a false sense of bravado. Novice political candidates are often in this realm where they boast about making sweeping changes without understanding the difficulty and complexity of actually governing. Incumbents, on the other hand, may hedge their answers in realism as their confidence wanes based on the challenges they have experienced in their earlier terms or their understanding of the depth of the issues. It’s the difference between being a good candidate and a strong public servant – they aren’t the same.
If we are to elevate new voices, it pays for everyone to be cognizant of the Dunning-Kruger effect. Those who come into interviews or volunteer for projects may project high confidence, but it could merely be a reflection of their oblivion to the true complexity of the task. You may do better to bet on someone further along on the curve who acknowledges there are things they don’t know and isn’t blinded by their own cognitive bias about their skills.
A record number of women are leading Fortune 500 companies thanks to the recent appointment of Linda Rendle as Clorox’s CEO. What is the record? A paltry 38. It’s less than 8% of all the chief officers, all of them white. Overall, women are less than 20% of the C-suite officers in the 500 companies, even though women comprise nearly half of the workforce.
The female gap in government was really brought home to me during the Hillary series. Before a record-breaking 1991 election that resulted in a whopping total of four female Senators, there had never been more than two at a time. In the 244 years of our democracy, only 57 women have served in the role – with 26 of them serving now, and 11 being elected since 2017.
Even more astonishing to me, women did not have a restroom off the Senate floor until 1993, literally 200 years after the Capitol was constructed. Female House representatives had it even worse, with no facilities off the House floor until 2011, causing them to be out of range for announcements about upcoming votes.
We’ve got to do better. Take a hard look at your organization and your community and find a way to elevate some new voices. Tap someone on the shoulder to encourage them. Create programs to advance emerging leaders from multiple constituencies. Survey your building and ensure it meets the needs of different groups (e.g. lactation room, prayer space, etc.)
There are many talented, kindhearted and dedicated men out there, but they are not the only ones who can lead. Representation – and restrooms – matter.
The Hulu mini-series Hillary takes a fascinating look at the woman they term as “one of the most admired and most vilified” women in the United States. It shows huge crowds cheering for “H.R.C.” and also large gatherings chanting “Lock Her Up.” Just to understand the reasons behind the polarization made for very stimulating television.
What stuck with me the most is a comment made by Cheryl Mills, one of Hillary’s advisors. “We are never ready for the person who has to blaze the trail,” she said. “We’re ready for the person who comes after them because they don’t have to shrink to fit – there’s plenty of room now for them to walk in all their glory.”
Take a moment to think of those who forged a path that you eventually followed, probably without realizing the effort and sacrifice that went into those who went before you with the metaphorical machete. Perhaps it was the previous person in your position who fought the political battles to lay down the infrastructure that now allows you to succeed after they were fired for causing “trouble.” Maybe it was an older sibling who set the example by figuring out how to be the first to go to college. It could have been the woman before you who called out harassment and led the fight to change your workplace for future women although she was shunned herself. Or maybe you benefit from the citizen who showed up and spoke up to change a policy, even after many failed attempts.
If you have the opportunity to appreciate someone who blazed a trail, do so, even if it’s well after the fact. Being a change leader is downright hard and the hurt it causes stays in your bones for years. It’s never too late to say thank you to those who went first.
Wells Fargo was fined $185 million because of employees opening up millions of fake accounts to meet their numbers. Citigroup lost a $158 million lawsuit by the Department of Justice due to fraudulent loan practices. GlaxoSmithKline needed to pay $3 billion for misleading safety information on their drugs.
All of these sound like massive sums – until you put them in context.
In the Infinite Game, Simon Sinek reports that Wells Fargo’s fine was less than one percent of their total profit of $22 billion the year they were fined and only 0.2 percent of their total revenues of nearly $95 billion. It’s the equivalent of someone who makes $75,000 in annual salary being fined $150.*
Citigroup’s judgment was 1.4 percent of their net income of $11.2 billion, and consider GSK’s $3 billion fine against the $25 billion in sales for those prescriptions.
I thought of this when our local grocery chain hung a big banner proclaiming that they were donating “1 million dollars and hours” to support racial equality and unity. I wondered if it was a significant step in response to the negative PR the chain received for boarding up all of their stores after George Floyd’s death – even though the closest violent protest was over an hour away. But $1 million seems modest in comparison to last year’s $10.6 billion in revenue.
Put the numbers you see in perspective – especially big numbers that are hard to grasp. Millions and billions aren’t always that significant in the overall.
One of my favorite visuals to illustrate change is a piece of folded flip chart paper, folded in half six times until it is about the size of an index card. Then, when talking about how the change process works, you can unfold it, one fold at a time, until you get to the final reveal upon which you have written the word “WOW!”
Too many people have the misconception that change occurs only like the last time you unfold – from nothing to WOW — but in reality, it is the work done in those initial five steps that set it up to make an amazing result possible. Without this understanding, people are tempted to quit too early in the process, feeling that they have worked through four steps and have nothing to show for it. Even though what you have in the beginning does not resemble the final output, through the process of making incremental changes a transformation can occur.
Use this simple technique to remind your staff (and yourself) that change rarely happens all at once. You can use the language of “another step of unfolding” as a way to keep things in perspective and keep people motivated to press forward in order to achieve “wow” results.
I’m coaching a client to complete their dissertation and one of the key components of the work is getting the logic flow solid enough to pass his advisor’s muster. He started with a broad statement of purpose and has moved into more granular detail, ultimately resulting in the specific research question for his research. His advisor calls this the “martini glass” – where you begin with a broad perspective and ultimately narrow to a targeted argument.
We’ve spent so much time on this one component that I am ready to use a real martini glass myself, but she is right that if he can get the elements and flow right in the beginning, everything that follows will be easier.
Too often, we fail to make the time to think through a solid logic flow before we just jump right in and start doing. Before you begin your next big project, draw yourself a martini glass. Put your purpose at the top, your supporting points to follow and your specific course of action just above the stem.
For example, the martini glass for the dots could be:
The ability to see things from a new perspective is a skill worth cultivating. Stories and examples are actionable ways to learn new concepts. I have honed the ability to connect the dots and explain their meaning in memorable ways. A blog is an effective format that allows me to share my thinking. I’ll write daily leadership dots to help others learn to see with new eyes.
Writing out this flow helps me remain focused on the goal of the dots – that it is not any of the specific lessons, rather to provide examples that teach people how to see things differently and make connections on their own.
Try it for yourself. Sketch out your own martini glass as an up-front method of keeping your purpose and process in focus. Just the act of doing so will enhance your thinking.
Before Einstein became a world-renowned scientist, he held a job as a patent officer where he reviewed applications for new inventions all day. The patent office was located by a train station with a giant clock tower and the combination of his work and the surroundings synthesized to give him an environment from which to launch his famous “thought experiments” that formed the basis for his revolutionary work.
Instead of being immersed in beakers in a lab as we often think of when science comes to mind, Einstein produced most of his work through hypotheticals and mathematical calculations to prove his point. He would imagine: “Suppose lightning bolts strike the trains track’s embankment at two distant places, A and B. If we declare that they struck simultaneously, what does that mean?” From this curiosity, he arrived at the principle of relativity to say “there is no way to decree that the embankment is ‘at rest’ and the train is ‘in motion.’ We can only say that they are in motion relative to each other.”
There are many examples of how Einstein thought through his theories through synchronized clocks or trains, light or sound. He learned much from his time in the patent office about new ways to think of ideas and how theoretical concepts were being applied in real-life situations.
Julia Child did not begin serious cooking until she found herself in France immersed in the rich cuisine. From there, she started lessons and later became acquainted with a duo of Parisians who enlisted her help with a cookbook. Like with Einstein, her surroundings shaped her thinking and, ultimately, her career path and legacy.
Be thoughtful about the environment in which find yourself. Routine aspects can fade into the background and go unnoticed. But trains and clocks, or in Julia’s case, beef bourguignon and crepes, may allow you to revolutionize your thinking if you pay attention.
I watched a presentation by Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to Be Antiracist. He fit the profile of dot 2960 of someone who is used to working behind the scenes and now is thrust into the spotlight. He spoke of how he used to spend all of his time in the archives and behind a computer, not behind a camera and microphone.
Kendi has become an in-demand speaker due to the topic and timing of his book, and he certainly has many ideas to offer on the subject. But something that also stuck with me was the comment he made about how while he was writing this piece, he was diagnosed with Stage 4 Colon Cancer, a diagnosis that only has a 12% survival rate. He said that he decided then that since he may not even live to see the book published, he may as well put it all out there. In the end, not only did he live, but his vulnerability gave power to the book and landed him a Number One spot on the New York Times Best Seller List.
As Tim McGraw’s lyrics remind us, “Live Like You Were Dying.” You don’t need a health scare to put your best self forward. Your words may not please everyone, but they could also change lives.