leadership dot #2617: runway

Planes may use runways in the literal sense but I have come to embrace the concept for many other aspects in life. A runway is a way of initially moving toward your destination – being in motion when you’re not quite ready or able to fly. By intentionally incorporating a runway phase to a project or idea, you can accelerate progress in the early stages.

Some examples:

  • The dreaded icebreakers at a workshop can be reframed as “runways” – allowing participants to get focused and mentally prepared to dive into the main content
  • An internship can provide a runway for a new hire or career
  • Short-term financial and housing assistance provided to a new graduate can serve as a runway to launch them until they are established
  • A side hustle can serve as a runway to test out a full-fledged entrepreneurial venture
  • A pilot or beta-testing acts as a runway to a product launch
  • Dog-sitting can be a runway to personal ownership of an animal
  • Writing a blog could serve as a runway to authoring a book

Planes do not go from the gate directly into the air – they travel from stopped to airborne via the runway. The bigger the plane (aka: idea), the longer the runway that is required, but no plane takes flight without the initial path of acceleration. Your ideas can benefit from a similarly planned ramp-up of energy.


leadership dot #2603: food chain

While yesterday’s dot considered many of the steps that occur in the food chain as they relate to safety, A. J. Jacobs thought about all the people it took to make his cup of coffee possible and approached the topic from a perspective of gratitude. Jacobs set out to thank all those who contributed to his morning cup of java and ended up thanking over 1000 people from all around the world.

If you think about who is involved in providing AJ’s coffee you may list a barista, trucker or farmer – but his list included those who made the asphalt for the road the trucks drove on, the person who provides pest control for the bean storage warehouse and the architect who built it, the person who invented the coffee cup lid and those who made the bean-harvesting machine in Brazil.

Jacobs notes that when something is done well, the process behind it is largely invisible. We don’t spend much time thinking about those who make our food or infrastructure or way of life possible, but focusing intentionally on doing so allows us to savor the experience more fully. As Jacob says, take time to “smell the roses. And the dirt. And the fertilizer.”

Thanks, Brian!

 See AJ Jacobs’ TED Talk here


leadership dot #2602: untainted

While I was in the checkout line, I noticed someone had decided against purchasing a cup of yogurt and left it there. It got me thinking about food safety and all the steps that had to occur correctly for that yogurt initially to be untainted, and now, again for it to remain so.

I know when I buy my yogurt, I don’t give it a second thought. I count on it to be safe, which means that I implicitly trust the minimum wage worker to know enough not to restock the abandoned yogurt from the checkout line, the retailer to promptly stock and maintain refrigeration, trucker to ensure the delivery was made at a controlled temperature, the packing facility to follow cleanliness and purity protocols, and the farmer to feed the cows grass and water free from toxins.

I think of all the painstaking steps that work to keep our food supply safe – from the growing, processing, transporting and selling – and yet we often come close to subverting that whole system by our own food-safety shortcuts. We cook meat without thermometers, leave the potato salad on the buffet line too long and keep unrefrigerated yogurt in the hot car as we continue our round of errands.

Food safety is often determined in final moments before consumption – just as in organizations where the consumer’s experience with you is often determined in the last moment – negating all the preparations and precautions that preceded it. Nonetheless, remain diligent in providing that background of care and honor your role within the system – both as a producer and as a consumer.

leadership dot #2601: tough love

I teach an accelerated version of an MBA class and in my last section students were lamenting at how challenged they were to complete the final paper on time. When I asked for feedback for the class, they suggested that I require an interim assignment where students had to provide their reference list in advance. (Presumably, this will provide an incentive for them to start working on their papers earlier in the course!)

They were quite vocal in their requests and even provided a well-thought-out rationale in writing after the class had ended — but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. It felt too much like coddling. If I try to teach anything in my courses it is relevant life lessons and requiring self-driven forethought and responsibility seemed to be good skills to reinforce (or learn?).

I worry that the bar for personal responsibility keeps getting pushed further and further into adulthood. It used to be that you had to take greater ownership for your actions as you grew as a child. Then it was when you entered high school. Then college was the mark of independence, only now life coaches are there to provide assistance in navigating that system. Are people now on their own when they begin their first job or are onboarding buddies and mentors extending that phase of independence as well?

The conversation in class made me wonder where and how we teach self-accountability today. Our public library has stopped collecting fines – a seemingly unrelated action – but I think learning from a litany of small actions that have consequences is what teaches people to assume responsibility for their outcomes. If being late in returning a book doesn’t matter as a kid, how do people learn to set their own benchmarks and make sacrifices to achieve other goals?

Schools, sports and extracurricular activities have resulted in very structured lives for our youth and I see them challenged in transitioning to a phase where they take responsibility for creating their own schedules and deadlines. The tough love on my syllabus may be the most valuable thing they learn in class.

leadership dot #2576: undeveloped

We’ve all been asked to contribute to a development campaign to build this or that but a volunteer organization in Michigan has adopted a different approach. Chikaming Township is raising funds for an UNdevelopment campaign – to buy an undeveloped portion of Lake Michigan’s shoreline precisely to leave it in its natural state.

With the beach within an hour or two from Chicago’s population, lakefront property is in high demand. With the purchases come fences, removal of the tree line and some of nature’s finest offerings restricted to just a few. The Cherry Beach Project needs $4 million to buy just 400 feet of beachfront but they are working diligently to raise private funds and matching grants. I hope they succeed!

Not all of your appeals need to be to build or to buy or to add. Sometimes the most important work you can do is to ensure that well enough is left alone.

leadership dot #2569: inside

I can’t tell you the number of times that I have gone to the wrong car in the parking lot by mistake, thinking that it was mine when it wasn’t. I am always bemused when the car that I mistake as mine is a much less expensive model, causing me to question why I paid a premium price if it looks the same as others. But then I remember (rationalize?) that the interior, the ride and the longevity are worth it to me.

I think about this as it relates to people. Often people are judged by their outside appearance but it is really what is on the inside that creates the true value. We have no idea what is going on “under the hood” and we should refrain from making comparisons or evaluating worth based on only a fraction of the whole picture. What you see on the outside is not an indication of true value.

leadership dot #2562: indigo

Blue jeans are, well, blue in my mind but I recently learned that there is a lot more color that goes into making a pair of indigo denim.

Denim is made through a diagonal weaving process that utilizes three strands of blue thread on top of one strand of white thread. This method creates a whiter underside of the material but is also responsible for the signature fading quality of denim.

And the synthetic dye that is used to transform the cotton into that indigo blue: it is bright yellow until it encounters oxygen.

So, without the yellow dye and white threads, denim wouldn’t be blue.

I think jeans can be a metaphor for the power of diversity. We sometimes only see blue but it comes from the amalgamation of two other hues. None would be in existence without the other. Take some time to look more deeply, not just at your jeans, but at your organization and community. How can you learn to appreciate the contributions that all the colors are making?