leadership dot #3388: looking back

When you’re involved in any type of change effort it’s natural to focus on the future. But we often get so caught up in what we want to have happen or what we’re trying to make happen that we forget to take that moment and reflect on the change process itself. More specifically, we fail to look back and capture the decisions that we wrestled with, the inflection points that shaped what came after them, the struggles and steps just to get started, or the first glimmers of success.

By the time a project is over, all those memories are overshadowed by the present and we lose the opportunity to learn from them. In contrast, if we document some of the earliest stages of a change effort we can use the learning as a reminder the next time we’re fresh out of the gate and feel like we’re not making any progress at all. We can see that it took us a few months to align our human infrastructure and figure out a game plan. We can be reminded that some of those earliest choices are the most important ones as they shape everything else. We can reflect on where we need to move more quickly and where going slower is ultimately more prudent.

The next time you embark on a new initiative, set some reminders to pause and take stock of what you’ve been up to. Looking back at the early, small steps can be invaluable knowledge in the future.

leadership dot #3387: who luck

When most people think about being lucky, what comes to mind is an event or situation that proves to be beneficial. But in his book BE 2.0, master teacher Jim Collins describes another phenomenon that can have a greater impact on your outcomes — that of “who luck.” Collins describes this as finding that key person in your life whether it be a mentor, partner, colleague, boss, or friend — someone who alters your life by crossing your path.

Collins believes that his life is shaped more by the “whos” than the “whats” that brought him good fortune, and if you reflect on your own circumstances the same is probably true. The right people can bring us success at our joint pursuits, open up opportunities, or simply make our lives fun.

Think about the people who have been “who luck” for you. I know my former boss/now friend is on the top of the list, and as a result of his greatness, I have a host of colleagues who joined in working for him and creating most of my professional highlights. Earlier bosses served as mentors and changed the trajectory of my career. I also had “who luck” to land with the best bunch of siblings.

Take a moment to reflect on — and appreciate — those with whom you have been lucky to cross paths, and attempt to be the one who provides “who luck” to others who cross yours. It is the people that make the magic, not the events.

Source: BE 2.0 Turning your business into an enduring great company by Jim Collins and Bill Lazier, 2020

Keith Lovin — the best of the best. Everyone who ever met him had “Who Luck”

leadership dot #3379: belonging

In addition to sparking my curiosity about minimalism, the movie Nomadland shed a light on the modern-day transience of a group of people — and reinforced the importance of belonging. You may think that those who live in a van or RV roam aimlessly and alone, but the movie portrayed much more intentionality and structure to their movement and highlighted the communities they create along the way.

Many of today’s nomads go from seasonal-job to seasonal-job, working in such places as warehouses during the holidays and in hospitality during the summer tourist season. They have a routine where they return to the same locations — thus know others and have friends. Nomads often rotate between designated RV parks, again where they build community and rekindle relationships, creating a neighborhood complete with entertainment (e.g. outdoor movies or campfires) and camaraderie. While they do not have houses the modern-day nomads depicted in the film certainly have homes.

I thought about this lifestyle as many organizations wrestle with the question of remote work. It may seem that the employee is requesting to detach from the culture that is built in person but there may be a way to create routines and protocols that create community even from a fluctuating base.

The need to belong is powerful. Capitalize on that desire to create opportunities for those with less anchoring to still feel the connection to the whole.

leadership dot #3378: minimize

I watched the movie Nomadland about a character that is “houseless, not homeless” and instead lives out of a van. It got me thinking about which of my possessions I would keep if I had to reduce them to the bare minimum. When you factor in the items necessary for maintenance, cooking, and hygiene, there is not much space left for sentimentality. (For example, Frances McDormand’s character keeps one picture (total), and one plate from the full collection her father left her, etc.)

The movie prompted me to pay attention to what I actually use in my home, and I have observed that a large portion of my things is only for occasional use. When I did the same exercise about what I pack into a suitcase for a weekend trip, I realized that there are many items I take “just in case” I need them (e.g. a Bandaid, swimsuit, or extra phone battery).

It occurred to me that there is a link between possessions and risk tolerance. If I’m willing to take the chance that I’ll need to improvise, run out, or substitute I can get by with a lot less. If I am afraid of going without or being unprepared, then I accumulate a bunch more. This is true whether I’m shopping, presenting, or going on vacation.

Become your own observer and see what your insights tell you. Can you expand your risk tolerance for the bigger issues by starting with some small risks around your possessions? How much of the “in case” preparations do you actually use? How have you responded when thrown a curve ball? The time and energy you devote to contingencies may be better spent pursuing opportunities.

leadership dot #3375: revisit

The tagline for Patriot Day is We Will Never Forget, and if you are of a certain age, you remember exactly where you were when the Trade Towers were attacked. But 70 million Americans have no firsthand experience to remember. It’s hard for me to believe that 9-11 was 20 years ago or that students in college were born after it happened.

Today is an important reminder that we need to revisit the seminal events in our personal, organizational or national history. People from more recent generations (or employment status or family ties) need to hear the stories from those who can tell them. We need to bring to the forefront the memory of the experiences that shape us, and 9-11 certainly is one of those.

The United States has designated September 11 as Patriot Day as a reminder to pause and remember that tragic day. In between all your usual business, take a moment not only to reflect but to share your memories with someone who doesn’t have their own. The history books can’t help others feel the emotions, but you can.

leadership dot #3363: dirty work

What a week. Between Covid, Afghanistan, and now Hurricane Ida I think of all the people who are risking their lives to provide us with health, protection, or even news. The armed forces, health care professionals, weather reporters, FEMA staff, or front-line rescuers — we expect them to be there when we walk into a hospital, dial 911, or tune into emergency reports, without always considering their sacrifices to do so. Moments after Ida made landfall I was seeing pictures, but someone had to be in close proximity to the 150 mph winds to take and share them. In order for Louisiana staff to be at the hospital to serve patients, they had to allow their families to ride out the storm without them.

Even ordinary circumstances require people to work in risky or undesirable positions. In his book Dirty Work, author Eyal Press highlights prison employees, laborers in chicken slaughterhouses and processing plants, and drone warriors who all fall into the “dirty work” category. For the most part, we never think about any of these positions or what could be done to make the conditions more tolerable for those who hold them, yet we expect people to work in those roles.

As you start the week, take a moment to reflect on the many layers of people you unknowingly rely on to keep your community functioning in the way to which you have become accustomed. Someone is keeping the power on, the cows milked, the grocery stores stocked and the schools open. People are walking into dangerous situations to keep terrorists at bay, fires under control, and jails locked down.

If you think it is difficult to find employees for a retail operation or in the hospitality industry, consider what it takes to recruit and retain quality staff in the undesirable roles — yet we all need people to be there. Raise your awareness, appreciation, and advocacy to create safe and sane working conditions for all.

leadership dot #3343: tags

I spent about two hours searching for the tags that fell off my dog’s collar. We retraced all the places she had been in the past day, tore apart the beds, couch and crate, and posted on the neighborhood Facebook page for others to be on the lookout.

As I considered why I was distraught about this, I realized it was because her tags are truly the only thing that is exclusively hers. The next dog will take up residence in “her” crate, play with the same toys, and even repurpose her collar. But the tags — they are Iris’. So we looked, and re-looked, and scoured the yard — before I remembered that had she escaped from the fence for about a minute when the neighbor’s dog came over — and sure enough, the tags were on the neighbor’s hill where she rolled while reveling in her freedom. Relief!

The episode was a reminder to me to be clear about the “why” behind your actions. I was not searching for functional reasons — I could easily have the ID replaced and she certainly doesn’t need the collection of rabies tags that are too worn down to even be legible. The hunt wasn’t about financial reasons either as it would only require a modest sum to get a new tag. No, I looked purely for sentimental purposes; to have “her something” when she’s gone. It explains why it consumed me for the better part of the morning and why I wouldn’t stop looking even when all logical places were thoroughly exhausted.

Understanding the motivation behind actions — yours or others — can go a long way in making sense out of the behaviors that result. Tag those emotions, and then act accordingly.

leadership dot #3283: obscure

When my sister heard of the Tomorrowland reference I used (dot 3282), she laughed at how I incorporated “another obscure reference from years ago” into my writing, teaching, or training. But the analogy made my point perfectly and gave the audience a visual picture of what is possible vs. what is, making it relevant in 2021 even though it was from a 2015 movie.

I think it’s my superpower to create analogies and make complex concepts understandable as my own superpower, and often this involves linking concepts from years ago. It comes so naturally to me that it doesn’t feel like a special strength, but after hearing many comments about my dot-connection-abilities, I have come to realize that it is.

Icebreakers often ask people to list what they wish their superpower could be and participants rattle off impossible feats like being invisible, knowing the future, or having the ability to time travel. I find it much more helpful to ask what people think their superpower is. It requires self-understanding and reflection to ascertain what is so ingrained in your DNA that you barely notice it but provides your unique niche and competitive edge.

Superpowers don’t need to be splashy or prominent, in fact, to be really super they probably are these obscure traits that few others have. Use some of the summer slowness to reflect on what quirky ability makes you be you — and then unabashedly share your gift with the world (even if your sister razzes you about it!)

leadership dot #3273: spread

I know of two leaders who worked for several years to instill a culture and implement amazing programs in their organization, only to be forced out by a board that feared change. After the leaders left, several members of the organization voluntarily departed as well.

The good part is that they all took their knowledge and conviction with them and are now spreading it throughout other organizations in the field. Some could even argue that they are having a wider impact than before. The values and principles that served as the foundation for the initial change efforts are being instilled in their new positions, fostering a wider network of support and bringing many others into the fold. They call themselves dandelions, spreading the message of change far more broadly than if they had stayed at the one organization.

Today is the conclusion of Year 9 of leadership dots. I like to think that the dots are like dandelions too, spreading seeds to readers as they spur you to see connections and dots in your own world because of what you have read. Hopefully, you’ve learned some things that have helped you work easier or think harder.

Please do your colleagues, friends, or family a favor and act like a dandelion today. Spread the dots to someone who could benefit from joining along as we begin Year 10 of the journey. Subscribe via email or via follow via Facebook or LinkedIn. Thanks for reading!

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leadership dot #3272: legislate

At 11 minutes before midnight on the last night of the session, our state legislature passed a measure that went into effect immediately. Whether you agree with the bill or not, it signals how legislating has become reactionary — focused on the short-term political element rather than the long-term impacts any legislation imposes. No bill needed to be put in effect in the dark of night.

Politics has become volleyball — one side overturning the acts of the previous administration, only until the new administration can come in and do the same. With the loss of moderates in both parties, we have forfeited the middle, and along with it, the essential element of compromise.

On this Memorial Day, we honor those who died in the performance of their military duties while serving to protect democracy and the American way of life. Let us hope that those who are living will see clear to make those sacrifices worthwhile by focusing on the long-term health of the country instead of the just political gain of the moment.