leadership dot #3133: distinct

For those of you non-Midwesterners unfamiliar with the Fannie Mae Meltaways, the candies are tiny cubes of melt-in-your-mouth chocolate mint deliciousness that come in two colors: brown and green. For reasons unknown to me, I have always only eaten the brown ones. I asked my sister if they tasted the same as the green and her answer was that she has only ever had the green ones. This called for an experiment!

In case you are curious, both brown and green Meltaways taste exactly the same. Why they make two colors is a mystery to me, most likely it is simply for merchandising and visual appeal. But the experiment served as another reminder that we all carry unconscious biases around. We make contrasts and value one over another when there is no rational reason to do so and no differences actually exist.

Be cautious in applying the label of “better” to anything before you understand whether it actually merits a distinction.

leadership dot #3126: control

The run-off elections for two Georgia Senate seats are today and most people are saying that the outcome “will determine control of the Senate.” Let us not forget that there are 98 other Senators already elected, and, although Georgia is the last to decide, they are not the only ones who determined control. All the voters in the other 49 states determined who controls the Senate; had there been a big majority of either party the Georgia election would barely have made the news.

We give disproportionate emphasis on what happens last. The batter who hits the final home run; the hero who comes in and saves the day in the movies; a good score on the final exam even though the student struggled all term, or the donor who gives last and puts the fund drive over the top – all are important but because they are last doesn’t make them more significant than that which came before them.

Resolve to pay more attention to what comes first. The actions that occur early are the ones that truly set the tone. Having a strong start may not be as glamorous as a heroic action in the end, but it makes such drama unnecessary.

leadership dot #3121: reflect

So many people were anxious to be “rid of 2020” and to turn the page onto a new year – as if there is a magical moment that will occur and when we wake up tomorrow anything will be different.

There will be some legal and financial demarcations that occur, but for the vast majority of our lives, unless we have a calendar, we won’t even notice a change. Nonetheless, we have the opportunity to create one – in our heads. No matter what the calendar says, we have control of our mindset and outlook. We can choose to focus on the negative aspect of things – and, as with every year, 2021 will have its share of that – or, we can focus on the positive and show gratitude for what we do have.

I hope you take a few moments today to reflect on all the good that came your way this year. Yes, there was a litany of things that we hope to never experience again, but I guarantee that there were silver linings, unexpected blessings and lessons learned. Don’t let the clock strike midnight without taking time to embrace them.

leadership dot #3113: ho ho ho

With no social events this holiday season, I’ve found myself watching more Christmas movies than I usually do and what I’ve noticed is that the genre has moved almost exclusively from comedy to romantic comedy. If you watch older movies, they are full of silly, almost slapstick humor: Christmas Vacation, Elf, The Santa Clause, Home Alone, etc. But today’s features are Hallmark variety: A Country Christmas, The Princess Switch, The Christmas Inheritance – well, you get the idea.

I wonder when and why the category evolved. It’s not that the funny ones weren’t successful. In fact, Home Alone is the highest-grossing comedy in movie history ($477 million in 1990). Many of the other titles spun off sequels or even a Broadway play. But now we are relegated to multiple variations of the same plot: guy and girl meet, don’t like each other at first, but fall in love by Christmas.

While it may be tempting to binge-watch a series of modern holiday films, make some time in your schedule to appreciate the classics and to share them with younger generations. Romance is wonderful but everyone could use a good ho-ho-ho belly laugh, especially this year.

leadership dot #3108: renewal

So much of our routine business is conducted on autopilot, not because our current providers are necessarily excellent rather because it is too much of a hassle to change them. Think about your health insurance, car/home insurance, banking, phone network, cable, internet, doctors, subscriptions, software, retirement savings or investments – most likely they are with the same institutions you have been using for years. We often allow things to renew automatically without further investigation because of the time it takes to do something else.

While we don’t have the bandwidth to research every decision or spend the time canceling and adding every time a service comes up for renewal, it is likely worth the effort to make some conscious decisions to do so on occasion. It’s also worth considering the long-term cost when you choose any on-going provider, whether that be a subscription or service professional. It may be tempting to jump at the low-cost introductory offer but remember they are counting on you to continue when the discount expires because you don’t want to take the time to wait in their customer service queue to cancel.

But if you are the provider and not just the consumer, allow the “it’s-hard-to-change” principle to work in your favor. Make your initial encounter enticing enough to get the consumer started on an automatic renewal program and enhance your chances that they’ll stick with you for the long term.

That first step has disproportionate value for everyone.

leadership dot #3107: pockets

As someone who lives at the intersection of three states, it has been interesting to navigate the various rules during the pandemic, with each jurisdiction responding in different ways with their own set of rules.

And it’s not just here; one of my coaching clients was lamenting the challenges she has faced in planning end-of-year recognitions while living at the convergence of multiple counties who also have addressed gatherings with varying degrees of restrictions.

It seems that each pocket of control considers only its limited scope without brokering a coordinated response or considering the impact on citizens who travel routinely between governmental lines. But this should not be a surprise. Our world is structured to where boundaries are more engrained than cooperation.

For example, schools operate with delineations between disciplines and even separate colleges at universities. Athletic departments create fiefdoms that are defined by sport rather than as a whole. Organizations have department silos that function independently from other colleagues. The political landscape is defined by red or blue. The examples could go on and on.

Whether it be through our philosophy, demographics, position, or geography, too often we grow up seeing the world in pockets instead of as a whole. Of course, this would carry over into how municipalities respond to a pandemic; the majority of life experience for those making the call has been to maximize the benefits for those in their sphere without paying much mind to those outside of it.

If you are in a position of influence, whether over a child, a department, an organization or a community – use some of your implicit power to help others see beyond their own circle and to reflect on the impact their actions have on the whole. Our world today – and tomorrow – will be better for it.

leadership dot #3098: separate realities

It seems obvious now that social media would play an influential role in politics but before the 2008 election cycle that was not the case. President Barack Obama has recently reflected on the role of social media and how it has reshaped the American political landscape.

Around the time of his first term, Facebook was gaining prominence and in 2008 became the most-visited social media site (surpassing MySpace). It was the first election where a substantial number of Facebook groups were formed on behalf of political candidates. Obama’s staff understood the new medium and used it to mobilize voters and likely win the election.

But Obama notes the downside of the platform as well. The breakdown caused by not having a trusted, universal source like Walter Cronkite, the Washington Post or New York Times as “gatekeepers” of the news allowed separate media worlds to evolve online. Now, people can inhabit their own reality where social media can disseminate falsehoods and allow issues to fester and dominate the airwaves, even if the messages it carries are skewed. He believes these “separate realities” have contributed in large measure to the partisan divide and the divisiveness in America.

Obama also reflected that politics has devolved to demonization – distinguished from having different views. Now, it’s not just that people have different values or approaches, rather they must demonize the “other”, fueled by a steady diet of “news” that only confirms their beliefs and tears down those who do not share them. It makes compromise politically untenable and gives rise to the violence, vitriol, and vengeance that permeate our culture today.

Until I heard his interview with Oprah and read his book, I had not made the connection in the timing. Think about what role you allow social media to play in your life and your organization today. I am unsure as to the steps to counteract its polarization and influence, but an acknowledgment of the problem is the first step toward solving it.

Conversations with Oprah and Barack Obama, Apple TV+
A Promised Land by Barack Obama, 2020


Posted on Facebook by Impacta Health

leadership dot #3080: HR

There seems to be a mismatch between the available jobs and the skills/interest of those able to fill them.

If you’re in health care or want a front-line service job, I think you are able to have your choice of employers. There are billboards all over town seeking to hire people for permanent positions or seasonal help. Bath and Body Works attached a “come work for us” message as part of their mass mailing of coupons. A local manufacturer has signs in the yards of their employees as a way for them to recruit colleagues. Referral or sign-on bonuses are plentiful, putting the employee in the driver’s seat to be choosy.

Yet, about 12.6 million people are unemployed in the United States right now, many of them professionals and skilled workers who are still seeking a job without the openings that align with their talents and abilities.

It all points to the increasing role of human resources in organizations – and society – not just as the paperwork-processors, but as a key leadership role that can strategically forecast and plan for the alignment of talent and workforce needs. As jobs become more technical and specialized, it isn’t like previous times where you could put an ad in the paper and easily find qualified people to fill your needs.

To me, it also highlights the critical role that leadership and culture play in organizations today. As I have written about earlier this week, retaining employees becomes as essential as hiring them. With the increased ability to work from anywhere, people have more freedom and the mobility to jump ship if your conditions are not conducive to work-life balance, meaningful work, or an equitable environment.

HR has, too often and for too long, been in the background as a support function. The current climate calls for that area to have a set at the senior leadership table. Without the right people, there is no organization.

leadership dot #3067: happiness and grace

I have two bottles of perfume: Clinique’s Happy and Philosophy’s Amazing Grace. I consciously pick the scent for the day – whether I need to look for ways to provide a bit of extra grace or whether am I approaching the day to spread some joy. It’s an easy way to start the day off with intentionality.

From the Amazing Grace package:

How you climb the mountain is just as important as how you get down the mountain.
And, so it is with life, which for many of us becomes one big gigantic test followed by one big gigantic lesson.
In the end, it all comes down to one word. Grace.
It’s how you accept winning and losing, good luck and bad luck, the darkness and the light.

May you intentionally spread happiness and grace today — whether you are climbing up or down.


leadership dot #3065: in charge

After participating in this election, it has become more apparent than ever to me that we need a national strategy for conducting them. Why do we have 50 different deadlines, procedures and sets of rules? Why do we use outdated processes? Because no one is in charge.

I spent 13 hours in the basement of our jail building counting absentee ballots this week. It was a tedious, manual process, probably much like they used in the 1950s. With 81% of Americans owning smartphones, I have to believe there is a way to create a secure app that allows not only easy voting but real-time tabulation of those votes. Why isn’t an office charged with the task (and given the resources) to take on such a challenge?

This election increased the number of voters, but did little to improve the knowledge of those casting ballots. We need one central site that provides information about all the candidates and propositions on the ballot – not just the high profile races. Even for people who wanted to be educated voters, it was not easy to find anything on the county-wide positions or judgeships – candidates should be required to provide information when they apply to be on the ballot (and it should all be fact-checked before appearing) and propositions could include a statement listing pros/cons. Why don’t we help people know who/what they are voting for instead of making it a popularity or name recognition contest? Because no one is in charge.

The variation in voting rules also adds to confusion and allegations of fraud. I’d advocate for one standard deadline to receive and to count ballots; one policy on what happens when a voter dies after voting but before the election, etc. We’re all voting for the same office – we should be doing so with the same rules. Why aren’t we? You know the answer.

There are times where autonomy and latitude are warranted, and other times where centralization and standardization make sense. The federal election system not only needs the latter, but modernization as well.

Consider whether there is an equivalent in your organization where a process has many players, but no central coordination. Do you have departments onboarding employees according to their own desires? Does the budgeting process vary by location? Is procurement up to the person buying something?

The more complex and distributed a system, the more an overarching strategy is warranted. Put someone in charge of making it happen.