leadership dot #2680: debatable

Thank goodness that they don’t interview executives the way they do presidential candidates! Can you imagine applying for your job – standing next to 11 others vying for the same position – and being given 75 seconds to answer questions or 45 seconds to respond to others – all while on national television.

Primary debates are the ultimate balancing act. You need to stand out from your opponents, yet not too much because you’ll need those supporters in the general election. You need to distinguish yourself from the others who are members of the same party, presumably meaning they share the same essential core values even if you differ on how to enact them. You need more of a message than “beat the other guy” but aren’t really given any time to deliver it.

And all of this leads to soundbites and pithy statements about what you’ll do if elected – conveniently ignoring the fact that you’ll need Congressional support (or at least budget allocation) to get much of it done and glossing over that how those elections go could seriously impact your plans.

Eight million people (including me) thought it worthy enough to watch last Tuesday but I can’t say that it swayed my vote. What it did do was cause me to wonder what the point of the spectacle really is.

If you find yourself producing a program – any program, let alone one the magnitude of the primary debates – take more than a moment to pause and consider what you’re hoping to achieve. Then produce a format that allows for those objectives to be met. It’s debatable whether the debates accomplish the goal of sharing the values and differences of primary presidential candidates; in fact, I’d vote for a better way.

 

leadership dot #2679: overbuilding

Iowa has some of the richest farmland in the world and it is breaking my heart to see it being covered in concrete for yet another unnecessary commercial development. Within blocks of a construction site are vacant office and retail spaces, yet beautiful black dirt is being plowed under to build another mini-strip mall. Across the street, one of the original homesteads is being emptied in preparation to be bulldozed so a convenience store can replace it – even though there is already such an establishment at the next intersection.

It’s the ongoing tension between capitalism and climate – and the planet seems to be losing.

Everywhere you go, vacant buildings stand idle while new construction occurs on pristine land. What happens to the property when the sports teams vacate an arena or Sears and Younkers cease business and leave thousands of square feet empty in malls across the country? We just allow it to sit empty and build new elsewhere.

If we want to get serious about environmental impact, we need more teeth in zoning laws that allow Planning & Zoning boards to reject new builds when vacant space exists or to deny duplicative businesses within certain geographic parameters. I know, it’s not the capitalist way to regulate competition, but it is the government’s role to oversee land use.

Let’s allow some of the land to remain green instead of cement gray while we still can.

BEFORE
TODAY

leadership dot #2672: be the string

I’ve had an epiphany of sorts – that leadership dots isn’t about dots at all rather it’s about being the string. The dots that I connect – and others learn to connect as a result of reading these blogs – are common, everyday occurrences that everyone sees. Where the difference (dare I say, magic) comes in is when you act as the string to see the connections between things.

People have written to me saying that they have “dot eyes” and share examples of things that I may use in future leadership dots (I love that!). Really what they mean is that they are acting as the string – making linkages between things that otherwise appeared random or disconnected.

I have written before and preached many times about the value of stringing pearls together to make a necklace – meaning that often organizations have disparate programs, messages or services that would be much stronger if their common theme was made explicit. This is another way of saying “be the string.”

My new answer to “what do you do?” is “I’m the string” for organizations: helping align values and vision; teaching/training to make theories relevant and applicable for participants; coaching/consulting to connect solutions to problems; writing grants or proposals that tie together elements of what is and what’s possible, and sharing daily leadership dots to provide examples of “the string” in action.

I hope that through reading the dots, you cultivate skills that allow you to be the string as well.

(Even my logo is a few dots and primarily string!)

 

leadership dot #2671: butter dish

In the new novel The Dutch House, Ann Patchett’s main characters are forced to evacuate their home with a stepmother imploring them to vacate immediately. Shocked by her pronouncement after their father’s sudden death, they grabbed a few essentials and fled.

One of the characters reflects: “The idiocy of what we took and what we left cannot be overstated. We packed up clothes and shoes I would outgrow in six months, and left behind the blanket at the foot of my bed my mother had pieced together out of her dresses. We took the books from my desk and left the pressed-glass butter dish in the kitchen that was, as far as we knew, the only thing that had made its way from that apartment in Brooklyn with our mother. I didn’t pick up a single thing of my father’s, though later I could think of a hundred things I wished I had…”

The butter dish resonated with me as I think of all the things in my home and my parents’ former home that have meaning but wouldn’t likely be at the top of the “grab and go” list. I’m sure those fleeing the hurricanes, war or fires don’t grab the butter dish but later would have treasured it. Those things we use every day – so don’t even see anymore – often evoke the strongest memories when we are without them.

For me, the “butter dish” may be the trusty “popcorn pan” that I originally didn’t want because of all the burnt kernels that scarred the bottom, but now signify the multitude of memories that popped out of it. Take a walk around your house today and consider what is the equivalent of your butter dish. Hopefully, you never have to grab it in flight, but just acknowledging the role it plays in the story of your life should bring a smile.

Source: The Dutch House by Ann Patchett, 2019, p. 97

 

leadership dot #2651: persevere

It took the Chesters seven years to establish momentum on their farm (see dot #2649) but my experience has been that three years is the sweet spot. When I switched jobs and went to a new campus I was always unsettled until year 3 when I finally knew the majority of people in the hallways and understood the rhythm of events. My time serving on boards is always richer after three years; suddenly I could synthesize the background and context of items and how they related to the future. And with my business, the completion of three full years has marked a turning point of additional business and opportunities.

I believe that the first year of any enterprise is overwhelming; you are flooded with information, still trying to adopt a new identity and you don’t know more than you do know. If you approach the beginning with anything but a learning mentality, you’re doomed. Year One provides knowledge and understanding, but not results.

During the second year, you have your feet underneath you and are able to make some progress but it is still a time of great experimentation. You correct some of the things you messed up in Year One. You try some new things. You begin to build some relationships and plant seeds for future opportunities, but very little blossoms. You begin to wonder if this adventure was a misstep.

In the third year, some of the relationships you cultivated start to become meaningful. Just as I wrote about with the flywheel yesterday (see dot #2650), continual efforts in the same direction produce benefits. You begin to hear some buzz and even referrals. You feel like you know what you’re doing (most of the time). You can focus on the output instead of spending the majority of your time on the infrastructure. After you persist through the three-year curve, synergy starts to happen and the unheralded work of the initial years begins to flourish.

People are used to instant gratification, but creating a sustainable enterprise doesn’t work that way. If the project has enough impact and meaning for you, it’s worth the work to persevere through Year Three.

leadership dot #2627: Sundays

It is surprising to me that traditional car dealers (at least in our area) are not open on Sunday. It’s also interesting to me that many states do not allow alcohol sales before noon on Sundays. Both seem to be vestiges of old “blue laws” when religious leanings prevented shopping or recreation on the Sabbath day. Now, almost everything is available 24/7 so it seems outdated and nonsensical that these two exceptions remain.

I wonder if car dealers will change their policy – presumably still in place for the convenience of their staff rather than for the consumer – when more online car outlets gain popularity. People are getting less and less tolerant about waiting for anything – and if they can’t buy from the dealer on Sunday, they may be apt to pursue other alternatives rather than shop on Monday.

Overall, it seems archaic that in today’s times any product is regulated or chooses to limit their sales availability. When the restrictions were first enacted, there were no online stores or 24/7 supercenters and now both are plentiful. Maybe it’s time to revisit who sells what when – if brick and mortar retailers want the “where” to be with them.

 

leadership dot #2625: bug book

On one side of the spectrum, some people think that their passion will just reveal itself to them and then others are in a perpetual state of searching through an array of self-reflection techniques. Jim Collins, author of (my favorite) Good to Great utilized a technique that I found intriguing as a new way to learn what helps you get in a state of flow.

Collins deployed the scientific method of observation to himself the same way he used to document movements of bugs in a jar as a kid (Yes, he was a self-proclaimed nerd!). Jim designated a notebook as “A Bug Called Jim” and for a year he recorded his actions and emotions as they related to work. Every day he noted the activities that excited him and those that drained him and after several months of doing so actionable patterns emerged that led him to leave his job and pursue teaching and research.

I have just started a “Bug Book” of my own but already have found that it has made me far more conscious of the tasks that bring fulfillment and those that are done from necessity. I hope I can use the insights to adjust some of my projects or at least to schedule them differently.

Maybe channeling your inner scientific nerd could help you identify happiness amongst that which bugs you.

(As told in Creative Confidence by Tom Kelley and David Kelley)