leadership dot #2426: bookends

Through random happenstance, two of the books that I had requested became available at the library: The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis and Almost Anything by Anne Lamott. I had not planned to read them together, but it turned out to be a fortuitous pairing – bookends of emotion if you can pardon the pun.

The Fifth Risk is in large measure about the terrifying lack of competence or even interest among the current administration’s appointees running major departments of the government. Those chosen to lead entities such as the Department of Commerce, NOAA, the USDA, or the DOE do have relevant credentials to oversee their areas and, in several cases, have outside business interests that stand to gain from the agencies appointees were overseeing. Worse yet, the new leaders seem to be uninterested in learning more as they did not participate in transition meetings, threw away briefing books or failed to meet with any of the senior staff to understand the inner workings of the billion-dollar agencies that now reported to them. The impact on nuclear weapon security, food safety, or scientific advancement is yet unknown but frightening.

Then, just as I was thoroughly depressed from reading Lewis’ interviews, I turned to Lamott’s Almost Anything: Notes on Hope. Her book captures the paradox of the current reality: I am stockpiling antibiotics for the apocalypse, even as I await the blossoming of paperwhites on the windowsill in the kitchen” she begins. Lamott’s little book is a series of essays about some of the challenges in our daily lives, but also the promise they hold: “But all truth is really a paradox, and this turns out to be a reason for hope. If you arrive at a place in life that is miserable, it will change, and something else about it will also be true.”

 Being unaware of a condition does not make it any less real. Remaining unaware of the political shifts doesn’t lessen them, nor does turning a blind eye to hope make it any less available to us. Part of our issues today stem from paying attention to only one side of the paradox instead of embracing its duality. I’d highly recommend both of these books – together – as a window into the complexity of the times in which we live.

The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis, 2018
Almost Anything: Notes on Hope by Anne Lamott, 2018

leadership dot #2411: urgency

Martin Luther King gave his famous I Have a Dream” speech over 50 years ago, and sadly, he could repeat his oration today and it would still be relevant:

…We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy; now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice; now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood; now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children. It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment…

 Dr. King was only 34 years old when he delivered one of the most iconic speeches in our country’s history. I fervently hope that his legacy gives a young person today the courage necessary to become the next great orator and that all of us use our voices to champion democracy with the fierce urgency of now.

leadership dot #2409: disincentivized

A large number of buyers may be incentivized to a buy a product because of the rebate but will never complete the arduous forms required to receive it. Of those who do send in the rebate, only a percentage of them will realize it is their check when it arrives in a plain, innocuous envelope in the mail. An even smaller portion of people will cash the check and claim their due.

Rebates are designed to stimulate purchases, but unlike a sale, their default rate is factored into the equation. It’s much more profitable for a store to offer 11% off everything, knowing full well that the reduction in cost won’t be realized by many buyers. The more complicated the rebate – for example, requiring people to complete a paper form, write in UPC codes and mail it –the more it is intentionally designed to discourage use.

Whether it is through a literal refund of money or a metaphorical rebate that returns value to your customer, be intentional about the kind of incentive you offer. Do you truly want to offer your clients a discount – thus reducing upfront pricing on everything or creating a package deal that automatically delivers extras – or are you just creating the illusion of a sale, hoping that they buy without any true desire to discount the price? And as a consumer, if you aren’t willing to pay full price for it, leave it behind. The system is designed for you to drop the ball somewhere in the process and pay the full rate anyway.

leadership dot #2402: dinner club

Every second Wednesday of the month, literally for five decades, my parents had dinner with another couple. For my whole life, we knew that “Dinner Club” was a sacred time not to be interrupted – as kids we were banished from the living areas and as we grew older, we knew that anything else had to be scheduled around it.

These two couples traded off cooking dinner in their homes every month, often coming up with themed menus, costumes and decorations. They carved out this time through raising multiple children each and living an hour apart, but somehow, they always managed to have that evening together.

As I reflect on the funeral of the final surviving member of the quartet today, I think about how this crazy Dinner Club of theirs modeled what a commitment to friendship looks like. It’s not just an occasional call (or now staying in touch via social media), rather it involves making the time to actually be together in person. It means setting plans on a regular basis and keeping them, despite strains on time, budget or babysitters. It means the children of your friends drive hours to attend funerals because they know what the relationship meant to their parents.

You can have many acquaintances, but it is a gift if you have a few good friends. Treasure those that are in your close circle and make it a priority to laugh together face-to-face.

Hobo-themed Dinner Club November 1961

leadership dot #2394: shutdown

As the federal government “shutdown” continues, I am struck by what a misnomer that is. The government isn’t shut down – for if it were there would be no air traffic in the U.S. airspace, the president would not be protected by secret service, the troops would no longer be in Iraq or the at the American borders, and your hamburger would not have been inspected.

But as it is, the interstates remain open, the weather service continues to provide data to meteorologists for their forecasts, social security checks are in the mail (which is still delivering) and the animals at the National Zoo continue to be fed (although the zoo itself is closed).

A true government shutdown wouldn’t last a day because it would inconvenience so many people and cause untold disruption. As it is, those impacted are the tourists turned away from national parks and the Smithsonians, federal workers who are going without pay and ordinary citizens trying to get a passport – in other words, those without a prominent microphone or political currency.

Don’t use the federal government as a model for how to enact a shutdown. If your organization faces budget cuts or a policy impasse, call your reduction efforts by what they are instead of falsely labeling them as an organization-wide halt. Partial reductions in service labeled as full shutdowns fail to help others understand the true complexity and value of your enterprise. If you’re ceasing operations, don’t do it halfway. Instead, truly close and leverage the pain to inspire a solution.

leadership dot #2391: one second

With the new year often comes nostalgia and a time to look back to reflect on all the experiences of 2018. Some people record their thoughts in a journal, others use a calendar and others make note in different ways. But if the memories from 2018 have escaped you, perhaps you want to take a more proactive approach to capture them this year.

The 1-Second-Everyday application (for Apple users) allows you to record one second of video each day, upload it into the app and then the app takes all of your snippets and edits them together into a movie. If you’re diligent, at this time next year, you’ll be able to watch a six-minute video that replays a moment from every day in 2019. In addition to the memories, doing such a task every day will provide added benefits from the discipline of just doing it.

Time goes by so quickly. Make this the year where you capture a second of it, 365 times.



leadership dot #2390: throwback

While going through old family slides, I found this picture from New Year’s Eve 1969. It was a party that my parents attended, and I’m sure that like those in this photo, my mom wore a dress with nylons and heels and dad wore a suit and tie – to play silly games at someone’s home.

There was no technology involved or big money spent going out for a night “on the town.” All that was necessary was a group of good friends, a few straws and marshmallows and a lot of laughter.

This New Year’s Eve, think about how you want to celebrate. Maybe a throwback party where you make your own fun is the best way to ring in 2019.