leadership dot #2585: black hairy tongue

In a recent Zits comic strip, Jeremy was caught looking through his dad’s old dental school yearbooks. Dad got all excited and said: “Doing some career shopping?” Jeremy replied: “No, looking for band names. ‘Black Hairy Tongue’ – that’s a definite maybe.”

While it seems absurd out of context, band names tend to skew toward the crazy: Smashing Pumpkins, Bare Naked Ladies, Lonely Goats, Hootie & the Blowfish, Matchbox 20, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Echo & the Bunnymen, and, appallingly, the Child Molesters. Even bands that have become iconic – so we have become accustomed to their name – don’t really make sense when taken in isolation: the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Def Leppard, the Who, and the Grateful Dead just to name a few.

When assembling a group together in a workshop or for a team project, instead of encouraging them to provide a team name – which tends to conjure sports teams or common nouns – require your group to name themselves as a band. (You can also use it as an individual icebreaker: “If you were going to start a band, what would you name it?”) The exercise automatically gives them license to be crazy and stimulates thinking outside of the box – music to the ears of a facilitator.

leadership dot #2580: culture of evidence

For a change effort to truly last, the overall culture must change as well. Spurlock and Johnston have created a wonderful matrix to help organizations assess to what extent their culture is truly changing. The Measuring a Culture of Evidence matrix provides descriptors of what to observe in five areas: intentionality, perspective, critical linkages, initiatives & directions and planning processes. Based on those behaviors, individuals can assess where the organization falls:

  • A Culture of Good Intentions (people have a sense that they are doing good things)
  • A Culture of Justification (people can describe what they are doing)
  • A Culture of Strategy (people can describe what they are accomplishing and how it relates to mission and goals)
  • A Culture of Evidence (people can describe why they are doing things and what they are accomplishing through them)

Too often people declare success because they feel like they are doing “good things” but without understanding and a strategic path, there is little opportunity to measure the success or to replicate it. The “good things” may provide short-term progress but will fail to achieve transformation or permanent change.

It’s much easier, and initially more fun, to create some changes and show them off. But only with planning, measurements, systemwide operational changes and continuous evaluation will significant differences occur. Utilize the Measuring a Culture of Evidence rubric to take a hard look at where your organization falls in its change efforts and take steps to change your internal functions before you attempt to change your output.

Sources:  Tweet by Matthew D. Pistilli @mdpistilli 6/15/19 — Spurlock, R. S. & Johnston, A. J. (2012) Measuring a Culture of Evidence. In M. Culp & G. Dungy (Eds.), Building a Culture of Evidence (p. 65). Washington, DC: NASPA.

leadership dot #2572: mood elevator

In this world of constant change, we often feel like circumstances are happening to us but one thing we can control is our emotional reaction to events. To help people calibrate their various emotions, Dr. Larry Senn has developed a Mood Elevator tool. He notes that everyone “rides the elevator” up and down throughout the days, but encourages people to intentionally “start from curiosity” before reacting.

Curiosity is the dividing point on the Mood Elevator that allows people to keep their negative emotions in check. Instead of getting upset by a behavior, if it is approached with curiosity it often allows the person to move “up” the elevator toward humor, understanding and insight instead of “down” the elevator toward frustration, irritation or judgment.

By keeping the Mood Elevator in a prominent location, people can use it as a reminder that their moods are within their control and consciously work toward expressing moods that are positive, instead of instinctively revealing a negative reaction.

Naturally, everyone goes up and down depending upon the situation, but like in skyscrapers, the view is better from the top! Perhaps the Mood Elevator can help you stay on the upper floors more often.

Thanks, Bekki!

 

leadership dot #2527: assemble

Oftentimes, people procrastinate about writing a speech or proposal or delay their efforts to design a workshop or presentation. These things seem so big that they become daunting and in the absence of a clear starting point it becomes easier to avoid the task as long as possible.

I smiled when I read Adam Grant’s Originals and he talked about Martin Luther King, Jr. “assembling” his speeches rather than writing them outright. He had key points he wanted to make (much like yesterday’s dot) and would craft whole speeches by rearranging components to fit the need and audience.

A similar technique that has served me well is compiling notes over time – written with just one concept per piece of scratch paper or index card. If I’m working on an article or educational session, I begin with a pile of paper and brainstorm all the ideas that come to me about the topic, writing only one idea per sheet. Then I keep the pile handy for a few days (or weeks) and just add to it as another idea comes to me. When my incubation time has ended and it’s time to get serious about creating the final piece, I sort them all on my counter or floor and, presto, I have an instant outline.

In the picture below, I used this method to develop a six-session nonprofit training program – I had a big pile of ideas, then sorted them into logical delineations for the six workshops. The little sheets are easy to group together, rearrange, add to and remove. Once you get the piles organized in a way that makes sense, you can type them up into an outline and fill in content, or just leave them in an ordered pile and work from that.

It’s intimidating to start from a blank page or to figure out where to begin on a big project – so don’t. Start with one idea on an index card, and then another, and then another. Soon you’ll be well on your way to assembling your masterpiece.

 

leadership dot #2525: three letters

I developed an icebreaker where participants received a quarter-page piece of paper with one letter printed on it. They then had to form three-letter words and the triad was given a topic to discuss.

The exercise only contained the letters A, E, O, N, R, S, T, W yet there were dozens (or more) words that the groups could form. Examples include too, now, not, toe, tow, tan, ran, own, was, war, won, saw, wet.

I used the icebreaker to open a nonprofit training on finance and related the lessons of the exercise to the session: that not all letters/data need to be included (as we talked about consolidation of the chart of accounts and how to simplify the data shared with boards) and the fact that some letters (i.e. vowels) had more impact than others – and the same was true of data where not all indicators are created equal.

It was a fun way to mix up the groups and was a memorable illustration of some of the key concepts of the session. You could adapt it to a creativity workshop (how many words can you make in X minutes) or make it more difficult by requiring four-letter words or challenging groups to form the longest word they can, or make the case that data points (like letters) don’t have meaning until you combine them to tell a story.

How do you spell success? In this interactive exercise, it’s W-O-W.

Download the letter template here.

 

leadership dot #2484: 4 squares

One of the challenges in doing long-range planning is getting all the key players on the same page. You may assume that you have the same vision for the organization as do the other leaders or board members, but that is not always the case.

A quick exercise to gauge alignment involves four squares. Participants are given a large sheet of paper and asked to fold it into quarters. Individuals then draw the same image in four stages: one depicting the organization a year ago, one showing it today, another representing the organization a year from now and a final drawing of what they hope the organization looks like in three years.

The time frames can be altered to fit your specific situation (eg: use five years if you’re starting work on a five-year plan), but having participants draw the image rather than using words seems to be a key ingredient of its effectiveness (even though you’ll get some protesters who claim they cannot draw). Any image can be used; I’ve seen houses, playgrounds, cars, boxes, flowers, pizzas, and stick figures just to name a few.

Once the drawings are completed, participants each explain their squares to the whole group. You’ll be able to tell very quickly how much agreement (or not!) there is about where the organization is and where it is headed – whether that be from a position of strength or weakness and whether toward growth or retrenchment. A facilitator or chairperson can use that as a launching pad for directed discussion toward understanding and ultimately consensus.

P.S. The 4 Squares exercise works like a vision board for personal goals, too. Plot out your path and use it to check progress toward your goal!

leadership dot #2475: find a partner

In workshops or classes, it is often desirable to mix people up into small groups apart from those in their immediate proximity. Too many times the presenter says: “find someone” or does the dreadful counting off by 1, 2, 3, etc. With just a bit of forethought, you can infuse much more creativity.

One of my favorite ways to mix groups is by handing participants a playing card as they enter. This opens up a host of mixing options: by color, by suit, matching number, odds/evens, opposite color, face card and number, etc. You can hand out cards in the beginning and use a variety of sorting strategies throughout the session.

It’s also easy to get people to pair by similarities: the (approximate) number of letters in their name, birthday season, number of “feet” in their family (allowing them to decide whether to count just humans or to include animal feet), number of siblings, astrological sign, etc.

You can also have people line up in order and then pair with the person who ends up next to them. Order could include: number of years with the organization, by height, by the last 4 digits of their phone number or by house number. Having people line up alphabetically also works: alpha by first or middle name, by their boss’ name, by hometown, favorite cartoon character or last television show they watched.

If you know the approximate number of participants in advance you can write names on strips of paper to distribute as people arrive – later having them find the other members of their set to form a group. Examples include: Fred, Barney, Wilma and Betty (the Flintstones); George, Elaine, Kramer and Jerry (Seinfeld); or Amy, Beto, Kamala and Bernie (presidential hopefuls). The same principle applies for categories instead of names: Pacers, Bulls, Lakers, Spurs (NBA teams) or Aquaman, Black Panther, Wonder Woman and Thor (superhero movies).

And, as a last resort, if you find yourself in a pinch to do a quick count-off, please at least do it in another language (uno, dos, tres…) or with some aspect of creativity (Lions, Tigers, Bears, Oh My…). You’ll achieve the same end result, but your participants will pair off with a smile.