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.

leadership dot #2474: red or green

At a recent lecture, the speakers asked us to look around the room and find something that was red. Then we were asked to close our eyes and think of something in the room that was green. Most couldn’t do it. It was a quick, yet powerful exercise to illustrate that we see what we focus on — and often unintentionally ignore what is outside of that narrow view.

Of course, it’s one of the reasons that writing down goals is productive – it elevates our ambitions to top-of-mind and puts them in the front of our consciousness. Focusing on a topic also works for creativity if we allow the time for ideas to “incubate” in our mind. For example, I facilitated a strategic plan for a group that works with generational poverty and as soon as the date was set, I began seeing articles and news items related to that topic. I know that they were always there, but once I began to focus on the subject it was seemingly everywhere.

Our minds are too inundated with information to simultaneously focus in many directions with equal depth. Be conscious about whether you will look for “red” or “green” today and hone in on just one. It is better to bring vibrancy to one color than to mute them all in the background.

Marc and Angel Chernoff lecture “Getting Back to Happy!”, March 21, 2019, Hotel Julien Dubuque

leadership dot #2468: upstream

There is a fable that succinctly illustrates the difference between being reactive and proactive. Often, people don’t have the resources (time, money, energy) to solve both the problems and what causes them. They become absorbed in the urgency of fixing the problem (doing good works “downstream”) instead of focusing “upstream” on the source of the issue. This fable shows that while there are notable improvements in the response, it is still a never-ending cycle without curing the root cause.

Child welfare workers, from where this story originated, can work mightily to improve foster care or move upstream to reform the causes that remove children from their families in the first place. Wellness professionals can provide convenient weight loss programs or work to promote healthy eating that prevents obesity. Colleges can invest in excellent tutoring and academic success programs or collaborate with secondary (or elementary schools) to increase student preparedness upon graduation.

Middle managers are especially susceptible to this narrow thinking as their daily work revolves around being passionate about getting things done without necessarily linking it to the system or big picture. It becomes the job of the executive or higher-level manager to see beyond the surface and understand the system at a deeper level, strategically recommending changes “upstream” in the organization or industry.

If you are an entry-level staff member or someone just climbing the ranks, taking time to intentionally think about the larger environment is an excellent training tool for future growth. Share this fable with colleagues and incorporate the “upstream-downstream” language into your meetings, planning and conversations. The most important thing you can do “downstream” is eliminate the need for it.

Thanks, Alia for sharing!

leadership dot #2446: jigsaw

I worked on a jigsaw puzzle and was struck at all the parallels to organizational change:

  • Even when you have a vision (the box) and know all the pieces are there, it is still sometimes difficult to believe that it will all come together.
  • It is challenging to know what to do next after finishing the frame – you often believe there is a “right” answer when really the next thing to do is just to begin somewhere.
  • There are many pieces required to realize the vision (in this case, 1000 of them) and all are equally important.
  • When you get stuck –as you will – it’s best to move on to another piece of the puzzle and keep making progress elsewhere. I didn’t work on all the sections simultaneously, rather finished one image at a time.
  • Oftentimes, moving around to view the pieces from a different perspective helps immensely, as does walking away from it and coming back later. I was able to easily find several pieces in the morning that eluded me the night before.
  • Small details often seem insignificant at first but then later prove to be just what you needed to make a connection.
  • I was convinced that a piece was missing – which it wasn’t – but, like change, it sometimes seems like the task is impossible.
  • Change takes time. Even with the vision set and all the pieces assembled – which of course never happens in real life – it took several days to finish.

Putting together a jigsaw puzzle can be a good change exercise for your staff. Leave a puzzle out on in a common space and then ask people to reflect on the lessons learned after it is assembled. The fact that a simple exercise is challenging could give them some perspective on how to persevere and give you shared language to use in your change journey.

Anyone find the piece with blue sky and a red tab on top?

Just begin!
The missing piece — that wasn’t missing
Keep making progress where you can
The end is in sight!