leadership dot #684a: ideal

I’m on the road again, so for the next week, you can enjoy some of my past favorites…

I found myself in the unenviable position of needing a new administrative assistant. The person that I hired six years ago when I was just weeks into my new job, has tendered her resignation. And so the search begins for someone who knows my nuances and preferences and has the ability to address both with a smile on her face.

As I did before beginning any search, I sat down and wrote out a list of characteristics that I would like the ideal candidate to possess. Such an activity keeps me focused on what is important (not what can be dazzling in an interview) and helps me know how to write the job description, advertisement, and interview questions. I have done an “attribute list” for almost every search I have conducted and it always serves me well.

It also helps me identify where my desires and reality may not be in sync. For this job, I am looking for someone with a high degree of accuracy (to do spreadsheets and lots of detail work). Yet, I also wish for (need) a great amount of flexibility as this person services all the departments in our division and is often called in to be a pinch hitter for an immediate need. Often accuracy/focus and flexibility can be in conflict — it’s hard to keep your nose to the grindstone and happily leave that project when an unplanned project arises.

Doing an attribute list also allows the key skills to surface. For this job, the person must be experienced with Excel. Thus, a good resume with an “I am a quick learner on new software” will likely not be interviewed. To me, it’s like a carpenter candidate saying “I can easily learn to use the hammer.”

The next time you find yourself with an opening, take an extra few minutes to write up a list of what the ideal candidate will possess. I guarantee you’ll be more likely to hire the right person than if you rely only on an undirected friendly chat.

Originally published in modified form on April 16, 2014

leadership dot #3884: sorting

I’m trying to re-read and sort through my past dots — and with almost 4000 of them, it’s no small task. At first, I spent too much time trying to create just two piles: book-worthy and not. I struggled with so many of the entries trying to decide in which stack to place them.

Then, I re-did my methods and created three piles: yes, no, and maybe. This has made the task so much easier! There are obvious “yesses” and obvious “no’s” and everything else goes in the middle bin, allowing me to easily move on to the next one.

It’s the 10-20-70 rule and I think this process can apply to other things in life that need sorting. Cleaning out the closet: yes automatically goes back in, no is off to the donation center, and maybes remain in a box to see if you really miss them. Purging files can follow the same pattern. Packing a suitcase. Deciding what to keep when moving or preparing for an estate sale.

Don’t waste your energy making decisions about fine gradations during every sort. Do the easy delineations first, and then haggle over the remaining 20%.

leadership dot #3878: crickets

An intentional marketing strategy calls for stores to put some of their “loss leaders” or discounted items right at the entranceway as a way to entice consumers to put an item in their cart. Target has its “Bullseye” section of $1-5 items, and other stores put seasonal merchandise or tempting treats right when you enter. Retailers have proven that if customers put something in their cart, they are more likely to add items to it, so displays are frontloaded to jumpstart that buying process.

The same psychological trickery can benefit you in meetings. If you are faced with crickets during your time together, a way to circumvent the silence is to structure your agenda so that others begin talking right from the start. Early engagement sets the tone for people to continue their participation and signals that you are not the only voice at the table.

You can accomplish this through a rotation of “nuggets” (dot 108), check-in questions, or an icebreaker, and by assigning others to lead the opening exercise or by sharing responsibility to have different people kick off the meeting with a fun activity or treat. You can also inject some silliness like Kim Scott’s “Whoops-a-Daisy” to encourage people to open up. What you do is less important than having others become active at the beginning. It’s the meeting equivalent of putting one thing in the cart — one comment often leads to others.

Even if you’re the convener, don’t carry the whole load yourself. Instead, create a consistent structure for others to use their voice and wisdom to create the engagement you seek.

leadership dot #3834: self-awareness

In my work teaching adult students, I continue to be surprised at how little self-awareness many have. As we work on resumes or talk about communicating their strengths, nuggets about valuable traits trickle out as a casual afterthought or I point out connections instead of their realization that they have valuable skills and experiences.

Knowing yourself — your strengths, deficiencies, dislikes, and triggers — is truly a competitive advantage. The things that make us who we are — and different from others — can be superpowers if you are aware of them.

One way to learn about yourself is to complete assessments that help illuminate and clarify personality traits. There are dozens of options available to target different characteristics, but all provide insight that can help increase understanding of how you prefer to operate and how you interact with others. (I have compiled a sampling of assessment examples that can serve as a starting point if you wish to explore.)

I still vividly remember taking the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator when I was in a college leadership class. It gave language to my introversion and validated that I was not the only one whose energy was depleted by being in social situations. This knowledge not only gave me comfort; it also gave me the power to choose staff to complement me, pick aspects of work that kept me out of the spotlight and gave additional urgency to self-care and time alone. I shudder to think of the missteps I would have made without this self-understanding.

Learning about yourself is a continual journey. Take advantage of reflection or assessments to reveal the nuances that help you articulate your authentic self.

leadership dots #3791: clings

If you’re going over the river and through the woods to Grandma’s house this holiday season, here’s a low-tech way to entertain the kiddos. A package of window clings features objects that the children (or bored adults) may see on their journey — allowing them to put the clings on the window once they are spotted. It’s another incarnation of the old-time Auto Bingo but serves the same purpose of keeping passengers occupied.

You could make your own version of this game with either store-purchased clings or vinyl that is customized with words instead of images that people can see along the roadside, allowing you to make the game as hard or as easy as you desire.

Participatory games can cultivate the spirit beginning in your driveway instead of having everyone revert to isolation with their own technology. Think about ways to create shared experiences over the holidays that don’t involve giving or getting. Your family can cling to the memories with this road trip game.

leadership dot #3755: engaging

I participated in a virtual event that was the most well-run session I have had on Zoom. Courtney Lynch, one of the co-authors of the new Bet on You book, facilitated an “Author’s Circle” that came as close as it could to replicating an in-person book club discussion. Here’s how:

  • When we signed up, we were told that this would be a “cameras on, engaging event”
  • She asked for several replies in the chat, then actually called on people to unmute and expound on their answers
  • They utilized Otter.ai and provided a link to live transcription so if you missed something you could easily check the transcript and catch up
  • There were several occasions when she said: “I’ll go quiet” and allowed the participants time to either reflect, read a screen, or write in the chat
  • She utilized the Padlet tool instead of chat to allow people to see all the responses to a more in-depth prompt
  • The first half of the hour was predominantly participants sharing their reflections to prompts — only at the end did she highlight what the authors felt were the core themes of the book. It was definitely a conversation, not a one-way presentation
  • She began by sharing “roles she’s had” vs. positions she’s held — allowing her introduction to make connections with many more participants
  • She used the warm-up question to start the conversation among the participants — asking for follow-up vs. having it be a frivolous question with no content value (The question: “If the pandemic happened to teach you an important lesson, what do you believe that lesson is?”)

Think about your next virtual event or meeting and see if you can incorporate some of the techniques from the “Author’s Circle.” It wasn’t the same as being there, but it certainly added more value than the typical webinar that is mostly just on in the background.

Bet on You: How to Win with Risk by Angie Morgan and Courtney Lynch, 2022

P. S. I have an extra invitation to another Author’s Circle (which includes a free book) — if you’re interested, let me know.

leadership dot #551a: part 3

A few final thoughts on the notebook system:

> I take a lot of notes, but only use about two notebooks/year.  It is a sad day when the front and back meet each other as then it is time to start a new notebook. I always go back through the current one and transfer to the new one items for staff/committees that are still pending and that I don’t want to lose.  My staff hates it when it’s “new notebook time” as things that have been dormant are suddenly back on the discussion list!) I also review the front section to see if there are any “to do” boxes still unchecked that need to be brought forward. And then I carry around both notebooks for a week or so rather than re-copying the notes I need from the “old” book to discuss at current meetings.

> I use the first page of the notebook to write down things I need to remember — so I have them in one place for handy reference: Names of new employees in other departments. Budget numbers. Copier code for the special copier. This saves me time from hunting for the information…and, like everything else, I always have it with me in the office.

> It is common knowledge amongst my staff that “the notebook never lies.” It becomes a reference and decision arbitrator when there is confusion about “what did we decide” or “who was going to follow up with that”. Usually, a quick glance in the notebook will resolve any of those kinds of questions!

> Having notes for several months in one place helps greatly with perspective. I can look at budget projections and see if our trend line has been increasing or decreasing. I can tell when items have remained on the agenda and been undone for months. I am reminded that employees with issues also have good things that we have been discussing.  

As I said in Part 1, this is how I use the system and it works very well for me. I know others who have modified it to put tabs for different sections/agendas instead of using it back to front. Others use color to distinguish sections.

However you make the system yours, I hope you try some version of it. Collaboration and communication are so important to every organization, and I know of no better way to keep track of the information that fosters both.

Originally published in modified form on December 4, 2013

leadership dot #550a: part 2

In addition to using your notebook as described yesterday, create a second function by starting in the BACK of your notebook and working forward. In this section, I dedicate one page for each employee I supervise and committee I am on. I use these pages to keep a running agenda of things I need to discuss with the person/group during the next time I meet.

Where the synergy develops is when I am in one meeting and something is said that I need to tell one of my employees (or my boss). I can instantly turn to that page in the back (of the same notebook I am using to take meeting notes) and write that I need to discuss the item with that person. No forgetting, no time spent developing meeting agendas — it just naturally evolves.
This back section also works beautifully when it comes time to do employee evaluations. I have a whole record of things we discussed over the whole year, not just what I remember from recent meetings. After I do an evaluation, I just draw a line across the page and I know where to start for the next review period. When my employees use this system too (as many do!), they too have a record of what accomplishments and issues evolved during the year.  
I put a piece of light cardboard at the start of the back section and keep an index of the pages (which I number by hand). When someone’s page fills up, I simply continue their list on the next free page in the back section and renumber their page on my index. (See picture).
So, I keep working notes front to back and write agenda/discussion items back to front — but with everything work-related in one single notebook. You, too, can reap the benefits of organizational simplicity with this system!
Final thoughts on this process tomorrow.
Originally published in modified form on December 3, 2013
I start in alphabetical order, but you can see it doesn’t always stay that way!

leadership dot #549a: organization magic

Many people say, “I need to get more organized.” One way to do it is to utilize a notebook system. One of my mentors taught me this when I was first elected to chair a national organization, and I have been using it for the 20 years since.

The notebook system is really two notebooks and a to-do list in one. You can use any spiral notebook for this process, but paper seems to be the winner even over electronic systems. I know several people who have switched.

People can use this system any way that suits them, but this is my preferred method:  Start in the front and keep notes from all your meetings. It comes in so handy to have all your notes in one place. People who take notes and then file them with the appropriate project or committee folders invariably need those notes at another meeting or during a conversation with someone else. Keep it all together and I’ll bet you will be surprised how often you refer back to things. Don’t devote one whole page to a meeting — when your notes end from one topic, just draw a line and move on to the next meeting.  

If you have a task or something that requires follow-up action from you, make a check box next to it in your notes. You’ll instantly know that you need to do something, and it won’t get lost when filed away in a folder, etc. Thus, your notes become a running to-do list — and since you will get in the habit of carrying your notebook with you, you’ll have many opportunities to see the unchecked boxes as a trigger to get things done.

More tomorrow on Part 2 that really makes the magic of synergy occur.

Originally published in modified form on December 2, 2013
Sample page from one of my notebooks

leadership dot #3666: purge

After yesterday’s dot (#3665) about my storage system, a friend asked:

Any advice for me: I have a lot of organizing and purging to do. Office stuff. It’s hard to do when there’s so much. I read an article recently about minimalism and how it’s hard to start when the job seems so big. It seems like it would be never ending and would prevent me from using time now for more enjoyable things. Any ideas on how to make this fun?

Drat! I have no magical advice on how to make boring tasks fun. Susan Power wrote: “The motivation is in the doing.” I think about that a lot (usually when it comes to writing the next dot — I’m rarely motivated to start but the motivation comes from doing.) So, the trick is to start. I’d suggest:

  • Put an hour appointment on your calendar (daily for 2 weeks or weekly for 2 months, etc.) and hold to it like you do for everything else. It’s not “do I feel like purging — it’s My 2:00 appointment says purging time, so I’ll do it.” Stop thinking that it has to be fun to start — it never will be. It will be fun when you finish, and things are organized/clear/etc.
  • Schedule the time so that you have a reward at the end. Do it for 1 hour then watch TV or read or eat lunch, etc. Or do it in chunks — Do 1 drawer then X or this pile then X.
  • See if you can do the purging in a different place than your office. Somehow purging on the patio or in the sunshine is less arduous (says the woman trying to read and sort 3600 dots!)
  • Great music helps!
  • Keep a pile of what you’ve purged (i.e.: don’t take it to recycling/shredding right away) so you can see progress even though it won’t feel like there is any.
  • Depending on the state of things, you may need to sort then prioritize — put things into piles by category, THEN read and purge. (For example, when I cleaned out my Mom’s office, I quickly sorted things by insurance, utilities, medical records, etc. – tossing the very old insurance benefit booklets and obvious recycling as I went – but saved the purging that required thought until a second round after the piles were sorted.)
  • Only keep things where you’re the source. If you have a lot of minutes or documents from work or volunteering, I’d ditch those and rely on the organization to supply them if ever needed.
  • As I said in my dot, I keep things in small folders — each topic has its own so I can find them again. Shopping for office supplies (colored folders, etc.) can make the task more fun but don’t get hung up on logistics of “what goes in the red folder?” etc. As you can see in the picture, my folders are ragged, handwritten, reused — and work perfectly.

Whether it’s with purging or any other daunting task, I guess my best advice is to stop seeing it as “a lot.” As Anne Lamott wrote: “bird by bird” — one step then the next. You don’t have a lot to do; you have a little to do a lot of times. You could complete the first “little” in the time you spend avoiding doing “a lot.”