How to Thrive After COVID-19: Effective Leadership.

Expanding on Webinar, April 22, 2020

Recall the three ideas on how to be an effective leader during times like these:

1. Define the problem.
2. Tell me the story.
3. Give me resiliency.

Let’s focus on define the problem.

How do you define the problem in such a way as to increase revenue and decrease expense – in other words, survive and prosper?

Tell me what to see.  When you define the problem, what you are really doing is telling everyone what to see.  You are telling them what matters and what to pay attention to.  You are telling them “if we can change this, we can change everything”.

That means you must think about what matters, approaching this with the part of your brain that solves math problems.  Telling people what to see is telling them what, if changed, will have disproportionate impact on solving all our problems.

How to decide what to do based on what you see is described on my website in the blog entry This or That.

In our story, Inclusion Solutions asked us to see that voting in a pandemic is at risk, and that we can do something about it.

Make it actionableDefining reality in a way that is actionable is how you create movement towards what you want to happen.

This means using your heart, not your head, because action originates in the heart.  This is where you give people the desire – the ‘taste in their mouth’ – that makes them want to do the work.

Think of the counter example.  If you are defining reality in a way that is not actionable, you are not defining a problem.  You are describing gravity.  Gravity is not a problem – it is a circumstance and a fact; there is nothing to do about it.*

In our story, by identifying the problem as voting is not safe in a pandemic, the actions begin to surface.  What would make voting safe?  What would make poll workers safe?  What would reassure both voters and poll workers that voting is safe?

Create energy.   By defining reality in a way that is actionable, you create the energy needed to produce the action.  Energy sounds amorphous; it is not.  People will make sacrifices, take risks, work very hard and then work very hard again when they are seen to be doing so, and when they themselves see that their efforts are positively impacting “reality” (results).

In the story about Inclusion Solutions, imagine the amount of work that had to be done sourcing face masks, hand sanitizer, screen cleaners, gloves – equipment the whole world is looking for at the same time.  This work did get done because the company defined the problem as “make it safe to vote” and believed this was a worthy project that customers would pay for.

Define the problem.  Try it now.

  1. Write down in a few sentences your definition of the problem – what you want people in your organization to see.
  2. Write down in bullet points actions that mitigate the problem.  Do not hem yourself in by wondering if the action is enough.  What matters is that these actions positively impact the problem you have identified.
  3. Do you notice an increase in energy as you record suggested actions?  If you do, so will those around you.

*Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, two Stanford professors, used this concept in their book Designing Your Life.

This or That

Shortly after I had joined our business, we were confronting relentless downward pressure on pricing, and a buyer found very well-priced sport shirts.  These shirts were well-priced for a reason: they were not made with the quality standards of our brand.  My dad, the Shale of Mark Shale, was made aware of these shirts through a salesperson who was embarrassed to be offering his customers shirts of such quality. 

Dad immediately had the shirts removed from every store.  In the most public manner, he sacrificed a revenue opportunity from the low-cost market (this) in order to protect the trust customers have in what they buy from us (that).

It’s a powerful tool – making an explicit choice that requires sacrificing the road not taken.  It’s powerful because it’s a visible choice: we must pass up, in front of our customers, our managers, our salespeople – this in order to achieve the more important that.  

In the book Influencer, the authors describe the power of choosing one value over another to motivate and lead an organization in a specific direction.

You must ask yourself, “Why should others believe and follow me?” Then, to give weight to your talk about the importance of the vital behaviors you’re espousing, make sacrifices.  Sacrifice other key values.  Nothing makes a new vital behavior seem more credible than when you sacrifice time, money, ego, and other priorities to demonstrate that what you say is important to you really is important to you.

Influencer, p. 162

I think the organization’s leader actually “mines” for such opportunities to declare a this or that, recognizing its importance in building a culture that produces desired outcomes.  This or that becomes a mythical story for the company: an expression of who we are, and who we aren’t.

Questions in the Mirror

  1. Every business confronts the this or that present in quality or price.  Name a choice you have made and how you used it to convey your business’s values to its employees and to its customers.
  2. Every business confronts the this or that when confronted with a high performing employee who “makes omelets by breaking a lot of eggs”.  Name a decision you made and how you used it to convey your business’s values to its employees and to its customers.
  3. Choosing a this or that is how you increase the speed of the current carrying decisions forward in your organization.  In the month ahead, where do you see opportunity to make this choice clear to the organization that will make vivid its strategic direction?

podcast interview

Please enjoy this Midwest Mavericks interview with Dave Davenport, Founder and CEO of motherG Network Guardians, the award-winning managed IT services company. What a pleasure to tell the Mark Shale story, reflecting in a public way what we had done and the pride we felt in our company.  The interview was originally part of a 97.1 FM radio podcast series that profiles companies and their owners in the Midwest.

Making Faces

When I was a kid, my brother and I made funny faces at each other. It must be genetic: my son does the same thing. I treasure photos of us together, like the four-in-a-row shots taken in old time booths. We mugged photos while he served in the Israeli Army. His funny faces reduced my anxiety. That’s the point: faces communicate stuff – faces make us feel stuff. I have noticed that leaders use this to motivate people and make strengths productive.

The Mirror

My dad was very particular about the mirrors in our store. He spent a lot of time on capturing just the right angle. These were three way mirrors in which our customer would see himself – for the first time – in a suit or new outfit. Dad thought a lot about the lighting. It was important that the lighting be as close to daylight as possible – as daylight best captured color and intensity, and how the clothes fit the man…