Springtime Snows

Snow ice cream on beautiful plate, closeup

I live in the Midwest. It is April. It has snowed the last three Sundays. Seriously, we made snow ice cream on Easter! Sometimes, during the season when you expect the crocuses and dogwoods and daffodils to start blooming, you get a snowstorm instead. And when that happens, you can whine, and complain, and wring your hands . . . or you can make snow ice cream.

Sooner or later, your best-laid plans are going to get snowed on. You can (and should!) plan and coordinate and attend to every detail within your control. The problem is, there are just so many variables that are outside of your control. When an unexpected storm rears its head and derails your plan, it is a leader’s responsibility to forge a new path forward. How do you prepare for Springtime snows?

  • Acknowledge that it can happen. If you expect that all of your plans are going to play out exactly as you have imagined, you set yourself up for disappointment. In effect, it is a leader’s job to bring a sweater, grab an umbrella, pack a snack . . . have a Plan B so you don’t miss a beat when the weather changes.
  • Embrace the change in your plans. When the Springtime snows happen, your people are going to look to you to see if they should be stressed, or worried, or upset. The energy you bring to the challenge at hand is contagious. Fake it until you make it if you have to, but it is a leader’s responsibility to embrace the change in plans, not wallow in what could have been.
  • Recognize the opportunity in the snow. When you embrace and make the most of unexpected situations, you just might be surprised by how often the results exceed what you would have achieved with your original plans. Years from now, I’m guessing we’ll be talking about the fun we had the Easter we made snow ice cream.

When you sign on to be a leader, you also sign on to the inevitable Springtime snows. Expect it, prepare for it, embrace it, and recognize that there can be untold opportunities hidden amidst the unexpected turn in the weather . . . if only you step forward to find them.

Springtime snows, while unexpected, can be absolutely beautiful . . . especially when viewed over a bowl of freshly made ice cream!

A Daily Dose of Why

Why Pills2

Most of us don’t pursue leadership for the “what” of our jobs . . . meetings, reports, negotiations, meetings, programs, bureaucracy, meetings . . . you get the picture. We pursue leadership for the “why” . . . to change the life of a child, to provide care and dignity to an older adult, to help a family become self-sufficient . . .

If “why” is the thing that drives and energizes us — if it’s the thing that we can’t not do, that draws people to join our team — then it seems reasonable that a big part of our job as leaders is to keep the focus on the “why.” Reasonable . . . yes. Easy . . . well, maybe not so much.

As a general rule, “what” screams much more loudly than “why.” There are rules and expectations, deadlines and competition, best practice and benchmarks. If you’re not careful, your whole focus can get sucked into to the “what,” because that’s what is measured and rewarded (by funders, customers, regulating bodies . . . we even do it to ourselves.) Far too often I’ve seen the “what” — be it a program, an outcome, a system — become the driving factor for an organization, which ultimately boxes them in and limits their potential. Think about it . . . if you were a wagon maker at the turn of the 20th Century, even if you were the #1 wagon maker in the country, your future looked pretty dim. But if your “why” was finding efficient ways to move people from one point to another, the sky was the limit!

Frankly, another reason focusing on the “why” can be difficult for leaders is because it seems so simple. Shouldn’t someone with a leader’s skill and experience be focusing on complex systems, comparative metrics, and competitive value propositions? Talking about the vision and mission, focusing on values and operating principles . . . is that feel-good stuff really the best use of a leader’s time? If you are truly committed to making an impact on your “why” (as opposed to meeting some external force’s picture of success) then the answer is unequivocally yes.

“What-focused” organizations tend to be about incrementally improving the status quo. “Why-focused” organizations challenge themselves to consider entirely new approaches to increase their mission impact. Yes, “what” tasks are included among a leader’s responsibilities. But consider how the focus given to those tasks might change if you started each morning with a daily dose of “why.”