A good leader is a good follower

thomas-paine-writer-quote-lead-follow-or-get-out-of-theYou’ve probably seen this famous quote somewhere along the way.

It seems, in most group dynamics, we each fall into one of these three categories. Either we lead, follow, or … we’re one of “them.” Suffice it to say: anyone behind the leader is presumed to be a follower.

Alpha-Beta Pug

We used to have a cute little black Pug. Before Pugs were cool, people thought – especially when we took this little porker on hikes – we had a pot-bellied pig. Can’t say I blamed them.

Anyway, we took her hiking and camping a lot. Funny thing is, being “Alpha dog” (my translation: only dog), she saw herself as behind my hubby (her alpha) and in front of me (her slave and gamma, at best).

So there we would be, in the middle of some trail somewhere, and I would be fighting for my spot behind my long-legged, fast-walking husband…with an animal the size of a wind-up doll power-playing me right out of 2nd place.

It ticked. Me. Off.

Until my husband and I had the discussion and discovered the relationship between his pooch and his wife. We concluded that, whether animal or human, we are either the one in charge, or we aren’t. There’s really no in-between. In this case, I was definitely not the leader. I wasn’t even the one behind the leader.

And that was OK. We all fill our “roles,” right?

It depends. Some followers may blissfully happy following and making their best contributions in that way. But a good leader also needs to know how to be a good follower. (The above is not one of those examples, by the way.) In my experience, the best leaders know how and when to follow.

It’s a big part of letting other people find their own leadership ability.

Lighten the leadership load.

I saw another interesting quote the other day on leadership. It went something like this: “When the leadership load is lightened, great things really start to happen.”

It didn’t quite click then.

In this context, though, it makes sense. The more leaders are OK following now and then, the more great stuff happens. The more they delegate, the more leaders they produce. In today’s world, that’s the sign of a great future.

Audience: Don’t scratch what doesn’t itch

hand scratching what ppears to be male balding headHad a great coffee meeting with a friend the other day who is a very talented instructional designer. Not only does this woman  – I’ll call her Sandy – know the methodologies and techniques for producing great training – she understands the technology behind it all, too. What a great mix of skills.

We ended up chatting the most, however, on the topic of understanding your audience. (Fellow blogger and consultant Deb Nelson covered this recently.)

I mean, if Sandy is developing training for, let’s say, bank tellers on the front lines, the required skills, knowledge and compliance they require are very different from the body of knowledge a loan officer needs to develop.

This is just one example of how missing the target audience is crucial to accomplishing your organization’s goals – or not.

Patience, Grasshopper.

So the question, “Who’s your audience?” isn’t just a bunch of hooey from the comms nerds. It’s at the heart of whatever it is you’re creating. It is more than likely why you’re developing that message. That audience needs knowledge, and you can give it to them.

You’ll also want to have an answer ready for, “What does this [brochure, website, FAQ, training document, research study, etc] need to accomplish?”

  • Do you need to change someone’s mind or behavior?
  • Do you need to move them through your sales funnel, from Point C to Point D?
  • Perhaps educate them and deepen their understanding of a complex topic?
  • What do they think or feel now?
  • How do you want them to feel after encountering your information?
Take the time or else

Whatever it is you’re communicating, I guarantee without solid answers to these questions, the likelihood of hitting your mark is – well, let’s just say you’ve been warned.

Before starting any project that communicates an idea – copy, design, user experience, it’s crucial to know:

  • Who your audience is;
  • What you need to accomplish; and
  • What the consumer’s thinking or perception is today.

Twice in the last few days I’ve heard about someone totally missing these targets – one with a study that surveyed precisely the wrong topic; the other, a training program that equipped the wrong stakeholders with the wrong set of skills. Both epic fails — not to mention costly.

As my friend Sandy said, you have to address the specific needs of the audience – or else, you just might end up scratching an itch that doesn’t exist.

Initiate kindness

The open hands of a child

Photo by Jyn Meyer

It’s that time of year. Graduates are graduating and dreams are being flung toward the heavens along with those tassled caps.

Probably that’s the reason for a series on Linkedin called #IfIWere22. The likes of Richard Branson and Robert Herjovec appear to be participating.

Came across Herjovec’s recently and it made me think of all the things I wished I knew then that I know now. As most of us know, some things are better left unknown until “that time” in your life when you’re mature enough to handle them.

Glass half-full

But other things, like assuming the best in people – while I wish I’d “had it” earlier, for me, came with time.

Maybe I was jaded from losing my father young — maybe on guard and grieving in my early adult years? Maybe it was a sense of identity loss, since I also married young.

While I don’t feel it’s true now, it does seem like I lived too much of my life with a glass half-empty. Still, that’s what I’d tell myself at 22. Here’s why.

Do unto others…

Funny. I always thought I knew what the “do unto others as you’d have them do unto you” axiom meant, but the more “judgy” our society becomes, the more important I think it is for each of us to just take the initiative to act on that premise – first.

By that, I mean to assume the best in others – that they are more than likely good people, probably will like you, take interest in you as a fellow human, whatever – and act on it. Initiate kindness.

We have the power

A long time ago – while my dad was still alive, in fact, we were at a conference together. This one speaker talked about how the interactions we initiate lead to positive or negative reception by others. In other words, how we treat someone will likely manifest itself in a similar reaction from them.

So why would we wait on the other person to show kindness?

Ghandi said it best: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Just decide to do good, and then do it.

But how about when a situation is hard to read and you’re the new kid on the block? Last one to the party? What then? It can be terrifying (even for this flaming extrovert).

That doesn’t mean the risk isn’t worth the payoff, though. And it doesn’t let us off the hook if we really want to see change.

Being kind first just means you’re extending an open hand that says, “I have nothing to hide or hold back. At this moment, at this time, I’m here … for you.”

Some people won’t feel it. Don’t take it personally. It’s their problem – really. Others will need it. It’ll be like manna from heaven for them. And you’ll know because they’ll light up the moment you show you care. It could make their day and yours.

So what would I tell myself at 22? I’d tell myself to initiate kindness as an act of faith in others.

And I’d finish with a reminder that it’s nearly impossible not to reciprocate in the same, kind way. If someone doesn’t want to engage in a little kindness today…it really is their loss.

Confessions of a sun worshipper

I admit it. I love the sun.

In the last few weeks, I have realized how much sunlight means to my sanity. I’m not just talking about for tanning purposes. Been there, done that; had a real bad sunburn in places sunburns shouldn’t go.

I’m just saying I appreciate the sun more than ever.

Image of fog settling over Rocky Mountains

How Colorado has looked for nearly one month – until today. Photo by Amber Van Schooneveld

No, really.

Colorado has seen more rain in the month of May 2015 than in any other May in history. That is unacceptable, folks.

But wait – it’s reality. Note to self: Suck it up. That’s what big kids do, right?

Meanwhile, back at Rancho Poor Mexican Gone …

I haven’t been able to crank out any content. I have blog ideas outlined or drafted – but every last one of them has been stuck behind the Publish button – or worse, stuck in my mind. Nothing could unclog them.

Anyway, some things have actually happened in the world of Poor Mexican Gone over the last few weeks:

  • My AncestryDNA test results came back – way earlier than I expected. Is that just “delighting the customer” or did I not have enough data in my tree? A new post on that soon. Interesting stuff.
  • More of Braulio’s peripheral family members and their records have shown up in my research, offering more validation (maybe 70%?) that he is in our bloodline.
  • Some great new fabrics came in to help me with my new quilting/sewing addiction (which requires much more time than anyone can imagine).
  • More freelance work has come my way – yay!
  • I’ve been playing more tennis, AND I got me some new kicks for the 2015 season.

So all that to say – it’s been an oddly overwhelming month, mostly in a good way.

But this weather!

And the angels sang

And the angels sang

Ask any Coloradan: If we don’t get our 300+ days of sunshine per year, we’re a collective, hot mess.

As you might have guessed, the sun finally came out today. We’re thrilled and hopeful, with all fingers and toes crossed.

And now maybe, just maybe, the sun will finally unclog the blog.

Taming squirrels

Parque Zoológico Santa Fe - Medellín - Colombia - Suramerica

Photo by memoossa

Feels like so long since I’ve blogged.

The silence has been less for lack of something to say than for lack of ability to focus on something to say (hence the squirrel). Lots of transition swirling about, and I’m having to be much more intentional about how I process and manage a few moving targets. Basically, I’m having to become my own project manager.

It’s times like these that I feel less intuitive about what to do next, so I basically need a roadmap of my life – not just to-do lists – to get me to the next step and beyond.

I’m toying with tools old and new to keep things straight:

For a right-brainer like me, living strictly by lists can take the joy out of things. So using tools I love helps me get things done, even as they pile up. And as long as there’s margin for the creative, it’s all good.

Here’s to planning for crazy.

There is life after a layoff

doctor-is-inIt has been a week.

A number of my friends and former colleagues were laid off. Some saw it coming, but I think many didn’t.

And just like that, it felt like old times. Having an open door, (OK, a phone, texting and Facebook) being the sounding board, fielding lots of questions. Why? Who? When? How?

In the end, when a layoff happens to you, all that really matters is What.

Having been there not once, but three times – twice in the last few years – it’s hard not to feel their pain. And surprisingly, at first it was hard not to relive my own.

Thankfully, getting to the other side does happen. It takes time, healing, rest, resetting and, most importantly, getting back up and dusting ourselves off.

Also in there somewhere , but absolutely necessary, is re-prioritizing. Values change, focus changes and, eventually, we learn how to negotiate back into our lives the prerequisite margin we need to live life fully – preferably more fully than before.

Ultimately, though, we have to be there for each other. Not only would I never wish a layoff on someone the way they happen these days. I wouldn’t wish on anyone to go through it alone.

So close and yet so far

Screen Shot 2015-05-02 at 5.31.44 PMI felt like I was at a library of obscure books the other night when I googled “Coahuila, Mexico.” You know, so I can learn more about why, oh, why I can’t find my great-grandfather Braulio or any of his compadres.

But wow – the books I came up with, most of which are out of print or so rare you couldn’t possibly find them in any library or bookstore, are a treasure trove of (presumable) context and insight.

I’ve learned recently to search for obscure book topics or titles in Google Play, but who knew I’d come across stuff like this?

So I’m kind of overwhelmed now by what could either be a treasure trove (glass half-full) or a bunch more needles in my haystack (glass half-empty). The mind is getting weary and I might just be sucking my positive juice dry.

Now, if I could just find a book that can tell me what the heck happened to Saltillo parish records from the mid-19th century – a fire, flood, some disaster? – I might have more of a lead of what was going on in those days and whether it’s my great-grandfather who’s “missing” or just his records.

For now, a little spittle on a test strip for DNA-by-mail is going to have to do.

Can’t we all just get along?

Rodney King caricature. He speaks into a mic

A little throwback in light of the week’s events in the U.S. Painful then, painful now. No more. Image Cass Anaya via Creative Commons.

Ogilvy and great content

I need to do a better job of cleaning out my bookmarks. Found this under a pile of moth balls, so I had to dust it off and air it out.

david-ogilvy-don-draperCopyblogger’s original post was inspired by the father of all Mad Men.

No, not Don Draper (left). I’m talking about the real father of advertising, David Ogilvy — the copywriter’s copywriter and author of the creative classic, Ogilvy on Advertising.

Because before social media, there was advertising. And then social media changed everything.

Copyblogger clearly anticipated this transition, which changed one of the sexiest industries forever. (Although from experience, I can tell you: it wasn’t all that sexy. Pan Am would’ve been a lot sexier.)

Basically, good content is good content, regardless of its era or semantics. Call it advertising, blogging, whatever. It’s content no matter how you slice it.

Advertising = Information

While advertising has long been perceived as a trendsetter in pop culture, Ogilvy viewed it as content that informs.

Granted, the path to the consumer dollar today is kinder and gentler, and less linear. But the idea is the same: Make your content so useful that people want to take action.

Ogilvy summed it up like this:

I do not regard advertising as entertainment or art form, but as a medium of information. When I write an advertisement, I don’t want you to tell me that you find it ‘creative.’ I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product. When Aeschines spoke, they said, ‘How well he speaks.’ But when Demosthenes spoke, they said, ‘Let us march against Philip.’

To board or not to board? That is the question

Woman dressed in suit talking in meeting

A few years ago, I joined my first board. As a strategist, I looked forward to contributing to the success of a nonprofit.

Like with anything new, I had questions about “how this works” and what I should expect. Most of those surfaced as I served and learned the ropes. Along the way, I asked people I knew whose board experience I could learn from.

Based on their experience and mine, I decided to share a few pointers – especially for people looking to give back to their community and beyond. It’s not an exhaustive list, but good food for thought. I’d love to hear yours, too, in the comments.

Dos and Don’ts of joining a board
If you’re considering joining a board, it’s good to go in with eyes wide open. Because engaging in this kind of work really should come with a clear understanding of commitments and the real needs of the organization from its trustees.

  • DO join a board if the organization’s mission is something close to your heart. It helps if you’re knowledgeable in the space it serves, too.
  • DO join a board if you have specific skills or a network that can be helpful to its advancement. Are you networked with like-minded people? They might be able to support the org or even be committee or board candidates themselves.
  • DO, in most cases, expect to do some fundraising. That means at some point, you’ll need to pound the proverbial pavement with your contacts and others, in hopes of helping your organization reach its revenue* goals. It means asking for money. Lots of folks are very uncomfortable with this, but let me tell you – if you have the right potential donor, they want to be asked. I’m a pastor’s kid, so I grew up hearing calls for offerings. And apparently the “ask” rubbed off on me, so I’m not at all shy about it – especially if I know someone has demonstrated interest in lending financial support before.
  • DON’T join a board without a clear idea of what your time commitment will be. If you only have 2 hours per month that you can devote to it, make sure it will fit into your schedule so you can maximize your time and make the best contribution possible. Nothing breeds resentment like demands that exceed your availability or don’t consider your time.
  • DON’T join a board that has not clearly outlined and agreed to domains and responsibilities of staff and board members.

What would you add to this list if someone asked you whether they should join a board?

*Don’t be fooled by the word “nonprofit.” Like any for-profit, a nonprofit needs income (revenue) to meet expenses like payroll, program administration, marketing and donor development. Many parallels are clear, too: Donors = customers; program development = product development. At a high level, the needs are basically the same.

Photo credit: UN Ebola Task Force meeting on 19 September 2014 via photopin (license). No derivatives.