Connect The Dots

By Ron Ciancutti
Photo: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / tammykayphoto

This world seems to reveal itself to me more each day. I am now at an age when taking a step back sometimes affords me a better view of the larger picture. People may liken this view to a batter in baseball who hits better in his third or fourth year. For him, the “game has slowed down.” He sees the arc of the curveball or the dip of the sinker better than in his younger days. Perhaps he hasn’t gotten better, but simply wiser. For me, I observe patterns that seem to repeat themselves over the years, not in the way a bitter old man might say, “It will never work, we tried that before,” but instead with certain “indicators” by which I can usually tell how things will go. I’ve also developed a bag full of measures and remedies to counteract the problematic stalls.

Following are three ways leaders can rally the troops and move things in a positive direction:

Set deadlines and adhere to them. I can almost guarantee an idea will fail if specific deadlines are not adhered to. This axiom holds true in one’s personal life as well as in business. I recall asking a girl out for the first time; when we appeared to hit it off, I would say, “We should get together sometime.” She might respond, “Yeah, that would be nice.” Later that week, I realized I now needed to “ask her out” again and work up to that comfort zone we had before. As I grew older, I learned instead to seize the moment and say something like, “I’m going to the basketball game Friday, and I always see you there. Meet me at the refreshment stand at halftime, and we can sit together for the second half.” Most of the time this elicited a positive response; it was a “soft” commitment. If I went to the refreshment stand at halftime and she wasn’t there, the message was clear, but if she was there, it was a solid indication she felt seeing me was worthwhile.

In the same way in business, when I’m working with a project team and we’ve been brainstorming for about an hour, someone will inevitably say, “Well, it seems we’re off to a good start. Let’s get together again and hash these ideas out.” I’m always that guy who says, “Okay. When?” Then the objections begin. “Well, next week’s bad for me, so probably the week after.” I stay on task. “That’s the week that begins on the 20 th . Let’s target the 21 st .” People begrudgingly comply as they get up and gather their belongings. “OK, Ron, the 21 st .” I say, “Here? At this same spot, say 10 a.m.?” Then they all act like I’m a pain in the neck. “Yeah, yeah, 21 st , 10 a.m., here.” Incredibly, within 2 days, half the people in the group will call to ask about the date and time. That’s OK because the meeting has been noted, and the agenda can move forward. If left to “sometime in 2 weeks,” the group might never have reconvened at all.

Present a solid, enthusiastic image. Real leaders thrive with this type of image. In my professional life I have watched many executives enter through the front door and exit out the back.  I’ve seen heads of committees, presidents of clubs, and chairmen of fundraisers experience the full array of accomplishments and failures. Some are awesome leaders, some are bland but get the job done, but none of them succeed without presenting a strong and reliable image. A leader’s mission is to motivate people. How will you expect anyone to rally behind you and your message if you send mixed signals from the start? A wishy-washy leader evokes a milquetoast spirit and, as a result, people won’t try very hard to please him or her. I compare this lack of enthusiasm to the days of Little League when players were handed bags of candy to sell as a fundraiser. Mr. Stewart from the recreation department explained the entire process in a monotone voice right out of Ferris Bueller’s classroom: “Now, after you’ve sold 10 bags, you turn the money into your coach and get 10 more bags and start all over.” Every kid in the stands was probably thinking:

  1. I wonder if my mom will buy all this freaking candy from me.
  2. If she does, I’m not turning the money in until the day before the fundraiser is over because I don’t want to sell any more of this crap.

In the past 40 years things haven’t changed that much, but I do see the pattern more clearly now.

If I’m in charge of a group that has to complete a task involving an investment of personal time, I’m enthusiastic, but honest. Decades later, when coaching my son’s Little League team, I rolled out the annual fundraiser speech at a picnic. I gathered the parents and kids together (in the shade), and explained that the league needed new uniforms, and that the players could be wearing them the next year if the campaign was successful. I talked about the prizes available for those who sold the most and that everyone needed to help a little. I suggested places for players to sell the stuff, and although it was still a drag to do a fundraiser, people eventually got into the spirit of it, finished the project, and felt a sense of accomplishment when they wore the new uniforms the following year.

Remember—someone is usually watching you. Therefore, your actions must be honorable.

  1. Smile and recognize people with a positive nod—even when you lack the energy to do so. An average working guy who detects a scowl on your face will probably tell everyone in the group what a grouchy, angry person you are. Leaders are always on trial.
  2. Learn and remember names. It means a great deal to people when you take the time to know them beyond simply recognizing them.
  3. Give items a positive spin. Optimism is contagious.

Give an occasional morale boost. While you are not required to be a cheerleader all of the time in order to motivate others, it is a good idea to do something out of the ordinary to break the monotony and give people an opportunity to smile. A former supervisor of mine filled an old coffee urn with hot cider and bought a couple dozen doughnuts that he put on a table in the front hall. He posted a sign next to it reading, “41 days until opening day at the stadium—hang in there, everybody! Please have a little snack while we wait this winter out!” It was a small gesture that garnered huge returns on his investment. People loved that and felt that management cared.

What do all of the examples above indicate? They can help people stay on task, make them aware of the effect they have on others, and encourage their inner need to be happy. In the movie A Family Thing , Robert Duvall says, “Being happy ain’t nothing more than having something to look forward to.” As you step back and observe the larger picture, the indicators are there. Simply connect the dots.

Ron Ciancutti is the Director of Procurement for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at