Friday, July 11, 2014

leadership and governance

During my month of reading in Maine, I stumbled upon several of the important texts in the discipline of political philosophy - those texts that discuss why and how people govern themselves within a community - and why some forms of governance work and others do not.  It was a fascinating time for me to be reading these texts as I assume a new role at Concordia where I can lead the dialogue on this topic.  Reading Aristotle's Politics, Machiavelli's The Prince, and Rousseau's Social Contract (with many more still to be read) got me thinking of the importance of governance and how a leader functions within that role.  Whether you run a family, a church, a business, a nonprofit, or even a university, there needs to be a set of "rules" by which one governs and by which those involved in the family/community/organization know how to function.  When people know how they are expected to live together - and those expectations are actually lived out - life can be fairly peaceful for most of the people most of the time (even when you disagree with the expectations, at least you know what they are).  And the more I read, the more I realized that it is that person in the leadership role that is accountable to ensuring that those expectations are reasonable, understood, known, and carried out in a manner that is fair and just...thus the importance of governance.

So many times we as leaders think about getting better at leadership - those behaviors and skills that enhance our ability to make decisions, think strategically, build relationships, act collaboratively, etc.  What we may forget is that while we need to do all of those things, we also need to function within an organization that includes people and their needs to feel ownership within that organization.  How will your organization make decisions?  How will others be involved in that decision making?  What type of structure is in place for people to have their voices heard? Who owns what decisions - and who holds others accountable to the decisions that are made?  The founders of the United States worked hard to determine a form of governance that would work for a new collection of states, with a wide variety of peoples, who had a large frontier in front of them.  They argued, fought, wrote, debated, and finally decided on a structure that they believed would work for them at that time and well into the future.  Little did we know how amazing that structure would be, now over 200 years old.  If only the governance structures of our organizations and institutions could last that long...

At the end of the day, we as leaders want those who work with us to be happy - no matter what the institution is or does.  The role of political philosophy is to think about what type of governance structure will make the most people happy most of the time.  I do not believe there is one perfect structure that will work all of the time for all of the people...but I do believe that there are ideals that have been around since the beginning of time that need to be present in any form of governance that is going to work.  I believe that people need to have a voice in the decisions that are made for an organization...and I believe that once those decisions are made, those same people expect that the decisions will be upheld and put into practice - and that when others violate those decisions that they will be held accountable.  Sounds easy, doesn't it?  If it was only so...

Leaders - consider the governance structure in your organization and ask if it is supporting the mission, vision and values that are in place.  If so, celebrate that and let people know how cool it is that the governance is working to help accomplish the tasks at hand.  If not, start thinking about how you will be able to align the mission, vision and values of the institution with its governance - and get to work making it happen.  WARNING - this is hard and messy will take time and people will disagree...AND it will be worth all the time and effort put into the process.

Friday, June 20, 2014

leading and learning

Someone has stated that "all leaders are readers."  I would agree, with the added phrase that "all leaders are learners."  I have come to realize that not everyone learns by reading, something I take into account now when asked my ideas on a topic.  Rather than jumping in and recommending a book, I will first ask if they are a reader, and if so, then recommend a book.  If they are not a reader, recommending a book will not help them learn, so it is up to me to find other ways to help them do so (mentoring, TED talks, internet sites, others who have done something similar, etc.).  As I have begun my summer of reading (and learning), here are a few things I have come to learn in the past several weeks:

  1. From reading The Cave and the Light by Arthur Herman, I have come to realize that different people understand politics and governance with different means and ends in mind (are they Aristotelian or Platonian?).  I am going to be doing a lot of research into political philosophy as I consider best structures for governance.
  2. From reading Means of Ascent by Robert Caro, I began to further understand how one uses influence to achieve a certain end...while I may not want to be a ruthless (some may use other words) as Lyndon Johnson was, he has taught me that it is important to act politically to achieve goals.
  3. From reading Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven by John Elliot Gardner, I was again reminded of the power of the arts in helping shape the "ethos" of an organization.  Bach's ability to make the word come alive through the music is still an amazing feat he accomplished week after week in his Church Cantatas.
  4. From reading the Psalms, I am again reminded of God's constant love for me - and of the consistent pressure about me to do wrong.  The psalmist knew that he was up against the powers of the devil, the world, and his sinful self...and that he needed God's protection to move forward.
  5. From reading the Tao Te Ching I am reminded that what often seems the right thing to do may be just the opposite of what needs to be done - this text is so full of paradoxes that make so much sense, especially in the role of leading and managing others.
The summer continues - and so does the learning.  More books are on the list for the next several weeks and months (and more to come in the near and long term future as well).  What are you reading - and learning - about leadership?

Friday, May 30, 2014

learning to say no

Someone asked me the other day what my biggest challenge might be as I take on the role of CEO at Concordia University Texas on August 1, and my answer (after some thought) was learning to say NO to things so that I could say YES to others.  I have often referred to as yes-type of person, one who is willing to give people and ideas a chance, to see what might stick and be of value to the organization.  I love to give people permission to try new things and run with their latest ideas.  I am a firm believer that if you try 100 ideas and 2-3 are good, then you have been successful.  And that's not just true for others...I believe it is also true for me.

In this new role, I know that there will be more requests than I can say YES to...I know that I will have more ideas than I can say YES to...I believe there will be more people than I can say YES to - so what am I to do?  How will I learn got say NO?  Here are a few ideas for me - and for you - to consider as we learn to say NO:

  • WAIT - give yourself time to make the decision
  • LISTEN - have trusted advisers with whom to bounce your ideas around
  • PRIORITIZE - be sure you know what your 3-4 big things are, and test ideas and people against those
  • STRATEGIZE - have a strategic plan that helps to determine priorities for you and the organization
  • REMINDERS - somewhere on your desk have a sign that says NO, or WAIT, or NOT NOW
  • BUDGET - determine the budget and manage it well
  • NAYSAYER - have someone at the table who sees the world through a half-empty glass and let them have a say
  • REMEMBER - consider all the times someone said NO in the past and how it was beneficial to you and the organization
  • REFLECT - remind yourself that you are not in this seat to win friends and have others like you
  • PRAY - for wisdom of when to say NO and the courage to do so
And so begins the journey of saying NO...while most people will be remembered for the things they say YES to, one of the reasons they were able to say YES was a result of the many times they said NO before that.  God grant me - and you - the wisdom and courage to know the difference. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

ethical leadership

Yesterday I had the privilege of attending the 12th annual Ethics in Business and Community Awards luncheon sponsored by RecognizeGood and benefiting the Samaritan Center for Counseling and Pastoral Care here in Austin.  Concordia University Texas, and especially its College of Business, has been involved with this event for 10 years and recently has become a partner in making the event happen.  As I watched the 12 finalists be introduced and listened to the five recipients of the awards, I kept thinking about what it means to be ethical in our daily lives and behavior, especially in leadership roles and positions.  I am reminded of Lord Acton's statement that "power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely," with a reminder that with power comes great responsibility.

The people who were recognized yesterday - and the organizations they represent - are all very powerful.  Each of us has the ability to have (or take) power on a regular basis, whether it be a result of our position or our demeanor...and let me just say that I would encourage you to take that power.  With great power does come great responsibility...a responsibility to make things happen for the common good...and to do so in an ethical manner.

So what does ethical leadership look like?  How does one know that they are actually leading in a way that is ethical?  While I would never hold myself out as an expert on ethics (I will leave that to my friend and colleague Dr. Carl Trovall), let me offer these few thoughts:

  • ethical leadership considers the quiet or oppressed voice when making decisions
  • ethical leadership asks more questions than has answers
  • ethical leadership is never ashamed of its decisions
  • ethical leadership is consistent - and when it does not look consistent is willing to explain why
  • ethical leadership is transparent in a way that allows others to trust the decision making process
  • ethical leadership does not allow unethical behavior among others
  • ethical leadership asks the question of how decisions might impact those who are closest to the living out of those decisions (aka subsidiarity)
  • ethical leadership is often described as caring and compassionate (even when an action might not seem so)
  • ethical leadership is always balancing the good of the organization with the good of the individual
  • ethical leadership will consistently provide a WHY for its decisions
  • ethical leadership looks around the rooms and asks the question of who is not present that should be
  • ethical leadership ensures that values are stated, talked about, upheld, and used in the decision making process
  • ethical leadership invites all voices to the table - and listens closely to those voices that are different and seemingly negative
  • ethical leadership upholds those act in an ethical manner to others, and raises them to levels of leadership so that the organization continues to think and behave in an ethical manner
That's my take on the day after being immersed in ethical discussions (both at the lunch and in other settings).  My advice is to think deeply about this and then read on the topic, beginning with a great anthology entitled Ethics: The Essential Writings, a compendium of great minds considering this important topic, especially among those of us who are known as and called leaders.  

Friday, May 16, 2014


On Friday, April 8, 2011, I wrote a blog entitled "an end...and a beginning" which detailed how I had NOT received the call to serve as president at Concordia University St. Paul and the lessons I had learned throughout the process.  This past Tuesday, May 13, 2014, it was announced that I had been named the next Chief Executive Officer at Concordia University Texas effective August 1 upon Tom Cedel's retirement (you can read the full story here).  I wrote in the April 8, 2011 blog that
"I am excited about this beginning - it is almost as if this is the first day of the rest of my life." 

Now as I begin thinking about this next chapter in my life, the above sentence seems as true as ever.  The April 8 blog contained a series of questions that would guide my learnings from that time forward, with one of them being, "Having tasted the role of being a college president, what are the next steps in my growth toward having that opportunity in the future?"  There is much I have learned in the past 3 1/2 years - and many people to whom I am thankful for walking with me on this are just a few:
  • Ralph Wagoner - for being a coach, encourager, and friend 
  • Carl Trovall - for giving me words that could fit my ideas
  • Gayle Grotjan - for introducing me to people and places
  • Beth Atherton - for seeing things in me I did not see
  • Ron Kessler - for walking with me through both processes
  • Joel Trammel - for providing a bigger (and better) picture of what the CEO is and does
  • Linda Greenwald - for being there to share my ideas and dreams
  • Kristi Kirk - for helping me understand a broader picture of college and university issues
  • Rebecca Powers - for words of wisdom and encouragement
  • The College of Business faculty - for being so good that I could venture into other areas of growth
  • Tom Cedel - for providing an outstanding picture of what the leader of a University is and does
  • Deb (my wife) - for being my sounding board and loving and believing in me for over 34 years
If you are reading this and your name is not on the list, please do not be offended - I am sure that you (and many, many others) have had similar influences on me and have made me the person I am today.  I am excited about the next steps, many of which will include transitioning from Dean to CEO.  That journey will prove to be full of lessons along the way, many of which I hope to include right here.  So until August 1, I remain the Dean of the College of Business at Concordia, and will continue to be "thinking about leadership" through that lens.

Friday, May 9, 2014

experts on the inside

There is a running joke in organizations (at least the ones of which I have been a part) that the best way to get your point across is to bring in an expert on the subject...and that what constitutes expertise is living 50 miles or more away from the organization.  What really constitutes an "expert" on such topics as leadership, change, development, marketing, etc?  Is it it the number of articles or books one has is one's various it the number of positive reviews someone receives...or is it merely distance?  Obviously I say this tongue in cheek, but this week I experienced an in-house expert who did all - and more - than an "expert" from 50 miles or more away could have done.  We had tried to get three different "expert" speakers from all around the country to come and talk with our faculty on the topic of "Leadership and the Theology of the Cross" all to no avail.  As Carl Trovall and I looked at each other and kept wondering who to invite, it dawned on us that we had an expert in our midst - namely Dr. Carl Trovall.  He humbly accepted the invitation and began preparing his remarks for the faculty retreat.  And let me tell you, he did an incredible job.  The only thing another "expert" would have brought with them was the fact that they were coming from 50 miles away or farther.  The Concordia University Texas faculty truly benefited by our own expert on the inside.

So what does this mean for us who lead groups and organizations?  How might we make more use of our own experts - and what might be some of the pitfalls?  Here's my thoughts:

  • Consider who on your team has an expertise - and invite them to share that with your group
  • Realize that part of the expertise is more than just knowledge - our expert, Carl Trovall, also has the ability to speak in an engaging way - and that was actually a part of his expertise
  • Expertise should be encouraged and developed - how are you investing in your people for them to become your resident expert?
  • Encourage your resident experts to go 50 miles or more away so they can practice being that expert outside of your own organization
  • Brag about your experts to others - both within and outside of the organization.  Let their expertise become known to others.
  • Becoming an expert requires practice - let your own experts practice in front of you...and give them the grace to fail the first few times they engage
  • One of the pitfalls of the inside expert is their inability to speak truth to their peers - create a safe environment for that to happen on some level
  • Outside experts can help hold us accountable to action plans (because we have spent money on them).  Build a similar culture of accountability within your organization so that inside experts can do the same
  • Just as you would pay an expert who traveled 50 miles or more to your site, find a way to reward your inside expert - it could be remuneration, it could be a gift card, it could be time off, it could be additional resources, and it SHOULD be a note of thanks from your and others
Who are your inside experts - go to them today, tell them you consider them to be that, and put them in a position make it a reality sooner rather than later.

Friday, May 2, 2014

a hard question to ask - and answer

Tomorrow is graduation at Concordia University Texas, and many of my students will be walking across the stage.  I can't wait to shake their hands, wish them God's blessings, and then begin following their careers and lives post-college.  But there was a task I needed to complete before the hoopla takes place - the infamous "exit interviews."  While I am not able to get to every student, I am able to talk with a few and get their opinions (good and bad) about the Concordia University, the College of Business, the classes they took and the teachers they had.  The interview always includes a question that is both hard to ask AND hard to answer.  Near the end of the discussion, I look at the student and ask, "Is there anything I may not know that I should know?"  Sometimes they have a puzzled look, and I need to flesh the question out for them a little bit, explaining that I am not able to know everything that is going on, and if I am aware of those things (again - good or bad) then I can actually address them.  They think for awhile and then proceed to respond with things that sometimes I know - and sometimes I don't know.  I won't bore you with the details of what I have discovered through that question or the changes that have been made because of those discoveries.  Needless to say, they can be eyeopening at times.

So why is this question hard to ask and answer?  Consider the following:

  • when I ask the question, I am opening myself up to receiving knowledge that could rock my world
  • when I ask the question, I do not have any control over what the student will say
  • in order to ask the question, there has to be a safe environment for the student to respond truthfully
  • when asking the question, I am, in some ways, putting the student on the spot
  • asking the question has the possibility of hurting the relationship between myself and the student
  • when answering the question, I have to decide how truthful I want to be
  • when answering the question, I am putting my reputation at risk
  • when answering the question, I need to know that I am safe in that time and space
  • if my answer leads to others' reputations being put in jeopardy, I risk their trust and friendship
  • I need to consider whether the person asking the question is coming from a place of best intention
  • I need to believe that what I say will be held in confidence
All leaders have a blind spot - both about themselves as well as others.  Asking this type of question helps to reveal those areas of concern and weakness that perhaps only the leader can begin to address.  One other aspect of why asking this question is so hard...when you get an answer that does rock your world, you will need to act on the information.  If a student, employee, or colleague reveals something that needs addressing, they will watch closely to see how you react - and then how you act.  You had better do something...and then follow up with that person if you want to keep your credibility.

So it's time to ask the hard question - and if you are ever on the receiving end of the question, go ahead and answer it in a way that improves the organization.  Your truthful and honest answer could make all the difference in the world.