Friday, April 24, 2015

why I didn't blog last Friday

It has been gnawing at me all week that I did not blog last Friday morning.  I had written a blog for six weeks in a row, and was feeling great about my streak.  People were reading the blog, people were commenting on the blog, and I felt like I had something worthwhile to say...and then I didn't blog last Friday morning.  As I thought about it, I realized it was a good thing that I didn't blog last Friday morning - and here's why: there were more important things to do in my life.  I know that blogging on Friday mornings is not the most important thing I do...I know that blogging on Friday mornings is not my full-time (or even part-time) job...I know that blogging on Friday mornings is a luxury for because there were more important things to get done, I chose not to blog.

So what, you may ask, could be more important that blogging on a Friday morning?  Here are just a few of the items that I chose to focus on last Friday rather than blog:

  1. Preparation - I had a talk to give at 8:00 that morning, so I spent the first hour of the day finalizing the slides and going over my talk several times.  This was a very important talk to our faculty and staff, so taking the time to PREPARE was more important than blogging on a Friday morning.
  2. Planning - I have several trips coming up and had to get flights and hotel rooms booked ahead of time.  It seemed important to me to feel that I had the details in place for future events rather than blog, so I chose to PLAN rather than write.
  3. People - there were several colleagues with whom I had to catch up.  The visits to different offices were needed to gather information from and share information with others.  It seemed important that I connect with PEOPLE, so I chose not to write the Friday morning blog.
  4. Relaxing - I thought I might get to write later in the day, but I had an afternoon appointment with a friend with whom I spent time on the patio and enjoyed good conversation.  We have a standing appointment once every six months, and I really needed the time to kick back and enjoy the time.  It seemed more important to me to RELAX rather than write my Friday morning blog.
As I thought about all the reasons why I did not write my Friday morning blog, it soon became apparent that I had the freedom to CHOOSE whether to write my blog or not - and for that particular Friday I chose not to write but to focus on other matters in my life.  Were they all more important than writing the Friday morning blog?  Perhaps not...but my choosing them over the writing sent a signal to others (and to myself) that for the moment, these items and people were more important - and that made a significant impact on them (and on me).  Understanding the freedom one has to choose what they do (even at times when it might not feel that way) allows us to relax just a little bit more and puts us in charge of our lives..and that can make all the difference in the world.

Friday, April 10, 2015

defining success

How do you define success?  Several years ago in my Introduction to Business class, this conversation led to a lot of thought among my students and caused dialogue that lasted throughout the semester.  Is success doing one's best?  Is there a standard one shold reach?  Does one define success for themselves?  Is success about being the best?  Or is success meeting and surpassing standards, whether they be set by oneself or others?

This conversation was had again yesterday in a meeting I attended in which we, as a Board of Directors, tried to define success for the organization.  My colleague on the Board, Michael Costello, named three ways of thinking about success - program success (is the program/product what we want it to be?), financial success (are we able to do what we do in 5-10 years?) and process success (is what we do done really well?).  Let's consider these three separately and together:

Program/Product Success - I think this is built around the organization's core purpose, mission, vision, values,and goals; in other words, is what we had hoped would happen as a result of what we do  actually happening?  I think in order to measure this type of success, certain standards should be determined ahead of time that allows the organization to know they have been successful in their programming, i.e. impact, numbers, satisfaction, position in market, etc. Sometimes these ideals are difficult to measure, and yet measurement is needed.  Having targets are critical for any organization...and please remember that some targets are quantifiable while others may be less so.

Financial Success - those of us who have spent our lives in non-profits or faith-based organizations seem to shy away from this measure of success, and often want to relegate it to a neccesary evil of doing business.  Leaders of organizations (whether that be CEOs, presidents, or boards of directors) have an obligation not only to the current clients or customers; they carry an obligation that this organization will be around in the future to continue living out the mission.  A popular saying among non-profits is "no margin, no mission."  While the mission and vision may not inlcude a measure of financial success, the organization MUST focus on what it means to be successful in this area, and then work relentlessly toward achieving those measures.

Process Success - while it may not be true for all organizations, I have a belief that if one does thier core business practices well, there will be a certain amount of success, both externally with its customers and internally with those who work for the organization.  Understanding what it is the organization does, finding or figuring out best practices, then relentlessly pursuing the delivery of those practices carries with it a certain amount of success.  This is where measurement can come in on a regular basis, whether it be satisfaction surveys, meeting certain internal targets, or receiving recogntion among one's peers for the work they have done (i.e. the Malcolm Baldridge Award).

Now for the final piece - a successful organization has to be successful in all three categories: program/product success with poor finances or poor processes will cease to exist; financial success with poor program/product or poor processes will lose customers and employees; and process success with poor program/product or poor finances might lead to the organzation feeling really good about itself, but the doors will eventually close.  The challenge to the organization and its leadership is to keep all three in balance and not fall into the trap of focusing on one at the expense of the other.  In the school business I often hear, "It's all about the students."  If that was true, they would receive a free education and all of their requests would be granted, no matter the result...other types of businesses and organizations can easily focus on one or the other depending on the nature of what they do and the people they typically hire.

So what about your organization - where does the majority of the focus lie?  should there be a better balance?  what needs to be done to bring more attention to a balance? should one area be emphasized more during this time in the organization's history?  is the right leadership team in place so that all three areas can be balanced? has the board or executives determined what success looks like in the three areas so that the management team can deliver on them?

Before I finish, I want to give kudos to two organizations that inspired today's blog:

  1. Lutheran Music Program:  I serve on the board of this incredible organzation that brings together musical excellence, faith, and intentional community that produces life-changing experiences in young musicians through Lutheran Summer Music.  This program is worthy of anyone's support and bringing it to the attention of high school aged musicians who are serious about music and faith.
  2. The Pacific Institute: This organization partnered with Concordia University Texas in our strategic planning process over the past several months, and did a great job in helping us move to a place where we can more fully define success for oursleves. Spcial thanks to Rosie Baker for her marvelous leadership of the process.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

love one another

On this Manudy Thursday (the first day of the Triduum in Holy Week), I want to pause and write what may be one of the most distinguishing factors of great leaders and great organizations - what it means to love one another.  The term "Maundy" (which comes from the Latin and means command) is a reference to the words spoken by Jesus to his disciples in John 13:34 where he says, "A new command I give you: love one another as I have loved you."  While Maundy Thursday is often associated with Jesus washing his disciples' feet and the institution of the Lord's Supper, the term Maundy has to do with loving one another.  So what does loving one another have to do with leadership ad organiations?  Let me share a few ideas:

  • most leaders and organizations spend time learning and practicing the "hard" skills and might ignore the "soft" skills.  There is nothing easy or soft about loving others - in fact, it may be the hardest thing leaders and organizations have to do. Given that leadership is about people, learning how to love may be the most important skill leaders can learn.
  • love is more than a feeling - it is a set of actions that people put into place toward one another.  How people treat each other, how they behave with each other, and how they think about each other defines the culture of any organization.  Peter Drucker noted that "Culture eats strategy of breakfast" (at least we think he said it).  If that is true, then love is a pretty important part of a strong and healthy culture.
  • people often confuse love with romance, imaging it as something that can only happen between a few others in our lifetime.  Love is a deep feeling for others, something that emantes from the mind as well as the heart.  Love is not a zero-sum game...there is enough to go around for everyone.  And as is oftne noted, the more one loves others, the more they are loved back.
  • my mother used to tell me that I didn't have to like everyone, but I had to love everyone.  While the statement at first confused me, I soon realized how important it was to love everyone in my circles.  Loving them meant that I saw them as important people who had gifts to offer the world.  Not everyone had to be my best friend (those who I truly liked), but everyone had to be shown honor and respect.
  • love for others is lived out in different ways - it may include a simple "hello" when you see them, it may be a note of thanks that comes from out of the blue, it may be allowing them to have a voice at the table, it may be honoring them by remembering their name, it may be asking them about theri children or family, it may be including them in a conversation, it may be__________________.  Everyone experiences love from others in different ways.  Knowing what that way consists of is often an act of love in itself.
  • love sometimes leads to difficult decisions, and can result in outcomes that are less than desirable for others.  Often times in organizations we mistake loving others as allowing people to get away with bad behavior and not holding them accountable for their actions.  I know that my mother and father loved me, and yet there were times they had to remind me of my bad behavior and exert a little pressure.  The same is true in leadership and organizations - where there is no accountability there is no love.
  • love is a daily decision to be made, and it can be a difficult decision at times.  Because we are finite individuals who often look first to self interests, people will clash with one another and cause hurt and pain among each other.  Walking into the organization and truly loving those with whom one works is a hard task...and it is a task well worth the energy.
It is my prayer that organizations will be known for how they love one another. I also beleive that this type of behavior begins with leaders, and how they love those with whom they work.  When Jesus gave this new command to his disciples, he followed it up by showing them what that love looked like.  It went beyond washing their ended with him suffering death on the cross for their eternal salvation.  While I would never ask a leader to sacrfice themeselvess and their lives (realtionships, marriages, health, etc) for the sake of an organization (remember that God is God and we are not), leaders who give their all for the good of the organization and the people who work there exhibit a type of love that commands attention from others - and that can make all the difference in the world.

Friday, March 27, 2015

non-anxious presence

Yesterday I watched a master facilitator lead our strategic planning team through a day-long process of discovery and team building.  She gave us exercises to work on as a group, she put us into spaces in which we could think out loud together, and she consistently moved us forward, without ever exerting her own self into the process.  She was a non-anxious presence in the room, and it permitted us as a group to do our best work.

Earlier this week, I led our monthly faculty meeting where we heard reports, talked about a few issues, and had to decide how to move forward on an issue that had the chance to be contentious.  As I stood at the front of the room, there was a moment where I had to remind myself to not let my feelings about the subject  drive any of the discussion or the decision - it was my job to lead the meeting, not to do the work of the group.  I had to be a non-anxious presence in the room so that the group could do their best work.

One more I sat and talked with several individuals this week, I again had to remind myself to be a non-anxious presence in the room.  The conversations were difficult and I could feel myself becoming personally involved in several of them.  What I had to remind myself of during these conversations was that I could be personally involved AND remain a non-anxious presence in the room so that the two of us could do our best work.

So how can one remain a non-anxious presence in a room, in a group, or in a one-on-one conversation?  Here are a few thoughts:

  • remind yourself that you are not God, nor has anyone appointed you to be are there as a facilitator of discussion and decision making
  • believe that the group or the other person has much to offer and that their decision is their decision to make...not yours
  • be aware of the signals that your body or mind tell you when you start to get anxious, and then pull back...deep breaths always seem to help me
  • learn to stay quiet, and not to always fill silence with words...let the quietness of the room or the conversation be a time of reflection
  • be prepared so that you can focus on the issue at hand and not have to worry about your own performance.  Know what you need to know to run the meeting or have the conversation - and practice your role (and what you might need to say) beforehand
  • remember that most decisions are not life and death
Finally, I think that the most important aspect of being able to be a non-anxious presence is knowing that ones self worth does not come from the approval of the group, the team, or the individual to whom you might be talking.  Knowing that you are loved and worthy despite what others think of you goes a long way in staying relaxed when the pressure is on...and that can make all the difference in the world - for yourself and for the group or individual with whom you are engaging.

Friday, March 20, 2015


I have been thinking recently about what it means to be a professional - and how one acts in that role. Merriam-Webster describes professionalism as the  skill, good judgement, and polite behavior that is expected from a person who is trained to do a job well.  This blog will focus on the GOOD JUDGEMENT and POLITE BEHAVIORS that are associated with being a professional.  While I would like to say that I follow all of these all of the time (which I do not), I can at least say that these axioms guide the way I think about my work on a day-to-day basis.  Many of them I have discovered to be true over time...others have been passed on to me by wise mentor...and others are still to be discovered over time (mostly through trail and error).  So here goes - and if I miss any, please add them to the comment section of this blog:

Don Christian's 10 Rules of Professionalism

  1. Always tell the truth - you don't have to always tell everyone everything but when asked, tell the truth to the extent you are able...and if you cannot reveal certain information at that time, follow up with the person to let them know you were not able to do so.
  2. Use good grammar and correct spelling - if this is not your strength, have a proofreader handy...and ALWAYS double check your emails or blogs before hitting the SEND button.
  3. Answer emails promptly - I have a 24-hour rule for answering email, even if it is an quick "I will get back to you in a few days" response...and develop a way not to lose emails in the mix if you are reading off of different devices.
  4. Return a phone call with a phone call - while it is not always easy to do, phone calls made to you should be honored with a phone call back to that person...for this I have adopted a 72 hour rule (within 3 days).
  5. Do not send an email if you have any emotion wrapped around it -  stop typing, delete the email, and then go see (or call) the person...even a well-worded email can be taken wrong, so use email for information only, not to share your feelings or opinions (especially if they are directed to that person).
  6. Dress for the occasion - I used to tell my high school faculty that professional dress was dictated by what they were doing that day and with whom they were doing it...PE teachers had a different dress code from math teachers, and science lab teachers  had a different dress code from English teachers.  The same is true for all professions.
  7. Listen more than you talk - if, in a group setting, you find yourself having to respond every time a question is asked, you are probably talking more than listening.  Here's the interesting paradox - listening is harder than talking, so it takes more practice.
  8. Engage in the discussion - as a corollary to #7, professionals offer their opinion and help move the conversation forward.  If, at the end of a meeting you have not spoken, then you have robbed the team of your best thinking.
  9. Be on time - nothing connotes disrespect as being habitually late for meetings...remember that everyone's time is valuable, and making people wait tells them that you consider your time more important than theirs (if you are going to be late, do everything you can to let the other person know).
  10. Keep your work area organized - I understand that cleanliness does NOT equal godliness, and that the sign of a clean desk does NOT equal an empty organized work area says to those who visit or walk by that you "handle with care" the work given you (besides, how will you find that phone message left on your desk and return it in 72 hours?).
And finally, a #11 should be included that states: professionals learn to use the words "please forgive me" because they know that they will break one of these ten rules from time to time...and perhaps that is the true mark of a professional, one who is able to say "I'm sorry" and then move on with their work.

Friday, March 13, 2015

why history matters

Yesterday in what is called our University Council, we took the time to rehearse a short history of our institution.  We did this for several reasons:
  •         We are embarking on developing a strategic plan that will shape the next 3-5 years (the next part of our history)
  •        As a part of the strategic planning process, we had our employees take the Organizational Cultural Inventory (and history helps tell the story of the current culture)
  •        Out of the 18 people in the room, approximately 1/3 have been a part of the institution for more than 10 years; 1/3 for 3-10 years; and 1/3 less than three years (thus many of us only know a part of recent history)
Knowing from whence one has come is important as the next part of one’s history is going to be written (this is true for organizations and individuals).  The past shapes one’s beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors – whether we want it to our not.  Since much of people’s actions are in RE-action to what has happened previously, taking time to think about the past and examine how it has shaped us up to this point is important before moving ahead.

As I contemplated our time rehearsing Concordia’s history, several thoughts crossed my mind:
  •   Making decisions in a vacuum, without understanding the history, can have paradoxical results: 1) you can make decisions which are harmful to the institution without filtering them through your past; and 2) there is a chance that you might not make a good decision because you filter it through your past
  •        While the past can dictate how we think and behave, we CAN change and realize that a new place and time is different…and we need to think and behave differently as well
  •         The past is powerful, and affects an organization’s culture in a strong way.  Saying we are going to change is never enough – consistent behavior over time will begin to dim the results of past behavior…but it takes time (and probably more than we think)
  •         It is really hard to change one’s picture of the past – we only know what we know.  One of the roles of a leader is to provide replacement pictures for the organization, pictures that can help people write a new story of what the organization CAN be, not just what it has been.
  •    Honoring those who have gone before us is an important part of creating a culture that says “people are important.”  Whether living or dead, those who have helped shape our history should be remembered for what they did to get the organization to where it is today (a corollary might be to not let our founders dictate what we do today…getting stuck on the person can dilute the vision)
 Finally, a quote recently came across my desk that reminded me of the importance of what we do on a daily basis – and how our current story is the history of tomorrow.  In Mark Beto’s Daily Motivator, he quoted Juliet Gordon Low as saying that “the work of today is the history of tomorrow, and we are its makers.”  That’s a responsibility that is on all of us, whether we are writing the history of our organization, our families, or of our community and nation.  It is my prayer that all of us will live out that responsibility in a way that gives glory to God and serves our neighbor.

Friday, March 6, 2015

tough decisions

I have come to realize the that tough decisions we face in leadership...and in life...are those in which the decisions we have to make are comprised of all good choices.  Tough decisions are not the ones we make between the right thing to do and the wrong thing to do...they are mostly between two choices that both would be good for the individual or for the organization.  This is not about listening to the "good angel" or "bad angels" sitting on each of your shoulders...tough decisions are the opportunities before you or the organization...and which one has the greater upside in the long run.

Currently I have several tough decisions before me, many of which are not emergency decisions and will allow me to take the necessary time to make the choice (I started to type "the best choice" and then paused since the decisions are around multiple right or good choices).  So how are these decisions made without paralyzing the individual or the organization?  Here are a few of my thoughts:

  • begin by understanding (and accepting) that the decision is between two or more good choices.  While this tension may be hard to hold, it is a fact.  If the decisions is between a good an bad choice, then make the decision simple by choosing the good choice.
  • take time to make the decision.  Most decisions do not need to be made immediately and time can bring clarity to the decision.  If someone else is pressing for a quick decision, do all you can to put it off for a short time.
  • get the facts...and get the hard facts.  Do a complete analysis for those areas which are important to the organization at that time.  Consider all of the areas and functions that need to be taken into account and drill down deep into the facts as they emerge.
  • build a team...these decisions often require multiple perspectives, and having a team to bounce the ideas off of can bring some clarity to the decision making process.
  • build the right team...while there may be an executive or administrative team in place, different decisions call for different people at the table.  Get the expertise needed to assist in making the decision.
  • remember that this is your decision and as the leader, you will need to take ownership for it.  Regardless of the team and its input, the decision must be owned by the leader and she must be responsible for seeing it through.
  • consider implementation of the decision and how it can best be executed.  Making the tough decision is only the it has to become a reality.
As you move along the path of making tough decisions, remember that prayer is also an important part of that process.  Asking for clarity, discernment and courage allows you to open yourself up to God's direction in your life...and in the life of the organization.  Time spent in quietness and solitude can be time well spent when facing tough decisions.  

And one final note...going through this type of process does not guarantee that the decision will benefit the organization in the long run.  Often times a decision made at the time looks and feels right from all angles...and can still turn out to hurt the organization.  These times remind us that we are still finite beings with limited knowledge and understanding.  This is why we call them tough decisions...