Friday, September 12, 2014

passing the baton

Yesterday I had an opportunity to witness an official "passing of the baton" event here at Concordia University Texas.  I began the College of Business Speaker Series in October of 2006, a monthly event that helped to shape and grow the College of Business over the past 8 years.  Yesterday, the hosting of the series was handled by our interim Dean of the College of Business, Dr. Lynette Gillis, and she did a superb job in making it an incredibly successful event.  Over 175 students, faculty, staff and community members were in the room listening to Jason Johnson, a CTX alum, being interviewed.  I sat in and among the audience, listening and enjoying the presentation.  As it finished, I thought to myself that the baton had been passed successfully and the next leg of the race had begun.

I have also been on the receiving end of the baton being passed well, assuming the role of CEO here at Concordia after 12 years of great leadership by Dr. Tom Cedel.  When people have asked me how it has been over the past 6 weeks, I get to say that for the most part everything has been smooth and I am enjoying the role.  Much of that is a result of having the baton passed onto me in a manner that allowed me to be successful in this role.  For that I am thankful and hope to carry that baton for quite a while.

So how can leaders best pass the baton on to to others?  Here are a few thoughts from my experiences over the past several months:

  • Prepare to pass the baton - who is it that might be best to carry the baton (if needed) and how are they being prepared?
  • Let those people know that they might have the baton passed onto them so they can watch and observe in a different manner.
  • Give them opportunities to practice what they might have to do in that role.
  • Give them assignments outside of their normal area of routine - and support them during that with coaching and mentoring.
  • Have a transition plan in place when the baton is getting ready to be passed and then, if possible, work that plan over time.
  • Be available for questions after the baton has been passed (but please do not be a nuisance).
  • Show up and support them during the passing of the baton (and still ensure they remain the center of attention).
There is much to be said about succession planning, something with which most organizations do a very poor job. I am glad that the College of Business had an interim succession plan in place for the role of the Dean, and I am glad that Tom Cedel gave me multiple chances to practice the role of President and CEO prior to my assuming the office.  While nothing can fully prepare one for a new role, there are many ways to help make the transition better.  Take some time to day to consider how you are preparing that next person so that when you have to pass the baton on to them, the transition can be as smooth as possible.

Friday, September 5, 2014

getting to a deeper WHY

In several of my conversations this past week, questions were asked about what we as a University might consider and do in the future...most of the questions were really statements about what people wanted to have happen or not, i.e. "Is Concordia going to build another residence hall on campus?" or "Don't you think Concordia should have a football team?"  While most people would prefer a YES or NO answer so as to see if I concur with what they believe to be true, I often answer their question with another question that begins with "WHY..."?  It might sound like "why do you think that is important? " or "why is that important to you?" or "where does that question come from?"  What I am finding more and more is that most questions have a deeper WHY because what people are really longing for is something bigger and even more important than what is asked for in the initial question.  With the question of another residence hall, people might be really asking for a more robust student life on campus...and with the question about football, most people are either a) for football and the excitement that would bring to a campus; or b) against football because of the emphasis it might take away from other programs.

I think the same theory holds true for most of what we look for in our own lives and decisions, whether it is in choosing a new home, a new car, or even as simple as what to do on a weekend.  While I do not want to psychoanalyze too deeply, I believe that we often want something more than what it appears to be on the surface...are we looking for more time to spend with someone, more prestige in our lives, the ability to feel good about something, or as simple as just feeling good about doing something different?

When leading people, helping then (and you) understand the deeper WHY provides options in the decision making process, and allows for more engagement from people around the table.  When confronted with a request that seems impossible due to resource constraints, or an idea whose time has not yet arrived, leaders can help their people re-frame the question or request so that the real reason can surface and the team can arrive at an answer that meets the deeper WHY.  I often refer to this as moving from the tactical to the strategic, a way of thinking that should be prevalent in leadership teams.

So don't be afraid to ask the WHY question, over and over and over.  It sometimes takes me 4-5 WHYs to get at the heart of the matter, at which time everyone in the room often goes, "Oh, I hadn't thought of it that way before."  And next time you are asked a question that is really more of a statement, resist the urge to answer it right away and probe the questioner as to where their idea or question comes both might be surprised by the answer that is given.

Friday, August 29, 2014

it's about people

Of course it's about people!  Every leadership book says so...every leadership coach says so...and every leader will tell you that is what they believe.  Yesterday I witnessed what happens when people are actually put first in an organization when the employees at UFCU recognized and honored their leader, Tony Budet, for his 30 years of service there as well as his 60th birthday.  As I listened to the the speeches and watched the video presentation, I was taken by how these people genuinely loved the man they worked with and for.  Tony (that's him on the right) has often shared his maxims with me, telling me how he treats the people at UFCU.  Watching the result made me realize he did more than talk about it...he actually puts his beliefs into practice.

So what do leaders do who really believe that "it's about people?"  Here are five ideas to consider:

  1. Promote People - this means more than just giving someone a new title and more means that individuals and groups are recognized for their work, that they believe you care about them (both in and outside of the organization), and that whenever you get a chance, you talk about how great the people in the organization are.
  2. Protect People - our colleagues need to know that we have their back, both in good times and bad.  This might mean we have to run interference for them at times, that we might need to set limits at times, and that we need to create a work environment that is safe from abuse and harm.
  3. Provoke People - I believe that people want to have something bigger to aim for in their lives, and the leader's ability to create a bigger vision has as much to do with people's job satisfaction as does the work environment as a whole.  Helping people find their dreams and passions within the organization can be incredibly satisfying for everyone.
  4. Poke People - this is about accountability, and holding people to doing their work excellently and in a manner that cares for others,  This is often the hardest thing that leaders need to do, and it needs to be done for those who are not getting the job done, as well as for those who are the superstars (they need to know that you know who is not getting the job done).
  5. Pray With People - I have the unique privilege of being able to pray with my colleagues, and taking the time to lift them up in prayer publicly.  While not everyone will be able to do this, it is important that people know you care enough about them that you would pray for them, that they are important to you, and that they are a part of your spirituality (whatever that might look like).
Those are my five Ps about people for today...anymore to add?

Friday, August 15, 2014

clear ambiguity

When trying to explain a concept to someone else that I might struggle to understand, I often get that look that is telling me, "Your explanation is as clear as mud!"  Sometimes I have to start over, and sometimes I have to accept the fact that no matter how hard I try, the explanation will continue to be "clear as mud" until either I have a better understanding of the concept or I find someone else who can do a better job of explaining the issue.

This past week I have come face-to-face with the reality that in an executive role, most decisions that come across one's desk are, to say the least, "clear as mud."  All of the leadership and management texts remind us that the tough decisions are those that are neither black or white, but a very dark (and murky) gray.  There are no easy answers to these type of decision, and leaders need to get comfortable with ambiguity and paradox.  The good news is you do not need to make a quick decision...the bad news is that you have to live with the ambiguity of the decision.  In other words, the ambiguity of the decisions making process will become very clear.

So how do leaders create a clear ambiguity in their decision making process?  Here are a few thoughts:

  1. Remind yourself - and others - that you do not have all the answers.
  2. Get really good at asking questions - and make sure they are questions to which you do not know the answer.
  3. Listen to a lot of people - ask the same questions over and over of different people and see how they respond.
  4. Listen deeply - ask probing questions of people's initial answers.
  5. Take your time - there is a reason these decisions are ambiguous and paradoxical - they are big and tough and deserve the time they need.
  6. Read - learn everything you can about the issue so that you can ask knowledgeable questions and interact with other professionals.
  7. Have a trusted team you can go to and probe the issue deeply, with no fear of being held to your ideas or words.
  8. Consider alternatives...keep asking the "what if" questions.
  9. Relax - the world does not revolve around you or your organization.  Someone else might be able to solve the issue.
  10. Be ruthless - take the issue on directly and make it personally yours (note the paradox here) because once you own the issue (see last week's blog) you can then deal with the ambiguity it brings.
  11. Trust that God is in control - and that you have been placed by Him into this role to engage in these type of decisions.  
So enjoy the ambiguity - and remember that is why you have been called to lead, because you love ideas and issues that are "clear as mud!"

Friday, August 8, 2014

creating ownership

Leadership and management experts will tell you that in order for individuals or groups to care about something, they have to feel ownership of it, whether that be an organization, a mission, or simply an idea.  Ownership of anything (be it an idea or a physical object) includes caring for that item, stewarding the item, ensuring the item works, and being proud of the item.  I have a good friend who is a car fanatic, and as I watch him “own” his cars, he does all of the above – with much fanfare and enthusiasm.

This week I had the opportunity to watch a group of people begin to own a part of Concordia’s structure which they had been asked to join, something known as Concordia’s University Council.  More than owning the group, they began to own the reason why the group will exist and its function within the University.  It was magic to watch how a group of 24 individuals came together for three hours and claimed ownership of the function of the group over a short period of time.  Through the process of talking, questioning, testing ideas, and an open space in which to think, this group began building its own charter by which they would function in, with, and for their organization.  And by building the charter themselves, there is a better chance they will own what they do and how they do it.  And if they own it, they will take responsibility for its function and outcomes.  I am excited to watch what happens over the next few months as we figure out exactly what this charter will look like and how the group begins to own WHAT it does and HOW it does its work.

Now let me take a little side trip here (or as a good friend of mine likes to say…SQUIRREL!).  I have come to realize that no one can force ownership upon any one person or a group of people.  You can give them ownership…you can ask them to take ownership…you can write ownership into their job description…but until they TAKE ownership on their own, they will be unable to care for and steward the item given them.  Leading cannot entail only giving ownership…leaders must create the environment in which others can take ownership and truly own what they believe is important.  How does this happen?  A few thoughts:

  • Allow others to create the reason for ownership
  • Create the space and the time for people to consider what it actually is they might be owning
  • Ask questions that allow for people to dialogue on what ownership means
  • Put people together with disparate ideas so that the best ideas can emerge
  • Let the group decide what they believe is most important
  • Words are important – be sure that the individual or the group know exactly what it is they are owning and are able to express it in a consistent and coherent manner
  • Don’t ever (I repeat, ever) take back the ownership once they have accepted it it…AND if they choose not to take ownership, then take it back and find someone else to give it to
  • Realize that they may want to take ownership but do not yet know how to care and steward for what they have accepted – this is where training and discipling comes into play
  • This isn’t about delegating ownership – you as the leader own whatever this is as well…it is about sharing ownership and working together for the good of the organization, idea, or goal

As you go about the rest of the day, consider what it is that you own, how you might include others in that ownership, and what expectations gaps exist where you believe you have given ownership but that ownership has not yet been taken…and then go have that conversation about why that gap exists.  Enjoy!

Friday, August 1, 2014

day one

Today is day one of my new role as Chief Executive Officer for Concordia University Texas...wait, did I just type that?  It is both an exhilarating and humbling feeling to have walked into the building this morning and see this sign posted on the office:
We all go through multiple day ones during our life time - the first day of school...the first day on a team...the first day of college...the first day of a new job...the first day of marriage...the first day as a mother or father...the first day on a new board...and the list continues for each and every one of us.

So what should a leader consider on their day one?  Here is a list of items I have been thinking about:
  • Get prepared - read everything you can about the new role, talk with others who have been previously in that role, and think deeply about what you want that role to look like for you
  • Take stock - look around and get a sense of what the new environment looks like...walk, look, listen, and get comfortable in what will be new surroundings for you (both  physical and mental settings)
  • Arrive early - don't be the last one to show up...and use the time to meet those around you and learn about the environment.  Nobody wants to apologize for being late on day one
  • Be humble - ask a lot of questions.  It's okay to feel as if you don't know everything, because you really DON'T know everything.  Rely on the people who have been there and are a lot smarter than you
  • Be confident - you are in this role for a reason (whether you wanted to be or not) so take the seat that has been given you (again, both physically and mentally).  Don't be afraid to take a chance, even on day one
  • Lean into the role - this is YOUR day one, so make it special.  Take the mantle (whether you have a title or not) and enjoy the role given to you at this time and place
  • Relax - everything will be different a year from now as you learn the ropes of the job and the organization.  Remember that this is day one, and NOT day 365
  • Pray - in the doctrine of vocation, we believe that God uses his people to serve others in this world.  You have been placed in this new role and place for a purpose, so trust that God is walking with you during this day one
People have asked me what I am going to do one day one...and my reply is that I will do much of the same as I have been doing all along, including writing this blog as I do most every Friday. I hope that you will be looking forward to any upcoming day ones, even if it is just today being day one of the rest of your life.

Friday, July 25, 2014

ethical presence

This past Tuesday morning I had the privilege of being asked to present to a group of emerging leaders at the Texas Health and Human Services Leadership Development Program.  This program, which has been developed by Chan McDermott, identifies a group of 25-30 individuals who have shown leadership qualities throughout this 56,000 person organization.  My topic was Ethical Leadership, and we had a great time thinking through the issues of how to determine right and wrong in multiple situations - and how to lead others through those same circumstances.  Toward the end of the presentation, I brought to the them idea of ETHICAL PRESENCE...a concept which came to my mind at the time and something which I am still thinking about.

What is ETHICAL PRESENCE?  For me, it is the ability to be in the moment, to be completely present, to be thoughtful, and to be still,,,all of which allows one to be prudent in their decision making and calms others who are in the situation so they can be in a better position for making decisions.  To better understand this, let's look at a couple of concepts:

  • ETHICAL BEHAVIOR is (according to Aristotle) doing the right thing in the right way at the right time.  One can know right and wrong...the important thing is being able to act in a way that shows the just the right amount of justice, prudence, temperance, and fortitude within any given situation.
  • LEADERSHIP is about providing guidance and influence with a group of people to help them obtain a shared vision for the common good.
  • ETHICAL LEADERSHIP is doing things and making decisions that influence others to behave in such a way so that the common good can be reached and people are well-served.
So then, what is ETHICAL PRESENCE?  For those in positions of leadership, there are many times when it feels as if decisions must be made quickly and the stress is on to make the "right" decision.  People are watching to see what decision will be made and how the leader will react to the stress that is present.  I believe that how one behaves in these times speaks to their ethical leadership and impacts the ethical decision of those around them - thus the idea of ETHICAL PRESENCE. So what might this look like?  Here are a few examples:
  • in a meeting when the team is pushing for a quick decision, have the ability to pause and ask them if more time may be taken to consider the idea or request
  • when a colleague is in your face and complaining about you or others, rather than react to their inappropriate behavior, take a deep breath, speak slowly and quietly, and ask them for examples of what they mean
  • for those of us who like to process out-loud (call us extroverts), we can change our behavior and process internally for a short time - you may need to ask people to wait while you process, and then just take the time to think before responding
  • the ability to say "I don't know" may be one of the best practices of ethical presence available to the leader.  This sends a signal that you are not God, and that you do not expect everyone to have the right answer (or an answer at all) all of the time
  • when someone in the group is pushing back at you, rather than arguing your own point, look at another member of the group and ask them what they think - by gathering more information and opinions, you have a better chance at acting more ethically and making a better decision
I have come to realize that in a leadership role (especially when that role becomes more public) people are watching you all the time - and the signals you send by your actions and behavior set the tone for the organization.  How you act in moments of stress and decision making will signal to people what right and wrong behavior will be for the organization - and how others will be treated in those times.  Your presence in those moments will determine the ETHIC (ethos) of your organization into the future...and that can make all the difference in the world.