Friday, August 26, 2016

the 5 Cs of loyalty

Over the past several months the concept of loyalty has come up in several conversations - what it is, its importance, and how one gets and/or gives it.  Giving loyalty to another person is an extreme act of confidence and love, especially when it is not asked for.  Gaining loyalty from another person can never be forced or demanded...it is simply through repeated actions that loyalty can truly be given.  So how might those in leadership roles gain the loyalty of others?  Here are my five Cs of how to gain one's loyalty...

Competence - loyalty begins when one sees their leader as competent.  Can they do the job well?  Do they go above and beyond what is required?  Are they constantly learning and getting better at their work?  And remember that for those in leadership roles, one's work is leading...how are you becoming better at leading?

Charisma - this word can be described as charm, presence, or personality, an essence that requires the leader to put themselves "out there" and act in a manner that draws others to them. This is not a false bravado or a fake personality...this is the ability to charm others, to bring one's whole self into the room, and to inspire others that the leader knows who they are and what they are about.

Caring - perhaps this goes without saying, but it is critical that leaders are seen and known for their caring attitude.  Those in leadership positions often have to make hard decisions tht can hurt others in deep ways.  When that is done in a caring manner, and when the default personality of the leader is one of caring, others will fall in line to follow because they know that they have worth adn value, even in the midst of hard decisions.

Courage - similar to above, people in leadership roles are often asked to make difficult decisions on a regular basis.  When those decisions are made courageously, others take notice and begin to give their loyalty to that person.  Courageous decisions inspire a sense of confidence in others and allows them to live out their vocations in a courageous manner.

Character - one of the definitions of character has to do with how one behaves when no one else is looking.  Is there a consistency to the leader's behavior over time?  Do they exhibit a sense of certainty in the course of ther daily work?  Do they uphold the ideals of the organization time after time?  Would you trust them with your own life?

Sounds like a large order...as if those in leadership roles must be akin to being god-like.  The truth is leaders will fail from time to time...they will show a side of themselves that is less than competent, less than charismatic, less than caring, less than courageous, and less than being of good character.  These are the times leaders ask for forgiveness...and those who are loyal to them will give them that forgiveness,  And when that happens, relationships - and organizations - grow even stronger.

Friday, August 19, 2016

what does doing a good job look like?

At a recent talk I gave to the faculty and staff of Concordia University Texas, someone said to me that it looked like I was doing a good job.  It was (I believe) meant as a compliment with a cautious caveat, one which I understand completely.  People will often tell me “you’re doing a good job” and, while I appreciate the words of encouragement, I remind them of three things: 1) the first year I did not know what I did not know; 2) the second year was spent putting into place the practices to address what I did not know the first year; and 3) the third year is spent seeing if the practices work.  So I appreciate the words of my colleague to whom it looks like I am doing a good AND I wonder what doing a good job looks like.  Perhaps leaders look like they are doing a good job when they:
  • Communicate with their constituencies regularly and consistently
  • Are transparent about the issues an organization faces
  • Present information in such a way that people understand what is being said
  • Present solutions to problems and actually fix them
  • Share success stories about the institution
  • Have a vision for where the organization is going – and are able to articulate that vision
  • Engage others in the process of moving the organization forward
  • Make hard decisions that might even prove to be unpopular
  • Explain the reasons behind decisions that are made – especially those that affect people’s lives
  • Walk around and talk with individuals face to face – and take the time to really listen*
  • Help people see how they fit into the big picture and that their work matters

 What does it mean to actually do a good job?  In a few simple points:
  • The organization has a positive end-of-year balance so that it can keep doing business in the future
  • The organization is living out its mission in a way that positively affects its outcomes
  • The organization is moving closer toward its vision
  • The organization has a healthy culture and is a place where people want to be
  • The organization’s customers are satisfied and recommending it to others
  • The organization is known for its quality product
  • The organization experiences growth that is planned for and serves the mission

 *leaders of large organizations may not be able to do this for all employees…but they can do for a few what they wish they could do for everyone

Friday, August 12, 2016

taking it off the table

In my readings this summer, I have delved into two book by James Ellis - Founding Quartet and Founding Brothers.  The origination of the United States of America, especially the years leading up to the ratification of the Constitution, is a fascinating study in leadership, dialogue, and compromise.  One of the most striking items for me is the decision of the delegates at the Constitutional Convention to take the issue of slavery off the table.  They knew that if slavery became an all-or-nothing issue, the colonies would be split and there would be no union - the south and north would have divided then and there.  While I cannot imagine the angst this decision caused among many of the delegates from the north, I do understand their need to push forward to form a country out of disparate colonies and ideas.

So how might leaders know when to take an item off the table, even if it is near and dear to their hearts - and especially when there are moral and ethical issues involved?  Here are a few thoughts:

    • determine what is THE most important issue being decided on at the time...and let that issue trump all others
    • have a long-term goal and vision in mind, and let that guide the decision making process
    • determine what will carry greater weight - the institution or the individual
    • think deeply about what it is that causes one side to believe something that is so opposite and different from what you believe...is there any way you might be able to understand the other point of view?
    • consider what causes the most harm to the most people for the greatest length of time
    • understand the vocation to which the group making the decision is called - another way of determining the most important issue being decided on at the time
    • seek counsel for multiple entities...listen deeply to what they have to say...and then make a decision to move forward
What IF slavery had not been taken off the table?  What if these United States had not been united and formed several different countries?  There are many opinions to this day what night have been if different decisions had been made in the late 1700s.  What I will remember most about the founding fathers is that they made very difficult decisions together all the while knowing that they had sharp disagreements over fundamental matters.  And that's what leaders do - make decisions in the midst of difficult situations.  What are you willing to take off the table to move your institution (and life) forward?

Friday, August 5, 2016

the best of people and...

With apologies to Charles Dickens, organizations bring out the best of people and the worst of people.  I recently returned from the triennial convention of my church body, and one of the favorite sayings at that gathering is that conventions exhibit the church at its best and the church at its worst.  And of course, that doesn't surprise me, because the church is made of people, just as are all organizations and institutions.  We (especially we as leaders) tend to believe that if we do everything right, hire the best people, and have a fantastic mission and product everything will be smooth - and people will act in a manner that is always good, right, and salutary (to borrow an expression from the church's liturgy).  Here's the problem...institutions, organizations, and even churches do not exist without people, and when people gather together, they will behave in a manner which brings out the best of them and the worst of them.

So if this is true, and leaders want to create an organization where the best behavior is maximized and the worst behavior minimized, what can they do?  Here are a few thoughts:

  • accept the fact that this is true and don't be schocked or dismayed when people behave badly.  Don't see them as the devil incarnate or doing everything within their power to destroy the organization.  This is how people are.
  • almost all bad behavior is a result of passions lived out to the extreme,  Few people in organizations behave badly just to behave badly. They believe (and sometimes they are right) that their actions are exactly what is needed for the organization to get better.  And aren't those the type of people we really want working for us - those who are trying to improve the organization?
  • get very clear on values and what type of behaviors are expected within the organization or institution.  Being able to point out how the organization has agreed to behave helps to curb extreme bad behavior and can channel one's ideas toward more positive actions.
  • do not take another person's behavior personally, especially if it is not directly related to you.  When people act unkindly toward a project or idea we have proposed (or spent hours working on) we want to personalize someone's action against it.  Pause for a moment and remember that not everything is about you.
  • confront bad behavior quickly and in a non-threatening manner.  When someone acts in a way that you believe is hurting the organization, go to them and ask them about it.  Find out what they are feeling and why they are acting the way they do.  You might just learn something that is helpful to the institution.
  • assume that they may be right...and that you (or the organization) may be wrong.  Imagine the power of going to someone who has behaved badly and letting them know that their ideas are right and that the organization will be changing how it does things based on what they believed to be right.  You suddenly have a new best friend.
  • understand that sometimes a person's bad behavior will be destructive to an organization and, if that behavior does not stop, they need to be removed.  Asking someone who is unhappy and bitter within their role to move on may just be the best thing for the organization and for the individual involved.  It is always better to deal for the next 30 days with any fallout that might occur from that dismissal rather than put up with the bad behavior for another 365 days.
Finally, take the time to reflect back on the numerous times YOU were the one behaving badly because you believed you were doing and saying the right things for the health of the organization.  You were probably at your best...and you were probably at your worst, both at the exact same time. That's how life is within organizations...because organizations are made up of people.

Friday, July 22, 2016

mission/model

In a recent conversation with one of my mentors, the discussion of mission and model came up as we discussed colleges and universities that thrive or merely survive (or not).  Mission is a driving factor and is what one actually DOES…what is it that an individual or an organization is called to do to impact the world?  Model is the way in which one delivers that mission…what is the shape or form in which the mission is delivered?  The mission of Concordia University Texas is “developing Christian leaders,” a mission that has driven our institution for many years.  Other organizational missions might speak to a certain type of experience for clients or customers…or helping people live a certain type of life…or delivering a service in a certain fashion.  All organizations (and individuals) have a mission – whether they know it or not.

All organizations (and individuals) also have a model through which they deliver that mission.  Again, for my institution, our model is one that is shaped by higher education and primarily delivers classes that lead toward a degree.  Some institutions of higher education become even more specific in their model, focusing only on one type of delivery method (i.e. face-to-face or online).  It is my belief that the model can change while the mission remains the same…and this might be necessary to remain relevant in an ever-changing world.  If my model of communicating my thoughts on leadership was only through pen and paper, you might not be reading this blog.  My thoughts could possibly be shared with one or two people…or perhaps several hundreds if I mimeographed*** the letter and sent it out to friends and family.  However, the ability to impact hundreds of people in a very short time would remain elusive to me and I would not be living out my personal mission.

There are multiple organizations which I support in various ways who currently struggle with the issue of mission and model.  A mission and model which were well married years ago is no longer working – what should change, mission or model?  A mission and model that worked well for a day and age in which communication was not instant is no longer relevant…what should change, mission or model?  A mission and model that made a great impact on a few number of people is no longer financially sustainable…what should change, mission or model?

I would posit that mission trumps model.  Please note that I did not say ALWAYS in that sentence, for I believe that sometimes mission and model might be so inter-related that one might or should not exist without the other.  All organizations (and individuals) will wrestle with this question, especially in a time that is experiencing exponentially rapid change.  For leaders, the wrestling begins with being clear about the organization’s mission (and don’t underestimate the power of re-wording or changing the mission to better reflect what the organization actually does).  Once that is accomplished, leaders consistently take a hard look at their current models to determine their viability…make hard decisions to change or drop current models that might not work…look for new models that might extend the mission…and scan the horizon for what might be next. 

A final word of warning: the model is important, for it often has stood the test of time and has served the institution and people well.  Don’t just “throw the baby out with the bathwater.”  Think carefully about how a new or different model will impact the mission, and be sure that mission drives the decision in choosing an altered or new model.

***for a demonstration of what a mimeograph actually is and does, watch this video

Friday, July 15, 2016

local/central control

Over my month in Maine, I read several books that brought to my attention the tension leaders face when deciding on where to best have the decision making process lie…locally or more central.  The English and Their History spent many pages talking about the British Empire, and its struggle to maintain control locally when much of the decision making was done so far away from where the actual people lived and rule.  Founding Quartet discussed the struggle the American colonies faced when writing the first constitution – more local control in the states or more central control in the federal government.  This is an issue that faces most organizations, whether it is a system of schools, a multi-national corporation, a healthcare organization, a small business, a church body, and even a family unit.  Who gets the final say?


Leaders have the opportunity to shape this discussion and put in place the processes and guidelines that will clearly delineate who controls what and how that control is decided and lived out.  The question often becomes what is best for the organization as a whole…more central control or more local control.  While I am a believer that local control is, for the most part, a better decision, I am sure that there are times that central control might best serve an institution.  So how might leaders go about making that decision?  Here are a few thoughts:
  • what type of work is being done?  Is it highly prescriptive, requiring that everyone do exactly the same thing...or is there room for achieving the outcomes in different manners?
  • how does communication work in the organization?  The ability to deliver a consistent message, no matter the type of communication, might determine the need for local or central control
  • how quickly do decisions need to be made?  The speed of decision making might dictate different times and places for central control and/or local control
  • how financially strong is the organization?  There are times in an organization's life cycle that one type of control is better than another...the key is being able to move between the two types of control as necessary
  • is good policy in place?  If people know what they are to do, how they are to do it, and what to do when things go wrong, it is much easier to have local control rather than being more centralized
  • what type of culture is in place?  The issue of local or central control is often embedded within an organization long before the leader arrives on the scene
The BIG issue really lays with how the leader of the organization is wired...is she a person who wants central control and believes that is best for the organization...or does he believe that local control produces the best result and is willing to let go of central control?  All leaders have to understand how they see the world on this issue and determine whether or not their deep seated belief is best for the organization.  Only then can they properly decide on the six issues presented above.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

the need for time away

And so I begin my annual trek to Maine, where I read, relax, and spend time with my beloved.  What does this mean?

  • no blogging for the next month..I will return in July
  • no emails for the next two weeks...going "dark" has its benefits
  • plenty of books to read...and read and read and read
  • TV shows and movies to catch up on...I thank God for Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu
  • reconnecting with nature...time with birds, flowers, trees, and water
  • reconnecting with Deb...no one else but the two of us
  • forgetting the stress of work...no emails, no calls, no texts, no decisions
  • remembering God's goodness...this is truly my sanctuary
  • watching for "wildlife"...birds, chipmunks, and an occasional seal
  • time to catch my breath...and remember that there is more to life than work
Whether you take a day, a weekend, a week, two weeks, or an entire month (or more), please take the time to breathe and create margin in your life to relax and remember that life is a gift from God...relish that life at work, at home, and wherever your travels lead you.  See you in July!