Friday, November 13, 2015

leadership and belief

Yesterday afternoon I concluded my day at Concordia University Texas having a conversation with Dr. Carl Trovall, our Dean of Liberal Arts, about the topic of leadership and belief.  He is in the midst of writing a new course for our Educational Doctorate program entitled Leadership and Faith Traditions, and our discussion centered on which texts he would include for students to read.  We ranged from the Book of Job to the Tao Te Ching to The Meditations to The Analects to Shakespeare to Niehbuhr to Plato to Kiekegaard...and if you know Dr. Trovall, you know that the conversation was far-flung and incredibly engaging.

So why think about or write about leadership and belief?  The essence of philosophy is that one's thoughts and beliefs shape one's actions...and if that is the case, then leaders should be thinking about what they believe, why they believe what they believe, and how that belief shapes how they lead.  A couple of random thoughts on this concept for a Friday morning:

  • People often tie together their beliefs with their faith traditions - and in many cases that may be true.  However, even when one confesses publicly, "I believe..." they should ask the question of why they believe what they confess to believe and how might that square with their experiences in life?
  • If one's confessed belief does not line up with their life experiences, they might begin to experience a cognitive dissonance, forcing them to wrestle with right and wrong.  This wrestling allows them to consider what might be truth and how that truth lives itself out in their lives.  Such thinking allows people to consider and embrace the power of paradox, one of the thinking patterns that allows leaders to function more effectively.
  • Belief is shaped by many experiences and thought practices throughout one's life, often creating a "voice in the head" that dictates how one acts.  Examining those voices is critical in leadership development, and only by thinking about one's beliefs and examining other's beliefs can the voices be identified.  Of course, the more difficult part is the willingness to modify or discard those voices if they are harmful to one's leadership (or life).
  • There could exist in some faith traditions the thought that reading the texts from other faith traditions might be harmful to one's personal beliefs. For me, if I know what I believe and have confidence that it is the truth, then reading these other texts should only strengthen what I believe to be true, especially when they begin to align with one another.  Having another way of thinking about what one believes provides a bigger tool box for future actions.
  • On the flip side of that, when I come across those areas of other faith traditions that disagree or conflict with what I believe to be true, I begin to gain a greater understanding of how others think and how their beliefs lead to their actions.  My understanding of "the other" is a key piece to transformational leadership.
  • Finally, I cannot leave this blog without promoting the great literature of the world as some of the best leadership development available.  Great literature is written from a place of belief of how the world works and what makes up the essence of life.  Reading Homer, Shakespeare, Dante, Austen, Tolstoy, and Hemingway (and feel free to add your own writer or text here) allows one to enter into the belief system of others AND allows the reader to consider their own beliefs.  What better way is there to think about and shape one's leadership?

Friday, November 6, 2015

leadership and voice

Last night I attended Bocon!, a drama by Lisa Loomer and put on by Concordia's theater department.  One of the great lines in the play was "If you don't have a voice, you can't tell your story."  As I quickly wrote out that line on my program, I was struck by how much it applied to those in leadership roles...and the importance of both voice and story to accomplish the task of leadership.

There has been much written about story telling and great stories inspire others; how stories allow people to place themselves wherever they need to be within that story; how stories help others to understand vision; and how stories connect people to one another in multiple ways.  I am a fan of telling stories - I can say more about Concordia with a good story than I can with multiple facts and figures.  But what about voice?  What is it about one's voice that makes the story even possible? As I think about that concept, several thoughts come to mind:
  1. One's voice is a part of one's history...what I have experienced throughout my life shapes what I think and believe, thus causing my voice to be one way or another.
  2. One's voice is a result of one's belief...the deeper my convictions, the stronger my voice.  So I better know what I believe and why I believe that way.
  3. One's voice takes time to voice has changed over time (including much more than moving from soprano to baritone as a young teenager).  The more I learn and the more I experience the more different my voice becomes.
  4. One's voice develops through dedicated practice...the more I think - and the more I speak - allows me to use my voice more effectively.  Malcom Gladwell's 10,000 hour rule might apply here...and that practice needs to be done in an environment where I can get feedback on how I am using my voice.
  5. One's voice can get stronger or might diminish with age...depending on the circumstances I have faced and the feedback or encouragement I have received, my voice will either get stronger or weaker.  Recognizing that (and using it to my advantage) can make all the difference.
  6. One's voice should always have a consistent message...what is it that I want people to know, believe, and act on?  Does my voice support that?  And do they hear it on a consistent basis?
  7. One's voice is shaped by what he or she reads and thinks about...the phrase "garbage in - garbage out" might apply here as I think about what I spend my time with, especially when it comes to what I read.  There is a reason Shakespeare is still around after almost 500 years.
Understanding one's voice can lead to better story telling...and my encouragement is that as leaders we pay attention to both.

Friday, October 30, 2015

disappointment and leadership

Two weeks ago I wrote about leadership lessons and baseball, focusing on the dramatic winning streak my Chicago Cubs had been on for the past several months.  All of that came to a crashing halt less than a week later, when they were swept in 4 games by the hated New York Mets, allowing the Mets to continue and sending the Cubs home for the winter.  Needless to say, I was disappointed, once again having to resort to my never-ending phrase of "wait until next year."  And so it is with leaders.

Life is full of disappointment, especially for those who take on leadership roles.  Two phrases come to my mind as I think about this idea: 1) leadership is about people; and 2) people disappoint.  If both of those statements are true (and I believe they are), then leadership will have its share of disappointment and most of that will be around people and the decisions they make.  Disappointment occurs when:

  • someone you recently hired turns out to be a non-performer
  • someone you mentor and put your energy into takes a job at another company
  • someone you trust shares a confidence after you have asked them not to
  • someone who has promised to change their behavior engages in the same manner over and over again
  • someone whom you promote to a position of greater responsibility does not live up to your expectations
  • someone who has the ability and authority to complete a given task  fails to do 
  • someone who has been in a position for a long time has a lapse of judgement and acts in an unethical manner
Disappointments can also occur outside of people - missed goals, mechanical failures, and other items which are external to the organization.  And then there are the disappointments with oneself - missed opportunities, saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, treating others poorly, not taking care of oneself, and wasted hours.

Disappointments are a one deals with them is the true test of leadership.  Do you run around blaming others?  Do you act as if the sky is falling?  Do you immediately try to fix it without getting at the root cause of the problem?  Do you fly off the handle, yelling and screaming at others?  Do you retreat into your office and hide? you accept disappointments as part of the job?  Do you stop and think about what might have caused the issue?  Do you deal with it head on, making appropriate decisions?  Do you go and talk directly with the person, believing the best rather than assuming the worst?  Do you stay even-keel so that others see you understand the situation?  Do you act quickly when needed, so that others see you understand the situation?  Do you do a follow up so that you and others learn from what happened? you continue to have HOPE that things will be better tomorrow?  Do you continue to have HOPE that people really want to do their bests at all times?  Do you have HOPE that the organization is strong enough to withstand this disappointment?  Do you have HOPE that you and your team have enough fortitude to weather this moment?

"...and HOPE does not disappoint us." (Romans 5:5)

Friday, October 16, 2015

baseball and leadership

In my lifetime, my team has never been to the World Series...they have only won two post-season series...they seem to make a run in the early part of the season and then fade once the summer begins (or they make a run until the very end and then fail miserably)...they are often referred to as the lovable losers...they are the Chicago Cubs.  This past week was a milestone in my life as I watched my team WIN a post season series (only their second since 1908) AND for the first time ever they won it at home in Wrigley Field.  I was exhausted by the end of that series, and am now resting up for what I hope will be another series which they win (note: for me this is a grudge series since we lost out to the Mets during the last month of the 1969 season).  So what does this have to do with leadership?

  1. Napoleon once stated that "leaders are dealers in hope" - Cubs fans are the ultimate people of hope...for 56 years I have been saying (and believing) WAIT TIL NEXT YEAR!
  2. Winston Churchill's famous speech of "never give in, never, never, never, never" rings true with Cubs fans - until we are mathematically eliminated each season, there is always a chance...unlike some of my Cardinal friends who gave in before the final out was made Tuesday evening.
  3. Leaders build talent from within - the nucleus of this year's team came through the Cubs farm system (unlike other years when they tried to buy their way into contention),  Watching these young men play for THEIR team is a joy and pleasure!
  4. Leaders hire other great leaders - Theo Epstein (the Cubs GM) hired the best manager he could (and quickly replaced the former manager as soon as the current one became available)...always be looking for the best talent out there and be ready to bring them aboard when the time arises.
  5. Leaders know what their team needs - Joe Maddon took a group of young players and kept them loose all season...he knew what they needed to be their best from the beginning to the end.
  6. No one is irreplaceable - when Addison Russell strained his hamstring, Javier Baez came in and knocked a game winning home run (while he was not as good defensively, he used his strengths to assist the team)...leaders build a bench of people who can step in at any given time.
  7. Building a strong team takes time - the past 3-4 seasons have been hard, as the Cubs often fought for last place in the Central Division, believing (and HOPING) that the time would arrive when we would compete...and we did!
I'm sure there are many more analogies between baseball and leadership, but it is time for me to go and rest up for tomorrow evening's game - GO CUBS GO!

Friday, October 9, 2015

leadership lessons learned from conducting

Last night I had the honor of conducting our University Choir at the conclusion of the 2nd Annual President's Concert in a work that I first sang and played back in high school - The Last Words of David  by Randall Thompson.  The first part of my career was spent on the podium, both with bands and choirs...I even received my masters in conducting in 1986 from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. Last night was a treat for me - and brought back many good memories.

As one who thinks about leadership, I have often compared my personal leadership to how I thought about my role as a conductor, so today I want to share several maxims about conducting that I also believe to be true (for the most part) about leading any type of organization:

  • The music is only made by the people who sing or play - not by the conductor
  • Good conducting comes from years of practice - and its much more than waving one's arms around
  • The larger the group, the more need there is for a conductor
  • The hard work happens long before the performance
  • Someone else wrote the music - the conductor's job is to help interpret it
  • The better the singers or players, the more difficult the music one can choose to perform
  • Every movement by the conductor should have a purpose...and will impact the performance for the better (or the worse)
  • The smallest (and often most undetectable) movement can sometimes make all the difference in the world
  • Less is more - to get a choir to group to play more intensely, make smaller movements
  • There are critical moments in any piece where it is crucial for the players and singers to watch the which times the conductor must make sure that what she does helps the group rather than being disruptive
  • The better the conductor knows the score, the more time he can spend looking at the choir or band
  • Making direct eye contact with individuals is crucial - it tells them that you care about them...and the group as a whole
  • Conductors must have flawless technique...AND allow their emotions to come out as well
  • Everyone in the group is important - make sure they all understand how they contribute
  • Individual players or singers cannot go will destory the final outcome
  • Groups play better (and are more inspired) in front of an audience - after all, that's the reason for practice
  • There is no perfect performance - you eventually need to get on the stage and let others listen in on what you do
While not every maxim holds true for every ensemble or performance, for the most part these can be applied to leadership of any group or organization...I will leave it up to the reader to figure out what each one means for them individually. Questions? Comments? Leave them in the space below...

Friday, October 2, 2015

thinking of Rita Cavin

All of yesterday afternoon, last night, and this morning I have been thinking about Rita Cavin.  Yesterday, around 10:40 AM, Rita embarked on a journey she may have never thought possible, and weathered what was most likely the hardest day of her life.  Dr. Rita Cavin is the interim president at Umpqua Community College where yesterday a shooter took the lives of nine students and wounded seven others.  As I listened to the CNN reports at my desk yesterday, I kept thinking, "what would I do?" and the answer was "I'm not sure."  How does one prepare for that type of incident?  When all eyes are on you as the leader of the institution, how do you react?  Who are the first people you go to?  What constituency most needs your immediate attention?  And what does one do in the days and weeks following?

As I began to write this morning's blog, the thought went through my mind regarding the difference between crisis management and crisis leadership.  There are countless of courses and books on crisis management...institutions write thick manuals regarding crisis management...knowing what to do next can be figured out ahead of time.  But knowing HOW TO BE NEXT is not so easily written or codified.  What will President Cavin do this morning?  And what did she do last night reliving not only the incident but also thinking about everything she had done - or not done - during the previous twelve hours?  So, coming on the heels of a tragic shooting on a college campus, here are a few thoughts on crisis leadership:

  • people need to hear you speak...and this needs to be done through multiple media including written, social, and spoken form.
  • use the people around you...everyone on the team will bring different strengths to the situation.  Let them use their gifts at that time
  • follow the manual...there is a reason someone took time to create a process to handle emergencies. Know where the manual is and let those who wrote it direct the process
  • call your PR people and let them handle that end of the situation...similar to above, let the professionals do their work (and make sure you have ready access to professional PR people)
  • walk seen by others and engage in the process of helping and healing.  And during the walk, take time to talk with individuals who have been affected.
  • think ahead...the institution needs to keep operating the next day and the next week.  What needs to happen so that your organization - and your people - are back online as soon as is feasible? And what needs to happen so that those left behind can go through a healing process?
  • be a purveyor of hope...Napoleon's famous phrase that leaders are dealers in hope might never play out more true in times like this.  There is a future ahead - be sure that is part of your message
  • be true to who you someone to whom spirituality is important, I will pray and lead others in that practice; as someone who can be emotional at times, I will probably have my time of weeping and mourning; as someone who needs quiet time to recharge, I will find a place of solitude later in the day and just be quiet.  Crisis leadership demands everything one has, so being true to self is critical if momentum is to be maintained.
And so, I offer this prayer for the community that makes up Umpqua Community College and especially for Rita Calvin:

Lord of all compassion
We pray for all of those caught up in the midst of tragedy or disaster.
For those who have lost life and those working to save life
For those who are worried for people they love
For those who will see their loved ones no longer
Lord Have Mercy.
For those in need of the peace that passes all understanding
For all who turn to you in the midst of turmoil
For those who cry out to you in fear and in love
Lord Have Mercy.
For those in confusion and those in despair
For those whose tears are yet to dry
For those in need of your unending love
Lord Have Mercy

Friday, September 25, 2015

sayings to live by (the meeting edition)

Many people have sayings implanted in their brains that they learned from others, whether they come from parents, grandparents, friends, or colleagues.  Today's blog will feature two sayings I learned from a former colleague and mentor, Pastor Donald Black of Trinity Lutheran Church in Houston, Texas.  Prior to every church meeting, he would remind those involved that
1) everyone can have their say but not everyone can have their way
2) we need to be able to disagree without being disagreeable.  
For some reason, those two saying have stuck with me for almost 30 years now, and I am reminded of them as I run meetings here at the University.  What do these sayings really mean?  Here are my thoughts:

Everyone can have their say but not everyone can have their way: people's voices need to be heard, and often times meetings are run in such a way in which either the quiet voice or the dissenting voice is not heard.  It is easy to speak up when everyone agrees with an is when one has an opposing viewpoint that it becomes harder to articulate what they are thinking.  The leader's role is to create a a safe environment where the quiet and/or opposing voice is able to speak if they so desire.  My first caveat to this is that while everyone can have their say, they also have the responsibility to say it in a fashion that is respectful and honoring of the other.  My second caveat is that at some point a group needs to make a decision, and while some would still want to have their say, they may need to respect the group's desire and give up their say at that time.  Another of the leader's roles is to determine when that time is right, without stopping debate before all voices that need to be heard are heard.

We need to be able to disagree without being disagreeable: this is perhaps one of the hardest sayings to live out in any group, mostly because people have never learned how to do this.  In a recent faculty and staff training here at Concordia, we had someone train us in the art of crucial conversations.  We learned that there is a way to disagree without being disagreeable...and that there were specific ways of thinking and acting that made those conversations go better than imagined.  Several ways to approach this is that when someone has a differing opinion, they should 1) believe the best about those with an opinion other than their own (rather than assume the worst) and 2) understand that their idea is based on what they believe to be true at that time, which may or may not be an ultimate truth...beginning with the words "I may be wrong..." works wonders most every time.  Those listening must also be respectful of the differing opinion, believing the best rather than assuming the worst.

Consider what it is that you believe about how meetings should play out, and check to make sure that what you want to have happen actually does happen.  And if it takes a certain saying that is repeated before every meeting, go ahead and say it...a good reminder of how an assembly should act can never hurt the process or the outcome.