Friday, February 5, 2016

are you happy?

Are you happy?  Seems like such a simple question, yet when asked whether or not one is happy, my guess is that people may find a hard time responding quickly.  What is it that constitutes being happy?  Should someone expect to be happy?  Does that mean more than feeling happy at the moment?  And just precisely how happy should someone be in order to declare that they are, in fact, happy?

In a recent conversation with a friend, he told me about some of his employees that were unhappy and had no problem expressing that unhappiness to him on a regular basis.  As we talked about this, it struck us that if someone is truly unhappy in their job, and expresses that unhappiness frequently over time, they should think about leaving or retiring.  Not only does that unhappiness affect them, it affects those around them and often will show up in their job performance.  This type of unhappiness goes deeper than feeling disgruntled about a decision or two...this is unhappiness that pervades one's outlook on the organization and seems to be a part of their thought patterns and discussions over a period of time.

So what can leaders and managers do to identify unhappiness...and what can be done for those who truly are unhappy?  Here are a few thoughts:

  • listen for comments that tend to be negative over an extended period of time.  Organizations need people who question decisions made from time to time...organizations do not need people who are consistently critical of most decisions made.
  • question your assumptions about someones seemingly unhappiness.  Perhaps you are just catching them on a bad day or two, or you have just have been in the line of their fire recently.  Ask them what they mean and to clarify their understanding of the situation. 
  • sometimes unhappiness comes from situations outside of the workplace.  Offer to listen, provide resources through the employee assistance program, and give them time to get through the external situation.
  • ask the person if they are happy or not.  They will probably be taken back by the question, so give them time to figure out their answer...you may even want to give them to the next day to come back with an answer.  Just be sure to follow up.
  • ask their co-workers whether or not they believe this individual is unhappy.  If several people observe this pattern of behavior, perhaps others can intervene and ask what is going on.
  • engage this person in a job performance review.  Often unhappiness comes from uncertainty, and a good performance review can reduce that stress.  Be sure to include their outward unhappiness as a part of that review.
  • do not be afraid to confront the situation.  Unhappiness breeds more unhappiness, and the work of the organization begins to suffer.  Be very clear what it is that you are observing, the changes you expect to happen, and the consequences if changes do not occur.
  • do not let people wear their unhappiness as  badge of honor.  Often the unhappy person sees the role of curmudgeon as their right and responsibility to the organization.  Last time I looked, there was no job description on the organizational chart that has an official place for crabby and unhappy people.
  • do all you can to help them change their disposition.  The organization needs people who are happy and satisfied in their work...your role as leaders and manager is to help that become a reality for all employees.
Finally, if one chooses to remain unhappy, it is up to the leaders and manager to help that person move on to other roles in other organizations.  No one can make someone else happy, so if someone chooses to remain in this state, they need to leave the organization and find a place where they can either a) be happy in their calling or b) share their unhappiness with another organization (and preferably a competitor).



Friday, January 22, 2016

graceful transitions

Over the past 18 months, I have watched many transitions take place at Concordia University Texas, beginning with my own.  Some of them went very well...and others left something to be desired.  Leaders of organizations always hope for graceful transitions - people leaving well and others taking on their new responsibilities well.  Transitions are a part of every organization, so it behooves the leadership of institution to do everything they can to ensure a smooth transition.  What might that look like?  Here are a few thoughts:

  • prepare the institution - transparency during transitions is critical.  why is the person leaving?  who is the new person coming in?  what, if any, changes can be expected?  why might this person have been chosen over another?
  • honor the person leaving - not always easy to do depending on the circumstances, but anything that can be done to highlight the positive contributions this person has made will ensure a smooth transition.
  • prepare a clear position description for the new person - if they know what they are to be doing, it will help everyone involved.  Sharing that position description with those who they manage can also help in the long run.
  • figure out the right time frame between announcement and change- too short of a time frame does not allow for the institution to thank the person and make preparations...too long of a time frame can make for awkward situations and rumors to persist.
  • get everyone on the same page - what is the story you will share with the public?  Trying to come to an agreement with the person leaving and the rest of the team certainly helps the institution and the incoming person.
  • share what is expected in the transition period - letting people know what the new person is expected to accomplish in the first week, month, and three months helps everyone manage the transition better.
  • on-board properly - rather than jumping right into their work, take time to introduce the new person to others in the organization and allow them to get acquainted with the work and people involved.  This is also a great opportunity to honor the person who has left.
  • don't forget the one who is no longer there - stay in touch with that person...give them access to information...remember them in public...invite them to be a part of the future of the organization...and remind others of the impact they had while they were a part of the team.
Planning for graceful transitions is a part of any leader's job...may it go well for you and, where it has not gone so well, plan on some way to repair the less than graceful transition with the individuals involved.

Friday, January 15, 2016

meaningful work

At Concordia University Texas, it is our goal that those who graduate will find meaningful work...it is also our goal that all employees find their work meaningful at the school.  But what exactly is meaningful work...and what does it feel like when one has that in their lives.  As a part of the exploration, I have begun to ask people what gives them meaning in their work, and last evening I had the chance to talk on this subject with one of the bartenders at a new restaurant and cocktail bar in San Antonio called Juniper Tar.  He described his work as a chance to educate people, to give them a great experience, and a chance to learn and grow himself.  His opportunity to create...to engage...to teach...to entertain...and to give another person an "AHA" experience provided meaning for him in his work.  It is no longer just a job - working at Juniper Tar has become his mission.  And yes, he enjoys a good cocktail himself, so this mixes his passion with what he enjoys and what he does well.  And he can make a living in this work.

So what can leaders do help create a place where work can have meaning for others?  Here are a few thoughts:
  • hire well - ensuring that someone is a good "fit" for the work they are asked to do goes a long way in helping that person find meaning in their work over the long haul
  • train them well - when people know how to do their work in a manner that is both efficient and effective, they can find greater joy in what they do (I found out last night that there is a proper way to shake a cocktail so as not to strain one's muscles)
  • give them freedom - everyone has a different way of thinking about the world and how they should interact with others.  Letting people be themselves allows them to bring their whole selves into the workplace
  • work in teams - while some people are more of a loner than others, being a part of something bigger than oneself provides the chance to accomplish great things together and feel pride in the outcome
  • allow them to fail - trying new things may (and probably will) lead to failures.  Celebrate the failures as something learned as a result of taking a risk
  • reward them - part of meaningful work is the ability to make a wage that allows that person to take care of themselves and those they love (including charitable causes).  While rewards can and should encompass more than financial gain, recognizing people for a job well done through some type of bonus system provides great incentive for continuing that type of work
  • engage them - people love to be asked their opinions and when they contribute to the organization, they feel good about themselves, they feel good about their work, and they feel good about the institution
I had a great time engaging with the bartender last night...and I found out more about meaningful work in the process.  So what about you - what does it mean to you to engage in meaningful work?  Feel free to leave your answers below.

Friday, January 8, 2016

the power of hope

I believe that it was Napoleon who coined the phrase "leaders are dealers in hope," a concept I have been teaching for many years.  The world (at least the college football world) witnessed this several weeks ago when the TCU football team came back from a 31-0 deficit at half time to beat the Oregon Ducks 47-41 in three overtimes.  We may never know exactly what was said by Coach Patterson during halftime in the locker room, but something happened that gave the players hope - the ridiculous hope that they could come back and win a game that seemed unwinnable.

I have also seen the opposite effect when people have given up on hope and how that affected them mentally and physically.  When the patient has been doing well for the longest time hears the words "I'm afraid there is nothing else that can be done," they often go into a tail spin and are dead within a few weeks or months.  Hope sustains (even when there is no reason for hope)...hope creates positivity (even when the outlook is negative)...and hope gives life (even when death is imminent).

So what can leaders do to provide hope within their organization?  Here are a few ideas:
  • provide a clear vision that inspires and is something bigger than what one or two people could accomplish on their own
  • tell stories that support that vision and provide a picture of what is possible
  • create an engaged community, where people are participating in the future of the organization and feel as if they have a part in the success of the organization
  • be honest and realistic about the current state of affairs, explaining it in a way that people can understand
  • put the right people in the right places throughout the organization
  • allow people to share their worries openly and honestly
  • take courageous steps to right the situation, no matter how hard they might be
  • never blame others for what got the organization to its current situation...you are the leader right now
  • remind people that others have weathered this type of situation in the past and overcame the odds that were against them
  • don't hide...be in front..and over-communicate what you want people to know and do

Friday, December 18, 2015

taking giftedness for granted

Every organization has them...people who are gifted at what they do.  They make amazing things happen with limited resources; they seem to do their work effortlessly; they can wait until the last minute and their work is still awesome; they are often lauded for their work more externally then internally; and they are the ones who bring attention and recognition to the organization.  As leaders, we are giddy over their performance and do anything we can to keep them happy and motivated.  But is it enough?  And what is it that gifted people most need to stay engaged at their highest level over a long period of time?  Here is my attempt to answer that question.

  1. Gifted people need to be supported...it is not enough to pay them and expect them to do their job.  The extra pats on the back and "atta-boys" are often enough to keep them going for a few more months.  Consistently praising them, both privately and publicly, goes a long way in keeping them happy and productive.
  2. Gifted people need to be rewarded...this goes so far beyond the monetary side of rewards (though that is a part of this).  People who produce want to have the tools they need to produce more and better, and are happy to keep producing at a high level when they know that they can have access to what they need.  The organization that rewards its gifted individuals will keep getting more and more from them over time.
  3. Gifted people need to be protected...these people are often incredibly focused and think about one thing, and because of that focus can tend to frustrate others in the organization.  Leaders need to help these gifted individuals broaden their horizons and help others understand how the gifted individual thinks.  Running interference for the gifted people in our organizations is part of the job of leaders.
  4. Gifted people need to be fed...while giftedness may come naturally to many, it also comes as a result of hard work, and these people are always wanting to learn more so they can do more with their gift.  Sending them to conferences, introducing them to other gifted people, and giving them room to grow as they need to grow are all important for the feeding of their gift and talent.
There is always a dark side to giftedness, thus the reason many gifted individuals burn out or burn bridges behind them.  Setting limits, developing structures, and regular conversations can help our gifted workers navigate these issues and keep them from hurting themselves and others.  Take time today (and during the weeks and months ahead) to care for these people who mean so much to your organization.

Friday, December 11, 2015

leadership workouts

Part of my routine is to workout 3-4 times a week for 45-60 minutes, lifting weights and walking on the treadmill.  At the end of each workout, I determine success by what I call the sweat and soreness measure...how much have I sweated and how sore am I over the next 24 hours?  If I achieve a high sweat and soreness score over a period of time, I feel better and am in better shape over the long haul.  So it is with leadership...to get better at what I do in this role, I need to consider my sweat and soreness measure as a leader.  Let me explain:
  • When was the last time a presentation made you sweat because you had opened yourself up to questions and were not sure what the next one would be?
  • How often have you walked out of a meeting feeling a little beat up because you allowed your team to be open and honest with you?
  • How often do you find yourself sweating because you are making decisions of which you are not sure of the outcome?
  • When was the last time you sweated having to deliver bad news...and hurt a little bit because you actually delivered that news?
  • How often are you reading something that makes your brain hurt?
  • What new thing are you trying that makes you hurt in places you never imagined existed?
Here are two caveats to the sweat and soreness measure of leadership:
  1. Many people find that exercising in groups holds them more accountable and is actually more fun...be sure to include your team in your workout.
  2. The higher my sweat and soreness measure after a good workout, the better I feel about myself - the same is true for leaders.
Enjoy your next workout!

Friday, December 4, 2015

why hire a consultant?

As we finished the two day retreat with our consultant this week, the question of why would anyone hire a consultant plagued my mind...could we have done this ourselves?  why are we spending money on this?  are we a better institution now than we were before they arrived?  Upon further reflection, I realized that our consultants had been worth their price in gold - and that by using them and taking advantage of what they brought to the process, we were not only better today but we would be much better in the future.  So...why hire a consultant?  Here are several reasons that come to mind:

  • Believe it or not, there are people smarter than us.  As someone recently reminded me, "If you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room."
  • Very few executive teams have all the skills that they need to get the job done.  Finding someone to come alongside and help fill in the skills gap makes sense.
  • COULD we have done the work ourselves? Perhaps.  WOULD  we have done the work ourselves? Maybe. And would we have done the work ourselves in such a TIMELY MANNER?  Probably not.  Consultants can bring focus and urgency to a process.
  • Consultants have worked with similar institutions and can provide feedback based on what those institutions do - or don't do.  Having such a comparison helps move the process forward.
  • It is easy to be distracted from what's important to what is urgent.  An outside consultant and partner can help keep the focus on the important rather than only the urgent...if you let them.
  • Having a trusted partner outside of the institution can give perspective to the leader and the team.  Seeing them as a partner rather than a vendor goes a long way in ensuring completion of the project.
Hiring a consultant is only part of the work...listening to the consultant is another part of the work...using the consultant in an on-going relationship is yet another part of the work.  And finally, the organization has to DO THE WORK itself, or the work of the consultant is in vain.  Why hire a consultant?  To help the organization do its work in moving the mission forward.