Friday, October 17, 2014

being new

What do you do when you look around and you are the "new kid" in the room...especially when you have not had to play that role for awhile?  These past few days (and others over the past several months) I have been the "new kid" in the room, hanging out with new faces and new friends, many who have done their role for many years.  Even if I know their names, and have met them previously, I am still new in this particular room.  Here's the problem...there is NOTHING I can do about that.  I AM the "new kid" in the room - and I'm glad I am (well, at least I am glad I am in the room).  Being new can cause anxiety, uncertainty, embarrassment, and sometimes downright fear.  There is also a certain freedom in not knowing what you don't know and being able to use the excuse "I'm still new."  Trying to balance all of these emotions is a part of the job - and how one is able to travel this new road can say a lot about their character and can help in shaping the future of their role.  After three months of experiencing being new once again, here are a few thoughts on how to best navigate this time:
  • keep reminding yourself that in one year, you will no longer be new...and there may even be other "new kids" around
  • keep reminding yourself that everyone else in the room was once new...and they felt the same things you are feeling
  • don't be afraid to ask questions - remember that this is what got you to this new position in the first place
  • don't ask too many questions - you do not need to bore the others with what you don't know
  • find a friend - and start asking that person those questions that you did not ask above
  • get to know people by engaging in conversations - have your list of questions ready that are more than just about work
  • don't insert yourself into others' conversations all the time - remember that the rest of the people are not new...be respectful of their deeper conversations
  • get comfortable with sometimes having to be by yourself - they aren't ignoring your...they just don't know you
  • be cognizant of where you sit - look around and be smart about where you actually take your seat at the literal table
  • be interesting - be willing to share your story and talk about things other than work and the job
  • listen intently - the people in the room are actually a lot smarter than you right now
  • be patient - your turn to take the lead will come in time (this is especially true when you are the "new kid" with a group of high level executives)
  • have fun - embrace being new as an honor and privilege...you only get to do this ONCE with this group
In a year or so I will look back on these days and months and remember those feeling of what it was like to be new...and I will be thankful for the many colleagues and friends who were patient with me as the "new kid" and helped acclimate me into the group.  Until then, I'll just keep reminding myself of the joys of being new.

Friday, October 10, 2014

learning to talk horizontally

It a classic case of the sales people not being able to communicate with the design people...or the finance people not being able to communicate with the human resource people...or management not being able to communicate with the line worker.  It happens in every organization, in every business, in every government function...and even in most homes.  Some people refer to it as only communicating within one's silo...I speak of it as communicating vertically.

It's easy to communicate vertically...everyone has a similar function, you spend most of your time with this group of people, you see the world through the same lens, you are all working toward the same goals, and you all get rewarded in a similar manner.  For most of the people in this vertical alignment, this is the function of business in which you have spent most of your working life - and in which you have found your greatest success.  It's  warm and cozy in the silo...who wants to ever leave it?  And yet, in order to get things done and make the best decisions for the organization, people need to get out of the vertical and move into what i call HORIZONTAL COMMUNICATION - talking across the verticals and learning to communicate with the "others."

We have already established why horizontal communication is do difficult.  The need to do so has been characterized in many books, articles, blogs, and podcasts having to do with effective and efficient practices in organizations.  So what can be done about it?  Here are a few thoughts on how to get people talking horizontally:

  • create a different organizational chart - remove the boxes and lines and show how different functions of the organization need to connect with one another
  • bring people from different functions into the same room and force them to talk together (it may help if you force them to sit next to people outside of their areas).  And then get them talking about important things with each other
  • find a way to reiterate the importance of this over and over and over...and over.  People will naturally fall back into vertical conversations when they are not reminded about it over and over and over...and over.
  • name horizontal conversations as one of your organization's core values - and then find ways to reward people who do it really well.
  • keep asking the question, "who else needs to be in this conversation before a decision is made?"  and then get them into the room as quickly as possible
  • when people forget to have the horizontal conversation, go and see then right away and ask them why that happened...and then get them to agree to have the horizontal conversation as soon as possible
  • hold multiple horizontal conversations yourself...and let it be known that this is how you operate. 
  • hire people to work in areas different from what they may have been grown up in...not only does it expose them to new functions of the organization; it also forces them to ask questions because they will not have all the answers (not to mention this is a great way to develop future leaders)
I am sure there are many more ways to create a culture of talking horizontally.  It is a process - and it is worth it!

Friday, September 26, 2014

making small talk

I am on the third leg of a 10-day journey away from home at conferences and trips with people who, for the most part, are new to me.  I sat at lunch yesterday thinking to myself, "I just want to be quiet and not have to make small talk with someone I do not know."  Those who know me understand that this is out of my character, so I must really have hit a wall.  That being said, I really enjoy getting to meet people and learn about them...if they are willing to engage in conversation.  I have come to understand that the art of making small talk is not natural to many people, and that there is much to learn in how to do this.  Leaders spend a lot of time with people they may not know, and I believe that the art of conversation (small talk) is a critical skill to have.  Here are a few ideas to try out next time you are in a crowd and needing to make new friends:

  • Ask questions about them and their families...nothing gets people talking faster and deeper than when you ask about their hobbies and children
  • Be willing to offer your own story...you never know where the connections will happen
  • Extend your hand, offer a shake, and tell them your name and what you do...making people ask the obvious always seems odd to me
  • Have an arsenal of questions ready...what do you do? what brings you here? where did you grow up? what is your favorite thing about this conference? etc
  • Be interested...your enthusiasm will go a long way to keep the conversation going
  • Don't make it a sales call...keep your business card in your wallet or purse until someone asks for it or it seems obvious this connection should continue
  • Set a mental time limit for the conversation...nothing is worse than a conversation that drags on because one (or the other) person keeps talking
  • Learn to exit gracefully...do you have to see someone else? make a phone call? go the the restroom? get in line for food? check your email?
  • Be willing to be quiet...those of us who are extroverts believe it is our God-given duty to keep the conversation going at all costs.  Sometimes it's okay to just sit next to someone and be quiet.
Small talk is precisely that...small and short.  It's not too painful, and you never know where it might lead.  AND it's just another way to be nice to someone else.

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 from...you 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 money...it 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!"