Friday, August 18, 2017

calling what is, is

Martin Luther, in his Heidelberg Disputation of 1518, stated the following theses: A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the cross calls the thing what it is.  This statement forms the basis of a theology of the cross, where the cross is central to how one understands their relationship with God and with others.  The cross is an instrument of torture...the cross causes pain and suffering...the cross brings death and destruction.  The cross, for Christians, is also a place of salvation...it is a place of redemption...it is a place that brings forth life.  For many, it is easier to focus on the second part of this paradox, where the cross is glorified and is only an afterthought to Easter and the resurrection.  For Luther (and for those who now claim him as a founder) it was the place of beginning, where Christ's work was done once and for all, a reflection of what St. Paul meant when he said "I preach Christ crucified." 

For me, this theological understanding is a critical component of good leadership, namely the ability to call what is, is.  Many writers on leadership have noted that leaders must name reality for others and for their organizations.  The ability to do this - to name reality - allows an organization to move forward by fixing issues and not ignoring what might be holding them back.  This is not an easy task for leaders, who are often promoted to their positions because they were good cheerleaders of others and their organizations.  Rather than calling what is is, leaders will often cover up the problem by fixing it themselves, not having to worry others with the situation.  Yet it is precisely the ability to name reality - to act in the same manner as a theologian of the cross - that will serve leaders and organizations well.

This past weekend saw evil manifest itself  through the protests in Charlottesville, where a group of people decided that their race, their nationality, and their status was more important and better than others.  The philosophy behind this group, the remarks that were made, and the actions that were taken are nothing short of wrong...nothing short of evil...nothing sort of sin.  For them, their lives are more important than the lives of others, and they saw nothing wrong in making that known and bullying others for that right.  And that, for me, is sin.

It is easy to dismiss these actions as a group of fringe lunatics...it is easy to blame both sides for the bad behavior...it is easy not to be concerned with what happened because it does not affect one's own life or beliefs.  But for me, the beliefs, words, and actions of this group of people made me angry and left me in a state of flux, wondering what I can do to make a difference.  Thus this Friday Morning Blog.

There should be no fear in calling out evil and sin...there should be no fear in naming reality...there should be no fear in calling what is, is.  Leaders, it is time to stand up and call out bad behavior, both in our organizations and in the world.  Those who claim to be white nationalists or believe in their manifesto are nothing short of evil and sinful.  I know those are harsh words...I know those are words that bring division...I also know those are words that name what is, is...and I also know those are words that leaders should speak.

Friday, August 11, 2017

power given and withheld

A part of my morning devotional time includes the prayer book A Diary of Private Prayer by John Baillie (many thanks to my friend Rev. Walt Waiser for giving me this book over 4 years ago). One of the prayers I used earlier this week included “It is thou who hast put power in my hand to do one work and hast withheld the skill to do another.” This line struck me as the ultimate leadership prayer with an acknowledgement of what one can accomplish...and another acknowledgement that one cannot accomplish everything.  This acknowledgment is actually a reliance on a higher power and a deep understanding of oneself, a dual role that leaders should think about and engage with on a regular basis.  Knowing what one CAN accomplish (because of what they know and what they can do) and what one CANNOT accomplish (because of what they do not know and cannot do) brings great freedom to the one who leads, whether in a formal or informal role.  This freedom serves both the leader and the organization she leads, as it can clarify roles and give responsibility to others whom God has put power in their hands to do one work (power that might be withheld from the leader) and skills to do others (skills that have been withheld from the leader)...all of which develops and builds other leaders throughout the organization.

So why might this be an issue for leaders and, when not properly understood or practiced, can hurt them and their organizations?  Here are a few thoughts:
  • followers often expect their leaders to possess all power and all skills to accomplish all things.  Leaders who buy into this false assumption begin to believe that a) either they must and will accomplish all things; or b) once they realize they cannot live up to this belief, they question their own leadership abilities and abdicate all use of power
  • when one knows what they can and cannot do, time on task can be spent on what can actually get accomplished.  Attempting to do the impossible gets no one anywhere (unless you are Superman, and when mere mortal leaders attempt to leap tall buildings in a single bound, someone is going to get hurt)
  • leaders HAVE been given power to do something and gets things accomplished...so by all means, they should get those things done.  This is a gift given by God, so the proper stewardship of that power is to use it for the good of the organization and those who are being served
  • knowing that a certain skill has been withheld does not release the leader from ensuring that that particular item is accomplished.  As the steward of an organization, the leader learns what he can about that skill, finds someone who has been gifted with that skill, and then provides the resources to ensure that skill gets done well.  Note that the prayer does not say God has withheld the responsibility, only the skill
  • as leaders do accomplish goals and move their organizations forward, it can become easy to believe that they actually do possess all power and skill, and quickly forget the essence of this prayer, that power given and/or skills are put there (or not) by God.  An ongoing reliance on a higher power and an understanding of ones own finite self serves the leader well, both in times of abundance and in times of leanness.
One final thought: KNOWING what power has been put in ones hand and what skill has been withheld is, in and of itself, an act of leadership.  It may take others to help one know and understand the particular powers and skills that have been given or withheld.  The sooner a leader knows and put this into practice, the more quickly they are able to lead authentically and from a place of freedom.

Friday, August 4, 2017

on leaving well...for leaders

Last week's post on leaving well kept me wondering what people who might be leaving would say about their supervisors, and everything they or the organization may have done (or not done) to help facilitate a "bad leaving" process.  As employees leave (for whatever reason) and try to do the right thing in making the transition smooth, there are times the organization and its leadership can get in the way and hurt the process for the one who is leaving.  As with the person who is doing the leaving, actions by others that make for a "bad leaving" are often unintentional, and yet have consequences for everyone involved.

So today has me thinking about how leaders and their organizations can help their people leave well.  Here are a few thoughts:

  • help the person leave quickly: asking someone to stay longer because you need them is seldom in anyone's best interest.  Helping to facilitate a quick departure can be just what someone needs to move on with their lives
  • be very clear with expectations: whether these be  specific dates of clearing out the office, last paychecks, and any final paperwork that is due, get clarity - in writing - so that everyone is aware of what is expected and how to deliver on those expectations
  • determine the best way to announce one's departure: this should be a conversation between the supervisor and the person leaving.  Depending on the circumstance (and the culture and norms of the organization), this might be handled differently for different people.  Don't assume that everyone wants to (or should be) handled in the same manner.  This would be true for any final recognition or celebration as well...work with the person to determine the best way to handle these items
  • work closely with your Human Resources department: this should go without saying, but issues such as benefits, outstanding debts, legal paperwork, and other items are best left to the professionals.  Do not promise anything that the organization might not be able to deliver - let the details be handled by those who are learned and practiced in this area
  • do an exit interview: again, while these are most often handled by the HR department, supervisors might also want to do something less formal as a way of saying a final goodbye and wrapping things up.  The ability to learn something from one who is leaving (especially if they are leaving well) can reap rewards later on
  • follow up at a later time: nothing speaks more highly of an individual and an organization than following up on employees who have left.  Not only does this keep a relationship moving forward (who knows when you might want someone to come back), leaders can learn from former employees who are now at other organizations
Just as it is difficult at times for people who leave their organizations to move on, it can be just as difficult for supervisors to move on as well.  Consistently mourning the loss of a great employee can have a negative effect on those who remain; beating one's self up over and over because you weren't able to keep someone can drag you and the entire organization down; and continual talk about what the former employee did keeps others from putting their best ideas forward.  Leaving well is something that is the responsibility of the person leaving AND the one who is supervising their leaving...together they can create a process by which leaving well can positively impact the organization and everyone involved.

Friday, July 28, 2017

on leaving well

 Next week is August 1, and what that signals for those of us in education is the beginning of a new school year.  As I begin my 36th year associated with educational institutions, the year will begin with a small handful of people no longer there who, at the end of the previous school year, were a part of our community.  As a leader, I tend to take these departures personally, wondering what I or the institution might have done differently to keep from losing them.  I also know that there are many reasons people move on in their callings and vocations, some of which have little to do with their current institution.  Over the course of my career I have left five different institutions, so I understand the lure of the promotion, the pay raise, of something new and different, and the myriad of reasons people move on to new jobs.

This morning has me thinking about how people leave, and some ways in which leaving can be done well, serving both the individual and the institution which they are leaving.  Leaving can be awkward, emotional, or difficult, and can often be paired with grief and/or guilt.  So how might one (no matter the position) leave well?  Here are a few thoughts:

  • plan your leaving with the least disruption to your current institution: leaving just prior to the beginning of a school year, leaving in the middle of a big project, or leaving right before the launch of a new product or program leaves everyone scrambling and can hurt the mission and short-term needs of the institution.  Negotiating to stay until a replacement is found or a plan for a smooth and timely exit speaks well to both the current and future employers
  • when it is time to leave, leave quickly: after the decision is made and announced, the sooner one leaves the better for everyone involved.  It may be hard to leave friends and colleagues behind; it may be difficult not having a place to go to during the interim; you may believe that your presence will make the transition easier.  The truth is, you have chosen to move on...so move on
  • be clear about your decision to leave: where there is a vacuum of information, people will fill it in for themselves.  Obscure reasons such as "it felt like the right time" and "I prayed about it and felt God was leading me in this direction" may play into the decision but do not provide any help for one's colleagues or the institution.  Was it pay?  then say so...was it a promotion? then say so...was it that you and your supervisor were always at odds?  then say so...was it that you wanted work that was not so demanding?  then say so.  Clarity helps you and those with whom you have worked
  • be sure that everything is in place: often times people's work is in their heads, or they have a unique filing system that only they can understand.  Take the time to prepare for the next person who will be in your role.  Making lists, cleaning up files, explaining everything to your supervisor goes a long way in making a smooth transition for the next person
  • keep your commitments: when one joins an organization, their plan is often to be around for a good length of time and, in so doing, make promises to others that require time and effort. Going to another institution might change those situations and the person leaving has to make a decision on whether they will keep those promises.  It may take time, but keeping promises is a sign of integrity and will serve anyone well over the course of their lives
  • leave graciously: this should go without saying, but this is a time when many people burn bridges and make decisions that could hurt them long term.  Because of the many emotions attached to leaving, things may be said and done that would never happen in a normal situation.  Be careful with what is said and done over the course of preparing to leave and immediately after leaving...and by all means, stay away from social media during this time.  No need to embarrass yourself and/or your previous organization
Here's what I know...people move on from their current institutions for multiple reasons and, while I may initially be hurt or angry, I understand that rhythm and flow of one's work is up to them.  Finding meaning in work has many facets and, when one of those facet is "the next step," then I truly wish people well in their journey.  I also wish them well in their leaving...and pray that they leave well.

Friday, July 21, 2017

outcomes, outcomes, outcomes

Good leaders learn how to manage by outcomes...at least that is what I have been told and what I believe.  And if it was only that easy, we would all be wonderful leaders with whom all kinds of people (especially top performing people) would love to work.  Unfortunately, managing by outcomes is one of the most difficult items on the leader's list of ways to lead.

First, a quick description.  Managing by outcomes is exactly what it sounds like, where one is able to clearly (and let me emphasize clearly) state the desired result, with a clear (and let me emphasize clear) understanding of from what to what by when (see last week's blog for more on this idea). It does not include the how (except for the understood values of the organization...and if they are not understood, then those values need to be a part of the stated outcome).

Second, the problem.  I believe that the problem lies in several areas, including the difficulty of being able to clearly (and let me again emphasize clearly) state the from what to what by when.  Many of those in leadership roles never needed someone to state the obvious for them; they knew instinctively what needed to be done and they got it done in a timely manner.  And because they were successful in getting things done in the past, they often believe that if someone else would do the work the way they did the work, then someone else will get the current work accomplished.  And therein lies the problem - rather than managing by outcomes, leaders will manage by inputs, often detailing the HOW rather than the WHAT.

So how might leaders do a better job of managing by outcomes?  Here are a few thoughts:

  • understand how to state a good outcome, and then practice saying those words out loud over and over.  This may be harder than one imagines, as being extremely clear (and again, let me emphasize clear) is not something with which leaders always do a great job
  • resist the need to describe the HOW, no matter how much you want to tell someone else how to do their job.  It is easy to fall in love with the HOW, especially if one has been successful in their work and rewarded for it.  This does not take away training and mentoring...each of those are incredibly important helping others do their work well (and of course, knowing when and how to train and coach is another whole aspect of good leadership)
  • include a follow up plan that meets your need as a leader to know that the work is actually being done. Building accountability into a plan never hurt anyone, and it might just help to keep the leader out of the weeds
  • rewarding the accomplishment of the outcome is an important piece for everyone, whether it be in the form of a monetary reward or recognition of a job well done.  This not only signals a gratefulness for one's work; it also determines that the job has been completed and it is time to move on to the next item
  • get real time feedback by asking whether everyone understands the outcome and if there are any questions.  This will be the time that people start asking the HOW questions...again, resist the temptation to describe the how and simply restate the outcome, assuring them that you are there to help as needed throughout the process
As I type these words, they sound so easy to me, another one of my "no-duh" ideas of leadership.  And yet I, and so many others, struggle with this on a regular basis.  Saying one is going to manage by outcomes does not guarantee that one will manage by outcomes.  This is a skill that needs to be practiced and assessed over and over again, and one that will reap multiple rewards for the leader and her organization.  More will get done...more people will find their work meaningful...and the best performers in the organization will thrive in multiple ways.

Friday, July 14, 2017

making and keeping promises

I recently read the text The Human Condition by Hannah Arendt, written in 1958.  This wonderful philosophical text reflects on vocation and the calling each person exemplifies in specific types of work.  For me, it has become one of the more significant texts I have read over time as it allows me to better understand why people behave and perform the way they do...and how the type of work in which they are involved shapes that behavior (or perhaps, that type of behavior shapes how they do their work).  As the author comes towards the end of the text, she notes that one of the hallmarks of "good work" among those whose calling has them in relationship with others is the ability to make and keep promises and, that without this standard among people, the work of the community will fall apart.

That may sound very mundane...or perhaps is one those "no-duh" ideas that I tend to write about from time to time.  Leaders are asked to make and keep promises all the time, and are watched very closely by the followers to see whether or not the leader will deliver on that promise (this is true for people in both official and unofficial leadership roles).  However, the same is true across the organization...EVERYONE has to be able to make and keep promises for the organization to function well and, when those promises are not kept, multiple consequences can follow.  This morning has me thinking about how leaders might react when promises are not kept and how one can create a culture where the norm becomes keeping promises.  Here are a few thoughts:
  • face-to-face interaction: when promises are not kept, leaders should go to that person and ask why they failed to deliver on the promise.  Understanding the reason behind the broken promise might reveal issues about the person and/or the organization
  • restate the promise made: reminding someone about the promise they made can be powerful for them and for their supervisor.  A re-setting of the understanding might lead to better results
  • clear expectations: in Chris McChesney's The Four Disciplines of Execution, the author teaches the mantra "from X to Y by when."  Setting very clear directives not only determines whether or not the goal is accomplished; it also sets up boundaries to help people keep their promises
  • take partial responsibility: if the expectations were not clear, or the requested promise sounded more like a suggestion rather than a hard deadline, then perhaps the broken promise is more of a result of the leader's actions
  • express disappointment: it is okay to be upset and express frustration when those with whom one works disappoints them.  Because relationships are important to people (and are the mechanisms by which work get accomplished), expressed disappointment may move one to keep their promises on a more regular and timely manner
  • determine consequences: when promises are consistently broken, the leader must determine a consequence for the person whose behavior is hurting the organization.  This is often difficult, especially when compensation is not directly tied to performance.  Consequences should be meaningful and be administered in a way that upholds the dignity of all involved
  • make the hard decision: a regular pattern of someone unable to keep their promises exposes a problem that is not only hurting the organization; there is something wrong with the individual and/or the role they are attempting to fill.  Making the hard decision to terminate someone is difficult for many leaders and/or their organizations....and it may be the best decision they make for both the organization and the individual
Ms. Arendt notes that for communities and organizations to make and keep promises among each other, the leader of that community or organization must be able to make and keep promises to herself or himself.  Take a quick inventory today to see how you are doing at that aspect of your life...and consider how that might be impacting the work of those around you.

Friday, June 2, 2017

what are you reading?

As I get ready to head out to Maine for a much anticipated vacation, I am often asked the question of what I am going to read while I am there.  Many of my friends and colleagues know that my wife Deb and I ship a box of books to our place and spend the month reading, sometimes up to 10 hours a day.  I have been planning my reading list over the past year, and sometime later in July I will share that list on my blog.  For today though, I am thinking about what leaders should be reading...and why it is important to read certain types of literature.  Here are a few thoughts:

  • anything...while that sounds silly, the fact of the matter is that most people do not read anything of substance ever in their lives.  I recently read that 42% of college graduates never read another book after college...and that 80% of American homes have not purchased or read a book in the last year.  If you are part of one of these statistics, it doesn't matter what you read...just start reading
  • books on leadership...there are some very fundamental skills, behaviors, and attitudes that go with leading others and reading and thinking about them are the building blocks for one's leadership ability.  There are a list of classic texts that all leaders should read, including my top ten that you can find on my blog page.  No list is complete, but here is one that includes most of the important leadership texts
  • great fiction...reading War and Peace, Anna Karenina, The Brothers Karamazov, Great Expectations, Huckleberry Finn, and a host of others not only introduces leaders to some of the most interesting characters in the world, it also provides an introduction to how words, when expertly woven together, can make magic happen.  An additional bonus is that leaders can learn more about people and empathy through great fiction than most any other means.  Here is one list I would recommend
  • poetry...again, it is the use of words that make poetry great and the images that poets can create just by using words.  Leaders spend much of their time helping others to capture a vision of what the organization can be, and they often do it through words.  If you are new to poetry, here is one place to begin
  • philosophy...it is absolutely true that there is nothing new in the world, and when leaders begin digging into the great philosophical texts, they begin to see that everything they have read about leadership up to that point is merely a rehashing of ancient thought.  Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Mill, and Kierkegaard are but a few of those who have influenced my thinking over time.  My top three include Plato's Republic, Aristotle's Ethics, and Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling.  Here is a great place to start.
  • great drama...when I began to read the great drama of the world (dating back to the ancient Greeks) I began to realize that I had missed a whole genre that could open my eyes to the ethos and pathos that is human life.  Reading Antigone made me rethink how I treat others...reading Death of a Salesman made me rethink how I think about my work...reading An Enemy of the People made me rethink how I come across when fighting for what I believe is right.  Here is a list of the top dramas to start reading.  And by all means, read all the Shakespeare you can...you will not regret the time spent learning and knowing these works
That's my list...I have some of each on my reading list, including the first category of "anything" ...because I never know what I might find in my local bookstore in Maine.