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!

Friday, May 27, 2016

the uncomfortable paradox of leadership

Here are two things I know to be true about leadership:
  1. It's all about the leader
  2. It not at all about the leader
F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote that the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in one's mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.  I suppose the same could be true for first-rate leadership...and yet it is this paradox that remains one of the more difficult aspects of leadership - and not having this ability can often lead to one's downfall.  Let me try to explain a bit more about this uncomfortable paradox.

All of our lives we are told to put the other person first, to love one's neighbor as ourself, that children should be seen and not heard, etc, etc, etc.  This is especially true for those who grew up in religious homes, where not only do others come first, but God is the most important figure in our lives.  I have some friends who use the acronym JOY - Jesus, Others, You.  Being able to say "It's all about me" runs anathema to many, many people...and yet, when put into a leadership position, it IS all about you.  When leaders deny this fact, they give up part of their ability to lead, often deferring decisions or not stepping up when called upon to do so.  The ability to take responsibility, to put oneself forward, to believe that their decision making process is good and right...unless one has the confidence and courage to truly believe that it is all about them, it becomes very hard to lead.

At the same time, leadership has very little (if anything at all) to do with the leader herself.  While she might believe that "it's good to be Queen," the truth is that very little gets done by the leader.  Most of the work...most of the decision making...most of the execution gets done by others.  We can sit in our offices and believe that without us the place might fall apart. The truth is that 1) without us the place just might thrive or 2) even with us, the place might fall apart.  For one who strives to be in a leadership position, or for one whose identity is wrapped up in their leadership position, this can be very disconcerting news.

So what are leaders to do?  How can they manage this uncomfortable paradox?  A few suggestions:

  • accept the fact that this paradox exists and work to manage it - just being aware of this uncomfortableness can help
  • enjoy the fact that sometimes it is all about you - throw a party for yourself, give yourself a trophy, and pat yourself on the back...just don't do it too often
  • enjoy the fact that sometimes is is not about you at all - let the other person worry about it, watch them squirm at a meeting, and give yourself time off...maybe you need to do this more often than you have in the past
  • remember that this is not a balancing act (sometimes this/sometimes that).  This IS the reality of leadership and will always be true - both of them!  at the same time!
  • be willing to ask for forgiveness when it becomes too much about you or too much about others...and be willing to forgive yourself at those times as well
Leadership is a complicated issue (as if I have to remind anyone about that).  Here's the good news about this paradox: you will fall off one end or the other from time to time.  If you didn't you might not really be leading.  So be uncomfortable, because the other paradox of leadership is that you should feel most comfortable about your leadership when you are the most uncomfortable.  Lead on!

Friday, May 20, 2016

the power of awareness

This past week I began my end-of-year reviews with my executive team, a routine that is a best practice in organizations and gives the opportunity for my team and I to be on the same page.  We used a form that focused on position responsibilities, leadership competencies, and goals for the year. My biggest "AHA" during the process was how much we were on the same page with each other. The comments they wrote ahead of time regarding their personal performance were almost always identical to the comments I had written about their personal performance.  This told me several things:

  1. Expectations had been very clear from the beginning as to what was expected
  2. There had been consistent dialogue going on throughout the year around these issues
  3. I had chosen people to work with whom I trusted and who saw the world through a similar lens as myself
As I thought about why AWARENESS was important, it struck me that both self-awareness and other-awareness were critical aspects of leadership.  Both of these types of awareness include knowing what to look for, to actually look for what one is looking for, and to monitor what one is seeing as they look for what they are looking for (and if you were able to follow that logic, you are an incredibly aware person).  What might this look like in day-to-day leadership?  Here are a few thoughts:
  • Know what you want, for self and others
  • Check that what you want is actually good for yourself, others, or the organization.  This demands that leaders read, talk with others, and take the time to ask good questions
  • Be as explicit as possible and as open-ended as possible.  The explicitness is actually a result of the open-endedness...and comes about as a result of multiple conversations (with self and others) around the attitudes and behaviors expected
  • Don't become too focused on specific actions (unless they are violating values and principles).  Be outcomes oriented...is what was expected getting done or not?
  • Do a regular check-in as to how the outcomes are being met.  This includes asking others about what they might see and feel (again, about one's self and others)
  • Be willing to accept failure (again, both in one's self and others).  Being aware of self and others does not mean being perfect...it means getting better
  • Do a detailed end-of-year review (often known among the world as New Year's Resolutions).  What was expected, how did we do, and what do we want to do differently in the next cycle?
  • Celebrate where expectations and goals have been met (again, for self and others).  Take the time to realize how amazing the past year was and what all was accomplished.
  • Don't wait too long to set new goals and begin the regular reviewing process.  Self-awareness and other awareness is an ongoing process.
Enjoy the review and development process...both for yourself and others.  It is a process that benefits the leader, those who work with her, and the organization as a whole.

Friday, May 13, 2016

lessons learned after 4 days and 17 meetings

After rolling out the Concordia University Texas strategic plan for 2016-2021 to the university on May 3, I decided to hold small group meetings this past week where each department had a chance to come and ask questions or make comments on the plan.  The days were long...the conversations were rich...and through the process I learned alot about myself and about leadership.  One phrase that kept coming up was "thanks for listening and being vulnerable enough to hear what we wanted to say."  So after many hours of listening to the wonderful employees of Concordia talk with me about our strategic plan, here is what I learned:

  • It is more important to listen that to talk...while leaders instinctively know this, it is not an easy practice to put into place.  For the many times I wanted to go into depth answering a question, it was more important to answer quickly, write down a thought, and then move the conversation forward with other people's questions and comments.
  • There is often more behind the question or comment than one might initially think...asking follow up questions or trying to get clarification on the comment was as important as answering what I thought I might be hearing.  Several followup conversations helped to clarify for me (and for the person asking the question) what was really meant and/or needed.
  • Criticism of the institution is not criticism of the leader as an individual...it is hard not to take critical comments personally, and yet I had to consistently remind myself that the comments and questions were about the institution, not myself.  Leaders who have a hard time separating these two things will either a) never open up the floor to critical comments; or b) drive themselves crazy taking everything personally.
  • Everybody has something to say AND needs the space and time to say it...it was great to hear the comments and questions from people who might never speak up in a large meeting or forum.  The small, intimate setting where one is surrounded by close colleagues, allows people to be more vulnerable themselves in asking questions that they are thinking about.
  • Everybody has something valuable to contribute...many times people asked how they could get involved in the next steps because they had something they wanted to offer.  Listening to people in small groups allows for ideas (really great ideas) to be heard and taken to the next level.  Because of the input I received, we are now making adjustments to the plan and finding ways to incorporate even more people in the execution of the plan.
  • Practice makes (almost) perfect...after 17 different sessions, I now know the strategic plan backwards and forwards, being able to cite specific numbers for specific initiatives - and I am able to articulate the initiatives even more clearly than before.  Spending time going over the plan again and again and again has made me an (almost) expert in articulating the plan.
This type of work is hard for a leader, both physically and emotionally...AND it is work that must be done.  Spending the time to bring together people and then listening...REALLY listening...can pay big dividends as the organization moves forward.  It is my hope and prayer that these type of meetings can take place on a regular basis so that the institution remains strong and healthy.

Friday, May 6, 2016

t.e.a.m.

Yesterday I had the privilege of having an off-site gathering with Concordia's executive team, those people who serve as chief officers and vice presidents of the University.  Our meeting was facilitated by our friend and coach Jim Blanchard of Strategic Positioning, a firm who specializes in team and leadership development.  Once again, I discovered the power of a team that is willing to invest the time and energy into learning how to be better together.  So today's blog is on four aspects of what I believe makes a great team.

Time together...great teams do not naturally happen - they must spend time together, outside of the day-to-day routine, talking about what it means to be a great team.  They must also spend time together when having to make strategic decisions, sometimes more than they might like to.  Teams need to be reminded from time to time that spending time together is their work.  Do not scrimp on time together...AND be sure to use the time effectively and efficiently.

Everything on the table...great teams cannot afford to have individual members hold back their thoughts, ideas, and opinions.  Putting everything on the table means that team members need to be vulnerable and have the courage to speak their minds...AND be willing to trust the other team members enough to hear hard things.  Stephen M. R. Covey notes in his book The Speed of Trust that TRUST is the one thing that changes everything...and I could not agree more.

Accountability...what this means for me is that members of great teams do what they say they will do, and when they agree as a team to do something, there is one united voice moving forward.  This can be difficult when the team is made up of strong opinioned and high functioning individuals...AND the power of one united voice can radically change an organization for the better.  This again takes courage and trust, especially when it might feel that accountability is beginning to erode.

Monitoring progress...great teams do not just happen, nor do they stay that way without consistent monitoring and checking in on how they are functioning.  At each of our quarterly off-site meetings, we spend time monitoring our progress as a team, using our Birkman profiles as a way of better understanding ourselves as individuals and as team members.  We consistently ask each other how we are doing in specific areas,,,and if we find ourselves slipping or moving backwards, we take the time to correct the course.

Being part of a great team is an honor and privilege, something I am not sure most people get to experience.  And yet, as Patrick Lencioni states in his book The Advantage, "teamwork is not a virtue.  It is a choice...AND it is a strategic advantage."  Building great teams is truly a reward for those who lead them...and for all members who are a part of the team.