Friday, April 18, 2014

on giving advice

Last week I blogged about asking for advice, and the best ways to do that - and since I had recently had the opportunity to ask some of my mentors for advice, it seemed like a timely topic to explore.  During this week, I had the chance to GIVE ADVICE to some of my colleagues, advice that had actually been asked for and solicited (as opposed to the "unsolicited" advice we often give to others).  I think that I am the type of person who would rather ask for advice than give it (I know that might make some of my colleagues laugh), but it actually felt good to give advice to these few people this week.  As I was reflecting on my opportunities to help others (at least I hope that is what I was able to do), I thought I might share a few ideas this week on how to best give advice.  Remember that this is coming from one who would rather receive advice than give it, so while I a not an expert, I believe I have a few things to goes:

  • If not asked directly for advice, always ask permission of the other person if they are willing to listen to your thoughts
  • When asked for advice, take a moment to consider whether or not you should - you may not have an expertise in the areas being asked for, you may be prejudiced in some manner and give less than good advice, or it may not be the best time for the person asking for advice to hear what you want to say
  • Less is more (even when you have more to share)
  • Just as in any good dialogue, use "I" messages
  • Remind yourself - and the person to whom you are giving the advice - that you might be wrong
  • Be as specific as you can...and ask if the person wants specific advice or just wants to think out loud with you on the topic
  • While you may be an expert on the topic, always remain don't know everything
  • Remember that the person asking for advice has just made themselves vulnerable - be careful where you tread during this time
  • Sometimes it might be okay to ask for some time and then to get back with this person - it gives you space to think through your answer
  • The person who asks for advice deserves your best advice - take the time to think through what you are going to say...and only say what you are sure about.
  • If you are in a position of power with this person (i.e. you are their supervisor) you need to be EXTRA careful, because anything you say could be interpreted as  something you want them to do and something on which their performance might be evaluated
  • Before diving into giving advice, ask some clarifying questions...this will allow you to give advice on what they really are asking about, not just on what you think they are asking about
  • Thank them for their willingness to open up to you, and for the opportunity they have given you to think about these issues out loud - giving advice is a learning process for the advice giver as well as the advice receiver
What am I missing?  Feel free to chime in, add your thoughts, and give me and others some advice on how to best give advice.  

A blessed Good Friday to each of you...this is one of my favorite days of the church year as it fully prepares me to understand the joy that comes with the festival of the Resurrection in just a few more days!

Friday, April 11, 2014


There comes a time in people's lives (including mine) when it is important to seek out and receive advice.  When those times occur in my life, I think about those people whom I know and trust...people who have experience in the areas I need advice...and people who will be straight with me, not mixing words.  There are not many of these type of people in our lives, and it is important to build that group over time.  Recently I was seeking advice on an issue and approached several of my trusted's what I did:

  • asked them for a short amount of their time
  • met them on their terms (time and place)
  • clarified the issue for them
  • asked the burning question
  • listened to what they told me
  • told them what my greatest fear was
  • let them assure me or provide ways around/through the fear
  • asked clarifying questions on their advice
  • listened some more
  • thanked them for their time
  • sent a thank you as a follow up
Here's the paradox - the more one "moves up" in their career, the more they are expected to know...the more experience one has, the more they are expected to know...the older one gets, the more they are expected to know...the more titles and degrees one accumulates, the more they are expected to know - and often times they stop asking for advice.  It is at these times when those of us in leadership roles need to realize we know less than we think we do and consistently ask for advice.  Not only do we learn something, the person giving the advice benefits because 1) they get to hear themselves talking about the issue out loud, clarifying their own thoughts; and 2) they feel great being asked for their advice.  EVERYBODY WINS!  So here are my thoughts on how to become the type of person who asks for and gets good advice on a regular basis:
  • Believe you are not the smartest person in the room
  • When you find someone whom you trust and has the knowledge and experience you need, develop a relationship with them over time
  • Never force this type of relationship - if it develops, great...if not, keep them as a colleague and keep trying to find the right person
  • Prior to the conversation, think through the questions you want to ask and get the wording right
  • Invite these people into your life and entrust them with your deepest concerns and fears
  • Be a good listener
  • Don't be a pest
  • Let them ask you for advice every now and then - and be gracious enough to give it to them
  • Follow up with people - they appreciate knowing that their advice actually made a difference
  • And finally...Believe you are not the smartest person in the room
Enjoy the process of asking others for will be amazed at what you learn and how you may soon become the type of person whom others will ask for advice.

Friday, April 4, 2014

in over your head

Two conversations yesterday led me to consider the importance of being "in over your head."  I first interviewed a long-standing faculty at Concordia (41 years), Dr. Larry Meissner, and when I asked him about his journey and how he learned to become the person he is, he kept coming back to people giving him opportunities that he never should have been given - and how he consistently found himself "in over his head."  Later in the afternoon, one of my faculty and I were chatting about an opportunity which could be coming his way - he looked at me and said he felt that perhaps he might end up "in over his head."  Over the past two weeks, I have had conversations with people that I walked away from thinking that if I said yes to what they were asking about, that I too would be "in over my head."  Scary? of course...Possibilities for growth? tremendous!

So here are two lists that might help you 1)get yourself in situations that are "in over your head" and 2) help you manage those projects in which you find yourself "in over your head:"


  • find ways to meet really cool (and really smart) people
  • ask good, open-ended questions
  • shut up and listen
  • never say NO too quickly
  • find possible partners who are willing to explore and create with you
  • do new and cool things yourself
  • be really good at what you do
  • introduce others to one another
  • show up at places you would not normally be
  • ask to be invited to conversations outside your area of expertise
  • keep your contacts and relationships going
  • raise your hand to ask questions and make suggestions

  • remind yourself that great things happen only when people are "in over their heads"
  • learn to enjoy the ambiguity of these types of projects
  • believe that there are people a whole lot smarter than you
  • find those people who are a whole lot smarter than you
  • ask for help from those people who are a whole lot smarter than you
  • find resources to help pay for the time and energy needed to go into these type of projects
  • remember that it is sometimes okay to say NO and pass on certain ideas and projects
  • if no one is going to die, go ahead and's OK to fail
  • take a breath...pause for a moment...enjoy the scenery...and then get back to the project
  • learn to collaborate - projects like this can seldom be accomplished by yourself
  • trust that you have been put into this situation for a reason - God works in mysterious ways
  • consistently check your own purpose for why you might be "in over your head"
  • hang out with others who are ":in over their heads"
Final thought: you may not be the type of person who enjoys being "in over your head."  That's okay...if we all were "in over our heads" we would all drown. There needs to be those who will first put on their own oxygen mask and then place the other one over the person next to them...that's the beauty of collaboration, partnerships, relationships, and friendships.  Maybe your role today is to look for someone you know who is "in over their head" and offer a word of encouragement or the time and expertise to help them in their project.  You never know if by doing that one act of kindness, you might soon find yourself "in over your head" - and if so, I hope you enjoy the swim!

Friday, March 28, 2014

asking the right question

In one of my meetings this week, we were talking about questions, and someone made the statement that when someone answers his question with another question, he  wants to "reach over and punch them" (said in jest of course).  We all laughed, especially knowing his personality and began talking about how people use questions to manipulate others, use questions to make a statement, and other thoughts around the use of questions.  Last night (in a conversation with someone a lot smarter than me) I posed a question and he had the gall to answer my question with another question...the only problem was that his question was a lot better than my question.  Needless to say, I did not reach over and punch him...what I did do was engage in a great dialogue about the questions we had posed.

As I write this blog, I am assuming that most people would agree that asking a great question can lead to some pretty significant answers.  The issue is not whether or not we ask enough questions - the issue is are we asking the RIGHT questions.  Here is a list of ideas of how we might be able to get to the right questions in our conversations:

  • Believe that questions are a really good way to get at the answer to a problem - REALLY believe it!
  • Check to make sure that you are not really making a statement of your own belief when you ask a question
  • Don't ask questions of others to which you already know the answer you want
  • Engage in asking questions that might not seem to have an answer
  • Be willing to think out-loud...and allow other to do the same
  • Embrace the "what if..." question
  • Practice the art of dialogue - ask, listen, speak, suspend, accept, ask, listen, speak...
  • Hang out with people a lot smarter than you and ask them your mosts pressing questions
  • Don't stop exploring the question until you believe you have the right question - and then ask a few more
  • Read great literature (because great literature deals with the big questions of life)
  • Read in areas of which you know very little (because you will come away with many more questions)
  • Don't be afraid to ask questions when you don't know something (remember the adage "there is no such thing as a dumb question")
  • Go ahead and answer a question with a question (and get ready to duck)
Two books to recommend on this subject:
  1. Mark Kurlanksy's What? (the entire book is a series of questions...great fun!)
  2. Michael Marquadt's Leading With Questions (interesting way of thinking about leading others)

Friday, March 14, 2014

learning from the "greats"

I have often blogged about the importance of hanging out with people a whole lot smarter than you - those who have been there, done that, and can guide you on your journey.  For me, this typically means the mentors I find, the contacts I make, and the people who come across my desk from time to time.  This past week I had the privilege of attending SXSW Interactive in Austin - an amazing confluence of people and ideas that brings together some of the biggest names in science, technology, the arts, government, and other odds and ends of the world.  When having to choose who to hear and listen to, I felt like a kid in a candy many great choices with so little time.  My "AHA" was that they "greats" really have a lot to offer...they are "great" for a reason.  And it was the most fun when I listened in on conversations about which I knew the least.  Here is a quick run down on a few of the "greats" I heard and what I learned...

Neil Degrasse Tyson (astrophysicist and hosts of the FOX show "Cosmos") - Neil was amazing!  He was smart, funny, engaging and passionate.  I loved his line that scientific literacy is not just knowing a bunch of facts and is "how much do you still wonder about the world around you?"  He reminded me that the more I learn about science, the more skeptical I become (in the best sense of the word), and the more I can engage in learning at that point.  His final line was that we need to "take action on the things we are inspired by."  I left energized, ready to take on the world, and ready to learn more about the world around me.

Dean Kamen (inventor and thinker - designed the segway) - I was once again reminded (and convinced) that technology, properly used, can indeed solve the world's problems (as it always has).  We, in this time and day, have a responsibility to solve the deep issues in society - because we can...and perhaps there needs to be a Bill of Responsibilities along with the Bill of Rights.  Because I am a big fan of learning through failure, one of my favorite lines of his was, "Sucking if the first step to doing anything!"  He inspired me to get going and "build something great."

Lena Dunham (film maker and creator of the HBO series "Girls") - Okay, this was a little far out there for me, and it was probably the star power that attracted me, but I am so glad I stood in line 45 minutes to hear her (and I got to stand and chat with good friend Roxanne Wilson).  She was witty, funny, passionate, and inspiring.  I was again reminded that I can learn a lot from a 28-year old who is creative and really good at her craft.  Three thoughts stood out for me: 1) because of technology, the lack of money is no longer an excuse (applies to most situations in life); 2) Maya Angelou once said that "when someone tells you who they are, believe them."  What a powerful statement that can lead to some great collaborative work; and 3) "tell the story that only you know" - ruminate on that for a while and see where it leads you.

Ralph Steadman (British artist who created the drawings for Hunter Thompson's book "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas") - I think I really attended this one to listen to historian Douglas Brinkley do the interview, and was pleasantly surprised by what I learned.  Ralph (who has to be in his 80's) talked about the creative spirit and the need to be one's self.  Listening to him talk about his role in history and how he has hung around with great writers and politicians was interesting in and of itself.  I was reminded that we all need to develop a style and use it to make an impact in whatever we do.

Robert Duvall (actor and director) - again, I was attracted to the star power, as well as the fact that he was being interviewed by Leonard Maltin.  I was four rows away from him and got to watch a master talk about his craft.  As he told stories of working with John Wayne, Marlon Brando, and James Caan (to name a few) I watched his enthusiasm for acting and making stories come alive.  It is so much fun to see how people who are masters of their craft are so comfortable talking about what they do.  I was also reminded that no matter how famous one is, they still do their jobs day in and day out - and that doing one's craft well is often times just about showing up and doing a good job.

Rahm Emanuel (Mayor of Chicago and former Chief of Staff for President Obama) - The gist of the Mayor's talk was about how the arts have become an important part of Chicago's strategic plan and how important it is to have the arts present in schools.  He talked about how in his short administration he has "gotten a lot of stuff done" - not a bad vision for someone in charge.  Having a 10-year plan with the nimbleness to change has been important to him - and to the city.  And as he talked about serving the 77 different neighborhoods in the city, he saw his role as "providing the resources that were needed to light the spark that was already there...and I wondered to myself how I might be able to do that with faculty, programs, etc within my purview.

Whew...I'm exhausted just writing about it.  The four days at SXSW were once again "a liberal arts education on steroids" for me.  Many thanks to my friend Nathan Green for once again asking me to be on a panel that provides a free Gold Badge for me...AND it would also be worth the $1000 if I had to purchase the badge.  Only 51 weeks until SXSW 2015!

Friday, February 28, 2014

the power of hospitality

This past week our campus welcomed a team from our accreditation body, formally known as the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).  The team, comprised of faculty and staff from peer institutions, came to see how we were doing with our remote locations...and I am pleased to announce that they were more than complimentary on what they observed.  Several times throughout the visit, they complimented us on our hospitality and thanked us for treating them well.  When all was said and done, I believe it they left with a good impression of Concordia University Texas - both in how we run and operate the institution - and in how we treat our guests.

There is great power in hospitality because it creates a picture of who you are and how you make things happen.  When one feels welcome, they believe that all is well in paradise...when one is welcome, they are willing to forgive the little mistakes that can arise...when one is welcome, they feel a part of the family and will give you the benefit of the doubt...when one is welcome, they will work with you to achieve greatness...when one is welcome, there exists a camaraderie that builds bonds that last a lifetime.  So how might one exhibit this type of hospitality?  Three ideas:

  1. Create an hospitable environment: is the room/house/office/building clean?  have you taken the time to tidy up the room feel at ease? are the candles lit, the music playing, and the food ready? are you ready to receive the people and not running around at the last minute? is your desk cleaned off? are there enough chairs in the room? is the table set (feel free to apply that metaphor in multiple ways)? in other words, is everything in place so that your guests feel as if they are the most important people in the room?
  2. Do for one what you wish you could do for all: I used to be the type of person who felt I need to spend equal time with everyone at a gathering I hosted so that no one would feel left out.  I soon discovered that no one got my best and I receive nothing from the group.  Once I started focusing my attention on the person in front of me and spent as much time as was needed there, things changed.  Going deep with one or two people shows the crowd that you care - and that you believe each person is important enough to spend quality time with them (even if they do not get you that time around).
  3. Be authentically hospitable: if your are practicing hospitality only to get a result, your guests will see right through that.  However, if you are truly hospitable from the inside out, everyone will know that as well.  Having an hospitable spirit is one of the spiritual gifts mentioned in the Christian Bible - Romans 12:13 encourages others to "practice hospitality."  For me, this does not mean having to gregarious and outgoing; rather, it is the ability to really care for the other in a way that makes them comfortable, especially when they enter a strange place.
So do a quick inventory:
  • how hospitable is your organization to guests and strangers?
  • how hospitable is your home to friends and neighbors?
  • hos hospitable is your office to colleagues and guests?
  • how hospitable is your classroom to students?
  • how hospitable is your waiting room to vendors and patients?
  • how hospitable is your entrance and foyer to first time visitors?
  • how hospitable are you when encountering the stranger for the first time?
"Love must be sincere,  Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.  Honor one another above yourselves.  Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need.  PRACTICE HOSPITALITY (Romans 12:9-13).

Friday, February 21, 2014

three little/powerful words

As I drove into the office this morning, I reflected on several conversations I had yesterday that were focused on three words - accountability, transparency and vulnerability.  Specifically, I had two conversations with groups of people that helped me better understand these three little - yet powerful - words.  People often use words quickly - and maybe even without thinking about what they mean.  I have colleagues and friends who are willing to challenge me on words I use - and in turn sharpen my personal thinking, which increases my ability to lead.

In the afternoon, the team on which I serve had a dialogue on our accountability to each other.  I have been feeling guilty lately about not getting tasks accomplished in a timely manner.  I can blame it on too much to do...I can blame it on tasks that do not play to my strengths...I can blame it on moving targets...I can blame it on the weather...I can even blame it on my own mother.  At then end of the day, I have let items slip - and so have some of my teammates.  So we had a great dialogue on how to be more accountable to each other and hold each other more accountable.  Of course the dialogue focused on all of the items we DON'T have done and the tasks we have NOT yet finished.  And then one of my colleagues reminded us of the other side of the ledger sheet - that the other side of accountability to taking "account" of the tasks we HAVE accomplished, the goals we HAVE made and the promises we HAVE kept to each other.  Having the ability to take account (read: account-ability) means balancing the books and not always focusing on one side over the other.  I realized then that if I am to hold others accountable (and hold myself accountable) then I need to do it in a manner that takes in the whole of the organization and the person...that which has not been done and that which has been done.  In other words, I need to balance the books - I need to keep track of my accounts - I need to improve my account-ability.

Later in the evening, while teaching in The Concordia MBA, I had the privilege of having Dr. Andy Neillie speak with my class.  Toward the end of the conversation, we discussed the difference between TRANSPARENCY and VULNERABILITY.  He put it this way - being TRANSPARENT means I will let you know things about me and about the other words, I will pull away the curtain so you can better see what is there.  Being VULNERABLE means that once I have let you see all there is  of me and the organization, I will now let you tell me what you see and how it might be improved.  Andy is a speaker who travels the country helping people move their leadership ability to the next level.  Part of his talk is to tell his personal story - and he does it in a way that moves others to action.  He is being TRANSPARENT with them and it works...but then he leaves.  The leader who stops there miss out on a very powerful tool to change herself, to change others, and to change the organization.  When one becomes VULNERABLE, they are giving others the permission to think deeper, to speak their thoughts, and to engage ins a dialogue that can move the individuals and the organization forward.  I think in a day and time where social media is ever present and information is easy to find, leaders and organizations will have to be more and more transparent.  It may even become the way of doing business into the future.  Vulnerability is still reserved for the courageous few who are willing to listen and change...who are willing to look deep inside themselves...who are not going to become defensive...who live and breathe the mission and vision of the organization...who have mastered the art of emotional intelligence...and who are willing to say. "I might be wrong."

Thanks to my friends and colleagues for holding me accountable to my words - and for reminding me of how three little words can also be so powerful.