Friday, September 23, 2016

horizontal silos

Those who have followed my regular blogs know how much I detest silos within an organization, and I will do everything I can to bust those silos.  I also know that silos are a natural part of most organizations, and that people have to work hard to keep tearing them down AND to use them when necessary.  Earlier this week, a colleague of mine described what we believe may be horizontal silos in our organization, where the communication breaks down not between functional areas (marketing, admissions, academics, etc) but more between working layers (another term I would rather not have to live with) such as executives, leadership teams, staff and faculty.  Just as with vertical silos, no one sets out to create these...they tend to happen over time for many different reasons.  So what can leaders do to help blow up horizontal silos?  Here are a few thoughts:

  • set up systems and tools that can provide proper and timely communication among the layers
  • have those who serve in the different layers rub shoulders with those in other layers - sometimes just hanging out with others provides new perspectives
  • train those who serve in different layers how to do their work in a way that is collaborative among the layers
  • remind those who work in the layers that their work goes two ways - and that their ability to communicate in both directions is critical to breaking down the horizontal silos
  • strengthen the layers - find and train the best people to work in them
  • consistently remind the layers that everyone is working in the same direction...and that each layer has different roles in and responsibilities towards the organization
  • get very clear about the expectations of each of the layers, ensuring that each layer has an accountability structure for their work
  • be a place of forgiveness - any type of silo work, whether it be vertical or horizontal, will end up with people stepping on each others toes.  Be able to say "I'm sorry" and "I forgive you"
  • acknowledge throughout the organization that horizontal silos will occur and need to be addressed over and over again.  Silos by themselves are not inherently bad...they just tend to cause bad behavior

Friday, September 16, 2016

the importance of friendship...for leaders

Much has been written about friendships and how to care for them over time.  As I was leaving dinner last evening with a friend (and our significant others) it struck me how important that relationship was for me, in so many ways.  This is not a life-long friend...this is not a person whom I see every week...this is not someone to whom I pour out my heart and soul.  This is someone I have known for about 7 years, someone I became acquainted with through a professional relationship, someone with whom I have a lot in common, someone who sees the world in a similar vein, and someone who is one of my biggest fans (and I believe the same about him). So why is this type of friendship important for leaders?  Consider these reasons:

  • It's good to have someone to talk to to just talk agenda, no transactions, no having to put on a show
  • Everyone (especially those in leadership roles) needs a few raving fans in their lives
  • Sometimes it is good to leave the workplace at the end of the day and just kick back over dinner and/or a drink with someone who does not know everything about you
  • Hearing stories from someone else's workplace provides a different and refreshing experience...and you never know what you can actually learn from a friend
  • It is good for one's heart to laugh and tell stories with someone like this
  • These are often really smart and really caring people - who doesn't want a few more of those types of friends with whom to hang out?
Now comes the hard part - maintaining those friendships over time.  People in leadership roles meet all kinds of people over time, with many becoming acquaintances and few becoming friends.  Keeping the friendship fires burning is never easy due to busy schedules and hectic lives.  So what can those in leadership roles do to stay in touch with friends?  Here are a few thoughts:
  • Schedule your time with them...and following a meeting, put on your calendar when you plan to reach out to them again
  • Don't wait for them to reach out to you - nothing means more to a friend than getting a request to meet
  • When a friend's name crosses your mind, immediately put it in your calendar to reach out to them soon
  • Just like Goldilocks, don't meet too often and don't meet not often enough
  • Don't be afraid to ask for favors - friend like helping friends
  • Invite them to share other portions of your life, whether that be attending events or meeting your family from time to time
  • Don't be afraid to share them with your other friends - introducing them to other great people deepens the friendship
  • Be vulnerable - sharing your joys, concerns, and disappointments invites them to deepen the friendship over time
  • Thank them for being a friend and for taking the time out of their lives to guess is that in this type of relationship, everyone wins!
So...who do you need to contact today to renew and refresh a friendship?  Go ahead, call them now or send them an email.  You'll (and they'll) be glad you did.

Friday, September 9, 2016

means or ends

As I get ready to hold my first board meeting of the academic year, I am reminded of the great adage for boards: don't confuse means and ends.  What that simply means is do not confuse activites with goals.  My Board of Regents focuses on the mega-outcome of men and women who transform communities by seeking out leadership opportunities and influencing people for Christ.  Of course, to get to that end (goal), we as an institution have to execute a lot of means (activities) which the Board monitors to ensure that we execute in an excellent and consistent manner.

At a meeting this week, I had to remind myself and my team that the decision in front of us was a means decision (an activity) that had an impact on our end (goal).  While this sounds simple, it becomes very difficult in the rush and flurry of activity that an enterprise undertakes.  So what can those in leadership roles do to keep themselves and their teams focused on ends and not get hung up entirely on means?  Here are a few thoughts:

  • Always ask the question "what are we trying to accomplish?"  Sometimes the answer might be as simple as making a means decision...and sometimes the question will lead to a very stratgic discusion which can change the decision on the means
  • Clearly identify the ends - what are the goals toward which the organization and/or the team is aiming?  If this is known, it becomes much easier to sort through the many means available for a team to decide
  • Revisit the ends from time to time - do not assume that everyone will remember them or even think about them.  In the rush of daily activities, means often become the driver of people's time and thoughts
  • Ask the quesiton of whether or not a discussion is an ends discussion or a means discussion - both are important...clarification will keep the team on track
  • Be as clear as possible about the ends the organization is trying to accomplish - "save the world" is great, but often unknown when one arrives there (if one arrives there).  Trying to identify an end goal that makes sense and can be accomplished makes it easier it is to talk about the means to get there.
As I get ready to walk into this board meeting, I know that much of my reporting is on means...are we doing what we said we would be doing and how well are we doing in those areas?  AND I know that the Board will want to be assured that we are still on track to accomplish the end/goal/outcome of men and women who transform communities by seeking out leadership positions and influencing people for Christ. 

Friday, September 2, 2016


The English writer and theologian G.K. Chesterton once said that “there is no such thing on earth as an uninteresting subject; the only thing that can exist is an uninterested person.”  Earlier this week, at a gathering of Concordia’s newest students, I heard this phrase spoken once again reminding students that their education begins with them being interested in EVERYTHING.  From their classes, to their classmates, to the beauties of nature, to co-curricular activities, to the pursuit of God...when people become interested in things, they suddenly find that multiple subjects are actually interesting.

Most people who end up in leadership positions are more than likely these types of people.  Because they are interested in all kinds of things and pursue knowledge in multiple areas, they soon find themselves moved into leadership roles and perhaps find that they have less time to pursue all of the interesting things around them.  So how might one in a leadership role remain interested in all types of subjects and keep on being an interesting person?  Here are a few thoughts:
  • Learn to say at the start of conversations “tell me more”: I meet all kinds of people in a given week, many of whom do things about which I have no clue.  By the time the conversation is over, I have learned something new and the other person has had a chance to talk about themselves.
  • Travel by yourself: when I travel with a colleague or friend, I tend to spend more time with them than with other people whom I do not know.  Be alone.
  • Sit at the bar: when you sit at a table in a restaurant, there is no one else to talk with.  Sitting at the bar can put you in touch with some of the most interesting people in the world.
  • Invite new acquaintances out for lunch or coffee: taking an hour out of one’s schedule to be interested in another person can produce amazing results…who knows what that person brings to your organization – or just to you as a person?
  • Accept invitations to coffee or lunch:  I have been blessed by so many people in my life who took the time out of their schedule to spend an hour with me while I asked questions and learned from them.  It is time for me to pay it back to the next generation.
  • Browse the bookshelves at your favorite bookstore: find a book on a topic that you know nothing about and start reading it.  Three things might happen: 1) you actually learn something new and have another topic you can engage in with others; 2) you begin to apply that new topic to leadership principles and your personal leadership improves; or 3) you discover that this is a topic in which you do not want to read or think about further and there is now one less thing to clutter your mind.
  • Get involved in a board or organization outside of your expertise: nothing is more humbling (or accelerates the learning curve) than sitting in a board meeting for the first time and having no clue what the other members are talking about.  Write down those acronyms, spend the next week learning what they are, take another board member to lunch, read everything you can about the subject, and then jump in wholeheartedly.

This list could go on and on.  For me, I need to regularly take an inventory on whether I am remaining an interested person and finding more and more subjects interesting, even in the flurry of activities associated with being president of a university.  Perhaps an afternoon at Half Price Books this weekend (20% off) will get my interest level reignited.

Friday, August 26, 2016

the 5 Cs of loyalty

Over the past several months the concept of loyalty has come up in several conversations - what it is, its importance, and how one gets and/or gives it.  Giving loyalty to another person is an extreme act of confidence and love, especially when it is not asked for.  Gaining loyalty from another person can never be forced or is simply through repeated actions that loyalty can truly be given.  So how might those in leadership roles gain the loyalty of others?  Here are my five Cs of how to gain one's loyalty...

Competence - loyalty begins when one sees their leader as competent.  Can they do the job well?  Do they go above and beyond what is required?  Are they constantly learning and getting better at their work?  And remember that for those in leadership roles, one's work is are you becoming better at leading?

Charisma - this word can be described as charm, presence, or personality, an essence that requires the leader to put themselves "out there" and act in a manner that draws others to them. This is not a false bravado or a fake personality...this is the ability to charm others, to bring one's whole self into the room, and to inspire others that the leader knows who they are and what they are about.

Caring - perhaps this goes without saying, but it is critical that leaders are seen and known for their caring attitude.  Those in leadership positions often have to make hard decisions tht can hurt others in deep ways.  When that is done in a caring manner, and when the default personality of the leader is one of caring, others will fall in line to follow because they know that they have worth adn value, even in the midst of hard decisions.

Courage - similar to above, people in leadership roles are often asked to make difficult decisions on a regular basis.  When those decisions are made courageously, others take notice and begin to give their loyalty to that person.  Courageous decisions inspire a sense of confidence in others and allows them to live out their vocations in a courageous manner.

Character - one of the definitions of character has to do with how one behaves when no one else is looking.  Is there a consistency to the leader's behavior over time?  Do they exhibit a sense of certainty in the course of ther daily work?  Do they uphold the ideals of the organization time after time?  Would you trust them with your own life?

Sounds like a large if those in leadership roles must be akin to being god-like.  The truth is leaders will fail from time to time...they will show a side of themselves that is less than competent, less than charismatic, less than caring, less than courageous, and less than being of good character.  These are the times leaders ask for forgiveness...and those who are loyal to them will give them that forgiveness,  And when that happens, relationships - and organizations - grow even stronger.

Friday, August 19, 2016

what does doing a good job look like?

At a recent talk I gave to the faculty and staff of Concordia University Texas, someone said to me that it looked like I was doing a good job.  It was (I believe) meant as a compliment with a cautious caveat, one which I understand completely.  People will often tell me “you’re doing a good job” and, while I appreciate the words of encouragement, I remind them of three things: 1) the first year I did not know what I did not know; 2) the second year was spent putting into place the practices to address what I did not know the first year; and 3) the third year is spent seeing if the practices work.  So I appreciate the words of my colleague to whom it looks like I am doing a good AND I wonder what doing a good job looks like.  Perhaps leaders look like they are doing a good job when they:
  • Communicate with their constituencies regularly and consistently
  • Are transparent about the issues an organization faces
  • Present information in such a way that people understand what is being said
  • Present solutions to problems and actually fix them
  • Share success stories about the institution
  • Have a vision for where the organization is going – and are able to articulate that vision
  • Engage others in the process of moving the organization forward
  • Make hard decisions that might even prove to be unpopular
  • Explain the reasons behind decisions that are made – especially those that affect people’s lives
  • Walk around and talk with individuals face to face – and take the time to really listen*
  • Help people see how they fit into the big picture and that their work matters

 What does it mean to actually do a good job?  In a few simple points:
  • The organization has a positive end-of-year balance so that it can keep doing business in the future
  • The organization is living out its mission in a way that positively affects its outcomes
  • The organization is moving closer toward its vision
  • The organization has a healthy culture and is a place where people want to be
  • The organization’s customers are satisfied and recommending it to others
  • The organization is known for its quality product
  • The organization experiences growth that is planned for and serves the mission

 *leaders of large organizations may not be able to do this for all employees…but they can do for a few what they wish they could do for everyone

Friday, August 12, 2016

taking it off the table

In my readings this summer, I have delved into two book by James Ellis - Founding Quartet and Founding Brothers.  The origination of the United States of America, especially the years leading up to the ratification of the Constitution, is a fascinating study in leadership, dialogue, and compromise.  One of the most striking items for me is the decision of the delegates at the Constitutional Convention to take the issue of slavery off the table.  They knew that if slavery became an all-or-nothing issue, the colonies would be split and there would be no union - the south and north would have divided then and there.  While I cannot imagine the angst this decision caused among many of the delegates from the north, I do understand their need to push forward to form a country out of disparate colonies and ideas.

So how might leaders know when to take an item off the table, even if it is near and dear to their hearts - and especially when there are moral and ethical issues involved?  Here are a few thoughts:

    • determine what is THE most important issue being decided on at the time...and let that issue trump all others
    • have a long-term goal and vision in mind, and let that guide the decision making process
    • determine what will carry greater weight - the institution or the individual
    • think deeply about what it is that causes one side to believe something that is so opposite and different from what you there any way you might be able to understand the other point of view?
    • consider what causes the most harm to the most people for the greatest length of time
    • understand the vocation to which the group making the decision is called - another way of determining the most important issue being decided on at the time
    • seek counsel for multiple entities...listen deeply to what they have to say...and then make a decision to move forward
What IF slavery had not been taken off the table?  What if these United States had not been united and formed several different countries?  There are many opinions to this day what night have been if different decisions had been made in the late 1700s.  What I will remember most about the founding fathers is that they made very difficult decisions together all the while knowing that they had sharp disagreements over fundamental matters.  And that's what leaders do - make decisions in the midst of difficult situations.  What are you willing to take off the table to move your institution (and life) forward?