Thursday, December 31, 2009

a decade of leading

On this last day of 2009, I have decided to do a little reflection on my own leadership, in hopes that it will help me (and others) put leadership development into perspective. It is hard to believe that for the most part, I have been in an executive leadership role for the past 10 years. Here is a short synopsis of my leadership journey over this decade...
  1. Toward the end of 2000, I was faced with the decision to go and work for a person whom I considered a leadership mentor - or lead an organization myself. I chose (after much handwringing) to lead an organization myself - Lutheran High North in Houston, TX. As Headmaster of the school, I was put in a position to grow the school and to make it a viable entity. I spent 4.5 years there (January 2001-July 2005), learning what it meant to be responsible for a large organization. The buck stopped with me - and I lost many nights of sleep thinking about the job. As I look back, I believe that the school expereinced growth and success during that time in a variety of areas.
  2. Beginning in February of 2001, I began my doctoral program in organizational leadership through the University of Phoenix. I read, wrote, reflected on, and discussed leadership for two full years (before beginning the dissertation process) with a group of people whom I grew to love and adore. The depth of reading and writing (as well as the AMOUNT of reading and writing) led me to really understand and know what I believed about leadership and what I believed good leadership was. It was during these years of study that I was also learning what it meant to lead an organization - so the two went hand in hand. You want to grow as a leader?, write, reflect, and discuss leadership (intensely) WHILE you are actually leading. BTW, I finally finished the dissertation in August of 2007, receiving my degree that fall.
  3. In Julyof 2005, I received the opportunity to change my position and go to Concordia University Texas to lead the College of Business. While this seemed like a step "back" in terms of leading an organization, I believed that I had the opportunity to train people in leadership through this position. Concordia's mission of "developing Christian leaders" so resonated with me that I saw this as a chance to make a larger impact for God's Kingdom by devloping others to be leaders. Over the course of these past four and a half years, I have been able to teach leadership to students, set up a culture where leadership is taught and practiced, serve as a mentor to others who desire to lead, write and talk about leadership to larger groups of people, and continue the process of learning about leadership myself.

What has all this done for me, in terms of my own leadership development? Here's a quick list:

  • Understand how I best function as a leader
  • Learn how to continue my growth as a leader
  • Put myself in constant contact with leaders in multiple venues
  • Write and speak about leadership at a continuing deeper level
  • Mentor others in their own leadership development
  • Develop a clearer understanding of how my faith and theology influences my leadership

Considering how I have grown in my own leadership development in the past ten years, the next ten should be quite a ride. There is still SO much to learn...there are still SO many ways to lead...there are still SO many leaders to talk with...there are still SO many students to influence...there are still SO many books to read...and there are still SO many opportunities of which I am unaware in which God can use what I have learned over the past decade to grow His Kingdom. How exciting is that? With the start of a new decade, I am ready for a wild ride of continued leadership development - and of leading!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

incarnational leadership

My favorite version of the Christmas story is simple, and yet complete..."The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). While I can still recite Luke 2:1-20 from memory, and the Matthew account of the wisemen holds mystery for me, it seems that John 1:14 is so deep and theological, that I am able to contemplate it over and over and never grow weary. Perhaps that is because it is a verse that not only describes the essence of my Christian faith but also describes what I believe to be a grand leadership style. Let's explore...

  1. leaders are real people - we so often place people in leadership positions on pedestals, believing they can do no wrong and will, with the right words or the wave of the hand, lead us to the promised land. Leaders, like every other human being, are merely "flesh." They have no special powers...they are not omnipresent...they are not omniscient...and they have emotions just like everyone else. Once everyone understands this (including the leader themself), it becomes much easier to lead - and to follow.
  2. leaders need to hang out with people - I have heard from several people over the past few weeks how they have observed leaders being aloof and isolating themselves from others. How stupid is that? If people in leadership positions are to lead (read: influencing others toward a common goal), then they have to a)be listening to others; and b)be talking to others. There is no other way around it. Leaders have to "dwell" among those they lead, not merely stop in and say hello every now and then. That's the beauty of the verse - Jesus didn't come down from heaven, wave a magic wand, and make everything OK - he "hung out" with those whom he loved, namely people.
  3. leaders have to love people - to be full of grace assumes that one loves others, in a compssionate and non-judgemental way. This is hard work, because our human nature always wants to assume the worst. It can be especially hard for people in leadership positions since they worked hard to get where they are - and then consequently assume that everyone should work just as hard as them. It's easy to be judgemental - it's hard to love unconditionally. Imagine an organization where grace's a hint: it begins with the leader.
  4. leaders identify and name reality - truth is all around can be seen, it can be heard, and it can be felt. And yet, people in leadership positions refuse to call it out, especially if it is bad news. For many people, being a person of grace means not holding others accountable...and yet, the two can, and should, go hand-in-hand. When I truly love someone for whom they are, I want what is best for them (AND, when I truly love my organization and its mission, I want what is best for it and its future). Why would I NOT hold both the individual and the organization accountable, naming the truth and helping them change and be better?

As I get ready to celebrate Christmas, I am awed that my God came down to this earth and hung out - as God and man - to give us a picture of what "grace and truth" looks like when it manifests itself among people. Jesus Christ came as a baby - a REAL baby - and grew to be a man who walked among REAL people - and then, in order to save me from my sin, died a REAL death - and culminated his victory over death with a REAL resurrection. For that I give thanks, knowing that through faith in him as my Lord and Savior, I have the HOPE of eternal life - and that makes all the difference in the world.

Friday, December 18, 2009

grownup leadership

What does it mean to “grow up?” We hear it so often as a child, as in “you can do that when you grow up.” As we begin to grow up, we start to hear the question, “When will you learn to grow up?” And then, once we do grow up, we are finally referred to as a “grownup.” How did the verb ever become a noun? So now that you are grown up, and in a role of leadership, do you act like a grownup?

What does a grownup act like? What roles do grownups take on that are reserved for them? Are people in leadership positions expected to act like a grownup? Or do many people, because they feel privileged in their leadership position, continue to act less than grownup? Take a moment and consider leadership behavior you have witnessed over the past several days or weeks (you might even consider your own leadership behavior). Where have you seen grownup behavior in action – where have you seen less than grownup behavior in action – and having witnessed less than grownup behavior, haven’t you found yourself wanting to scream (in the same manner and tone your mother or father used with you) “When will you learn to grow up?”

What does grownup leadership behavior look like? Here are a few examples:
· Grown leaders take responsibility – it is not someone else’s fault (even if it is). And when it is someone else’s fault, the grownup leader will work with the individual to fix whatever problem has ensued and move forward. Remember how as children we blamed our younger brothers and sisters when we messed up?
· Grownup leaders don’t whine – they define reality and deal with the issue at hand. They speak positively of others in public, even when those others are causing them incredible grief. Didn’t our mothers used to tell us that whining was for babies?
· Grownup leaders let others win at times – they find ways to build confidence in those whom they can easily beat by not always demanding their own way. Remember when your dad “accidently” lost games he played with you?
· Grownup leaders speak their minds – they realize they have something valuable to offer. Using both careful thought AND the ability to think out loud, grownup leaders are willing to share their opinions. Remember, it’s only children who should be seen and not heard.
· Grownup leaders show up – they don’t miss important events. Sometimes it’s difficult to be at every event…all the time…for every person, but leaders know that their presence is important. Remember how we used to be told that when we got a real job, we wouldn’t be able to sleep late anymore?
· Grownup leaders pitch in – even when they are not asked to. Being aware of what needs to be done and doing it is one of those aspects of leadership that often go unnoticed – but grownup leaders do it anyway. Remember how as children we got to go and play while the adults cleaned up?

Next time you notice someone in a leadership position acting like a grownup, take a moment to thank them. Of course, they won’t see their behavior as anything abnormal, so be ready to tell them a story of that person in a leadership position you know who hasn’t yet grown up. And then look for ways in which you can act more like a grownup for those you lead.

Friday, December 11, 2009

what did you do today?

As I was driving home last night at 8:30 after a 14-hour day (I know, let the strings begin), I was reflecting on everything that had happened over that time span. I quickly realized that my day was a hodge-podge of assundry misscellaneous items which taken one-by-one seem trivial, but as a whole I think the mission actully moved forward yesterday. Here's a qick snapshot:
  • prepare for class
  • prepare for a faculty meeting
  • prepare for an afternoon "transformation" meeting
  • visit with a professor about a student issue
  • teach class (see above)
  • read an inapproriate email that I will need to address
  • go to chapel
  • lead a faculty meeting (see above)
  • exit interview with a graduating student
  • meet with the student about the issue (see above)
  • meet with the person about the inapproriate email (see above)
  • go to "transformation" meeting (see above)
  • meet with student about a new type of internship
  • empty out email box
  • visit with another Dean
  • attend basketball games

I'm exhausted reading that list - but here is what I see:

  • prepare for the day
  • get on with the day
  • note things that get in the way of the mission
  • refresh oneself
  • deal with things that get in the way of the mission
  • bring others along on the mission
  • dream about new ways of living out the mission
  • get ready for the next day
  • show your face and make connections

I think this is what leaders seems mundane, so it is very difficult to answer with any conviction what one "DID" during the day...but in reframing what one does in order to live out the mission, all of the items in which one engages can suddenly take on new meaning and become very important. After days such as noted above, I find myself tired BUT energized, bcause I know that WHAT I did was very important. As I look back on the day, I think it can be summarized in a few bullet points:

  • prepare to influence people
  • influence people
  • renergize yourself
  • influence more people

I think that might be the essence of leadership...agree?

Friday, December 4, 2009

sacred cows

I was cleaning out my library the other day at home and came across a book I read back in 1995 entitled Sacred Cows Make Gourmet Burgers by William Easum. The book's premise is that churches need to give up the sacred cow of control and "free individuals and teams to make responsible contributions without having to first ask permission." It was from this book that learned the phrase "permission-giving churches" and have continued to use it to describe permission-giving schools and universities. But enough on that specific sacred cow...

What is that creates sacred cows? Or maybe I should begin with describing a sacred cow. Easum writes that Webster's dictionary defines a sacred cow as "one immune from criticism or attack," with the term coming from the Hindu veneration of the cow. In my world, there are less individuals whom I would consider sacred cows and more of "things" - or maybe better yet "the way we do things." For those who are familiar with higher education, the core curriculum is often a sacred cow...or the way promotion in rank is handled...or the way credit is awarded to students...or the way graduation ceremonies are done. I suppose that all organizations (and that would include families) have their sacred cows, but considering the church and higher education (both having been established hundreds of years ago), there are bound to be multiple sacred cows. In my institution, where church and higher education are combined...well, you get the picture.

So what are leaders to do with sacred cows? Should we, as Bill Easum suggests, make gourmet burgers out of them...should we honor them and hold them up as the epitome of what our institutions should be...should we throw them out with the garbage because they have become spoiled...should we attempt to make more and protect ourselves from outside influences? Here is a short list of how one might deal with sacred cows:

  1. develop an atmosphere where people are always asking "why?" This important critical thinking skill will allow for any person, tradition, or way of doing things to be questioned.
  2. include in all meetings a review session of something in your organization, asking the hard questions about it's relevance, excellence, and ability to move the organization forward.
  3. regularly hold a sacred cow audit, bringing into question every program, practice, and person within the organization (begin with yourelf).
  4. become mission driven by asking "how does this help our mission?" with every request and new idea offered.
  5. open yourself up to criticism - when the leader sets the tone for asking the hard questions, other might have an easier time of looking at themselves and their personal programs.
  6. if something isn't working, fix it or get rid of it...that would include people as well as programs.
  7. read widely and investigate new ideas...if we keep doing the same thing over and over, pretty soon it becomes all we know and believe it to be the best - be looking for NEW ways to do things.
  8. act as an outsider by taking some time to consider what your institution and its practices might look like to someone who is not familiar with the organization - and be brutally honest.

As you have been considering the sacred cows hanging out around your organization while reading this blog, the next question is..."what are you going to do about them?" Sometimes just bringing them to light and having everyone agree that "yes, that is one of our sacred cows" can begin the process of change. I hope you are looking forward to your next meal of gourmet burgers and fries!

Friday, November 20, 2009

two sides to everything

As I write this, I am sitting in a hotel room in Eagle Pass, Texas less than 1/2 mile from the border with Mexico. I am here on a trip with a group of our students sudying international business management. This is the fourth year in a row we have come to this place, and each time I learn a little bit more about what life is like "on the other side." I have come to love and embrace the "border" mentality, where there is really not two distinct towns but one fused community, with a river running between them. As I listen to the people and watch the interactions, I am reminded how two very different cultures can work together to support each other economically and socially...and the stuggles that also go with those differences.
So what might that mean for organizations - and individual relationships? How can we as leaders embrace the "two sides" mentality toward greater organizational performance? Here are a few thoughts that cross my mind on an early Friday morning:
  1. when people are on two different sides, there views are going to be different. Listening to what the person on the opposite side sees helps you better understand the area in which you are standing (remember, they see it different from you). Appreciate what the other person sees (and says) and learn frm what they are saying (and seeing).
  2. here on the border, each side carries a different world view...not only do they see something different, they interpret what they see thorugh a different lense than the other person. Appreciating the history, culture, and lifestyle of each side helps to interpret what that person is seeing (and saying). Keep that in mind as you listen and respond.
  3. remember that history is often written from the view of the people who win. If I view Mexican life through a lens that says "we won" then I will see things different than if I view Mexican life as a culture and tradition that was present in this part of the country centuries before America even existed. Putting "the other side" in perspective helps me understand the other perspective and keeps me from seeing everything though a win/lose proposition.
  4. I really like Mexican food, and nobody makes Mexican food better than Mexicans. What is it about the other side without which I would find it difficult to live ? Seeing the positive in others and their ideas helps to bring people (and groups) together.
  5. putting up walls only makes people angry - while there are those who think that walls can be used for protection, no one close to the wall ever benefits from them. Walls say "stay away" and "we do not want you." Are you a person who tears down walls - or puts more of them up?
  6. as I travel over to Piedras Negras, I come into contact with the unfamiliar, and for me, that is very exciting. What is it about "the other side" that might be exciting to you? Where can you find joy in the unfamiliar and perhaps even a little scary? What are you willing to risk in order to discover something new? Embracing the unfamiliar enriches one's leadership and enhances an organization

I would invite you to discover this wonderful pair of towns on the Texas border known as Eagle Pass and Piedras Negras. I love the people here - and I love coming to a place where I can learn more about others - and I can learn more about myself. And isn't that what leadership is all about?

Friday, November 13, 2009

people who drive me crazy

Think about the people who drive you crazy...not the TYPE of people who drive you crazy, but the ACTUAL people who drive you crazy. Go ahead and name them outloud for a moment (or not, depending on where you are reading could get you in trouble). But for a moment, consider a few thoughts on the people who drive you crazy:
  • WHY do these people drive me crazy?
  • Are they REALLY so different from me - or maybe too much alike?
  • Does their BEHAVIOR push me out of my comfort zone?
  • Is it a VALUE issue...or is it a PERSONALITY issue?
  • What can I LEARN from these people?
  • What are the PATTERNS among the different people who drive me crazy - both today and in the past?

As I consider the different people who drive me crazy, several things become apparent very quickly:

  1. their strengths are very different from mine
  2. they tend to not back away from conflict
  3. they seem to spend more time at their desks than walking around and talking with people
  4. they would rather talk about operational approaches rather than strategic approaches
  5. they tend to see the glass as half-empty rather than half-full
  6. they would rather blame others than take on the responsibility for change
  7. they make more statements than they ask questions

The difficult part of making this list is that I have to come to the realization that each of the above behaviors can be a great advantage to an organization:

  1. different strengths allow for different ways of looking at the same issue
  2. ideas need to be challenged in a strong manner
  3. data needs to be collected and shared, which takes time to put together
  4. things need to get done - vision without action is only a dream
  5. the realities of the organization need to be named and talked about
  6. people who mess up need to take responsibility for their bad work
  7. decisions need to be made after asking the right questions

OK, I get the point. I understand that it's good if there are people in the organization who drive me crazy. I may not understand how they think...I may not like how they act...I can disagree with their behaviors and attitudes...but I need to embrace them as important to the organization and try my hardest to work with them. Here's to those who drive me - and you - crazy!

Friday, November 6, 2009

dealing with difficult moments

Leaders will have their share of difficult moments. In my area as Dean of a College, I have difficult moment with students, faculty, administrators, alumni, parents, and even colleagues. The good news is these difficult moments are often few and far between. The bad news is that they are REALLY difficult. What makes them difficult is that they always involve people, and people are hard to deal with. Why is that?

  • People are like you and me - when we look into their faces or hear their voices, we are seeing or hearing ourselves.

  • We want people to like us - and when we face difficult moments with them, we are probably saying things they do not like to hear...which means they may not like us.

  • Difficult moments mostly involve people when they are at their most vulnerable state, and the last thing we want to do is hurt people even more.

  • What we perceive as a problem may not look like a problem to the people with whom we are dealing, so we start off on different pages. Having to explain the problem to someone else is often the hardest part of starting the difficult conversation.

  • For me, there is always a gnawing voice in the back of my head saying that I might be wrong...and I begin second guessing myself.

While difficult moments are difficult, part of the role of a leader is to confront problems and deal with those difficult moments. If the leader shirks that responsibility, then they are not fulfilling their role as leader. So what might be some ways to deal with difficult moments and perhaps make them slightly less difficult?

  • Deal with them right away - the longer one lets the issue go, the harder it is to confront the individual with the problem

  • Know exactly what you are going to say in the moment - take some time to think through and write out what you want to say to the person before you begin the conversation

  • Approach the situation with the understanding that you MIGHT be wrong - that thought pattern can remove any attitude of superiority and put the two of you on more equal footing

  • In the conversation, provide a way and time for the other person to admit their role in the problem and make restiution - if you do all of the talking, it will put the other person in an even more defensive mode

  • Realize that you are doing your job, and no one else can do it for you - this is why you were put in the leadership role, so do it and do it well. You may or may not win friends in the process, but what you are doing is strengthening and building the organization and its mission

  • Don't dwell on the issue - state what the problem is, ask a few questions, note the consequences if warranted, and stop. If the person responds, there is then room for dialogue with the two of you. If not, then the conversation is over. Be sure to check for understanding before the conversation is finished.

  • Follow up - an email or note after the difficult moment helps to make sure that both parties understand what happened and leaves a paper trail.

  • Move on - a difficult moment is just that...A MOMENT. Once it is over, it is over, and both parties can move on with their work. Don't take it personally, and don't hold a grudge. On the other hand, there is no need to go out of your way to "fix" the relationship or issue right away. Let it take care of itself over time.

And finally, remember not to make a mountain out of a molehill. Much of what we might perceive as a difficult moment may be nothing more than a blip on the screen for the other person. What keeps me awake at night may not keep someone else awake at night, and I have to accept that fact. Yet another hazard of leadership.

A final note - while I never enjoy the difficult moments, I always feel a sense of accomplishment when I have dealt with the issues and the people. Perhaps that has to do with the realization that I am actually doing my job...and doing those things that only leaders can do. And that's a good thing.

Friday, October 30, 2009


Don't you hate hearing the excuse from people who say to you, "I'm too busy." When I hear that, I have to consider the fact that this person, like myself and every other person in the world, has 24 hours in any given day to accomplish the tasks set before them. "I'm too busy" may merely be a substitute for other issues that have clogged someone's calendar or interfered with what should be most important in one's calling and vocation. Let's explore some of the reasons why people assume they might be too busy...
  • not organized - the inability to order and prioritze the multiple tasks one has does not mean one is too means they are unorganized!
  • distracted - there are lots of things in life that MIGHT seem more important or more fun. These people are not too busy...they are not focused!
  • inability to say NO - busy people are people who get things done, and will be asked to do more. They are also people who tend to say YES to everything. These people are never too busy...they just have not said NO for awhile!
  • like to complain - it seems good and right to always say one is too busy - they may even wear it as a badge of honor. These people are not too busy...they just want everyone else to think they are important!
  • work in an unhealthy environment - there are places that might demand too much of their people and expect work to be done in unimagineable amounts and timelines. These people are not too busy - they are not in a position to either manage their own work, say NO, or quit!
  • poor processes - if it takes 6 hours to do a job that could be done in 3, it might be that the process one uses is faulty. These people are not too busy...they are slaves to a process that is not a good fit for what they are trying to accomplish.!
  • in the wrong vocation - when people are doing what they either do not have the talent to do or do not love to do, it will always seem to them as if they are overwhelmed. They are not too busy...they are in the wrong position!

As leaders, it is easy to get "too busy" or to put others in a position where they get "too busy." How can we keep from getting "too busy" in our work? A few thoughts:

  • breathe - literally, take a deep breath when you feel this way, or take a quick walk, and then get after the task with a clearer head and mindset.
  • organize - is your desk or file cabinet messy? Does it LOOK like you are too busy? Get rid of the extraneous "stuff" that you no longer need and let your work space reflect a life that is never "too busy."
  • learn to say NO - next time someone asks you to do something, or an opportunity comes across your desk, ask yourself if by doing that project or going to that conference will really help you move forward in your job, mission, or life. If the answer is YES, realize that you may have to let something else go in order to make the new project happen. If NO, then politely say NO or throw the flyer away.
  • turn the sound off on your computer -you do not need to know when every email arrives. What if the post office delivered letters and journals to your office every 20 minutes or so? You would get irritated. Treat your email the same way. Decide at which times of day you are going to answer your emails. (May I suggest early morning and later afternoon?).
  • check you ego - go deep and ask yourself why you feel so busy. If it has to do more with who you are that what you do, then make a decision to engage in a different thought pattern and a different way of answering people when they ask how you are doing. Next time, instead of saying, "I'm too busy," respond with a phrase that talks about the importance of your work or how much you are accomplishing.

This list could go on and on - and there are many books to help one get organized and have more control of thier lives. Leaders need to have control, because so much around them is out of control. While many of us thrive on the compliment "You look so busy," perhaps we should arrange our lives so that people say to us," It looks as if you have nothing to do," while deep inside they know (and so do we) that great things are happening because of us!

Friday, October 23, 2009

meetings, meetings, meeting

Yesterday I sat through three different meetings, all of which were valuable and enjoyable. I am one of the few people I know who actually enjoy meetings - well, at least those that accomplish something. People in a position of leadership need to meet - they need to be calling meetings and they need to be attending meetings. If you are invited to a meeting, by all means GO to that meeting - how else can you have any type of influence. It just hit me that the ones who often complain the loudest are the same ones who never attend meetings...or at least never speak up at meetings (there are exceptions - those who speak up at meetings (read "complain") and never offer solutions).
So if we are spending our time in meetings, we might as well make them the best meetings possible - whether we call the meetings or whether we are attendees. Here are a couple of suggestions for those of us who run meetings:
  1. always have an agenda - and if at all possible send it out ahead of time. Wouldn't life be wonderful if everyone who attended meetings came prepared? Pre-planned agendas allow for that to happen.
  2. always have a purpose for the meeting - of course, that purpose will shape the agenda, so maybe this should be #1. Wouldn't life be wonderful if at the end of every meeting all the participants could say "we accomplished our purpose."
  3. always start and end on time - people's time is valuable. Sometime add up the cost of a meeting you are in by figuring out the hourly salary for each person in the get the idea. Wouldn't life be wonderful if at the end of every meeting people could say "that was really worth our time and effort!"
  4. always engage everyone in the room - remember that the meetings is not yours alone - it should belong to the group of people assembled...they should own it as well as you. Of course, they can't own it without an agenda and a purpose, and they need to be prepared. Expect people to come prepared and hold them accountable. Wouldn't life be wonderful if everyone always came to meetings with something to talk about and add to the discussion.
  5. create an atmosphere of trust - nothing can be worse than sitting in a meeting on "pins and needles" wondering what bomb is going to go off next - or whether people can say what is really on their minds. As a meeting leader, sometimes you may need to pause and ask, "is there anything else that needs to be said?" and then be quiet. Wouldn't life be wonderful if everyone could speak their mind at meetings - in a way that is honest, true and respectful of those around the table?

A quick word to those who attend meetings but may not be in charge of the agenda and purpose - you still have a crucial role in making meetings productive and valuable. A quick list for meeting attendees:

  • prepare - read the agenda, do your homework, and come with questions. If there is no agenda published, assume what the agenda will be and come with the approriate materials
  • take notes - that way you will follow up with what needs to be done and you come to the next meeting with a list of things talked about and decided on by the group
  • ask questions - try to get the group to go deeper on subjects by asking questions about the topic at hand
  • stay awake and alert - if that means standing up and/or getting a cup of coffee, do so unabashedly
  • share humor - nothing creates a sense of camaraderie more quickly than laughter. Feel free to insert a joke here and there
  • offer your opinion - if attendees do not talk, then the leader will fill the void...and nothing is worse than a meeting where only one person talks
  • set the tone (1) - get there early and engage with people in the room. If people are talking with one another before the meeting begins, chances are they will keep talking during the meeting
  • set the tone (2) - if you are in a situation where it is approriate, offer to begin with a prayer or blessing. If you cannot do that, offer to share an idea you recently heard - and then ask others what they think about it. Five minutes of discussion around something other than the agenda buidls trust among the group members, allowing them to be more open during the meeting

WOW! 8 ways to influence meetings even if you are not in charge. Go ahead - try it sometime - and see what can happen as you influence meetings toward a greater good. And be sure to read Death by Meeting: A leadership fable to solve the most painful problem in business by Patrick Lencioni. It is a MUST read for those of us who lead - and attend - meetings.

Friday, October 16, 2009

understanding greatness

Have you ever noticed the number of books that claim to talk about "the greatest___________ of all time?" It could be the greatest leaders, the greatest homerun hitters, the greatest chefs...whatever noun one wants to put behind the adjective, there seems to be no shortage of "the greatest" in any category. My question is - how does one decide who is the greatest...and what makes them so?

I suppose that all of us would in some shape or fashion want to be known as "the greatest" in some area of our lives. We may not be the greatest of all times and places (Hank Aaron is still the greatest home run hitter of all time in my book), but we could be known in our little corners of the world as "the greatest" - could I ever be known as "the greatest Dean of Business at Concordia University in the first decade of the 2000s?" I suppose that when you are the only one within any given category, you can declare yourself to be anything you want - but what does it REALLY mean to be the greatest?

Christians often offer up the passage from the Bible where Jesus says to his disciples, "if you want to be the greatest, then you must be a servant (Matthew 23:11). So may people misunderstand this idea of greatness, and consequently put themselves at a disadvantage to ever accomplish great things. They see the role of servant as soft and quiet...they consistently never take the lead...they struggle to stand up and make their ideas known...they have little influence because their world is too small. They will never be known as "the greatest" at anything becasue they refuse to truly serve others and the Kingdom.

So how can we, especially those of us who are Christian, understand greatness? A few thoughts to contemplate:
  • greatness begins with WHO ONE IS - do you know yourself well enough and comfortable with who you are to do that which you are called and wired to do?
  • greatness is about ACTION - no one can be called "the greatest" if they don't do anything. Sitting around contemplating great ideas - and not putting them into action - cannot be considered greatness
  • greatness is about WINNING - no matter how many times Thomas Edison failed, if he had never gotten around to actually inventing a light bulb that worked, no one would know of him today. 1000 failures and 1 win can lead to greatness...1001 failures with NO wins leaves you in the dust
  • greatness is about OTHERS - it's difficult to be great all by yourself. Locked in a room for my entire life, I can be the greatest at anything in my own domain. However, to truly be great, one has to engage with others and include others and learn from others and mentor others and share with others and help others and...
  • greatness is about INFLUENCE - Muhammed Ali is the greatest because he changed a generation of sports fans...Hank Aaaron is the greatest becasue he will always have more influence than Barry Bonds...Abraham Lincoln was the greatest because his words and ideas continue to influence people's leadership (does anyone remember a speech Calvin Coolidge ever gave?)
  • greatness is about SERVING - looking at all the above aspects of greatness, it really is about being a servant - but a servant who lifts others up...a servant who builds capacity in others...a servant who undertands the big picture...a servant who works hard and long hours...a servant who makes others healthier, wiser, more free, and more autonomous (see Robert Greenleaf, Servant Leadership, 1977).

So how about you - are you the greatest? You might just don't shirk the mantle. Be great! Lead! Influence! Make a difference! Change the world! Be the person God has intended for you to be!

Monday, October 12, 2009

thoughts from others...

I spent last Thursday and Friday at the Catalyst Conference, a place where young leaders gathered to hear from multiple speakers about leading with a Christian worldview. This was my second year in attendance (I take a group of students each year) and I have to say it is one of the best leadership conferences I have ever had the opportunity to attend. Below are a series of quotes/thoughts/ideas shared by the different presenters that were especailly meaningful to me:

Andy Stanley:
  • are you open to what God has next?
  • what man is a man who does not leave the world better?
  • LEAN your leadership into a need - or into another person
  • leaving the mark that has been designed by God for you to leave
  • am I willing to submit my gifts and leadership to a bigger picture?
  • not a leader in authority, but a leader under authority
  • God takes full responsibility for a life wholly devoted to Him (attributed to Charles Stanley)
  • I can't go until God tells me its okay to go
  • Giving God (& others) maximum access to my leadership capabilities

Jessica Jackley:

  • give people ownership - a fundamental shift in life (especially in education)

Malcolm Gladwell:

  • incompetence irritates me; overconfidence scares me (one of my favorites)
  • Humility: the willingness to stop and listen to others

Mitch Albom:

  • faith is not about being IN or OUT - but figuring out what is important

Rob Bell:

  • The bush is always burning; the ground is always holy
  • Sometimes the crowd thins
  • Our work comes from a particular place
  • WHY am I building what I am building? Am I letting God build it?

Tony Dungy:

  • you don't win every game
  • I need to knowthat this relationship is worth fighting for

Matt Chandler:

  • seeing repentance as a continuing ethic
  • When we hesitate (is it a delay in obedience?) it may be that God is callling us to deeper waters

Priscilla Shirer:

  • WHY has God called me to be __________________? And what am I going to do with that?
  • Joshua, as a leader: 1) acted immediately; 2) acted fearlessly; 3) acknowledged the presence of God; and 4) anticipated that God would act (Joshua 3: 1-5)
  • Help people take the lid off thier box
  • Pray prayers that are unthinkable

Dave Ramsey:

  • Creat momentum by pouring yourself into your vocation
  • You lose focus when you begin to hear the footsteps
  • You lose focus when you begin celebrating the results too early
  • Intensity leads to excellence
  • In the story, the tortoise ALWAYS wins
  • What can happen when you decide to pour your life into someone (or something) over a significant amount of time?

Charles Swindoll:

  • The Gospel frees us to change the world, i.e. transform communities
  • leave room in your life for the crushings

Friday, October 2, 2009

the next question

I sat with a young man this week, discussing the field of ethics and values, especially as they 1) relate to business; and 2) are shaped by one's faith and theology. It was a wonderful conversation, going from books we are reading or have read, to ways of teaching ethics, to why one does the things they do - and that was what we decided should always be THE NEXT QUESTION.

It seems to me that the way we learn and develop - especially in our leadership roles - is to ponder the question of why we think, say and do the things we think, say and do. What is it that causes one to act in one way at one time - and another way at another time? What influences have been acting upon someone in any given circumstance to make them say those words that come out of thier mouth?What belief system (or other voices in one's head) directs the action for them to behave in a certain manner?

My freshmen students get a lot of this from me in the classroom - why do you think that is true? why did you choose that answer? what experience have you had that makes you think that way? But for me as a 50-year old adult, I have to face those questions in real life - NOT in a classroom. So what does that look like for me?

Over the past week, I have had multiple opportunities to ask this question of myself:

  • as I listened to students complain, I had to ask myself why I was sympathetic with them at that point
  • as I campaigned to get rid of an event on campus, I had to ask myself why I felt so strongly about this issue
  • as I sat nervously answering someone else's questions about something I had done, I had to ask myself why I would feel that I had been right all along
  • as I engaged in dialogue with a local enviromental activist at our Speaker Series, I had to ask myself why I was so attracted to his story
  • as I argued against a recent policy that had been made, I had to ask myself why I was so angry and upset over that specific decision

And the list goes on and on. I believe that asking the WHY question does several things for me:

  1. It helps me to clarify the main issue
  2. It allows me to make a better judgement about the rightness or wrongness of my decision/feelings
  3. It fuels (or dissolves) my decision to move forward on the issue
  4. It puts my thoughts, actions and feelings into perspective
  5. It helps me to better articulate my thoughts on the subject
  6. It gives me reasons whether or not to pursue the issue or action to the next level

So start the habit of asking THE NEXT QUESTION...why do I think, say and act in the ways I do? It is in those answers that one can find their true selves and lead from their core being.

Friday, September 25, 2009

what the...?

Perhaps one of the most used lines by leaders is "What the...?" Of course, this line is seldom said outloud or in public, but how many times duirng a given week do you say/think to yourself, "What the ...?" Here are a few examples to consider:
  • What the...just happened in that meeting?
  • What that doing there?
  • What the...were they thinking when they said that?
  • What the...was I thinking when I agreed to do that?
  • What the...does this decision have to do with the mission of this place?

Or perhaps you find your self saying/thinking variations on this theme:

  • Why the...did I think we should go down that path?
  • Who the...made that decision?
  • Where that person when I need them?
  • When this meeting going to end?
  • Why the...did he/she decide to do that?

I have found myself this past week asking that question many times over a recent incident. The problem is that I do not know how to answer those questions - and that for me is a REAL problem. If I cannot answer those questions, then something has gone wrong within the institution. While I understand that it is not my calling to make every decision - and while I understand that I should not be consulted on all decisions - and while I understand that I do not know all of the facts surrounding decisons made - and while I understand that decisions often need to be made quickly ----- I DO understand that as someone who has an integral role within the institution and in my department, I should be able to figure out why decisions are made the way they are. I may not agree with the decision AND I may not know all of the facts behind the decision, but I should be able to understand the CONTEXT in which the decision was made.

I have come to believe that CONTEXT is the key to communication (which is a topic for another blog at another time). I also have come to believe that decisions should reflect the mission and vision of the institution (yet another blog for another time). It's my hope that for each of us, the number of times we need to say/think the phrase "What the..." will occur less and less - or maybe not as we develop a keener sense of what it means to be a leader.

Friday, September 18, 2009

the limits of secrecy

I don't quite understand the need for secrecy within organizations. Yes, I understand that there is information that cannot be public at times, especially as it deals with individuals...and yes, I understand that there are negotiations with other individuals and companies that need to be kept between those parties to ensure right and proper behavior of others. But why would anyone want to withhold information from others that might just help them do their job a little bit better? Let's look at a couple of scenarios:
  1. As an employee of an organization, the more I understand about the finances, the more likely it is that I will shape my work to better the bottom line. When that information is withheld from me, not only can I not respond with changed work habits, I will probably more than likely engage in unintentional activities that can hurt the financial aspects of the organization.
  2. When people face difficulties in their lives, they will often say such things as "Now I'm telling you this, but please do not share it with anyone else." WHY NOT? Within any given organization, people come together for a common purpose and good. The more those people can build a sense of community, the better they can do their work. In sharing the good as well as the bad, a community has a better chance of pulling together. Is there a risk in sharing one's life? Absolutely. But given a safe environment, that sharing can produce amazing community - and organizational results.
  3. Don't you hate it when someone says to you, "Now I shouldn't be telling you this, but..." or even worse, "Now I'm going to tell you something but you can't breathe a word of this to anyone else." Those type of comments breed secrecy - AND power games. What am I supposed to do with this type of information? I have learned to actually say to people, "Are you sure I should know what you are about to tell me? And if so, what do you want me to do with the information?" It gives the person telling me the secret a chance to pause and consider their action - and it keeps me from knowing things that compromise me and my position.
  4. I have heard people say, "We can't share this information because most of the people in the organization would not understand it." My response is that we need to help them understand it. We so often sell people short on their ability to comprehend information and use it in an effective manner. If information is worth having, then it should be worth using. And if it is worth using by some, it is more than likely to be worth using by many. So train people how to use more and more information throughout the organization.
  5. Finally, people like to use information (or hoard information) because in their eyes it gives them power. NEWS FLASH - information has NO power unless it is shared and used. Perhaps this is one of the main roles of a leader - to share information in a way that provides for sense-making to the people of the organization, and to assist others in using that information for the good of the organization and its constituents. Giving information (read "power") to more and more people not only creates a sense of ownership, it makes the organization itself more powerful.

So I guess it is no secret that I don't like secrets. One quick caveat - there are times in order to protect the institution and its people that one cannot tell everything. Perhaps an option at that point is to be honest and say that sharing this information would hurt individuals and the organization - and that the information cannot and will not be shared . The key to integrity at that point is then to NEVER share that information with anyone. That action alone can build an incredible sense of trust, which will allow for more information to be shared in the future.

Friday, September 11, 2009

the ultimate question - WHY?

I ran several meetings this week that focused on one question - WHY? These meetings were the first gatherings of these groups, and so in order to move forward in our charge, we needed to understand the importance of what we were doing. And so I began with the question - WHY are we being asked to do this? WHY is this important enough to spend our time on? WHY should we even think about engaging in this task?

This was not an easy question to answer for the groups - they wanted to dive right into operations and tactics...they wanted to debate the merits of doing things one way or another...they wanted to push their agendas and pet projects. My job as the leader of the group was to keep asking the ultimate question - WHY? When someone brought up a tactical maneuver, I asked them WHY that was an important thing to consider...when someone began debating the merits of one goal or another, I asked them to defend their opinions by describing WHY their way was better in meeting the charge of the team...when they would answer the first WHY question, I almost always came back and asked again WHY that specific idea would be important. Yes, it drove them crazy, but by the end of the meetings, we had several AHA! moments.

Thsi is also the question I teach my students to ask, as it helps to develop them into critical thinkers. Asking WHY something is so...asking WHY people believe one way and not another...asking WHY certain events took place...asking WHY they themselves (as students) believe certain things...even asking WHY they need to study and learn specific subjects and subject matter - all of these are important in shaping them a fully functional human beings and lifelong learners.

As leaders, one of our jobs is to help people see the big picture - to help them understand the importance of the work in which they are engaged - to help them keep the mission and vision in mind - and to assist them in their own leadership development. I believe that one of the easiest ways to do this is to teach them how to ask the ultimate question - WHY?

So before you leave this blog, ask yourself WHY I might have chosen to write about this particular topic today - WHY you either agree or disagree with this premise - and WHY you even spent the last few minutes reading this post.

Friday, September 4, 2009

what you don't get to do

People in positions of leadership and responsibility get to do a lot of really cool things - but today's list is about things that you DON'T get to do when you are in such a role:

  1. You don't get to sleep in often - the quietest part of the day is early morning, so it is a great time to catch up on emails and other asundry items.
  2. You don't get to ignore emails and phone calls - a friend of mine once said that people who do not answer their emails or phone calls within 24 hours are acting immature (or something like that).
  3. You don't get to make your opinion known publicly - just because you think you are right, does not mean that you get to say it out loud in front of a group - think before speaking, and then decide to go to the person in private.
  4. You don't get to dress down - as the public face of an institution, you need to look the part (though what that entails will change from institution to institution).
  5. You don't get to play to your natural abilities - this is especailly true if you are naturally reclusive...leaders need to get out of their office and be seen.
  6. You don't get to gripe about others publicly (see #3) - be careful what you say...and to whom you say it. Know to whom you can gripe - and keep that circle of trust limited.
  7. You don't get to have a bad day - people look to you to set the tone and mood of the institution...if you are having a bad day, fake it publicly and talk about it with that small group of colleagues (see #6).
  8. You don't get to not prepare for a meeting - if you have called the meeting, then you better be prepared and have an agenda that has been sent out beforehand.
  9. You don't get to waste other people's time (see #8) - people are busy (and the people who report to you SHOULD be busy), so keep it succint and to the point.
  10. You don't get to be late for meetings (see #'s 8 and 9) - you're in set the demand be on time.
  11. You don't get to be unorganized (see #'s 8, 9, and 10) - if you are naturally this way, use your administrative assistant, another colleague, or your Outlook to keep you organized. Again, you set the tone!

Any others to add? And by the way, just to remind you, there are A LOT of really cool things you DO get to do - but I'll save that list for another time.

Friday, August 28, 2009

indulging in small pleasures

I was having a conversation with a colleague and two of our new freshman this week at a scholarship breakfast, and the talk turned to what we were presntly reading. Each of the participants shared their reading material and when they asked me what book currently kept me busy, I sheepishly admitted that I was reading a biography of Barbra Streisand. Let me tell you, just typing that right now was hard to do. For those who keep current with this blog, you know that I read a lot - and tend to focus either on classic fiction or books on leadership, management and history. So to admit to a group publilcly that I am reading (gulp!) Barbra: The Way She Is is very difficult for me.

However, let me take a different tack on this seeming indulgence - and put it in the context of what leaders do. Those who lead organizations and groups know how difficult it can be. They know that the thought of leadership never really leaves them - even when they read pablum they are looking for leadership kernels within the pages...when watching silly romantic comedies, they are looking for leadership examples to show in class or an inservice training...when they simply lay on the beach with nothing better to do, they are planning their next strategy. So I have been looking for leadership examples in my current readin of Barbra, and guess what...

there are none (well, I suppose I could find something, but I am not going to try). The essence of this blog is to say to myself (and to others who might read it) that sometimes we need to escape - we need to have fun - we need to be mindless - we need to relax - we need pablum in our lives...and we should not be embarassed about it (speaking of pablum...I just looked it up to make sure I was spelling it right, and did you know that the word originated from a mushy cereal produced for children, similar to oatmeal?).

So where are you indulging yourself these days in pablum? Is it in a good trashy a entertainment magazine (I and a fan of Entertainment Weekly) movies that make you laugh for no apparent gardening and sorting baseball cards (that used to be a part of my escape) hanging out with the watching baseball or football just because it is on the taking an afternoon nap just because you looking through old comic books...or maybe you are also reading Barbra: The Way She Is?

Enjoy your pablum - indulge in small pleasures - and do not feel guilty, because tomorrow you need to get back at it and lead your organization and people...and you will need all of your energy to do that well!

Friday, August 21, 2009

question - or statement?

One of the things that truly annoys me is when someone asks a question - but it is really a statement of what they believe. You know the type of question I am thinking about:
  • Don't you think it's better if __________________?
  • Could you explain to me why _________________?
  • I'm wondering why they ____________________?

I really wish people would turn these questions into statements that would more accurately reflect their thoughts:

  • I believe it would be better if _________________.
  • I'm angry about __________________________.
  • It looks as if they _________________________.

What would be even better is if these same people could make their statement of belief, and then ask a follow up question that would lead to understanding and dialogue:

  • I believe it would be better if _________________; how do you see the situation?
  • I'm angry about __________________________; are you in a position to explain to me how this happened?
  • It looks as if they _________________________; I'm wondering if you could explain the reasons behind their decision.

Questions - posed correectly - can be powerful tools in coming to an understanding of people and events. I sat in an interview the other day and wanted to understand what the individual was passionate about and what was their so-called line in the sand. I struggled to word the question (I DID NOT want to ask, "tell me what you are passionate about?" or "tell me what your line in the sand is?"). So I carefully worded my question as "tell me about a time that you lost it and became very angry over an incident." The response told me exactly what I wanted to know - and gave great insight into the HEART of this person.

Next time you get ready to ask a question, consider these few items:

  1. do you already know the answer you want to hear? if so, there's no need to ask the question
  2. is the question more of a statment of what you believe? if so, state it in a declarative form
  3. what do you really want to know? think hard about that before asking your question
  4. will the question move the conversation forward - or put up someone's defensive nature?
  5. how does this question fit within the context of what is being discussed at the given moment?

A final thought: if, at the end of the day, you were to do a tally of questions asked and statements made, which one would have the greater number? Consider that question as you go through this day - and the difference it makes depending on which side the scale falls.

Friday, July 24, 2009

leading through dance

I have to admit that I am a HUGE fan of the Fox TV show "So You Think You Can Dance?" Last night the show aired its 100th episode, and it was a great celebration. The dancing is always good; the judges are intelligent, supportive, and funny (picture the opposite of Paula, Randy, and Simon); the choreographers are first-rate; and I always get a little teary-eyed as my favorite dancers get voted off. What can I say...I am a sucker for this type of show.

A year or so ago, I read a book entitled "The Dance of Leadership: The Art of Leading in Business, Government, and Society," written by Robert and Janet Denhardt. The book provided a unique insight into how an understanding of the world of dancers can provide a basis for leadership. Several quotes are noted below:
  • Dance, in many ways, is an illusion. It is not something you can hold in your hand
  • A balanced or symmetrical placement of dancers on the stage, say in two rows on either side, gives the impression of stability or calm, whereas an unbalanced or asymmetrical arrangement imiplies movement or dynamism
  • The choreographer isn't working with a set of finite objects, but the ever-shifting, evolving relationships among people
  • Time and rhythm are concerned with movement from the past through the present, and into the future...leadership has to do with helping individuals and groups to understand time more completely, to know their role in the unfolding of events, and to organize their moments to attain a future they desire.
  • The relationship between simplicity and complexity is itself actually quite complex...making things simple does not mean ignoring the complexity of the topic at hand
  • Where does this fresh material come from?...they (choreographers) seek out the unknown, the unsettling, and the unfamiliar to keep their creative edge and a sense of newness..they do unusual things and go to new places and read things they usually don't and talk to people that they haven't before

My favorite section of the book is a quote from a introductory text in dance which states that "we must be willing to take risks, committed to the experience, and ready to be vulnerable and open to the self-discovery that is a natural product of the process. We must be willing to listen to others and to be generous with them. An active balance of self-fulfillment and response to others' needs has to be maintained. Basically we need the courage of our own impulses and responses qualified only by a healthy concern for the people we arw working with."

Perhaps leaders (and those who follow them) would be best served if leaders were required to take dance lessons...or read dance texts...or watch Fred Astaire/Ginger Rodgers movies...or attended the ballet more often...or better yet, to watch every Wednesday and Thursday nights "So You Think You Can Dance?"

Friday, July 17, 2009

leaders and the law

I am at a workshop entitled "Higher Education Legal Issues Executive Institute" sponsored by NCHERM in which we are looking at a variety of cases from the past year which impact (no surprise) higher education. It has been a learning experience for me - I have heard more acronyms than I care to know about, and am realizing just how perilous it is to be a part of any institution these days.

The one take away so far is that institutions need to write policy & procedure...need to have that policy & procedure reviewed by experts...need to train its workers in policy & procedure...need to FOLLOW policy & procedure as called for...need to document that policy & procedure were followed...and need to update policy & procedure on a regular basis. So what might that have to do with leadership?

I think that many people in leadership positions think that if they just do the right thing, everything will turn out right. Isn't that what we were told as children,to just do the right thing. It sounds so sounds so sounds so sounds so - RIGHT!

BUT - this is not always the case. You know many people who did the right thing and were still sued by an offended party. As hard as we try to be fair, to be just, to be upfront, and to be RIGHT, people will still try to find ways to get to us. So what are we to do?

A few thoughts:
  1. be sure that there are adequate (more than adequate) policies & procedures in place for your institution. If you do not have the time or personnel to get after this task - outsource!
  2. take time to document your discussions and actions (especially those that are difficult and that you believe could lead to allegations in the future)
  3. when talking or writing about difficult subjects, PAUSE before you go forward - and then say or write as little as possible.
  4. don't say anything stupid! In tense situations, it is easy to get angry or upset and to say things that could come back to haunt you and/or your institution (worse yet, sending an email with something stupid in it)
  5. institute mandatory training for all employees on policy & procedure - and be sure they follow them and document their actions. The first questions that should be asked when you hear about an incident at your institution should be 1) "were the policies and procedures followed?" and 2) "were the actions documented?"
  6. remember that you are the representative of the institution. What you say and do can harm the institution in ways you may not even think about.

The leader of the seminar kept reminding us that while these are all scary incidents, in no way should we stop acting. Don't be afraid to fire bad personnel...don't be afraid to engage in new ventures...don't be afraid to try new ideas...don't be afraid to terminate contracts. BUT have policies & procedures in place as to how these actions will be carried out - then train your people - then be sure the policies & procedures are followed. Then you can confidently lead your institution and your people.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

life notes

I am reading Marian Wright Edelman's newest book entitled The Sea is so Wide and My Boat is so Small. Each chapter is a "letter" to someone or some entity in which she gives her thoughts and advice for a better world. In the chapter entitled "A Letter to Young People: Anchors and Sails for Life's Voyage," she provides a list of maxims by which to live. Her thoughts should be carved on our doorframes as a reminder fo how to live each day:

- You are far more than any test can measure. No test can predict the quality and worth of your life or the contributions you can make.

- You do not always have to win to win. Sometimes losing is winning and sometimes winning is losing.

- Do your part, however small.

- Give a good day.

- Be a sower. Keep planting and watering seeds of hope and help. Don’t let others discourage you.

- Just do the work and don’t worry about the credit.

- Be humble and grateful for life.

- Struggle, struggle, struggle to develop a nonviolent heart in our violent culture and world.

- Learn to be still and listen to the silence within you.

- Live as if you like yourself. It might happen. Live as if you like others. It might happen.

- Be prepared to sacrifice and persevere for what you believe.

- Do not die before you die.

- Be kind.

- Don’t be afraid to leave comfortable shores. Life’s a very big and beautiful sea even if it does get scary sometimes.

- Keep saying the truth and holding on to your beliefs even if it appears no one is listening.

- Don’t give up too soon or before you have done your best and even better than your best.

- Aim high and work very hard to reach your goal.

- Serve. Do something for others.

- Choose work that promotes life not death.

- Do not fear criticism or let others define you.

- Recognize that you are a global citizen and must compete with peers from China, Japan, India, and all around the globe. Inform yourself about our world and its people. We are all interdependent.

- Dream beyond the moment.

- Faith and doubt are twins.

- Do not give in to that which is easy or convenient. Live intentionally and mindful of the impact of your actions on others.

I have been a fan of Marian Wright Edelman since reading her book of prayers entitled Guide My Feet. I recommend both books to you, and hope that you will embrace the spirit of this amazing woman.

Friday, July 10, 2009

leaders should be seen...

Remember that phrase your mother used to always say that children should be seen and not heard (I think for me it was often that children should be neither seen nor heard). I have come to believe that leaders must be seen in order to be credible. If leadership is about influence...and if leadership is about people...and if leadership is about vision...then leaders need to be seen.

I can think of several people I know in leadership positions that I never see. It's not that I don't think they're doing a bad job (though I would be hard pressed to describe for the job they are doing); it's not that I think they are bad peoople (though I would be hard pressed to describe their personality); it's not that I don't think they have the ability to lead (though I would be hard pressed to tell you what they are leading); it's not that I think they don't care about people (though the phrase "they don't care how much you know until they know how much you care" comes to mind); it's not that I don't think they can lead (though I would be hard pressed to tell you about their style of leadership); and it's not that they can't produce results, because they have (though I never get to celebrate the results with them either personally or publicly).
So why is being seen important? Here are a few thoughts:
  1. Leaders lead people...if they are not seen, how can they know people AND how can peple know them
  2. Leaders influence people...being able to share ideas in an informal setting (and formal setting) is incredibly important toward influencing others
  3. Influence is built through becomes harder to trust someone whom I never see than if I can have regular interaction with them
  4. Followers want to be reassured they are important...leaders walking around and commenting on what others are doing helps to instill that sense of importance in people
  5. Leaders need new perspectives...hanging out with people allows for new ideas to be heard, discussed and debated

So as leaders, let's get out of the office and walk around our institutions - on a regular basis.

  • Need a cup of coffee? Walk to another area of the building to get one
  • Need another cup of coffee? Take the long route and force yourself to walk past other's offices
  • Need yet a third cup of coffee? Have it while visiting with someone in another department
  • Schedule regular meetings with people outside your immediate area
  • Show up at events and mingle with people
  • Don't wait for someone else to say hello - be the first to meet and greet
  • Schedule a time to walk the grounds - and change up your routine from day to day
  • Find a way to delegate your desk duties to someone else so you do not feel rushed when talking with others

Leaders should be seen...and if you take this to heart, I will be looking forward to SEEING you on a more regular basis.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

developing one's leadership

I am a fanatic for studying Abraham Lincoln’s leadership – I try to read most of what I can get my hands on, and attempt to keep up with the myriad of new works coming out, especially during this bicentennial year of his birth. A recent read was Ronald C. White’s A. Lincoln, which ended up being a study in Lincoln’s own leadership development. White writes from a perspective that examines how Lincoln developed his thought and his ability to make decisions. Each of the experiences throughout his lifetime formed a part of that which I call Lincoln’s leadership ability.

One of the most influential aspects of Lincoln’s leadership development was his ability to learn – whether it was from reading, from talking with others, or from experiences. Lincoln was a self-taught individual. He read everything he could (often multiple times) and engaged people in conversation who were always much smarter than him. How often do we as leaders do the same thing? Being in a position of leadership can seem so time intensive that it becomes difficult to read and re-read important texts. Another downfall of being in a leadership position is that one can become so self-absorbed that it is difficult to ask for help from someone else (especially someone we consider smarter than ourselves). Here are a few ideas to consider as we continue the process of developing ourselves as leaders:

1. Take the time to readBrain Tracey noted in a recent newsletter that people in leadership positions need to take the following time to do no work: 1 day each week; 3 days in a row each month; and at least 2 solid weeks each year. When I have those days, I read – sometimes in my field, but more often than not outside my field.
2. Never spend a lunch by yourself – One’s calendar should be full of lunch appointments with people smarter than themselves. If you cannot get out of the office, find someone within the office that does something very different from you, sit with them at lunch, and ask them to explain what they do. Be ready to ask a bunch of questions…and then try to apply what you learn to leadership issues.
3. READ, READ, READ (part 1) – read widely and outside your field of expertise. One of the best ways to do this is to browse the magazine section of your favorite bookstore and purchase one on a topic you know nothing about. Read it thoroughly and see if you can learn anything about leadership. Be sure to also scan the NY Times best sellers list in all categories at least once a month and see what others are reading.
4. READ, READ, READ (part 2) – someone once mentioned to me that if I read one book a week on a particular subject, that would mean that within one year, I would have read 52 books on that subject, making me an expert in that particular area. If I did that for 5 years in a row, I would have read 260 books on that subject, making me a world-renown expert on that subject. In which subject do you want to become an expert?
5. READ, READ, READ (part 3) – someone else once mentioned that we only have a certain number of hours to read during our lifetime, so we should spend time only on those texts that have stood the test of time (his cutoff point was 450 years, so it could include Shakespeare). Are you reading the great books – those that changed the world? For starters, check out Martin Seymour-Smith’s list of the 100 Most Influential Books Ever Written.
6. Become self-reflective – This is perhaps the most difficult part of learning for those who lead, because in order to be self-reflective, time and honesty are both needed. I have found that blogging has been my way to self-reflect on issues of leadership. Others journal; still others have coaches, mentors or accountability groups.

If in the midst of a Civil War Abraham Lincoln could take time to read and listen to people who were smarter than him (see Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals for an excellent study on this aspect of Lincoln’s leadership), why can’t we?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

who determines change?

Upon reading Sinclair Lewis’ Main Street (written in 1920), I became intrigued by the question of who should determine and/or introduce change into an organization or community. This follows on the heels of reading Barbara Kellerman’s book entitled Followers which seems to indicate that the will of the followers is always more powerful than that of the leader.

A brief synopsis of the story of Main Street: Carol Kennicott, having grown up in Minneapolis, marries a doctor and moves to a rural town in Minnesota. Once there, she determines to bring it “up-to-date” and revitalize it into a “proper” city. At first, people are enthusiastic, and go along with her suggestions. However, they never fully buy into the changes and behave in an underhanded manner, hurting her and stopping any change that she would bring about. Carol keeps trying time after time, yet continually fails, finally accepting the fact that she alone cannot bring about the change she believes is good and right for the community. The novel is a wonderful treatise on the emancipation of women and the battle between the morals of small-town America and the changes sweeping the country in the early 20th century.

So…was it Carol’s “calling” to bring about this change she believed was good, right and proper for the citizens of Gopher Prairie, Minnesota? If a group of people do not want change – and their worlds are no worse for it – should one person (or a small group of people) determine change for them? Who is it that should finally decide to make changes to an existing structure, organization, or community? And just because one has been voted into a position, does that person have the moral right to enact change upon their constituency?

When one perceives the need for changes to occur, perhaps they need to ask themselves the following questions:

1. For whom do I want to bring about this change – myself, those who are presently a part of the organization, or for those who are to follow us in the future?
2. What is it that is driving my need for change – and from where does that need for change emanate?
3. How do I know whether or not the people of the organization themselves want change? In what ways might I measure their need for and receptivity to this change?
4. When is change absolutely necessary? Is it ever absolutely necessary? Who am I to determine the absolute necessity for change?
5. How many people are needed within a given group to provide the mandate to move forward with change? Is it a simple majority? Is it a consensus? Is it certain individuals who are trusted by the rest of the constituency?
6. As the chosen/elected leader of an organization, if I believe that change is necessary and those I lead do NOT believe change is necessary, what should I do? Is that a time for me consider moving on and going somewhere else (as Carol Kennicott does by moving to Washington DC toward the end of the novel)?...or should I be content with the status quo knowing that my followers are content with it?

These questions are important for leaders to consider, since leadership is about change…and about people…and about influence…and about followers. What do you think?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

leading with WOO

I just returned from a Strengths Quest conference, where we learned about implementing this assessment tool with our freshmen this coming fall. Strengths Quest is the college version of Strengths Finder, which was first made popular with Marcus Buckingham's First Discover Your Strengths. It is a fascinating development tool for people as they consider how to improve by focusing on what they naturally do well, rather than those lesser developed talents we often perceive as weaknesses.

One of my top five themes (groups of talents) is called WOO - which stands for Winning Others Over. The idea behind this talent/strength/theme is that people with WOO love to connect with others...they get an energy around meeting new people...they find joy in making new connections and friends...they like to connect their friends with others...they never meet a stranger, only a friend they have not yet met...they love to ask questions of people to get to know them better...they look for the pereson who is alone in a group and go up to them and introduce themselves...they have a large list of contacts...they love to work a room.

Yes, that is who I am. But more important, how can that strength help me in my leadership? A few thoughts:
  • I need to keep meeting more people - but keep better track of them over time
  • I need to put myself in places where I can meet more people - but be sure I am in the right places
  • I need to consider who I might NEED to meet - and find others to help me meet them
  • I need to refine my "elevator speech" about myself and Concordia University Texas - so as I meet these people they remember who I am and what I do
  • I need to have a list of needs from the College and University - so when people ask to get engaged, I can quickly connect them to a project or a person
  • I need to keep polishing my "cold-calling" skills - so I can meet even more people outside of those I meet in person
  • I need a follow-up system - so as not to loose connection with people important to me and the University

I love to meet people - I also know it is extremely difficult for others to do that. I believe it is a skill that can be learned, no matter how difficult it might be for one to "mingle." I also believe it is incredibly important for those in leadership positions to be able to do this...because the more people we meet, the more people get to know the mission of our institutions. Here's the best tip I ever learned: when walking into a crowded room, look for the person standing by themselves. Go up to them , introduce yourself, and begin asking them questions about themselves. Be genuinely interested, and you will be amazed at how quickly you will have a new friend. And you will no longer feel alone in a crowd.

Friday, June 5, 2009

directness and trust

Interesting conversation this week about directness and trust. I had someone tell me that they appreciated the fact that I could be direct with them and do so in a way that was respectful and kind. They indicated that they had observed this behavior not only one-on-one with me but also in meetings...and that it seemed to help meetings move along and also help to build a sense of team. Later on in our conversation, we began to talk about the importance of trust among individuals and teams. We discussed the book The Speed of Trust by Stephen Covey (the younger) and sunddenly A LIGHT BULB WENT OFF for me. It seemed there might be a connection between trust and directness. Let me explain a little more.

For me, trust is my line in the sand. I inherently trust people - I trust them to do the right things, I trust them to be honest with me, I trust them to do their work in an excellent manner, and I trust them to be ethical in their decisions and actions. I give them trust to begin with (as opposed to them having to earn my trust). I think that because of that starting point, I am also able to be direct with them. Because I trust them (and they know I trust them), I can tell them what I see and observe in their behavior, be it positive or negative. Because they trust me (trust is often reciprocal), they can handle that directness because they know I have their best interest at heart - and more important I have the best interest of the organization at heart. Trust provides the opportunity to be direct...and being direct can build a greater sense of trust.

So how can we make this more of a reality in our own lives and in the lives of our organizations?
  1. when being direct, shape your comments around the organization, not the individual
  2. when being direct, reflect how one's weaknesses are often a result of the overuse of their strengths
  3. when being direct, be sure to note that you may be wrong (and if so, allow the person to tell you so)
  4. when being direct, state the issue and let it go (do not beat the person up with negative comments)
  5. when being direct, be sure you have your facts straight
  6. when being direct, be sure to follow up to see if the behavior has changed
  7. when being direct, do so with an empathetic heart, mind and voice
  8. when being direct, trust that the comment will be taken in the spirit in which it is given

What do you think? Is there a connection here? What does an organization look like when trust and directness is present in all areas? And while this post seems to infer trust and directness from a superior to a subordinate, does the same hold true from the subordinate to the superior - and/or across similar levels? And ultimately, where trust and directness is a part of the culture, does an organization even need levels?

Friday, May 29, 2009

young leaders

I am thinkng these days about creating an advisory board made up entirely of people under thirty. As I have recently celebrated year 50 of my own life, that seems like a long time ago. What was I thinking back then? What (and who) shaped my opinions? Was I more influenced by my past than I am now (or vice-versa)? How did I lead? Did I lead? Or was I merely moving along a path of which I had no clue?

That being said, I believe it is incredibly important to engage young people in discussion of leadership and organizational development. My current advisory board met several weeks ago and we had a wodnerful discussion on what the future of the College of Business at Concordia University Texas holds - but everyone (for the most part) around the table was of my generation or the one before me. What does this generation of those under 30 think about when it come to Concordia's mission of developing Christian leaders?

We often discuss mentoring as if a mentor needs to be older and wiser. Could it be that those who are younger and more foolish (as my mother used to say of me) are really the ones with the right questions? Does their perspective make more sense in today's world? Are they actually closer to the situation (i.e. college students), having a better understanding of the needs, desires and wants of those we serve? Could it be that the leaders of tomorrow need to be shaped by their peers rather than those who have been leading for a long time? How do we solve the problems of today if we listen to those who have led us into those problems?

So what do you think? Does an advisory board of those under 30 make sense? What type of role might they play for me and my organization? How would I use their knowledge and skills? With what type of questions should they be engaged? And what might meetings of this group look like?

If you have thoughts or answers, let me know - I'm ready to engage those who are young and foolish...or incredibly intelligent with the answers that are needed for developing today's leaders.

Friday, May 22, 2009

the right question

Leaders know how to ask the right questions. Our picture of leaders is often the one standing up front, making a speech or telling people what to do, and acting all "charismatic." But the leader who wants real followers will be the one asking questions, often from the back of the room, and listening deeply to the answers.

So what's the key to asking the RIGHT questions? A few thoughts:
  1. know what you want as a result of the answers - what is the outcome you (or others) want to have achieved as a result of the time together.
  2. believe deeply that others have good answers to give - if you are only asking questions to make people FEEL as if they have a part, the questions will be formed and asked half-heartedly...and the answers wil reflect the same.
  3. know your audience - prepare ahead of time by learning about and understanding the person/people with whom you will be talking.
  4. think through the questions - be sure the questions are actually questions and not statements...word the questions so they have the ability to elicit great responses...make the questions understandable the first time they are asked
  5. be ready to go with the flow - if the right questions are asked, you never know what the answers will be, so you need to be able to go where the answers lead...and ask follow up questions based on what you hear
  6. LISTEN CAREFULLY - if you ask good questions, you better be able to listen deeply and carefully, because good questions elicit good responses, which cause you as a leader to think and develop new ideas...if you listen carefully
  7. trust that the person will be honest in their answers - this is really about being empathetic with the other person/people. If they know you trust them, you become more trustworthy and thus they will be more honest in their answers, leading to a deeper dialogue
  8. engage in the dialogue - be willing to be a full participant in the question and answer session. Even though you are the one asking the questions, your full participation can more fully ensure their complete participation
  9. have the heart of a learner - questions arise when one is willing to be a learner. You can learn something from anyone, if you are able to ask questions thats elicit good responses

I once told my students that if they learned to ask the right questions they would be considered "gods and goddesses" in their worlds. I believe that the world belongs to those who know how to ask the right questions, and that it is a skill that can be learned. Go ahead and spend the rest of the day being a question asker - and watch people invest more of their lives in you and your leadership.

Friday, May 15, 2009

restless discontent with mediocrity

This past Saturday at our CTX graduation, Rev. John Nunes of Lutheran World Relief, referred to our President Tom Cedel as a "man who has a restless discontent with mediocrity." What a great phrase - and what an apt description of Concordia's president - and what an apt description of great leadership.

It was Jim Collins who wrote in his book Good to Great that the enemey of GREAT is GOOD. How many times do people feel as if it is "good enough?" How many times do peopel settle for less than greatness? How many times are people satisfied with thier own performance, others' performance, or the performance of their organization? Striving for excellence is the hallmark of a great organization - and of a great leader.

How does one's "restless discontent with mediocrity show itself? Here are several thoughts to consider:
  1. debriefing after every event, noting what could be done better, and then DOING it better the next time around
  2. rewarding people for trying out new ideas and concepts - even rewarding them when they fail to achieve all of the results hoped for
  3. defining and talking about what EXCELLENCE means to your organizaton
  4. continually asking the question, "What else can we do?"
  5. taking "experts" out to lunch and picking their brains
  6. holding everyone accountable to the vision; in other words, are we doing what we said we would do - and if not, why not?
  7. having a vision
  8. asking a lot of questions of everyone you know - both within and outside of the organization

So where are you today? Are you only seeking excellence - OR - are you practicing a restless discontent with mediocrity? I think they look different - and make a difference - for yourself and for your organization.

Friday, April 24, 2009

never let an opportunity slip by

Last night the Samaritan Center for Pastoral Counseling held its annual Ethics in Buisiness Awards banquet. In addition to a fund-raising evening for them, it was also a small Concordia University lovefest. Our President Tom Cedel served as the Honaorary Chair of the event and was the emcee for the evening; Concordia was one of two major sponsors of the event (Dell being the other one); our students were recognized for the work they did in researaching and writing reports on the nominees this year; several of the speakers recognized and gave "shout outs" to Concordia for their involvement; and I had a chance to address the 300+ attendees regarding the selection process. What a night!

Why do I tell you all this? Because this happened as a result of me getting a phone call two years ago from Nancy Blaich, executive director of the Samaritan Center, asking if I would consider having Concordia students involved in the research aspect of the selection process. I NEVER hesitated - and reponded with a postive YES. Since then, the students selected to help with this project have had an opportunity to meet with some of the greatest people in Central Texas...Concordia has been recognized as THE primary partner in this effort...I have met some really cool people as a result of this project...and Concordia's students are getting an amazing "hands-on" opportunity to learn about and practice such skills as cold calling, interviewing, writing, and networking. All because I did not let an opportunity slip by.

I believe that leaders are always looking for opportunities. Today I am having lunch with a friend from Houston who has an idea to propose to me about partnering with his company in providing strategic planning for social-sector organizations; yesterday I had a gentleman tell me that he wants to be involved in Concordia's big change (reorganizing the curriculum); I met another person yesterday who wants to engage our students in what we called "mini-internships" during their freshman and sophomore years; Tuesday...well, you get the idea.

How does one go finding these opportunities. A few ideas:
1. get out of the office - find neat people and hang out with them (coffee, lunch, networking breakfasts, whatever)
2. be an interested person - ask questions about what people do, what their hobbies are, where they are from, and what interests them. Do not worry about telling others about yourself
3. be ready and able to tell your story - can you share your organization's mission, vision and values? do you have your "elevator speech" ready at any given time? do you know what to ask for when the opportunity arises?
4. don't be afraid to ask - if someone shows interest, start with the prhase, "Have you ever considered__________________?" Give them an opportunity to think about possibilities
5. learn to NEVER say NO - you can't always say yes, but give people an opportunity to pitch their idea, ask questions, consider how it fits with your misison, vision and values, and tell them you will get back with them. Saying NO finishes the conversation (and probably the relationship)
6. be a bragger - when these opportunities pan out and great things happen, tell others about it. Challenge people to consider how they might also get involved. And always point to how this decision made a difference in your organization

NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, let an opportunity slip by - you don't know what it will do for you and/or your organization.