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.