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.