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.