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!