Friday, December 17, 2010

a christmas thank you

Christmas is a time of year when we get a chance to say THANK YOU to people who have touched our lives over the past year. I would like to take this space to extend a THANK YOU to several people who have been LEADERS to me over the past year. Consider this my Christmas Leadership Thank You List...
  • Tom Cedel - Tom serves as the President of Concordia University Texas, and I consider him to be the one who gives me practical leadership advice. When situations arise at the Uniuversity that I do not understand or want more information about, he is able to explain to me how he makes his decisions and why he makes those decisions. This is a wonderful learning tool for me as I get a "sneak peek" into the process of decision making at the executive level. I am thankful for the time he gives me and for his great leadership of our institution.
  • Alan Runge - Alan is my direct boss who serves as the Provost at CTX. Alan is the one who pushes me to consider the next great thing I can accomplish. He helps me set stretch goals and never lets me settle for small or insignificant goals. He has a grand vision of what we can and should be doing, and will not let me "coast." His drive to make things happen pushes me when I think it might be okay to coast for awhile. In addition, he is always willing to listen to me and settle me down when I get too excited about something. I am thankful for his mentoring and his willingness to let me shape the job to my strengths abilities.
  • Linda Ford - Linda came onto my radar screen a little over a year ago, and since January has been serving as the Director of The Concordia MBA. She is my emotional leader, who dreams with me about what CAN be and gets excited with me when those dreams become a reality. Her ability to think big picture, imagine the possibilities, push people to do their best and then MAKE THINGS HAPPEN inspires me on a regular basis. At most meetings between the two of us, at least one of us becomes "verklempt." I am thankful for her willingness to dream with me and to join me on an amazing journey this past year.
  • Ralph Wagoner - Ralph is the retired president of Augustana College in Souix Falls, South Dakota who served as my leadership coach for about 6 months over a year ago. Since that time he has stayed in touch and helped me think through situations that frustrate or confuse me. He is the ultimate "question asker" and always has an encouraging word for me. Ralph has a way of helping me think through the big issues of life in a clarifying manner - and then encourages me to go after my dreams. His wisdom is absolutely invaluable. I thank him for his words of encouragement and for his belief in my ability to lead.
  • Billy Moyer - Billy is president of SOS Leadership....and is a mere 25 years old. While he is half my age, he is an inspiration to me in the way he talks about leadership and makes things happen among young leaders. It has always been a dream of mine to find a way for young leaders to mentor young leaders - Billy does that! As I hear him talk about his ideas and the way he is out mentoring young leaders, I get excited and want to join him in that pursuit. I an thankful to Billy for helping me launch our Emerging Leaders Advisory Board - and for inspiring me to be a mentor to others.
  • Ron Kessler - Ron is a coach and consultant here in Austin and serves as the chair of the College of Business Advisory Board. For me, he is the ultimate ENCOURAGER. When I need advice, or encouragement, or just want to talk, I give Ron a call amd we meet for coffee or lunch. By the end of the conversation, I am feeling like a million dollars and am ready to go out and set the world on fire (to use just a few leadership cliches). I have yet to meet someone who does not like (love) Ron - and I feel the same. I am thankful for Ron's consistent encouragement - and his willingness to serve as a mentor for me in my present (and future) leadership capacities.

That's my list - I hope you have a list of people who serve as leaders in your life. Be sure to take a moment and say THANK YOU to them for what they do for you - and for their influence in your life.

A Blessed Christmas to all of you...and God bless us, everyone!

Friday, December 10, 2010

leadership wisdom from the hymnal

In my faith tradition (Lutheran), our worship structure is more formal and traditional, and we use many older hymns in our worship services. We also follow a church year calendar, which began anew several weeks ago with the season of Advent (4 weeks prior to Christmas Day). Two Sundays ago, we sang a hymn with which I grew up entitled Prepare the Royal Highway, a reference to the writings of Isaiah the prophet who foretold the birth of Jesus Christ. As we came to the final stanza of the hymn, I came across this particular line:

His (Christ's) rule is peace and freedom and justice, truth and love.

I was immediately struck that this is what leaders should be doing in their organizations and for the people whom they lead. It is a reflection of servant leadership as defined by Robert Greenleaf. Each of the words defines a place - or state of being - in which one can become completely whom they are meant to be and work at their highest level of effectiveness. Rather than being beaten down, cajoled, or manipulated, people might be able to become something more than they even imagine they could be.

A quick look at each of the words:

PEACE: to be at peace means that I am in harmony with myself and others. It creates a sense of well-being in which I can approach my life - and my work - with a sense of wholeness and being in a relaxed state. This allows for one to think and dream at a higher level. It may not completely serve all professions well, but for those who have to think in their jobs, it provides a place where a higher level of creative thinking can occur.

FREEDOM: I believe there is no higher calling that to help others be "free" - free from having to worry about basic needs as well as free to engage in higher level needs. Greenleaf uses this term extensively in his writings on servant leadership - those who would serve so that others might be more free. A place where people are free to be whom they were meant to be and use the gifts with which they have been endowed by their Creator is a place where amazing work can be done.

JUSTICE: I see this word as describing a place that is fair - and that holds people accountable for acting in a way that is fair to all. Too many times in organizations certain people are allowed to do things that seem to go against the norms and values that have been established (either written or unwritten). The leader who brings about justice brings about a place where people know that they are to treat others for the environment...uphold all that is good and right...and do things that bring about the best for the organization.

TRUTH: It would be difficult to work in an environment where one is constnatly wondering what is the truth. Having to look over one's shoulder...having to wonder if what I am being told is the truth...having to second guess decisions...these all harm the organization and its ability to deliver on its mission and goals. I think this begins with the leader being a "truth teller," being transparent and calling things what they are. This is a value that is often missing within organizations.

LOVE; I use this word often to describe the ideal leader and organization. Many people wonder if I am being too soft, and if work will actully get done where love prevails. For me, this is nothing short of being one of the hardest things to do, and when done well creates an outstanding organization. The leader must love their people - their organziation - their customers - their clients - their mission - and what they do on a day to day basis. That translates very quickly to the organization as a whole and can quite literally TRANSFORM the organization.

In the Christian church, there is often talk about "the kingdom of God." In the Gospels, Jesus often uses the phrase, "the kingdom of God is like..." It is my belief that leaders can bring about the kingdom of God in their organziations when they create an environment in which peace, freedom, justice, truth and love are prevalent and pervasive. It is my hope and prayer that more and more leaders will find ways to do this for their organizations and the people who work with that a for-profit company, a not-for-profit, a school, a goverment organization, a community, a church, or a home.

Friday, December 3, 2010

A Christmas Wish List

Dear Santa, this year for Christmas I do not want any toys (well, maybe one or two). What I really want is:
  • leaders who listen more and talk less
  • leaders who know how to ask good questions (see above)
  • leaders who think and act strategically
  • leaders who walk around and get to know people
  • leaders who engage their multiple constituencies at a high level
  • leaders who are not afraid to confront people who go against the organization's values
  • leaders who reward people who live out the organization's value at a high level
  • leaders who have a sucession plan in place - and make it publicly known
  • leaders who do what leaders are supposed to do and not act like managers (or janitors)
  • leaders who know how to follow
  • leaders who share information easily and make it understandable
  • leaders who think organically rather than linearly
  • leaders who "get" community
  • leaders who have a deep self-awareness
  • leaders who are willing to ask hard questions of themselves and others
  • leaders who know how to lead good meetings
  • leaders who craft their message to their audiences
  • leaders who speak passionately and professionally (see above)
  • leaders who "believe the best" rather than "assume the worst"
  • leaders who are always learning
  • leaders who understand the concept of Level 5 leadership (humility AND determinate will)
  • leaders who really understand servant leadership
  • leaders who can say NO and provide a good reason
  • leaders who say YES to good ideas that are fiscally responsible
  • leaders who find ways to exploit others' strengths for the good of the organization
  • leaders who practice the art of forgiveness
  • leaders who bring about peace, freedom, justice, truth and love in their organizations
  • leaders who truly love people
  • leaders who truly love their organizations
  • leaders who know how to relax and have a good time
  • leaders who demand excellence in all they do - and what others do
  • leaders who seek out other leaders for learning and growing
  • leaders who know the importance of a clean desk
  • leaders who know how to dress like a leader in representing their organization
  • leaders who learn how to say "I'm sorry" or "I made a mistake"
  • leaders who take every opportunity to talk about the organization's mission
  • leaders who are willing to step into the fray and make things happen
  • leaders who know when to sit back and allow others to make things happen

I invite you who are reading to add your Christmas wish list for leaders in the comments section below...

Saturday, November 13, 2010

teaching leadership

This past week I began teaching our first MBA course on leadership entitled Leading Self. This five-week, 1 credit course (The Concordia MBA has four different 1-credit leadership courses as a part of its curriculum) will help students begin to wrestle with the question "Who am I as a leader?" What a privilege it is to work with these 40 adults in the discovering of their leadership gifts, talents and passions. This first week focused on discovering one's strengths - and how those can be used in leadership. We laughed a lot as we were surprised at how accurate the Strengths Finder 2.0 assessment was in naming our strengths...and we laughed when some students thought that the identified stren gths were not what they thought they should be - but other classmates saw them clearly in each other. We contemplated how strengths can be used in combination for solving problems in our work and communities...and comtemplated what it might mean if we use our strengths as a manipulative force in others' lives. Over the next four weeks, the classes will go deeper into understanding their personal strengths and the strengths of others - and how they can be further utilized in leading people.

As I prepared for classes last week (and am now thinking about preparing for this coming week), the idea of how leadership is taught keeps crossing my mind. The combination of learning and experience is always powerful, so I have to keep in mind how I can help students relate what they read and think about to their day-to-day experiences. The other part of leadership development happens in what researchers refer to as "individual readiness" - that part of one's self in which they are willing to open up to assessment and critique of their leadership capabilities. As students reflect on their leadership and put on paper their individual thoughts about the subject (and about themselves), they are barring their souls to themselves and to others - a scary, yet powerful learning tool in this process.

So here are a few ideas on what I believe about "teaching leadership":
  • lots of interaction - my job is to ask rich and powerful questions which cause the student to think and go deep into what they believe. As they answer these questions out loud, others receive more information that they can them process themselves about what they believe. I keep asking them WHY so they can go to the root of their thoughts.
  • spirited debate - teaching leadership is not about learning more material, but about wondering how the material learned related to the individual. I love it when people disagree with what the author of a book says...or what the assessment shows...or what I have to say. Spirited debate makes the student defend outloud what they believe, which helps to make it more real and personal for them.
  • reflection - thinking about what one reads - what they expereince - what they think about - and what others say is a critical part of the growth process in leadership development. Having students journal and do assignments that cause them to reflect is a critical part of the growth curve in developing one's leadership style.
  • go with the flow - I taught two different groups of students this week, and while the topic was the same for both classes, the discussion went in entirely different directions. Following the lead of the students, I assist them in processing what they are thinking, helping them think through their thoughts and udeas using leadership lenses.
  • energy - I play a lot of music in my classroom and have students move around. I have to be upbeat and moving to keep the energy going. While this has a little bit to do with being an evening class, it has more to do with modeling the energy needed for leadership. As I move among students, engage their thoughts, and keep the energy high, it is a reflection of what leaders do for their organizations and people they serve.
  • deep questions - my role is to ask rich, deep, thoughtful questions so that students are "forced" to consider how they think about leadership and how they might lead in given situations. It is not my role to tell them what to do or how to act - it is my role to assist them in the process of discovering their authentic leadership style that will guide them as they lead and make decisions.

I am sure there will be more blogs on what happens in my classes over the next month - I consider myself a student as I approach these classes. Each class session last week provided for me an AHA moment in which my view of leadership was challenged. I am grateful for this opportunity and thankful for the 40 students who will teach me about myself and my leadership style during our journey together.

Friday, October 29, 2010

confronting with calmness

This past week I had a student in my office who had been accused of cheating. Rather than read that student the riot act and heap multiple consequences on them, I simply asked, "Is this true?" I made sure I kept looking straight into their eyes and watched their reactions closely. Now I know that there are some outstanding "fakers" who can easily keep a straight face while telling a lie, but for the most part I can make a student break and confess the truth. It is in watching for that reaction that will guide the next steps of the discussion. I have always maintained that a difficult conversation can never be held over the phone or email - it needs to be done in person because it is the reaction of the person receiving the message that determines the course of the conversation (BTW - you will need to read to the end of this blog to find out how the student reacted).

From time to time in my career, I have had people walk in my office and accuse others of inappropriate behavior or poor judgement. My inital reaction is to believe the person telling me these things, but I also know that they could be wrong for a variety of reasons. After listening to that person's story, I will normally ask the person's permission to approach the other person (there are times when I will not bother with permission because of the egregious nature of the accusation). For me, it is important to determine the truth of the situation. If what I am being told is true, then the offender needs to be confronted and next steps need to be put into place. If what I am being told in NOT true, then the accuser needs to be confronted and next steps need to be put into place. While I never relish having to "investigate" this type of situation, I do know that in doing so, I have the ability to establish and strengthen a culture of trust and forgiveness.

When confronting a person with a given accusation, I expect several things to happen:
  1. for the person being accused to realize the seriousness of their behavior
  2. for the person to feel sorry for what they have done
  3. for the person to ask forgiveness
  4. for the person to determine how they can restore any relationship that might have been hurt in the process

If this person continues to deny any wrongdoing, I will continue to press for awhile and ask multiple questions to see if I can get at the heart of the matter. As I apply more "law" I am hoping to get at the truth. There have been times when I have not gotten at the truth - and there have been times when it became apparent that the truth was that the accuser had either misinterpreted the action or telling a lie themselves - and now a whole new conversation needed to take place.

Getting at the truth is a delicate balance for those who are in a leadership position. I have always said that it is not the mission of any institution to hunt down and determine everyone who does something wrong - that would take too many resources away from the main mission. However, in order to establish a safe and trusting environment and culture, it is important to get at the truth, especially where people's reputations might be involved.

A few thoughts for those of us who are in a position where we might have to deal with these type of situations:

  • do it quickly - gather the facts and then call that person into the office in a timely manner
  • approach the conversation as "getting at the truth" rather than "getting that person"
  • if the accusation is true, get them to determine how they will make amends and work to restore the relationship
  • if the accusation is not true, bring the accuser into the conversation right away to clear up any misunderstandings - and then deal with the accuser
  • assure both parties that if there is ever any retaliation against the other person you will deal with it immediately - and harshly
  • work for forgiveness and changed behavior
  • document, document, document
  • where possible, share the story so that others understand how the culture of the institution works

And now for the rest of the I confronted this student, they immediately broke down in tears and could not look me in the eye. They admitted to cheating, and kept saying they were sorry. After a few minutes of letting their sorrow sink in, I told them they were forgiven, and that an academic dishonesty form would be filled out and placed in their file. They immediately offered to write a note of apology to the instructor and planned to see the instructor later that day. We had a great discussion on WHY the student decided to cheat, and I believe that their behavior will be different in the future. Unfortunately, not all confrontations turn out that well; however, I left my office knowing I had done work that day to build the culture we want in the College of Business - a culture of academic excellence...a culture of student responsibility...and a culture of forgiveness. All in all, not a bad day for me!

Friday, October 22, 2010

leadership goals

This past week, my Introduction to Business class (freshmen) have begun reading Eliyahu Goldratt's The Goal, a great book about operations as well as a way of thinking and looking at business (and life). In the book, the main character is confronted with the question, "What is the goal of your company?" After much debate, he realizes that the goal is to make money. He then goes through a process of finding the best way to do that, from which he develops the theory that a company makes money by increasing throughput while decreasing inventory and operational expenses. My students over the past few years have loved reading the book and it leads to discussions around multiple isses. One of those issues is"What really is the goal of an organization?" And here is the next question for me and you to consider - does the goal of the organization differ from the goal of leadership? Let's explore...

  • is the goal to make money an end or a means? Does the organization make money so at the end of the day it can pat itself on the back and say "look at how much we have provided for our shareholders" or "look how much money we have in the bank"? Or does the organization make money so it can be sustainable over the long haul?
  • Leaders have multiploe goals - but at the end of the day, when push comes to shove (what does that phrase really mean?) does the leader worry about making money over everything else (we know where that leads to) or does the leader worry more about the people of the organization?
  • If the leader's goal is to develop the people of the organization, is it an end or a means toward the other words, am I developing people so they have a greater capacity to make money for the organization, or so they themselves become better leaders?
  • Sustainability of the organization involves creating value - which we all know carries more weight in many instances than only making money. However, there had better be a plan in place to eventually make money, or the value will become valueless. So what comes first - the plan to make money or the plan to create value?
  • The inherent mind of the leader goes to influencing people toward a common goal. What if the organization one leads is a not-for-profit? (I am having breakfast in 20 minutes with my good friend Jerry Daivs, CEO of Goodwill Industries of Central Texas). But as we all margin, no mission. So is that common goal making money or doing good? In the long run, shouldn't everyone be working to make money for the organization so that it can live out its mission?
  • The ideal of leadership grabs many people because they want to act for the common good...or want to make a difference...or believe there is a better way of doing things. Sometimes the mantle of leadership is thrust upon someone and they have to step up and lead, with little or no forethought about what that means. Will they automatically "punt" to the goal of making money - or another goal that is near and dear to their heart?

As I finish this week's blog, let me think outloud for a few moments. I do believe there is no perfect answer to this conundrum...I do believe it is a BOTH/AND rather than an EITHER/OR...I do believe in the idea of "no margin, no mission"...I do believe the leader had better be concerned that at the end of the day there is cash left over to not only pay the bills but to save something for a rainy day...I do believe that people need to be developed to use their gifts and talents for more than just the goals of the organization which they work for at this time...I do believe that leaders must first and foremost consider and care for the sustainability of the organization which employs them at that moment...I do believe that a leader's personal growth will come through living with these seemingly conflicting goals...and I do believe that by living with these seemingly conflicting goals, leaders will strengthen their organizations in the long run.

Friday, October 15, 2010

musical chairs

After last weeks "ghost-blog" here is another thought piece by Carrie Leising - I encourage you to read through it with a specific meeting in mind and ask yourself how you might have changed the arrangement to get more at what you really wanted from that time...

Have you ever walked into a meeting and disliked the way the chairs were set up? Did you feel uncomfortable with the chair you sat in? Was it made of hard plastic or rocked on one leg that was missing a rubber heel? Did you find yourself sitting in the corner or in a spot in the room that did not give you the best advantage to hear or see the speaker? But, what's this got to do with leadership?

Meetings are a holding environment for change initiatives (I love that line - DC). A board meetig for a nonprofit is convened to discuss governance issues. A weekly staff meeting keeps work-related tasks on the table. A faculty meeting discusses curriculum or student issues. A group of folks around the water cooler gossip about those hidden messages that lie deep in the heart of middle management. The way that meetings are arranged, whether they are done in a formal or informal manner, is a form of leadership that involves social norms and traditions.

The agenda and the arrangement of the room and which way the chairs are facing the leader sends a powerful message to the audience. Is there a pulpit? Is the speaker comfortable walking around the room? Does the speaker stay in one spot? How is the audience reacting to the speaker? Is the obnoxious person, who always speaks up at meetings, sitting in the back or the front of the room?

Have you gone to a meeting and spent an inordinate amount of time discussing how to rearrange the setup? Have you felt frustrated because the agenda was derailed? Do you have another meeting to follow up on the meeting? Changing the status quo at meetings generates tension and sometimes produces hidden conflicts. It also can challenge the organization's culture and leadership. It seems minor, but changing the way the chairs are set up is a technical challenge. It helps people avoid the "real" challenge. Whether people or leaders know it, they are avoiding the ADAPTIVE CHALLENGE, which is a change initiative. People do not like deep change and it takes a strong leader to focus on the change intitative that's at hand and manage the agenda.

When I sat on the Parish Council for my church, about ten minutes before the meeting started, the Pastor would come and sit in the chair at the head of the table. The pastor had a non-voting role at the meeting but his presence, especially at the head of the able, sent a message to everyone on the council. His agenda and non-verbal cues were leading the meeting. The members of the council struggled to conduct the meeting and say what they really wanted to say. Many nights I stood outside in the parkiung lot discussing the "real agenda." As my frustration grew, I see now that my pastor's seat, or the "hot seat," was in control of the agenda.

Leaders are responsible for controlling the message in ways that allow people to adapt and embrace the message. Leaders can also do the opposite - it all depends on the message. Too much heat and people will want to discuss rearranging chairs or getting to the meeting early to get a "good seat." Too little heat and people will focus on how uncomfortable their chair is and not pay attention.

Next time you walk into a room and feel a desire to pick a seat or change the set-up, take a moment to reflect WHY. It could be for hidden or obvious reasons. Do you have a message you want to share or deflect? Do you want to lead the adaptive challenge or the technical challenge? It's up to you...

Carrie Leising serves as a development officer for Concorida University Texas. She has a Masters in Not-for-Profit Management from the University of San Diego. You can contact her at

Saturday, October 9, 2010

lead by example

Earlier this week, I was asked when I would be writing my next blog by my good friend and consistent blog-reader Carrie Leising. Having a busy week, I asked if she would ghostwrite this week's blog for me. Her thoughts below were both humbling and inspiring to me - I hope they prove to be a learning tool for you...

Don Christian leads by example when he writes his column for his blog every Friday. When he missed a Friday, I asked him about it and he asked nme to ghostwrite one for him because I am an avid reader of the blog. I laughed it off, but when I woke up at 5:00 AM the next morning, it hit me on the head. I got out of bed, brewed a cup of strong coffee, and knew that I had to write about a leader who leads by exaple and is the real writer of this blog - Don Christian. Here's why...
  1. Don is ethical in what he does and goes about doing things in a transparent manner. It is important that leaders remain ethical at all times because they are being watched and observed in both positive and negative lights daily, even hourly.
  2. He's dedicated to the message of leadership and his work. His personal mission in life is Christian education and this permeates everything that he does at Concordia University. A leader has a passion for what they do and they do it well.
  3. He does what he say he's going to do. Concordia University's MBA program has been in the works for many months. Then, just last month, the program came to fruition and is off to a great start with 40 students. Don's leadership effort and that of those around him made this program a reality. Don set the example for others to follow.
  4. He constantly reads...on leadership, on life's greatest works, both ficton and non-fiction alike. Reading strengthens leaders and pushes them to grow in wisdom, in perspective, and to think critically of the world around them. Check out the right-hand column of this blog for some titles to whet your reading appetite.
  5. He genuinely listens. In leadership, hearing the message is critical. Often, leaders miss hearing the true message. Listening is critical to success and building relationships that leaders need.
  6. He consistently builds people up. Teaching students and others around him (and by writing this blog), he is an example of how leaders can influence others by doing so with positive reinforcement and support.
  7. He has time boundaries. Leaders know how to make good use of their time and respect other's time. It forces leaders to effectively share a message efficiently.
  8. He has good timing. Leaders know when the right time is to approach certain topics or messages and push them through to the constituents or audiences that need to hear it most. Don is an advocate of Christian education and developing Christian leaders and his timing is impeccable when it comes to sharing that with others.
  9. When he has a message to share, he shares it with the right people or delegates it to others to spread to the right people, i.e. his askig me to write this column for this week. Thus, I am finding myself suddenly immersed in following his example and hopefully leading others to do the same.
  10. Don also knows when he can't do it all. It's important for leaders to remain humble and gracious, while recognizing their own strengths and weaknesses. Relying on others, like asking me to write this blog, is a smart way of continuing the dialogue on leadership within our community.

Thank you, Don, for the opportunity to share my bit on leading by example. I hope it has fulfilled you and your reader's Friday morning dose of inspiration on leadership. Ghostwriting isn't so bad after all...

Carrie Leising serves as a development officer at Concordia University Texas where she been for almopst three years. She has a MBA in not-for-profit management from the University of San Diego.

Friday, September 17, 2010

forgiveness as a leadership tool

I had a phenomenal experience yesterday in class where I had to ask forgiveness from a student, and when he replied "don't worry about it" we as a class had a 15 minute dialogue around the ability to say "I forgive you" and how powerful those words are in a leadership position. I believe most people are afraid to say "I forgive you" because they think that those words nullify any consequences that should follow the inappropriate behavior. But perhaps one of the great things I have personally practiced...and that I teach my students to say are the words "I forgive you AND you're fired" (or fill in the approriate consequence).

The power of forgiveness lies in the fact that through those words realtionships can be healed and people can be freed from their guilt. The consequences will still follow (if you embezzle money from the organization, and upon being caught show true remorse, I will forgive you AND fire hope is that you will know you are forgiven and can then move on with your life in a new position). If leadership is about people and influence, then I need to be a person who understands the need for people to be FREE in their lives - and carrying around guilt will keep one burdened in a way that will never allow them to live out their gifts.

This begins in simple ways:
  1. a report is late in getting to your desk - your colleague says they are sorry it is late - you look at them and decide to say "I forgive you." It may seem silly, but imagine the impact it has on that individual.
  2. a spouse says a harsh word - as soon as it is out of their mouth they say "I'm sorry" - your first response can be "I forgive you" - imagine the differnece that can make in a relationship.
  3. a co-worker speaks a harsh word about you behind your back - you hear about it and confront them. When they apologize, you look at them and say "I forgive you AND is there anything I am doing that caused you to say that?" Imagine the rich conversation that can take place at that moment.
  4. one of your reports is abusive in their relationship to another employee - when their behavior doesn't change, they are put on notice. Finally you have to terminate them from their position. They come to your office in tears realiziung now that their behavior was inappropriate, and ask for another chance. You look at them and respond with "I forgive you AND I have to let you go because of the hurt you have caused others in this organziation and your continued behavior does not show that you have the ability at this point to make the necessary changes." Imagine the effect this can have on the worker - AND on the organization itself.

So how are you at saying those three words? Take time right now to say them outloud - see how they sound - practice them while driving in your your shower...while mowing the yard. And the next time someone says "I'm sorry" be sure to pause and remember to say "I forgive you." Imagine what might happen...

Friday, September 10, 2010

leading with a mirror

I find that there are many times I complain about how others lead, but often forget to complain about how I lead. I live in a world in which I believe my decisions are (or would be) best - and wonder why other make the decisions they do. I see my actions as heroic - and others' actions as dimwitted. I think that my ability to bring people along is a fine-tuned skill, honed by multiple years of experience - and watch others fail to even communicate with those who are under their care. I look upon my ability to get things done as almost superhuman - and wonder why others seem lost in a paper bag.

Of course, I hope I also have sense enough to know that others feel the same way about themselves - and me. It is our narcissistic tendency to believe the best about ourselves and the worst about others. Somehow the mirror I look into only reflects what I want to see, not what I should be seeing. I often wonder how others have seemed to purchase the same mirror. So what is a leader to do? How can we get and use the right mirror which gives us a true reflection of how we lead?

Perhaps the answer lies in a two fold manner - first, having a mechanism in which to do honest gut checks with ones self; and second in having another person who is constantly checking to make sure the leader is using the correct mirror. Honest gut checks are often difficult to perform. Using a leadership assessment tool is often just a glorified mirror in which I self report about all the great things I am doing and how I believe others see me. Journaling is often no more than a reflection of the great things I do and the lousy things others do. Going off on a retreat and being silent helps reinforce the narcissistic mirror I might already be using. Listening to what others have to say about you often puts followers in a spot in which they will also reinforce the use of the "bad" mirror.

Having another person whom one relies on to give honest feedback can be tricky - should this be a good friend (do you really want your best friend to tell you about the lousy job you are doing)?; should this be a hired coach (why would I pay all that money to have someone tell me how bad I really am)?; should it be one's spouse (do I really need to hear about my faults at the end of the day)?; what about one's supervisor (and when my promotion is on the line, is this really the person I want examining what I fail to do each day)?

So what do we do? I suppose it is a combination of all the above, as well as having the ability to be emotionally honest with one's self and begin by admitting they might be wrong (this could be the start of a "leaders anonymous" group). The other day I walked into a colleague's office, incredibly upset about several decisons that had recently been made. I was ready to charge forward and try to fix the situation (even though it was not my situation to fix). I walked in and said, "I need a gut check" and proceeded to tell him what was going on. Throughout the conversation I kept saying "I might be wrong" and at times he confirmed that yes, I might be wrong - and at other times confirmed that I might be right. My ability to admit I might be wrong - and his counsel - all helped to settle me down and make a better decision.

There is no definite answer here...perhaps the greatest tool one can have to be sure they are using the right mirror is to recognize that in a position of leadership, it is often easier to use the wrong mirror that it is the right one. If I know that...if I remember that...if I recognize the times I tend to use one or the other...if I have someone to help me remember to use the right one...if I force myself to pull out the right mirror on a regular basis...if I am able to look into that mirror and believe what I see and then act on it - perhaps then my leadership can have a stronger and more positive impact on the people I lead and the institution to which I have been called.

So...which mirror have you looked into recently? Are you leading with the wrong mirror - or the right mirror? And what are you doing to be sure you are using the right one on a more regular basis?

Friday, September 3, 2010

gracious leadership

The other day I sent a note to a group of people thanking them for thier graciousness during a time of transition. One of the members of that group (and a frequent reader of this blog) suggested I write about "gracious leadership" - and what that might look like in an organization. I have been contemplating that idea for about 24 hours, so bear with me as I "think out loud" about gracious leadership.

The idea of being gracious sounds as if I am hosting a dinner party, and my goal is to be a gracious host. I imagine that one who is gracious is "full of grace" - and that has incredible implications for leadership. Leaders who are full of grace might:
  • think before they speak - how many times do those first words out of one's mouth end up hurting someone? Emotionally aware leaders will put the brakes on, especially if they know they tend to be sarcastic or "witty." Begin gracious in one's speech sometimes means not speaking what you think, but speaking words that build up another's countenance.
  • consider asking another's opinion - there is a built-in mechanism in most organziations that assumes those who have a title have more information with which to make better decisions. Gracious leaders will go to those who are closest to the issue and ask for their ideas and opinions - and invite them to be a part of the decision making process
  • be quiet and listen - I think that gracious leaders are the ones who think about asking really good questions, and then shut up and listen - really listen. Allowing others to talk and engage in the thinking process is truly an act of grace, because it invites people into an enriching dialogue, not a one-way discussion
  • not assume they are always right - one of the phrases I like to teach my students to be able to say is "I might be wrong." This is a powerful statement, as it shows vulnerability and allows others to perhaps be right, once again enriching the conversation
  • allow for flexibility in his or her co-workers - there is so much more to life than work, and understanding that shows graciousness on the part of the leader. Acting on that understanding moves the leader to the next level
  • always see the best in people - I believe that God has gifted everyone with a set of gifts, talents and skills, and that people truly want to use those in their lives. Helping others uncover and use those gifts can make a world of difference in an organization, as people are freed to live out their calling where God has placed them
  • be a person of forgiveness - being able to say the words' I forgive you" may be one of the hardest things leaders have to do, because there is an assumption that in saying those words, there will be no accountability for actions that harm the organization. Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book The Cost of Discipleship talks about "cheap grace" - grace that has no accountability or cost. I would say the same of forgiveness - cheap forgiveness can only do harm to an individual and an institution. A gracious leader is able to forgive and hold accountable, specifically because they are gracious

So how does one become a gracious leader? I think it begins with oneself - do I understand (really understand) how God has been gracious toward me...and can I then be gracious toward myself? Am I comfortable with my own gifts and I able to listen to myself...can I accept that I am wrong from time to time...can I look at my own work and see it as good...can I be flexible in my personal there balance in my own life? As one comes to understand this aspect of self-leadership, they can then move into leading others in a gracious manner.

Special thanks to my friend Carrie for nudging me to write about this topic. I think that perhaps she has shown me gracious leadership by seeing that I should - and could - write about this topic. It's my prayer that she - and others - will set an example of gracious leadership among their co-workers and through that process create a gracious organization. Now doesn't that sound like a cool place to work?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

when leaders can't lead

As I considered what to name this blog, I vacilated between using the word "can't" and "won't." I suppose that the word "can't" implies the inability to do so, either through lack of knowledge or resources. The idea behind "won't" is that someone has the knowledge and resources and willfully chooses not to use them in their leadership role. Once this blog is finished, I will leave it up to the reader to decide which term may be the most appropriate...

How many times during the course of one's career do people observe a leader who continues to do things that defy the imagination? How one treats people...the decisions one makes...the policies one enacts...the lack of decisive action when needed...the inapproriate comments and behaviors...the unwillingness to listen...the unwillingness to use people's passions and gifts...the stupid things one says and does...and like most of the other lists in my blogs, this one too could go on and on.

When I observe these types of behaviors in people who have been placed in leadership positions (note the difference between leaders and people placed in leadership positions) I do not know if they are incapable of acting in a manner that for all intentional purposes is the exact opposite of what leaders should be doing - or if they choose in the moment to wilfully act in that manner. It does not make any sense to me that a mature person, who has the ability to read and observe other leaders, would behave in such a manner that would be degrading to individuals and harm an organization. I am not talking about leaders making mistakes - that happens all the time. I have lost my temper...I have made bad decisions...I have acted in my own interest rather than that of the organization...but I beleive they are few and far between - they are, what we would call, lapses or mistakes. What we all observe from time to time are those people in leadership positions who consistently and wilfully make decisions that hurt people and the organization. And for most of these people, I assume (and I could be wrong here) that they have been told about these behaviors, and yet they stil continue to function in this manner. Someone please help me understand this phenomenon...

So here is what I think - and then I will share what may be done:

  • I think that many people move forward in their careers by behaving badly, but that it does not hurt others or the organization because either a) they are so low on the organizational chart that no one notices or cares as long as the work gets done; or b) they are lone rangers who are incredibly successful and their organization (or industry) is afraid to hold them accountable for fear they may leave
  • I think that often times people are rewarded for results, and that the bad behavior becomes tolerated, which then becomes part of the culture, which then becomes institutionalized. How can a leader who behaves badly be called to account when that is the way other people in leadership positions behave within the organization?
  • I think that some people just don't know any better - they were treated this way in the past and that is the only way they know how to function in a leadership role (we all know of parents who abuse their children because they were abused as a child)
  • I think for many people in ledership positions it may be scary to change their behavior - they have built their reputation on a certain way of behaving (and many times wear it as a badge of honor) and to ask them to change seems to them an impossibility

So what can be done?

  • Leaders need to be held accountable - when they behave badly someone needs to stand up to them and hold out the mirror. If the person holding the mirror needs protection, then the organization should provide that in some shape or form
  • Leaders need to learn - no one shuld be beyond improving their leadership skills and abilities. I wonder how many leaders who won't/can't lead have attended serious leadership training and development courses recently?
  • Leaders need to focus on people - while those in leadership positions are held accountable to results, they should also be accountable to people. At the end of the day, all an organization has is it's people - and they need to be taken care of and handled in a way that builds them up and uses their gifts
  • Organizations need to know the results of a leader's bad behavior - when someone leaves an organziation because of bad leadership, that person needs to let the organization know - so that others may not need to suffer in a similar position.
  • Build a culture that holds leaders accountable for their actions, not just their results - if an organization believes that people are important, then those in leadership positions need to act in a manner that supports that value.

All this being said, there are those leaders who often "suffer in silence." Becasue they play by the rules...because they put people first...because they do not bully others...because they are making decisions that are for the good of the organization AND its people...because they are constantly learning how to improve themselves...because they can say "I may be wrong"...they often get overshadowed by those who can't/won't lead. I believe that these leaders need recognition for what they do - and for who they are...they should receive the necessary resources needed for their departments...they should receive the acknowledgement that they deserve...they should be listened to more closely than others...and they should be the ones of whom it will be said, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

Friday, July 30, 2010

confronting with the truth

It may be the most difficult thing in the world to do - to look someone in the eye and confront them with the truth (or at least the truth as you perceive it to be at that moment). Over the past several days, I have come across several incidents (some directly related to me...others that I heard about through the grapevine) that I believed needed to be dealt with in a quick and truthful manner. The problem was that to do so would have put people in the awkward position of looking someone in the eye and confronting them with something they said or did. OUCH!

But here's the problem...if the person and their actions are not confronted, then it goes without saying that the action is permissible within the organization. If I decide that it is okay to trash a fellow worker openly and publicly, without any type of reprimand or acknowledgement that doing so is inapproriate, then others will believe that they too can engage in that type of behavior, and soon it becomes a part of the culture. Confronting people with the truth when they act outside the bounds of what is right and acceptable becomes a way to build a strong (positive) culture - and that is one of the roles of a leader. Not confronting the person with their action allows the culture to become weak (negative) and soon everyone believes that any type of action is not only allowable and tolerable, but becomes "the way we do things around here."

So just how can one become a master of confronting others with the truth so as to build a strong culture? Here are a few thoughts from someone (me) who has had to do this, but never likes to do so...
  1. Be careful...when you hear about the innaproriate behavior, ask yourself if the behavior is truly wrong for the organization, or if it is just something that pushes one of your own personal buttons.
  2. Be careful...ask a lot of questions of what you see and hear to be sure that the behavior really happened the way you saw and/or heard about it. It can be very damaging to confront someone with the truth when it is NOT the truth.
  3. Be careful...sometimes you may need to confront without knowing all the facts. I will begin those conversations with, "I heard/saw this and I need to know if it is the truth or not. If so, we need to have a discussion about it...if not, then I need that information to go back to the source and let them know they were wrong." It is always a good idea to believe the best rather than assume the worst when having to confront someone with the truth.
  4. Be careful...and couch your words in "organizational" terms. I try to point out how someone's actions and behavior hurts not only individuals, but also the organization. In a recent inscident where I confronted someone over a social media posting, I had the opportunity to talk about the responsibilities one has to the organization when choosing to use social media and other forms of communication.
  5. Be careful...check your own motives and feelings. Are you excited to do this? Is this going to be an "I gotcha" event for you? Are you relishing the moment you get to confront with the truth? If so, STOP and wait. This should be a very difficult conversation for you, because you are holding up a mirror to others of their own wrongdoing. A wise man once said to me that when firing someone becomes too easy (or too fun) it is time to get out of that position, because you have lost your ability to care for people.
  6. Be careful...but be BOLD. This is no time or place for the faint of heart. You cannot and should not shirk your repsonsibility to confront - that is the calling of the leader as "keeper of the culture." Go to that person, look them in the eye, and state why you are there. Be sure to practice beforehand what you plan to say, and then say it.
  7. Be careful...and be quiet. Once you have stated what you need to say, let the other person talk. They may have another side of the story you did not know...they may be so ashamed they do not know what to say...they may need the time to find words to ask for forgiveness...they may need time to collect their thoughts as to how to respond. Give them that time - and be gracious as you listen to their reponse.
  8. Be careful...and be willing to forgive. When the mirrior is held up to someone in which they see their action for what they really were, that is the the moment when they might confess their wrongdoing and ask for forgiveness. At that point do NOT say, "that's okay" or "be sure it never happens again" or "don't worry about it." Say these powerful words - "I forgive you." And then stop. No need to follow up with "don't let it happen again," or "I'll be watching." Let them know of any consequences that may occur as a result of their behavior (memo in file, need to meet with another person to explain) but do not heep more fire on the situation with threats or demands.

I hope that most of us do not find ourselves in situations where these type of conversations have to take place on a regular basis. However, if the environment in whihc you find yourself today is a bit toxic, then I encourage you to start having these conversations - and watch what happens. After confronting a few people with the truth, it is my guess you will find yourself doing it less and less because you are building that culture in which people behave in a way consistent with the norms of the organization. And that makes for a healty (positive) workplace...or board...or church...or school...or even one's home.

Friday, July 23, 2010

when the obvious is not so obvious

This past week I came across a decison made at my university that I thought was a poor decision - the right answer seeemed so obvious to me, and yet the decsion was made that seemed to make little or no sense. As I contemplated the disconnect between what I believed to be the obvious decision - and the decision that was ultimately made - I wondered to myself "who is wrong in this or the other person?" So I began to explore some other questions that might help me understand the disconnect I was experiencing:Bulleted List

  • what might they know that I do not know?
  • am I the only one experiencing this disconnect, or do others feel the same way?
  • why am I feeling this disconnect - what is driving my reasoning behind this?
  • since this decision is not in the realm of my own job description, why am I even caring?
  • if what I percieve to be obvious is not so obvious to the person making the decision, what part of the decision making process is not so obvious to that person (or to me)?
  • what is it that might drive someone to make a decision opposite of what I believe that even they should perceive as obvious?
  • how many times do I make a decision which seems obvious to me - but is probably perceived by others as a wrong decision?
  • are there ways to make my decision making process more transparent so that those who do not understand why I make certain decisions will be able to understand why I made the decision I did?

When I see a decision made that seems so "wrong" in my own eyes, my first impluse is to go and let that person know that I believe the decision they made was wrong. For some reason, I believe that my decision making process must be superior to their decision making process, and that if they would only listen to me they could change their decision and do the right thing. I learned long ago that going to that person to express my opinion often does little or no good. Even if it is done with good intentions (for whose good?) I will probably be perceived as a "know-it-all" and will lose respect and trust with that person. I do believe there are times when one has the right - and responsibility - to ask for a clarification of why a decision has been made...but am also discovering that it should truly be for clarification, not because I believe it is a wrong decision (that's a fine line that will most often show up in how the question is asked). This is especailly true when the decision really does not affect what I am paid to do and does not interfere with the day-to-day living out of my vocation.

As I ramble through the writing of this blog, I have come to realize that this is the dilemma of most everyone in any organization - or any relationship. How many times during the day does one say "What were they thinking?" Often, we will never know...sometimes it might be best NOT to know - and at other times, it will be best to actually inquire and seek to understand the other person's thinking. What is obvious to me may not be so obvious to someone else...and what is obvious to them may not seem so obvious to me. I suppose that is what makes relationships - and organizations - so much fun to be a part of. As someone once said, if the two of us always think alike, then there is no need for both of us. Thank God for differences.

In the meantime, I will continue to wonder why that particular decision was made...and wrestle with the ambiguity that exists within me. And if I am ever in a place to make a similar decision...well, I better wait until I am there to decide what I will do.

Friday, July 16, 2010

the need to read

I recently returned from a four week vacation on the coast of Maine, where the orders of the day include a lot of reading - I prepare months finding the right books, deciding what to read and how much time to devote to my reading. Each year, my wife and I ship up a box of books that will occupy us for the time we are at our summer haven. This year, the box was lost in the we had to use local resources like the library, the used book stores, and our good friends at I ended up reading Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged; more recently published books including both The Secret Life of Henrietta Lacks and An Organic Manifesto; Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses; Gibert Martin's 1000-page biography Winston Churchill: A Life; and the first two volumes of Marcel Proust's 6 volume epic novel In Search of Lost Time. It was a good vacation as it allowed me to read several tomes I had been putting off for awhile.

Returning from vacation put me back into the "read when I can find time" mode, which always has me reading several books at one time. As I looked at the stack of books on my present reading list, I was struck by the fact that I tend to read in areas in which I am presently involved. The following list will tell you more about what I am presently thinking about and doing:
  • Business Leadership: A Jossey-Bass Reader...preparing for teaching in The Concordia MBA
  • The Effective Executive in Action (Drucker)...attempting to change how I lead and manage the multiple programs and people in the College of Business
  • Afghanistan: A Military History (Tanner)...all of our Freshman are reading The Kite Runner as they come to campus this fall
  • Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities (Nussbaum)...CTX is going through a curriculum transformation and defining how a liberal arts education shapes our students
  • Mere Christianity (CS Lewis)...trying to understnad how the cardinal virtues shape leadership
  • Ulysses (James Joyce)...began this book toward the end of vacation and trying to finish it as this point

Someone coined the phrase "leaders are readers" (and the other truth that "not all readers are necessarily leaders"). I believe that's true as reading allows one to learn and to enter the world of others. I am a firm believer that great literature - especailly great fiction - allows the reader to more fully understand the human dilemma, and become more empathetic through the process. Reading great fiction is engrossing - and fully transports the reader to a different time and place...and yet, it is most often one's own time and place also. To read Proust is to look into one's own read Tolstoy is to know that we too can experience the same issues and read Steinbeck is to catch a glimpse of how others survive the drama of life. Reading this type of literature is not easy - nor is it always relaxing - but it is rewarding. So...what are you reading right now?

Friday, June 4, 2010

two heads are better...

Last week's post on convening people brought a few comments from others, mostly in terms of how important it is to be able to have the power and authority to do so. Within an organization, there are few people who can say to a random group, "let's get together to solve this issue," and have everyone show up. However, there is nothing that can keep two people from meeting over lunch or breakfast or even in the hallway to problem solve and think through issues. My mom always used to tell me that "two heads are better than one," and I think I am beginning to believe her.

This past week has been a seies of "two-headed" meetings. I took a trip to Houston to meet with friends of the Univeristy where I was able to pick their brains and ask for advice...I had lunch with an Advisory Board member where we brainstormed on different ways of mentoring students...I then met with a colleague over a glass of beer to flesh out the details of an upcoming training. Each meeting produced great ideas and much better results than if I had tried to figure out the issues by myself. Which again reminded me that two heads really are better than one.

The picture of the "lonely leader" at the top does not need to be a reality in today's world. While many still hold to the fallacy that the leader has all the answers, more and more people understand the importance of collaboration and bringing ideas together from multiple resources. I have found that people like to be asked their ideas - and if framed in such a way that their ideas really do matter, they are ready to contribute their best thinking. And that's the key to bringing two heads together - making sure that it is not a one-way conversation, but truly a bringing together of the minds. How can that be done? Read on...
  • Someone needs to initiate the conversation - is there a problem that needs to be solved? Go and find someone and ask their opinion on it.
  • Before asking someone their opinion, consider the question you want to ask - be sure that the question appropriately frames the problem so that the answers you get are actually directed to your problem (beware that this may be the most difficult part of this process - asking the RIGHT question is the key to getting the right answer).
  • Find an appropriate time - set an appointment, or take them to lunch, or meet them for a cup of coffee, or if you happen to see them in the hallway, graciously ask if they have 10 minutes to give you. What you need at this point is undivided attention.
  • Begin the conversation by setting the context - a question asked without context might provide an answer that doesn't get at the heart of the issue. Tell your story - what was it that led up to the question you are asking. Don't expect the other person to be familiar with your particular situation.
  • After asking the quetion, shut up and listen. The other person may need some time to formulate their ideas - graciously give them that time without filling in the dead space - you may even say to them, "take your time and think - I am in no rush."
  • As the conversation progresses, you may want to offer a few of your own ideas, which will a) spark new ideas with them; or b) confirm your own thinking on the matter. A naturally flowing conversation can lead to some great thinking over time.
  • Take written notes - for two reasons: 1) it helps you to remember what they are saying and any action items you might need to follow up on; and 2) it says to the other person that what they are saying is important enough for you to write down.
  • When all is said and done, be sure to thank the person. A note the next day is also very much appreciated. And if you implement their idea, be sure to send another note letting them know what has happened and that without the time they gave you, it may never have come to fruition.

I know that there will be many times people have to make decisions on their own...when the time crunch will force only your own best thinking...when the decision has to be made by the one person in charge...when the privacy of the matter allows for little if any interaction with others. But for me, it has always been better to ask others their opinions and thoughts...because what my mother told me is true - two heads really are better than one.

Friday, May 28, 2010

power to convene

This past week saw me calling together 3 different meetings of various peoples - meetings that were not regularly set but came up as a result of having to dialogue and/or make decisions. I even had the pleasure (?) of being referered to as the "King of Convening" - not quite sure what that meant, but I think it had something to do with a) thinking convening is a good thing; and b) actuallly being able to get people to come together and talk. I had read somewhere earlier in my career that one of the benefits of being in a leadership position is that one has the power to convene others. I think that is very true, because when someone can bring people together to talk, they are actually facilitating communication and, from my experience, those who facilitate good communication are "gods." People are always complaining about communication - I think what they are really saying is that they do not know what is going on, they want some say, and they want some decisions. What better way to do that than to bring people face-to-face for dialogue and discussion.

This blog contains 2 parts: first - how to convene people; and second - what to do when they are convened. Read on...

Convening people requires several things:
  • a mindset that believes bringing people together to talk about issues is a good thing
  • a willingness to step up and ask people to come together
  • the ability to define or reframe the important question that needs to be answered
  • a knowledge of what the multiple people in any organization do, have authority for, what their talents and gifts are, and what they are passionate about
  • the freedom to invite people to a meeting (or the ability to get permission to invite people to a meeting)
  • the willingness to say "I don't know the answer to this problem, but I believe collective wisdom can get at a solution"

When convening people, the meeting should include:

  • a time frame - people are busy and want to know what the time commitment will be (be sure to STICK to the promised time frame)
  • an agenda - people want to know why they are coming together and what is to be accomplished - be sure to frame the question well and set out how you believe the process will work toward answering the question - give assignments beforehand if people need to bring something with them
  • an optimistic atmosphere - give people hope that their time spent together can actually arrive at a solution or answer
  • others talking, not you - the convener is there to listen and observe, not to pontificate. Refrain from doing all the talking and listen to others, asking clarifying questions
  • a good "wrap-up" - this includes what was decided, what the next steps include, and who is responsible for what
  • follow-up - people want to kow that the time they spent was worthwhile and what happened as a result of that time - communicate with them afterwards

I do love convening people - I love the interaction that takes place, the problem solving that occurs, and the good feeling people have by working together. If that's a part of leadership, then count me in!

Friday, May 21, 2010


According to one of the books I have used in my Introduction to Business course, one of the functions of a manger is to "control." In my world, that means that the manager has to make sure that what he or she plans to have happen actually happens. Makes perfect sense to me - part of what I do in the classroom when I assess student performance...and part of what I do as a Dean when I assess program performance. However, I think there are many in management and leadership positions who have other definitions of control...

My first thought (and I am pretty sure many others' first thoughts) when hearing the word "control" have to do with controlling people's behaviors...and specifically controlling people's behaviors so that they comply with the behavior that the manager/leader determine to be the correct behavior (I hope you followed all of that). I think that when managers/leaders move into controlling behavior in this manner, they have moved into a parental role, i.e. "I know better than you do because I am wiser and more fully comprehend the bigger picture...therefore, since you are unable to make wise decisions, I will make them for you and you will comply - if you do not comply, then you will be punished." I do not know about you, but when I hear/understand/see the term "control" in that way, I begin to cringe and get upset. Ultimately, if this type of "control" continues, I either 1) comply grudingly; or 2) rebel - neither of which brings out my best work for the organization.

There are multiple ways that managers/leaders exercise this type of control over (yes, over) others:
  • large group lectures
  • one-way memos
  • performance reviews
  • hallway passbys
  • group emails
  • policies

Some of the above tactics are unofficial, and are able to generate some discussion or leave some wiggle room. Others are more official, and leave little or no room for discussion or interpretation. Most "proclamations" are often done with little input from those whom they most affect or have to implement them. Please understand that I am not saying that managers/leaders should never make decisions or ask people to do things they may not want to do; what I am saying is that when these decisions are made to control people's behavior as a parent would control a child, then there are issues with which to deal.

So how can managers/leaders be more effective in making sure things happen in an effective/efficient/orderly manner? Here are a few ideas:

  • before making policy/proclamation, ask yourself WHY it is being made...can it be fully explained that will make sense to those whom it will most effect?
  • before making policy/proclamation, ask yourself if you are doing this to curb the behavior of a few or of many...if of a few, ask yourself if it would make more sense to go to those people and ask them individually to make changes
  • before making policy/proclamation, consider whether you REALLY can control this behavior...there are some things that just can't be controlled, no matter how strong of a policy is written - then find a way to be comfortable with this reality
  • before making policy/proclamation, ask yourself if this is really good for the organization, or is it something that is just pushing your personal buttons...and be brutally honest about this one
  • before making policy/proclamation, consider the poeple whom it might most affect and then go and ask them their opinion of it...and REALLY listen to their input - this is a great time to help them understand your thinking and they may give you even better ideas with which to address the issue

I have found that most policies/proclamations are made as knee-jerk reactions to one or two people's problems - we tend to make policies/proclamations for the few rather than the many. I have also found that most policies/proclamations are written to be limiting toward action rather than expansive...and will often frustrate the best people of the organization rather than motivate them. And my guess is that the few people for whom the policy/proclamation is made will still find ways to subvert the requested action...while the best people in the organization will spend extra time trying to comply because they are the ones who always want what is best for the organization.

So consider the last policy you wrote or proclamation you what do you have to do to fix the problems it may have caused?

Friday, May 14, 2010

noting excellence

Yesterday I commented to a colleague that I did not know what I was going to blog about today. When I opened the paper this morning, I was reminded that one of my own colleagues, Dr. Larry Meissner, was one of 15 state-wide recipients to receive the Minnie Stevens Piper Professor Award this year. Imagine - out of the thousands (tens of thousands?) of faculty in Texas Universities, Larry Meissner was recognized for his excellence in teaching. Larry has been at Concordia University for 37 years, and is one of those individuals whom everyone loves. He is a great teacher, he is passionate, he is compassionate, he is...what is it that makes him so amazing?

Napolean made the comment at one time that "leaders are dealers in hope." It would be easy to write about how Larry (Dr. Meissner to those of us who revere him) is a leader and dealer in hope. But today, I want to focus on how leaders should be recognizing and noting EXCELLENCE, such as the type displayed by Larry (excuse me, Dr. Meissner) over these many years. So what does excellence look like? Leaders should be on the lookout for these characteristics:
  • positive outlook
  • hard work
  • new ideas always popping up
  • dedication to the organization
  • ability to maneuver between hierarchies
  • someone to whom others listen
  • someone who recognizes greatness in others
  • committed to the values and ideals of the institution
  • always prepared
  • willingness to say "yes" to multiple requests
  • enagement with multiple constituencies
  • deep commitment to those the organization serves
  • willingness to hold others accountable (both up and down the food chain)
  • deeply held personal convictions
  • ability to laugh and tell a good joke

This listing of "characteristics of excellence" is really a listing of Dr. Meissner's characteristics...and yet, they exemplify excellence in any organization or institution. These are the type of people who help move an organization forward...these are the type of people who make the lives of leaders easier...these are the type of people who best represent an institution...these are the type of people on whom leaders NEVER lose any sleep.

My fear is that these are also the type of people who never get the attention/recognition/reward they deserve. While leaders spend their time worrying about those who make trouble...or those who harm the organization...or those who need to be trained...or those who are still to come to an organization (how many "possible" organization charts go unfilled?) - the Dr. Meissner's of the world go unnoticed, unrewarded, and unrecognized. It is time to step up and NOTE THE EXCELLENCE that these people bring to the organization or institution, through such actions as:

  • financial reward (beyond the regular raises that everyone gets)
  • vacation reward (beyond the regular vacation that everyone gets)
  • development reward (beyond the yearly conference everyone else gets to go to)
  • time reward (to develop the newest idea these people of excellence often have)
  • food reward (a celebration of excellence at the finest restaurant)
  • peer reward (noting one's excellence in front of their peers)
  • book reward ($1000.00 gift card to Border's - how cool would that be?)
  • longevity reward (beyond the regular recognition everyone gets)
  • special reward (something out of the clear blue that no one expects)

While this blog is my attempt to remind myself and others to recognize and reward excellence, it is also my personal tribute to my friend and colleague, Dr. Larry attempt to note excellence on the campus of Concordia University Texas...and my attempt to say to Dr. Larry Meissner, "Well done, good and faithful servant." Thanks for being a model of excellence for me and so many others!

Friday, May 7, 2010

paying attention...or not

Leaders know that they are supposed to pay attention to people. Much of the literature on management and leadership describes ways in which one can pay attention to others - listening, walking around, noticing good work, feedback, compliments, etc...very basic Management 101 kind of stuff. But I had an AHA moment this week when I realized that it was okay NOT to pay attention to some people. I felt a bit guilty telling myself that at first, but quickly realized it was the only way I could be a good steward of the time I have been given in a leadership role. Let's explore some of the reasons why this might be important:
  • there is only so much time in any given day - deciding to whom I will pay attention...or not helps me organize my day and time
  • there is only so much energy I have to give to others - deciding to whom I will give that energy...or not allows me to pour myself into the right people for the growth of the organization
  • there is only so much stress I can withstand in any given period of time - deciding about whom I will worry...or not keeps my stress level manageable at any given time
  • there are only so many resources the organization has in its budget - deciding on whom to spend those resources...or not allows me to plan for the growth of those who will best move the organization forward

Typing those words were not easy for me - I like to be liked and I believe that all people are worthy of being loved and cared for. However, if the leader's role is to steward the organization for the future of its stakeholders, then it becomes necessary to pay attention to those items - and those poeple - on whom the organization will be built.

So who are the people to whom I will choose not to pay attention? Here is a short list that I believe can help leaders make these decisions more quickly:

  • people who just don't get it...after you have tried and tried to help them understand the misison and vision of the organization and what you are trying to do, and no changes are taking place, it's time to stop paying attention
  • people who choose to treat you and others badly...why should I be worried about those who do not know how to play nicely in the sandbox? If their mothers never taught them how to do this, why should I believe I can make a difference?
  • people who believe they know it all...if that is the case, my job of providing an environment in which they can improve and help the organization is over, and its time to stop paying attention
  • people who do not trust me...if I have been a leader of integrity and done what is right for others, and they still cannot trust me, then it is time to stop paying attention to them - they never will trust me (or anyone else for that matter)
  • people who are self-centered...if it is all about them, and not about others - and especially not about the organization in which they work - then it is time for me to stop paying attention to them and focus on those who care about others and the organization
  • people who are more worried about their pay/position than they are about the quality of their work or the mission of the organization...I think that says it all

In a perfect world, most of these types of people should be gone from the organization. Reality is that either a) I have little or no say in whether they stay or go; or b) they fulfill a necessary function for which the organization has no replacement at that time. You will notice that the above list does not mention incompetence. Many people whom I choose not to pay attention to are very competent in the task to which they have been assigned - they just don't get it when it comes to the bigger picture of things. And for the most part, I believe they have chosen to ignore the bigger picture of things.

Two final caveats:

  1. Most of the people I have chosen not to pay attention to are not early in their careers - this is not a case of not knowing how to do something or still in the learning/growth/maturity process. These are people who have had success in their careers, have held multiple leadership positions, have had ample opportunity for training - and still chose to behave in a manner that hurts others and the organization.
  2. As a child, when I would get upset at someone, my mother always told me, "You don't have to like them, but you have to love them." As a child of God, I look at those whom God has put in my life and I do love them - I love them as others who have been called and redeemed by God through Jesus Christ. They are a part of God's people - and I love them because of that. However, I do not like what they do - and therefore choose not to pay attention to them.

The question I ask myself each day now is to whom will I pay attention, giving them the best of my resources so that they - and the organization - will grow...and to whom will I not pay attention?

Friday, April 30, 2010

Just Talk to Me

Have you ever wanted to look at someone and say to them, "Just talk to me...just ask me a question...just make good conversation." Several times this past week, I wanted to say to those who work with me, "Just talk to me...I understand you might be stressed, busy, confused, upset...but just talk to me." Why is it so difficult for people to approach another human being and just talk to them? Here are a few thoughts:
  • when talking to others, we might be afraid of what they might say
  • when talking to others, we don't really want to admit what we did or feel
  • when talking to others, we can't control the direction of the conversation
  • when talking to others, we will have to expose ourselves, which is incredibly scary

The importance of talking with others is that misunderstandings can get cleared up very quickly - whether I have not met someone else's expectations...or they have not met my expectations - talking with them helps to clear the air and promote understanding. Talking with people allows for both parties to be heard. Talking with people builds trust. Talking with people creates community. Talking with people promotes understanding. And all of that can create a great place to work - and to live.

So how can we more regularly and successfully talk to people? A few action items:

  1. When what you experience from others does not meet your expectations, begin by believing the best. If you can't believe the best, confront quickly.
  2. In confronting quickly, do so with a spirit of inquiry, i.e. that you may not know everything and that you want to find out what really is happening.
  3. Develop a habit of asking questions rather than making statements. And WAIT for answers from others.
  4. Put away your guns when confronting others - assume they are acting in the best interest of the organization (or relationship) and follow #3 above.
  5. Put away your defense mechanisms - when others come to talk with you, listen intently and be willing to admit you might be wrong.
  6. Similar to #5, develop an attitude that says you might be wrong at times, and that in talking with people you can actually learn something.
  7. Summon the courage to talk to others, even when it feels scary. Initiating that conversation is often the hardest part - once it gets started, it becomes much easier.
  8. Prepare ahead of time - consider what you want to say, what you want the other person to know, and what questions you need to ask. In my most difficult conversations with people, I will write out exactly what I want to say and sometimes read it verbatim to them.
  9. Trust that talking to people is a good thing, and that because you have taken the first step in creating this conversation, good things will come out of it. You will, in essence, be the hero!

One quick caveat - sometimes it doesn't always work as you would like it to. There have been many times when I have attempted to talk to someone, and the conversation falls flat on its face. The problem does not get resolved and the relationship is damaged. That's the risk we take when trying to talk to someone. However, I believe the rewards are amazing, and I will risk the few times conversations go bad for the many times they go well - and life is better because of it. At work, on boards, with friends, and at just seems better to go and talk to someone.

Friday, April 23, 2010

A Generation of Paradox

I love Twitter...came across this series of paradoxes (paradoxies?) from one of my favorite thinkers on leadership among young adults - Tim Elmore. Concordia University Texas uses his text Habitudes in our Freshman Seminar Course. Leadership is about being comfortable with ambiguity - and teaching college freshman is all about ambiguity. Come to think of it, leading college faculty is all about ambiguity...come to think about it, raising a family is all about ambiguity...come to think about it, running a not-for-profit organization is all about ambiguity...come to think about it, lving life is all about ambiguity.

So read this short blog and see if you would be comfortable working with this next generation of leaders (and they WILL be the next generation fo leaders, whether you want them to or not...)

A Generation of Paradox

Friday, April 16, 2010

the art of getting things done

If you are anything like me (and you probably are since you read this blog), then you probably find yourself in the midst of the "I'm so busy" trap most of the time. Maybe it's you telling all of your best friends (or ex-best friends by this time) how busy you always are and how your are always in over your head and how there is always too much work to do...OR you're surrounded by people who come into work each day telling you how much there is to do and how they can't seem to find their way through the piles and how it never seems to slow down...OR you have a boss who is always running around trying to get things accomplished and is always running late because they are so busy and keeps asking you when all of the projects he has given you to do will get done...and the list goes on.

We seem to live in a culture where people enjoy wearing the "I'm so busy" badge of honor - and we are often the first people to award that badge of honor to others. Our new heroes are the people who are too busy. I saw a sign the other day that said something to the effect that the new generation thinks 9 to 5 is a cute idea. In a connected a fast-paced a high expectation world -- it always seems that there is too much to do, too little time, and too many demands. HOW CAN I EVER GET EVERYTHING DONE?

First philosophy...then practicality:

1. Philosophically, one must admit to themselves that they will NEVER get everyting done. There will always be more to do...more demands...more paperwork...more of everything. That's how life is. Even if we feel caught up, there is another project (or 2 or 3 or 4) looming that if we started on them now would make life easier for everyone. Accepting this fact is point #1. Point #2 is that leaders have to learn to self-prioritize. It would be great if God (or even our boss) gave us a list of priorities that if we followed would make life easy. But that is not going to happen. Being able to self-prioritize is really the ability to look at ourselves, understand what is important to us and others, and then make a decision to act on those that we feel need both immediate attention and what is important for the long haul (see Stephen Covey's Quadrant I and II issues). I believe this is a philosophical issue because it is not a check list or a calendar or an organizer or any other is a way of thinking and living. Perhaps the ability to live with ambiquity and paradox helps here.

2. Practically, there are certain ways of approaching our work and life - and actual action plans to take - that can help us get things done. I am by no means an expert on this issue, but here are a few ideas that work for me:

  • process paperwork - I find that paperwork can eat my lunch if it starts piling up. I set aside at least one day week where I have 2-3 hours to do this (sometimes less, sometimes more). If you know when you are going to do this, you can tell people when you will be getting to it, relieving stress and guilt over getting paperwork finished.
  • wake up early - I'm at the office no later than 6:30 every mnorning, giving me at least 90 minutes before anyone else really arrives and things start happening. During that time I answer emails, process paperwork, organize my day, set things out that I need later on, etc. It's quiet, peaceful, and it has become routine. The key here is routime that helps to get things done. Find your timne and stick to it.
  • block off time - there are chunks of time marked on my calendar to accomplish items that need to get done. My assistant knows those are for the most part sacred times and meetings do not necessarily take precedence over them. If I have two hours blocked off to work on a project, I spend those two hours working on that project. These chunks of time are set up in advance, giving me time ahead of due dates to get things done.
  • delegate - we all know this is important, but the reality is that leaders get to their positions for the most part becasue they don't delegate early in their lives...they DO THINGS. Now that there are multiple priorities and projects due, one must learn to give things away to others and trust them to get the job done. Major reports and projects should be the handiwork of many people.
  • set time limits - people can suck up time...and that includes ourselves. A 5-minute conversation turns into 30 minutes of chatter. It may be may be may even provide new ideas...but it takes time. Learn to master the use of the line, "I have only five minutes right now." That way, the next time someone comes into your office (or you walk into theirs), you have a better chance of only staying 5 minutes rather than 30.
  • keep a clean desk - it's difficult to say to someone "I'm so busy" when they look at your desk and see nothing on it. We can increase our "badge of honor" if our desk is piled high and have paperwork laying on our tables. I think we are afraid that a clean desk may say to people we don't have enough to do (don't ever look inside my desk drawers - they're a mess). A filing the desk at the end of the day or week...having someone else clean your desk...whatver it takes, not only will you feel less overwhelmed when you come in the next morning, but you have a sense of control and pride in your clean desk (a new badge of honor).

That's all I have time for - I'm too busy to write anymore - there is so much to do today - my boss is expecting 2 reports finished by the end of the day...see you next Friday!

Monday, April 12, 2010

leadership as a stochastic art

This weekend I finished an awesome book entitled Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the value of Work by Matthew Crawford. Crawford has his PhD in Political Philosophy from the University of Chicago - and presently owns and runs a motorcycle repair shop in Richmond, VA. Without going too deeply into his ideology of the work ethic, suffice it to say that I have a whole new respect for the plumber and carpenter who come to my home to repair that which I cannot - or chose not to. To "rank" certain vocations, or to give them names such as blue collar and white collar, does injustice to everyone and creates a society that is often less than fully functional.

That being said (and I do encourge you to read the book), Crawford speaks about the stochastic arts, referring to Aristotle who wrote, "it does not belong to medicine to produce health, but only to promote it as much as possible..." The doctor (or mechanic, in Crawford's world) deals with failure every day becasue they are only FIXING, never building or creating. They fix things not of their own making. Crawford writes, "Because the stochastic arts diagnose and fix thing that are variable, complex, and not of our own making, and therefore not fully knowable, they require a certain disposition toward the thing you are trying to fix. This disposition is at once cognitve and moral. Getting it right demands that you be attentive in the way of a conversation rather than assertive in the way of a demonstration" (p. 82).

Consider leadership as a stochastic art. Leaders lead people, none of whom they have created. Leaders lead organizations, few of which they have created. Leaders influence people, all of whom have their own worldview and understanding of how life should function. Leaders work to make change happen, all the while wondering how others will respond to that change. Leaders see a different future for their organization, a future which can only be achieved through changes in people, all of whom the leader has not created or made. People and organizations are, in Crawford's words, variable and complex...they are not fully knowable...they react on their own...they react differently in different situations...leaders cannot produce change, they can only promote it.

So consider what it means for a leader to be "attentive in the way of a conversation rather than assertive in the way of a demonstration." Skills needed to do this include listening, asking good questions, collaborating, inviting different voices to the table, observing, believing one might be wrong from time to time, letting others take the lead, being transparent, being optimistic, showing empathy, and working to develop others. As you watch other leaders (and yourself) over these next few days, see how many times these people engage in demonstration rather than conversation. When you observe one or the other, ask yourself why that happened that way - and what you can do to promote a change of behavior in that other person...or in the organization...or in yourself. If you catch yourself demonstrating rather than conversing, stop and apologize to the other person, and see if you can exhibit behavior which is more conversational than demonstrative.

Two books for you to consider and read this week:
  1. Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew Crawford (Penguin Press, 2009)
  2. Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead with Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boayatzis, and Annie McKee (Harvard Business Press, 2002)

Friday, April 2, 2010


I just now finished reading a biography of Richard J. Daley, mayor of Chicago from 1954-1976. The book, entitled American Pharoah, is both demeaning and flattering of the person known simply as "BOSS," the title of an earlier biography written by Chicago columnist Mike Royko. Growing up just outside of Chicago, many of the events and names througout the book were familir to me, having shaped my earlier years in terms of what leadership should look like.

Richard J. Daley, while known by most people for the events surrounding the 1968 Democratic Convention held in Chicago, was known in Chicago for the way he controlled the "machine" that ran Chicago politics for many, many years. Looking back on those times, I am struck by the paradox that while personally I am against any such graft or politicking, I also can see how much progress was made for the city of Chicago during these times. There is no doubt that Mayor Daley loved Chicago and its people - and did everything he could to make it a great city. The fact that he did it using policital cronyism at the expense of many others, bothers me - yet I wonder if Chicago would be the city it is today without such political behavior.

I know that it is poeple like Richard J. Daley (among many others) who give the term "acting politically" a bad name. Leaders have to be able to "act politically" to get things make things drive change. The term itself - "to act politically" - is not inherently evil. Leaders have all kinds of power to do so - and that is where the problem often lies. Having the multiple types of power available to onself can easily lead to corruption. The famous phrase - "power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely" - often makes people leery of power. Leaders who become leery of power will often refuse to use it for the good of their organizations. Not only may the not know how to act politically...they refuse to act politically, keeping their followers and their organization from moving forward and enacting significant change.

Perhaops the answer lies in Jim Collins' theory of Level 5 Leadership, which he describes as those who have the indomintable will to act coupled with intense humility. There was not much humility in Richard J. Daley's life - thought there was incredible will to act. On the other hand, we as a country witnessed great humilty from President Gerald Ford, with little or no will to act. Is there a middle ground? I certianly hope so, and I believe it can be accomplished in some of the following ways:
  • leaders need to know what the mission and vision is - and keep that as the main goal
  • leaders need to surround themselves with people of differing views, not only by what is often referred to as "yes-men"
  • leaders need to continually ask themselves whether their actions are for the greater good or for a select group of people
  • leaders need to continually self-reflect and honestly look at their own motives
  • leaders need to comfortable with the paradox of doing what is good for the institution AND taking care of people at the same time
  • leaders need to confront their own prejudices and ways of behavior, dealing honestly with actions that conflict with the mission, vision and values of the institution
  • leaders need time to be by themselves, not always surrounded by the pressure of the moment
  • leaders need to be aware of their care for "the least of these," whomever that might be in their organziations and communities

It's good to be "boss" - it's good to be in charge - it's good to act politically - it's good to have power...but it's also good to remain humble - and it's also good to build a larger base of leadership - and it's also good to act justly - and it's also good to share power. These seemingly contradictory ways of thinking are some of the hallmarks of great leadership, which can be used to move an organization forward and to act for the common good.

That being said, I just wanted to say once again that these are the type of leaders we will be developing through The Concordia MBA, which will see its inagural class begin in the fall of 2010. The first information session is scheduled for Tuesday, April 6 at 5:30 PM at Concordia University Texas. This is an exciting time for us in the College of Business. Keep us in your thoughts and prayers as we move forward in this venture.