Friday, January 29, 2010

I hate voting

Yesterday in a meeting of the Freshman Book Selection Committee, we made a final choice for this year's book - it was an exciting time as we chose the one book that all incoming freshmen would read this fall (2010). Now I can't tell you what the book is (the official "unvieling" is set for Tuesday, February 2), but I can tell you about the process - and how I was able to avoid a final "vote" - and why I hate voting.

Having served in a congregation for a long time, I would watch in pain and agony as our voter's assesmbly would discuss an issue, have someone call for a vote, pass out the ballots, go and count them in secret, and then announce the decision. While for most of the time votes were close to unanimous, it was always the big issues...the hot issues...the controversial issues in which the vote would turn out 60% for and 40% against...or even worse, 51% for 49% against. And that would be the end of the discussion. Because we had taken a "democratic" approach to the topic, everyone believed it was the right thing to do and those who "lost" now needed to fall in step. How tragic!

I now have the privilege of sitting in plenary faculty meetings where we use Robert's Rules of Order to run the meeting and make decisions. Did mention I hate voting? I hate Robert's Rules of Order even more. It may be a great method for keeping order in a large assembly - and it may help to move a process along - but it really only serves those who know the rules and are willing to raise their voice in an assembly. Discussion can be cut off at any time by someone who wants to "call the question." And again, when a vote is called for, the majority "wins" - even if it is by one vote (I know, sometimes it calls for a 2/3 vote, but that still creates "winners" and "losers").

So back to my committee (and what this has to do with leadership). We had actually voted the week before, and it came down to two books, and the final vote was 4-3. Clearly there was a "winner," but we all knew that there were strong feelings for the "loser." What were we going to do with that? As a group, we chose to sit on it for a week, come back together and talk some more. Interestingly, we ended up choosing last week's "winner," but we did so in a collegial manner through consensus rather than voting. I cold look at everyone, let them have their say, and know that we were all okay with the decision. It just felt better than a 4-3 vote.

So what does leadership have to do with this? Voting is easy - either you are for or against an idea or subject. Voting creates winners and losers - and the losers almost always will say, "I didn't vote for that, so I really don't care about it." A leader creates a shared vision, in which there cannot be winners and losers....A leader builds team, in which there cannot be winners and losers...A leader builds a sense of community, in which there cannot be winners and losers.

That being said, sometimes the leader needs to make a decision where there is an impasse, and there are many ways to do that. One way is to take a vote, but only when it is agreed by the group that everyone has had their say and that they will abide by the vote. Another way is to make the decision by oneself after having heard everyone's ideas, but only when the group knows that they will not be able to make the decision and trusts you to do that with and for them. Another way is to get someone else in the group to make the decision, but only if that person is a trusted member of the group.

So yes, I hate voting and attempt to avoid it like the plague. I will use it when it is applicable, but it will never become my modus operandi within a given group. I choose consensus, or the wisdom of the group. I choose community, or the building up and affirmation of one another. I choose to take the necessary time to come to a decision, or what some call "wait time." Choosing these things can make a big difference in one's leadership - and more important they can make a big difference in building a sense of community.

Friday, January 22, 2010

proving yourself

Do you ever find yourself having to prove to others that you are indeed pretty good at what you do and that you actually might know what you are doing? I found myself in this situation several times this past week, and realized that this thought pattern and behavior could become destructive pretty quickly, especially for one in a leadership position. Let me explain:

Not coming up through the "normal" academic ranks, I have always felt as if others might see me as not totally legitimate in my position as a Dean of a College. Perhaps I have always felt this way, especailly since most of the leadership positions I have held have been in places and situations in which I did not have much "formal" training. And yet, I have, for the most part, been successful and able to lead and move the organization to the next level. So I keep having two questions:
  1. what will it take for others to see me as a legitimate leader in my position?
  2. why do I feel this way and what will it take for me to stop feeling like this?

Perhaps it is one of the curses of leadership - leaders are often the ones thinking to themselves, "I could do that better." When given the opportunity to do "that" better, they then remember that most people following are also saying to themselves, "I could do that better." It becomes a little unsettling when you know that others are judging you...and then you remember that you were once one of them, judging whomever was leading you. Face it - if we had not been saying to ourselves (and others) " I could do that better," we would not be in the position of leadership that we are today. So here is my attempt to answer the two questions:

  1. If I expect others to see me as legitimate in my position of leadership, then I have to first of all lead (and all the implications that go with that); second, invite others to join me in my leadership; and third, find a way to let others know that they are better off because of my leadership. Of course, the irony of that is that if you have to tell others about your leadership, are you really effective as a leader? Ah, the multiple paradoxes of leadership...and of life!
  2. I think I feel this way because it just might be true - others will question my leadership capability and believe they could do a better job. And as I think about it, maybe that is a really good thing, because that means that I am helping to create other leaders. Imagine if everyone in the organization believed they could do a better job of leading than you...and then imagine that you found a way for them to develop their leadership skills so that they began to more deeply believe that they could do a better job of leading than you...and then imagine that you put together an organizational structure where all of these people could practice their newly learned leadership skills and believe even more fully that they could do a better job of leading than you...and then imagine that you would actually give them titles and positions in which they could have the responsibility, authority, and accountabilty that leaders is probably only at this point that they will realize that they cannot do a better job of leading than you, because they are doing what you do. Wouldn't that be an exceptional organization?

So I guess I am stuck in this paradox of always feeling inadequate, yet knowing that I am still doing a good job...I'm stuck in the paradox of wondering what others think about my leadership and hoping they find me both adequate and inadequate at the same time...I'm stuck in the paradox of developing others to do my job when they don't believe I can adequately do my job...I'm stuck in the paradox of having to prove myself to people whose growth occurs as they question my motives.

So to answer my questions, I guess it has to be that I had better become comfortable with these paradoxes if I want to keep leading and realize that what led me to do what I do is the same thing that drives me crazy in others - so I had better stop worrying about it and start leading.

Friday, January 15, 2010

making sense out of nonsense

I was recently introduced to the writings of Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. Roger looks at the world of business (and business education) through a completely different lense - one which helps others make "sense" out of "nonsense." Let me try to explain...

I am 2/3 of the way through Roger's first book entitled The Opposable Mind: Winning Through Integrative Thinking. He begins the book with a quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald which says that "the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless yet be determined to make them otherwise." I tend to understand this thinking as to what Jim Collins, in his book Built to Last, refers to as BOTH/AND thinking rather than EITHER/OR thinking.

In my first class of the spring semester, I handed out a box of crayons and a coloring sheet to my students and asked them to color (no directions included). After about 10 minutes, we stopped and looked at what they had done. ALL the students had been very neat and clean, coloring inside the lines with the perfect color they had chosen. When I asked why no one had colored outside the lines, they responded that they were doing what they had always been told to do - and besides, coloring outside the lines was messy, and "messy" is bad, which would result in a lower grade (you get the idea of where I was going with this). The discussion finally led to the idea that life is messy - that problem solving is messy - and that we had better learn to be comfortable with messy, or life would drive us insane. Sounds a lot like being able to hold two opposing ideas in our minds at the same time and still retain the ability to function!

Martin has many models and ways of thinking in his book to help the reader/student learn how to become an "integrative" thinker - one of my favorites is developing the understanding that "existing models do not represent reality; they are our constructions." STOP and consider the impact of that statement. Everything we see and understand is based on some type of model we have formed in our brains in order to "make sense" of what we see. However, there is always more to be discovered - or my model may be different than another's model and we see the same thing differently - or creating a new model helps us to see things another way - or understanding another's model helps us to enter into their world in a new and creative way...and the list goes on. Becoming comfortable with the fact that our models do not represent reality is a HUGE step in one's leadership development. Think of the possibilities that can occur when we look at a situation, and allow our understanding of it to go beyond what we first see and believe. WOW!

Today, as you encounter different people and different situations, keep this thought in mind. Ask yourself if there might be another way of understanding what you are seeing and hearing - and allow yourself to explore different understandings. Ask others what they see and understand...think how someone 1000 years ago would have seen and understood this situation...think of how someone younger/older than you would see and understand the situation...think of how someone who isn't in your field of study/expertise would see and understand the situation...think of how someone in a life or death moment would see and understand the situation. Consider the possibilities - and begin to make sense out of nonsense.