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?