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?