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.