Friday, November 18, 2011

my new favorite word

One of the readings for The Concordia MBA's Leadership: Self course that I taught this past week discussed the concept of spiritually inspired leadership, and how that affects an organization. One of the characteristics of "the good company" is that it embraces subsidiarity. Now I have to admit that I had not come across that word before (or if I had, I failed to recognize its significance). The idea behind subsidiarity, taken from social justice literature, captures "the involvement of and opennes to others, the norm that decision making should include individuals affected by the decision, and belief that authority should involve the levels of the organization that have hands-on knowledge and responsibility" (Delbeq, 2008). This concept, when applied to leadership, can change the way an organization looks, feels, and is actually run.
To be an organization (or a leader) who embraces subsidiarity, several things need to occur:

  • leaders need to believe that this process is best for decision making

  • leaders need to be comfortable with the fact that they do not have all the answers

  • leaders need to put in place a structure that not only encourages this process but actually forces it through governance and policy

  • leaders need to be willing to accept other people's ideas and decisions, and then put them into practice

  • leaders need to share information - lots of information - and provide a vehicle for others to learn and grow form that information

  • followers need to accept the responsibility of their decision making process

  • followers need to learn all they can about the organization and the process of decision making

  • followers need to be willing to lead when called upon

  • followers need to be willing to challenge the process and ask for decision making responsibility

  • leaders and followers need to learn to listen to each other

  • leaders and followers need to learn to trust each other

  • leaders and followers need to learn to forgive each other

  • leaders and followers need to learn to give up their locus of control to each other

Consider where you might be able to put into practice the concept of subsidiarity today. Perhaps it is with a colleague...perhaps it is with a student...perhaps it is with a boss...perhaps it is with a child...perhaps it is with an elected officials...perhaps it is with the auto mechanic. Look around and see where you can give the decision making power to someone at a a "subsidiary" level OR where you can challenge the process and offer to make the decision at YOUR level. Who knows where life might take someone when they practice the art of subsidiarity.

Friday, November 11, 2011

present reality..future vision

This past week I attended the Council on Independent Colleges Conference for Chief Academic Officers and Chief Advancement Officers, having the chance to hear and learn from some very smart people who run what I call "top-notch" colleges and universities. Many of the people who presented came from schools who have a longe tradition (many over 100-150 years) of graduating students in a variety of liberal arts majors. Their alumni have seen success in a variety of vocations including business, medicine, engineering, government and the arts. In return, they have realized an amazing return in gifts from their alumni, often measuring the hundreds of millions of dollars during their campaigns. I listened with envy as they described what they are able to do as a result of these gifts and legacies...and I began to wonder why my institution is not able to do the same.

My first reaction was to be angry. What's wrong with us? Why can't we realize those same types of gifts? If we we had better people...if we had a better plan...if we weren't so insular...if we focused more...if we got outside our box...and the list continued. It became easy to blame and grouse and be incredibly frustrated. And then I had a mindshift...

I was relaying my experiences to a colleague and he looked at me, smiled, and said, "What you have just described is a picture of our future." I at first had a quizzical look on my face and then smiled with him as I realized that we were not stuck in our present reality - and that the future vision was already being realized. The reality is the my institution has been one who has graduated people in the past who went on to become pastors and teachers...we are a young institiution in graduating people who are going on to make the type of money who can endow professorships and build buildings...we are creating programs today that will see fruition tomorrow...we have a strong President who has laid a foundation for future success in this area...and we are graduating students who are making a name for Concordia throughout the greater Central Texas Region. We are a geat university that is beginning to realize its future today!

So for those of us who always wish things would be better (which is a part of a leader's DNA), here is my list of ways to keep from being frustrated with the present reality:

  1. know that as a leader you will be frustrated and should be frustrated...just don't dwell there for too long.

  2. keep hanging out with those institutions whom you whom you aspire to be like...they will provide fuel for your fire.

  3. put in place now the programs and people that will help you get to that future vision...and give them time to mature.

  4. find others who share in your future vision...and give them the space and the resources to create that vision in their unique way.

  5. enroll those outside the institution in your future vision...and get them to start supporting that vision today.

  6. understand that the present reality is never as bad as you think it to just looks that way because you have a different (better?) picture in your mind of what can be.

  7. get rid of that which is keeping the future vision from becoming a reality sooner rather than later...most of the time its people you may need to remove.

  8. never give up,,,never, never, never, never give up! (with regards to Winston Churchill)

Friday, November 4, 2011

three questions

On a recent blog I wrote regarding the one big question, a comment came back that asked this: What are three things that you would do differently on your path of leadership and why would you change them?

Great question, Carrie. I thought about that question in my own life and here would be my personal answer...I hope it helps others:

1. I would have stayed at my first position longer. After three years of leading a band at Minneapolis Lutheran High School I was off to graduate school. It was as if I needed to get on with my life and it seemed as if this first job was getting in my way. What I realize now is that I needed to give myself more time to mature in that position and build a successful program that would have lasted. Leadership is more than coming in to an organization and "wowing" everyone with one's skills and talents. Building a program that would have lasted - and learning how to do that early on - woujld have served me better in the long run. That being said, I had a phenomenal experience at the school and made amazing friends and learned so much about what it takes to build a program.

2. I would have built strong succession plans early on in my career. It took me until last year to build a succesion plan that willl enable the organization to continue at the present level were I to leave tomorrow. Much of what I did throughout my career has been very successful - but most of it did not continue at the same level beyond my tenure. I have come to understand that my style does not easily lend itself well to a continuation of what was is part of my personality and part of how I get things done. That being said, I now know that is unacceptable and have built a strong interim succession plan for my current position. I know without a doubt that if I were not able to serve in this position tomorrow, most aspects of the College would continue at the same level they are now.

3. I would hire more slowly and fire more quickly. I let people stay on way too long too many times, and it hurt the organization in the long run. I often wanted to give people a second (and third, fourth, and fifth) chance, but I came to realize too late in my career that for most adults, once they are set in the way they do things, they will continue to act in that manner. When people become toxic to a culture, they need to be removed quickly - and everyone needs to know that the individual was removed because they were toxic. None of us like to let people go...but our first responsibility as leaders is to care for the organization and its future. Keeping bad people around hurts the organization - and we are not living up to our vocation of leadership if we allow those type of people to continue.

I hope these three things help others as they are on their own leadership journeys. By the way, regarding #2 above, you do not need to be in a "leadership position" to build a succession plan. Everyone with any type of responsibility should have one of these in place. Succession plans should be written down (remember that these are for interim positions should you not be able to function in that role), 2-3 people identified as to who would take over for you, what the roles and responsibilities are of the interim person (and what they are not), and the plan should be shared publically. More to say on that later...

One more is good to be back among the "living." I can use two hands to type and move around without being in pain or having to be careful. I hope to keep up with this blog on a more regular basis, continuing the journey of learning about leadership.

Friday, September 9, 2011

organizational roadblocks

After wrist surgery this past week, this may qualify as my shortest blog ever...

What is an organizational roadblock? It is anything that keeps the institution from more fully living out its mission and vision. Such items could include:

  • structures

  • budgets

  • silos

  • unaddressed critical issues

  • unaddressed non-critical issues

  • weak personnel policies

  • a focus on managing rather than leading fron those in leadership roles

  • having the wrong people at the table

  • lack of support and encouragement for the organization's best people

This list could go on and on, and will change depending on what is happening in one's life and/or organization at any given moment. The biggest question to ask is this:


and if so, what am I going to do about it starting right now?

Friday, September 2, 2011

the one question

Excuse the shortness of this blog, but I still only have one hand with which to type...

Yesterday,I had the opportunity to interview Gerard Arpey, CEO of American Airlines as a part of our speaker series on campus. It was an amazing event - packed auditorium, great discussion (his pastor joined him for a dialogue on faith & work), and a overall feeling that we were doing something good and right. Prior to the event, I challenged some students and faculty to consider what question they would ask Mr. Arpey if they had several minutes alone with him. This is actually a harder exercise than one may think - so...

If you came face-to-face with a leader whom you admire; or someone who leads a large organization; or a person of great influence in your community; or?????? what would you ask them? Remember, you only get one question and only a few minutes with this person.

So think about your ONE question...write it down...memorize it...and be ready to use it. You may even want to practice it with a friend (their answer might lead to an interesting dialogue).

Friday, August 26, 2011

a new year

A new school year began this week, and I started it with a broken left wrist(thus the short nature of this blog) and a broken left. You see, there was this car accident on Monday morning...

A new year brings several leadership challenges within an organization, especially at an institution of higher education. These challenges include:

  1. 1/4-1/3 of your population is will we welcome them into and help them understand our culture?

  2. those who are returning expect to see something new...what have we done to make the place better?

  3. we have taken a break (at least mentally) much energy will it take to get the wheels in motion again?

  4. it's been a long summer...what needs to be done to remind people of the mission and vision?

  5. new students are now enrolled...are we really ready to start the recruiting cycle again with renewed enthusiasm?

  6. next year is right around the corner...what needs to be done NOW for cetain initiatives to be in place for the new year that begins in 12 months?

The paradox of the new school year is that as soon as it has begun, our role shifts to the NEXT school year. I wonder if my administrators really get this? I wonder if my faculty really get this? I wonder if I really get this? (then again, what choice do I have?).

Thursday, July 7, 2011

the four R's

Rest...Relaxation...Renewal...Re-Creation. After finishing four weeks at our cottage in Maine, I am more committed than ever to these four R's. I have very few friends or colleagues who REALLY believe in the maxim of Sabbath and take it seriously. There is a reason that God instituted the concept of Sabbath, and I believe that those who are in leadership positions need to take this concept seriously and practice it regularly. Brian Tracy, in one of his newsletters over the past year, stated that leaders need one day a week with no work...3 straight days each month (long weekend) with no work, and at least 2 or more straight weeks each year with no work in order to rest, relax, renew, and re-create. Here is what these terms have meant to me over the past four weeks:

REST: my mind has rested from the day-to-day issues that regularly arise in my work. I have not heard an alarm clock go off for four weeks (though I still get up early - but on MY time). I have not had to make decisions (except for which movie to watch each night). My body and mind both are rested and I am ready to "get back at it" next week.
RELAXATION: To be able to just sit with my wife and relax together is something that does not happen on a regular basis. I am not talking about a few minutes on a Saturday morning, but full days of relaxing together. This is the "kick back and enjoy life" relaxing, done for a concentrated period of time (four weeks for us). I literally did not look at eamil for the first three weeks I was gone...but even catching up with it this past week has been relaxing as I went through it at my leisure time. Making relaxing a habit during these four weeks carries over to the rest of the year as I remember how important this is.
RENEWAL: My vacation is spent mostly reading - I probably read about 7-8 hours a day. I put together my reading list all year long, as well as remain serendipitous to see what might come my way during the time here (we have a great library and bookstore in town). I get to read long novels that I have been putting off, as well as some of the "hard" stuff (philosophy, etc) that needs my concentrated effort and time. As I read, I come up with new ideas and ways of thinking, always considering what I am learning in the process. To be able to read this quantity and quality of texts with little or no interruption is a real gift to myself.
RE-CREATION: The song "Morning Has Broken" talks about God's re-creation of the new day, and I beleive that this might be the best part of Sabbath, to be made NEW again and again throughout the process. I see the world differently today than I did one month relationship with my wife is more full than it was one month spiritual life is more complete than it was one month ago...I will be a better teacher than I was one month ago...I am more fit than I was one moth ago...I will lead differently than I did one month ago...I have different experiences to talk about than I did one month ago...I have a wider vocabulary than I did one month ago...I am a better person than I was one month ago. I am a NEW creation.

So I urge each of you reading this to take Sabbath seriously. I know it might not be possible to do four weeks every year, but remember these items as you prepare for an extended time away:

  • there will always be work left to do

  • no one is irreplaceable

  • you can always delegate more

  • the less you are around, the less people will rely on you

  • being away is a great way to develop other leaders

  • we got along without email and cell phones in the past

  • you have a lifetime of work ahead of you

Thanks for letting me share my Sabbath thoughts with you. How can you plan NOW for an extended Sabbath sometime in the future? And while you are at it, take that three day sabbath(no work) very soon!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

leadership ala proust

This past week I finished volume three of Marcel Proust's epic novel Remembrances of Things Past. The third volume (The Guermantes Way) is pretty spends over 100 pages describing a reception at one of the homes and another 130 pages describing a dinner party. The writing is phenomenal...the story progresses slowly yet keeps the reader interested...and since it is considered one of THE novels of western literature, I will keep reading over the next several summers until I finish all seven volumes.
Since most of my reading is done with what I call "leadership lenses," here are two leadership lessons learned from reading Proust:

  1. The narrator (the novel is semi-autobiographical) seems to idolize (and idealize) many of the characters prior to actually meeting them - he holds them in such a high esteem that he misses many opportunities to engage them and get to know them (i.e. the Duchesse Guermantes). Once he gets to really know them, he realizes that they are people just like him, with all the flaws that accompany humankind. We often put certain leaders on pedestals and become immobilized in approaching them or learning from them. Once we realize that all leaders put their pants on one leg at a time, it can become much easier to call them, approach them, email them, or invite them out for lunch. We should not be afraid of approaching people and getting to know them, just because they have a certain title or position. Much of the narrative of the novel is Marcel listening to these people talk amongst each other and getting to know them in that manner. Listening is key to building these relationships - and people love to talk about themselves. So be sure to show up at the right occasions, and just listen in.

  2. During the dinner party, after listening to some very "silly" conversations, the narrator makes this note to himself: "so there is no conversation, any more than there are personal relationships, from which we can be certain that we shall not one day derive some benefit." How true this is for each of us in our own lives. Every conversation - every talk - every person we meet - every relationship might have something to offer that will be of benefit to us in the future. Every book we read - every movie we watch - every speech we listen to - every opportunity to engage in a conversation might offer to us something that we can use in our own leadership in the future. Taking advantage of these opportunities and then making the most of them might be the mosts important part of our leadership development. As noted above, LISTENING is a key element in learning, so take advantage of all opportuniites presented to you to listen and learn.

By the way, in a recent Wall Street Journal article on summer reading of the 2012 presidential candidates, it was noted that Governor Rick Perry reads (and re-reads in the original French language) Proust's Remembrances of Things Past. While I am no Rick Perry, it was nice to see that others in leadership positions read this novel. Hope he also takes away leadership lessons from reading great literature.

Saturday, June 25, 2011


I was at The Blue Hill Book Store the other day and picked up a curious little book entitled What? written by Mark Kurlansky (whose 1968 and Cod I just loved). In previous blogs, I have extolled the importance of asking good questions, and how the role of the leader is to be one who consistently asks good questions of both themself and others. If that is the case, then this book might just be the bible on leadership, for it is a short book that is written in nothing but questions (even the table of contents and the index are written as questions).

The art of asking questions is critical to the learning process...and leadership is about learning. Whether it is learning about one's self...learning about the organization...learning about other people...or learning about leadership - learning begins with questions. In one of the textbooks used in our Introduction to Business course at Concordia University Texas, the statement is made that the more one learns, the more questions they ask, and the more questions they ask, the more they learn. I often challenge my students and others with whom I work to figure out their question to comment ratio in any given day. This book takes it to the extreme: 100% questions to zero comments. Here are a few of the questions asked by the author:

  • In a world that seems devoid of absolute certainties, how can we make declarative statements?

  • If it is amportant to ask questions, is it equally important to answer them? Doesn't questioning have its own value?

  • What is at the heart of intellectual pursuit? Is it "what?" If so , shouldn't the previous sentence be read as a statement?

  • Is a question always a search for an answer?

  • Shouldn't we distrust an answer that comes without a question?

Of course, the book is much more than these few questions noted here, as the "chapters" flow from one idea (or series of question) into the other. Perhaps what struck me most about the book is it's ability to do nothing than ask questions, and still engage me in a learning process. Of course, that is how I am wired. Are you wired in a similar way? Have you considered your question to statement ratio lately? Why might questions be so important to thsi author? And should they be that important to you? How do others react when you do nothing other than ask questions? Will they be satisfied that they are not getting "answers" from you? Can one be considered a leader if they only ask questions? And what are the important questions that leaders should be asking?

Is this the end of this blog? Or will you continue it by raising even more questions about how leaders lead by asking questions?

Friday, June 17, 2011

who decides the common good?

This past week I read Rick Perlstein's 2008 book Nixonland, a look at how the 1960's shaped America's political landscape as we know it today. For some reason I have always been fascinated by the 1960's (I was born in 1959, so I missed the essence of the 60's in a personal way). Having read much about this era (and much about Richard Nixon), I found this book interesting and point-on in its thesis of how the years 1964-1972 created the political landscape we know and recognize today as liberal-conservative ideology.

The question I kept asking myself throughout the book was "who gets to determine what the common good should be?" In the 1960's there were the "radicals" who believed that the US should have pulled out of Vietnam and that civil rights, women's rights. and other "rights" needed to not only be law but needed to be accepted as "the American way of life." On the other side of the spectrum were the "conservatives" who wanted to keep things the way they were and believed that "rocking the boat" was not only anti-American but bordered on the cusp of sin. I remember (vaguely) my parents having discussion on these points and hearing about these debates in my school (though little did I know what was REALLY going on). So who was right - and who (if I had been of age) would I have been supporting during this time?

The "common good" has often been described as what is beneficial for the most people at a given time within a given community, with special regard given to those who have little or no voice in the matter. Each of the "sides" in the 1960's could easily have argued that their position was what was needed for the common good - and that any deviation from that position would hurt the common good. In my own little world, it becomes very easy for me to believe that what I believe is good, right, and salutary at any given time is what should be accepted as the common good. And yet, there are many people who will believe different from me. I then need to decide whether I am right in my thinking...or could someone else be "right" in this debate?

Leaders are those people who influence others towards a shared goal that benefits the common good (DC's personal definition of leadership). Understanding that the "common good" might mean different things to different people makes the leadership role difficult at times...mostly because it means that some people will disagree with the leader (and maybe not even like them). The conundrum for leaders is in wrestling with the paradox of defending what they believe to be the truth (their defintion of common good) and listening to, understanding, and considering the "rightness" of what the other side declares to be the common good. Perhaps it is in this paradoxical struggle that the understanding of the leader is sharpened and that a way toward a more communal understanding of "common good" can be achieved.

I have still to understand my fascination with the 1960's - perhaps it is because I 'just missed it" in my coming of age; perhaps it is because the times resonate with my personal world view; perhaps it is because I am still trying to reconcile some of my own beliefs at that time (coming from a conservative mid-western family and town) that I now know to have been wrong; or perhaps it is because I did come of age right after that time, and I want to know what it is that shaped my own coming of age. But this consideration is for another blog...stay tuned!

What period of history most fascinates you? And how does your understanding of it shape your personal leadership?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

leadership style - elinor or marianne?

It's vacation time, and I am spending most of my time reading - and, of course, thinking about leadership. These next few blogs will be shorter in nature, reflecting on what I am reading or doing at the time, and attempting to connect that which I read, see or do to leadership.

I decided that after 50+ years of reading, it was time to pick up a Jane Austen novel, so I read (on my Kindle) Austen's Sense and Sensibility this past week. For 19th century chick-lit, it was not too bad - the interplay between the two sisters Elinor and Marianne kept me engaged and made for some good humor throughout.

As I finished the book, it struck me that the two sisters made for a good comparison in leadership styles - the eldest (Elinor) seemed more cool-headed and rational in her decision making process; whereas the middle sister (Marianne) was often less rational and made decisions from what her heart was feeling at the moment. I found myself often siding with Elinor in her decision making process, but came to realize that Marianne often would make the decision that most reflected what REALLY needed to be done. As I consider my personal leadership style, I think it is a combination of the two, with a slight leaning toward a Marianne-style of leadership. I often "feel it" in my gut and speak my mind quickly (maybe more quickly than I should at times). The need to ACT in a manner that reflects what I am thinking and feeling at the time seems to take precedence over my thinking the matter through and waiting to act (or not).

There are positives and negatives to both styles - leaders at times need to act from their gut-feelings, moving quickly and making decisions that may or my not seem rational at the time. In other ocassions, leaders need to take some time to think through the situation at hand and wait for the right time to act. Seldom are there set rules on which manner or style of leadership to use at any one time...nor are the consequences tied to acting in one way or the other. Part of the decision making process comes through time and experience - part of the decision making process comes through the type of decisons being made - part of the decision making process happens as a result of the seriousness of the consequences from the decision - and part of the decision making process is a result of one's demeanor and personality. Learning to live with that - and finding ways to balance out one's initial reactions when needed - are all part of learning how to lead.

I'm wondering what Austen novel to read next (that would probably be next year) - any suggestions would help...especially if you can relate your suggestion to something I can learn about leadership.

Friday, June 3, 2011

the problem with optimism

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would entitle a blog post (or anything else for that matter) "the PROBLEM" with optimism. I have been described as "pollyanaish" more than once and am a self-proclaimed rose-colored lense type of guy. I thrive on optimism...and yet this past week I think I encountered its "dark side."

Now I may be wrong (and I will be the first to rejoice if I am wrong) but I think we as an organization made a decision this week based more on optimism than fact. The "we can do this" mantra I kept hearing made me a little nervous as I looked at what I knew to be true at this point and thought to myself "it can't be done." I wondered to myself what led to this type of optimisim (and alternately why I was not as optimistic as the others). Here are a few of the thoughts that came to my mind:

  • this is the first time they are going through this experience - it is easier to be optimistic when you have not encountered the ups and downs of a particular project

  • it's a brand new shiny toy...and they want to play with it - the thrill of something new brings about an optimism that may or may not be founded on fact

  • they feel their reputation/job is on the line - if they are not optimistic, they would be admitting failure and that does not seem like an option

  • they want it so badly - when the only thing left is optimism, you pour it on heavy. As I remarked to a colleague of mine, "How can you argue with so much positivity?"

  • it's always worked before - type A personalities who have seldom failed in their lives cannot see failure as an option and see everything they touch as golden, so of course it will work!

  • give me a little more time - optimistic people beleive that given enough time...enough people...enough resources...enough ???? they can make anything happen. Again, I applaud these efforts (heck, I invented these efforts) but what are the facts telling us?

So how does an organization and its leadership mitigate against blind optimism while encouraging an optimistic spirit in its people? Again, here are a few random thoughts off the cuff on this beautiful Friday morning in Dallas):

  • demand facts

  • put together timelines (and stick to them)

  • listen to the opposing voices (and make them state their facts as well)

  • ask lots of questions

  • ask how past experiences (of the individual and the organization) support the efforts - or not

  • celebrate and reward optimistic behavior (and from time to time celebrate and reward pessimistic behavior)

  • begin to know what blind optimism looks and sounds like (as opposed to having an optimistic attitude and outlook)

  • make sure that people know its okay to fail (both in the front end and back end of any project)

  • be aggresive with the facts

  • do a lot of "what if..." scenarios

  • listen to the gut...and listen to the head

Given the alternative (pessimism) I still vote for optimism within individuals and oprganizations. Having a postive outlook will create so many more opportunities than having the alternative outlook. I would much rather hang out and work with optimistic people than pessimistic people. My goal as a leader is to help optimistic people live out their goals and dreams - but to do so with some good grounding. I know that is what my coaches, bosses, and mentors have done for me over the years...I hope I can keep doing it for others.

Friday, May 27, 2011

one thing I love...

Last week's rant on one thing I hate was good therapy for me. The incident that led to my blog produced several good results and I have to admit that I probably do my job a little better today than I was doing last week...mostly becasue I have had to think about what it means to manage in my area. So today, I think I will change course and write about one thing I love...

This past week I was able to spend time in Eagle Pass and San Antonio, making visits on friends of the University, renewing relationships and making new relationships. While I consider this an important part of my job (and something I need to be able to "manage"), I also consider it an opportunity and privilege to get to meet and hang out with "really cool people." Whenever I am asked about what I do, I always mention the "really cool people" I get to meet and hang out with. The "really cool people" I got to hang out with this week included a CFO of a Fortune 100 company, a State Farm insurance agent, a University of Texas Business School faculty member, and one of the top commercial real estate developers in Austin. The range of conversation was all over the place - yet they all had several things in common:

  • they each had a great story to tell

  • they each are passionate about what they do

  • they each are some of the best in their fields

  • they each are"people" people

  • they each have a passion for developing leaders

  • they each have a passion for leaders who see the world with a Christian worldview

  • they each believe in the mission of Concordia University Texas

  • they each see the world as a great place to engage (three cheers for rose-colored glasses!)

  • they each love to give back to others

  • they each can add value to me and to my institution

  • they each are people of faith

I love meeting and connecting with people. For some reason, I think I do this pretty well and it is a blessing for me to know that this is a part of my role and job responsibilities - and that I really love to do it. At the end of the day, if I have connected with one or two different people, I feel it has been a good day and I am energized to continue on in my calling and vocation. As I think about what makes me good at connecting with others, several thoughts come to my mind:

  • I'm genuinely interested in other people

  • I like to ask questions

  • I like to ask really rich questions

  • I know that there is much to learn from others

  • I like to hear other's stories, especially where they are inspirational

  • I think I have an empathetic nature

  • I know that I will take something from the conversation to apply to my work and organization

  • I know that people like to talk about themselves, and it gives me joy to see others have fun telling theri own stories

  • I adhere to the 70-30 rule: I listen 70% of the time and talk 30% of the time

  • I work hard to be totally present when i am with someone else

Now here's the rub - how do I balance my love for meeting with "really cool people" and my dispassionate nature around doing "really dull things"? A few thoughts:

  1. delegate, delegate, delegate the "really dull things" (because I know those same items are "really cool things" to others)

  2. set aside hours (days?) on my calendar to do the "really dull things" that only I can do

  3. take the "really dull things" and make them into projects that I consider to be awesome and fun and WOW!

  4. let my boss know of this dilemma and allow him to help me manage these two competing interests

  5. accept the fact that these two will be in competition for my time and learn to live with that tension

  6. decide now that when push comes to shoe, I will ALWAYS choose to meet with "really cool people" over doing "really dull things."

So what is one thing you hate...and one thing you love...and how are you balancing the two in your life?

Friday, May 20, 2011

one thing I hate...

The other day someone referred to me as a manager and reminded me that I needed to do a better job of managing a paticular process within my College. When I heard myself referred to as a manager, I realized that is something I hate. king works better for me. Here are a few reasons why I think I hate being referred to in that manner:

  • Managing is about planning, directing, controlling and organizing - do I REALLY want those words on my tombstone to describe the impact I had on the world?

  • Managing is about getting the job done right and on time - all very important functions, but again, do I really want those words on my tombstone? Don Christian: 1959 - ????: He got all of his paperwork done on time.

  • I have yet to find a book entitled "Managers who Changed the World" or "Great Managers of the Civil War."

  • When people say that they are managing, they are referring to getting by - I want to do more with my vocation (and my life) than just get by.

  • Managing the processs means getting the work done - while I always want to get the work done, what I want more is to get the next work started.

  • Managers who get promoted to leadership positions often fail due to The Peter Principle - the world does not need more people who lead by managing.

  • Managers get promoted because they do things right - I would rather be known for doing the right things.

  • Managers get promoted because they don't make mistakes - I would rather be failing more often because I have gone out on a limb to try something new.

  • Managers take great pride in a well designed process - I get more excited with a well-thought out project.

Perhaps in this discussion of my lack of "good management" my pride was more wounded than I thought it might be. As I reflected on this discussion, I realized that this ability to not manage well had little to do with my ability to manage - and more to do with outside factors that affected my ability to manage. So when managers (and leaders) begin to get frustrated at how others manage, consider the following factors:

  • is the lack of proper management an issue with the person or an issue with the process?

  • is the lack of proper management due to changes in other personnel or processes?

  • is the lack of proper management a time issue or a capacity issue?

  • have I fully explored with this person why they believe they are not managing the processs well?

  • if the lack of proper management is an issue with multiple people (i.e. many people making the same mistakes), look to the process before anything else

  • if the lack of proper management is a new issue in the organization, what has happened to cause this that might not have been happening in the past?

  • is the lack of proper management a training issue?

  • is the lack of proper management an attitude issue?

My advice is go and talk with the person who is not properly managing, explain the situation, explore ideas as to why this might be occuring, offer guidance to help solve the problem, and then give them time to fix it. And if this is a slight blip in their performance, realize that there are other ways to handle management issues. Burdening your best performers with management issues they do poorly and that take away their energy to lead (and manage other areas of their portfolio) wastes their time and yours. Sometimes the best way to manage those who fail to perform strongly in a certain area is to minimize their management of that issue. Not everyone does everything well - just becasue it is in the job description does not mean that a certain manager will be able to perform that particular task at a high level. What do you value - great management or great people? I know where I land on this topic...and I know what I hate about it also.

Friday, April 15, 2011

of two minds

Call them leaders and them teachers and them employees and them whatever you want, but within any given organization there are two disctinct groups of people - those who do the essential work of the organization and those who organize, direct, control, and plan (classic management functions) for the organization. While I am all for flat organizations - and for roles rather than titles - and for sharing the workload...I also know that these two groups of people are mostly in those roles because that is how they think. Today's blog comes from a conversation I had yesterday afternoon with one of Concordia's faculty - and the discussion came down to how faculty anbd administrators think - and ultimately how they see the world and act in that world. I have found that the hardest thing we have to do in organizations is to put ourselves in other people's shoes. In my organization, administrators want faculty to think like administrators...and faculty want administrators to think like faculty. Personally, I am glad that they don't think like each other, becasue then one of them would be unnecessary (I know of many faculty who beleive that administrators are unnecessary - and vice versa). Each group of people are charged with different roles within the institution, and they need to live out those roles with that unique set of eyes. One of the potential problems we see in institutions is that those who do their main calling well (i.e. teaching) get promoted to an administrative level (i.e. dean). While there is nothing wrong with that in and of itself, one of the hard shifts that never takes place is that the person receiving the promotion needs to remove their former "hat" and put on a new one. A dean within the University setting is no longer a faculty member and needs to stop thinking like a faculty member in their dean role. A faculty member who wants to act like a dean will often find themself frustrated and make comments or accusations from a place they have never been or understood. That being said, I believe there are people who do think like an administrator and should be given the opportunity to use that thinking - and then be trained for an administrative role in the future. I recently put together an interim sucession plan for my college, and as I went around to the faculty asking whom they thought I should name as an interim sucessor, it was 100% unanimous. The person they all believed should take on the role was the same one I also had thought would be best at it. This person is a tremendous teacher and faculty member - but also shows administrative abilities...and when asked about future goals named an administrative position. Here's what's interesting...this particular faculty member never complains about administrative decisions (not the norm for most faculty). On the flip side, I have colleagues in adminsitrative positions who should be back in faculty positions. They think like faculty, they talk like faculty and they act like faculty. They are - by very nature faculty - and were moved into an administrative position by default most times. I often see them frustrated at the administration (even though they ARE the administration) and see their world through faculty eyes. One of the problems in most organizations is that it is almost impossible to "go back" to previous positions because the pay will be less. I do not know what the solution for this can be - but it sure would help to put people where they can best use their talents and gifts for the good of the organization. A book I read a long time ago, based on the Myers-Briggs personality types, was entitled Please Understand Me. My pleas is that leaders and followers...teachers and administrators...employees and bosses begin to better understand one another. Please understand that each group thinks differently from the other...please understand that much of this different type of thinking has to do with gifts and talents...please understand that when one complains about the other it is through their own unique view of the world and not about the actions of the other person...please understand that each group is doing their best work as they know how and sometimes needs to be told that how they see the world may be in conflict with how the other group sees the world...please understand that those who are REALLY good at what they do can often get myopic and need to reminded of the other group's mindset...please understand that TRUST of the other group can go a long way in building relationships...please understand that each group has a unique calling and vocation that needs to be honored...and please understand that each group needs the other. In my world, a college without faculty would cease to exist as there would be no one doing the work of the institution - and a college without administrators would cease to exist as there would be no buildings, no paychecks, and no plans from which to continue operating. As one who sees the world through an adminsitrative lens, I am thankful for my colleagues who see the world through a faculty lens - I hope and pray they feel the same way about me.

Friday, April 8, 2011

an end...and a beginning

All stories have a beginning and an end. The beginning is often at the - well - beginning; and the end is at the end (nothing gets by me, does it). However, today's story will begin with an end and end with a beginning... The past month's blogs have been mostly about my journey in a quest for the presidency at Concordia University, St. Paul. From being falling in trusting the process - I have discovered a lot about myself and my hopes and dreams regarding my vocation and calling. If you have not yet heard, Tom Ries received the call to be the 9th president of Concordia University, St. Paul this past Monday. I received the phone call informing me of the Board's decision at 3:53 PM. A bit dissapointing...a bit disheartening..and a bit of sadness - these feelings have all come and gone during this past week. It has been an END to a really great part of my life. Over the past 5 months (my inital letter of intent went to the Board on October 30, 2010) I have done the following:

  • read the Minneapolis Star-Tribune on a daily basis off of my Kindle

  • talked with numerous people in the Twin Cities area to better understand the school

  • read multiple books and articles on what it means to be a college president

  • pictured myself in the role and how I would react to different situations

  • prayed with friends and colleagues about the position

  • learned all kinds of things about myself through the lens of a college president

  • learned about all aspects of the University by asking questions of my colleagues

  • explored the housing market in St. Paul and Minneapolis

  • made new friends at Concordia, St. Paul and elsewhere

  • and much, much more...

But that now comes to an END...but rather than close this book and place it on the shelf, I have chosen to let it lead to a new BEGINNING. One of my strengths is that of LEARNER, so I have now begun to ask the question of what I have learned from this experience and how I can put that learning into practice for this new beginning. While my title continues to remain Dean of the College of Business, I am no longer the same Dean I was before October 30, 2010. I have been given a set of tools to use in this position that I did not have before, and my goal is to use those tools in this new beginning. Here's are the questions I will ask to guide me in this journey...

  • Understanding more deeply the big picture of a university, how can I position my College to expand and grow at an even quicker rate?

  • Having put in place an interim succession plan, how will I use that to develop people in their leadership skills and capacity?

  • Having had to consider a vision for an entire University, can a vision for the College of Business now be even more robust and energizing?

  • Having pictured myself in the role of President, what can I take from that to leverage my role as a Dean of this College?

  • With many friends and colleagues having told me they are glad I am staying at CTX, how can I now better serve them in reaching their goals and dreams?

  • How will what I learned about myself through this process prepare me for what comes next in my current role?

  • Having made many new connections, especially at CSP, how will I not only keep those alive but partner with these new friends to serve God's Kingdom?

  • Knowing that a part of my "falling in love" with CSP was its urban/diverse setting, where and how will I use that passion to further the Kingdom of God?

  • Having tasted the role of being a college president, what are the next steps in my growth toward having that opportunity in the future?

  • What questions are important for me to ask - especially over the next month - to fully realize the learning I can receive from this process?

I am excited about this beginning - it is almost as if this is the first day of the rest of my life. And though the ending was not what I might have wanted at this time, I know that this beginning is just that - a BEGINNING that will have yet another ending of which I am not aware. And so, I end this story with a beginning, and share these words which I came across the first morning of my new beginning...

I leave all things to God's direction, He loves me both in joy and woe.

His will is good, sure his affection; His tender love is true, I know.

My fortress and my rock is He: What pleases God, that pleases me.

Friday, April 1, 2011

trusting the process

People often end up in leadership positions because they make things happen - they are often the first to spot a new idea or trend, the first to put new ideas into action, and the one in front often leading the chrage. These aspects are often noted in future leaders, and the promotion to a leadership position will happen in a swift manner. And there in lies the conundrum...people who have made things happen quickly are now in a position where they must wait patiently for things to happen because they have lost the control to make things happen themselves. Over thsi past week, I have been in a position of having to wait and trust the process. Knowing that the decision of choosing the next president of Concordia University, St. Paul lies in the hands of a group of people out of my control, there has been little I can do except pray and wait. There have been times when I thought to myself what I might do to influence the decision...or help the decisions makers in their deliberation...or just wanting to say one more thing that they might consider. And yet, the process does not call for that type of intervention. There is literally NOTHING I can do at this point to influence the outcome. That is not a comfortable position for me to be in - I want to DO seomthing, and yet... So here are some thoughts on how leaders can best LEAD while trusting the process:

  • believe that the process is good, right and proper. Trusting the process means that you BELIVE in the process and that the process will yield the best results for the organization or the individuals involved

  • understand it is out of your control. The instinctive action for leaders is to take control - it is in their DNA. And yet, it is that control that can often interupt and flaw the process. Just as helping the butterfly out of its cocoon will destroy the butterfly, attempting to speed a well designed process along can destroy the outcome

  • trust the people involved in the process. Yes, all human beings are flawed - and literally all thinking is flawed as there are no crystal balls in the room. And yet, almost all people want to make the best decision available at any given time. Believe that people will act in the best interest of the organization and bring all their decision making ability to the table

  • know that there are multiple right decisions that can be made. There is very seldom ONE right decision in any decision making process. In my case, there are three competent people who have interviewed for this position - all three can lead this institution into the future. Thus whatever decision is made will be the best one for this time and place

  • Know that people sometimes make mistakes. This may be in paradox with the above idea, but sometimes groups of people (or individuals) make mistakes and the decision turns out wrong for the organization. For the most part, organizations are resilent and will outlast the poor decision

  • understand the dynamics of groups making decisions. I know that as the Board of Regents for Concordia University, St. Paul gathers on Monday to make this decision, they will be bringing multiple views, values, and assumptions to the table. They will hear and interpret the information in different ways, and they will then decide on a decision making process that best reflects them as a group. Another group might make a different decision - and they might both be right

  • Believe that there is a bigger plan that goes beyond this one decision. As I consider the vastness of God's creation and the idea that there is a big wide world out there, this one decision (or any one decision) is often insignificant in the big (I mean REALLY big) scheme of things. While I consider this a HUGE decision, there are billions of people who could actually care less (that's a humbling thought)

  • Trust that God is always in control. My faith in a God that is much bigger than I can even imagine allows me to believe He is in control of not only this one decision, but of the future of the institution and of my future. This is not only conforting for me, but also for my hopes and dreams for Concordia University, St. Paul.

And so, let me close this "chapter" of my blog (and of my life) with this prayer:

Heavenly Father, as you have promised to be with us always...and as you have promised to even "count the hairs on our head," I trust that this decision is now in your hands. As you have chosen 17 people to serve Concordia University St. Paul in the capacity of Regent, so now use their gifts, talents, and wisdom in choosing that person who will lead your University into the future. Give peace to those who anxiously wait for this decision - and allow the three candidates to see how you will use our gifts, talents and wisdom to best bring about your Kingdom in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead. Help us (and others) trust the process as we place our lives into your hands. Amen.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

falling in love

The past week has been a blur - from St. Paul to Austin to Cincinnati and back to Austin...from interviewing for a College President's position to presenting on the topic of teaching leadership to catching up on my blog...from rainy weather to snow and ice to 80 degrees to 30 degrees and back to 80 degrees...from making new friends and colleagues to catching up with past friends and colleagues...from fear to joy to nervousness to confidence to anxiousness...let's suffice it to say that my emotions pretty much ruled the week and I'm ready for an uneventful and fairly boring week. Having invested myself in the presidential search process over the past several months, I finally came face to face with that entity which had consumed me - Concordia University, St. Paul. We spent 48 hours together, dancing together, wooing one another, and I slowly but surely fell in love with the place and its people. The questions I had going in were quickly answered and what I discovered was a gem - a jewel - a beautiful representation of what a Lutheran urban institution of higher learning should be. Concordia University, St. Paul (or as it is more affectionately known, CSP) resonates with who I am and what I most believe about Lutheran higher education. It represent for me what I love and care about:

  • a commitment to the broad spectrum of student engagement - music, drama, athletics, fine arts, student-faculty engagement, service learning, travel, student leadership, and more.

  • a commitment to serving students in the margins - not only does CSP find funds for these students to attend an institution of higher learning, they provide positions and people to support these students, many of whom are first generation college students.

  • a commitment to the community - CSP is located right among homes, apartments, businesses, high income households, low income households, and in-between income households. The community (which has a strong international flavor) sees CSP as its college, using it for plays, exercise, classes, gatherings, and support. CSP is not in institution FOR the community, but an institution OF the community.

  • a commitment to diversity - diversity is not just a marketing slogan for CSP - it is an integral part of who they are and how they function as a community, supporting the learning process and enriching the lives of its students, faculty and staff.

  • a commitment to the best aspects of Lutheran higher education - there is a consistent dialogue going on that wants to understand and figure out what it means to be distinctly Lutheran and how that "ethos" supports the learning environment.

  • a commitment to excellence - whether it is in the classroom, in the theatre, in the music building, on the athletic courts and fields (4 consecutive national volleyball chamionships), as well as in the support services and the administration of the institution, everyone wants to do an outstanding job in their calling and vocation.

  • a commitment to the church - CSP is affiliated with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and considers itself to be a university of the Church. That understanding shapes its culture, its way of being, its programs, and its mission. As they wrestle with what that means in the 21st century, they are willing to question how that looks and how best to serve the church at large as a partner in its broader mission.

And so I fell in love (I have to admit that I felt as if I was "cheating" on my current institution, Concordia University Texas). With falling in love can also come several things that caught me by surprise:

  • every institution has its warts (some may even see them as gross disfigurations). However, it is the warts and all that makes that insititution the place it is today

  • some people have not fallen in love with the institution - in fact, they may not even like it at all. I suppose if everyone liked any given entity, it would be very dull and not have its own unique personality

  • falling in love is an emotional venture - I found myself feeling "verklempt" during much of my time there (and still do) as I got to know more and more people and emotionally invested myself in them and the institution

  • the preparation and anticipation made falling in love much easier than I thought it would be. My time on campus was meant to confirm whether I would "fall in love" or not...and I did (head over heels)

  • falling in love may not always guarantee a reciprocal feeling. There was a point during my visit in which I saw myself as having fallen in love with CSP and realizing that they might not chose to call me for this position - an interesting moment in time that affected me deeply

  • falling in love changes one's view of the rest of the world - I fear I might start begin comparing everything else to what I felt and saw at Concordia University, St. Paul. The last thing my colleagues will want to hear for the next month or so is "at CSP they do it another way..."

  • one person can have two loves at the same time - I love Concordia University Texas and know that should my calling and vocation remain there, I will embrace it 110% and serve its mission with a renewed sense of engagement and vigor. At the same time, I have a new view of the world (and one which has changed me for the better) because of what I saw and experienced at CSP.

And so I spend one more week waiting patiently to see how I and my wife will spend the next years of our lives. God's plan for His Kingdom is always beyond what I can know at any given time. And maybe that is where I most need to place my love - to commit myself (talents, time, and treaures) to the growth of God's Kingdom, so that I can most fully live out my personal mission statement of "living life abundantly and helping others do the same." We'll see what happens - and what the future brings.

Sunday, March 20, 2011


I once heard the quote that a sign of maturity is being able to delay gratification. I think that means that a sign of maturity is having patience. If that is so, then it is official - I am NOT mature. It was way back in October that I found out I had been nominated for the list of potential candidates for President of Concordia University, St. Paul. That list was whittled down to 13, then 6, then 5 and then 3. Now here I am waiting for my final set of interviews tomorrow, and I wish it was here already. Over the past few weeks I have mentioned to many people that I am ready for this to be over. The anxiousness, the stress, the waiting, and the anticipation (did I mention the fear?) of what might happen has consumed my life. But I am comfortable with all this - here's why...
  • this is a big deal - my wife told me the other night this is perhaps the biggest thing in my life up to this point (other than my marriage to her). It is natural to have these feelings. If I didn't something would be wrong.
  • I decided several months ago that Iw as going to give this 125% of my energy. If I gave less, not only would I be cheating myself, but I would be cheating Concordia St. Paul. That extra energy has created a little more stress.
  • I see this process as a time of growth - a time for me to stretch and build my own leadership capacity. That stretching is starting to hurt - but that is what good exercise does.
  • someone asked me if I was ready to be a college president. I don't think anyone is ever ready for such a position unless they have done it before. The unknown of what this job might entail really does scare me.
  • it's the unknown that creates stress - I KNOW Concordia University Texas - I am comfortable there and know my role and place. Concordia St. Paul is an unknown that is still unfamiliar. As I walked the campus yesterday, I could see myself there, but also felt like a stranger.

All that being said, I also know that this is a process that is directed by God - he knows the plans he has for me...he knows the future for Concordia University St. life is in his hands...he promises ot walk through the fires and waters with me...and he is my God. I trust in that - I trust the calling process - I trust that whatever happens is best for me and my wife - and best for the Kingdom of God. That in itself can give me patience. So I pray the prayer I learned a long time ago...God give me patience, and I want it right now!

Friday, March 11, 2011

speaking about leadership

This morning I am headed to the Northwest Rotary Club to speak on the topic of Moral Leadership. I was asked about several months ago by Dr. David Zersen to be their speaker for this meeting, and I gladly accepted for several reasons: 1) I get a chance to speak about my favorite topic: leadership; 2) I get an opportunity to talk about Concordia University Texas and especially about The Concordia MBA; and 3) I get a chance to hone my speaking skills. I have to make sure I finish this blog in time to get to the meeting by 7:00...

Whenever I get the chance to present to an outside group, there are several things that go through my mind:
  • how can I best market my school and program through this opportunity?
  • what is it that I want my audience to think, feel and act as a result of my talk?
  • what specific topic will best resonate with the group?
  • what can I address that might stretch me a little bit and help me learn?

One of the most difficult issues for me in public speaking is to be sure that I am doing this for the audience and not for myself. Last weekend I had the opportunity to work with the Board of Trustees from the Lutheran Foundation of the Southwest, assisting them with their strategic planning retreat at the Clifton Sunset Home (a great place where people are cared for at the ened of their lives). As I accepted the opportunity and spent time getting ready and then with the group, I had to remind myself that what I was doing was for them - to be there completely for them and not consider what this was doing for me. Personally, I get a lot out of speaking for groups or working with boards. Some of my personal takeaways include:

  • personal learning - I always learn more about the topic researched and the group I am with at the time
  • personal esteem - I always feel good after presenting to a group, especially if they tell me I did a good job
  • personal satisfaction - I really do like helping people learn and get better, so when my words or work can do that, I get great satisfaction
  • personal gain - sometimes I get paid to do these gigs; other times it is merely my reputation and the University's reputation that is enhanced
  • personal growth - each time I present I get a little better at the process of standing in front of a group and talking.

So what do I really want to see as a result of talking with others about leadership? Here are a few thoughts:

  • people thinking more deeply about leadership - when others consider the multidimensional sides of leadership, they walk away being more appreciative of the role that leaders have
  • people considering how they might lead - my talks are most centered on how to make people better leaders themselves and to consider their role as leader in multiple areas of their lives
  • people wonder how they might better serve their leaders - understanding the complexity of leadership might help others see what they can do to make life a little easier for the different leaders in their lives
  • people's leadership capacity is strengthened - nothing is more exciting than when someone approaches me after a talk and says "that's something I can use today in my own leadership."
  • the world is a little better off - I always hope that my talks will leave everyone more thoughtful, more considerate, more energized, and more willing to go and make the world a better place.

I am thankful for the opportunities I have to speak to groups. Over the past year, those opportunities have become more and more frequent, and I am realizing that perhaps God is beginning to use me in a new and exciting way. Speaking on leadership might just be that place where my passion and the world's great needs meet, something the Frederick Buechner says will bring great joy. I completely agree!

Friday, March 4, 2011

wondering about the future

It's official...I am now one of three people being considered for the position of President at Concordia University St. Paul, one of the ten Concordia University System colleges and universities. CSP (as it is affectionately known) is one of our sister schools and their retiring president has been in place for 20 years. It is in an urban setting (right next to I-94 just west and south of the city center) situated in a very diverse community. It is exciting to consider the possibilities of this next step of leadership for me and to imagine what an urban Lutheran university can become as it serves its region and the church at large.

I thought I would take this platform today to share a few of my thoughts over the past several weeks. I do this to help leaders understand the "land of in between" that we often go through. I find myself living in the future and the present at the same time, and wonder where exactly I need to be. So here are a few Friday morning random thoughts to help guide myself - and others - through the "land of in between."
  • I wonder if I should be thinking that I will be getting the position (seems presumptuous) or that I will not be getting the position (seems too unassuming). I've decided to picture myself in the least until they tell me otherwise.
  • About a week ago I went from "this is fun and a great learning process" to " I could actually be president of a university!" It was a VERY scary moment and one which brought the reality of this process home to me.
  • Each day seems to be a rollercoaster. One moment I feel as if I can do the job and have the skills and tools to do it well...the next I am wondering why I ever made the list in the first place and feel embarassed to be going for an interview. I guess it is the later thought that keeps me humble and spurs me on to learn more in getting ready for the interview.
  • The more I read and learn, the less I really know (that's called getting an education). Someone said the other day that no one is ever really ready to be a president...perhaps that applies also to leadership - is anybody ever really READY to lead?
  • I keep getting asked (and asking myself) WHY I want to take on this role. It has been a tremendous gift for me to answer this question as it goes to the motives of leadership. The answer is beginning to come out more and more as "I've been given the gifts to be able to do this, so if God sees fit to call me to this position, I need to be able to accept that responsibility."
  • I am learning a lot about myself...when people are being nice to me and saying things like, "We would hate to lose you," or "You'd make a good president," I always ask them why they believe that. Two things happen - it forces them to articulate what they believe a good leader should be and it tells me about myself and to what I need to pay more attention.
  • I have set up a series of mock interviews with different groups of people, and after finishing the second one the other day, I felt whipped. Here's what I'm learning: 1) interviewing is harder than I thought it would be (special thanks to those who are helping me with this); 2) I have to do away with some of my nervous habits (and still remain myself); and 3) there is a lot to learn to be ready for this type of interview.
  • It's a God thing - people keep reminding me (and I myself) that God is in control and that He is walking with me (and the other candidates) through this process. This is the time when faith and trust can really kick in and be evident in my life.
  • This process includes more people than myself - and it especially includes my wife. She is as anxious as I am about what this whole thing means for her and me. As we sit and talk, we get excited and anxious at the same time. The future is a scary thing - and yet is full of new adventures.

So that is my "land of in between" - a place where much learning can take place and we can change as individuals. I suppose this change can be good or bad - depends on our attitudes and who and what we invite in to join us on the journey. I'll keep you updated as to what happens next...

Saturday, February 19, 2011

working with the "slows"

I recently read a section of a book on Civil War Leaders that dealt with the relationship between President Lincoln and General George McClellan. The relationship was never very good (though President Lincoln tried his hardest) with General McClellan consistently demanding more than he needed and waiting too long to attack General Lee's forces.There is a point in the conflict in which President Lincoln referred to General McClellan as having the "slows." As much as Lincoln urged him much as he demanded him to move much as he asked others to push McClellan, nothing much ever happened and the Army of the Potomac lost multiple opportunities to win decisive battles that might have shortened the war.

Who do you know - or who do you work with (or for) that seems to have the "slows?" What seems to characterize this person? How does this person's behavior and actions keep the institution form moving forward? And what happens when you as a leader tend to get the "slows?"

The behavior is often characterized by someone not being able to act in a timely manner. When leaders get the "slows" the whole organization begins to grind to a halt. Other people wonder what is happening...other people begin to get blamed for opportunities not taken...other people are scrambling to gather data the leader wants in order to make his or her decision...other people get blamed for budget issues...other people are asked to perform above their call of duty...other people (well, you get the idea).

McClellan was a master "blamer" - it was never his fault, but always someone else's problem when he was not able to take the initiative. He blamed it on his generals...he blamed it on the weather...he blamed it on his superiors...he blamed it on his numbers (or lack thereof)...he blamed it on lack of information. What he never did was blame it on himself. His "slowness" brought the Army of the Potomac to a grinding halt - and eventually led to his own demise. Following the battle at Antietam, Lincoln found the right time and place to remove General McClellan and replace him with General Burnside (who ended up in a similar situation within a few months).

How can we make sure the "slows" do not happen to us? Here are a few thoughts:
  • determine what it is that needs to be done - and then set a timeline in which to make it happen
  • find a group of people who will hold you accountable to your decision making process
  • don't be a data freak...though this might be a strength of yours, do not let it become your weakness
  • know your data - gather what you need, be sure it is as accurate as it can be, and then move forward
  • understand what the organization needs to move ahead - and empower others to make those decisions
  • be willing to say "I might be wrong" and then move forward
  • always have your list of what's next - be thinking about and working toward the next big thing
  • don't be afraid - the fear of failure can keep you from acting
  • don't become arrogant - your pride can easily create a fear of failure
  • surround yourself with great people - and work with them to make timely decisions
  • do regular inventories of what you have accomplished in the past 90, 180, 360 days

If you have the "slows," determine to do something about them...if those around you have the "slows," discuss with them their inability to act and help them correct the issue...if those to whom you report have the "slows," find ways to encourage them to give you (or others) permission to act...if your organization has the "slows," set up a way for yourself and your division to make things happen. Don't be accused of having the "slows"'s a terrible disease that can hurt you, your career, and your organization.

Friday, February 11, 2011

decision making 101: who should a leader listen to?

While leaders are not making decisions regularly (and if they are, they have moved into the management mode), the decisions they do make often have a significant effect on their institution. These decisions will come with a lot of input, data gathering, and often some serious hand wringing. These are not what we would call easy decisions. While there has been a lot of science that has gone into understanding how one makes decisions, I would like to comment on the process of who leaders listen to as they go about their decision making process.

Listening to people's input as leaders go about making decisions is an important part not only of the decision making process, but also in building the culture that one wants to have within their organization. Who leaders listen they listen...when they listen...and how that advice is used all affects how others perceive the leader and the organization. Here are several groups of people that I believe leaders should listen to - and the process in which they should listen to them:

The Executive Team - more often than not, this is a group of people who surround the leader because of their title and position. They are also often tied to a particular section (aka SILO) of the organization. This group of people bring data to the issue from their unique perspective and often have a stake in the game as decisions are being made. The decisions made by the leader will often affect them and their people very directly. While they have to be a part of the decision making process, I often wonder if they bring the best advice. And we all know what can happen if the leader actually asks them to VOTE on the decision...

The Masses - our culture tells us that democracy always works best, and yet decisions made by the masses are often made with little or no real data. What "feels" good at the moment often guide this group in decision making. Whether it is by vote...or by survey...or by informal input, the masses are mostly asking "what's in it for me?" They often only see what is on the outside of the decision to be made, and know little about the real issues. They are not fully informed (nor should we expect them to be) and yet are quickly willing to lend thier opinions.

Those Who Have Gone Before Us - while it is good and wise to to have counsel from mentors and coaches and those who have been in the decision making role in the past, it is difficult for this group of people to be completely objective in their thoughts and opinions. The picture of what worked in the past might not necessarily work today or into the future. This group of people may want their own personal legacy to live on, and relying on them for help in the decision making process can skew a leader's understanding of what the organization REALLY needs to move forward.

The Best People in the Organization - for me, this is the group I would put the most stock into when listening for advice in decision making. They may or may not have a title...they may or may not be sitting on the executive team...they may or may not have been with the organization for a long time...BUT they should be the people whom the leader trusts the most. They bring the most value to the organization...they are the ones whom the leader believes can best move the organization forward...they are the ones coming up with ways to make the organization better...they are the ones who show up early and stay late...they are the ones with whom others associate the organization...they are the ones who see their job as their calling and vocation...they are the ones who exemplify what the organization is all about. Listening to them makes the most sense, because they will give advice that is best for the organization (not themselves)...they will give advice that is forward looking (not the easy way out)...they will give advice that comes from the heart (becasue that's the only way they know how to think about the organization)...and they will give advice that challenges the "normal" way of thinking (because they are always challenging themselves and their personal way of thinking).

Leaders should be listening to others in their decision making process, and who they listen to says a lot about them as a leader - and a lot about the culture of the organization. Ultimately, the leader HAS to make the decision, and it becomes THEIR responsibility to do so. There is no place for blame afterwards, and the leader lives with the consequences of that decision. However, good listening (or what others refer to as deep listening) can assist the leader in the decision making process - and can serve them and their organization well in the long run.

Friday, February 4, 2011

thinking about leadership

The title of this blog is "thinking about leadership" - so just how often do you think about leadership and what is it you are thinking about? I was recently asked the question about how my various academic degrees have prepared me for a position of leadership, so I actually had to do some thinking about leadership. I was talking with a colleague about a cermaics class he is teaching, and as he described how his best students work with their clay, it brought to mind a picture of good leadership and I began once again to think about leadership. Sitting around and catching up on journals this past Sunday evening had me reading about higher education, and most articles I read had me thinking about leadership. Having coffee with a friend and mentor had me thinking about leadership. At my most recent College of Business Advisory Board meeting, I began thinking about leadership. So why is this important?

I have met way too many people that just lead - and believe they have all the answers because they have experienced leadership. One of my colleagues keeps referring to a book (yes "a" book which I assume means one) that they read on leadership and nows acts as if they have all the answers. Others think that leadership is something one is born with and therefore that person will naturally have all the answers and know how to lead. Still others who were elevated into a leadership position many years ago now pontificate as if they are the experts on leadership. I wonder if these people ever really THINK about leadership.

It amazes me how many times in a given day or week I pause to consider the concept of leadership. As I drive in the car, my mind wanders to how one led that day, or the decisions I made in a leadership role, or what might be done better to lead my institution. As I read various books (mostly NOT on leadership), I begin to contemplate what that particular tome is telling me about leadership, though often indirectly. As I interact with people, ideas of leadership pop in my head that I can bounce off of them. Watching people lead gives me the ability to critically reflect on why they did what they did, and what I might have done differently in that given situation.

So how does one become the type of person who thinks about leadership on a regualr basis?
  • develop leadership lenses - whatever you read or observe, ask the question about how that might inform your own leadership ideas
  • ask quetions - when talking with others, ask them why they made the decisions they did, trying to understand how they lead
  • wonder outloud - in conversation (or in your own head) ask the "what if?" question that gets at the heart of the matter of different viewpoints or ideas
  • read widely - don't just read leadership books (though it is important ot read many of those). I especially encourage good fiction to broaden one's mind in terms of thinking about leadership. I also encourage browsing the magazine shelves at bookstoes and picking up issues you have never read to discover new ways of thinking about leadership
  • interview really cool people - I have often said the best part of my job is that I get to meet really cool people. Find someone who interests you, set a time to meet them for a cup of coffee, and just pick their brain, especially on leadership topics
  • watch moves - and ask the question of yourself what it might be saying about leadership
  • observe - watch leaders and the decisions they make, and then think about why they made those decisions. Consider alternatives, going back to the "what if?" questions
  • journal - while this is not a strong suit of mine, I know that putting one's thoughts down on paper on a regular basis (some call it blogging) can help in making lucid the multiple ideas running through one's head
  • develop a spirit of humility - I teach my students to be able to use the phrase "I might be wrong..." because if they can embrace that attitude, they can become lifelong learners. Realize now that you actully know very little about leadership (even if you have forgotten more about leadership than most people will ever know) and become a lifelong student of the topic

I love thinking about leadership - I probably do it even when I am not thinking I am thinking about leadership - it becomes natural for me - and it is always somethining I am pursuing to a deeper level. I invite you to join me in thinking about leadership - and take your leadership to a new level.

Friday, January 21, 2011

working with your boss

Last night I had the pleasure of having dinner and drinks with my boss - we had been at a conference in Philadelphia all day and decided to have a nice dinner and end the evening with a cocktail. I learned a lot about my boss - and also learned alot about what he expects from me (and my colleagues) in our position. It made me think about what I I do what I do...and whether or not my boss really knows what I do and how I do it. Here's what I am committing to do in the near future (this will be a short blog becasue it is snowing outside and I need to drive from my hotel to downtown Philly):

  • make a list of everything I am involved in at this point beyond the day-to-day running of my College. I want to show that list to my boss and dialogue with him about what he considers important and what I consider important. Where there is agreement, I can move forward with the assuredness that he is behind that 110%. Where there is disagreement, we will talk and I will re-evaluate my time spent on those issues.
  • start asking why he wants done the items he asks me to do. Rather than fuss about another project or update he is asking for, I will spend a few moments considering why he is asking, what the outcome he expects, and if I cannot figure it out myself, I'll ask. The "why" behind the tasks that do not come freely or easily to me can help me complete them not only in a more timely manner and with greater attention to the detail.
  • push him to consider other ways of getting goals accomplished. I figured out last night that he approaches how he wants his Deans to function based on what comes naturally and easily to him (duh!). However, I believe he is completely open to new ideas of how to get the work done. Rather than say, "there's another thing my boss wants," I can commit to going to him and saying, "have you considered another way of doing this."
  • set aside time for listening. My boss (as well as myself) likes to think and dream outloud. We do it in different ways, but we both need time to talk. I need to have some weekly time with him to let him talk with me about some of his new ideas. If I can then help him accomplish those ideas, everyone wins.
  • take his hints as duties to be done. He has admitted to me (and the rest of his reports) thast he does not like to dictate items, but would rather suggest things to be done. When I (and others) do not respond to those suggestions, he feels as if we are not doing what he asks us to do. Rather than make him change, I will need to listen more closely and when there is a suggestion of an action item, I will either act - or ask if that is something he wants done...and when he would like it done by.

Just a few thoughts about working with the least as of today. It was good for me to listen and hear how my boss thinks and what my boss needs from me. When was the last time you had a chance to really listen to yours?

Friday, January 7, 2011

new leader

As this New Year began, I made several resolutions - first, to lose some of the extra weight I have gained over the past year; second, to spend more time reading in the mornings; and third, to spend time talking with people who do "cool" jobs that I could consider during the next 25 years of my life.

As a leader of others, I have also made some resolutions having to do with that aspect of my calling and vocation - let's call these my New Year's Leadership Improvements:
  • to listen more...more specifically to not begin answering a question (or respond to a comment) before the other person has finished talking and I am completely clear on what they are asking or saying.
  • to ask more (and better) much as I want to tell my story and give my opinions, I know it is better for the other person to discover what is inside of them if I want them to reach their full potential. Asking better questions means that I will follow Peter Block's advice and ask questions that are 1) ambiguous; 2) personal; and 3) evoke some anxiety (see Peter Block's book Community: The Structure of Belonging).
  • to achieve more goals...I like vision and strategy, but it is difficult for me to sometimes get things done. I will designate on my calendar specific "red" days (referring to the Birkman Assessment Colors) to get after tasks and accomplish that which is necessary to move the organization forward.
  • to coach my role expands, I need to delegate much of what I do to others in the organization, so I will spend more time with those individuals who have the responsibility to carry out some of those goals and activites, helping them grow as leaders and managers.
  • to build a succession plan...I am a big beleiver that the work of the organization must continue when and if I (or others) move on. Planning for this includes selecting the right people, letting the organization know about that, then training them to take over. Not only does this help the organization, but it also builds leadership capacity in others.
  • to serve the region...having recently been elected to the ECHO (Ending Community Homelessness) Board, I want to expand my capacity to serve that need, and see where else I may be able to lend some time and/or expertise to make this region a better place. I have been blessed by so many people in the greater Austin region who give tirelessly of their time to this place I now call home, so it is now time for me to give back also.

That's my New Year's leadership resolutions. What are yours? Have you written them down? Is the focus of them on yourself, on others, or on your organization Have you asked yourself why they might be important to you? What type of accountability do you have in place to accomplish them? Remember that you still have 348 days still left to make them happen. Enjoy the journey - and make a difference!