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...