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.