Friday, May 25, 2012

why are we here?

This past Tuesday evening, I walked into The Concordia MBA class in San Antonio and was greeted by smiling faces and excited students (OK, I know that sounds like a plug, but bear with me on this).  The professor (not me) began the class with the question, "Why are we here?" and the class responded, "To make a difference!"  I was so was such a natural response for them (they actually begin every class with this opening) and very heartfelt.  I followed it up with "What does that mean for each of you?" and the conversation flowed from there. 

I have shared that story many times over the past few days, and the reaction is always the same..."That's very cool!"  I agree - I think there is such a strong "coolness" factor in beginning the class that way because it reminds our students of the purpose of why we do what we do.  The Concordia MBA was designed for students who want to make an impact...who want to lead successful and meaningful lives...who want to make a difference.  This seemingly simple exercise (some may even call it corny) sets the tone for the entire class session (and entire program) that reminds both teacher and student that the learning that is going to take place has a larger purpose than a grade or a diploma - the learning is happening so that the world can be a better place.

So when have you recently asked yourself or your colleagues the questions of why you or they are here (wherever that "here" might be)?  And of course the followup question needs to be "and why have I/we responded the way I/we did?"  Digging into the WHY of what we do is incredibly important, becasue it gives meaning to the WHAT of our daily lives.  Simon Sinek's book Start with Why is an incredible read as it helps the reader get a better grasp of the importance of asking the WHY question as well as tools to help move the process forward (thanks to Concordia alumnus Austin Smith for reminsing me of this book yesterday).  Similar to the post of several weeks ago of getting everyone to understand and work from the same theory, getting people to operate from the same WHY may be even more important.  The WHY behind the WHAT provides energy and excitement into our daily lives.

I recently have had the chance to consider the WHY behind what I do on a daily basis, and I came to the understanding that my role is to create an environment in which Concordia faculty, students, and community partners can come together to learn and put into practice ideas that create better organizations.  Whether that happens in a classroom, or in a work environment, or through promoting the annual Ethics in Business Awards which supports The Samaritan Center in Austin, or simply having a dialogue with a friend, at the end of the day I believe that better organizations create a better community...better communities provide a place where people are more free to live an abundant life...and ini living that abundant life the Kingdom of God is made manifest througout that community.  I like that WHY...and I'll think of that as I continue my work today.

Friday, May 18, 2012

when it needs to be your agenda

Normally, I am not a big fan of talking a lot at meetings that I run.  I believe that a well run meeting is one in which the person who convenes the meeting asks good questions and engages the participants in dialogue and discussion around the topic at hand, hopefully coming to some type of conclusion or decision.

I sat in a meeting yesterday in which the convener of the meeting started talking and went on for about 15 minutes.  At first I became a bit irritated, and then realized that this was an important part of the meeting, in which this person needed to tell us about an exciting event in their life.  As I settled into listening, it became very clear to me that without the leader sharing their story, we could not have settled into the rest of the meeting, so I calmed myself down and enjoyed the story.  Eventually we got back to the agenda and had a very good meeting.  It was at that point that the title of today's blog came to me.

I believe there are times when it needs to be "my agenda."  As I considered this title, I started thinking about other times when the convener/facilitator/leader needs to own the agenda and just talk.  Here is my list as I think about it today:
  • when an important event has occured in one's life...after a long vacation (like a month in Maine), a wonderful concert, a great student event, the birth of a child, a recent wedding or funeral, it might be importnat for you to share your reflections.  First, you need to share your personal excitement so you can focus your energies on the meeting; and second, the people around the table will know a little bit more about you
  • when a value has been's often the elephant in the room about which no one wants to talk.  As the person in charge (and the person charged with creating and upholding the values) it might be time to talk about why the value is in place, how it has been violated, share stories about the power of that value, and begin to hold people accountable to living that value out.  10-15 minutes may not be too long to speak to this point
  • when laying out a vision...whether it is at the beginning of the process where you might be thinking out loud or toward the end of the process where the vision has crystalized, this is a time for the convener to hold the floor for awhile and let people listen. Hhaving your ideas become words is a critical piece in making the vision a reality, and needing to say it over and over in different ways is important at this stage
  • when confessing your faults...whether it is a slip in judgement or a mistake made or something of a grievious nature, this is a time when you speak and allow yourself to let people know that you know you have messed up.  This probably is not a 15 minute monologue, but it takes time for you to be vulnerable and show your willingness to say "I'm sorry."  Be sure to pause at the end and allow those around the table to pronounce forgiveness
  • when critical issues those moments when everything seems to be falling apart, the leader needs to stand up and speak to the team, sometimes without questions being asked.  The more sensitive the issue, the more important it is that you have thought out what you will say and how you will say it.  Sometimes there will be no dialogue due to the personal nature of the issue at hand; at other times, there will be a place for questions and others' best thinking.  Careful explanation with as many details as can be shared are important for the group to hear
The facilitator of the meeting needs to know when these times are going to occur and share that with the group.  Simple phrases such as:
     - I need you all to give me a few minutes to speak to you directly
     - the next few minutes are my time to talk
     - an important event has come up that will take some time for me to explain to all of you
     - I normally don't like to talk for a long time, but the next few minutes are mine to do that
     - I need for all of you indulge me for the next ten minutes while I tell you about...
     - I need you all to listen closely for the next 10 minutes and be ready to ask questions and give me feedback when I am done

My learning for the week is that there are times I need to own the agenda - and that there are times others need to own the agenda.  I think there is a proper way to do that, and I also think that it should not be done too often.  What do you think?

Friday, May 11, 2012

operating from the same page

This past week I was conversing with a colleague from our Development Department, Carrie Leising, and we began to talk about the theories one uses to lead.  She asked if theories are valuable (or something to that effect) and that led to the "aha" moment for us that all of our actions are driven by some type of theory - whether it is an informed theory, another's theory, or an uninformed theory.  That the led to a dialogue on the importance of those who work with and for you needing to be operating from the same theory (i.e. working from the same page).  We often hear that leaders should surround themselves with people who think differently so that more creative ideas can arise and good questions can be asked.  That being said, I am a believer that while a leadership team can - and should - be composed of people who see the world through different lenses, all members should be operating from the same theory.
One of my roles as Dean is to ensure that the faculty is operating from the same theory of teaching and learning.  This is a group that is very diverse and comes from a variety of backgrounds.  We have all decided that is an incredible blessing for our students as they encounter different ways of teaching and different personalities.  Yet, it is critical that all of us approach the classroom from the same theory of learning and teaching so that our vision and operational plan can come to fruition and be lived out in a consistent manner.  While not wanting to make this a blog on teaching and learning, some of the basic tenents of this theory is that all students can learn if they choose to engage; learning is more important than teaching; students need to learn and practice in order to master content ands skills; and that true assessment will lead to better teaching and better learning.
So how can I - and others - ensure that the team is operating from the same theory?  Here are a few thoughts:
  • be explicit - state the ideas and theory early and often.  Put it into words the team can understand
  • be patient - sometimes the operating theory takes time to emerge.  Think about it outloud with others and find the words that best fit for your group
  • be informed - read about the ideas and thoeries that excite you.  Find out what others have said and written so that you can speak to your theory as one that is informed
  • be passionate - this is important stuff.  Don't let others intimidate you with their nay-saying of theories.  Remember that there is no practical operation without a  theory
  • be repetitive - state the theory over and over and over.  Just when you think your team is understanding it, remember that you have only begun
  • assess it - check to see if your theory is working.  Assess it against best practices, other institutions, and data you can gather and analyze
  • be adaptable - sometimes theories don't work.  Be willing to look at other theories and consider what they have to offer - and be willing to get rid of a theory that is not working for you or the team
  • be adamant - if others on the team refuse to engage with your theory, find out why.  If they still refuse to participate, it may be time to let them find another team
SO...what theory are you using to lead?  Can you state it?  Where does it come from?  Why is it important to you?  How does it help improve the bottom line of your organization?  And how is it beneficial to those you lead?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Reading about...

What are you reading about today?  What have you been reading about over the past several months?  I remember someone saying that if you read a book a week on a particular subject, that would come out to 52 books during a one-year period.  Assume several weeks off and some books taking more than one week, and let's average it out to 40 books during the year.  Now assume you commit to doing that over a 5-year stretch.  You will have read 200 books on a particular subject, making you a knowledge expert in that field.  Imagine what you would learn - and be able to do with that knowledge.

I have committed this year to reading on philanthropy and development work.  I decided last December that this was an area in which I needed to learn more and have more skills and tools to use as I ask people to invest in the good of this region through their gifts to Concordia University Texas (as well as my work with LINC-Houston).  Over a four month period, I have read eleven books covering a broad range of topics.  I spend approximately 30 minutes every morning reading on this topic and have moved my learning forward at a fast pace.  There are many times I read the same thing said in a new way by a different author, realizing that some of the material is beginning to sink into my subconcious.  I have even begun dreaming about philanthropy and development, and look forward to my meetings with friends and future friends of the University.  Asking for support and people's investments has become one of my passions...much of that due to a consistent reading diet in this field.

A few learnings from my readings:
  • people will give when they are asked...but they need to be asked
  • ask people to invest in a cause that makes a difference...not in an institution and its needs
  • development work is not that hard...but it does take hard work to make it happen
  • development work is about them and people will give
  • don't be afraid to ask for a large gift...people will often surprise you with what they are able to consider
  • managing a development team is about learning to use people's gifts and talents...find lots of people to partner with to develop more and deeper relationships
  • when asking for gifts from others, be sure you have made yours first...and your own gift should hurt a little bit
My top reads to this point?
I know I have to "get on the ball" if I am going to make 40 books this year...for me, the learning keeps happening and I look forward to what is next.  Any suggestions?