Friday, December 21, 2012

re-framing touchy-feely

Last week I wrote about my team, The Provost's Council, having been through a retreat and beginning the task of building ourselves as a team...and the risks involved in becoming a strong team.  Part 2 of that retreat happened this past Wednesday when we shared with each other behaviors everyone did to improve the team's performance and behaviors everyone did to derail the team's performance.  It was not an easy exercise...but seemed to be incredibly beneficial to the team.  I was sharing this exercise with someone and they made the comment that the team on which they serve aren't into those type of "touch-feely" exercises.  I immediately felt a little bit defensive and asked the question, "What other term could we use rather than touchy-feely?"  Similar to the idea of "soft skills," touchy-feely has an incredibly negative connotation and many people (and teams) would see anything consisting of touchy-feely as a waste of time.  The exercise we as a team went through this past Wednesday was nothing close to a waste of time...nor was it easy and soft...nor was it something one does when they have nothing else to do...and it was certainly not (at least in the accepted sense of the term) touchy-feely.  It took took hard took took humility...and it took strength and will.  I don't think any of those terms are (or should be) associated with touchy-feely.

So how might we re-frame the phrase "touch-feely when exercises or events we do as a team?  Here are some random thoughts off the top of my head:

  • team building
  • encouragement
  • strength building
  • bonding
  • soul searching
  • exposing the dark side
  • persona completing
  • relationship strengthening
  • leadership capacity
  • self awareness
  • building team awareness
The next time I hear someone say to me that they do not like to or need to engage in touch-feely exercises in their team, my arsenal of replies will include:
  • "so you don't want to use all of the tools available to your team to make it better?"
  • "so optimum team performance is not important to you?"
  • "so everyone on the team is fully developed as a leader?"
  • "so the team is self-aware enough to monitor when it makes good and bad decisions?"
  • "so you would rather have a team that is less encouraging of one another than it can be?"
  • "so you don't want to build the leadership capacity of the team?"
  • "so you believe that everyone on the team is always making decisions from the purest motives possible?"
  • "so don't you want your team to be better tomorrow than it is today?"
If you have the need to keep using the term touchy-feely, I suppose that's okay.  Just be sure to say it in such a way that it exudes a positive connotation for team building...which leads to a better functioning team...which leads to a team getting more accomplished...which leads to a fuller living out of the organization's mission...which leads to healthier communities and a better world.  I don't know about you, but if The Provost's Council begins to function at the level we all believe it can as a result of the exercises we have been going through, then I'm all for touchy-feely...whatever that might mean!

Friday, December 14, 2012

the risk of team

Last Friday, the team of which I am a member (officially entitled The Provost's Council) went on a retreat to build ourselves as a team.  We brought on Jim Blanchard of Strategic Positioning to function as a facilitator and used The Birkman Profile as a tool as well as concepts and ideas from Patrick Lencioni's newest book The Advantage. Special thanks and a shout-out to our teammate Tammy Stewart for allowing us to gather at her family's cabin on Lake Travis.  For many people, this type of setting and exercise is a bore and a dread.  Having to get all "soft and fuzzy" drives some individuals crazy.  I happen to like the setting once it gets going - but there is always some fear and trepidation in me as I am driving to the event...mostly because I never quite know where it is going to go.  You see, there's always that moment in these settings when each person has to decide whether or not to TAKE THE RISK to either tell about themselves or comment on someone else.  So the question we have to ask - and answer - is whether or not it is worth the risk to build the team...and then whether or not building the team is worth the risk.

A couple of reasons on why its RISKY to work on the aspect of building a team:

  • you have to be vulnerable
  • you have to allow others to be vulnerable
  • you have to hold yourself accountable
  • you have to hold your teammates accountable
  • you have to hold your boss accountable (assuming he or she is a member of the team)
  • you have to listen to other's comments about what you add to the team
  • you have to listen to other's comments about how you distract from the team
  • you have to tell others what they add to the team
  • you have to tell others how they distract from the team
  • you have to be willing to take the fall as a team
  • you have to put on your team hat and remove your position hat
You will notice that the above list has a lot of "you have to" in it...I am never a fan of being told I have to do something, so my caveat here is that I suppose you can choose not to do these things - and there is a RISK associated with that decision as well.  It will be interesting watching whether or not everyone on The Provost's Council chooses to engage in the "have to's" or not over time.  My belief is that the more everyone on the team engages in these behaviors, the faster the team will function better...and a better functioning the team, the more that gets accomplished...and the more that gets accomplished, the better the mission is served...and the better the mission is served, the more healthy our communities are.  At the end of the day, if I believe in the mission of my institution, the more I have to take the responsibility to engage in behaviors that will lead to a stronger and more fully functioning team.  I'm ready to take the risk...are you?

Friday, December 7, 2012

what don't you know about yourself?

Yesterday in class I gave my students the opportunity to assess the course - what they learned, how the different tools impacted their learning, and what they most liked/disliked about the course as a whole.  The final question I always ask on these course evaluations is "What should the instructor know about himself that he might not know?"  This always gives me a chance to talk about the Johari Window and help students better understand the need for reflection and feedback.  While most students are very kind, there are always a few students that point out things that give me pause to think and reflect on what I do, whether it be how I conduct myself in class, how my clothes look on me ("your tie always shifts to the left") or how I am perceived by different types of students.
For me, this is an important question from which I can learn - and an important question from which my students can also learn.  Having to reflect on the an aspect of someone else's life that may not be known to them - and then having to write that down - helps one critically look at and think about their own life.  My students have to decide whether or not what they see in my (especially that which is hidden from me) is of value enough to them to put on paper and let me know.  They are questioning their own values and beliefs and then putting words to them in a way that I will need to understand (I have to remember that a lot of what the answers to this question tell me is as much about the student as it is about me). I also believe that through having to think about and answer this question my students learn  how to ask for and accept feedback.

Now comes the hard part - am I willing to listen to and accept what my students tell me about myself that I might not yet know?  Two examples of what I am wrestling with based on yesterday's feedback:

  1. Over the past several semesters, more and more students keep telling me that I do not recognize the amount of influence and impact I have on students (I think they mean that in a positive sense) - and truthfully, I don't recognize that impact...I do what I do in a passionate manner because that's who I am. That being said, when one knows they have that type of influence, how will they use it?  My current definition of leadership includes the phrase "stewarding the power given to one to influence others towards a goal that impacts the common good."  I am wrestling with how to best use that influence to make an even bigger impact on those who study and learn with me.
  2. I ask a lot of questions in my classes, probing deeply with students to get at the heart of an answer.  I will often put students on the spot, sometimes having them stand to share their answers; I believe this is good practice in getting them comfortable speaking in front of a group.  I always get feedback from a few students (this semester was no exception) that my technique of asking questions embarrasses some students and makes them afraid.  I really wrestle with this, wanting to create a safe classroom for all and working to move students to the next level of their thinking and building their competency of speaking in public.
All that being said, here is what I would say to all leaders:
  • provide opportunity for those around you to give you feedback on those areas in which you might not know about yourself - you will learn and they will feel heard
  • be courageous enough to hear that feedback and consider what might need to be changed (remember that what you are hearing is also them telling you about them)
  • let others know what you heard and how you have changed as a result of their feedback (I always start every new course by going over feedback from the previous class)
  • encourage your team to do this with each other by giving them a venue and a tool in which to do so
  • embrace the opportunity for feedback - when people come to me and tell me something they appreciate about me, I will often ask them WHY they appreciate that - it gives me a chance to learn more about myself and about that person
  • tell your best people that you NEED them to give you honest feedback on a regular basis, especially on those items of which you are not aware
That's all for today...we head into finals next week so everyone is busy writing finals, studying for finals, and then grading finals.  So you may or may not hear from me over the next few weeks, but I will be looking at the world through leadership lenses, hoping to find more and more ways to THINK ABOUT LEADERSHIP for 2013...