Friday, January 25, 2013


I missed a meeting on Wednesday.  It's not that I forgot about it; I had a gathering of College of Business students that had been set up for three weeks and this meeting had been set up for two weeks.  It was supposed to be a 10-minute check-in meeting with the team of which I am a part...and the meeting went for 45 minutes and included a major announcement that affected us, our budgets, our programs, and our people.  And I missed it.

I checked in quickly with one of my colleagues...I then checked in with another colleague...and then checked in with another colleague - and each time heard a different story.  By the time I checked in with a fourth colleague, I knew two things: 1) I had most of the information I needed now that I had talked with four different people; and 2) I still wasn't sure what the message was and what we really were supposed to do.  UGH!  And all this after our team went through Patrick Lencioni's new book The Advantage which emphasizes over and over again the need for CLARITY.  In fact, the book has three chapters that are entitled create clarity, over-communicate clarity, and reinforce clarity.  Double UGH!

For me, the questions were two fold: first, did we all know exactly what it was we were supposed to do (the short answer is NO); and secondly, would we all communicate the same message to our teams (again, the answer was NO).  Let me think out loud here about how to best get clarity in a team...However, before I provide my regular list, let me state that the issue of clarity does not lie only with the team leader (though it is her responsibility that it finally happens).  Team members need to ASK for clarity if it is not provided by the leader - and they need to take on the responsibility of ensuring that they all have the same message and deliver the same message.  So read this list through the eyes of one who leads a team...and one who participates in a team.  Here goes (and of course these are in no particular order):

  1. Take the time prior to the meeting to think through the message that needs to be communicated, even to the point of writing it out.  Putting words on paper and distributing that paper ensures that everyone sees the same message (how they deliver it is another issue).
  2. Write ideas and thoughts up on the board so that everyone sees what verbiage begins to stand out.  Let those be the words that guide the communication across the organization.
  3. Check with the team and ask if they all understand what is to be done or said - it might not even hurt to ask them to repeat it out loud.
  4. Use a checklist - there is no shame in writing things down (what you are going to say...what needs to be accomplished...who needs to do what).  People who brag about keeping everything in their heads probably aren't taking in enough information on a daily basis.
  5. Ask the team if it is clear to them what they are supposed to do. Just because you understand it does not mean that the rest of the team understands it.
  6. Do not rely on one form of communication   If you said it in a meeting, follow up with an email.  If you sent it out in an email, follow up with a meeting.  Walking around from office to office and seeing if the individual members of the team understood what they were supposed to do would accomplish many things.
  7. Don't be afraid to say "I do not understand."  And that's true for the team leader as well as the other team members.
  8. Be authentic, direct, and relevant (this courtesy of Patrick Lencioni).  The more important the message, the more need there is to be this way.  
  9. Be sure that you as a TEAM have agreed to what the message will be and ensure each other that you will do what you said you will do.
The above list seems very basic, but we all know that confusion around poor communication happens all the time.  Take some time today and this week to consider whether or not you are creating CLARITY or CONFUSION...and take the steps necessary to get better at this.  Not only will your team love you for making this happen, you life as a leader will be much easier in the long run.

Friday, January 18, 2013

the power of ignorance

Ignorance is defined in the dictionary as having a lack of knowledge, education, or awareness.  If that is the case, then I was the epitome of ignorance at a meeting I recently led...and came out the better for it.  Yesterday I began my role as Chair of the Board for Austin ECHO (Ending Community Homelessness Coalition).  I have served on the Board for about 18 months (we are a newly formed 501c3 in town) and I accepted a position on the Board because I have a heart and passion for serving the homeless.  Little did I know that I would be asked to be vice-chair and then assume the role of Chair 18 months later.  As I ran the meeting yesterday, listening to those on the Board who have been involved in this issue for years...who are connected to city politicians...who live in and understand the pulse of Austin...I quickly realized (as I have known for a while) that they all knew more than I did.  So what else could I do but shut up and listen...and as Chair of the Board keep everyone on track as much as possible.  I gotta tell you - the meeting went really well.  We dialogued...we learned...we made decisions...we moved the organization forward...we walked out with a plan for action.  I felt really good about the meeting.

Fast forward several hours to a faculty meeting of the College of Business which I also was leading.  The first topic was about teaching, practicing, and assessing skills to prepare our students for the workplace.  I know a lot about this subject - I read about it, I do it in my classroom, I talk with others about fact, I'm pretty good at it.  The meeting was a disaster!  And you know why?  Because I believed I was an expert and talked too much.  I truly believe that the meeting would have gone better if I would have been more ignorant of the subject matter.

So what did I learn?  I'm not yet convinced that ignorance is bliss, but I am convinced that the less I talk and the more I allow others to talk so I can learn from them is a good thing - especially when running meetings.  I think it was the Apostle Paul who wrote something about how knowledge puffs up - and love builds up.  So I am going to continue to learn (one of my natural ways of being) and maybe even become an expert in some fields (especially ending homelessness). And when I become the expert, I will continue to act as if I am ignorant, allowing others to bring their knowledge to the table.  When that happens, I think I will be happier...I think others will be happier...and I think (no, I know) that more will get accomplished for the greater good.

Friday, January 4, 2013


I like to talk about collegiality - the art being collegial with ones colleagues.  But what does that really mean? and why are colleagues so important?  The Free Online Dictionary just told me that the term "colleague" refers to people who work together in the same profession - no duh!  The term comes from the French where it refers to people who are chosen together - as if they were picked at the same time to be on the same team.  I think that may begin to put some more meat on the bones of this term...but let me try to take it a little bit deeper.

When I consider the term "colleague" I think more about the type of relationship that is built between the people who are chosen to be on the same team. This is not just someone who works with me...this is someone who works WITH me - and whom I work WITH.  To have a colleague is to have a trusted partner - one who is willing to work hard to accomplish the task to which all of us are called together.  This is a person who has similar goals...similar outlooks on life...similar aspirations...similar views of the world...and a similar work ethic.  This is someone who respects me...who respects other team members...who respects the mission of the institution...and who respects the idea of what it means to be a team.  This person is willing to sacrifice self for the willing to be open and willing to do the hard work willing to stand up for what is willing to speak truth to willing to take a bullet for the team (and other team members).

All that being said, I also believe a great colleague is one who is a strong individual...who has a strong opinion and is willing to share it...who stands up for what they believe is right...who is striving to move ahead in their lives...who wants to be recognized for their hard work...who sees the world different from me...who has different goals than me...who is a maverick...who is an innovator...who is ahead of the curve...who believes there is more to the world than just this one institution...who has a global vision...who can sometimes even be a pain to the rest of the group.

And finally, I believe that a great colleague is one who is able to recognize the paradox of what it means to be a great colleague and, when slipping on either side of the slope, is willing to ask for forgiveness from the team; and also, in recognizing that paradox, is able to render forgiveness to me when I slip on either side of the slope.  Maybe that's the key to collegiality...that the art of being collegial with colleagues is the art of giving and receiving forgiveness...over and over again.