Friday, March 29, 2013

what's good about good friday?

There are few times I talk about my faith and spirituality in this blog, though I imagine it becomes evident in what and how I write on a weekly basis.  I am a BIG believer that people need to be able to bring their whole selves into the workplace...and what is more important to an individual than their spirituality, their world view, and their faith?  I think this happens best when 1) the organization creates the environment in which that can occur; and 2) the individual knows how to do that in a way that is right and proper.  All that being said, let me launch into this week's topic...

In the Christian tradition (and especially in the liturgical Christian tradition), this day is one of the highlights of the Christian walk.  We call is Good Friday, the day on which we remember the death of Jesus Christ on the cross.  I have a friend who grew up in a non-liturgical tradition  and he would always wonder why the liturgical church puts so much energy and effort into this day when we really needed to only focus on Easter, that day in which Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  Well, the fact of the matter is you can't get to resurrection except through death.  And in the Christian tradition, it is only through that death that we receive life.  There is no resurrection without the death...therefore the death is incredibly important - and GOOD.  As a child growing up, this paradox was often explained to me through the example of the butterfly who would emerge from the cocoon as a result of the caterpillar dying.

Whether you believe this to be true or not, for me there is great power in understanding this concept and making it a part of my faith and spirituality.  My ability to believe this - completely and without doubt - also allows me to live with other paradoxes in my life...and in my organization.  There has been much written in the past decade about how leadership is enhanced through paradoxical thinking.  Truth is that I have never had a problem with this concept.  I can hold two seemingly illogical truths in my head at the same time and not go crazy...and it actually becomes a tool in which my creativity and problem solving is enhanced.  My spirituality and understanding of God takes my leadership to a higher level - not because God is blessing me (that concept is definitely NOT part of my theology) but because I can see the world through a set of lenses that is important to how I live out my work...and my life.

So I embrace GOOD FRIDAY - a day in which I and others throughout the world remember and celebrate death.  It is a quiet is a somber is a celebration that often occurs in a darkened room...but it is a celebration nonetheless.  When I celebrate death I also celebrate life - because death is a part of life.  And that is true in my faith...that is true in my own life...and that is true in my organization.

Friday, March 22, 2013

common language

This past Monday I had the opportunity to visit with people at a sister Concordia in Mequon, Wisconsin (just north of Milwaukee).  Similar to Concordia University Texas, this school reinvented itself about 30 years ago by moving and taking on a whole new identity. It has been tremendously successful and has provided a model for our school to look at and emulate in some ways.  My biggest lesson learned from my visit there was the importance of having a COMMON LANGUAGE.  While much of what is written on this subject deals with vision and culture, I learned about the importance of common language between departments and individuals so that work can be accomplished efficiently and effectively.

I visited with President Pat Ferry, COO Al Prochnow, VP of Academics Bill Cario, and Dean of Business David Borst - all great people who are doing cool things in Lutheran higher education.  But what struck me most was that they all talked the same language, especially when it came to decision making.  They had tools and processes by which they made decisions together.  I often see people making decisions based on the following:

  • the loudest voice getting what they
  • whether or not it will fit into the budget
  • what seems to be the most pressing need at the time
  • gut feelings
  • flowery language
  • bullying
I was impressed that they had a way of accounting for all programs so that they could make decisions on their viability to the institution, both in a financial sense and "must have" sense.  I was impressed that they had a system for hiring faculty that was based on a numerical number that made sense for both learning and financial reasons.  I was impressed that even though people looked at the world through different lenses, they were able to get along and make decisions quickly and in a manner that supported the mission of the institution.  And I was impressed that they all kept coming back to the mission of the institution as they talked about their decision making processes.

So what does this mean for us as leaders?  How can we begin to develop a common language so that our institutions and organizations can make better decisions that impact our missions?  Here are a few thoughts:
  • when people come to an impasse in decisions making, step back and examine the process.  Take out the "personality factor" and focus on a common set of tools and a common language to use in the process.
  • it's really not as hard as it seems - find out what works for your institution and use that tool on a regular basis.
  • seek expertise - if an issue keeps coming up over and over again, go and find someone to help you develop a "common language" in solving that issue in the future
  • respect people for what they know - the chief academician and the the chief financial officer look at the world through different lenses (thank goodness).  Each need to respect the other and find a way to have common language so that decisions can be made effectively and efficiently.
  • let people do their jobs - give decision making to the people who have to live with those decisions.  If there are only a handful of people making decisions for the organization, decision making will become inefficient and ineffective.
  • someone has to be in charge - when individuals are not able to work together to make decisions, for whatever reasons may exist, then someone needs to step in and play coach.  The coach doesn't make the plays (decisions) but puts in place a system and a process by which the plays (decisions) can be successfully executed over and over again.
So where do you find common language - or lack of common language - in your organization?  Perhaps you can step in and help people develop common language...perhaps you can step in and ask good questions that will lead to common language...perhaps you can develop a process by which others can engage with you in common language...or perhaps you can gently ask people to read this blog and consider what it means for your institution or organization.  

Friday, March 15, 2013

things learned at SXSW

Austin is the coolest place to be for two weeks in March - SXSWedu; SXSWinteractive; SXSWfilm; and of course the grand daddy of them all SXSWmusic.  I spent time this year at SXSWedu and SXSWinteractive where I was actually a panelist along with Richard Rhodes, the President of Austin Community College and Pauline Dow, teh Chief Academic Officer of Austin Independent School District.  The panel was moderated by Nathan green, CEO of Campus2Career. 

 But this blog is not about what I's about what I learned. So here goes:
  • I'm smarter than I think I am and there are so many people so much smarter than me.
  • Most organizations are behind the curve and it wouldn't take much to move ahead of the pack quickly.
  • The government (and most organizations) have people making decision who have no business making decisions because they have never been in the business about which they are making decisions (this was learned after listening to Texas legislators talk about how they are reforming education).
  • Higher education is going to look a lot different in the next 5-10 years...not sure what it will look like, but I know the ride is going to be fun.
  • I'm pondering the question, "Is it the role of the University to prepare their students for today's jobs - or to prepare them to be leaders in society in the next 20-40 years? (this from President Bill Powers of University of Texas-Austin)
  • People today are more interested in experience than ownership, i.e. I will never own a Corvette, but I can have the experience through a weekend rental...and what does that say about what I do on a day-to-day basis?
  • Focus, Focus, Focus, Focus...oh, wait - I already knew that!
  • Networking is a lifestyle not a process (courtesy of Porter Gale who wrote Your Network is Your Net Worth)
  • The funniest man talking about business today is Scott Stratten -watch his videos here.
  • Three important assets to have are Programs, Partners, and People
  • one of my jobs is to help others (especially students) know that they are smart enough and strong enough to figure it out for themselves.
I could go on and on...much of what I learned I tweeted out through my Twitter account  (my Klout score went WAY up for a week).  But I think that my real learning will occur without me knowing it.  Hanging out and listening to really smart people who are on the cutting edge for 7 days has to have an effect on me...I may just be beginning to understand what I learned and how I changed during my "south by" experience.  It was great - it was fun - I learned a lot - and I'm a different/better person for it.

Friday, March 1, 2013

why we do what we do

I was sitting in one of The Concordia MBA classes last night and the guest speaker asked our students (who are getting ready to graduate in May from the program), "What is it that makes you fully alive?"  It was interesting watching the students ponder that thought as they were challenged to consider what they would do with themselves now that they were getting ready to graduate.  As I pondered the thought myself, I asked the flip side of the question, "What is it that keeps me from being fully alive?"  Following my journaling this morning, my mind wandered then to the title of this article, i.e. "Why do I do what I do?"  Pretty fundamental question, don't you think?  And then, as I combined the two ideas, it struck me that if what I do makes me fully alive, then that might just be the reason I do it.  Let me think out-loud about that a little bit...

  • some might say it is WHO I AM that makes me fully alive more than WHAT I DO...and yet what I do is/should be a reflection of who I am.
  • I was once asked the question, "What does it look like when you are at your best?"  It is a great coaching question, and something that has driven me to spend more time at what makes me feel alive and less time at what sucks my energy.
  • Being fully alive for me means that I more than likely feel at the top of my game, even when upset or exhausted.  I have energy..I have joy...things are getting done...and for the most part I have a smile on my face.  
  • Being fully alive means that others are noticing that I have energy...that I have joy...that I am getting things done...and that for the most part there is a smile on my face.
  • If someone today were to ask me why I do what I do, I would begin to talk about my calling and vocation, how what I do impacts people's lives, and that what I do feels right on a day-to-day basis.
  • If someone were to ask how do I KNOW that what I am doing is the right thing, I would begin to talk about how my energy stays high most of the day, how I get positive feedback for what I do, and that when considering alternatives, this continues to be my best option.
So as I put these thoughts together, I come back to the question asked last night, "What is it that makes me fully alive?"  I'm going to try to distill it down to three points:
  1. Being fully alive comes from the fact that I am in a place in my life that what I do on a daily basis makes sense for me - and others agree with that.
  2. Being fully alive begins with the fact that my sense of worth and value comes not from external sources, but from my knowledge and faith that I am loved by God and have been redeemed and called to bring about His Kingdom here on earth.
  3. Being fully alive means that I know who I am...I am comfortable with who I am...others in my life like who I am...and I have the resources to live a life reflective of who I am.
That's it...not sure all of this rambling today made sense, but it was a great exercise for me to consider the questions "what makes me fully alive?" and "why do I do what I do?"  I invite you to also consider these questions as you think about your life...and your leadership.