Friday, April 26, 2013

what to say when there is nothing to say

That's right...when there is nothing to say, say nothing.

The end.

Friday, April 19, 2013

the best question ever

Those of you who follow me on this blog - or know me personally - understand that I like to ask questions...and that I like to ask questions that are difficult and thoughtful.  I am not sure where that comes from, but I have come to understand that the better questions one asks, the better answers one receives.  As a teacher, this is an important technique to assess whether or not students have comprehended the ideas in class...and as an administrator, this is an important technique to help my faculty and others around me consider our mission and vision at an even deeper level.

I have spent much of this past week doing exit interviews with graduating seniors in the hope that they will provide me with information that leads to an improvement in our program.  The best results from this type of interview come from good questions.  While I have a standard set of questions I ask everyone, there is always a moment in each of the interviews in which I have to pause and consider what the next question should be, because I know I am on the verge of getting an answer that will give me even better information.  In fact, most of the best questions I ask often come as a result of me having to pause and think for a few moments about what the next question will be.  Using the right words, the right tone of voice, and the right intention are all a part of shaping "the best question ever."

In a recent book I have been reading entitled Essential Questions: Opening Doors to Student Understanding by Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins, the authors have a section entitled "Intent Trumps Form" in which the reader is reminded to consider the intent of the question...what is the context in which the question is being asked?  what is the purpose behind the question?  what is it that we really want the student to consider when answering the question?  and what will the answer lead to next?  In the interviews noted above, I have to be careful that the students never feel as if I am trying to trap them or that I am looking for a specific answer, otherwise the answer will provide little or no useful information and the student will stop trusting the process.

So what is "the best question ever?"  My initial thought when beginning to think about this blog was that "the best question ever" would be a simple WHY?  The depth of asking WHY? is critical to helping others understand themselves and for getting an answer with which you can learn something.  But I think I have changed my mind...perhaps "the best question ever" is the one asked where 1) the inquirer has only the best intentions; 2) the inquirer has no preconceived notion of what the answer will or should be; 3) the inquirer cares enough about the one being asked to create a safe and trusting environment; and 4) there is always an option for the one being asked to not answer the question.

So start practicing asking "the best question ever."  It will not be will not be comfortable...and it will not be welcomed all the time - but it WILL make a difference in the answer you receive and in the life of the one being asked.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

when great minds collide

This past Tuesday I had the opportunity to invite Dr. AndyNellie to teach for me in The Concordia MBA Personal Leadership course.  Andy and I met briefly about 3-4 years ago through an introduction by my President Tom Cedel.  We reconnected this past January, met again in February, and  immediately become good friends and colleagues.  As I sat watching him teach Tuesday evening, it became even clearer that we thought alike and were passionate about the same things.  The thought occurred to me that we had a “mind-meld” and that perhaps “great minds had collided.”  He had a great time teaching, I had a great time participating, and the students had a great time learning.

So what can happen when “great minds collide?”  Here are a few ideas:
-        You become more inspired to pursue your ideas even deeper
-        You come up with new ideas that you had never imagined
-        You sharpen your own thinking around ideas and concepts
-        You begin to share your own thinking with more people
-        You develop more questions to ask and pursue
-        Your come up with new solutions to old problems
-        You discard your bad thinking and replace it with better thinking
-        You become even more passionate around your causes
-        You acquire a new and improved reading list
-        You spend more time watching TED videos
-        You write better blogs (at least I hope so)

I often tell people that I have the best job in the world because I get to meet and hang out with some of the coolest people in Austin.  You have already met Andy Nellie…here are a few more: 
-        Scott Robinson
-        Rob Hutton
-        Joel Trammell
-        Deborah Leverett
-        Patti DeNucci
-        Doug Bain
-        Zay Collier
-        Ken Gladish
-        and the list could go on and on…

I don’t believe it is just enough to meet people for coffee to make great things happen.  In order for “great minds to collide” you as an individual need to do your part.  How can you help to make that happen?
-        Pick up the phone and call someone today
-        When someone says, “you should meet so and so,” go ahead and meet them
-        Learn to ask good questions
-        Listen deeply and build on what others say
-        Be more interested than interesting
-        Be willing to share your own thoughts and ideas
-        Be vulnerable – let others know who you really are
-        Be willing to help – ask what you can do for them
-        When someone recommends a book to read or video to watch, DO IT (whether or not you think you are interested in it)
-        Set up a second time to meet…the first time rarely does the trick
-        Connect them to someone else you think might be a good fit

So those are my ideas for today.  Not sure who I will get to meet today who will  inspire me and make me better.  But I bet there is someone out there…

Friday, April 5, 2013

what are they thinking?

Forgive me if this blog tends to sound whiny and comes off as self-serving...I will try to turn my ideas back on myself before I finish, but if I don't...well, you get the point.

I have been in numerous organizations...I have attended countless meetings...I have served under, with and for multiple bosses...I have had countless colleagues...and I am still amazed at the decisions people make, especially those who have been placed in leadership positions.  Why is it that people act in certain ways and make decisions that not only harm individuals and the organization, but are just wrong?  I have done my share of reading and studying about organizations, and I at least have a running idea on how decisions in organizations should be made.  And then I watch others make decisions and act on behalf of the organization, and I can only shake my head and wonder, "what are they thinking?"  My first inclination is to assume that if they knew better, they would act better.  My second inclination is to think that maybe there is an alternative motive (often not good) to their decision making.  And my third inclination is to wonder if they are just incompetent. The problem is that often times these are the smartest people in the room...they just have no clue how to manage and lead.  Here are a few thoughts as to why we wonder about others (and why others wonder about us), and ask the question "what are they thinking?"
  • They have risen to their level of incompetence (see The Peter Principle)
  • They have not made the transition from their former position to that of leader
  • They are unaware of their own shadow side
  • They are stressed and revert back to their instinctual behavior
  • They have never read deeply (or maybe at all) into the management and leadership literature
  • They are self-absorbed
  • They are more worried about their own position than that of others
  • They believe that because they have a title they have all the answers
  • They observed others making and being rewarded for similar types of decisions
  • They use the wrong set of measurements and metrics
  • They use the wrong lens through which to see and understand the organization they lead
  • They still believe that what got us here will get us there
  • They believe they are always right
Here's what I believe...if you are going to lead an organization, then the above items are non-negotiable to work on and get fixed.  We ALL suffer from the above...we ALL have several of the items that haunt and plague us...we ALL struggle to get the above items "right" on a consistent basis...AND we ALL have to get better at the above items if we are to lead and not have people consistently say to themselves "what are they thinking?"  I expect better from those who are called to lead...I expect leaders to be readers...I expect leaders to be learners...I expect leaders to find a good coach...I expect leaders to be listeners...I expect leaders to open themselves up to criticism...I expect leaders to be self-examiners...I expect leaders to leave their past jobs behind and embrace their new roles...I expect leaders to care more about the organization than they do themselves...I expect leaders to admit they are wrong...and I expect leaders to embrace the knowledge of the institution and its people when making decisions.  And if they do that, I no longer have to wonder, "what are they thinking?"  Instead I, and many others, will see them as geniuses and embrace their leadership, because they will be making much better decisions.