Friday, May 24, 2013

finding voice

I was visiting the San Antonio cohort of The Concordia MBA this past Tuesday - a group that is getting ready to graduate in August - and began asking them questions about their experience in our program.  As we began to go deeper into the conversation, one young lady, upon being asked what the most significant things was was for her int he program, responded with, "I found my voice."  Now I don't know about you, but that reply got me all choked up.  In creating The Concordia MBA, we knew it was important to teach business skills...we knew it was important to for students to have the various tools called for in making decisions...AND we knew it was important to create leaders.  What greater gift to have as a leader than to FIND ONE'S VOICE?

The importance of finding one's voice lays in the fact that they can now have a seat at the table...they can now disagree without being disagreeable...they can now negotiate for a better outcome...they can now speak with passion and conviction...they now know they can make a difference.  You are probably aware of those around who have not yet found their voice...or are not even sure they have a voice.  They remain quiet...they speak random thoughts that do not seem to carry any weight...they are often at the sides of the conversations...and they are ever doubting themselves in their decision making.  These are not bad people - nor are they incompetent people...they have merely not yet found their voice.

As leaders and managers of others, I believe it is our responsibility to help those around us find their own voices.  This does not come naturally, but rather comes about as a series of ever expanding opportunities and encouragements.  Here is my list of how you (and I) can help others FIND THEIR VOICE:

  • during meetings, find a place and time for everyone to speak their thoughts out loud
  • when one makes a comment, ask them to elaborate more on what they have just said
  • if one talk too much and rambles, ask them to be more concise
  • put people into teams and let them work together
  • process, process, process with people - ask them WHY? over and over again
  • put people in front of other people
  • put people in uncomfortable (yet safe) situations and encourage them to try something new
  • ask people to put their ideas into words - writing memos and documents are a good thing
  • remind your team about the power of introverts - and give those people the space and time to speak
  • just because you can talk doesn't mean you should...let the team have the floor
  • encourage, encourage, encourage - when someone does something wonderful and exciting, go to them and tell them the difference they made
  • encourage, encourage, encourage - when someone says something out of the box or provocative, go to them and let them know you value their ideas
  • make meetings a safe place to share ideas, no matter how off the wall
  • give people new skills - the more they know the easier it becomes to have a voice
Roger Hemminghaus, the former CEO of Diamond Shamrock Oil and Gas, told me this week that the way he learned his voice was that his first company, Exxon, gave him multiple assignments that would STRETCH & EXPOSE him to new ideas and new projects.  He called it one of the greatest times of his life.  For him, that meant traveling the world and having ever increasing responsibilities.  For those around you, it may mean   taking someone on a call with you, giving someone a different assignment for a short time, letting someone come to a Board meeting to talk about their newest project, assigning a mentor to a person, or simply asking someone to read something outside of their field and then having a discussion about it with them.  

For me, hearing this young lady say, "I found my voice" was one of the great moments in my life.  I had a hand in creating a program that not only taught skills and ideas, but literally changed someone's life.  This young lady is a different person - no, a better person - because she has FOUND HER VOICE...and that makes all the difference in the world!

Friday, May 10, 2013

the big purpose

During my morning prayer time today, I came across a prayer by Walter Brueggmann in his book Prayers for a Privileged People which talked about our BIG PURPOSE.  The prayer, which is entitled "Swept to Big Purposes," reminds us that we care called to make a difference in the world, and that the difference is made when we are different.  Here is the prayer in its entirety:

You call and we have a vocation.
You send and we have an identity
You accompany us and we are swept to big purposes:
chosen race, royal priesthood, your own people, receiving mercy.

But we, in our restlessness,
do not want to be so peculiar.

We would rather be like the others,
eager for their wealth - their wisdom - their power.
Eager to be like them -
comfortable, beautiful, young, free.

We yearn to be like the others,
and you make us odd and peculiar and different.

Grant that we may find joy in our baptism,
freedom in our obedience,
delight in our vocation.

The same joy, freedom, and delight
that so marked our Lord
whom we follow into oddness.

As I finish typing out that prayer, I am again struck by the power in the words that call us to be different and to make a difference in the world...and it is within that difference that we find our calling and vocation...and it is within that calling and vocation that we find our delight and joy.  There are many days I wonder what "difference" I can make - will make - am making in the world.  I catch a glimpse of it at times as I watch people's lives change and as they head into their own callings and vocations, ready to make a difference.  There are many stories I can tell where this has become a reality for me...and yet I always seem to want more.  There is a part of me (and I am sure a part of each of us) that yearns to be like the others,wanting the wealth, wisdom and power that comes with title, position and prestige.  And yet, we are made to be odd, peculiar, and different.

So as you consider your vocation - your unique calling - your big purpose, think about how you are making a difference by being different...and bask in the joy, freedom, and delight that is yours to enjoy!