Friday, January 24, 2014


When people ask me what I like best about being Dean, one of my responses is always, "I get to meet the coolest people in the world."  That was true again this past week as I was able to interface with three people who have held CEO and CEO-type positions:
  • Jim Koerschen, former college president and international school headmaster
  • Joel Trammell, who built, ran , grew, and sold several technology companies
  • Bob May, former Dean of the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas
My conversation with each of them traveled many and various paths, but it always came back to the role of the CEO/President/Boss/Headmaster/Dean...whatever title one puts in front of people who are "in charge."  Today's blog is devoted to what these gentlemen had to share with me - and what we as leaders should consider in our roles, no matter the title - otherwise known as CEOisms...

  • You only get 18-19 decisions, because every decision upsets 5% of the people , and they are never the same people.  Once you get to 18, it's time to start looking for a new job, because at 20 everyone is angry at you
  • The role of the CEO is to communicate INTENT, not specific action
  • It's harder to say NO when you are flush in cash than when you don't have any money
  • You are responsible for ALL policies, whether or not you were there when they were put in place
  • It's one thing to manage or's another to COMMAND, because when you are the CEO, your decisions really matter (see The Art of Action)
  • Determine what it is that you can do BEST and what will bring "cache" to your organization
  • IMPACT comes with quality and numbers (growth)
  • When asking about goal completion, it's better to ask about COMMITMENT to completing the project rather than one's STATUS in completing the project
  • Make sure that when adding "things" to the organization that they add VALUE to the organization's priorities
  • Because they have the "position" to deal with conflict, CEO's do not need to be afraid of conflict on their teams
  • CEOs need to trust their people to make decisions and then back them on those decisions
  • Determine where your organization can be FIRST, and then make it happen
  • Transparency is key if you want to build trust and make things happen
  • Decide what is important, continuously pursue that path, make changes toward that end, invest in and resource those priorities, and develop structure that supports those ends
  • Help people in your organization make the shift from a "sales" focus (because numbers can be measured) to a "quality" focus in all aspects
As you read through that list, some will resonate with you - and others may not.  In fact, I hope that you disagree with some of them and post your thoughts below.  You might even have your own CEOisms to share.  Above all, it's time for each of us to put these into practices in our own leadership roles.  What can you do TODAY to make an impact on your organization and the people who work with you?

Friday, January 17, 2014

valuing values

There is much written about mission, vision and values as a part of an organization's culture - and how the mission, vision and values can drive an organization in it's performance.  VALUES have become very important to me as I have seen their impact on my organization's life and my colleague's lives these past several weeks.  We all have values - whether articulated or not - and we hold these values very close to our hearts.  A few examples:

  • Several years ago I found myself becoming very angry at a situation that had occurred within the organization to which I belonged.  I talked about it with my supervisor...I fumed about it with my colleagues...I probably even wrote about it in a previous blog.  It then hit my that what I valued and believed to be right behavior was not valued or important to the organization...and I had to come to grips with that.  I had to tell myself repeatedly that just because I thought a certain behavior should be valued did not mean that everyone else did or that the organization should.  Once I understood that, I could move forward (and if I had not done that, I would have had to resign).
  • In a recent meeting, our team was wringing their hands as to why something was not happening and why "they" didn't understand the importance of the situation.  It soon became clear that "they" did not hold the same values that we did.  As a group we had worked hard at thinking about our values, articulating our vales and trying to operationalize our values.  When we saw others not living those same values out, we became upset - until we realized that we could not (and should not) force our team's values on another team (the proverbial "they").  And so we decided that we would focus on what we could control and continue to try to influence others, and not expect them to live by or adopt our values.
  • Before the semester began, our College of Business faculty met and the first agenda item was to review and talk about how we can put our College's values into practice.  There was great discussion around this, and as we went around the room talking about the highlights of the conversations, it became clear that we spent most of our time applying our values to low performers (be they students or colleagues).  Our challenge became how we might also apply those values to the best and brightest, challenging the top performers to do even more and letting them live out these values among their peers.
So how can we as individuals AND as an organization value values - and make them an integral part of our day to day lives?  Here are a few suggestions:
  • BE SURE THEY ARE NAMED: as a group put down on paper what your values specific...know from whence they come and why they are important to sure they align with  and enhance the mission and vision...don't let them become sure you can explain them when asked (remember that these are more internal than external - they are how we experience life together and how we treat one another)
  • TALK ABOUT THEM: these should not be words on paper or plaques on a wall...they need to be in front of everyone in the organization...they need to be brought up at meetings...they need to be a part of regular reviews...they need to be important enough so they become a part of your daily language...they need to be brought up in the midst of difficult decisions.
  • REWARD THOSE WHO LIVE THEM OUT: verbal recognition and a pat on the back is fine, but are there ways that people will actually be rewarded for living the organization's values out?  THERE IS!  One of our classes (Dr. Lynette Gillis' Leadership and Business class) is piloting a program with You Earned It! a company reward program that uses social media and prizes to recognize excellent behavior within an organization.  Students will be able to reward one another with points for living out the values of the College within the classroom - each time a student gives points to another student, they must link that reward to a value and make a comment that others in the class will see (and the more points a student collects, the better the prize is for whcih they can redeem their points).  More information about this product can be found at the You Earned It website - and by the way, we are the first college or university to partner with this organization...we'll see what happens!
  • REPRIMAND THOSE WHO VIOLATE THEM: this is the hardest part, because we don't like to call people out on the carpet - and this is a time when I believe that the reprimand needs to be as public as possible, so that others know that you as the leader know that the value was violated.  Values are so important to the health of an organization, that when they are violated, restitution should be made.  One of our values is that "we practice forgiveness guided by mercy and justice."  When that value is not upheld, it is not enough to note it on someone's permanent file or discuss it in an end of year must be immediately pointed out, and an action needs to take place that reminds everyone about the power of forgiveness.  An organization's values are not private - the public naming, talking about, rewarding, and reprimanding is what gives those values POWER.
What are your values?  What are your organization's values?  Do they line up?  Do you talk about them?  How important are they to you and others in the organization?  And what can you do - TODAY - to make values valued in your organization and in your life?

Friday, January 10, 2014

it's not complicated

One of my favorite TV commercials over the past 6 months has been the AT&T "It's Not Complicated" commercials featuring really cute kids who say and do very silly things.  The point of the commercials is to convince the viewer to sign up for AT&T because the decision to do so is "not complicated."  Guess what my wife and I did about two months ago?  We signed up for AT&T U-Verse cable and internet - they got us!

Much of leadership is not complicated - it's complex, but it is not complicated.  When it looks complicated...and when it sounds complicated...and when it feels complicated, then it is probably something other than leadership.  Let me explain...

  • You're sitting in a meeting and the screen in the front of the room is beginning to overflow with charts and graphs.  The numbers are beginning to all look alike, the person explaining the numbers is telling you way more than you or anyone else needs to know, and at the end of the presentation no decision is made because the numbers have made it too complicated.
  • You open the spreadsheet that was just sent to you and you begin to look at it, hoping to discover something that will help you better understand the issue.  The charts and graphs give a lot of detail, and the supporting documentation (found on the next six tabs) is all there - but you soon realize that while you have a lot of information, the question of WHY is not being answered.  You soon give up because it has become too complicated.
  • You are attempting to solve a problem and need advice from your boss, because you realize that the decision is going to include personnel changes in areas other than your own. As she begins to help you with this problem, more and more ideas start flowing and soon you are lost in the transaction, not knowing where she is going with this.  You wanted a solution, and what you are getting is a dissertation.  You walk out of the room wondering what to do next, because the attempt to solve a problem has suddenly become too complicated.
We all are guilty of this syndrome, probably more often than we would like AND more often than we know.  Few people will call us out on this issue because it's hard to argue with numbers.  The saying that "If you can't dazzle them with brilliance baffle them with BS" is true - if I can sufficiently confuse you numbers and facts and ideas, then you will think I'm brilliant and will soon start leaving me alone.  

So what can we as leaders (and leaders to be) do about this?  Here are a few ideas:
  • when we have a lot of information to share, especially when it includes numbers, charts and graphs, be explicit about the WHY of what you are sharing - help people wade through the data to get at the heart of the matter
  • when people come to us with issues, find out exactly what they need, ad stick to that point rather than confuse them with your own thinking and dreaming out loud
  • when we make presentations to groups, especially when it is new information, keep it simple and stick to the point (and be sure to repeat the point over and over)
  • when sharing data with a group, stop every now and then and ask if it is making sense - ask clarifying questions - seek new knowledge from the group - ask if this is something important to them - be crystal clear about why you are sharing the information...and if you begin to see blank stares from the group (or they stop talking) realize that you have lost them and work to get them back
  • when you get ready to send that spreadsheet with numbers, charts, graphs, etc ask yourself if everyone needs all of this information - and then begin to make it less complicated
  • never, never, never confuse complication with complexity - issues with which we deal are very complex and need our best thinking...but we do not need to make them feel complicated.
So take the time to Google "It's Not Complicated," watch some of the AT&T commercials, laugh out loud, and remind yourself that what we do does not need to be complicated...and start today to help your team do its job better by removing complications and making the work more clear.

Friday, January 3, 2014

from "ex" to success

I was listening to an entrepreneurship podcast this morning that started out like most other entrepreneurship talks: "I got tired of what I was doing, left that, and started something else..."  I began thinking about the people I know, and realized many of them are "ex" something or other - an ex-CPA, an ex-fighter pilot, an ex-sales person, an ex-CEO - and the list goes on and on.  I am an ex-band director, who has found great joy in this role as Dean of a business school.  The thing is, none of the people above, including myself, ever disliked what we were doing before.  We weren't looking to get out, but we may have perhaps become a little bored.  Entrepreneurs (and I would also suggest "leaders") are by nature starters...we like to start things...we like to build things...we like ideas...we like growth...we like energy.  And when those things begin to wane, it is time to ask the important question, "what's next?"

I have come to understand that the answer to "what's next?" doesn't always have to be a new career - it can be a new way of living out your current could be a new assignment within your current could be a new way of thinking about how your organize your work within your current could be a new way of thinking - or a new way of living.  Whatever it might be, moving to the "new way" means giving up something form your "old way" - which means you are now an "ex-something or other."

The New Year is always full of possibilities (no matter what Mark Twain might have said).  It is a time to become an "ex-something or other."  Here is my personal list of things that we as leaders might consider becoming an "ex" in:

  • become an ex-micro manager
  • become an ex-late to meetings person
  • become an ex-complainer
  • become an ex-gossiper
  • become an ex-expert
  • become an ex-over eater
  • become an ex-worrier
  • become an ex-controller
  • become an ex-procrastinator
  • become an ex-skeptic
  • become an ex-_____________________
To step up our leadership, we need to develop new (better) habits...and to do that, we need to rid ourselves of old habits.  Just as many entrepreneurs take the jump from one career to the next (often with much fear and trepidation), so leaders must make the same jump, giving up the old and embracing the new.  Will it be difficult? Will it be scary? Will you wonder whether it is the right thing to do?  Will it feel as if you don't really know what you are doing?  You know the answer to these questions, so just go ahead and do it.  Not only will you find your joy and passion,but those around you will be better off for it as well.  Enjoy the journey!