Friday, August 29, 2014

it's about people

Of course it's about people!  Every leadership book says so...every leadership coach says so...and every leader will tell you that is what they believe.  Yesterday I witnessed what happens when people are actually put first in an organization when the employees at UFCU recognized and honored their leader, Tony Budet, for his 30 years of service there as well as his 60th birthday.  As I listened to the the speeches and watched the video presentation, I was taken by how these people genuinely loved the man they worked with and for.  Tony (that's him on the right) has often shared his maxims with me, telling me how he treats the people at UFCU.  Watching the result made me realize he did more than talk about it...he actually puts his beliefs into practice.

So what do leaders do who really believe that "it's about people?"  Here are five ideas to consider:

  1. Promote People - this means more than just giving someone a new title and more means that individuals and groups are recognized for their work, that they believe you care about them (both in and outside of the organization), and that whenever you get a chance, you talk about how great the people in the organization are.
  2. Protect People - our colleagues need to know that we have their back, both in good times and bad.  This might mean we have to run interference for them at times, that we might need to set limits at times, and that we need to create a work environment that is safe from abuse and harm.
  3. Provoke People - I believe that people want to have something bigger to aim for in their lives, and the leader's ability to create a bigger vision has as much to do with people's job satisfaction as does the work environment as a whole.  Helping people find their dreams and passions within the organization can be incredibly satisfying for everyone.
  4. Poke People - this is about accountability, and holding people to doing their work excellently and in a manner that cares for others,  This is often the hardest thing that leaders need to do, and it needs to be done for those who are not getting the job done, as well as for those who are the superstars (they need to know that you know who is not getting the job done).
  5. Pray With People - I have the unique privilege of being able to pray with my colleagues, and taking the time to lift them up in prayer publicly.  While not everyone will be able to do this, it is important that people know you care enough about them that you would pray for them, that they are important to you, and that they are a part of your spirituality (whatever that might look like).
Those are my five Ps about people for today...anymore to add?

Friday, August 15, 2014

clear ambiguity

When trying to explain a concept to someone else that I might struggle to understand, I often get that look that is telling me, "Your explanation is as clear as mud!"  Sometimes I have to start over, and sometimes I have to accept the fact that no matter how hard I try, the explanation will continue to be "clear as mud" until either I have a better understanding of the concept or I find someone else who can do a better job of explaining the issue.

This past week I have come face-to-face with the reality that in an executive role, most decisions that come across one's desk are, to say the least, "clear as mud."  All of the leadership and management texts remind us that the tough decisions are those that are neither black or white, but a very dark (and murky) gray.  There are no easy answers to these type of decision, and leaders need to get comfortable with ambiguity and paradox.  The good news is you do not need to make a quick decision...the bad news is that you have to live with the ambiguity of the decision.  In other words, the ambiguity of the decisions making process will become very clear.

So how do leaders create a clear ambiguity in their decision making process?  Here are a few thoughts:

  1. Remind yourself - and others - that you do not have all the answers.
  2. Get really good at asking questions - and make sure they are questions to which you do not know the answer.
  3. Listen to a lot of people - ask the same questions over and over of different people and see how they respond.
  4. Listen deeply - ask probing questions of people's initial answers.
  5. Take your time - there is a reason these decisions are ambiguous and paradoxical - they are big and tough and deserve the time they need.
  6. Read - learn everything you can about the issue so that you can ask knowledgeable questions and interact with other professionals.
  7. Have a trusted team you can go to and probe the issue deeply, with no fear of being held to your ideas or words.
  8. Consider alternatives...keep asking the "what if" questions.
  9. Relax - the world does not revolve around you or your organization.  Someone else might be able to solve the issue.
  10. Be ruthless - take the issue on directly and make it personally yours (note the paradox here) because once you own the issue (see last week's blog) you can then deal with the ambiguity it brings.
  11. Trust that God is in control - and that you have been placed by Him into this role to engage in these type of decisions.  
So enjoy the ambiguity - and remember that is why you have been called to lead, because you love ideas and issues that are "clear as mud!"

Friday, August 8, 2014

creating ownership

Leadership and management experts will tell you that in order for individuals or groups to care about something, they have to feel ownership of it, whether that be an organization, a mission, or simply an idea.  Ownership of anything (be it an idea or a physical object) includes caring for that item, stewarding the item, ensuring the item works, and being proud of the item.  I have a good friend who is a car fanatic, and as I watch him “own” his cars, he does all of the above – with much fanfare and enthusiasm.

This week I had the opportunity to watch a group of people begin to own a part of Concordia’s structure which they had been asked to join, something known as Concordia’s University Council.  More than owning the group, they began to own the reason why the group will exist and its function within the University.  It was magic to watch how a group of 24 individuals came together for three hours and claimed ownership of the function of the group over a short period of time.  Through the process of talking, questioning, testing ideas, and an open space in which to think, this group began building its own charter by which they would function in, with, and for their organization.  And by building the charter themselves, there is a better chance they will own what they do and how they do it.  And if they own it, they will take responsibility for its function and outcomes.  I am excited to watch what happens over the next few months as we figure out exactly what this charter will look like and how the group begins to own WHAT it does and HOW it does its work.

Now let me take a little side trip here (or as a good friend of mine likes to say…SQUIRREL!).  I have come to realize that no one can force ownership upon any one person or a group of people.  You can give them ownership…you can ask them to take ownership…you can write ownership into their job description…but until they TAKE ownership on their own, they will be unable to care for and steward the item given them.  Leading cannot entail only giving ownership…leaders must create the environment in which others can take ownership and truly own what they believe is important.  How does this happen?  A few thoughts:

  • Allow others to create the reason for ownership
  • Create the space and the time for people to consider what it actually is they might be owning
  • Ask questions that allow for people to dialogue on what ownership means
  • Put people together with disparate ideas so that the best ideas can emerge
  • Let the group decide what they believe is most important
  • Words are important – be sure that the individual or the group know exactly what it is they are owning and are able to express it in a consistent and coherent manner
  • Don’t ever (I repeat, ever) take back the ownership once they have accepted it it…AND if they choose not to take ownership, then take it back and find someone else to give it to
  • Realize that they may want to take ownership but do not yet know how to care and steward for what they have accepted – this is where training and discipling comes into play
  • This isn’t about delegating ownership – you as the leader own whatever this is as well…it is about sharing ownership and working together for the good of the organization, idea, or goal

As you go about the rest of the day, consider what it is that you own, how you might include others in that ownership, and what expectations gaps exist where you believe you have given ownership but that ownership has not yet been taken…and then go have that conversation about why that gap exists.  Enjoy!

Friday, August 1, 2014

day one

Today is day one of my new role as Chief Executive Officer for Concordia University Texas...wait, did I just type that?  It is both an exhilarating and humbling feeling to have walked into the building this morning and see this sign posted on the office:
We all go through multiple day ones during our life time - the first day of school...the first day on a team...the first day of college...the first day of a new job...the first day of marriage...the first day as a mother or father...the first day on a new board...and the list continues for each and every one of us.

So what should a leader consider on their day one?  Here is a list of items I have been thinking about:
  • Get prepared - read everything you can about the new role, talk with others who have been previously in that role, and think deeply about what you want that role to look like for you
  • Take stock - look around and get a sense of what the new environment looks like...walk, look, listen, and get comfortable in what will be new surroundings for you (both  physical and mental settings)
  • Arrive early - don't be the last one to show up...and use the time to meet those around you and learn about the environment.  Nobody wants to apologize for being late on day one
  • Be humble - ask a lot of questions.  It's okay to feel as if you don't know everything, because you really DON'T know everything.  Rely on the people who have been there and are a lot smarter than you
  • Be confident - you are in this role for a reason (whether you wanted to be or not) so take the seat that has been given you (again, both physically and mentally).  Don't be afraid to take a chance, even on day one
  • Lean into the role - this is YOUR day one, so make it special.  Take the mantle (whether you have a title or not) and enjoy the role given to you at this time and place
  • Relax - everything will be different a year from now as you learn the ropes of the job and the organization.  Remember that this is day one, and NOT day 365
  • Pray - in the doctrine of vocation, we believe that God uses his people to serve others in this world.  You have been placed in this new role and place for a purpose, so trust that God is walking with you during this day one
People have asked me what I am going to do one day one...and my reply is that I will do much of the same as I have been doing all along, including writing this blog as I do most every Friday. I hope that you will be looking forward to any upcoming day ones, even if it is just today being day one of the rest of your life.