Friday, December 26, 2014

the 56th time

As I turned toward the center of the church on Christmas Eve to hear the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke being read regarding the birth of Jesus Christ, I realized that I was hearing the same passage being read for the 56th time in my life (I may not remember the first several, but you can bet I was in church during those years).  On this day, the 56th Christmas Eve service I had attended, I was hearing the same words spoken..."And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed..."  I have to admit that hearing the words spoken in the King James Version is still my favorite.  I will put up with the NIV or the ESV, but I am never so happy as when I hear the story spoken in the language in which I had come to memorize those words.  And so as I listened, I was again enthralled with the story of the birth of Jesus as told by Luke.

So what does this have to do with leadership?  I read somewhere (perhaps it was something by Peter Drucker) that said when people get tired of hearing about the mission, you have just begun talking about it.  The STORY of your organization must be told over and over again...and it is best if it is done in a way that resonates with everyone.  To tell the STORY (the organization's mission, vision, values, and culture) is critical to keeping the STORY alive.  Part of it is its history...part of it is its successes...part of it is its day-to-day workings...and part of it is the story that reminds people of why you do what you do.

When I heard the words "And it came to pass..." I began reciting the words inwardly to myself because I knew them so well.  Would it be the same way in your organization?  Can people recite the story to themselves and others?  Do they know what the story is?  When they gather, is there an anticipation that the story will be told again?  Does the story remind them of the importance of what they do - and how they do it?

What is your organization's story - and how important is it for the people to hear it over and over again?  What milestone is celebrated each year so that the story can be told in its entirety?  For us, the beginning of a new school year marks that time...yet I will never pass up the opportunity to remind people of the story - and why it is important to the institution.  part of my job is too ensure that the story is kept alive.  What will you do in the new year to keep your organization's story alive?

Friday, December 12, 2014

four cups of coffee

People often refer to the Starbucks down the street from our campus as my "second office." I can be seen there once or twice a week meeting people for coffee and having a lively conversation.  I mentioned to someone the other day that I could write my personal history over the past six years from the conversations that have happened there.  Those "cups of coffee," whether they happened at Starbucks or other places (and may not have even included coffee), have made me the person I am today.  I had four different "cups of coffee" yesterday that I believe are important for people to have on a regular basis...

  • Cup of Coffee #1 - someone outside your comfort zone: this is a person who comes from a different background, different culture, different ethnicity, or anything "different" which makes you a but uneasy.  When I encounter these situations, I sometimes even find it difficult to ask questions because I am unsure of the norms in the other person's life.  These are conversations which you enter into with courage, humility, and the deep sense that you are about to learn something both about the other person and yourself.
  • Cup of Coffee #2 - someone who can mentor you: this person is often much smarter than you, has a higher level of experience than you, and has been where you want to be.  I am not referring to a formal mentor here; rather this is someone you encounter by chance and have the opportunity to have a dialogue, or someone you invite for that cup of coffee and come with a host of questions.  These are conversations which you enter into with a multitude of questions and ready to listen intently, knowing you may never get this opportunity again.
  • Cup of Coffee #3 - someone you can mentor: again, I am not necessarily talking about a formal mentoring relationship; rather, this is someone with whom you get to share knowledge, help them clarify their thinking, discuss accountability issues, or get to think out loud together.  What I love most about these "cups of coffee" is the ability for me to clarify my own thinking about certain subjects,  These are conversations which you enter into with the intent of being 100% present for the other person and creating an atmosphere of trust and respect.
  • Cup of Coffee#4 - someone in your inner ring: this is a "safe" person who allows you to be yourself and with whom you can share your deepest struggles and joys.  I have found these conversations occur most often at the end of the day and are often around a beverage other than coffee.  This is where you get to ask the really hard questions, where you might get some really tough feedback, and where it is okay to let your guard down.  These are conversations which you enter into with complete candor and openness (often referred to as "vault" conversations).
As I look back at the past several weeks, there are many times I get to have all four cups of coffee in a single day...and there are times where they are spread out over a week's worth of conversations.  What I do know is that they do not happen without some planning...and without my invitation.  How many cups of coffee will you have today?

Friday, December 5, 2014

clearness counts

Writing a weekly blog can be an arduous task, having to come up with new ideas week after week.  That is why I am grateful when I come across another blog that provides fodder for me - both in writing and in my daily experience.  I was recently introduced to The Accountability Blog written by Linda Galindo, and this week's topic was entitled "Wishy-Washy is a Thing...Leader be Clear!"  I read it right before heading into a meeting in which I realized I had been less than clear (okay, I may even have been wishy-washy).  It was important for me to send a clear message so that goals could be accomplished.  What I began to understand after reading Linda's post was that clearness counts.  So today's blog is more of Linda Galindo's ideas rather than mine, with a few twists and turns from my own experience.  Here's what I learned:

  1. Don't be unrealistic - this would include setting realistic goals, understanding the players involved and what they can do, and knowing your culture.  If what you want to have happen can't yet happen, don't expect it to happen (at least not right away).
  2. Tell them what you want - those great ideas in your head need to get translated into tangible tasks and results.  This would include goals, mileposts along the way, reporting structures, and ways of behaving.
  3. Culture is critical - this is a great opportunity to build the culture you want...but if you don't say what the culture should look like, then others are guessing what you want it to be.  For example, be sure people understand whether you want decisions made as a team or in a chain of command.
  4. Know your team - While I may be a person who likes a suggestive style, others may need more clear directions (specific deliverables at specific times).  Don't frustrate the team by only acting in a manner in which you are comfortable.
  5. Ask for and expect pushback - nothing is more frustrating than having members of the team walk away without fully owning the decisions made at that time.  Make sure that everyone has a chance to express their frustrations and misunderstandings so that clarity happens for the entire group.
  6. Don't be afraid to be clear - sometimes this means that you need to state very boldly what you expect and what the consequences are for not meeting those expectations.  That way no one is surprised by what happens later in the process.
One of the reasons leaders are successful is that they are comfortable with ambiguity and are able to live in a "gray" world without going crazy...and one of the reasons leaders are NOT successful is that they stay in that "gray" and ambiguous world, even when trying to be clear.  Remember that you are not the one carrying out the operations of the organization, so if you want to get things done, remember that clearness counts.