Friday, December 18, 2015

taking giftedness for granted

Every organization has them...people who are gifted at what they do.  They make amazing things happen with limited resources; they seem to do their work effortlessly; they can wait until the last minute and their work is still awesome; they are often lauded for their work more externally then internally; and they are the ones who bring attention and recognition to the organization.  As leaders, we are giddy over their performance and do anything we can to keep them happy and motivated.  But is it enough?  And what is it that gifted people most need to stay engaged at their highest level over a long period of time?  Here is my attempt to answer that question.

  1. Gifted people need to be is not enough to pay them and expect them to do their job.  The extra pats on the back and "atta-boys" are often enough to keep them going for a few more months.  Consistently praising them, both privately and publicly, goes a long way in keeping them happy and productive.
  2. Gifted people need to be rewarded...this goes so far beyond the monetary side of rewards (though that is a part of this).  People who produce want to have the tools they need to produce more and better, and are happy to keep producing at a high level when they know that they can have access to what they need.  The organization that rewards its gifted individuals will keep getting more and more from them over time.
  3. Gifted people need to be protected...these people are often incredibly focused and think about one thing, and because of that focus can tend to frustrate others in the organization.  Leaders need to help these gifted individuals broaden their horizons and help others understand how the gifted individual thinks.  Running interference for the gifted people in our organizations is part of the job of leaders.
  4. Gifted people need to be fed...while giftedness may come naturally to many, it also comes as a result of hard work, and these people are always wanting to learn more so they can do more with their gift.  Sending them to conferences, introducing them to other gifted people, and giving them room to grow as they need to grow are all important for the feeding of their gift and talent.
There is always a dark side to giftedness, thus the reason many gifted individuals burn out or burn bridges behind them.  Setting limits, developing structures, and regular conversations can help our gifted workers navigate these issues and keep them from hurting themselves and others.  Take time today (and during the weeks and months ahead) to care for these people who mean so much to your organization.

Friday, December 11, 2015

leadership workouts

Part of my routine is to workout 3-4 times a week for 45-60 minutes, lifting weights and walking on the treadmill.  At the end of each workout, I determine success by what I call the sweat and soreness much have I sweated and how sore am I over the next 24 hours?  If I achieve a high sweat and soreness score over a period of time, I feel better and am in better shape over the long haul.  So it is with get better at what I do in this role, I need to consider my sweat and soreness measure as a leader.  Let me explain:
  • When was the last time a presentation made you sweat because you had opened yourself up to questions and were not sure what the next one would be?
  • How often have you walked out of a meeting feeling a little beat up because you allowed your team to be open and honest with you?
  • How often do you find yourself sweating because you are making decisions of which you are not sure of the outcome?
  • When was the last time you sweated having to deliver bad news...and hurt a little bit because you actually delivered that news?
  • How often are you reading something that makes your brain hurt?
  • What new thing are you trying that makes you hurt in places you never imagined existed?
Here are two caveats to the sweat and soreness measure of leadership:
  1. Many people find that exercising in groups holds them more accountable and is actually more sure to include your team in your workout.
  2. The higher my sweat and soreness measure after a good workout, the better I feel about myself - the same is true for leaders.
Enjoy your next workout!

Friday, December 4, 2015

why hire a consultant?

As we finished the two day retreat with our consultant this week, the question of why would anyone hire a consultant plagued my mind...could we have done this ourselves?  why are we spending money on this?  are we a better institution now than we were before they arrived?  Upon further reflection, I realized that our consultants had been worth their price in gold - and that by using them and taking advantage of what they brought to the process, we were not only better today but we would be much better in the future.  So...why hire a consultant?  Here are several reasons that come to mind:

  • Believe it or not, there are people smarter than us.  As someone recently reminded me, "If you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room."
  • Very few executive teams have all the skills that they need to get the job done.  Finding someone to come alongside and help fill in the skills gap makes sense.
  • COULD we have done the work ourselves? Perhaps.  WOULD  we have done the work ourselves? Maybe. And would we have done the work ourselves in such a TIMELY MANNER?  Probably not.  Consultants can bring focus and urgency to a process.
  • Consultants have worked with similar institutions and can provide feedback based on what those institutions do - or don't do.  Having such a comparison helps move the process forward.
  • It is easy to be distracted from what's important to what is urgent.  An outside consultant and partner can help keep the focus on the important rather than only the urgent...if you let them.
  • Having a trusted partner outside of the institution can give perspective to the leader and the team.  Seeing them as a partner rather than a vendor goes a long way in ensuring completion of the project.
Hiring a consultant is only part of the work...listening to the consultant is another part of the work...using the consultant in an on-going relationship is yet another part of the work.  And finally, the organization has to DO THE WORK itself, or the work of the consultant is in vain.  Why hire a consultant?  To help the organization do its work in moving the mission forward.

Friday, November 13, 2015

leadership and belief

Yesterday afternoon I concluded my day at Concordia University Texas having a conversation with Dr. Carl Trovall, our Dean of Liberal Arts, about the topic of leadership and belief.  He is in the midst of writing a new course for our Educational Doctorate program entitled Leadership and Faith Traditions, and our discussion centered on which texts he would include for students to read.  We ranged from the Book of Job to the Tao Te Ching to The Meditations to The Analects to Shakespeare to Niehbuhr to Plato to Kiekegaard...and if you know Dr. Trovall, you know that the conversation was far-flung and incredibly engaging.

So why think about or write about leadership and belief?  The essence of philosophy is that one's thoughts and beliefs shape one's actions...and if that is the case, then leaders should be thinking about what they believe, why they believe what they believe, and how that belief shapes how they lead.  A couple of random thoughts on this concept for a Friday morning:

  • People often tie together their beliefs with their faith traditions - and in many cases that may be true.  However, even when one confesses publicly, "I believe..." they should ask the question of why they believe what they confess to believe and how might that square with their experiences in life?
  • If one's confessed belief does not line up with their life experiences, they might begin to experience a cognitive dissonance, forcing them to wrestle with right and wrong.  This wrestling allows them to consider what might be truth and how that truth lives itself out in their lives.  Such thinking allows people to consider and embrace the power of paradox, one of the thinking patterns that allows leaders to function more effectively.
  • Belief is shaped by many experiences and thought practices throughout one's life, often creating a "voice in the head" that dictates how one acts.  Examining those voices is critical in leadership development, and only by thinking about one's beliefs and examining other's beliefs can the voices be identified.  Of course, the more difficult part is the willingness to modify or discard those voices if they are harmful to one's leadership (or life).
  • There could exist in some faith traditions the thought that reading the texts from other faith traditions might be harmful to one's personal beliefs. For me, if I know what I believe and have confidence that it is the truth, then reading these other texts should only strengthen what I believe to be true, especially when they begin to align with one another.  Having another way of thinking about what one believes provides a bigger tool box for future actions.
  • On the flip side of that, when I come across those areas of other faith traditions that disagree or conflict with what I believe to be true, I begin to gain a greater understanding of how others think and how their beliefs lead to their actions.  My understanding of "the other" is a key piece to transformational leadership.
  • Finally, I cannot leave this blog without promoting the great literature of the world as some of the best leadership development available.  Great literature is written from a place of belief of how the world works and what makes up the essence of life.  Reading Homer, Shakespeare, Dante, Austen, Tolstoy, and Hemingway (and feel free to add your own writer or text here) allows one to enter into the belief system of others AND allows the reader to consider their own beliefs.  What better way is there to think about and shape one's leadership?

Friday, November 6, 2015

leadership and voice

Last night I attended Bocon!, a drama by Lisa Loomer and put on by Concordia's theater department.  One of the great lines in the play was "If you don't have a voice, you can't tell your story."  As I quickly wrote out that line on my program, I was struck by how much it applied to those in leadership roles...and the importance of both voice and story to accomplish the task of leadership.

There has been much written about story telling and great stories inspire others; how stories allow people to place themselves wherever they need to be within that story; how stories help others to understand vision; and how stories connect people to one another in multiple ways.  I am a fan of telling stories - I can say more about Concordia with a good story than I can with multiple facts and figures.  But what about voice?  What is it about one's voice that makes the story even possible? As I think about that concept, several thoughts come to mind:
  1. One's voice is a part of one's history...what I have experienced throughout my life shapes what I think and believe, thus causing my voice to be one way or another.
  2. One's voice is a result of one's belief...the deeper my convictions, the stronger my voice.  So I better know what I believe and why I believe that way.
  3. One's voice takes time to voice has changed over time (including much more than moving from soprano to baritone as a young teenager).  The more I learn and the more I experience the more different my voice becomes.
  4. One's voice develops through dedicated practice...the more I think - and the more I speak - allows me to use my voice more effectively.  Malcom Gladwell's 10,000 hour rule might apply here...and that practice needs to be done in an environment where I can get feedback on how I am using my voice.
  5. One's voice can get stronger or might diminish with age...depending on the circumstances I have faced and the feedback or encouragement I have received, my voice will either get stronger or weaker.  Recognizing that (and using it to my advantage) can make all the difference.
  6. One's voice should always have a consistent message...what is it that I want people to know, believe, and act on?  Does my voice support that?  And do they hear it on a consistent basis?
  7. One's voice is shaped by what he or she reads and thinks about...the phrase "garbage in - garbage out" might apply here as I think about what I spend my time with, especially when it comes to what I read.  There is a reason Shakespeare is still around after almost 500 years.
Understanding one's voice can lead to better story telling...and my encouragement is that as leaders we pay attention to both.

Friday, October 30, 2015

disappointment and leadership

Two weeks ago I wrote about leadership lessons and baseball, focusing on the dramatic winning streak my Chicago Cubs had been on for the past several months.  All of that came to a crashing halt less than a week later, when they were swept in 4 games by the hated New York Mets, allowing the Mets to continue and sending the Cubs home for the winter.  Needless to say, I was disappointed, once again having to resort to my never-ending phrase of "wait until next year."  And so it is with leaders.

Life is full of disappointment, especially for those who take on leadership roles.  Two phrases come to my mind as I think about this idea: 1) leadership is about people; and 2) people disappoint.  If both of those statements are true (and I believe they are), then leadership will have its share of disappointment and most of that will be around people and the decisions they make.  Disappointment occurs when:

  • someone you recently hired turns out to be a non-performer
  • someone you mentor and put your energy into takes a job at another company
  • someone you trust shares a confidence after you have asked them not to
  • someone who has promised to change their behavior engages in the same manner over and over again
  • someone whom you promote to a position of greater responsibility does not live up to your expectations
  • someone who has the ability and authority to complete a given task  fails to do 
  • someone who has been in a position for a long time has a lapse of judgement and acts in an unethical manner
Disappointments can also occur outside of people - missed goals, mechanical failures, and other items which are external to the organization.  And then there are the disappointments with oneself - missed opportunities, saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, treating others poorly, not taking care of oneself, and wasted hours.

Disappointments are a one deals with them is the true test of leadership.  Do you run around blaming others?  Do you act as if the sky is falling?  Do you immediately try to fix it without getting at the root cause of the problem?  Do you fly off the handle, yelling and screaming at others?  Do you retreat into your office and hide? you accept disappointments as part of the job?  Do you stop and think about what might have caused the issue?  Do you deal with it head on, making appropriate decisions?  Do you go and talk directly with the person, believing the best rather than assuming the worst?  Do you stay even-keel so that others see you understand the situation?  Do you act quickly when needed, so that others see you understand the situation?  Do you do a follow up so that you and others learn from what happened? you continue to have HOPE that things will be better tomorrow?  Do you continue to have HOPE that people really want to do their bests at all times?  Do you have HOPE that the organization is strong enough to withstand this disappointment?  Do you have HOPE that you and your team have enough fortitude to weather this moment?

"...and HOPE does not disappoint us." (Romans 5:5)

Friday, October 16, 2015

baseball and leadership

In my lifetime, my team has never been to the World Series...they have only won two post-season series...they seem to make a run in the early part of the season and then fade once the summer begins (or they make a run until the very end and then fail miserably)...they are often referred to as the lovable losers...they are the Chicago Cubs.  This past week was a milestone in my life as I watched my team WIN a post season series (only their second since 1908) AND for the first time ever they won it at home in Wrigley Field.  I was exhausted by the end of that series, and am now resting up for what I hope will be another series which they win (note: for me this is a grudge series since we lost out to the Mets during the last month of the 1969 season).  So what does this have to do with leadership?

  1. Napoleon once stated that "leaders are dealers in hope" - Cubs fans are the ultimate people of hope...for 56 years I have been saying (and believing) WAIT TIL NEXT YEAR!
  2. Winston Churchill's famous speech of "never give in, never, never, never, never" rings true with Cubs fans - until we are mathematically eliminated each season, there is always a chance...unlike some of my Cardinal friends who gave in before the final out was made Tuesday evening.
  3. Leaders build talent from within - the nucleus of this year's team came through the Cubs farm system (unlike other years when they tried to buy their way into contention),  Watching these young men play for THEIR team is a joy and pleasure!
  4. Leaders hire other great leaders - Theo Epstein (the Cubs GM) hired the best manager he could (and quickly replaced the former manager as soon as the current one became available)...always be looking for the best talent out there and be ready to bring them aboard when the time arises.
  5. Leaders know what their team needs - Joe Maddon took a group of young players and kept them loose all season...he knew what they needed to be their best from the beginning to the end.
  6. No one is irreplaceable - when Addison Russell strained his hamstring, Javier Baez came in and knocked a game winning home run (while he was not as good defensively, he used his strengths to assist the team)...leaders build a bench of people who can step in at any given time.
  7. Building a strong team takes time - the past 3-4 seasons have been hard, as the Cubs often fought for last place in the Central Division, believing (and HOPING) that the time would arrive when we would compete...and we did!
I'm sure there are many more analogies between baseball and leadership, but it is time for me to go and rest up for tomorrow evening's game - GO CUBS GO!

Friday, October 9, 2015

leadership lessons learned from conducting

Last night I had the honor of conducting our University Choir at the conclusion of the 2nd Annual President's Concert in a work that I first sang and played back in high school - The Last Words of David  by Randall Thompson.  The first part of my career was spent on the podium, both with bands and choirs...I even received my masters in conducting in 1986 from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. Last night was a treat for me - and brought back many good memories.

As one who thinks about leadership, I have often compared my personal leadership to how I thought about my role as a conductor, so today I want to share several maxims about conducting that I also believe to be true (for the most part) about leading any type of organization:

  • The music is only made by the people who sing or play - not by the conductor
  • Good conducting comes from years of practice - and its much more than waving one's arms around
  • The larger the group, the more need there is for a conductor
  • The hard work happens long before the performance
  • Someone else wrote the music - the conductor's job is to help interpret it
  • The better the singers or players, the more difficult the music one can choose to perform
  • Every movement by the conductor should have a purpose...and will impact the performance for the better (or the worse)
  • The smallest (and often most undetectable) movement can sometimes make all the difference in the world
  • Less is more - to get a choir to group to play more intensely, make smaller movements
  • There are critical moments in any piece where it is crucial for the players and singers to watch the which times the conductor must make sure that what she does helps the group rather than being disruptive
  • The better the conductor knows the score, the more time he can spend looking at the choir or band
  • Making direct eye contact with individuals is crucial - it tells them that you care about them...and the group as a whole
  • Conductors must have flawless technique...AND allow their emotions to come out as well
  • Everyone in the group is important - make sure they all understand how they contribute
  • Individual players or singers cannot go will destory the final outcome
  • Groups play better (and are more inspired) in front of an audience - after all, that's the reason for practice
  • There is no perfect performance - you eventually need to get on the stage and let others listen in on what you do
While not every maxim holds true for every ensemble or performance, for the most part these can be applied to leadership of any group or organization...I will leave it up to the reader to figure out what each one means for them individually. Questions? Comments? Leave them in the space below...

Friday, October 2, 2015

thinking of Rita Cavin

All of yesterday afternoon, last night, and this morning I have been thinking about Rita Cavin.  Yesterday, around 10:40 AM, Rita embarked on a journey she may have never thought possible, and weathered what was most likely the hardest day of her life.  Dr. Rita Cavin is the interim president at Umpqua Community College where yesterday a shooter took the lives of nine students and wounded seven others.  As I listened to the CNN reports at my desk yesterday, I kept thinking, "what would I do?" and the answer was "I'm not sure."  How does one prepare for that type of incident?  When all eyes are on you as the leader of the institution, how do you react?  Who are the first people you go to?  What constituency most needs your immediate attention?  And what does one do in the days and weeks following?

As I began to write this morning's blog, the thought went through my mind regarding the difference between crisis management and crisis leadership.  There are countless of courses and books on crisis management...institutions write thick manuals regarding crisis management...knowing what to do next can be figured out ahead of time.  But knowing HOW TO BE NEXT is not so easily written or codified.  What will President Cavin do this morning?  And what did she do last night reliving not only the incident but also thinking about everything she had done - or not done - during the previous twelve hours?  So, coming on the heels of a tragic shooting on a college campus, here are a few thoughts on crisis leadership:

  • people need to hear you speak...and this needs to be done through multiple media including written, social, and spoken form.
  • use the people around you...everyone on the team will bring different strengths to the situation.  Let them use their gifts at that time
  • follow the manual...there is a reason someone took time to create a process to handle emergencies. Know where the manual is and let those who wrote it direct the process
  • call your PR people and let them handle that end of the situation...similar to above, let the professionals do their work (and make sure you have ready access to professional PR people)
  • walk seen by others and engage in the process of helping and healing.  And during the walk, take time to talk with individuals who have been affected.
  • think ahead...the institution needs to keep operating the next day and the next week.  What needs to happen so that your organization - and your people - are back online as soon as is feasible? And what needs to happen so that those left behind can go through a healing process?
  • be a purveyor of hope...Napoleon's famous phrase that leaders are dealers in hope might never play out more true in times like this.  There is a future ahead - be sure that is part of your message
  • be true to who you someone to whom spirituality is important, I will pray and lead others in that practice; as someone who can be emotional at times, I will probably have my time of weeping and mourning; as someone who needs quiet time to recharge, I will find a place of solitude later in the day and just be quiet.  Crisis leadership demands everything one has, so being true to self is critical if momentum is to be maintained.
And so, I offer this prayer for the community that makes up Umpqua Community College and especially for Rita Calvin:

Lord of all compassion
We pray for all of those caught up in the midst of tragedy or disaster.
For those who have lost life and those working to save life
For those who are worried for people they love
For those who will see their loved ones no longer
Lord Have Mercy.
For those in need of the peace that passes all understanding
For all who turn to you in the midst of turmoil
For those who cry out to you in fear and in love
Lord Have Mercy.
For those in confusion and those in despair
For those whose tears are yet to dry
For those in need of your unending love
Lord Have Mercy

Friday, September 25, 2015

sayings to live by (the meeting edition)

Many people have sayings implanted in their brains that they learned from others, whether they come from parents, grandparents, friends, or colleagues.  Today's blog will feature two sayings I learned from a former colleague and mentor, Pastor Donald Black of Trinity Lutheran Church in Houston, Texas.  Prior to every church meeting, he would remind those involved that
1) everyone can have their say but not everyone can have their way
2) we need to be able to disagree without being disagreeable.  
For some reason, those two saying have stuck with me for almost 30 years now, and I am reminded of them as I run meetings here at the University.  What do these sayings really mean?  Here are my thoughts:

Everyone can have their say but not everyone can have their way: people's voices need to be heard, and often times meetings are run in such a way in which either the quiet voice or the dissenting voice is not heard.  It is easy to speak up when everyone agrees with an is when one has an opposing viewpoint that it becomes harder to articulate what they are thinking.  The leader's role is to create a a safe environment where the quiet and/or opposing voice is able to speak if they so desire.  My first caveat to this is that while everyone can have their say, they also have the responsibility to say it in a fashion that is respectful and honoring of the other.  My second caveat is that at some point a group needs to make a decision, and while some would still want to have their say, they may need to respect the group's desire and give up their say at that time.  Another of the leader's roles is to determine when that time is right, without stopping debate before all voices that need to be heard are heard.

We need to be able to disagree without being disagreeable: this is perhaps one of the hardest sayings to live out in any group, mostly because people have never learned how to do this.  In a recent faculty and staff training here at Concordia, we had someone train us in the art of crucial conversations.  We learned that there is a way to disagree without being disagreeable...and that there were specific ways of thinking and acting that made those conversations go better than imagined.  Several ways to approach this is that when someone has a differing opinion, they should 1) believe the best about those with an opinion other than their own (rather than assume the worst) and 2) understand that their idea is based on what they believe to be true at that time, which may or may not be an ultimate truth...beginning with the words "I may be wrong..." works wonders most every time.  Those listening must also be respectful of the differing opinion, believing the best rather than assuming the worst.

Consider what it is that you believe about how meetings should play out, and check to make sure that what you want to have happen actually does happen.  And if it takes a certain saying that is repeated before every meeting, go ahead and say it...a good reminder of how an assembly should act can never hurt the process or the outcome.

Friday, September 18, 2015

what ball are you watching?

"Keep your eye on the ball!"  This common phrase is often associated with the world of athletic competitions, whether it be baseball, tennis, or football.  A player needs to know where the "ball" is at all times so they can react to it and move to where it is at any given time.  This is good advice in business...and in life.

So why does this phrase need to keep getting repeated?  Why would a well-seasoned athlete ever take their eye off the ball?  How can one, after years and years of instruction and practice, ever take their eye off the ball?  The answer is very simple...distractions.  The crowd...the opposing player...the's own issues...perhaps even a bird flying overhead could make one take their eye off the ball.  Whatever it is, once the player takes their eye off the ball, nothing seems to go right.

And so it is with leaders - once they take their eye off of the proverbial ball within their organization, things can go awry.  For me, the question is not so much whether or not one is taking their eye off the ball, but whether one knows what ball they should be watching.  A classic example in my field of work is the difference between total enrollment and net tuition revenue.  Universities and colleges have multiple ways in which they recruit and enroll students, including discounting the total tuition and partnering with other organizations to help with the recruiting and enrollment...all of which goes to say that the sticker price of higher education for each student does not reflect the revenue the organization will realize from each student.  When someone asks me how the enrollment looks for the year, I can give one answer...if they would think to ask me how our net tuition revenue is, I might have a different answer.  The real question is...what am I keeping my eye on?

While each organization is different, it seems to me that leaders should be keeping their eye on that which matters most for the future health of the organization...what is it that will determine what can be done next year, and what is needed to ensure that the organization is still here in 5-10 years.  In the early days of Amazon, if the only measure of success had been quarterly profits, we would not be reaping the benefits of Amazon Prime right now.  Jeff Bezos knew what he needed to keep his eye on, although it was difficult to convince others that he was actually watching the right thing.

My theory for today is that leaders tend to keep their eye on that which matters most to them, not necessarily what matters most to the long-term health of the organization.  Knowing what that measurement is is an important part of any organization (and often one must keep their eye on more than one ball at a time).  How do you know which ball to watch?  That's the question the leader and the team must answer...and then must always remind themselves to "keep their eye on the ball."

Friday, September 4, 2015

5 leadership competencies

The other day I was having lunch with a friend who spends a lot of time with leaders both young and not so young, and as we discussed what leaders need, the term "competence" came up.  I remarked that people often begin their leadership journeys by working on skills and developing specific competencies, then turn to the internal side of leadership...AND how important it is that leaders remind themselves from time to time about the importance of external competencies, refreshing those skills on a regular basis.  So today's blog is a simple reminder about five skills and competencies that leaders need that are often forgotten as time goes on:

  1. the ability to write - and perhaps I should state, to write well.  Sentence construction, proper grammar (not to mention spelling), using meaningful words, constructing a paragraph that flows...all of these skills that we should have learned long ago need to mastered and kept up over time.  For me, the simple act of writing regularly and reading good literature will improve this skill..
  2. the ability to speak in front of a crowd - similar to above, with the added aspect of having to be seen by people and thinking on your feet.  I have never known anyone who does this well on the fly, so write it out (see #1), practice speaking it out loud, and know your stuff cold.  And if you use slides, do not bore people with a lot of text...enhance your presentation with pictures and charts.
  3. the ability to lead a good meeting - leading meetings can take many forms, but above all be sure you are prepared.  Having an agreed upon format, using an agenda, engaging everyone around the table, bringing clarity to decisions made, and leaving the meeting knowing that something has been accomplished are all keys to leading a meeting that works. Remember that leaders get their work done in meetings, so you better be good at this.
  4. the ability to read and understand financial statements - I am still amazed that some people in leadership positions are willing to hand over all things financial to another person, and will take them at their word.  While it is important for me to have a capable CFO, it is also important that I understand the financial position of the organization, what that means on any given day, and can then explain it to others in my circles.
  5. the ability to use social media - one of my pet peeves is leaders who choose (and often adamantly choose) not to engage in social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogging, etc)...for me, that is like saying one does not engage in writing, speaking, or leading meetings.  A leaders of an organization has the chance to put a public face on that organization through social media and to make herself more real to others in the public.  I am not advocating letting the world know every time you go out for dinner...I am saying that social media is a tool to enhance and grow the business (as well as one's own leadership).
These are my five for today - what am I missing?  Feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments below - and perhaps even recommend some books that people might use to enhance their skills in these areas.  My book recommendation for today is Patrick Lencioni's Death By Meeting - a great text to help you think about meetings differently.

Friday, August 28, 2015


Several years ago the WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) phenomenon was all the rage - Bible studies, t-shirts, books, wrist bands and multiple other items were marketed with the WWJD tag line.  With apologies to those who came up with the WWJD slogan, today's blog is all about What Would Lincoln Do?  Someone once asked me why I was such a Lincoln fan (the picture is from the top of the bookcase in my office) are four reasons I look to Abraham Lincoln as a guide to my leadership:

  1. He surrounded himself with people who were smarter than him...and with people who thought differently from him.  The story of building a cabinet of one's rivals still boggles my he was able to do that and bring them together for a common purpose is one of the great acts of leadership in all of history.
  2. He won others over...and he did so in a way that was winsome and caring.  His ability to invite others to visit with him (even those who were against him), his ability to ask questions and listen, and his ability to use humor in even the toughest situations all helped to bring others to join him in the fight to win the war,
  3. He understood (and was able to live with) the tension of waiting too long to make a decision and making a decision too quickly.  Having to ensure that the right general was in place at the right time was one of Lincoln's consistent issues, and waiting loo long or not long enough would haunt him day after day.  Personnel decisions are never an exact science - and are subject to the circumstances surrounding the time and place.  
  4. He did what he needed to do to win...even if it meant stretching his powers from time to time.  Many people will blame Lincoln for overextending his reach and grossly expanding the role of the office, yet he seemed to do what he thought was best for the country at that time.  He was willing to make the hard decision even if it meant being castigated by others. 
If you would like to learn more about what Lincoln would do, I suggest the following three volumes:
  • Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
  • Tried By War: Lincoln as Commander in Chief by James McPherson
  • Giants: The Parallel Live of Frederick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln by John Stauffer

Friday, August 21, 2015

questions...or statements?

Following a recent Q&A session on our campus, I had a discussion with one of my colleagues about how often people use questions to mask their statements and what they believe.  He came back and wondered whether all questions are really statements.  After a bit of back and forth, he had me thinking that he might be right.  After pondering the debate more thoroughly, I have come to the conclusion that there is a range of questions, moving from pure statement to little or no statement at all.  Let me explain...

Let's assume I recently painted a room in my home blue (which would probably never happen, so this is as fictional an example as it gets).  My wife comes home and asks me questions about my choice of color.  Here is the range I am talking about:

  1. Don't you think it would look better painted tan? (pure statement)
  2. Did you consider pointing the room tan? (still pretty close to pure statement)
  3. Why didn't you paint the room tan? (moving from pure statement to seeking information)
  4. Why did you paint the room blue? (seeking more information)
  5. I wonder why I prefer tan to blue? (looking inward for more information)
  6. If we were to repaint this room, would we choose blue again or look for another color? (seeking to come to a collaborative answer)
Moving from question #1 to question #6 takes considerable effort to shape the question and requires a mechanism by which one can internalize their thinking. While there still might be a hint of statement in all six questions, there is a definite progression from 'this is what I believe to be true' to 'while I believe something to be true, I am willing to explore other alternatives.'  For me, this is what the art of asking questions is about - the ability to think out loud with others in seeking a mutual solution to an issue.

A few tips on how to get better at asking questions that are more about the question than they are about making a statement:
  • stop to think about the question you are going to ask and see what biases might be in the wording
  • consider what issue you are really trying to solve and word the question in a manner that reflects that issue
  • assume there is information you do not yet know, and that the question is a way for you to get more information
  • come at the question from a place of humility, seeking to learn more about the situation at hand
  • if the situation affords you to do so, write down the question before you ask it...and speak it to yourself internally to see how it comes across
Finally, there are times it is appropriate to make a statement prior to asking a question.  If my wife walked in the room and said that she would rather have had the room painted tan (statement) she could follow up with the question of why I painted the room blue.  For me, as the questionee, I now know what she believes and I can answer from a place of not having to guess what type of answer she is looking for.  As for the role of the questionee in clarifying questions, I will leave that for another blog.  Have fun asking questions that are not (or are, according to my colleague) statements.


Friday, August 14, 2015

partnerships - from transactional to transformational

This past week I had the opportunity to visit churches, schools, and alumni in the Houston area, all of which have some type of relationship with Concordia University Texas.  The word "partnership" was used often as we discussed what type of relationships would exist between CTX and the particular institution or individual.  It often feels as if most people see partnerships as something transactional...what will you do for me AND what will I get from you?  Perhaps that mentality comes from the salesperson in all of us, trying to convince someone to buy our product so that we all walk away better off.  For me, I often feel that when I approach someone about a partnership, everyone always feels that I am trying to recruit more students or receive more gifts for the University.

But what if we began to approach partnerships through a different lens?  What if partnerships were more about what we could do better together?  What if partnerships were about understanding the resources each party brought to the table to meet the needs of each of the organizations or individuals?  What if partnerships actually transformed organizations rather than just met their immediate needs?

 Many years ago, when I was head of school at Lutheran High North in Houston, the school partnered with LINC-Houston in what became a service project of significant proportions.  LHN needed access to places in which students could learn and practice the art of service and leadership...LINC-Houston needed manpower to get significant work done on several of their properties.  What developed was a Week of Service in the greater Houston community where over 300 students and teachers served at over 15 locations for 4 straight days.  As a result of that partnership, news stations throughout town covered the service project...students developed as leaders...15 Houston non-profits had their needs met...LINC-Houston gained a greater reputation for getting things done...and in the end, more students came to the school and we raised more monies through gifts and grants.

So how might partnerships move from transactional to transformational?  Here are a few thoughts:

  • Begin the discussion by asking a lot of questions - what are the organizations' deepest need?  What strengths does each organization or individual have?  What are the similarities that exist between the parties?  What are the big picture goals both parties have?
  • State up front that you want the partnership to go beyond the transactional functions and that you are looking for something that is deeper, longer lasting, and have a benefit beyond just the two parties.
  • Accept that fact that each party is also looking for the transactional outcome and find ways to make that happen as well.
  • Take an inventory of each party's strengths - what does one organization have that the other doesn't...and how can that those strengths work together to accomplish something neither organization can do by themselves?
  • Come to the table with no specific expectations and just enjoy the dialogue that will ensue.  You never know where deep dialogue can lead.
  • Understand that a final solution may take time.  Often ideas have to cogitate and be shared with others before they can become a reality.
  • Engage others in the conversation.  As thoughts arise, bring new people and other experts to help you flesh out the ideas that are coming to fruition.  Expand the base of partners.
  • Be willing to walk away from the dialogue when no possible partnership exists.  Deep partnerships are difficult to come by and might even be few and far between...but you will never know what might be if the dialogue never begins.
Two Resources:
  • The Abundant Community by Peter Block and John McKnight (2010, Berret-Koehler)
  • The Collaboration Challenge by James Austin (2000, Jossey-Bass)

Friday, August 7, 2015

one year later...leadership lessons learned

On August 1, 2014, I moved into my role as President and CEO of Concordia University Texas...and now, one year and 7 days later, I am ready to reflect and share what I have learned about leadership (and ultimately about myself) during that time.  So here goes:

  • you don't know what you don't know - I had the privilege of being a part of Concordia University Texas for nine years prior to my move into the role of president...and I had spent the previous year or two watching and listening very closely...and there was still A LOT of things of which I had no clue.  I have come to understand that is the nature of a role like this and the nature of organizations.  My takeaway is that leaders (especially new leaders) have to be comfortable with a certain amount of ambiguity AND that in certain cases longer formal transition times could be beneficial.
  • the role of the CEO is hard - there are big decisions to be made in this role (with very few clear cut answers)...multiple people want your time (the days are FULL of meetings) are responsible for everything (and everyone) must rely on other people to get things done (remembering that you used to be that person)...the larger the institution, the longer it takes to make changes (buy-in by multiple constituencies takes time)...and the list continues.  My takeaway is that the person in this role must always keep their eyes on the big picture, remembering that the difficult decisions and the time spent is leading toward something bigger and better for the institution and for the Kingdom.
  • the role of the CEO is fun - there are big decisions to be made in this role (with very few clear cut answers)...multiple people want your time (the days are FULL of meetings) are responsible for everything (and everyone) must rely on other people to get things done (remembering that you used to be that person)...the larger the institution, the longer it takes to make changes (buy-in by multiple constituencies takes time)...and the list continues. My takeaway is that all the things that make this job hard are what give the person in this role energy and excitement.  If the person in this role is not working hard AND having fun, they should step away, because it is either hurting them or the institution (and most often times both).
  • take your time to build the very best team - it was eleven months before I had my final team in place (BIG kudos to those who served in interim roles during that time).  Learning what roles are really needed...learning what the roles actually require...finding the right people to fill those roles...and launching the team in an appropriate manner - all of these take time and energy.  My takeaway is that the CEO must be willing to put up with a little uncertainty and restlessness for a short period of time until they have the right team (and best team) assembled, believing that it is better to leave a position unfilled than to fill it with someone who might not be a good fit.
  • make sure you have someone who has your back - because a new CEO does not know what they don't know, there has to be someone who will come along side to support, protect, and encourage them.  I was fortunate enough to have a person in that role who knew the organization inside and out and out and gave me both the structure and the freedom to act confidently in this role (it also helped to have a Board who did the same thing throughout the year).  My takeaway is that every leader needs their own Sancho Panza  who will navigate the waters, make things happen, and take a few arrows along the way.  Find yours early on and entrust them with things that matter.
It has been a great year and seven days...I am looking forward to the next 372 of them!

Friday, July 31, 2015

stoic leadership

Stoicism is a Greek school of philosophy which teaches that virtue comes from reason and living in harmony with the natural course of all things.  One of the texts that best outlines this philosophy is Marcus Aurelius' Meditations written in the 2nd century while he served as the emperor of Rome.  This text, which is a series of thoughts and ideas of how to live the good life, is really a text about leadership as Aurelius lays out maxims by which he plans to personally lead.  As I read through this text while in Maine, I was reminded of several things:
  1. leadership is about people - how one thinks about them, how one treats them, and how one interacts with them
  2. leadership is about understanding one's self, and being able to control the thoughts and emotions that arise from different situations
  3. patience is a virtue, and being able to wait, reflect, and then react will set great leaders apart from others
  4. leaders must, above all, be concerned for the common good of the society or organization for which they have been given charge over
Here then are a few of Marcus Aurelius' thoughts*:
  • The qualities I admired in my father included...every question that came before him in council was painstakingly and patiently examined; he was never content to dismiss it on a cursory first impression.
  • If it is not the right thing to do, never do it; if it is not the truth, never say it.  Keep your impulses in hand.
  • Are you distracted by outward care? Then allow yourself a space of quiet wherein you can add to your knowledge of the good and learn to curb your restlessness.
  • Though people may hinder you from following the paths of reason, they can never succeed in deflecting you from sound action; but make sure that they are equally unsuccessful in destroying your charitable feelings towards them.  You must defend both positions alike: your firmness in decision and action, and at the same time your gentleness toward those who try to obstruct or otherwise molest you.
  • Unbend, but be temperate.
  • At every action, no matter by whom performed, make it a practice to ask yourself, 'What is his object in doing this?' But begin with yourself; put this question to yourself first of all.
  • When a thing's credentials look most plausible, observe its triviality and strip it of the cloak of verbiage that dignifies it.  Pretentiousness is the arch deceiver, and never more delusive that when you imagine your work most meritorious.
  • Enter into the ruling principle of your neighbor's mind, and suffer him or her to enter into yours.
  • When another's fault offends you, turn to yourself and consider what similar shortcomings are found in you.  Think of this and your anger will soon be forgotten in the reflection that he is only acting under pressure; what else could he do?  Alternatively, if you are able, contrive his release from that pressure.
These writings make me look in the mirror and examine myself as a leader...and as a person who lives among others.  Though written 1900 years ago they continue to resonate today.  *taken from the Penguin Classics edition of Meditations and translated by Maxwell Staniforth, copyright 1964

Friday, July 24, 2015

what do you read?

In a recent talk I gave to Lutheran School administrators, I encouraged them to read six different books, most of them being in a variety of genres.  During our team's retreat yesterday, one of the questions asked was in what genre we most often read.  My previous post (based on my month of reading in Maine) dealt with why leaders's post will take a closer look at the different genres in which leaders should read.  While I realize we all have our favorites types of books, let me encourage you (as I did my audience earlier this week) to read in genres others than those you find familiar.

HISTORY: History is a re-telling of past events and how people dealt with issues that faced them at that time.  Leaders face all types of circumstances, many of which are not new or unique.  Reading about how others have dealt with issues provides alternatives for leaders as well as a perspective that there is nothing really new under the sun.  Consider also the sub-cateogry of MILITARY HISTORY as it will be a study of how leaders made decisions in difficult circumstances.
BIOGRAPHY: I used to think that only biographies of great leaders were worth my time, but I have discovered that biographies of all types of people provide insight into others aspects of leadership.  A recent biography of the composer Stephen Schwartz provided insight into one's creativity...biographies of sports heroes, media personalities, historical figures, and others will help you understand people and their circumstances in new and different ways.
PHILOSOPHY: I cannot stress enough how important it is for people in leadership positions to read the great works of philosophy.  My life has been so enriched by reading the works of Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Kierkegaard, Mill, and so many others that I cannot recommend these types of books enough.  These are books that changed the world and have lasted hundreds/thousaonds of years.  Do not underestimate their power in shaping your thinking and actions.
DRAMA: I could go on and on about Shakespeare (and might in a future post) and his ability to create characters that not only make you think and take a close look at yourself but also give great insights into how to lead (ot how NOT to lead).  One great way to read these is to find an audio version of the plays and read along while listening.  Don't forget the great plays of the early Greeks (especially Socrates' Oedipus cycle) and of contemporary writers such as Tenessee Williams and Arthur Miller who so brilliantly depict the tragedy of human life.
POETRY: This has become a new favorite of mine as it helps me see the world through a whole new lens.  The great poets of the world give me an insight in a way I do not normally think, providing a beautiful picture of life, even  when the subject matter is difficult.   What better way to understand leadership than by reading John Donne, Walt Whitman, or T.S. Elliot.
CLASSIC TEXTS: The Iliad...The Odessy...The Aeneid...The History of the Peloponnesian War...The Twelve Ceasars..Lutarch's Lives...Meditations....Beowulf...Gilgamesh...and the list goes on and on.  Pick the one that most interests you and dig in (and find a translation that works for you).  You will be surprised what you can learn about leadership when you read these texts through that lens.
ECONOMICS: All leaders must understand the principles of economics if they are to make decisions that affect multiple people and places.  Start with a basic text, then dig deep into some of the classic writings of Smith, Marx, Friedman, Hayek, and Keynes.  My guess is that you will start using what you learn almost imnmediately.

I am sure there are more genres to mention and more texts to recommend (feel free to do so in the comment section).  Of course, please be sure to read great fiction and the best (but only the best) in leadership theory and practice.  Thanks for reading this go and read something from one of these genres.

Friday, July 10, 2015

why leaders read

This past week I returned from a month-long stay in Blue Hill, Maine where the majority of my time is spent reading.  Many people know that one of the joys Deb and I have during our stay in Maine is being able to sit and read...sometimes for up to 8 hours a day.  People have asked whether I read for pleasure or for work...and my typical response is that I read for both.  It is difficult for me to decide whether reading Robert Caro's 4-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson is for pleasure or for work, since I learn so many leadership lessons throught the books AND it is a story that captivates my attention.  It is also difficult for me to distinguish between the two when I read the short stories of Raymond Carver as I am learning about other people and the day-to-day struggles they face in life.

Someone once stated to me that "all leaders are readers" (and that the converse is not necessarily true).  I truly believe that maxim, so today's blog is my personal take on why leaders should read - and how it can enhance their leadership.  Over the next few weeks I will apply leadership to specific books I read last month as well as why certain categories of books are important for leaders. For a deeper insight into this topic, I would recommend Mark Edmundson's book Why Read?

  1. To learn how NOT to lead: there are many characters in books (fiction and non-fiction) that depict the worst of leadership...they will make you cringe and swear never to act in a similar manner
  2. To learn about those you lead: reading (especially great fiction) introduces the reader to all types of people and all types of lifestyles...these are the people who work with and for you, so getting to know about them through good literature helps you better understand their personal needs, hopes, and dreams
  3. To better understand why you lead the way you do: as readers encounter different figures throughout books, they will resonate with some and not others...ask WHY you resonate with certain individuals you read about and what it is about them that made them tick (the same probably applies to you)
  4. To solidify your leadership patterns: similar to above, but with a more definite purpose as to HOW you will you observe (through reading) the actions of others, you can further develop your personal leadership skills
  5. To realize that there is nothing new under the sun: all of the different aspects of people and organizations that leaders face have happened to others (and your organization) are not unique or special and others have faced what you will face today and in the future
  6. To learn NEW ways of leading: great literature and writing will always have the reader say to themselves "I never thought of it that way before"...take these new ideas and try them out in your role as a leader
  7. To become a better person: great books have a way of affecting the heart and soul of those who are willing to engage with them on a deep level...don't be afraid of looking in the mirror as you read and consider what you might need to change about yourself
  8. To relax and enjoy the comfort of a good book: leadership is hard work and being able to escape into the act of reading is both therapeutic and relaxing (though not always easy)...renewing your energy is important for you, for those you lead, and for your organization
So and find a good book, pour yourself a cup of coffee (or other beverage of your choice), situate yourself in an environment where you will not be distracted or disturbed for several hours, and READ!

Friday, May 8, 2015

giving back

Today Concordia University Texas will be hosting one of the 600 sites for  Leadercast, a worldwide leadership conference that is simulcast to more than 40 different countries. This leadership event will feature eight different speakers, including Seth Godin, Ed Catmull, Roarke Denver, and Andy Stanley.  Last year over 250 people came to the CTX campus for this event, only a small part of the 100,000 who attended worldwide.  But the purpose of this blog is not to tell you about Leadercast - it is to tell you about the person who brought Leadercast to Concordia, John Griffin.

John is a gradaute of The Concordia MBA, having completed his course work in 2012 (one of the first two cohorts to gradaute).  When he joined the program, he and his wife were running a small business that published a guide for senior living, partnering with multiple companies across the central Texas region to help make life a little better for senior adults - and for those who served as care givers to them.  When I first met John, I quickly become impressed with his need to serve others and give back in whatever capacity that might be, including working with senior adults.

After completing his MBA, he realized that his passion for leadership was something that he wanted to share with others and help others become better leaders themselves.  He found himself drawn to The John Maxwell Team where he received training in presenting about leadership and coaching others in their personal leadership.  When I asked him why he was doing this, he voiced the idea that others had invested in his leadership development (much of it through The Concordia MBA) and now he wanted to give back to others the same type of personal involvement he had received.  

During that year, he approached Concordia as a place to host Leadercast, a win-win for everyone as it brought aspiring leaders into John's sphere of influence as well as into contact with Concordia and its MBA program.  Why wouldn't we partner together for something like this that helped each of us and raised the level of leadership in central Texas?  And so, last May 9, Concordia University Texas hosted its first simulcast of  Leadercast.

What I did not realize at the time was that John had planned on donating all of his profits from the event to Concordia because he wanted to give back to the institution that had done so much for him through The Concordia MBA.  For me, this was yet another example of how John Griffin always looked for ways to give back - whether it be to his church, his community, his family, or his alma mater.

Today John continues to give back to Concordia by teaching in our undergraduate business program.  His ability to work with younger students and help them develop their leadership capacity is another way that John is giving back, by investing in the future of central Texas through Concordia's mission of developing Christian leaders.

I would be remiss if I did not give you, the reader, a chance to learn more about John and what he does, something you can find out by clicking here.  I consider John a friend and colleague, and believe that he brings value to any individual or organization with which he is engaged.  I am thankful for his partnership with Concordia University Texas, and I pray that we will  be able to give back to John just a touch of what he has given back to us.

Friday, May 1, 2015

working with boards

Later this morning I will be in my quarterly Board of Regents meeting where we look at the state of the University and engage in discussion that supports the future of the University.  These people are my boss, and they are in place to safeguard the institiution for its stakeholders.  As the Chief Executive Officer, it is my duty to run the institution in such a way that they are ensured that the mission is upheld and that the place is still here in the future.  Having been through three meetings thus far in this first year, I can say that the Board of Concordia University Texas is supportive and works hard to live out its fiduciary duties.  Here are a few things I have learned about working with boards over this first year:
  1. Keep them informed - they do not need to know all of the details, but they do need to know the major issues that are facing the CEO and the institution at large.
  2. Don't hold back information - similar to above, but with an emphasis on providing information whether it is positive or negative; in other words, always tell the truth.
  3. Ask their advice - these are very smart people who come from a variety of backgrounds.  Use their expertise in a variety of areas and in day-to-day decisions.
  4. Treat them well - Board members give of their time and energy and should be honored for their service.  Don't be cheap when it comes to taking care of board members.
  5. Listen deeply - as discussion goes on around the table (or in one-on-one settings) listen and put into practice what they tell you.  Again, these are very smart people.
  6. Don't tell them too much - as a corollary to #'s 1 and 2, telling them too much gets them into the weeds.  Ask them what they need to know and make sure you deliver that information in a timely manner.
  7. Let them protect you - one of the Board's roles is to protect the institution...and if need be they can protect the CEO as well (which is the same as protecting the institution at times).
  8. Let them talk - similar to #'s 3 and 5, board meetings should be more about them talking and less about the CEO talking.  Ask good questions, then let them go at it.
  9. Re responsive - when the Boar chair calls with a question, respond quickly; and when the Board asks a question, respond with relevant information.  
  10. Love them - like all groups, boards are made up of human beings who come with all of thier personalities.  Loving the members of the Board is not only a good thing to do, it is the right thing to do.
I look forward to year two of board meetings and seeing what else I can learn as well as getting better at the above ten items.  And one final thought...if you do not have an official board you report to, then consider these ten items as a guide toward working with your team, or your group of friends, or even your family.  Relationships are important, no matter the setting.

Friday, April 24, 2015

why I didn't blog last Friday

It has been gnawing at me all week that I did not blog last Friday morning.  I had written a blog for six weeks in a row, and was feeling great about my streak.  People were reading the blog, people were commenting on the blog, and I felt like I had something worthwhile to say...and then I didn't blog last Friday morning.  As I thought about it, I realized it was a good thing that I didn't blog last Friday morning - and here's why: there were more important things to do in my life.  I know that blogging on Friday mornings is not the most important thing I do...I know that blogging on Friday mornings is not my full-time (or even part-time) job...I know that blogging on Friday mornings is a luxury for because there were more important things to get done, I chose not to blog.

So what, you may ask, could be more important that blogging on a Friday morning?  Here are just a few of the items that I chose to focus on last Friday rather than blog:

  1. Preparation - I had a talk to give at 8:00 that morning, so I spent the first hour of the day finalizing the slides and going over my talk several times.  This was a very important talk to our faculty and staff, so taking the time to PREPARE was more important than blogging on a Friday morning.
  2. Planning - I have several trips coming up and had to get flights and hotel rooms booked ahead of time.  It seemed important to me to feel that I had the details in place for future events rather than blog, so I chose to PLAN rather than write.
  3. People - there were several colleagues with whom I had to catch up.  The visits to different offices were needed to gather information from and share information with others.  It seemed important that I connect with PEOPLE, so I chose not to write the Friday morning blog.
  4. Relaxing - I thought I might get to write later in the day, but I had an afternoon appointment with a friend with whom I spent time on the patio and enjoyed good conversation.  We have a standing appointment once every six months, and I really needed the time to kick back and enjoy the time.  It seemed more important to me to RELAX rather than write my Friday morning blog.
As I thought about all the reasons why I did not write my Friday morning blog, it soon became apparent that I had the freedom to CHOOSE whether to write my blog or not - and for that particular Friday I chose not to write but to focus on other matters in my life.  Were they all more important than writing the Friday morning blog?  Perhaps not...but my choosing them over the writing sent a signal to others (and to myself) that for the moment, these items and people were more important - and that made a significant impact on them (and on me).  Understanding the freedom one has to choose what they do (even at times when it might not feel that way) allows us to relax just a little bit more and puts us in charge of our lives..and that can make all the difference in the world.

Friday, April 10, 2015

defining success

How do you define success?  Several years ago in my Introduction to Business class, this conversation led to a lot of thought among my students and caused dialogue that lasted throughout the semester.  Is success doing one's best?  Is there a standard one shold reach?  Does one define success for themselves?  Is success about being the best?  Or is success meeting and surpassing standards, whether they be set by oneself or others?

This conversation was had again yesterday in a meeting I attended in which we, as a Board of Directors, tried to define success for the organization.  My colleague on the Board, Michael Costello, named three ways of thinking about success - program success (is the program/product what we want it to be?), financial success (are we able to do what we do in 5-10 years?) and process success (is what we do done really well?).  Let's consider these three separately and together:

Program/Product Success - I think this is built around the organization's core purpose, mission, vision, values,and goals; in other words, is what we had hoped would happen as a result of what we do  actually happening?  I think in order to measure this type of success, certain standards should be determined ahead of time that allows the organization to know they have been successful in their programming, i.e. impact, numbers, satisfaction, position in market, etc. Sometimes these ideals are difficult to measure, and yet measurement is needed.  Having targets are critical for any organization...and please remember that some targets are quantifiable while others may be less so.

Financial Success - those of us who have spent our lives in non-profits or faith-based organizations seem to shy away from this measure of success, and often want to relegate it to a neccesary evil of doing business.  Leaders of organizations (whether that be CEOs, presidents, or boards of directors) have an obligation not only to the current clients or customers; they carry an obligation that this organization will be around in the future to continue living out the mission.  A popular saying among non-profits is "no margin, no mission."  While the mission and vision may not inlcude a measure of financial success, the organization MUST focus on what it means to be successful in this area, and then work relentlessly toward achieving those measures.

Process Success - while it may not be true for all organizations, I have a belief that if one does thier core business practices well, there will be a certain amount of success, both externally with its customers and internally with those who work for the organization.  Understanding what it is the organization does, finding or figuring out best practices, then relentlessly pursuing the delivery of those practices carries with it a certain amount of success.  This is where measurement can come in on a regular basis, whether it be satisfaction surveys, meeting certain internal targets, or receiving recogntion among one's peers for the work they have done (i.e. the Malcolm Baldridge Award).

Now for the final piece - a successful organization has to be successful in all three categories: program/product success with poor finances or poor processes will cease to exist; financial success with poor program/product or poor processes will lose customers and employees; and process success with poor program/product or poor finances might lead to the organzation feeling really good about itself, but the doors will eventually close.  The challenge to the organization and its leadership is to keep all three in balance and not fall into the trap of focusing on one at the expense of the other.  In the school business I often hear, "It's all about the students."  If that was true, they would receive a free education and all of their requests would be granted, no matter the result...other types of businesses and organizations can easily focus on one or the other depending on the nature of what they do and the people they typically hire.

So what about your organization - where does the majority of the focus lie?  should there be a better balance?  what needs to be done to bring more attention to a balance? should one area be emphasized more during this time in the organization's history?  is the right leadership team in place so that all three areas can be balanced? has the board or executives determined what success looks like in the three areas so that the management team can deliver on them?

Before I finish, I want to give kudos to two organizations that inspired today's blog:

  1. Lutheran Music Program:  I serve on the board of this incredible organzation that brings together musical excellence, faith, and intentional community that produces life-changing experiences in young musicians through Lutheran Summer Music.  This program is worthy of anyone's support and bringing it to the attention of high school aged musicians who are serious about music and faith.
  2. The Pacific Institute: This organization partnered with Concordia University Texas in our strategic planning process over the past several months, and did a great job in helping us move to a place where we can more fully define success for oursleves. Spcial thanks to Rosie Baker for her marvelous leadership of the process.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

love one another

On this Manudy Thursday (the first day of the Triduum in Holy Week), I want to pause and write what may be one of the most distinguishing factors of great leaders and great organizations - what it means to love one another.  The term "Maundy" (which comes from the Latin and means command) is a reference to the words spoken by Jesus to his disciples in John 13:34 where he says, "A new command I give you: love one another as I have loved you."  While Maundy Thursday is often associated with Jesus washing his disciples' feet and the institution of the Lord's Supper, the term Maundy has to do with loving one another.  So what does loving one another have to do with leadership ad organiations?  Let me share a few ideas:

  • most leaders and organizations spend time learning and practicing the "hard" skills and might ignore the "soft" skills.  There is nothing easy or soft about loving others - in fact, it may be the hardest thing leaders and organizations have to do. Given that leadership is about people, learning how to love may be the most important skill leaders can learn.
  • love is more than a feeling - it is a set of actions that people put into place toward one another.  How people treat each other, how they behave with each other, and how they think about each other defines the culture of any organization.  Peter Drucker noted that "Culture eats strategy of breakfast" (at least we think he said it).  If that is true, then love is a pretty important part of a strong and healthy culture.
  • people often confuse love with romance, imaging it as something that can only happen between a few others in our lifetime.  Love is a deep feeling for others, something that emantes from the mind as well as the heart.  Love is not a zero-sum game...there is enough to go around for everyone.  And as is oftne noted, the more one loves others, the more they are loved back.
  • my mother used to tell me that I didn't have to like everyone, but I had to love everyone.  While the statement at first confused me, I soon realized how important it was to love everyone in my circles.  Loving them meant that I saw them as important people who had gifts to offer the world.  Not everyone had to be my best friend (those who I truly liked), but everyone had to be shown honor and respect.
  • love for others is lived out in different ways - it may include a simple "hello" when you see them, it may be a note of thanks that comes from out of the blue, it may be allowing them to have a voice at the table, it may be honoring them by remembering their name, it may be asking them about theri children or family, it may be including them in a conversation, it may be__________________.  Everyone experiences love from others in different ways.  Knowing what that way consists of is often an act of love in itself.
  • love sometimes leads to difficult decisions, and can result in outcomes that are less than desirable for others.  Often times in organizations we mistake loving others as allowing people to get away with bad behavior and not holding them accountable for their actions.  I know that my mother and father loved me, and yet there were times they had to remind me of my bad behavior and exert a little pressure.  The same is true in leadership and organizations - where there is no accountability there is no love.
  • love is a daily decision to be made, and it can be a difficult decision at times.  Because we are finite individuals who often look first to self interests, people will clash with one another and cause hurt and pain among each other.  Walking into the organization and truly loving those with whom one works is a hard task...and it is a task well worth the energy.
It is my prayer that organizations will be known for how they love one another. I also beleive that this type of behavior begins with leaders, and how they love those with whom they work.  When Jesus gave this new command to his disciples, he followed it up by showing them what that love looked like.  It went beyond washing their ended with him suffering death on the cross for their eternal salvation.  While I would never ask a leader to sacrfice themeselvess and their lives (realtionships, marriages, health, etc) for the sake of an organization (remember that God is God and we are not), leaders who give their all for the good of the organization and the people who work there exhibit a type of love that commands attention from others - and that can make all the difference in the world.

Friday, March 27, 2015

non-anxious presence

Yesterday I watched a master facilitator lead our strategic planning team through a day-long process of discovery and team building.  She gave us exercises to work on as a group, she put us into spaces in which we could think out loud together, and she consistently moved us forward, without ever exerting her own self into the process.  She was a non-anxious presence in the room, and it permitted us as a group to do our best work.

Earlier this week, I led our monthly faculty meeting where we heard reports, talked about a few issues, and had to decide how to move forward on an issue that had the chance to be contentious.  As I stood at the front of the room, there was a moment where I had to remind myself to not let my feelings about the subject  drive any of the discussion or the decision - it was my job to lead the meeting, not to do the work of the group.  I had to be a non-anxious presence in the room so that the group could do their best work.

One more I sat and talked with several individuals this week, I again had to remind myself to be a non-anxious presence in the room.  The conversations were difficult and I could feel myself becoming personally involved in several of them.  What I had to remind myself of during these conversations was that I could be personally involved AND remain a non-anxious presence in the room so that the two of us could do our best work.

So how can one remain a non-anxious presence in a room, in a group, or in a one-on-one conversation?  Here are a few thoughts:

  • remind yourself that you are not God, nor has anyone appointed you to be are there as a facilitator of discussion and decision making
  • believe that the group or the other person has much to offer and that their decision is their decision to make...not yours
  • be aware of the signals that your body or mind tell you when you start to get anxious, and then pull back...deep breaths always seem to help me
  • learn to stay quiet, and not to always fill silence with words...let the quietness of the room or the conversation be a time of reflection
  • be prepared so that you can focus on the issue at hand and not have to worry about your own performance.  Know what you need to know to run the meeting or have the conversation - and practice your role (and what you might need to say) beforehand
  • remember that most decisions are not life and death
Finally, I think that the most important aspect of being able to be a non-anxious presence is knowing that ones self worth does not come from the approval of the group, the team, or the individual to whom you might be talking.  Knowing that you are loved and worthy despite what others think of you goes a long way in staying relaxed when the pressure is on...and that can make all the difference in the world - for yourself and for the group or individual with whom you are engaging.

Friday, March 20, 2015


I have been thinking recently about what it means to be a professional - and how one acts in that role. Merriam-Webster describes professionalism as the  skill, good judgement, and polite behavior that is expected from a person who is trained to do a job well.  This blog will focus on the GOOD JUDGEMENT and POLITE BEHAVIORS that are associated with being a professional.  While I would like to say that I follow all of these all of the time (which I do not), I can at least say that these axioms guide the way I think about my work on a day-to-day basis.  Many of them I have discovered to be true over time...others have been passed on to me by wise mentor...and others are still to be discovered over time (mostly through trail and error).  So here goes - and if I miss any, please add them to the comment section of this blog:

Don Christian's 10 Rules of Professionalism

  1. Always tell the truth - you don't have to always tell everyone everything but when asked, tell the truth to the extent you are able...and if you cannot reveal certain information at that time, follow up with the person to let them know you were not able to do so.
  2. Use good grammar and correct spelling - if this is not your strength, have a proofreader handy...and ALWAYS double check your emails or blogs before hitting the SEND button.
  3. Answer emails promptly - I have a 24-hour rule for answering email, even if it is an quick "I will get back to you in a few days" response...and develop a way not to lose emails in the mix if you are reading off of different devices.
  4. Return a phone call with a phone call - while it is not always easy to do, phone calls made to you should be honored with a phone call back to that person...for this I have adopted a 72 hour rule (within 3 days).
  5. Do not send an email if you have any emotion wrapped around it -  stop typing, delete the email, and then go see (or call) the person...even a well-worded email can be taken wrong, so use email for information only, not to share your feelings or opinions (especially if they are directed to that person).
  6. Dress for the occasion - I used to tell my high school faculty that professional dress was dictated by what they were doing that day and with whom they were doing it...PE teachers had a different dress code from math teachers, and science lab teachers  had a different dress code from English teachers.  The same is true for all professions.
  7. Listen more than you talk - if, in a group setting, you find yourself having to respond every time a question is asked, you are probably talking more than listening.  Here's the interesting paradox - listening is harder than talking, so it takes more practice.
  8. Engage in the discussion - as a corollary to #7, professionals offer their opinion and help move the conversation forward.  If, at the end of a meeting you have not spoken, then you have robbed the team of your best thinking.
  9. Be on time - nothing connotes disrespect as being habitually late for meetings...remember that everyone's time is valuable, and making people wait tells them that you consider your time more important than theirs (if you are going to be late, do everything you can to let the other person know).
  10. Keep your work area organized - I understand that cleanliness does NOT equal godliness, and that the sign of a clean desk does NOT equal an empty organized work area says to those who visit or walk by that you "handle with care" the work given you (besides, how will you find that phone message left on your desk and return it in 72 hours?).
And finally, a #11 should be included that states: professionals learn to use the words "please forgive me" because they know that they will break one of these ten rules from time to time...and perhaps that is the true mark of a professional, one who is able to say "I'm sorry" and then move on with their work.

Friday, March 13, 2015

why history matters

Yesterday in what is called our University Council, we took the time to rehearse a short history of our institution.  We did this for several reasons:
  •         We are embarking on developing a strategic plan that will shape the next 3-5 years (the next part of our history)
  •        As a part of the strategic planning process, we had our employees take the Organizational Cultural Inventory (and history helps tell the story of the current culture)
  •        Out of the 18 people in the room, approximately 1/3 have been a part of the institution for more than 10 years; 1/3 for 3-10 years; and 1/3 less than three years (thus many of us only know a part of recent history)
Knowing from whence one has come is important as the next part of one’s history is going to be written (this is true for organizations and individuals).  The past shapes one’s beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors – whether we want it to our not.  Since much of people’s actions are in RE-action to what has happened previously, taking time to think about the past and examine how it has shaped us up to this point is important before moving ahead.

As I contemplated our time rehearsing Concordia’s history, several thoughts crossed my mind:
  •   Making decisions in a vacuum, without understanding the history, can have paradoxical results: 1) you can make decisions which are harmful to the institution without filtering them through your past; and 2) there is a chance that you might not make a good decision because you filter it through your past
  •        While the past can dictate how we think and behave, we CAN change and realize that a new place and time is different…and we need to think and behave differently as well
  •         The past is powerful, and affects an organization’s culture in a strong way.  Saying we are going to change is never enough – consistent behavior over time will begin to dim the results of past behavior…but it takes time (and probably more than we think)
  •         It is really hard to change one’s picture of the past – we only know what we know.  One of the roles of a leader is to provide replacement pictures for the organization, pictures that can help people write a new story of what the organization CAN be, not just what it has been.
  •    Honoring those who have gone before us is an important part of creating a culture that says “people are important.”  Whether living or dead, those who have helped shape our history should be remembered for what they did to get the organization to where it is today (a corollary might be to not let our founders dictate what we do today…getting stuck on the person can dilute the vision)
 Finally, a quote recently came across my desk that reminded me of the importance of what we do on a daily basis – and how our current story is the history of tomorrow.  In Mark Beto’s Daily Motivator, he quoted Juliet Gordon Low as saying that “the work of today is the history of tomorrow, and we are its makers.”  That’s a responsibility that is on all of us, whether we are writing the history of our organization, our families, or of our community and nation.  It is my prayer that all of us will live out that responsibility in a way that gives glory to God and serves our neighbor.