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.