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.