Friday, December 23, 2016

incarnational leadership

I first penned this blog in December of 2009.  On this day before Chritmas Eve, it still speaks to me about the WHY of the season and the HOW of leadership.  May your Chritmas be blessed with the knowlege that Christ came to save...JOY TO THE WORLD!

My favorite version of the Christmas story is simple, and yet complete..."The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). While I can still recite Luke 2:1-20 from memory, and the Matthew account of the wise men holds mystery for me, it seems that John 1:14 is so deep and theological, that I am able to contemplate it over and over and never grow weary. Perhaps that is because it is a verse that not only describes the essence of my Christian faith but also describes what I believe to be a grand leadership style. Let's explore...

  1. leaders are real people - we so often place people in leadership positions on pedestals, believing they can do no wrong and will, with the right words or the wave of the hand, lead us to the promised land. Leaders, like every other human being, are merely "flesh." They have no special powers...they are not omnipresent...they are not omniscient...and they have emotions just like everyone else. Once everyone understands this (including the leader them self), it becomes much easier to lead - and to follow.
  2. leaders need to hang out with people - I have heard from several people over the past few weeks how they have observed leaders being aloof and isolating themselves from others. How stupid is that? If people in leadership positions are to lead (read: influencing others toward a common goal), then they have to a)be listening to others; and b)be talking to others. There is no other way around it. Leaders have to "dwell" among those they lead, not merely stop in and say hello every now and then. That's the beauty of the verse - Jesus didn't come down from heaven, wave a magic wand, and make everything OK - he "hung out" with those whom he loved, namely people.
  3. leaders have to love people - to be full of grace assumes that one loves others, in a compassionate and non-judgmental way. This is hard work, because human nature always wants to assume the worst. It can be especially hard for people in leadership positions since they worked hard to get where they are - and then consequently assume that everyone should work just as hard as them. It's easy to be judgmental - it's hard to love unconditionally. Imagine an organization where grace's a hint: it begins with the leader.
  4. leaders identify and name reality - truth is all around can be seen, it can be heard, and it can be felt. And yet, people in leadership positions refuse to call it out, especially if it is bad news. For many people, being a person of grace means not holding others accountable...and yet, the two can, and should, go hand-in-hand. When I truly love someone for whom they are, I want what is best for them (AND, when I truly love my organization and its mission, I want what is best for it and its future). Why would I NOT hold both the individual and the organization accountable, naming the truth and helping them change and be better?
As I get ready to celebrate Christmas, I am awed that my God came down to this earth and hung out - as God and man - to give us a picture of what "grace and truth" looks like when it manifests itself among people. Jesus Christ came as a baby - a REAL baby - and grew to be a man who walked among REAL people - and then, in order to save me from my sin, died a REAL death - and culminated his victory over death with a REAL resurrection. For that I give thanks, knowing that through faith in him as my Lord and Savior, I have the HOPE of eternal life - and that makes all the difference in the world.

Friday, December 16, 2016

no such thing as bad leadership

I was contemplating the idea the other day that there is no such thing as bad leadership, and then I began to think of people I knew who were bad leaders, including those whom no one followed, accomplished little, and left a carnage of bodies behind them.  As these two thoughts swirled in my brain, I realized that I might be right...that there are people in leadership positions who, when performing poorly, are simply not leading.  I am not sure what one might call what they are doing, but I would not call it leadership.  Here is why:

  • my definition of leadership includes words such as stewardship, shared vision, and common good.  If these behaviors or outcomes do not exist, there is no leadership.
  • with apologies to John Maxwell, leadership IS more than influence.  There must be an element of leaving the world and its people in a better place over time when one is leading.
  • leadership, when lived out in all of its dimensions, is good.  The actions of leadership show care for others, help people toward a shard vision that impacts the common good, and stewards the power that is inherent in a leadership role.  Anything less is no longer leadership.
  • there are levels of leadership through which one will progress, i.e. they will get better at leading.  Making a mistake in a leadership role is not the same as not leading, and followers should be looking for signs that differentiate between someone learning to lead and those who can't, don't, or won't lead.
  • those who serve in leadership roles but are not practicing leadership will more often than not be unable to understand or notice this differentiation.  It will be the responsibility of others to note the lack of leadership and put into a place a plan to remove that person and put in place one who can practice leadership.  A word of warning here - where there is no leadership (and remember that those who lead badly are providing no leadership) someone or something will fill the void.  Beware the individual or group who seek to fill that void to meet their own needs.
One final thought...those who choose leaders for their groups, organizations, or institutions may be afraid to put the wrong person in place.  The paradox is that there should be great fear AND there is a need to take a chance on people.  Remember that people can learn leadership and fill that role very effectively.  The challenge is finding the person who is self aware enough to know that there is no such thing as bad leadership and that leadership, which is inherently a good thing, is a journey of learning and growth that takes place over time.

Friday, December 9, 2016

the process of making decisions

“The leader facilitates a decision making process by which those involved feel good about the decision making process”

This thought came to me as I was driving to Concordia's service of commencement this past Saturday (who knows from where these ideas originate).  It struck me that when a group of people are brought together for a decision to be made, there will be times (probably more often than not) when some of the group members disagree with the decision...perhaps even disagree violently.  The leader's role is not to get everyone to agree...the leader's role is to facilitate a decision making process by which those involved feel good about the decision making process.  That's not always easy, and it may take more art than skill.  Here are a few thoughts on how one might be able to make this happen on a more regular basis:

  • before the process begins, be sure that the right people are in the is probably better to err on the side of too many people around the table rather than missing someone who needs to be there
  • articulate the problem very clearly so people know exactly what the issue is on which they are deciding...clarity around problem solving saves time and keeps the group focused
  • ask good questions...before entering the room, be sure that the right questions have been articulated and that the leader does not have pre-conceived answers they already want to hear
  • be sure everyone has a chance to speak...bring out everyone's ideas, especially those who tend to be more quiet
  • do not let a certain voice or opinion dominate...when people are passionate about something, they want to speak to it (and often believe that if they speak loud and long enough they will get their way)
  • ask clarifying sure that you and the others around the table understand what is being said and WHY certain ideas are being stated.
  • have a common understanding about who is making the decision and how that decision will be it the leader's decision; the decision of another person in the group; is it through a vote or consensus?
  • do not leave the room until everyone understands what decision has been made (or when it will be made)...again, getting clarity around this helps to send the same message forward
  • follow up with major dissenters and influential voices...very few people need to get their way all the time AND most people want to know that they were heard.  Those who get a little more attention from the leader after the decision has been made are more apt to be supportive as the decision is rolled out
  • enter into the conversation with the attitude that you as a leader do not always have the right answer to the issue at hand...being humble throughout the decision making process will go a long way toward helping others feel good about the decision making process.
Leaders who understand and practice this concept can help to build a strong constructive culture where people are free to speak up, teams work collaboratively, and team members feel good about the decision making process - whether they agree with the decision or not.

Friday, December 2, 2016

creating your own rain delay

It was one month ago today that "divine intervention" sent a rain storm to Cleveland, Ohio right around midnight to give the Chicago Cubs 18 minutes to regroup, refocus, and regain their mojo as a team of destiny.  The 30 minutes prior to the rain delay saw yet another Cubs' Collapse, and those of us who had watched this all before had that sinking feeling.  The momentum had shifted to the Indians and we were doomed to say yet again, "Wait 'til next year."  But alas, the Gods intervened, sent rain which created an 18-minute delay and,thanks to the wisdom and leadership of Jason Heyward, the Cubs came back on the field ready to play and (drum roll please) won the game to become World Series Champions.

Most leaders do not get to experience such a divine intervention and need to create their own "rain delays" so that their teams, their organizations, their families, or even they are able to regroup, refocus and regain their mojo in the midst of a crisis.  So how might leaders do that?  Here are a few thoughts:

  • take time out to remember the positive things that have been happening in the midst of tough time...they are there, but are often not in the current focus of the group
  • send people home for the day - or at least out to a long lunch...trying to solve the problem in the midst of the daily swirl might not be the right answer at the time
  • call in a consultant who can look at things differently than everyone else is...having an outside set of eyes may make the problem or crisis seem not as bad as first thought
  • laugh...there is almost always some humor to be found.  And if it can be found, take the time to talk about it and laugh until you cry.
  • have a pep talk with the team...following the move of Jason Heyward, do not let people go off by themselves and them together, remember the good things you have accomplished, reiterate the issue at hand, and then get back to work
  • time your decisions well...when everything else is falling down around you, the timing of the next decision or change is critical.  Just as in trying to hit a baseball, the paradox exists of timing is everything and swinging away. 
  • sleep on that idea...most tough situations do not need to be solved immediately.  Make sure you and others in the organization can have some flexibility built into the decision making process

Creating one's own rain delay can seem counter intuitive...leaders are taught and expected to act quickly (and are often rewarded for that type of action).  Consider what your internal voice is telling you about creating a rain delay and whether or not you will be able to make the decision when called upon.  If not, who else can you ask on your team to be the umpire who, despite what any one manager or player wants, makes the call on the next rain delay for your team or organization.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

leadership through a theological lens

As I was talking with a group of people from the Emerging Leadership Academy at HHSC this past week, the discussion came up of how one's view of God shapes one's leadership.  As I have thought more about that over the week, it has struck me how true this might be.  Here are a few examples of how one's view of God might impact leadership understanding and behavior:

  • there is no god...this view puts humans at the very center of the universe, a place that leaders might find themselves more vulnerable than they should be
  • there might be a god, but it is of no importance to me...similar to above, hubris is the downfall of many who find themselves in a leadership position
  • there is a god, but he/she has very little to do with my life...leaders are in positions of power and authority (often a god-like position); a theological view of a god who is not important could put a leader at a disadvantage if they see their role in that same way
  • god is a judgmental figure who punishes those who are bad and rewards those who are good...leaders can sometimes see their role in this same light and begin to base their actions toward others in a similar way
  • god is a nice person who looks over people and protects them from troubles and hardships...leaders can end up in a similar role, always rescuing others from making mistakes or not holding them accountable
  • god is someone I can call upon when I am in trouble...followers might see leaders like this and, if leaders accept that role, will find themselves fixing problems rather than moving the organization toward the future
  • god is both king and shepherd, one who rules the world with might and cares for people through love and mercy...this paradoxical view of god might provide leaders with a balance in their lives - or could lead toward dualistic behavior and actions
This list is not exhaustive by any means...nor is it meant to pigeonhole one's belief system with their style of leadership.  It is a reminder for all those in leadership roles that the better they understand themselves and their relationship with a greater being or entity, the more conscious they will become of how their style of leadership impacts others. I am a firm believer that everyone has a theological view of the world, and when leaders take the time to think through their view they begin to better understand themselves and be better leaders of others.

Friday, November 11, 2016

how to lead when more than half of your followers don't like you

Awkward blog title...awkward presidential campaign.  No matter who would have won this year's presidential election, they would have faced less than a majority of the voters choosing them as their next leader.  What a strange feeling - whether voted on or put in place by a board of directors (or an electoral college) - to take charge when so many of those who work with and for you are against you from the start.  What's a leader to do?  Here are a few thoughts:

  • don't be deluded...knowing that you are starting your role in this position is important toward understanding the job ahead
  • know who your supporters are...they will be your cheerleaders when others are actively working against you
  • know who your enemies are...most of those who don't want you are not your enemies - they just liked someone else better.  But know who your true enemies are so you can navigate the territory ahead
  • start by listening...and not just to your supporters.  Listen broadly and deeply to understand what people want and need
  • build coalitions...bringing people of differing opinions together will show everyone that you are a leader of and for the entire group
  • act something to show that despite having less than a majority mandate you are a person of action.  People appreciate a leader who gets things done
  • accept your matter how you might have been chosen for a leadership position, you are now the person to whom people look to be their leader.  LEAD...because that is your new responsibility
I will pray for the new president of the United States...I will pray for those he chooses to work with and for him...I will pray for the future of the people whom he leads...and I will pray for justice and mercy to be hallmarks of the presidency and the country, just as I have always done.

Friday, November 4, 2016

backs up against the wall leadership

Pinch me!  The Chicago Cubs are World Series Champions for the first time since 1908.  For over 57 years I have been waiting for this moment, and when it arrived it felt so surreal...and perhaps is just now sinking in.  Even as I watched game 7 for a second time last night, I was still stressed watching the multiple times the team had their backs up against the wall, ready to once more become the lovable losers.  Only this year WAS different...this was not the same Cubs team with whom I grew up.  All three series had that moment when I wondered if it was over...and then they came back to win and move on.  Down 3 games to 1 in the World Series, the chances were slim - only five other teams had done that in all of baseball history.  They had their backs up against the wall...and prevailed.  All hail The Cubs...all hail Theo Epstein...all hail Ernie Banks...all hail Chicago!

Leaders often find their backs up against the wall, having to lead through a crisis that must be faced for the good of the organization.  In those times decisions have to be made that can make or break the leader and her team.  Based on what I watched over the past month, here is a list of items for leaders to consider when their back is up against the wall:

  • never give sounds cliche, but I watched a Cubs team that never gave up.  Multiple times they came back from a seeming loss to win the game.  Down 3 games to 1, with all the odds against them, they never gave up,  Even at the very end, after blowing a lead in what seemed to be game that was theirs to win, they kept playing as they had all season...and eventually won the championship.
  • support those who got you there...many of the players who were all-stars during the season seemed to have lost their touch early in the playoffs.  Just as the experts were calling for them to be benched, Joe Maddon stuck with his best players and they delivered.  Showing confidence in your best people, even when their work is less than stellar for awhile, can pay big dividends in the end.
  • look for unlikely heroes...names like Contreras, Almora Jr, and Montero may never make it into the Hall fo Fame, yet they were key to the Cubs success over the course of the playoffs.  Given the right oportunity at the right time, people can rise to the occasion and do spectacular things...all they might need is a chance.
  • let others lead...when a rain delay was called after nine innings in game 7, Jason Heyward called the team together for "the talk" that changed momentum.  Manager Joe Maddon never saw this as as threat to his leadership; instead, he had created the culture where all could particpate in making the team better.
  • take a wild-hair chance...after being out for the entire season due to injury, Kyle Schwarber announced he was ready to play for the World Series.  Rather than laughing him off, the Cubs took a close look, invested in his return, and he became one foof the many heroes of the Series.  No way should he have played...and yet there he was, contributing to the end.  Risky decisions can be one's best decisions.
  • celebrate the end...when one's back is up against the wall, it does not stay there forever.  There is an end in sight, and no matter the outcome, it is time to celebrate the hard work that went into the process of making hard decisions.  As I watched the Cubs' players hug one another and rejoice, I too hugged those around me, popped open the bottle of champagne, and shed a few tears.  This was the moment I had been waiting for for 57 years, and it felt all that much better because the team's backs had been up against the wall.

If you are a fan of the Chicago Cubs (or of baseball in general), take the time to thank the gods for removing the curse of the goat...and for all of you who read this blog regularly (or not), take a moment to watch this video and celebrate with the author on this historic occasion.  

Friday, October 28, 2016

waiting/acting-a leadership paradox

Once the decision to act has been made, the next decision is when to act...and is it better to act quickly and in short order or wait until the right moment - whenever that might be?  Whether it deals with relationships, families, small, or large organizations, or even in one's personal life, the decision to wait or act has consequences.  Western culture tends to have a bias toward action while eastern culture seems to have more of a bias toward waiting...and again, both biases have consequences.  For those in leadership positions, especially in larger organizations, deciding to wait or deciding to act has rippling consequences across the institution.  So what is the right answer?  How does one know whether to wait or act quickly?  Here are a few thoughts on what leaders can think about in these situations:

  • attempting to determine what, if any, harm might be done in the interim before acting
  • determining what else is happening in the life of individuals or the institution
  • considering if the situation might change for the better if one waits
  • thinking through all of the steps needed to act properly and having the time to accomplish those steps
  • taking the time to think through the consequences (known and not known) that might result from the action
  • having time to seek enough counsel from trusted friends and advisors
  • considering the message that is sent to others from acting quickly or waiting to act
  • reflecting on what it is about the person making the decision that is leading them to act more or less quickly
Here is the paradox - for each of the above considerations, there are seldom right and wrong answers...they all merely have differing results and consequences.  The leader uses her experience, her knowledge, her wisdom, and her gut to make the decision to wait or act quickly, and then moves forward.  Personally, I never what to be the one who is known for making rash decisions AND I never want to be the one that is known for waiting forever to decide and act.  Embracing and living out that paradox is not only a sign of competent leadership, it is also good and well for the unit or organization that is being led.  Making the decision is only the first step...deciding when and how to act on that decision may be more important that the decision itself.

Friday, October 21, 2016

what's the secret?

Whether it is in relationships, families, or organizations, secrets tend to keep people from functioning well...and it is often  the leader (formally or not) who asks the hard question, "What's the secret here and why are we not talking about it?"  Secrets exist for all kinds of reasons, including not knowing how to talk about them, being ashamed or afraid to talk about them, or not even knowing what the secret is and being unable to name it.  Because secrets (intentional or not) bring about tension and dysfunction, being able to tease out the secret and create a safe space in  which people can talk about the issue at hand are roles leaders must play.  How can they do that?  Here are a few thoughts:

  • be brave enough to ask the question...while the answer may be surprising and/or hurtful, getting the issue on the table is the first step in the process
  • create trust among the one will share secrets with people they do not trust (that's why they are called secrets).  Spending time with the team in open dialogue is the critical first step in this process
  • don't be afraid of the truth...truth can hurt, and leaders know that the hurt can then lead to healing.  Most secrets, once they are brought out into the open, will not destroy an organization; the ones kept hidden might.
  • create a culture of permission and forgiveness...if people are punished for sharing secrets, they will start keeping even more secrets to themselves.  A culture that rewards the unmasking of secrets can become very powerful
  • understand that people are complex subjects...leaders should never assume they know their people well enough that secrets would not be kept hidden.  As a wise sage once told me, "people disappoint...and that's because they are people."
  • practice the art of compassion...sharing the secret in the room is difficult and includes a certain amount of vulnerability.  Showing compassion to those who reveal secrets and to those whom the secret affects will go a long way in solving the issue at hand
Secrets are all around us, whether we believe they are or not.  Here's the good news...not every secret has to remain secret IF the culture is such that secrets can be shared as needed.  And here's even the better news...once secrets are talked about they are no longer secrets, and relationships, families and organizations can begin to function well once again.

Friday, October 14, 2016

quick thoughts on a Friday morning

No one particular idea is coming to me this morning, so here are a couple of thoughts that have crossed my mind this past week when it comes to leadership:

  • when working to build a collaborative culture, how does one handle the paradox of "staying in one's lane" and "engaging with and questioning all parts of the organization?"
  • what happens when an organization sets rules and guidelines and then has to live within the boundaries of those rules and guidelines, even though the unintended consequences of those rules and guidelines could not even have been imagined when those rules and guidelines were developed?
  • what is the balance of responsibility for communication between those who have the information and those who want to know the information?
  • given all of the decisions organizations make on a daily basis, which ones are most important and how do people know whether or not enough time has been given to that decision?
  • similar to the third thought above, what is the balance of responsibility for giving feedback between those who have feedback to give and those who should be receiving feedback?
  • do those of us in leadership positions really understand leadership...or are we just hoping to get it right as we live out our positions?
  • similar to above, do those of us who follow those in leadership positions really understand what leaders are to do, or do we just expect them to act in certain ways based on our own needs and wants?
  • similar to the fourth thought above, when determining what an organization most needs at any given time, who should have the most say...and how does one know that any one person's or group's say is the right one at that time?
Just a week's worth of thoughts on leadership...I hope they spark some thinking in you as well!

quick thoughts on a Friday morning

No one particular idea is coming to me this morning, so here are a couple of thoughts that have crossed my mind this past week when it comes to leadership:

  • when working to build a collaborative culture, how does one handle the paradox of "staying in one's lane" and "engaging with and questioning all parts of the organization?"
  • what happens when an organization sets rules and guidelines and then has to live within the boundaries of those rules and guidelines, even though the unintended consequences of those rules and guidelines could not even have been imagined when those rules and guidelines were developed?
  • what is the balance of responsibility for communication between those who have the information and those who want to know the information?
  • given all of the decisions organizations make on a daily basis, which ones are most important and how do people know whether or not enough time has been given to that decision?
  • similar to the third thought above, what is the balance of responsibility for giving feedback between those who have feedback to give and those who should be receiving feedback?
  • do those of us in leadership positions really understand leadership...or are we just hoping to get it right as we live out our positions?
  • similar to above, do those of us who follow those in leadership positions really understand what leaders are to do, or are we just expect them to act in certain ways based on our own needs and wants?
  • similar to the fourth thought above, when determining what an organization most needs at any given time, who should have the most say...and how does one know that any one person's or group's say is the right one at that time?
Just a week's worth of thoughts on leadership...I hope they spark some thinking in you as well!

Friday, October 7, 2016

when ego becomes a roadblock

Most people who achieve a leadership position do so because they are good at what they do - top salespeople get promoted to sales manager...the best teacher becomes the school principal...the high achieving VP becomes the next CEO.  People are promoted for their prior accomplishments, many of which become obsolete in the leadership role.  And of course, when one's prior accomplishments become obsolete, there is a sense of loss and a longing to return back to what one knew, loved, and for what one was rewarded.  Learning how to do things differently, learning and practicing new skills, and putting aside one's ego become some of the most difficult things for leaders.  This is where ego can become a roadblock.

The same can also be true for organizations.  Those companies and institutions who have been successful in the past can find it difficult to change and accept that what they were once recognized for is now a roadblock to future success.  Early innovators or adopters find that because they were ahead of the curve, and have seen unprecedented success because they were first in the game, often believe that they can just keep riding that wave, even if the wave is starting to lose strength.  The ability to re-innovate or re-adopt becomes hard if not impossible.

So how might those in leadership positions keep their organizations - and themselves - from letting ego become a roadblock?  Here are a few thoughts:
  • Have a group of trusted advisers who a) are not a part of your specific industry and/or b) came to the organization after the organization's source of pride was first implemented
  • Know that no good thing lasts forever, and understand that just when you think you have all the answers that is the time to start making changes
  • When the organization (or people within the organization) feels resistant to a new idea, begin to explore immediately why that is, understanding that ego might be driving a majority of that opinion
  • Always have a readily available list of organizations that are actually better than yours...and remember that they too could easily be insignificant next year
  • Remember what it felt like personally (and organizationally) to be an early adopter and the one who was recognized for success...and understand that to re-create that feeling will take laying aside what you currently do and begin something new
  • Consistently remind yourself and others around you that ego can be a roadblock, both for individuals and for organizations - and wonder out loud whether or not that has happened to you
The paradox of this topic is that everyone in a leadership role needs to have a positive and strong ego AND that same ego needs to be kept in check with the reality that pride often comes before the fall.  Whether one practices confident humility or humble confidence, those in leadership roles need to be on constant alert to not let their ego become a roadblock...both for themselves and for their institutions.

Friday, September 30, 2016

practicing the execution of leadership

While I cannot speak from personal experience, this is what I think I know about doctors who are getting ready to perform a surgery:
  1. They read up on the latest research that has been done regarding the surgery they are about to do
  2. They consult with other doctors who have recently performed that particular surgery
  3. They use models and/or 3-D imaging to examine that part of the body and simulate the surgery
  4. They keep learning up until the day and time of the surgery, just in case there might be something new to learn
What about those in leadership positions?  Do they, when getting ready to execute a decision, follow similar procedures and practices?  Do those who claim to be leaders take each decision and execution of a decision as seriously as a doctor performing surgery?  Perhaps those in leadership positions believe that these are not life and death situations, when in fact the result of those decisions could be life or death for an organization...and can certainly feel like life or death to those people affected.  Perhaps those in leadership positions believe they have learned everything they need to know about leadership and that there is nothing new being written or said that  they do not already know.  Perhaps those in leadership positions believe that leadership is inate in people, and that they are in that role because they have worked hard and done what comes naturally.  The problem with these beliefs is that leaders ARE executing life and death decisions, and to leave that up to intuition, well meaning, and fate could cause serious harm.  So how might leaders practice executing their decisions?  Here are a few thoughts:
  1. What's on your bookshelf?  Have you read widely in the area of leadership and know where to turn to for a reminder of what to do in certain circumstances?
  2. Who is in your contact list?  How many people do you know that have already executed on these decisions, and are you willing to reach out to them for advice?
  3. Have you looked for the latest research?  Reading Peter Drucker and Jim Collins  is important...but have you found out what academic research has been done recently on the particular decision you are getting ready to execute?  Just as in medicine, new ideas are being discoverd every day on these topics.
  4. Have you practiced what you are going to say and/or do?  Writing out what you are going to say, how you are going to say it, and rehearsing with others in a role play can make the execution go much more effectively.
  5. Do you have a team around you to whom you are listening and with whom you are collaborating?  Many of those in leadership positions have gotten there because of their individual hard work...these decisions are often much more complex and more difficult to execute.
When leaders consider that their decisions (and the execution of those decisions) are high stakes, what happens prior to that execution will look different.  I would posit that many of our decisions in organizations (and in life) are hgih stake decisions since they involve people and their livelihood.  Let's take leadership preparation and practice seriously!

Friday, September 23, 2016

horizontal silos

Those who have followed my regular blogs know how much I detest silos within an organization, and I will do everything I can to bust those silos.  I also know that silos are a natural part of most organizations, and that people have to work hard to keep tearing them down AND to use them when necessary.  Earlier this week, a colleague of mine described what we believe may be horizontal silos in our organization, where the communication breaks down not between functional areas (marketing, admissions, academics, etc) but more between working layers (another term I would rather not have to live with) such as executives, leadership teams, staff and faculty.  Just as with vertical silos, no one sets out to create these...they tend to happen over time for many different reasons.  So what can leaders do to help blow up horizontal silos?  Here are a few thoughts:

  • set up systems and tools that can provide proper and timely communication among the layers
  • have those who serve in the different layers rub shoulders with those in other layers - sometimes just hanging out with others provides new perspectives
  • train those who serve in different layers how to do their work in a way that is collaborative among the layers
  • remind those who work in the layers that their work goes two ways - and that their ability to communicate in both directions is critical to breaking down the horizontal silos
  • strengthen the layers - find and train the best people to work in them
  • consistently remind the layers that everyone is working in the same direction...and that each layer has different roles in and responsibilities towards the organization
  • get very clear about the expectations of each of the layers, ensuring that each layer has an accountability structure for their work
  • be a place of forgiveness - any type of silo work, whether it be vertical or horizontal, will end up with people stepping on each others toes.  Be able to say "I'm sorry" and "I forgive you"
  • acknowledge throughout the organization that horizontal silos will occur and need to be addressed over and over again.  Silos by themselves are not inherently bad...they just tend to cause bad behavior

Friday, September 16, 2016

the importance of friendship...for leaders

Much has been written about friendships and how to care for them over time.  As I was leaving dinner last evening with a friend (and our significant others) it struck me how important that relationship was for me, in so many ways.  This is not a life-long friend...this is not a person whom I see every week...this is not someone to whom I pour out my heart and soul.  This is someone I have known for about 7 years, someone I became acquainted with through a professional relationship, someone with whom I have a lot in common, someone who sees the world in a similar vein, and someone who is one of my biggest fans (and I believe the same about him). So why is this type of friendship important for leaders?  Consider these reasons:

  • It's good to have someone to talk to to just talk agenda, no transactions, no having to put on a show
  • Everyone (especially those in leadership roles) needs a few raving fans in their lives
  • Sometimes it is good to leave the workplace at the end of the day and just kick back over dinner and/or a drink with someone who does not know everything about you
  • Hearing stories from someone else's workplace provides a different and refreshing experience...and you never know what you can actually learn from a friend
  • It is good for one's heart to laugh and tell stories with someone like this
  • These are often really smart and really caring people - who doesn't want a few more of those types of friends with whom to hang out?
Now comes the hard part - maintaining those friendships over time.  People in leadership roles meet all kinds of people over time, with many becoming acquaintances and few becoming friends.  Keeping the friendship fires burning is never easy due to busy schedules and hectic lives.  So what can those in leadership roles do to stay in touch with friends?  Here are a few thoughts:
  • Schedule your time with them...and following a meeting, put on your calendar when you plan to reach out to them again
  • Don't wait for them to reach out to you - nothing means more to a friend than getting a request to meet
  • When a friend's name crosses your mind, immediately put it in your calendar to reach out to them soon
  • Just like Goldilocks, don't meet too often and don't meet not often enough
  • Don't be afraid to ask for favors - friend like helping friends
  • Invite them to share other portions of your life, whether that be attending events or meeting your family from time to time
  • Don't be afraid to share them with your other friends - introducing them to other great people deepens the friendship
  • Be vulnerable - sharing your joys, concerns, and disappointments invites them to deepen the friendship over time
  • Thank them for being a friend and for taking the time out of their lives to guess is that in this type of relationship, everyone wins!
So...who do you need to contact today to renew and refresh a friendship?  Go ahead, call them now or send them an email.  You'll (and they'll) be glad you did.

Friday, September 9, 2016

means or ends

As I get ready to hold my first board meeting of the academic year, I am reminded of the great adage for boards: don't confuse means and ends.  What that simply means is do not confuse activites with goals.  My Board of Regents focuses on the mega-outcome of men and women who transform communities by seeking out leadership opportunities and influencing people for Christ.  Of course, to get to that end (goal), we as an institution have to execute a lot of means (activities) which the Board monitors to ensure that we execute in an excellent and consistent manner.

At a meeting this week, I had to remind myself and my team that the decision in front of us was a means decision (an activity) that had an impact on our end (goal).  While this sounds simple, it becomes very difficult in the rush and flurry of activity that an enterprise undertakes.  So what can those in leadership roles do to keep themselves and their teams focused on ends and not get hung up entirely on means?  Here are a few thoughts:

  • Always ask the question "what are we trying to accomplish?"  Sometimes the answer might be as simple as making a means decision...and sometimes the question will lead to a very stratgic discusion which can change the decision on the means
  • Clearly identify the ends - what are the goals toward which the organization and/or the team is aiming?  If this is known, it becomes much easier to sort through the many means available for a team to decide
  • Revisit the ends from time to time - do not assume that everyone will remember them or even think about them.  In the rush of daily activities, means often become the driver of people's time and thoughts
  • Ask the quesiton of whether or not a discussion is an ends discussion or a means discussion - both are important...clarification will keep the team on track
  • Be as clear as possible about the ends the organization is trying to accomplish - "save the world" is great, but often unknown when one arrives there (if one arrives there).  Trying to identify an end goal that makes sense and can be accomplished makes it easier it is to talk about the means to get there.
As I get ready to walk into this board meeting, I know that much of my reporting is on means...are we doing what we said we would be doing and how well are we doing in those areas?  AND I know that the Board will want to be assured that we are still on track to accomplish the end/goal/outcome of men and women who transform communities by seeking out leadership positions and influencing people for Christ. 

Friday, September 2, 2016


The English writer and theologian G.K. Chesterton once said that “there is no such thing on earth as an uninteresting subject; the only thing that can exist is an uninterested person.”  Earlier this week, at a gathering of Concordia’s newest students, I heard this phrase spoken once again reminding students that their education begins with them being interested in EVERYTHING.  From their classes, to their classmates, to the beauties of nature, to co-curricular activities, to the pursuit of God...when people become interested in things, they suddenly find that multiple subjects are actually interesting.

Most people who end up in leadership positions are more than likely these types of people.  Because they are interested in all kinds of things and pursue knowledge in multiple areas, they soon find themselves moved into leadership roles and perhaps find that they have less time to pursue all of the interesting things around them.  So how might one in a leadership role remain interested in all types of subjects and keep on being an interesting person?  Here are a few thoughts:
  • Learn to say at the start of conversations “tell me more”: I meet all kinds of people in a given week, many of whom do things about which I have no clue.  By the time the conversation is over, I have learned something new and the other person has had a chance to talk about themselves.
  • Travel by yourself: when I travel with a colleague or friend, I tend to spend more time with them than with other people whom I do not know.  Be alone.
  • Sit at the bar: when you sit at a table in a restaurant, there is no one else to talk with.  Sitting at the bar can put you in touch with some of the most interesting people in the world.
  • Invite new acquaintances out for lunch or coffee: taking an hour out of one’s schedule to be interested in another person can produce amazing results…who knows what that person brings to your organization – or just to you as a person?
  • Accept invitations to coffee or lunch:  I have been blessed by so many people in my life who took the time out of their schedule to spend an hour with me while I asked questions and learned from them.  It is time for me to pay it back to the next generation.
  • Browse the bookshelves at your favorite bookstore: find a book on a topic that you know nothing about and start reading it.  Three things might happen: 1) you actually learn something new and have another topic you can engage in with others; 2) you begin to apply that new topic to leadership principles and your personal leadership improves; or 3) you discover that this is a topic in which you do not want to read or think about further and there is now one less thing to clutter your mind.
  • Get involved in a board or organization outside of your expertise: nothing is more humbling (or accelerates the learning curve) than sitting in a board meeting for the first time and having no clue what the other members are talking about.  Write down those acronyms, spend the next week learning what they are, take another board member to lunch, read everything you can about the subject, and then jump in wholeheartedly.

This list could go on and on.  For me, I need to regularly take an inventory on whether I am remaining an interested person and finding more and more subjects interesting, even in the flurry of activities associated with being president of a university.  Perhaps an afternoon at Half Price Books this weekend (20% off) will get my interest level reignited.

Friday, August 26, 2016

the 5 Cs of loyalty

Over the past several months the concept of loyalty has come up in several conversations - what it is, its importance, and how one gets and/or gives it.  Giving loyalty to another person is an extreme act of confidence and love, especially when it is not asked for.  Gaining loyalty from another person can never be forced or is simply through repeated actions that loyalty can truly be given.  So how might those in leadership roles gain the loyalty of others?  Here are my five Cs of how to gain one's loyalty...

Competence - loyalty begins when one sees their leader as competent.  Can they do the job well?  Do they go above and beyond what is required?  Are they constantly learning and getting better at their work?  And remember that for those in leadership roles, one's work is are you becoming better at leading?

Charisma - this word can be described as charm, presence, or personality, an essence that requires the leader to put themselves "out there" and act in a manner that draws others to them. This is not a false bravado or a fake personality...this is the ability to charm others, to bring one's whole self into the room, and to inspire others that the leader knows who they are and what they are about.

Caring - perhaps this goes without saying, but it is critical that leaders are seen and known for their caring attitude.  Those in leadership positions often have to make hard decisions tht can hurt others in deep ways.  When that is done in a caring manner, and when the default personality of the leader is one of caring, others will fall in line to follow because they know that they have worth adn value, even in the midst of hard decisions.

Courage - similar to above, people in leadership roles are often asked to make difficult decisions on a regular basis.  When those decisions are made courageously, others take notice and begin to give their loyalty to that person.  Courageous decisions inspire a sense of confidence in others and allows them to live out their vocations in a courageous manner.

Character - one of the definitions of character has to do with how one behaves when no one else is looking.  Is there a consistency to the leader's behavior over time?  Do they exhibit a sense of certainty in the course of ther daily work?  Do they uphold the ideals of the organization time after time?  Would you trust them with your own life?

Sounds like a large if those in leadership roles must be akin to being god-like.  The truth is leaders will fail from time to time...they will show a side of themselves that is less than competent, less than charismatic, less than caring, less than courageous, and less than being of good character.  These are the times leaders ask for forgiveness...and those who are loyal to them will give them that forgiveness,  And when that happens, relationships - and organizations - grow even stronger.

Friday, August 19, 2016

what does doing a good job look like?

At a recent talk I gave to the faculty and staff of Concordia University Texas, someone said to me that it looked like I was doing a good job.  It was (I believe) meant as a compliment with a cautious caveat, one which I understand completely.  People will often tell me “you’re doing a good job” and, while I appreciate the words of encouragement, I remind them of three things: 1) the first year I did not know what I did not know; 2) the second year was spent putting into place the practices to address what I did not know the first year; and 3) the third year is spent seeing if the practices work.  So I appreciate the words of my colleague to whom it looks like I am doing a good AND I wonder what doing a good job looks like.  Perhaps leaders look like they are doing a good job when they:
  • Communicate with their constituencies regularly and consistently
  • Are transparent about the issues an organization faces
  • Present information in such a way that people understand what is being said
  • Present solutions to problems and actually fix them
  • Share success stories about the institution
  • Have a vision for where the organization is going – and are able to articulate that vision
  • Engage others in the process of moving the organization forward
  • Make hard decisions that might even prove to be unpopular
  • Explain the reasons behind decisions that are made – especially those that affect people’s lives
  • Walk around and talk with individuals face to face – and take the time to really listen*
  • Help people see how they fit into the big picture and that their work matters

 What does it mean to actually do a good job?  In a few simple points:
  • The organization has a positive end-of-year balance so that it can keep doing business in the future
  • The organization is living out its mission in a way that positively affects its outcomes
  • The organization is moving closer toward its vision
  • The organization has a healthy culture and is a place where people want to be
  • The organization’s customers are satisfied and recommending it to others
  • The organization is known for its quality product
  • The organization experiences growth that is planned for and serves the mission

 *leaders of large organizations may not be able to do this for all employees…but they can do for a few what they wish they could do for everyone

Friday, August 12, 2016

taking it off the table

In my readings this summer, I have delved into two book by James Ellis - Founding Quartet and Founding Brothers.  The origination of the United States of America, especially the years leading up to the ratification of the Constitution, is a fascinating study in leadership, dialogue, and compromise.  One of the most striking items for me is the decision of the delegates at the Constitutional Convention to take the issue of slavery off the table.  They knew that if slavery became an all-or-nothing issue, the colonies would be split and there would be no union - the south and north would have divided then and there.  While I cannot imagine the angst this decision caused among many of the delegates from the north, I do understand their need to push forward to form a country out of disparate colonies and ideas.

So how might leaders know when to take an item off the table, even if it is near and dear to their hearts - and especially when there are moral and ethical issues involved?  Here are a few thoughts:

    • determine what is THE most important issue being decided on at the time...and let that issue trump all others
    • have a long-term goal and vision in mind, and let that guide the decision making process
    • determine what will carry greater weight - the institution or the individual
    • think deeply about what it is that causes one side to believe something that is so opposite and different from what you there any way you might be able to understand the other point of view?
    • consider what causes the most harm to the most people for the greatest length of time
    • understand the vocation to which the group making the decision is called - another way of determining the most important issue being decided on at the time
    • seek counsel for multiple entities...listen deeply to what they have to say...and then make a decision to move forward
What IF slavery had not been taken off the table?  What if these United States had not been united and formed several different countries?  There are many opinions to this day what night have been if different decisions had been made in the late 1700s.  What I will remember most about the founding fathers is that they made very difficult decisions together all the while knowing that they had sharp disagreements over fundamental matters.  And that's what leaders do - make decisions in the midst of difficult situations.  What are you willing to take off the table to move your institution (and life) forward?

Friday, August 5, 2016

the best of people and...

With apologies to Charles Dickens, organizations bring out the best of people and the worst of people.  I recently returned from the triennial convention of my church body, and one of the favorite sayings at that gathering is that conventions exhibit the church at its best and the church at its worst.  And of course, that doesn't surprise me, because the church is made of people, just as are all organizations and institutions.  We (especially we as leaders) tend to believe that if we do everything right, hire the best people, and have a fantastic mission and product everything will be smooth - and people will act in a manner that is always good, right, and salutary (to borrow an expression from the church's liturgy).  Here's the problem...institutions, organizations, and even churches do not exist without people, and when people gather together, they will behave in a manner which brings out the best of them and the worst of them.

So if this is true, and leaders want to create an organization where the best behavior is maximized and the worst behavior minimized, what can they do?  Here are a few thoughts:

  • accept the fact that this is true and don't be schocked or dismayed when people behave badly.  Don't see them as the devil incarnate or doing everything within their power to destroy the organization.  This is how people are.
  • almost all bad behavior is a result of passions lived out to the extreme,  Few people in organizations behave badly just to behave badly. They believe (and sometimes they are right) that their actions are exactly what is needed for the organization to get better.  And aren't those the type of people we really want working for us - those who are trying to improve the organization?
  • get very clear on values and what type of behaviors are expected within the organization or institution.  Being able to point out how the organization has agreed to behave helps to curb extreme bad behavior and can channel one's ideas toward more positive actions.
  • do not take another person's behavior personally, especially if it is not directly related to you.  When people act unkindly toward a project or idea we have proposed (or spent hours working on) we want to personalize someone's action against it.  Pause for a moment and remember that not everything is about you.
  • confront bad behavior quickly and in a non-threatening manner.  When someone acts in a way that you believe is hurting the organization, go to them and ask them about it.  Find out what they are feeling and why they are acting the way they do.  You might just learn something that is helpful to the institution.
  • assume that they may be right...and that you (or the organization) may be wrong.  Imagine the power of going to someone who has behaved badly and letting them know that their ideas are right and that the organization will be changing how it does things based on what they believed to be right.  You suddenly have a new best friend.
  • understand that sometimes a person's bad behavior will be destructive to an organization and, if that behavior does not stop, they need to be removed.  Asking someone who is unhappy and bitter within their role to move on may just be the best thing for the organization and for the individual involved.  It is always better to deal for the next 30 days with any fallout that might occur from that dismissal rather than put up with the bad behavior for another 365 days.
Finally, take the time to reflect back on the numerous times YOU were the one behaving badly because you believed you were doing and saying the right things for the health of the organization.  You were probably at your best...and you were probably at your worst, both at the exact same time. That's how life is within organizations...because organizations are made up of people.

Friday, July 22, 2016


In a recent conversation with one of my mentors, the discussion of mission and model came up as we discussed colleges and universities that thrive or merely survive (or not).  Mission is a driving factor and is what one actually DOES…what is it that an individual or an organization is called to do to impact the world?  Model is the way in which one delivers that mission…what is the shape or form in which the mission is delivered?  The mission of Concordia University Texas is “developing Christian leaders,” a mission that has driven our institution for many years.  Other organizational missions might speak to a certain type of experience for clients or customers…or helping people live a certain type of life…or delivering a service in a certain fashion.  All organizations (and individuals) have a mission – whether they know it or not.

All organizations (and individuals) also have a model through which they deliver that mission.  Again, for my institution, our model is one that is shaped by higher education and primarily delivers classes that lead toward a degree.  Some institutions of higher education become even more specific in their model, focusing only on one type of delivery method (i.e. face-to-face or online).  It is my belief that the model can change while the mission remains the same…and this might be necessary to remain relevant in an ever-changing world.  If my model of communicating my thoughts on leadership was only through pen and paper, you might not be reading this blog.  My thoughts could possibly be shared with one or two people…or perhaps several hundreds if I mimeographed*** the letter and sent it out to friends and family.  However, the ability to impact hundreds of people in a very short time would remain elusive to me and I would not be living out my personal mission.

There are multiple organizations which I support in various ways who currently struggle with the issue of mission and model.  A mission and model which were well married years ago is no longer working – what should change, mission or model?  A mission and model that worked well for a day and age in which communication was not instant is no longer relevant…what should change, mission or model?  A mission and model that made a great impact on a few number of people is no longer financially sustainable…what should change, mission or model?

I would posit that mission trumps model.  Please note that I did not say ALWAYS in that sentence, for I believe that sometimes mission and model might be so inter-related that one might or should not exist without the other.  All organizations (and individuals) will wrestle with this question, especially in a time that is experiencing exponentially rapid change.  For leaders, the wrestling begins with being clear about the organization’s mission (and don’t underestimate the power of re-wording or changing the mission to better reflect what the organization actually does).  Once that is accomplished, leaders consistently take a hard look at their current models to determine their viability…make hard decisions to change or drop current models that might not work…look for new models that might extend the mission…and scan the horizon for what might be next. 

A final word of warning: the model is important, for it often has stood the test of time and has served the institution and people well.  Don’t just “throw the baby out with the bathwater.”  Think carefully about how a new or different model will impact the mission, and be sure that mission drives the decision in choosing an altered or new model.

***for a demonstration of what a mimeograph actually is and does, watch this video

Friday, July 15, 2016

local/central control

Over my month in Maine, I read several books that brought to my attention the tension leaders face when deciding on where to best have the decision making process lie…locally or more central.  The English and Their History spent many pages talking about the British Empire, and its struggle to maintain control locally when much of the decision making was done so far away from where the actual people lived and rule.  Founding Quartet discussed the struggle the American colonies faced when writing the first constitution – more local control in the states or more central control in the federal government.  This is an issue that faces most organizations, whether it is a system of schools, a multi-national corporation, a healthcare organization, a small business, a church body, and even a family unit.  Who gets the final say?

Leaders have the opportunity to shape this discussion and put in place the processes and guidelines that will clearly delineate who controls what and how that control is decided and lived out.  The question often becomes what is best for the organization as a whole…more central control or more local control.  While I am a believer that local control is, for the most part, a better decision, I am sure that there are times that central control might best serve an institution.  So how might leaders go about making that decision?  Here are a few thoughts:
  • what type of work is being done?  Is it highly prescriptive, requiring that everyone do exactly the same thing...or is there room for achieving the outcomes in different manners?
  • how does communication work in the organization?  The ability to deliver a consistent message, no matter the type of communication, might determine the need for local or central control
  • how quickly do decisions need to be made?  The speed of decision making might dictate different times and places for central control and/or local control
  • how financially strong is the organization?  There are times in an organization's life cycle that one type of control is better than another...the key is being able to move between the two types of control as necessary
  • is good policy in place?  If people know what they are to do, how they are to do it, and what to do when things go wrong, it is much easier to have local control rather than being more centralized
  • what type of culture is in place?  The issue of local or central control is often embedded within an organization long before the leader arrives on the scene
The BIG issue really lays with how the leader of the organization is she a person who wants central control and believes that is best for the organization...or does he believe that local control produces the best result and is willing to let go of central control?  All leaders have to understand how they see the world on this issue and determine whether or not their deep seated belief is best for the organization.  Only then can they properly decide on the six issues presented above.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

the need for time away

And so I begin my annual trek to Maine, where I read, relax, and spend time with my beloved.  What does this mean?

  • no blogging for the next month..I will return in July
  • no emails for the next two weeks...going "dark" has its benefits
  • plenty of books to read...and read and read and read
  • TV shows and movies to catch up on...I thank God for Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu
  • reconnecting with nature...time with birds, flowers, trees, and water
  • reconnecting with one else but the two of us
  • forgetting the stress of emails, no calls, no texts, no decisions
  • remembering God's goodness...this is truly my sanctuary
  • watching for "wildlife"...birds, chipmunks, and an occasional seal
  • time to catch my breath...and remember that there is more to life than work
Whether you take a day, a weekend, a week, two weeks, or an entire month (or more), please take the time to breathe and create margin in your life to relax and remember that life is a gift from God...relish that life at work, at home, and wherever your travels lead you.  See you in July!

Friday, May 27, 2016

the uncomfortable paradox of leadership

Here are two things I know to be true about leadership:
  1. It's all about the leader
  2. It not at all about the leader
F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote that the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in one's mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.  I suppose the same could be true for first-rate leadership...and yet it is this paradox that remains one of the more difficult aspects of leadership - and not having this ability can often lead to one's downfall.  Let me try to explain a bit more about this uncomfortable paradox.

All of our lives we are told to put the other person first, to love one's neighbor as ourself, that children should be seen and not heard, etc, etc, etc.  This is especially true for those who grew up in religious homes, where not only do others come first, but God is the most important figure in our lives.  I have some friends who use the acronym JOY - Jesus, Others, You.  Being able to say "It's all about me" runs anathema to many, many people...and yet, when put into a leadership position, it IS all about you.  When leaders deny this fact, they give up part of their ability to lead, often deferring decisions or not stepping up when called upon to do so.  The ability to take responsibility, to put oneself forward, to believe that their decision making process is good and right...unless one has the confidence and courage to truly believe that it is all about them, it becomes very hard to lead.

At the same time, leadership has very little (if anything at all) to do with the leader herself.  While she might believe that "it's good to be Queen," the truth is that very little gets done by the leader.  Most of the work...most of the decision making...most of the execution gets done by others.  We can sit in our offices and believe that without us the place might fall apart. The truth is that 1) without us the place just might thrive or 2) even with us, the place might fall apart.  For one who strives to be in a leadership position, or for one whose identity is wrapped up in their leadership position, this can be very disconcerting news.

So what are leaders to do?  How can they manage this uncomfortable paradox?  A few suggestions:

  • accept the fact that this paradox exists and work to manage it - just being aware of this uncomfortableness can help
  • enjoy the fact that sometimes it is all about you - throw a party for yourself, give yourself a trophy, and pat yourself on the back...just don't do it too often
  • enjoy the fact that sometimes is is not about you at all - let the other person worry about it, watch them squirm at a meeting, and give yourself time off...maybe you need to do this more often than you have in the past
  • remember that this is not a balancing act (sometimes this/sometimes that).  This IS the reality of leadership and will always be true - both of them!  at the same time!
  • be willing to ask for forgiveness when it becomes too much about you or too much about others...and be willing to forgive yourself at those times as well
Leadership is a complicated issue (as if I have to remind anyone about that).  Here's the good news about this paradox: you will fall off one end or the other from time to time.  If you didn't you might not really be leading.  So be uncomfortable, because the other paradox of leadership is that you should feel most comfortable about your leadership when you are the most uncomfortable.  Lead on!

Friday, May 20, 2016

the power of awareness

This past week I began my end-of-year reviews with my executive team, a routine that is a best practice in organizations and gives the opportunity for my team and I to be on the same page.  We used a form that focused on position responsibilities, leadership competencies, and goals for the year. My biggest "AHA" during the process was how much we were on the same page with each other. The comments they wrote ahead of time regarding their personal performance were almost always identical to the comments I had written about their personal performance.  This told me several things:

  1. Expectations had been very clear from the beginning as to what was expected
  2. There had been consistent dialogue going on throughout the year around these issues
  3. I had chosen people to work with whom I trusted and who saw the world through a similar lens as myself
As I thought about why AWARENESS was important, it struck me that both self-awareness and other-awareness were critical aspects of leadership.  Both of these types of awareness include knowing what to look for, to actually look for what one is looking for, and to monitor what one is seeing as they look for what they are looking for (and if you were able to follow that logic, you are an incredibly aware person).  What might this look like in day-to-day leadership?  Here are a few thoughts:
  • Know what you want, for self and others
  • Check that what you want is actually good for yourself, others, or the organization.  This demands that leaders read, talk with others, and take the time to ask good questions
  • Be as explicit as possible and as open-ended as possible.  The explicitness is actually a result of the open-endedness...and comes about as a result of multiple conversations (with self and others) around the attitudes and behaviors expected
  • Don't become too focused on specific actions (unless they are violating values and principles).  Be outcomes what was expected getting done or not?
  • Do a regular check-in as to how the outcomes are being met.  This includes asking others about what they might see and feel (again, about one's self and others)
  • Be willing to accept failure (again, both in one's self and others).  Being aware of self and others does not mean being means getting better
  • Do a detailed end-of-year review (often known among the world as New Year's Resolutions).  What was expected, how did we do, and what do we want to do differently in the next cycle?
  • Celebrate where expectations and goals have been met (again, for self and others).  Take the time to realize how amazing the past year was and what all was accomplished.
  • Don't wait too long to set new goals and begin the regular reviewing process.  Self-awareness and other awareness is an ongoing process.
Enjoy the review and development process...both for yourself and others.  It is a process that benefits the leader, those who work with her, and the organization as a whole.

Friday, May 13, 2016

lessons learned after 4 days and 17 meetings

After rolling out the Concordia University Texas strategic plan for 2016-2021 to the university on May 3, I decided to hold small group meetings this past week where each department had a chance to come and ask questions or make comments on the plan.  The days were long...the conversations were rich...and through the process I learned alot about myself and about leadership.  One phrase that kept coming up was "thanks for listening and being vulnerable enough to hear what we wanted to say."  So after many hours of listening to the wonderful employees of Concordia talk with me about our strategic plan, here is what I learned:

  • It is more important to listen that to talk...while leaders instinctively know this, it is not an easy practice to put into place.  For the many times I wanted to go into depth answering a question, it was more important to answer quickly, write down a thought, and then move the conversation forward with other people's questions and comments.
  • There is often more behind the question or comment than one might initially think...asking follow up questions or trying to get clarification on the comment was as important as answering what I thought I might be hearing.  Several followup conversations helped to clarify for me (and for the person asking the question) what was really meant and/or needed.
  • Criticism of the institution is not criticism of the leader as an is hard not to take critical comments personally, and yet I had to consistently remind myself that the comments and questions were about the institution, not myself.  Leaders who have a hard time separating these two things will either a) never open up the floor to critical comments; or b) drive themselves crazy taking everything personally.
  • Everybody has something to say AND needs the space and time to say was great to hear the comments and questions from people who might never speak up in a large meeting or forum.  The small, intimate setting where one is surrounded by close colleagues, allows people to be more vulnerable themselves in asking questions that they are thinking about.
  • Everybody has something valuable to contribute...many times people asked how they could get involved in the next steps because they had something they wanted to offer.  Listening to people in small groups allows for ideas (really great ideas) to be heard and taken to the next level.  Because of the input I received, we are now making adjustments to the plan and finding ways to incorporate even more people in the execution of the plan.
  • Practice makes (almost) perfect...after 17 different sessions, I now know the strategic plan backwards and forwards, being able to cite specific numbers for specific initiatives - and I am able to articulate the initiatives even more clearly than before.  Spending time going over the plan again and again and again has made me an (almost) expert in articulating the plan.
This type of work is hard for a leader, both physically and emotionally...AND it is work that must be done.  Spending the time to bring together people and then listening...REALLY listening...can pay big dividends as the organization moves forward.  It is my hope and prayer that these type of meetings can take place on a regular basis so that the institution remains strong and healthy.

Friday, May 6, 2016


Yesterday I had the privilege of having an off-site gathering with Concordia's executive team, those people who serve as chief officers and vice presidents of the University.  Our meeting was facilitated by our friend and coach Jim Blanchard of Strategic Positioning, a firm who specializes in team and leadership development.  Once again, I discovered the power of a team that is willing to invest the time and energy into learning how to be better together.  So today's blog is on four aspects of what I believe makes a great team.

Time together...great teams do not naturally happen - they must spend time together, outside of the day-to-day routine, talking about what it means to be a great team.  They must also spend time together when having to make strategic decisions, sometimes more than they might like to.  Teams need to be reminded from time to time that spending time together is their work.  Do not scrimp on time together...AND be sure to use the time effectively and efficiently.

Everything on the table...great teams cannot afford to have individual members hold back their thoughts, ideas, and opinions.  Putting everything on the table means that team members need to be vulnerable and have the courage to speak their minds...AND be willing to trust the other team members enough to hear hard things.  Stephen M. R. Covey notes in his book The Speed of Trust that TRUST is the one thing that changes everything...and I could not agree more.

Accountability...what this means for me is that members of great teams do what they say they will do, and when they agree as a team to do something, there is one united voice moving forward.  This can be difficult when the team is made up of strong opinioned and high functioning individuals...AND the power of one united voice can radically change an organization for the better.  This again takes courage and trust, especially when it might feel that accountability is beginning to erode.

Monitoring progress...great teams do not just happen, nor do they stay that way without consistent monitoring and checking in on how they are functioning.  At each of our quarterly off-site meetings, we spend time monitoring our progress as a team, using our Birkman profiles as a way of better understanding ourselves as individuals and as team members.  We consistently ask each other how we are doing in specific areas,,,and if we find ourselves slipping or moving backwards, we take the time to correct the course.

Being part of a great team is an honor and privilege, something I am not sure most people get to experience.  And yet, as Patrick Lencioni states in his book The Advantage, "teamwork is not a virtue.  It is a choice...AND it is a strategic advantage."  Building great teams is truly a reward for those who lead them...and for all members who are a part of the team.

Friday, April 29, 2016

three ancient texts for leaders

When asked what to read to improve one's leadership, my first response is always to read great fiction - whether that be novels or dramas, reading the great writers of the world tell stories about the human condition not only helps one learn about "the other" - great fiction holds a mirror up to the reader and tells them about themself - if they will allow it.  My second response will be to read great philosophy - the canoncial texts from ancient Greece to modern day America.  These great thinkers help readers to understand the way the world works and why people think and act the way they do.  There is a reason Plato and Aristotlte still matter.  And thirdly, I will respond with several of the ancient texts that have stood the test of time - texts that have helped humans navigate the world over thousands of years.  It is three of these texts that I wish to share with you today:

  • The Book of Job - the Book of Job is a part of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, and relates a story of man and God in conflict and dialogue with one another.  Job is successful beyond belief, until one day it is all taken away from him.  His anger is expressed outwardly to God, who answers him as only God can...with straight forward questions.  Through the process, Job must contend with his so-called friends and learn to live with the cards that have been dealt to him.  Living through the mess of life and remaining fiathful to one's calling is a lesson leaders need to know and be reminded of on a regular basis.  One of my favorite translations of this texts is Stephen Mitchell's, published by Harper-Perennial.
  • The Tao Te Ching - this text, written by Lao Tzu in the 6th century BC, is a series of 81 verses reflecting on life and how one should live.  The verses are full of paradoxical situations in which one comes to understand the ever-changing/never-changing context of life.  When I first read these verses, I was struck by how they provided insight to leaders on ways they should think and act, especially in dealing with others.  This text is both inspiring and disturbing, as it will challenge one's asusmptions about life and leadership.  I read this text every summer, and contiue to find new ideas presented based on what is happening in my own life.  There are many translations of this text...the one I keep returning to is by Jonathan Starr and is published by Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin.
  • Meditations - written in the second century by Marcus Aurelius, this book of sayings and proverbs reflects on how one should live their life as a person of honor.  Aurelius, who served as one of the emperors of Rome, wrote this from a viewpoint of stoic philosophy, where life is as life is (see The Book of Job).  Aurleius' insights into human relationships is nothing short of remarkable, providing a constant reminder of how we can better live our lives together: "A good man does not spy around for the black spots in others, but presses unswervingly on toward his mark."  Those in leadership positions would do well to read this text on a regular basis (I have a colleague who carries this text with him wherever he goes).  Again, there are many editions - the one on which I cut my teeth is the Penguin Books-Great Ideas series, edited by Maxwell Staniforth.
I hope you read these ancient texts...I hope you re-read these ancient texts...I hope you mark up your copy of these ancient texts...I hope you share with others these ancient texts...I hope you use these ancient texts as teaching tools...and I hope that you will be inspired to lead at a new level by taking these ancient texts to heart.

Monday, April 25, 2016

everyone a leader?

This past Tuesday in class (The Concordia MBA) my thinking was challenged (as happens in most classes I teach).  I used to believe and teach that everyone was a leader and needed to learn leadership skills, attitudes and behaviors so that they could lead well.  One of my students challenged that thought and wondered whether or not some people should not/would not/could not be leaders.  After some discussion around that topic, someone else chimed in with this phrase: “Everyone will be given leadership opportunities; not everyone will lead.”  The light bulb went off for me – this is what I really had believed all along and had not yet put into words.  Everyone WILL be given leadership opportunities (parent, friend, manager, team member, etc)…but not everyone will take the responsibility and burden of leadership upon themselves.  It’s not even a matter of leading badly – some people just will not lead, and that just might be a tragedy.

What happens when people who have the opportunity to lead choose not to do so?  Here are a few thoughts:
  • They miss the opportunity to influence others in a positive way
  •  They miss the opportunity to practice leadership, which will come their way again in the future
  •   Others might be harmed in numerous ways
  •  Others miss out on the opportunity to reach the group’s shared vision
  •  The community misses out on any gifts the person has to offer
  •  The community has one less person they will turn to in the future to help solve issues

One of my sayings in the past has been that I would rather have no leadership than bad leadership…and I still believe that.  In the absence of leadership, someone else will fill the gap.  When bad leadership exists, people and organizations are harmed and, as one of my students noted the other evening, it is often difficult to get rid of people who lead poorly (another topic for another blog). 

One of the roles that leaders should take on is preparing others to lead when the opportunity arises.  Concordia University Texas’ mission of developing Christian leaders exists for that reason, because leadership opportunities will present themselves to everyone…the question is whether one is ready to lead and then accepts that responsibility when it is given to them.  

Friday, April 15, 2016

filling your leadership cup

Clay is molded to form a cup 
yet only the space within 
allows the cup to hold water 
- Lao Tzu

One of the privilieges I have is to teach in The Concordia MBA, where I am getting ready to finish the first leadership class in the curriculum: Leadership of Self.  At the end of class this past week, we had a fascinating discussion on the proverb above (taken from the Chinese spiritual classic Tao Te Ching).  As we talked about its meaning, it became clear that leaders often lack the "space" needed to think and otherwords, the "space" to get filled up.  Just as the cup cannot function as a cup until it is filled with water, so one will have a hard time leading unless they can fill their personal leadership cup.

As I considered this idea further, it struck me that there are two items that keep leaders from filling up their cup:

  1. Lack of quiet time to think and dream (which really means they are too busy keeping busy)
  2. Hubris (which really means an unwillingness to allow one's own cup to be filled)
Leaders understand that there is always too much to do - the multiple demands from various constituencies can (and will) keep people in leadership positions busy day in and day out.  The bad news is there are only 24 hours in a day...the good news is that there are only 24 hours in a day (and that holds true for everyone). One of the tasks of leadership is to sort through everything that needs to get done, understand what can get done and what can't get done, and be able to go home at night knowing that there are items left for tomorrow that will (or won't) get done.  This is not an excuse for not executing and following up on responsibilities - it is a reality that leaders must face if they are to function well in their roles.
Because of this inherent busyness, putting time into one's schedule for quiet and solitude is important - just as important as getting that next email out to an important client.  While one's frenetic activity is that which often gets them into the chair of leadership, slowing down so that the cup can be filled is crucial in a leadership position.

As much as people want to talk about building time into one's schedule so that the cup can be filled, of even more concern should be the person whose cup cannot be filled because of their hubris.  This is not about time or scheduling or solitude - this is about an attitude that can easily be found among those who move into leadership roles.  The scary aspect of this is that it often goes unnoticed, both by leaders themselves and those around them.  Hubris plays itself out in so many different fashions that to name it is almost impossible.  If one's leadership cup is already full of themselves, then there is no room for new ideas or thoughts to enter.  

How might a leader detect this?  There are no easy answers here, no checklists I can provide.  Perhaps this is why many leaders hire a coach, or attend regular counseling sessions (the paradox of this is that those who hire a coach and attend regular counseling sessions have already moved beyond hubris).  Often times it takes a tragedy of sorts to bring a person to the self-realization that their hubris is getting in the way of their leadership.  It is my prayer that those who lead can find a way to empty themselves so that their leadership cup can be filled and they will lead in a way that provides meaning to themselves and others.