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.