Monday, April 9, 2018

Keeping the Batteries Charged

Leadership and management is demanding.  I'm fortunate, I really enjoy my work and the people I work with to accomplish goals that really make a difference in the lives of our students and clients. The down side is that I can work many hours and feel happy and fulfilled.  Sometimes I don't recognize the symptoms of burn out as they are happening.  However, there are times the schedule is long and demanding, the breaks are few, and the problems come all at once.  In those moments I remind myself that the pace is temporary and I will soon "catch a break".   However, in order to get through those moments I have to prepare in advance and ensure that I keep the batteries charged. 

Stephen Covey's Seven Habit of High Effective People is a worthwhile read if you haven't already done so.  One habit, "sharpening the saw" has always been the most difficult one for me to practice.  However, as I have matured in my career I have learned a couple of rules that serve me well.  Let me share those with you.  Sharpening the Saw focused on self-improvement, self-care, and self-respect.  Taking care of one's self is important for improvement and professional development.  It is also important to maximize your productivity.  There are two general rules I follow to ensure I practice this habit. 

First, don't compromise your sleep.  Did you know that during the seventh and eight hours of sleep is when your mind processes so many of the experiences from the day before.  It is during those hours your mind makes sense of your experiences and files them away for another day.  Sleep is vital to clear thinking.  Clear thinking is vital for listening and problem solving.  Also, the thing you do right before bed time at night is generally the thing you process during those early hours in the morning.  Consequently, I cut off doing work at home after supper so I can concentrate on other things I enjoy before bed time. 

Second, make time for yourself.  This can mean many different things for people.  I enjoy reading, exercising, walking my dogs, spending time with family, cooking a good meal, watching the sun set, riding my bicycle and more.  I find that I need to ensure I continue to invest in me so that I have something to give others, students and my organization.  I have discovered that my old philosophy of answer just one more e-mail is less helpful than talking my dog for a walk.  This doesn't mean I'm any less committed to my career or organization.  In fact, I think ensuring that I give them my very best each and every day demonstrates my commitment even more. 


Monday, March 19, 2018

Leadership Lesson from a High School Teacher


Leadership is NOT a position it is motivating and inspiring others. How many of you remember your favorite teacher in high school?  What made them your favorite teacher? I remember my favorite high school teacher, Ms. Poga.  She believed in “everyone”.  She saw the good in everyone.  She championed the students who seemed to be “outside” the popular groups.

 Once she saw something in you, she made sure you had opportunities to be good at that “something”.   She often picked the kids who weren’t the “most popular” to do things for her to show all of us that each person had value.  By believing in everyone she made those who weren’t the most popular believe in themselves.


 Ms. Poga was the advisor for the high school yearbook.  When I was a sophomore she recruited me to work for the yearbook.  At first I worked at writing the copy.  She knew I could tell stories and was able to get others interested in what I wrote. As a junior she asked me to take pictures because she knew that I had the ability to see the moment. When I was a senior she made me the yearbook editor. She saw in me the ability to lead and motivate people to meet deadlines. Because of what she saw in me, she seized the opportunity to help me grow while I served as the yearbook editor.


I learned that leadership is not about power, but about influence. Encouraging others by sharing with them the positive you see in them creates an asset based mind set.  People want to do things that they believe they are good at.  Pointing out those things reinforces in others a belief that they are appreciated for what they are good at doing.  

I remember when I was an assist coach in high school hearing players say, "I suck" after they made a mistake on the court.  I would then pull them aside and ask them to consider a different mindset.  I told them that I would prefer to see the mistake as a one-time event rather than a reflection of who they were as a player.  I often wondered whether or not I was getting through to them.  I wasn't even sure they understood what I was trying to say.  Then one game one of the player made a turn over and looked at me and said, "My bad!"  I was shocked.  In that moment I realized that finally this player understood that a mistake is not a matter of character, but a matter of execution.  

Leaders can go a long way in shaping someone's work self-esteem.  Find the good in people and they will live up to your expectations.  

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

How to Stop Feeling Guilty

As individuals move up through the organization they often face more and more competing demands for their time.  There are just days when you feel like you HAVE to be in two places at once - or even THREE places at once.  During my early years serving in senior management positions I found that I frequently felt guilty when I couldn't be "everywhere all at once."  I wrestled with thoughts that my administrative assistant and I just didn't or couldn't management my schedule effectively.  At other times I felt inadequate because I couldn't be everywhere and meet all of those demands.  I even asked myself why I felt guilt or even thought it was reasonable to consider that I could be everywhere all at once. 

After several failed attempts at addressing my own guilt, I discovered an answer - teamwork.  The answer was right before me all the time.  As I worked closely with the people whose positions reported to me I began making sure that in addition to having the information they needed to be successful in their jobs that they also have information they need in case they have to step in for me should I be unavailable to attend an event or meeting because of competing demands.  Today, this seems like "common sense" to me, but as I evolved in my practice of the "art and science" of leadership I began to discover those nuggets of common sense. 

I found that as I made sure the people who reported to me had ample knowledge to step in at a moments notice that another benefit became evident.  These individuals were able to provide more support to me as we wrestled with complex decisions.  Because of their access to information about situations and the college, these individuals were able to "beat up" ideas and potential solutions as our team studied how best to address the complex situations.  As everyone grew in their understanding of situations and had access to essential information, we became a stronger team and we became more and more dependent upon one-another.  Each person thought about the information and situation differently.  Consequently, we were able to brainstorm more options and see situations through more than one perspective which resulted in better solutions for addressing the complexities we were charged to address. 

In time I had the pleasure of watching each person grow in their leadership skills because they became a partner  at the table working with me on the problems and opportunities we faced.  By participating in these discussions they grew more confident in their problem solving skills.  In time I found many of them just solved the problems and fewer problems came before me to solve.  In time I found that each of the members of the leadership would bring problems to the table as well because they came to value the perspective and skills each other brought to the table. The synergy created became a real leadership lesson for me. 

Growing up my parents tole me often that "Knowledge is Power" while simultaneously encouraging me to learn, read, study and go to school.  Now I see another application of this phrase: by exposing your leadership team to a deeper knowledge and understanding of the organization, you build a stronger set of problem solvers who grow into more effective managers and leaders. 

Monday, February 19, 2018

A "Dark" Side to Leadership

As I sat in the office after hours, after a particularly difficult day, I wondered whether or not the average person ever considers the "down" side to leadership.  My last post told the story of a colleague who wanted to apply for a position at a higher level "because then I could be in control".  I often wonder why people aspire to positions of power and authority.  I learned long ago that positions of power and authority at higher levels of the organization chart are not necessarily correlated with my definition of leadership because leaders can lead from all levels of and organization.  So why then do people wish to move up the organization chart?  power? control? money? affiliation? ego? altruism?  etc.  I'm sure that there are many, many reasons people seek to move up the organizational ladder.  Do people ever consider the "dark days" of leadership?

However, on this day, it is not about the up-side to leadership.  Today was about implementing difficult decisions and informing those impacted by those decisions.  In speaking to groups about leadership, the participants frequently ask about how I communicate to an individual that is about to be laid off and what do I say to them.

I like speaking to groups about leadership because so often the participants cut through all the leadership theory and get to the heart of the matter - implementation and application.  So, in general, here is how I answered the group:

1.  Be factual during the communication.
2. Acknowledge the employee's past contributions using specific examples about how the employee contributed to the organization or team.
3. Listen, do not respond, while the employee shares their feelings or asks questions.
4. Affirm their feelings.
5. Do not be in a hurry to end the meeting - allow the employee time to absorb the information that you just shared with them.  Give them room to react to the news.

Be sure to have a list of resources available for the employee so when they are ready to begin transitioning they have the assistance they need to successfully find another position within the organization or employment outside the organization.

The difficulty in writing such a blog post as this is that the content becomes "reductionist".  The result is an almost mechanical response to a situation.  For me, this type of a situation is not mechanical.  While hard decisions have to be made in the best interest of the organization, the impact of those decisions are no less difficult.  Remember the human side of the decision.

My doctoral dissertation chair, Dr. Leonard Kaplan, gave me excellent advise after I successfully defended my dissertation.  He reminded me that one day I would serve on dissertation committees and that I should not make the process any more stressful than it needs to be.  He continued by telling me that one of the goals of the committee members is to support the candidate by telling them the good and the bad, factually and then lead them to the resources they need to move forward successfully.  I listened carefully as Dr. Kaplan shared his advise because I believed one day I would serve on dissertation committees and I did.  However, his advise is equally as applicable to leadership in the complex world of higher education.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Control vs. Impact

The other day I had a conversation with a colleague who approached me about listing me as a reference for a job application that she planned to submit.  I agreed and then asked about why she wanted to move up the organizational ladder.  Her answer surprised me.  She said, "I want to be a vice president because then I can be in control of decisions."  I can not help but wonder if my facial expression gave away my internal reaction. 

I probed a bit with a few more questions about why she thought a vice president over a unit controlled decisions.  Was it because she perceived that vice presidents make all the decisions or made the final decision?  I probed a bit to try to understand what types of decisions or situations she wanted control over within the unit.  It was an enlightening conversation. 

The conversation made me wonder how people within my own organization perceive how decisions get made.  I also wonder how people outside of my own organization perceive decisions are made within our institution.  Of course, I also began to reflect about how decisions actually get made. 

My colleague eventually asked me how I approach making decisions in my role.  As I reflected upon that question I realized that the answer was much more complicated than my colleague probably realized.  I began my response by saying, "Well, that depends".  The quizzical look on my colleague's face told me that she wasn't expecting that answer.  So I began to elaborate. 

First, I explained that there are many, many decisions that impact the entire institution or very large units within the institution.  In those instances I explained that depending upon the complexity of the decision and impact, that I often seek input from the units that may be effected by my decision.  I provided an example that I thought she could relate to. 

Second, I explained that there are other decisions I don't get to make, but that I am responsible for implementing those decisions.  In those instances there are times I am asked my opinion and other times when I am not asked for an opinion or recommendation.  In some instances I may agree with the decision and in other instances I may not agree with the decision, but I am still required to implement the decision and own it as if it were my own.  I provided a couple of examples.

At the end of my explanation about implementing decisions, my colleague asked me how often those type of situations happen.  I explained that I am unsure about how often those happen, but that I can only recall a very few.  Based on those few recollections, I felt confident that these situations are less common then the first type of situations where decisions are mine based upon policy and procedure. 

I also explained there are times that employees want me to make decisions that are really their decisions to make.  My colleague said that she would welcome those opportunities, after all she was looking to move up in the organizational chart because she believes people at higher levels of the organization have more power and with more power they have more control. 

After asking her for examples, of which she provided many, I asked her if she knew whether or not those decisions and initiative continued long after the person who made them had left the organization or moved to another position within the organization.  My colleague paused for a long time.  She said she seemed to recall that a number of those decisions were over turned rather quickly after the person left the role or institution.  I then asked, so do you still think the person had control over the decisions they made? 

I won't continue to recount the conversation that continued for a couple of hours.  However, I will leave you with this question.  As a leader is it control you seek or last impacting? 

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Does Accreditation add Value & Bring Accountability?

Our institution is presently finishing the assurance argument portfolio for our accrediting body.  They will in turn visit our campus to affirm the report early next year.  We have involved a large number of employees in providing examples of how our institution meets the accreditation criteria.  Through compiling examples and writing assurance statements clarity came. 

Accreditation has been a part of higher education for much longer than I have been working in the sector.  Over the past decade the nature of accreditation has changed as people have clamored for more accountability from institutions of higher education.  Elected officials, the general public, current and former students have questioned practices of higher education institutions.  The news is replete with headlines about higher education; headlines that are not necessarily positive.  Further, high stakes college sports have added their own negative headlines to the growing cacophony of concerns. 

I frequently talk to the team of administrative leaders at my college about doing the right thing, for the right reason, the right way at the right time.  We debate and challenge each other when problems arrive as we work to find solutions – solutions that are best for students and the institution.  We have all witnessed times when colleagues at other institutions try to game the system.  For example, in a previous state with performance funding that only funded students by course if the student passed the course, a chief academic officer said, “I told my faculty to only give Ds, after all we are only getting paid for the work we did.”  I was stunned. Another institution created a certificate program in “Folk Art” and drove up the number certificate awards in one year, receiving a larger portion of state allocation because of their improvement in award production.  I concede that award production did indeed improve.  However, I had to ask myself, “a certificate to what end?”  Folk Art was certainly important to their region and even the people who earned the certificate after studying courses in the certificate.  However, many of us had to ask whether or not creating more and more certificates in order to get a higher share of state funding added value or served the business community that we purported to serve.

Enter peer review through accreditation and back to my moment of clarity.  As I review the assurance arguments and evidence my institution is compiling for submission, it became clearly to me where we are strong and where we have opportunities to better serve our students, community and stakeholders.  The process of accreditation brings light upon activities at the institution.  Peer reviewers who read our accreditation documents and visit campus to affirm our evidence write publically available reports that make visible to all who want to see, how an institution is performing. 

So what, you ask?  Can’t institutions ignore these recommendations and continue to do the same old thing?  Actually, the answer is both yes and no.  They can ignore the recommendations for a period of time before the accrediting body finally denies accreditation.  The lack of accreditation results in consequences that for all practical purposes prevent the institution to continue to operate.  The consequences include the loss of the ability to provide federal financial aid to students.    It is very hard to attract students without the ability to provide federal financial aid.  Certainly, it is not impossible, after all Hillsdale College in Michigan chooses not to offer federal financial aid or accept federal assistance.  But this business model was a commitment early on in the institution’s history and would be difficult to adopt on the fly. 


Still, I believe that leaders at the top of the organization must also bring about accountability.  They should not wait until an accreditation process forces them to “do the right thing”.  In my opinion accreditation does add value far beyond allowing our institution to offer financial aid, but I also believe leaders need to be committed to doing the right thing.  Now – lets debate “the right thing”. 

Monday, October 16, 2017

Are We Witnessing the Death of General Education?

The state of New Mexico is undergoing a conversation about the nature of general education. Recently the Secretary of Higher Education has invited stakeholders to weigh in on a general education proposal developed by a state-wide committee.  The state-wide committee reduced the number of required credits from 36 credit hours to 31 credit hours with the idea that each institution would have flexibility to include first year experience courses, or interdisciplinary courses that emphasis an institutional held value or perspective.  Additionally, the state-wide committee emphasized the inclusion of essential skills that need to be embedded within the general eduction courses.

On the surface these principles seem like common sense, and they may be.  However, the heart and soul of the conversation will be about the details of general education.  As knowledge has expanded, faculty debate what subjects or disciplines should be included.  How many credits should be devoted to the Arts and Humanities?  How many should be devoted to Mathematics and/or Science?  Should Rhetoric and Speech Communication be included as separate options or should those skills be imbedded within broader disciplines?  In the end the final product will be based on a series of compromises.  I suspect the debate will not end when the final product is finally approved and adopted.

As this debate has progressed in New Mexico, I find myself asking the following question.  In the knowledge economy is there a base level of knowledge all people need to have?  If so, what knowledge should be mastered at each level of the education sector?  If the minimum level of expected education is a high school diploma, then what is the knowledge each high school graduate needs in order to move into post-secondary education or into training for work?

As I contemplate general education, the knowledge economy, the growing diversity of society and work I am beginning to question whether or not there is a notion of general education or whether or not there needs to be a series of several "general education" paths. If someone knows they are going to post-secondary education after high school do they need a different general education than someone who knows they are going to train for a particular career?  If someone is going to train for a particular career is there a different type of general education for a police officer than a nurse than an aerospace technician?

It is on this point that I appreciate the approach New Mexico is taking to general education. Allowing individuals an opportunity for choice within broader discipline categories with an emphasis on essential skills has the potential to address the differing needs of individuals pursuing the wide range of jobs and careers that exist in the world economy.  As I look forward to the debate over the details of general education in New Mexico, I hope that the final product keeps in place the emphasis on skills and flexibility.