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.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Book Review: The Powell Principles: 24 Lessons from Colin Powell

The Powell Principles: 24 Lessons from Colin Powell, the Legendary Leader was written by Oren Harari in 2003 and published through McGraw-Hill.  Oren Harari claims that the 24 lessons contained in the book are “lessons in leadership” that “Powell has practiced throughout his career”.   According to Amazon, Oren Harari is a professor of management at the McLaren Graduate School of Business at the University of San Francisco.  He has written two other books that include lessons based on studying CEO Jack Welch and football coach Vince Lombardi.

Oren Harari claims that the 24 leadership principles contained in the book are based upon studying Colin Powell and his philosophy and practices of leadership that include metal maps, decision making habits, and “other behaviors that characterize effective leadership”.   The book does not provide a time frame when Harari studied Colin Powell or whether or not Colin Powell would affirm the lessons presented. 

These principles are presented in short chapters that can be read in five or ten minutes.  The content of the chapters invite contemplation and thought.  Each chapter begins with a short context followed by an explanation of the principle.  The author follows the explanation with two or three suggestions in the form of a statement or question.  The chapters end with a quote from Colin Powell that illustrates the principle. The simplicity of the chapter is not representative of the depth of the principle being presented.  Consequently while reading the chapter is relatively short; contemplation of the principle requires more time.  

What is missing is an illustration or example of the practical application of the leadership lesson.  This can be considered both a strength and weakness.  The inclusion of an application may dampen ones contemplation of the principles.  On the other hand, the lack of an illustration may lead the reader to contemplate the application of the principle in more robust ways. 

For someone looking for a book to prompt reflection about his or her leadership style and beliefs, The Powell Principles will satisfy that need.  The book is appropriate for individuals who are already in leadership positions as they can draw on their experiences when considering the appropriateness or application of the leadership principles.  For individuals new to leadership the book can provide a framework from which to develop a personal philosophy about leadership. 

Monday, July 17, 2017

Be A Cheerleader

Do you remember all those times your parents coached you about saying "please" and "thank you"?  I remember many times when my parents not only coached me about saying thank you, but also reminded me to write thank you letters.  Little did I realize that such a simple lesson from childhood would be a vital leadership principle.

This leadership principle is related to the last principle of "being visible".  Opportunities to be out and about on campus do provide me with a perspective about what is going right on campus.  It also provides me an opportunity to thank people for the good work they are doing.  By learning about the things that are going well on campus I am able to not only say thank you, but also to share with the campus community about the things going right on campus.

One habit I have developed is sending out a communication each Monday morning during the traditional fall and spring semesters.  These communication occur less frequently in the summer and on vacation, but the habit of talking about the week ahead each Monday has become important to me. I use this weekly communication to highlight things on campus or in the state that people should be aware of as it may effect the college at some point in time.  I also use this communication to share the good news that I learn about during the previous week.

Sharing the good news also me to be a cheerleader for the college.  I do this when I'm out in the community working with stakeholders, businesses, alumni, and friends of the college.  When I'm in the community I'm sharing the message that we are good community partners and that people are getting a good return on their investment in higher education.

When I share the good news internally, it provides an opportunity for others at the college to recognize the good work of their fellow colleagues.  It also provides employees with information for their personal narrative about the college.  By reminding colleagues that there is good work happening on campus, I am creating an opportunity for employees to choose what they want to focus on.  In the absence of good news, the only news an employee has to focus on may be the negative news from colleagues.

Why do I think colleagues share the negative?  Have you heard of the old adage that people share a bad experience with many friends while they share a positive experience with virtually no one?  That adage holds true of employees as well.  Employees tend to talk about their negative experiences at work more frequently than the positive.  Sometimes, like the news media, only the negative is worth talking about.  I'm not saying that employees shouldn't talk about the negative.  What I am saying is that I believe a leader is able to share both the good news and the bad news.

Focusing upon only the  good news or only the bad news provides a less than realistic view of what is happening at the organization.  Consequently, I think it is important to highlight the good news whenever possible.  A balanced view will give employees the freedom to trust both the good and bad news that you must share as a leader.  

Monday, July 3, 2017

Be Visible

The last post talked about "walking the talk" or being the role model.  This principle supports that principle.  You can only be a role model if you are visible.  Being visible also allows you to see and listen.  The more you take opportunities to check in with people in your organization the sooner they will realize that you are just checking in not checking on them.

I enjoy the opportunities I get to walk around.  I wish I could have more opportunities.  Checking in with people gives them an opportunity to share with me something that is important to them or something they are proud of.  When I enter their space, I'm a guest.  It seems to me that they gain confidence when I'm in their space.  This allows them to take the lead and talk about things they are comfortable with and knowledgeable about.

Being visible also allows employees to get to know you on an more informal basis.  Meeting times are generally focused and structured.  When you walk up to someone and ask a question the setting is generally more informal.  The more often one does this the sooner employees learn that you are approachable and that you are interested in them as people.

Being visible also provides me an opportunity to celebrate the things that are going right in the organization.  So often my day is focused upon problem solving and I have little opportunities to hear about all the good things that are happening in the organization.  By getting away from the office and meetings, I am able to hear from people who are focused on the key responsibilities of the organization.  Generally, things are going right (or I would have heard about it already).  Walking around helps me realize that there is far more going right in the organization than going wrong.

Being visible is mutually beneficial.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Be Professional and Expect Professionalism

A mentor of mind once told me, "Don't expect from someone else what you don't expect from yourself."  I thought that was good advice.  I remember telling this same advice to the captains on the basketball and softball teams I would coach.  I would meet with the players who were selected captain and share with them my expectations.  My expectations for them were similar to the other players.  Be early, work hard, work hard every minute of practice, play every play hard, be a good sport, and most importantly be a good student.  I would also tell the captains that everyone is looking at you so you can't take any minute off.

This is similar for leaders.  If I expect our employees to deliver good service to guest, students, and prospective students then I need to do the same.  Leaders set the tone.  Leaders set the example. Leaders can't let down.