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?