The Action Culture

This is the third post of a multi-post series, the Leadership Tetrahedron.

Many organizational culture and performance culture how-to articles exist. Managers often turn to those types of references as a quick-fix, or at least a remedy for increasing performance. In many cases performance increases for a short while; in worst cases the money is wasted and no discernible change is recorded. Why? Performance isn’t an add-on. Performance is a natural progression to an improved state, that begins with establishing a culture of action. Spelling it out is good, and that’s a great start–define the cultural norms that are acceptable–then model those. In the same way music is created from a dozen notes, culture is created with a half-dozen basic ingredients: emotions, attitudes, behaviors, values, relationships, and environment.

Emotions: The best way to define/model is to start at the base level of culture, emotions. There are four emotions that research across cultures proves to be the most critical. Two are negative, two are positive. In our everyday actions, keep at the forefront this message: we want to produce these two positive emotions, Joy and Satisfaction. Even in negative situations, we can begin by telling people what we appreciate about them. We can start each conversation by focusing on something to get people to laugh or feel good about themselves. The two emotions we want to avoid producing are Fear and Anxiety. These two emotions lead to negative attitudes that are extremely difficult to change. As a manager and a leader, if I consciously think about how to NOT produce those two emotions in every single interaction, I get much better results.

Attitudes: Prominent psychologist Gordon Allport once described attitudes “the most distinctive and indispensable concept in contemporary social psychology.” Carl Jung’s definition of attitude is a “readiness of the psyche to act or react in a certain way”. Attitudes are formed based on continual presence of (positive or negative) emotions associated with a particular event, person, etc. Therefore, attitudes can change (and be manipulated) through experience. As a manager and leader, I can increase the likelihood of positive experiences for my direct reports.

Behaviors: Several behavioral theories are useful in practice, Social Learning Theory (Bandura), Theory of Reasoned Action (Fishbein & Ajzen) & Theory of Planned Behavior (Ajzen), are the three that I’ve found to be consistently valuable. As a leader and manager, I have the authority to effect consequences of behaviors and to reward my reports’ feelings of self-efficacy. I also have the opportunity to change the perception of control by allowing my reports to establish community norms and standards insofar as feasible. Involving and developing key reports into prominent positions of authority is a great way to accomplish and foster positive behaviors and establish a sense of ownership. When my reports ‘act like owners’ behavior is most often positive.

Values: Shared values allow an organization to shape its culture and to define its character. Core values have become increasingly important, particularly when developing an organizational strategic plan. It is important that I do not simply clone others’ values and take them as my own. Employees need to be involved in values selection and clarification. There are many activities through which HRD/OD professionals may facilitate company values clarification. The best activities reach back to the emotional level, and create shared joy and sense of accomplishment/satisfaction at the outcomes. Reinforcing those values often (even daily) through inexpensive public activities/displays will help cement the value-centered culture.

Relationships: The absolute best way to foster positive relationships between employees is to involve them in activities that achieve personal and organizational goals. When I ask my reports to draft goals/project plans that also achieve their individual development needs I get innovation, I get creativity, I get passion. Partnering individuals, or creating groups, based on those developmental needs and how those relate to our organizational goals is indeed the definitive win-win situation. As the leader/manager, my job is to help break those goals down into achievable, measurable, and rewardable milestones, and then celebrate victories as often as possible. Remember, joy and satisfaction.

Environment: Research shows that happiness is strongly related to transparency. Creating and fostering an environment of transparency is becoming more vital than ever. Increasing transparency requires little financial investment other than my time as a leader/manager, communicating to my reports. When I share results, data, numbers, with my reports I also increase a sense of ownership. Owners are more likely to take positive action and increase positive behaviors. Being transparent is well and good, but can my reports understand the information I’m sharing? Here is an excellent rationale for adding more development to the workforce. When part of my organizational environment is the expectation of learning, we all win. When I truly understand how my job ‘changes the numbers’ my sense of ownership increases. That results in action–positive action–and increased performance.

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Delegation: Hardy Organizational Growth

This is the second post in a series, defining my personal leadership model, “The Leadership Tetrahedron“. I chose the Tetrahedron because it always lands “correctly” and as Newham stated in 2005, “a tetrahedron has the unique qualities that each corner is connected to every other corner by an edge and that each face is connected to every other face, also by an edge.” Connections–meaningful connection–are critical to hardy organizational growth, and delegation done the right way strengthens connections.

Finding, selecting, developing and keeping top-level talent is and endless task with which managers and organizations are faced. It is virtually impossible to always hire the best individual, but we do our best to get the best individual available at the time/place. Zhuge Liang, a famous Chinese strategist (ironically one of the worst delegators of all time in practice) did have considerable insights on the subject of delegation, whether or not he practiced what he preached. As General Zhuge stated: “One of the eight evils is inability to delegate authority to the wise and the good in times of order.” Perhaps that is why most of his military campaigns failed miserably? Two other quotes attributed to Zhuge resonate with me: “The Sixth way of knowing people is to give them tasks to do within a specific time, to see how trustworthy they are.” and “Therefore the Way (Dao) of leadership puts education and direction before punishment. To send people to war without education is tantamount to throwing them away.” Delegation is one of the best teaching tools, and one of the best trust-builders for an organization.

I wasn’t always convinced of delegation’s effectiveness. Once of my better learning moments was in conversation with a supervisor. She had delegated a (two-year) project to me, and we were exceeding expectations after the first six-month evaluation. Her concerns were, however, that I was doing too much. She looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Vince, this cannot be about you. What will happen at the end of two years, after you leave? This has to be sustainable. You have to make it sustainable.” I had always been described as a charismatic, tranformational leader. I was able to motivate people to do more than they had done. WHY on earth was she concerned? I began reflecting however, and she was right. Sure, the people were working hard and we were achieving, but were they learning? Did I have a succession-plan in place? To whom would I hand the torch? I brought this up in our next project-team meeting, and one member suggested that we begin operating on the ‘meteor-principle’–that was, what if one of us were hit by a meteor tomorrow? It was a difficult revelation for me that I wanted to hold onto the torch.

There are three essentials to which we must adhere when delegating. First, I must assess my tolerance for mistakes. I shouldn’t have to double-check everything. If there are capable people working with me, I should coach those people. I must allow them to undertake and develop higher levels of responsibility. Second, I have to be able to identify the training needs among my reports and discern between two types of needs: developmental potentials and critical flaws. If I can facilitate the development, great; if a person isn’t a fit for that particular task or project, reassign. Third, the organization’s values, my values, and the values held by the protégé must be compatible–not exactly the same–but compatible.

Delegation is one of the most important leadership qualities that will strengthen the organization. Conversely, refusing to delegate is one of the quickest ways to move an organization from ‘functional’ to ‘disfunctional’ by eroding and eventually destroying trust within the organization. When we learn and practice this business tactic, we improve our organization’s ability to grow and survive. The beauty of delegation is that by showcasing the individual and collective qualities of my team, I earn their loyalty and support–but most importantly I cultivate two-way trust. Think of it this way, an organization of tetrahedral leaders, connected together by strands of trust, is a hardy entity indeed!

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The Leadership Tetrahedron

I’m married to a civil engineer. Both her parents and her older brother are also engineers–so I get to rub elbows with a house-full of really smart people occasionally. My partner and I generally share our feelings and ideas about pretty much everything. A few days ago I was thinking about my personal leadership model, and how to “build” it into a structure. I’ve developed that model over several years, and decided that the “structure” wasn’t linked to the ideas in my model like I wanted it to be. I asked her, point-blank, what’s the strongest structure, in terms of physical strength, is it a pyramid? She gave me that “you are so sweet and cute when you think outside your professional realm of knowlege” smile, then sketched out a structure, and told me, “here, this is a Tetrahedron.”

It was perfect. Why? Because I could do exactly what I wanted to do! I can represent both dimensions of leadership: internal and external. To top it off, borrowing terms from one of my favorite leaders on social media, Lolly Daskal, it can allow a “heart-based” visual representation of “leading from within.” I think a Tetrahedron is shaped similarly to the human heart, so yeah, the visual works for me.
Then I slept on the idea for a night. Well, I tried to sleep. I kept sketching it out in my head and trying to fit the key concepts of leadership into the structure (in my dreams–yeah, I do that too). Finally, I had to get up and write/draw. I had it figured out!

I decided to write a series of blog posts and define each of the concepts which “build” my internal leadership model, and then my external organizational leadership model. I need something to get me back into writing, and I thought committing to a multi-part blog would probably do that. Like all ideas, nearly all of my ideas, I find that even when I think it is original, it isn’t entirely. Just before I planned to write the first post, I searched for domains that had tetrahedrons and leadership in combination–most were available. I searched for “Tetrahedral Leadership” and guess what. Somebody thought of this nearly 10 years ago. So, here, I give that person credit, though I’m quite sure I never ran across that before. Mr Chris Newham, I think you had/have a great idea, and I’m gonna’ run with it!

For my model, I chose the Tetrahedral-Prism, because it allows me to detail the “heart-based” leadership that I believe is so crucial for my effectiveness, and visually represent how “leading from within” gives strength and structure to the tenants of organizational leadership that I’ve found to be the most critical.

Starting tomorrow, I’ll write the first post of my model. I’ll begin outward and work inward. I’ll begin with the concept that I find to be most critical to organizational health and development. And what is that concept? Oh, okay, here is a teaser: Delegation = Trust. The first post will be about delegation. Until tomorrow…

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Assessment and Persistence in Student Affairs: Reflections on #APC2014 in San Antonio

From the outset, Dr. Alexander W. Astin set the stage for collaboration. He illustrated, quite powerfully, how Student Affairs (Student Services, whatever your iteration) and Academic Affairs (Instructional Services, whatever your institution calls it) need to be not only aligned, but integrated, tightly. While his opening speech was inspirational throughout, three comments really resonated with me, and were quite preminitionarily-thematic based on the sessions I attended. One of those, “You can’t drop out until you fill out our form!” shows how intrusive advising is rearing its head in discussions and practice, whether we as a profession recognize it or not.

I attended several sessions that were themed and titled around two relatively “new” positions at some institutions, namely “Retention Coordinator/Specialist” and “Engagement Director/Coordinator/Specialist”. In each of those sessions, the presenters made compelling cases for “getting in the faces” of students, rather than allowing “freedom for discovery” as we might have focused on for a decade or two in our profession. Data-sharing, particularly between the traditionally separate domains of Academic/Student services divisions was critical for the positional duties. Diplomacy might indeed be making a comeback, as these new positions often led meetings with professionals and tenured faculty members that were neither direct nor indirect reports. One presenter made a recommendation, “take the first year to become friends with the faculty.” Practices ranged, as did policies on their campuses with respect to Family Educational Rights & Privacy Act (FERPA) interpretation at institutions. Faculty members have the most contact with students; the days of pretending that retention of learners is a function of the “student services side of the house” are over.

Another comment from Dr. Astin was also reflected in nearly every session I attended. Dr. Astin was admonishing the profession for relying on what we have traditionally called satisfaction surveys (what I and other evaluation professionals might call “smiley sheets”) with little substantive use other than for patting ourselves on the backs. He mentioned adding an item (or items) that actually got deeper into what the students were thinking: “What might derail you this semester” or “what might keep you from using what you learned in this session?” and then following up on that. The follow-up implied relationship-building. In later sessions, nearly every presenter I heard was extolling the virtues of creating relationships with students at some level. Faculty members have more chances for these types of transactions with students. If we (student affairs) aren’t able to communicate to faculty members about student concerns, we are doing everyone disservices. Partnering with faculty, who need research projects, might enable us all to dig deeper into what keeps students here and keeps them successful while they are here.

Dr. Astin frequently referred to his (1993) IEO (Input-Environment-Output) model during his speech. He chastised the early profession for relying on Outputs to signify accountability. His remarks alluded to trends that were reflected in earlier years for higher education: nearly all of the students (Input) were from significantly different backgrounds than the students (Input) we have today. Higher education institutions have barely changed their practices (Environments), yet have expected the same high results (output) as was yielded decades ago. Another of his comments, “You (the student) have to take these required courses even if we don’t know your aspirations” evidenced the continuation of the practice. We have to stop the black-box mentality, and begin to utilize student feedback for more than keeping our feelings intact.

One such way might be to utilize a “corporate” evaluation model, such as Kirkpatrick’s four levels. Levels three and four REQUIRE interaction with faculty if we want to monitor, encourage, reinforce, and reward positive behavioral changes. We utilized that with some success (forthcoming, JSARP) during a pilot-study in Idaho. As I embark on a new professional challenge with my current employer, we are considering several options for evaluation and assessment, but ALL involve faculty and administration partnership.

Posted in blogging, Higher Education, Leadership, Student Affairs | 2 Comments

Father’s Day Memories

At 11, I was taught to weld two pieces of metal together like an “A” without the middle, as this: /\. Every time I finished the bead, Pop would pound down on it with a 20-pound sledge. It broke. Countless times I failed.

Between each time, Pop would hold the two pieces in each of his massive, calloused hands and point out the places that I didn’t get enough heat, or wasn’t keeping my hands steady. Eventually, the metal bent, and the bead held. I learned to troubleshoot, adjust, and correct.

At 13 I was welding for the public. When most young boys my age were playing sports or hunting with their fathers–or doing what I thought was “having fun”–I was stuck in a welding shop, working my tired arse off from the time school was out until dark-thirty. I was bitter.

I got paid (for the first two years) $150 per month. Out of that, I paid my tuition at the private school Pop had helped build, literally. The swing-sets, basketball goals, see-saws, you name it, those were “donations in kind from Nix Welding Shop” I had to buy my own lunches, and pay to join any sort of clubs (e.g., glee club) with anything extra I could save. That left little money for me to spend on my comic book (Flash, Green Lantern, and the occasional Haunted Tank) collection. I was bitter.

At 15, once I passed my driver’s license test, Pop began to pay me half my labor. In 1978, as a ninth-grade student, I was paid $9 per hour. At the same time, Pop told me to choose (only) one sport. He allowed me to play one more year of every sport, to make up my mind. I dropped baseball, basketball, and track; I stuck with American football. While the other young men in my class were playing those sports I had dropped, I left school on those days early. I worked from noon-ish to dark-thirty. I was bitter.

Some of my classmates’ parents bought them cars or pickups to drive. I bought my own, and I paid for my own insurance on that vehicle. Those expenses ate into my “savings” and I complained relentlessly to Pop, because he wouldn’t pay me more, or at least treat me “like a son rather than an employee.” He may have listened, but he didn’t budge. The only times I felt we had a father-son relationship was when the weather was too bad to work. During those times, we played Scrabble. I learned to read upside-down, and I learned to challenge. Yet, I was bitter.

We guaranteed everything we put out. For the first few years of my welding career that meant I lost money every single time a customer returned with something I’d built or repaired. There were no exceptions; if it came from Pop’s shop it had to be top quality. Our integrity was at stake. I had to get better. That meant more practice which translated into less time for “me”. Yes, bitterness again.

I began filing taxes and doing the “office management” for Pop’s Welding shop at 16 years of age. Sending out statements, driving to collect money from customers that hadn’t paid after 30 days, all those activities had to be performed on Saturday afternoons, or Sundays, between church services. I had precious little time for homework, much less for leisure reading or my new hobby, listening to and “making” music with my great Uncle Ralph. I also began to sing lead for local bands, it was difficult to find time to practice. I was bitter because I had to work so much when others had so much time to “play.”

Oh, then there was “the garden.” Pop wasn’t happy growing enough just to fill our two freezers. He felt his garden had to feed people within 10-miles driving distance. He planted things that others didn’t grow: Brussel’s sprouts, asparagus, carrots, unique beans, special cabbages and lettuces and (I thought then) every pea known to mankind. And Corn. Yes, we needed corn for the hogs we raised (the hogs I’d slopped every morning since I was old enough to drag 5-gallon buckets of leftover food from ours, Granma’s and Granny’s houses). It seemed there was never “personal” time for anything I wanted to do. Yeah, bitterness.

Years later, when I look back on the lessons I learned, I am quite simply in awe of the quantity. I wonder, without the bitterness of the time, how much more I might have learned? There is very little I do not know how to do. Despite being an “office boy” for most of the time since 1988, I generally “fix” stuff for myself. Unless there is a license required, I do anything that our house needs. I maintain our vehicles. I grow vegetables that we cannot buy locally, or that are too modified to look or taste safe. If I have access to a welding machine, I can basically build anything I might want or need. I can put tie-wire on a swing-bearing that goes out on the tip-top of the Teton Mountains, and drive my vehicle back home because everything is closed on Sunday.

On Father’s day, I look back and I am glad, thankful, and I am not bitter. No, not everyday was rosy, and not every lesson learned was from positive role-modeling. However, there is no doubt that I would not have attained the levels of success I have achieved thus far in my life without many of those hard, time-consuming lessons from Pop.

After 16 years of life without you, you are even more appreciated, you are sorely missed, and you are still teaching me, Jerry Nix.

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Recycle the box(es)

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I often hear this tired old phrase, “think outside the box” or a slightly modified iteration. What does that mean? What do people really want to say when resorting to that well-worn cliche? I’m posting from Kunming, in Yunnan province, where I just presented an invited lecture (career management in a global environment) to students and faculty on the campus of  Kunming University of Science and Technology.

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The framework for the activities was Happenstance Learning Theory (Krumboltz, 2009) so we focused on the five skills of  curiosity, risk-taking, persistence, flexibility, and optimism. Planned Happenstance (PH), or the increased probability of controlling one’s own fate, was an instant hit with the Chinese audience. The participants in the audience were already familiar with networking because China basically runs on Guan Xi (literally, quality connections).  One might also claim that the Chinese are quite naturally persistent. However as a culture the Han Chinese and the  Communist Party traditionally have been equally resistant to the other four PH skills.  I found (during my dissertation research and five plus years of teaching/training in China) that a majority of Chinese are guided by an extreme external Locus of Control (Rotter, 1968).

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During discussions, one young man stated, “China has too many people and too few jobs” and then asked me, “if you can give us advice about one thing we should do, what is that?” I answered without hesitation, “over deliver; do more than anyone expects of you” l asked him to forget about his passions for now and make whatever he does meaningful, by being the best. I continued by saying that I believed that was the most important thing to do but it wasn’t enough. We need to strengthen our personal learning and development networks. We need to prune the ineffective and/or negative connections and cultivate the positive connections. The best way to do that is by volunteering your time and energy to your community; make your elders happy by visiting retirement homes. Make orphans happy by visiting, and then do fundraising activities to buy the kids stuff. Volunteer to teach in (rural or poor) areas without schools. Become the most positive networker anybody knows.

The young man responded that I was asking them to really think outside the box more than he had imagined.

Without really thinking I said, “No, I’m saying we don’t need the boxes. Don’t throw them away because we might find the materials useful. Let’s recycle the box!
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What could we do with all those broken-down boxes?

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Why Student Affairs?

Great logo at the UW Tacoma Website

Joe Sabado (@JoeSabado) re-linked this inspirational post in a tweet. I’ve been giving the topic a lot of thought recently, especially, since I’m not “in” Student Affairs right now but that is my “career” and the area on which my graduate school education centered.

pay-it-forward-sign2I wanted to pay it forward. I wouldn’t have been able to persist, to complete, without my first-semester RA. I mentioned him in the dedication of my dissertation; he was that great an influence on my future. I was a trouble-maker, first-generation, every “ism”-you-can-imagine holder. I paid my first semester tuition by running books for a local bookie. My RA’s boss, the hall director (RHD), approached me one evening as I was taking bets in the student lounge, “Whatchya’ doin’?” I can still see her dimpled grin.

“Taking bets!” I answered confidently, “want to put some money on a team?” I don’t think she expected me to be that honest. “We need to talk.” And, talk we did.

I (yes, I was that ignorant) didn’t realize there was anything wrong with what I was doing; I’d never given it any thought. Everyone I knew bet on sporting contests. When I decided to begin attending university after a horrendous accident left me disabled, one of the first people that offered to “help”, was, you guessed it, my bookie. Seems he had several “unpaid” debts on the campus, and my presence afforded him an opportunity to collect. He fronted me money and offered me a percentage of what I collected that was already owed to him. It worked out that it would be possible to “pay back” the fronted amount, and still make money within my first semester. Once I realized how much money I could make, well, it was fascinating (to me) how many students gambled on any sporting contest. If Kathy hadn’t “caught” me, who knows how much money I’d have made. Femida - goddess of judgementI would also have flunked out. I didn’t have a lot of time to study if I “ran the books” properly.

There were other issues that my RA had with me, developmentally. He eventually required that I meet with him, and a quite diverse staff of his peers, weekly. He exposed me to differences in race, sexuality, religion, abilities, you name it; he had me observing. And reflecting. And talking. That’s right, he made me tell him how I felt about all that “stuff!” For a while, I would look back on those months together and I often wondered why he bothered. What did he see that kept him from just “turning me in” to the RHD? Know what? He just cared. I probably wasn’t that unique. After I later became an RA, I laughed many times at how selfish I was, thinking that I was somehow “his special project.” As a paraprofessional I met many students that were just as ignorant as I was, and yes, even some that were (almost!) behaviorally worse. Then, and later as a professional, I tried to “save’em all.” It doesn’t always work that way, but still we try.studentdevelopment

No matter, paying-it-forward just feels right. Student Affairs, as a profession, offers more chances to make positive differences in lives than anything else I’ve ever done.

I’ve “jumped out” of Student Affairs twice;
once when recruited by a Japanese company. After six corporate years I returned to the profession. The second time was, again, for an international opportunity; I began consulting while doing research for my dissertation (ironically for a student affairs degree) in China.

When I returned from China, I wasn’t able to “jump right back in” the profession. We (as a profession) really do have a “what have you done for me lately” attitude, and that’s perfectly fine. It’ll take time to rebuild a professional reputation; I’m down with that. Student affairs professionals, much like leaders, are probably not born; they are created through intense development processes that truly resonate deep within the spirits. The old saying, “you can take the boy out of the country, but not the country out of the boy” has never been truer of anyone than me. Well, I believe the same can be said about Student Affairs. I’m not quite sure how long it will be before the “right” opportunity is created, but I do know for sure I’ll be ready to embrace that occasion.opportunity-knocking

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In Praise of Shame!

shameGot your attention? Good. Develop.

A few days ago Samantha S Hall posted about Shame and how destructive it can be. I value Samantha’s connection (established through Twitter) and find that we share several background characteristics. I do not disagree that shame can be supremely distructive. However, I want to share two instances of how shame actually helped me.

I learned that Ms Hall and I have in common a development of co-dependency while living in abusive homes at early ages; growing up I learned that emotions=weakness. Her post really put me into a reflective mode, and I like that.

She also mentioned (the Western) Dalai Lama. It is strange how certain words or phrases can create connections in the most unlikely places. Those two words linked shame and China in my mind.

china_viewI spent six years in China; five of those on university campuses. One of the first things I noticed was that China was much more open-minded than the U.S. I saw gay and lesbian couples walking, arm-in-arm everywhere! Young college-aged men sat in each others laps on the buses; nobody seemed to notice. College women walked across campus holding hands in public. Both sexes would openly embrace, and walk across campus with arms around (same-sex couples) necks! When I ventured off campus, I began to notice that this behavior was everywhere! How could such things be possible? Wasn’t China known for its terrible human rights record? I was taken aback, to say the least.

Guess what? They weren’t Gay or Lesbian. They were just friends. Not “besties” either. Just friends. My western socialization, whether it was from a micro- or macro-level socialization I cannot be sure, had put the belief in my mind that those relationships were sexual. I assumed if you sat in someone’s lap on a bus, you had an intimate relationship. I assumed if you walked across campus holding hands, you were “more than just friends.” That wasn’t (and isn’t) the case in China.

It wasn’t pretty when I learned the truth. I was (teaching, leadership) in class, and began to openly discuss GLBTA issues. I realized that the class was incredibly uncomfortable. When I queried several students, I was assured that my topic was Taboo. I responded, “But you have so many openly homosexual people here!” The looks on the students’ faces (in hindsight) were priceless. At the time it was rather scary.

Once I realized how far off my assumptions were, the students began to scold me. “You Westerners always think about sex!” and “Why is everything always about sex?” I was terribly ashamed.embarrassed-chimp

However that shame led me to introspectively examine my assumptions and beliefs. It wasn’t an easy process, and I still struggle, but that instance of shame still creates a desire in me to improve.

After returning from China, I began looking for a job. I had joined a local Jobseekers group and was practicing interviewing. After an interview, a mentor looked at me and said, “Vince, you are unlike any PhD I ever met. You are a real person.” Now that was intended as a compliment, but I didn’t take it that way. I was suddenly ashamed that I had a doctorate degree. I immediately responded, “Well I only have a PhD because I worked at university and got $5 classes; I thought it was a waste not to keep taking the coursework.”graduate

The mentor (well trained in personal development, thankfully) looked at me sternly and asked, “Did you just apologize for being educated?” WOW! I had! I was a first-generation college student and I continually struggle with the separation from my family that education has “provided.” I didn’t realize until that moment though how much I struggled. How could I possibly be ashamed of an education?! As Ms Hall pointed out in her post, this particular behavior stemmed from an incredible need to be a people pleaser. In my case, I was using false humility to avoid making others uncomfortable.

My counselor and I discussed that issue several times. We eventually linked it to a powerful co-dependency “tendency” of mine. But, it is something over which I am beginning to gain control, because of that “shameful” feeling at that particular moment.

As I stated in the beginning, I agree that shame is a powerful, destructive, negative force. It can lead to positive development if we address it and stop covering it up. In my case, today, I can be thankful and appreciative of at least those two instances of shame. I also no longer believe that displaying emotion equals weakness; perhaps we could begin to reframe shame as a starting point, emotionally, rather than getting caught up in the vicious co-dependency cycle.praise

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Leadership Dandelions

dandelionThis seemed like a good thing to say, and it really was heartfelt:
#LeadfromWithin A3: #LeadershipGift is already there perhaps, but for me, others had to plant the seed and harvest it. Now I’m a #dandelion

The question was, Q3:
Do you find our #leadershipGift or does your #leadershipGift find us? #leadfromwithin

For those of you not familiar with a Tweetchat, you owe it to yourself and your personal/professional development to check one out. I semi-regularly participate in two, one is the afforementioned #LeadFromWithin began and hosted by the incomparable Lolly Daskal. Check her Website out if you haven’t heard of her. She is a remarkable human.

The way this particular chat works is Lolly and/or a co-host for the week throw out 10 questions in an hour, and those of us chatting, answer. If you haven’t Tweeted before, the catch is you have to answer in 140 characters or less, and well, we are supposed to use hashtags (the pound sign, or the crunch symbol to you fellow Linux users) to highlight keywords.

Tonight’s chat was simply put, overflowing. We actually broke the “Twitter meter” or whatever can be broken on Twitter. Over a million accounts were reached in one hour.

Back to the subject. Leadership is truly all about empowering others to lead. While I’m not normally a “flowery” type of guy, I do have my moments. 🙂

The more I think this over, the more I think: what better metaphor for leadership than a dandelion?

Dandelion seeds have those little feathery parachutes to help them fly, far away from their parent plants.

Leadership is like that too, leaders spring up, far away from their “parent” mentors. As a leader, I want to send off as many of those feathery parachutes as I possibly might send!

I’m thrilled to be a leadership dandelion!

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Why fake it? Instead “make it” meaningful

ketchumMost mornings are great; I’m a happy boy! Living in Idaho, in the summer, most mornings are even better than great. This morning was particularly special, as I found in my inbox, this message from an ex-colleague:

I miss working with you so very much…you are honest and reliable and you always made me feel validated….you know “fake it till you make it” and hoping no one finds out that you really suck????? You made me feel like I never suck and that what I said had value. I have never known someone like you Vince…you are totally the bomb!!!! I mean it!!! I can’t say in words how valuable it is to know someone like you!!! Thank you for being my ally! know I will always have good things to say about you…always!!

False humility says “I didn’t deserve that glowing praise!” And yet, what did I do to elicit that message?

As leaders (not just managers) we are responsible for the development of our people and our organizations. I keep that in mind, and for me, development equals meaning. But again I ask, “what did I do?” There are three distinct behaviors that might have led to this.

1) 1:1 meetings. Yes, I still hold 1:1 meetings! I’ve held them in every single position I had since my first resident assistant (RA) job in which I was required to attend those. Occasionally a new (outside student affairs of course!) supervisor has queried me: “Vince, don’t you think you are spending too much time individually with your staff? Couldn’t you get that done more efficiently in a staff meeting??

No. I couldn’t. 1:1 meetings take time but the ROI is always greater than I expect. Last year, a (different) colleague told me:
“Vince, I want to tell you this. I never had 1:1s with my bosses before. I didn’t like the idea at first, but now I come away energized. I look forward to these. I truly, if I ever hold a supervisor role, will hold 1:1 meetings with my staff! Bottom line, it says to me, even though you are a busy man, I am important enough for you to keep me on your schedule. That is super meaningful for me”

Another colleague, following me as supervisor when I left an organization once, called me after a few weeks and during our conversation said:
“Vince, I have a new appreciation for supervising. I’ve just completed my first week of 1:1s and I gotta’ ask, how did you keep all of us straight?!”

She went on to say how she realized that these meetings might be even more important than strategic-task-out meetings with the entire staff.

Back to the present. The ex-colleague that sent this message and I had frequent conversations about “Imposter Syndrome” in which we shared self-doubt. That isn’t something I want to do at a full-on staff meeting. Vulnerability is necessary, but it just works better on a small-scale stage.

Sure, I’ve had a staff that was quantitatively too large to have weekly 1:1 meetings; even with 27 (to date, my largest staff) direct reports, I still maged to hold those meetings monthly.

2) Owning my mistakes. I read a quote attributed to Ben Franklin back in 1999; yes, I marked that day even then, because I immediately recognized that quote inspired what was to be a turning point in my life and career.

He that is good for excuses is seldom good for anything else.

Up until that point, I was quite proud of my ability to BS my way out of any situation. I took it as a compliment that a colleague had once said, “Vince can talk his way out of anything.”

That quote still resonates with me today (which is why it is on every email I send out) and reminds me that it is good to make a different mistake, frequently. I communicate this “philosophy” to my staff, and we do have times at meetings when we share our victories of the week and our learning moments of the week.

Owning my mistakes allows me to set the examples of admitting, learning, not beating myself up, and moving on.

3) Transparency. I really “don’t care that you don’t mind” as Brad Roberts crooned. What you see is what you get, a LOT of passion, compassion, and effectiveness. But that is public.

I worked with Japanese for several years. Often, my boss, the company president would tell me, “Binchan (literal translation–“little girl Vince”–but that’s another story!) don’t be so straight.”

It did take me a few years to figure out what was “okay to share” and what was supposed to be “for our ears only.” My Southern, Mississippi family taught me, “if it has to be secret, it probably ain’t right.” I still believe that, but I am learning (and struggle at times) to be diplomatic too. I recognize that there are points in processes that are not always appropriate for “full disclosure.”

But I am transparent, particularly with my staff. If something is not up for debate, I let that be known at once. Because my staff trusts me, they don’t question the rare time that might happen.

One positive outcome of transparency is dependability. I will do what I said, when I said, or you know something is out of my control. Period.

The other good part of transparency is that my staff is able to help me develop. Yeah, I typed that. My staff helps me grow, learn, become better, and feel good. Once my staff knows how much I care about our team growth, our organizational success, and I’ve shared (an appropriate amount of) “stuff” about myself, they begin to foster my personal and professional development.

I have to be cool with my staff members “calling me” on anything.

This message, the one that prompted me to write today, is a glowing example of my former colleague spurring my development. I shared with her, several times, how it is vitally important (for me) to know that others appreciate my efforts, even though my “don’t care that you don’t mind” philosophy stubbornly hangs on in daily practice.

This morning I am grateful for the reminder that I do make a difference; that is truly meaningful. 🙂

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