Sunday, February 28, 2010

Feeling Our Way to Thoughtful Decisions

Think-Decide-Feel. Or is Feel-Decide-Think better? Maybe Decide-Think-Feel is the best?

Actually, anyone of the six combinations formed by reordering these three words will work just fine. Think-Decide-Feel is the name of a workshop I attended many years ago which focused on the way people process information. My pattern is Think-Feel-Decide which means I like to think about the decision, then feel – try it out for size so to speak, and then only after having done that do I want to decide. The advantage is that my decisions are pretty solid; the disadvantage to this style is that decisions can take a while and then it can be hard to change my mind. My friend Glenn made decisions differently. He liked to pick a solution, then collect the data and if he needed to he’d pick another option and test it out. Don’t make the mistake of thinking Glenn was wishy-washy – far from it. His decision making style was just different from mine.

One day Glenn and I met together to try to sort out a difficult university disciplinary situation. The conversation was going nowhere and we were both frustrated. Finally, Glenn looked at me and said, ‘I know why this isn’t working. I haven’t made a decision yet. Okay, let’s suspend them.’ Luckily for both of us, I understood what he meant and knew that he wasn’t trying to derail our discussion. We talked about all of the issues surrounding a decision of suspension, agreed that wasn’t the best answer, and moved on to something else that we both agreed was a better solution. Our supervisor, who had a different style from both Glenn and I, let us work our way through it. She didn’t try to short cut the discussion we had to have and she trusted that we would work our way through our differences. Her leadership supported and valued the different perspectives we brought to our jobs to the benefit of everyone.

To lead creatively and to lead for creativity, we need to understand and value the many ways that we differ and to create an atmosphere that not only makes room for such differences, but truly values them. Each of us brings our own perspective, talent and skill into the mix. We also bring our decision-making style and our thought processes along with us. And as challenging as that can be, it’s essential to good work and creativity.

So whether you Feel-Think-Decide or Think-Decide-Feel, it’s important to understand your own thought process and style and respect those of others no matter what your role in the organization. And as a leader, it’s important to go even further to value those differences and make room for them in the organization.

So how do you feel this? Or what do you think about it? Or can you decide?

Take care,


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Going for the Gold!

On Saturday night I watched the men’s basketball team beat an unbeaten, conference leading team in a hard fought Homecoming game. I don’t know about the players but those of us in the stands were exhausted – it’s hard work screaming and yelling! Of course the players were tired, but they played full out until the very end. As I watched them I thought about a different game a few years ago. At that time, many players were injured and there was little or no time for the players to catch their breath. They played hard that night as well, but they lost anyway during a very tough season. Watching them that night, I realized again one of the hard realities of life – it doesn’t matter how hard you work, how well you prepare, or how determined you are, sometimes you don’t win the game.

We see it over and over in the Olympics. The American ice dance team skated the performance of a lifetime. They would probably have won the gold medal any night but Monday because the Canadian team skated to perfection. I’ve been following Canadian ski-cross racer Chris Del Bosco because I know his sister, a former student from SMU. Sunday, he wasn’t satisfied with bronze and took a risk, didn’t make the jump well and with a hard crash ended up in fourth place – no medal for Chris.

It’s true for all of us, not just athletes. Sometimes our proposal doesn’t get funded, no matter how well prepared. Sometimes we don’t get the promotion, no matter how well our interview went. The reality is that no matter how hard we prepare, how stellar our performance, we can’t control the outcome. We may have done all the best practice in the world, be having a great season, and then compete against a team that has its best night ever, or skate against a pair that turns in their top performance. We submit a great proposal for new funding on the day budget cuts are announced or we have the best interview we’ve ever had and the other candidate has a great interview too – and ten more years of experience. The outcome is not in our control.

Like I told that group of students struggling through a difficult basketball season, there’s only one thing we can control in this equation – ourselves. I can choose to turn in my best work every time or to cut corners. Sometimes I’ll be the only one who knows the difference, but I will know. I can choose to try to reach for the top or I can settle for something less, it’s completely up to me. But there is only one way to have a shot at the gold medal or the conference championship or the promotion and that’s to do your best work, every day, every week, all year long.

The result may not be up to you, but you can choose whether or not you bring a championship attitude to every thing you do. So, are you going to go for the gold?

Take care,


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day

It seems like Valentine’s Day is a good day to write about Kouzes and Posner’s concept of Encouraging the Heart. In their books The Leadership Challenge and Encouraging the Heart, these two authors and researchers on the topic of leadership write about the importance of recognition as a leadership skill. This is not a touchy-feely sort of recognition – the first essential component is ‘Set Clear Standards’ – rather it is an acknowledgement of that fact that leadership is first and foremost a people skill.

When I talk about leadership I often say that leadership starts with a simple mathematical reality; if I walk out the door and no one follows me, I’m not much of a leader. There has to be at least two of us for leadership to exist. This makes the follower a critical component of leadership. Once you have two people involved then leadership is no longer about technical skills, but it's all about interpersonal relationships and people skills. At the end I’ve included a citation for the website I found that is a pdf of Kouzes and Posner’s chapter on “150 Ways to Encourage the Heart." Here are some of my favorite examples from their list:

"...20. Practice smiling. This is not a joke. Smiling and laughing release naturally occurring chemicals in our bodies that fight off depression and uplift our moods. Try it. ...

22. The next time you talk to one of your constituents about a difficulty she's having with a project, make sure that sometime during the conversation you say, "I know you can do it," or words to that effect. And you better mean it. ...

28. Walk around your facility and examine the images that are on the walls. Are they images that communicate positive messages or negative ones? Analyze your company's annual report, your own and your executive's speeches, the company newsletter, and other forms of corporate communication. Are the messages positive or negative? Do whatever you can to change the images to positive ones.... When images are positive, cultures and organizations are in ascendance. ...

36. Leave your desk for fifteen minutes every day, solely for the purpose of learning more about each of your key constituents. Who are they? What are their needs and aspirations? What do they need to find greater joy in their work? How do they like to be rewarded? ...

37. When you're out there caring by wandering around (CBWA), take along a pocket notebook to record the things people are doing right and the right things people are doing. Make sure to record not only the names but also the details about setting, people involved, how the act is special, and how it fits with the standards you're trying to reinforce. Use this later when telling your recognition stories. ...

40. Don't wait for a ceremony as a reason to recognize someone. If you notice something that deserves immediate recognition, go up and say something like, "I was just noticing how you handled that customer complaint. The way you listened actively and responded was a real model of what we're looking for. What you've done is an example to everyone. Thank you." If you happen to be carrying around a few extra coupons for a free drink at the local coffee or juice shop, here's an opportunity to give one out. ...

43. Wander around your workplace for the express purpose of finding someone in the act of doing something that exemplifies your organization's standards. Give that person recognition on the spot...."

As I picked these few out, I realize I’m not practicing what I’m preaching. My calendar has gotten very full lately and I’m sitting in my office or a conference room for meeting after meeting. It’s hard to do even a few of these let alone all 150. So pick one or two and make an effort to live them for a while. Then add another and when it is ingrained, add one more. The reality is that when you act this way, you will enjoy your leadership life more and so will the people in your organization.

Paying attention to the heart every day – it’s not just for Valentine’s Day anymore.

Happy Valentine’s Day,


Kouzes and Posner website:

Barbara Glanz’s books are also great sources for ideas. I’ve used ideas from CARE Packages for the Workplace – here’s her website

What are your favorite ways to encourage the heart or do you have a great story about the way someone recognized you?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

To react or not to react…

This week I had a conversation with two colleagues on the question of leaders as actors or rather as reactors. The question was ‘how, as a leader, do you know when to step in and when to stay out?’ It’s an important question and one to which, of course, there is no simple answer or prescription.

A huge part of effective leadership is self-awareness and I think that self-awareness is critical to being able to answer this question. If you are attending an event being run by staff in your department and you have not been part of the planning, but you see that some details are clearly awry, what is your first response? To step in? If so, at what level? Do you want to tell people how to fix it, do you fix it yourself, or do you ask for the person in charge? Maybe you hang back and wait to see how it is handled? Any of these responses or many others could be appropriate depending on the circumstances. I’m not suggesting that you need to evaluate and pick the ‘right’ one, but rather that you ask yourself about your inclination – to act or to hold back. It’s important to understand for ourselves what our natural tendencies are. Then we can pay attention to the situation at hand and do a bit of analysis asking whether our natural reaction tends to be more or less helpful to the situation.

Unfortunately, there is really only one way to develop the skill of matching my reaction to the situation and that’s trial and error with analysis. The next time you find yourself in a situation where you have a responsibility and a choice about reacting, pay attention to your first response and then do some analysis. Unless we’re talking about a true emergency, say a fire, there is usually time for a deep breath and a moment of thought. How big a deal is the problem – really? Is it really critical or just your pet peeve? Then comes the important question – which response will be most effective in helping staff members learn and develop in their jobs and as leaders? So often the answer to that question is ‘no reaction’ or the ‘least possible reaction.’ Additionally, the opportunities for learning must be balanced against the harm to the program or people being served. And, of course, sometimes we pick the right response and sometimes we don’t, so analysis after the fact is important as well.

To react or not to react: that is the question:
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of imperfect programs and services
Or to jump in and solve the sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them – or cause many more? …
To try; to err; perchance to succeed, ay, there’s the rub;
For in that attempt we learn and grow
or rob others of their chance, and so,
Must give us pause, to analyze, to think, and to try again.

With apologies to William Shakespeare and Hamlet,