Monday, June 18, 2012

Lencioni Lessons: The Five Temptations of a CEO/Student Affairs Supervisor

I have once again devoured and truly enjoyed a management book by Patrick Lencioni. The author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and Death by Meeting, Lencioni is great at making management principles accessible through the use of fables to illustrate the points he is trying to make. This particular book, The Five Temptations of a CEO, is about how to increase the productivity and effectiveness of a team through selfless and vulnerable supervision. I want to summarize the points made, along with their possible application and how I want to implement them with our group in the fall.

Temptation #1: Valuing status over results.
When asked what the greatest accomplishment of a CEO or supervisor is, the organization is in danger if the answer is status based. “When I was named CEO” or “When I was given an award” are fine answers for oneself, but bad for the organization. When trying to build an environment that gets good results, the leader of the group should be valuing those results when they come in.

For my part, I want to focus on what is best for my students, and emphasize recognition for the results that we do achieve. I’ve always been of the belief that this work isn’t about me, and I am so happy to work with professionals who feel the same, and allow the spotlight to stay on our students. We move so fast as an organization, we barely have enough time to make sure they’re learning from their experiences, let alone to tell them how much we appreciate the amazing work they do. I feel that in placing the emphasis on their work, the emphasis is shifted from my own. My job is to make them successful, and they should be told when they are.

Temptation #2: Valuing popularity over accountability.
How do you feel when you have to deliver feedback to staff, students, or student staff? Are you more concerned about the task at hand, or the relationship being at risk? Many leaders worry more about the latter, and that causes trouble for the organization. The effective supervisor sees the relationship between the two- if the staff member can’t count on you to hold him or her accountable for the work getting done, the relationship will disintegrate regardless. So emphasize the task, and the relationship will follow.

This is one that our office admittedly struggles with. We serve in both an advisory and supervisory role, and we straddle a dual task of encouraging independence and emphasizing adherence to departmental and divisional expectations. I am not afraid to confess that we have let the pendulum swing too far in one direction, and are working to nudge it back in the other one. I want to find a way to hold our students accountable for the tasks they are required to complete, provide constructive feedback, and to acknowledge the consequences of not fulfilling expectations. How can we hold students to a standard if they don’t know (a) what the standard is, and (b) how well they’re performing to it?

Temptation #3: Valuing certainty over clarity.
How long does it take to make a decision? This temptation actually hearkens back to some advice I got from another fascinating book I read this past year, Blink. More often than not, we can trust our instincts to make a decision. But in organizations, the desire to consult everyone, gather copious amounts of information, and make sure that everyone is happy with our decision (more on that shortly) can cause a kind of decision paralysis. When a staff member needs a decision, sometimes they just need an answer. This is not to encourage going rogue; rather, it is to reassure the novice supervisor that decisiveness is valued as well as being right. And if you are wrong…well, I’ll hit that point shortly.

This skill comes with time, I feel. When I first arrived in my position, I was terrified to be wrong. In many of my previous positions, I was either blazing a trail or following someone that, to be frank, wasn’t very good at his job. In this instance, I was both blessed and intimidated to follow someone who was very good at his work. The result? An extended period of trying to live up to the stellar example he had set. But as I settled in, learned the resources of my campus, and got more comfortable with my students, the decision-making got easier. I had to trust in my own ability to do the work I was hired to do, and the rest came gradually. I stumbled, of course, but I wasn’t shy about that and made sure the situation got fixed.

Temptation #4: Valuing harmony over conflict.
Oh, I am a big believer in this one. Too many supervisors are afraid to let people disagree about things. Too many people are afraid of this. But I have always been of the belief that discomfort leads to growth, and I don’t worry about encouraging it. Encouragement of harmony suppresses alternate viewpoints, creating the treacherous “echo chamber”. In an echo chamber, new ideas are squashed because they differ from what’s already being done, and disagreements devolve into resentment in the absence of an environment in which they can be resolved. By helping students and staff to uncover discomfort, and to help them be comfortable in doing so, decisions will be better thought out and representative of more opinions than settling for the harmonious solution ever will.

Do you encourage students to disagree in meetings? Or do you try to have them table issues that get contentious in favor of time? Perhaps you base decisions on a vote, in hopes that the issue will be based on consensus or majority rule?  This was addressed in greater detail in Lencioni’s Death by Meeting (another great read that I’m sure most reading this would appreciate), but to sum up- allow time for all to speak on an issue, and don’t squash dissention from the norm. Set the ground rule that whatever decision is made, stands, regardless of level of agreement. The ability to speak freely will help staff to feel that they are being heard, and the value of all opinions will help those who do disagree feel comfortable to express their opinions.

Temptation #5: Valuing trust over invulnerability.
The emphasis on tasks should not be mistaken for a lack of concern for relatability. Lencioni is of the belief that when you allow yourself to be vulnerable as a supervisor, allow your staff to see you in moments of weakness and admit fault, they will work hard for you. Working hard for someone that seems perfect is stressful and at times off-putting. That very principle makes it next to impossible for me to listen to the teachings of Steven Covey (minority opinion, I know, but I stand by it). Moreover, if you admit to weakness, it allows people with those strengths to fill in the gaps, thus allowing them to feel, and be, effective.

As I develop as a professional, I have gotten very good at admitting when I’m wrong. It’s never easy, but ultimately essential to moving forward with any task. And I find that when I can tell students I’m wrong, and rely on their strengths to solve problems, that our relationships are more effective as a result. Vulnerability doesn’t make you weak, as many believe. It provides a means to build strength in relationships that then allows staff to give good results. The process is truly a full circle one.

This past week at NPI, combined with a lot of reflection on my first year in my position, have given me a lot to think about regarding supervision. And The Five Temptations of a CEO is helping me to further define my style. It is my hope that this pair of experiences is going to make me an even stronger supervisor for my students and graduate assistant, and my hope that this reflection will help whoever reads this to evaluate and define his or her style.

Candies and Happies: NPI 2012

I spent last week in Durham, NC at the NASPA Region III/SACSA New Professionals Institute, held at North Carolina Central University.  After working with 41 fellow new professionals from across the South, six wonderful institute faculty, and one amazing institute facilitator in Brit Katz, I am so energized to do wonderful work from this point forward. I don’t think there’s any way to convey the depth of what I got from the experience, so I will share the highlights.

The Location
I have never gotten the opportunity to spend time in Raleigh-Durham, and have had very limited experience on the campus of a HBCU. Getting to see both was a great change of pace from what I’m used to. It was relaxing to get to go for runs each morning around a campus that wasn’t my own (and in an environment that wasn’t a million degrees), and Jody Conway has made sure that I have a deep appreciation for exploring other campuses :)
The few forays that we made into town revealed lots of things I like in an area- diversity, several college campuses, culture and exposure to nature. I don’t know that I would live in the area, but I would definitely go back to visit.

The Knowledge
NPI challenged me to think in a way that I haven’t been challenged to think in a while. More than just digesting conference content the way I have at NACA or previous NASPA conferences, the Institute encouraged us to think through each session we were presented with, to ponder how it applied to us, and to consider what we would do with the information.
And that knowledge didn’t just come from the facilitators, it came from my fellow Institute attendees. The fellow professionals in Durham were thoughtful, reflective, and so knowledgeable. So often we’re too buried in work to maintain learning about the profession; if we manage to read it all, there’s not much time to digest everything. When challenged to do so, the full group shone. I loved learning from everyone, and hope we get to continue to do so with one another.

The People
I have alluded to this in the rest of this post, but I had a wonderful time meeting people at NPI. I’ve wanted to make new friends and find people who understand the work I do for quite some time, and have relished the relationships that I got to create in Durham. They are enthusiastic and diligent, smart and entertaining. We worked together and played together for a week, and I hope that our seeds of friendship and professional affiliation will only continue to grow as we continue our journeys. We planted seeds of relationships this week- I know I will do what it takes to help those seeds grow, and I hope my new friends will too.

When I look back on the formative experiences of my career, I can tell that this is going to be a significant experience for me. It allowed me to make new connections in my work, learn more about how to be successful at this stage of my professional life, and to truly reflect on what my next steps will look like. I am so excited to start putting the new lessons to work, and even more enthusiastic about keeping up with the new friends I made. I will leave you now with a selection of quotes from our fearless leader, Brit Katz of Millsaps College. He might be my new spirit animal- when you read the selections, you’ll understand why :)

“Let the smiles be our umbrellas.”

JUSTIN: My name is Justin, and I’m passionate about Superman.
BRIT: Who isn’t?

“Look for me, I’m one of [Beyonce’s] backup dancers. I’m passionate about it.”

“Is this a good dance move?”

“It just amps me.”

“Love it, mean it, never change, sign my yearbook!”

“It’s not who you know, or what you know, but what you know on who you know.”

“SSAOs: Are We Fractured or Whole?”

“Why don’t you love this? God, we do!”

“Demonstrate effective syntax!”

“After six and a half years, I finally got the down payment, moved into my place, and promptly turned the stereo up to 6, lit nine candles, and propped open the front door.”

“If we weren’t inside the building, I’d light nine candles in your honor.”

“Money isn’t gonna bring you happiness, but boy it’ll make you comfortable while you’re looking for it.”

Thank you so much.”

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

National Running Day: Inspiration to Run for Something

As many of you may know, I've been working on a project to raise money for Women's Health's Run 10 Feed 10. I'm so encouraged by the support that I've gotten so far, and am really appreciating seeing the giving spirit in my friends, family and coworkers.

The website that is running the fundraising efforts is a fantastic (and what appears to be a fantastically fun!) company called Crowdrise, designed specifically to make fundraising for something you believe in easy and entertaining. Trust me, their emails really are :)

With today being National Running Day, I decided to browse around the site, and see who else is "running for something". The process gives me the same rush as running on a long race course, looking at the shirts of the runners around me. People running to save the lives of friends and family members, people running to honor friends and family that may have already been lost, people running to celebrate overcoming their own personal challenge (including this beautiful story from my most recent race). Even though I grumble about running sometimes/often- the aches and pains, the cost of races, the inconvenience of travel- doing it in a way that makes a difference puts it all in perspective.

Check Out These Crowdrise Projects That Feature Great People "Running For Something":

-My Team Triumph: working to allow physically challenged athletes to participate in endurance sports. They have a race this weekend, so check them out!

-The HydroWorx Underwater Marathon: a fundraiser designed to allow runners to run on underwater treadmills, to raise money for the rehabilitation of wounded soldiers.

-Youth Homes Run 4 Kids: this Montana group home cares for children whose families are in crisis, and they will be participating in the 2012 Missoula Marathon.

-RMH Elliott Deedler Fundraiser: Elliott's dad Adam is running the inaugural Ann Arbor Marathon to raise money for the Ronald McDonald House that supported them during Elliott's bout of respiratory failure. Check out the project, it has 9 days to go!

Happy National Running Day! What inspires you as you run? If you don't run, what causes do you work for or care deeply about? 

Monday, June 4, 2012

Friends, Romans, Countrymen, Lend Me Your Ears: Shakespeare Inspired Conference Presentations

So this started as this completely silly thing. Kate Kinsella, Lisa Endersby, and Joe Ginese started a conversation on conference presentations and plays with the following (completely true) observation:

If your program proposal has 7 co-presenters you are no longer giving a presentation, you are putting on a play.

This got Lisa's wheels turning about Shakespearean titles for conference presentations (does this defy the discussion about not pandering to a conference theme with a title? Maybe, but it's fun!)
Listed here are some of the submissions that we came up with.  The ones in red have been submitted after the initial chat!

If you have additions, please add in the comments! And if you want to make any of these a reality, PLEASE get in touch! :)
  1. "The Lady Doth Protest Too Much: Squashing Gossip in All-Female Halls."
  2. "To Be, Or Not To Be? Mapping Out Your Career in Student Affairs."
  3. "Out, damned spot: Enhancing Your Relationship With Custodial Services"
  4. "Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow: Cultivating Meaningful Relationships with Alumni"
  5. "The Play's The Thing: Utilizing Roleplay In Student Training"
  6. "Winter of Our Discontent: Spicing Up End of Fall Programming"
  7. "Method in the Madness: Explaining the How AND the Why to Students"
  8. "Be Not Afraid of Greatness: Inspiring Successful Students"
  9. "Beware the Ides of March: Beating Burn-Out and Ending the Year on a High." 
  10. "Fortune's Fool: Teaching Students About Privilege"
  11. "I Am Constant As The Northern Star: Building Lasting Student-Advisor Relationships"
  12. "Household Words: Orienting New Staff on Institutional Jargon" 
  13. "This is to make an ass of me: Managing your reputation as a new professional" (submitted by Cassidy Sansone)
  14. "Double, Double Toil and Trouble: Effective Crisis Management" (submitted by Cassidy Sansone)
  15. "Love's Labour's Lost: Motivating Seasoned Professional Staff" (submitted by Megan Johnston) 
  16. "These Are the Forgeries of Jealousy: Navigating Workplace Promotions" (submitted by Cassidy Sansone)
  17. "As You Like It: When Things Don't Go Your Way" (submitted by Megan Johnston) 
  18. "The be-all and the end-all: Navigating a Career across functional areas" (submitted by Megan Johnston) 
  19. "All The World's a Stage: Creating and Maintaining a Professional Identity"
  20.  "Arise, Fair Sun, and Kill the Envious Moon: The Benefits of Daytime Programming" (submitted by Cassidy Sansone) 
  21. "For Thou Wast a Spirit Too Delicate To Act Her Earthy and Abhorr'd Commands: Ethical Dilemmas in the Workplace" (submitted by Cassidy Sansone)
  22. "Here Comes My Man: Supporting Male Student Leaders in Predominantly Female Organizations" (submitted by Cassidy Sansone, who has abandoned the illusion of productive work in favor of this exercise)

#oneword 2012: The Six Month Check In

Here we are, inexplicably halfway through the year 2012 already. If anyone happens to find the first half of my year, let me know. I must have left it somewhere. 

But it's been a good six months so far. I have done my best to stick to my #oneword for the year- LEARN. At times, it's been pretty easy and fun. Other parts haven't been so easy, or I simply haven't given them the attention I had hoped.

The original blog detailing my goals for the year is here, but I'll include them here along with my progress on them. You care ;)

  • The week before winter vacation, I purchased a copy of the Bible. Religion has been something that I've never formed an opinion on, because I never really had the information to do so. I want to spend at least a portion of my year learning about the Bible, and deciding for myself how I would best like to express my faith. This is the aspect of my year that I have admittedly spent the least time on, although leaps and bounds have been taken from any other year in my life. Trying to keep progress in perspective, but I'm a Virgo- the perfectionism is incurable :) I have gone to church only twice so far this year- once, for Easter vigil with Cassidy; and a few weeks ago in Denver with Jeff. The former was a regimented Catholic ceremony, and the latter was a far more informal nondenominational service. My verdict: I think I need something that straddles the two. I like the routine and solitary reflection that comes with Catholic service, yet also appreciate the practical application of the Bible's words that comes with nondenominational service. Still working at it, will keep you posted!
  • A professional goal of mine is to start to pursue opportunities that could allow me to work in wellness education and promotion. That will include joining the American College Health Administrators professional association, working with student wellness groups on campus, collaborating with other student affairs pros to put together an ed session on mental health concerns for SA pros, and taking classes to become certified in nutrition. It seems like a tremendous opportunity to learn more about something I'm interested in now, and turn it into something I would be qualified to pass along to others. In stark contrast to the previous goal, this is the one that I have made the most progress on. Between Open Courseware and actually enrolling in a graduate certificate program in public health, the formal learning has progressed nicely. The content is fascinating, and I feel challenged in a way that I hadn't expected to after grad school. I did join ACHA and have kept up with their publications and newsletters. The ed session was proposed but rejected (no worries), and am looking at turning it into an article. And I'm starting to look at positions in the field of wellness education and health promotions, to start to see what programs I'd like to work in down the road and what it will take to make that happen. I'm excited for what the future holds there!
  • I want to become more involved with professional organizations in student affairs, and will actively seek out opportunities to place myself in the position to learn from more experienced pros. Mixed reviews on this goal. I feel that joining ACHA can work toward this goal, as can going to conferences like NACA and the Student Activities Drive In this past weekend. Additionally, I have written an article that has recently been accepted for publication in Campus Activities Programming magazine (coming this November!), and will be attending the NASPA Region III/SACSA New Professionals Institute next week in Durham, NC. Can't wait to see what else I can do in this regard- I have been embraced fully by this profession, and am ready to give back!
  • Other unexpected educational opportunities
    • Volunteering at Second Harvest of the Big Bend, in particular with the School Nutrition program and about the implications of child hunger;
    • Working with the Area Health Education Program to administer Quit Smoking Now courses, learning about smoking cessation and proven strategies to inspire it in others; and
    • Taking it easy on my race schedule, and finding other ways to stay active. I'm realizing that the rest is making running infinitely easier and less painful, and that a shorter race schedule can be just as fulfilling if you pick right 
What about you? How is your #oneword going? It's not too late to pick one if you haven't designated one yet- what would it be?