Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Hey—where’d this glass come from?


There are many examples in nature that we upright mammals ought to pay attention too.  The other day Jan shared the story she called The Eaglets and the Broken Glass.  It seems that, like most animal parents, mother eagles do an awesome job hatching their young, seeking out food for them, keeping them warm and protecting them in the nest.  However, the day soon arrives when it is literally time for the eaglets to leave the nest.  Eaglet-nature, being what it is, can resist this critical developmental stage and attempt to remain in the comforts of the nest.  Mother eagle nature, also being what it is, has a plan for this resistance.  When the nest becomes too comfortable and life too easy, mother eagle finds sharp sticks, pine needles, perhaps shards of glass or metal and other items in the environment that she adds to the nest, making it undeniably more uncomfortable.  Mother eagle knows this is tough love but that it is best for all.  This discomfort serves as a stimulus for the young eaglet to do what it needs to do; leave the safety and security of the nest and step off the edge that first time.    

Recently I had two confluences of life visit me that were significant.  Six weeks ago today I had open-heart surgery to repair a hole in my heart that, unknown to me, had existed since birth.  Two weeks ago I was fired, the first time that has happened since I was fourteen years old and an aspiring bus-boy at a local hotel coffee shop!  Both incidents, occurring so closely together gave me pause.

The open-heart surgery caught me completely by surprise.  As with many men my age with whom I have spoken, I was dealing with an atrial fibrillation issue that I had ignored for several years until I agreed to see a cardiologist.  I figured my A-Fib could be treated with medication and I was not particularly worried because I have been blessed with excellent health and had always enjoyed an active lifestyle.  When I was told they had discovered the nickel-sized hole and it would require surgery, I immediately scoffed but instantly realized that the doctor didn’t know me well enough to tease me.  I went from scoff to shock in record time!  Shocked yes, but almost immediately grateful that it could be repaired. Because of skillful medical personnel and praying friends and family, everything was successful and I am doing well.

The firing also caught me completely by surprise.  Ok, firing is probably too strong a word but it makes for a better story.  I was working as a mentor/tutor at our local university for student-athletes who needed a little extra moral support, encouragement and academic assistance.  For a dozen or so, I was surrogate grandpa!  I received minimal pay for the past two years but found it the most meaningful and awe-inspiring opportunity ever!  This fall, due to my surgically-impacted schedule, I was serving as a volunteer.  So when Jan, who was being compensated for her time, and I were called to the director’s office—reliving that I was 12 years old again going to see the principal—we were stunned to hear the director’s unimaginative explanation that they were “moving in a different direction.”

Here’s an interesting thing to do; count all the jobs you have held and were either paid for or expected to do because it was part of your family chores.  I can document a few more than thirty; starting at age seven driving the tractor during hay baling season, to paper routes to driving a lumber truck to janitor to selling men’s suits to school administrator and consultant.  I washed more than my share of pots and pans in college, painted houses and sold Christmas cards door-to-door.  I imagine you can click off just as many if not more.  The point is that I was accustomed to always having a job, sometimes two or three at a time, and I was accustomed to having good health.

 I believe that all work is honorable.  I agree whole-heartedly with my wise father-in-law who frequently expresses his belief that “the best self-esteem comes from a job well done!”    I’m not saying that I took good health and gainful employment for granted but when both suffered a significant blow, it caught my attention! I’m not convinced that one ever gets to an age when factors so much a part of our identity are dramatically altered, doesn’t motivate us to truly exercise our faith and beliefs or cower, complain and play ain’t-it-awful!

So I guess it’s either try and get comfortable with broken glass or stand on the edge again and take another step!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Myth that…”Change has to be hard”


Change may be difficult but it doesn’t have to be destructive if key staff understands change management principles and strategies.

This fall I’m watching several friends and colleagues endure changes within their department that unfortunately and unnecessarily are being handled poorly.  It’s beyond me that in institutions today, administrators and managers, who may or may not be leaders, embark on implementing significant changes without a basic understanding of the science of change!

In this case, the department director, (I am purposefully not using the term leader) is taking over for the previous director/leader who had elevated the services of the office to a level which was emulated and modeled- after by large numbers of peers across the country.  The effectiveness of this office brought upon it numerous awards and the director deservedly was recognized nationally. Unfortunately, this new management is undoing much of the department’s success and credibility, seemingly driven by ill-conceived and poorly constructed motivations.

A simple review of the literature illustrates proven techniques and strategies that seem basic during the process of implementing change.  Some of these include the following:

* Successful change management equals thoughtful planning and sensitive implementation;

*Consultation and education are needed at all levels of the change process;

*Employees, stakeholders and constituents should be encouraged and given the opportunity to educate management regarding what works or doesn’t work;

*Stakeholders are less likely to resist change if they feel they have an authentic voice that is valued throughout the process—change must involve people, not be imposed upon people;

*Change will represent a loss for some and an opportunity for others, effective leadership needs to recognize and be sensitive to both.

Unfortunately, traditional change management tactics rely more on animal training than understanding human psychology.  The carrot and stick are less effective than what truly motivates people—personal interest in their work, a supportive environment and fulfilling relationships with co-workers.  Bonuses, promotions and reprimands are real but yield temporary results and motivation.  Even Freud argued that all we really need is to love and be loved, and to feel productive and engaged in meaningful work!

People will support what they help create!  During times of change, the new culture that will result cannot be minimized.  Staff, constituents and customers will feel marginalized and disrespected if they do not believe they are valued.  When this is lost, it is extremely difficult, and impossible in some cases, to regain.  A true leader needs to be viewed as a “settling influence” during the uneasiness change can bring about. 

The significant difference between someone elevated to a higher position through a hierarchical process and a true influencer is the willingness and ability to listen first, show respect, build trust and then lead with proven knowledge of the task at hand.  A smart and effective leader knows how to build alliances so as to move the institution toward its mission rather than create unwieldy tasks, processes and policies simply to announce, “I’m in charge!”

Aesop captured this truism in his fable, “The North Wind and the Sun.”  The north wind and the sun decided to have a contest to determine who could make the traveler remove his cloak.  The harder the north wind blew, the more the traveler clutched his coat about him.  The sun shone brightly upon the man, gradually increasing the temperature, until he unbuttoned the coat and eventually removed it, enjoying the warmth the sun provided.  Moral:  Persuasion is more effective than Force.