Tag Archive for leaders

Do You Have A Dashboard?

I recently had the privilege of watching the boys’ varsity basketball team at my school compete in the state championship game. The game was in Fort Worth, Texas, about 175 miles from where I live, with numerous small towns along the way. On the drive there and back, I quickly observed that there seemed to be a police car parked discreetly somewhere near the entrance of each town, ready to give a speeding ticket to anyone entering  going too fast. So every time I approached a town, I did the same thing that you would probably do whenever you notice a police car behind you or on the side of the road – I checked my speedometer.

The purpose of your speedometer is to help you know your speed. It doesn’t determine how fast you go, rather it tells you how fast you are going. And it’s not the only instrument on your vehicle’s dashboard: you also have a gas gauge, as well as icons and gauges that keep you informed about tire pressure, engine heat, doors open, seatbelts, temperature inside and outside the car, radio dials, and so on. Your dashboard is an instrument panel designed to provide you with all the pertinent, immediate information regarding your vehicle’s performance and operation.

This same concept has valuable application to your leadership and to your organization. Vern Harnish, in Scaling Up, talks about Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), the numbers that represent the data that serve as the most important indicators of health and performance. WordPress, the platform for my blog, has a section on my administrator’s page that lists my recent and upcoming posts, the most recent comments that need to be addressed, and updates to software and plug-ins. You personally probably have a calendar that you check regularly, a to-do list, and a checkbook or ledger with a constantly changing balance that you monitor. All of these things are versions of a dashboard.

A dashboard is more than simply a helpful tool; it is an incredibly valuable (and necessary) means of monitoring how you and your organization are doing. Like the speedometer in your car or the thermometer at your doctor’s office, it doesn’t set the speed or the temperature, it tells you what they are. It gives you the most critical and basic information that you need to know in order to assess your current performance, get a gauge on your health, and then make the most appropriate decisions based on that information. If you think about it like that, you will realize that your dashboard is key to your decision-making.

Therefore, you need a dashboard. And I don’t think that there is only one way to design a dashboard (just like no two makes of cars have the same dashboard), so you need to create or choose one that works right for you. To do this, start by identifying the most important data that you need to track, the basic or critical information that gives you the best big-picture snapshot of how you are doing. This may be bottom-line budget numbers, time spent on tasks, deadlines, calendar dates, completion rate, performance ratios, or any number of other things that are specifically relevant to your own job and performance, or to your organization’s performance. Then, put all of this data on one page – whether in a spreadsheet, a word document, a useable app, or some other form that works well for you – that you can update at least once a week. Doing this will allow you to keep track of the information you need to see on regular basis, so that you can know how you are doing. It becomes your personal (or organizational) dashboard.

Currently, in my school, I have a dashboard on which I keep track of year-to-date income and expense, and accounts receivable and accounts payable; previous year-to-date comparison of income and expense; current enrollment and re-enrollment numbers and percentages, and previous year-to-date comparison enrollment and re-enrollment numbers and percentages; the current and next months’ calendar of events; and the critical annual tasks that are coming in the next two months. These work well for me because they represent my type of business (a school) and because they give me the information that I need to see in my present circumstances that tell me if we are moving in the right direction.

You don’t need to use the same data, but you do need to figure out what data you need to use. Once you do, put it all together in one place, make it easy to see and easy to track, and check it often. It’s a dashboard. Use it see how you are doing, and so that you can make adjustments when you need to. Imagine not having a speedometer and driving past a police car, with no way of knowing whether or not you are under the speed limit. Operating your organization without a dashboard is the same, because you can’t really tell (at least, not easily) if you are on track, underperforming, or in trouble. Again, it doesn’t matter so much what your dashboard looks like, but it does matter that you have one, and that it has the data that gives you the best big picture.

Your challenge, then, is to ensure that you have a dashboard. Make it personal and relevant, make it something you can easily read and use, then use it. Then, when you come across the “speed traps” that catch others, you’ll be able to make sure you are making the right adjustments to avoid them, all because you are checking your dashboard.

 

 

 

Are You Listening?

 

Have you ever noticed how, when you become aware of something, you seem to notice it everywhere? For example, it seems like every time we have purchased a car, I have suddenly seen the same car everyplace I would go, even though I hadn’t noticed it before (Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons talk about the same thing in The Invisible Gorilla). Recently, I have had the same experience with an idea (rather than with a tangible object, like a car).

I had been reading Mindset, by Carol Dweck, on the effect of growth vs. fixed mindsets on how people respond to life, while also spending some time in the book of Proverbs, in which several similar verses on listening to counsel had caught my attention. This was happening in the context of my first year in a new job, and the combination of these things coalesced together to remind me the value and importance of listening to wise counsel.

The book explained that a growth mindset is willing to listen and grow from adversity and challenge, while a fixed mindset does not, which has a direct impact on learning, growth, and change. The verses in Proverbs included 11:14 (“Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety”), 15:22 (“Without counsel, plans go awry, but in the multitude of counselors they are established”), and 15:31 (“The ear that hears the rebukes of life will abide among the wise”). Meanwhile, in my new job, I was intentionally asking questions and listening to others who had expertise and information that I needed.

When I realized the theme idea that I was seeing everywhere – seeking counsel, listening, and being teachable – it caused me to stop and think about how well I was doing with this, and it reminded me of a particular story that took place in I Kings 12. The story describes what happened when Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, became King after Solomon died.

Almost immediately after he was crowned, another man (Jeroboam) came to Rehoboam with a representative group of Israelites to ask for a change in their workload from what Solomon had demanded of them. At this point in the story, there is no indication of whether or not their complaint and this request was appropriate or valid. We only know that the question was asked, and Rehoboam’s response initially seems to be a very good one – he asks them to come back in three days, so that he can take the time to figure out the best answer. There’s lots of room for biblical wisdom in this response, like taking time to gather all the information before responding, or counting the cost before making a decision.

Then he continues to show good judgment by calling together the elders, those with experience and wisdom who knew the history and the culture, to ask their advice on what to do. Their counsel: it was a valid request, and furthermore, if he would respond in the right way, with compassion and fairness, he would earn their loyalty and trust.

That’s when he takes a wrong turn. 2 Kings 12:8 informs us that after he left that meeting, he rejected their counsel, and turned to another group, “the young men who had grown up with him,” to hear their thoughts. Sadly, their counsel was to show the people that he meant business, to put them in their place, and to make their work harder. Rehoboam listened to the foolish advice of his friends, and the result was revolt, conflict, and corruption for the next two decades.

The lesson is obvious and simple – listen to wise counsel. The danger, however, is in where you seek that counsel. Proverbs makes it clear that there is much wisdom in seeking counsel, and doing so will increase the likelihood of successful plans.   However, Proverbs 13:20 also says, “he who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed,” so it does matter where that counsel comes from. You will perform better, you will be better, and you will lead better when you listen to good counsel. Therefore, be intentional about seeking counsel, and especially about seeking it from people with wisdom. Identify those people around you, people who have experience and history and cultural context and biblical wisdom, and go after their input. Ask questions, get feedback, and listen. If you do so, you will be a far better leader. Just listen and learn.

 

“Scaling Up,” by Verne Harnish

Scaling Up, Harnish, coverI was recently in a board meeting, during which the conversation had drifted to some strategic planning discussion, when someone mentioned “the Rockefeller Habits.” This person started talking about how they – the Rockefeller Habits – had been implemented in his workplace, and how they had benefited his organization, and encouraged the rest of us to look into it. So, I went home and ordered a copy of Verne Harnish’s Scaling Up: How a Few Companies Make It . . . and Why the Rest Don’t, which had the unofficial subtitle of “Mastering the Rockefeller Habits 2.0. The book primarily walks through the four crucial decisions that leaders have to make in growing their organizations, decisions related to:

  • Leading people
  • Setting strategy
  • Driving execution
  • Managing cash

Each section/category is broken down into more detailed explanation, with worksheets and documents to help guide the process. Along the way, woven into the four categories, are the applications of the 10 Rockefeller habits. Ultimately, the intent of the book seems to be to provide tools and strategy to help any organization grow significantly larger and still succeed. For that purpose, it is a very practical and valuable book, with excellent ideas. If, like me, you are not necessarily trying to grow your organization, but simply trying to lead it well so that it constantly improves, you can still find a lot of great help in the book. Some of the ideas are not so easily applied because I am not trying to grow my organization, but the principles are still legitimate and valuable, and I believe will certainly make any organization – including my own – better, if I will implement them. After the fact, I am glad I purchased the book, and have a number of excellent take-aways that I have already begun to use. No surprise, then, that I would also recommend this one for you.   Harnish, V. (2014). Scaling Up: How a few companies make it . . . and why the rest don’t. Gazelles, Inc.: Ashburn, VA.

You Are Where You Are

I grew up in a rural Midwestern community, and had very few opportunities to travel outside of the Midwest. I loved where I lived, and thoroughly enjoyed those things that were part of the unique surrounding culture, things like Coney Dogs and Vernor’s, Ginger Ale, snow days in the winter, water skiing in the summer, and the brilliant beauty of the changing colors of Fall. But then, in my senior year of high school, I had the opportunity to take a trip to Europe, traveling to seven countries in two and half weeks. I was given the privilege of experiencing new cultures, and I threw myself into it – I ate waffles in Belgium and pastries in France, I bought a watch in Switzerland, I toured castles and Nazi concentration camps and watched a Glockenspiel in Germany, and I stood on the mountainside in Austria where Julie Andrews sang the opening song in “The Sound of Music.”

 

The result of this trip was that my eyes were opened to new experiences beyond what I had grown up with, and learned to enjoy new worlds. Without completely understanding the importance of this growth opportunity, I learned the value of immersing myself in new cultures, and I came home with a desire to fully enjoy every place I would live or visit in the future. So when I married into a Latin family, I embraced the café con leche ,rice pudding, mofongo, tostones, and arroz con pollo, and I welcomed the new traditions, like celebrating Three Kings Day. When we moved to Philadelphia, we looked for the best place to get a Philly Cheesesteak, and ran up the stairs at the Museum of Art to reenact the iconic scene from Rocky. When we visited New York City, we made sure to get a pizza from Famous Original Ray’s and a cheesecake from Junior’s, and when we visited Chicago, we ate Chicago Dogs and Giordano’s pizza, visited the Navy Pier, and shopped on Michigan Avenue. Most recently, when we moved to a college town in Texas, we began to enjoy TexMex food, BBQ, and tacos, and threw our support behind the college team.

 

One of the life lessons I have learned is that each place I have lived or visited in my life has a special uniqueness. Every place has it’s own regional cuisine, particular cultural features and traditions, seasonal beauty, and identifiable characteristics. No one place has it all, and even though you can bring ideas and things that you like when you go someplace new, you can’t transplant everything you like from one place to another, so I have learned to immerse myself in the culture and community wherever I am, choosing to take advantage of what makes that place what it is. I see the sights, I eat the food, I embrace the traditions, I support the businesses; in short, I choose to enjoy and become a part of where I live.

 

The same principle is true for organizations. No two are the same, and each has its own culture, characteristics, and community. Even though, as a leader, you play an important role in shaping organizational culture and can bring in new ideas that you learned and implemented elsewhere, it is also incredibly important that you understand the culture in which you function. You can’t transplant history and culture (I know; I tried and it blew up in my face), but you can affect it if you first understand it. Therefore, you can’t and shouldn’t make it something it’s not. Instead, realize where you are, embrace it, understand it, and immerse yourself in it. Become a part of the organization, an insider and not an outsider.

 

In your organization or business, be intentional about knowing your culture, knowing your community, and becoming a part of it. Don’t spend your time fighting it. Don’t try to be where you’re not. Don’t try to make here, there, or there, here. You are where are, so don’t try to make it someplace else. Learn what makes your context what it is and enjoy it, and use it to the advantage of your organization.

 

 

“The Advantage,” by Patrick Lencioni

The Advantage, Lencioni, coverPatrick Lencioni’s book, The Advantage, is primarily about how to have a healthy process and environment in your organization, and why that is the most important thing you can do for your organization. The premise is based on four disciplines that healthy organizations adhere to:

  1. Build a cohesive leadership team (using the strategies laid out in one of his previous books, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team)
  2. Create clarity by ensuring that the leadership team is aligned to six critical questions (why do we exist, how do we behave, what do we do, how will we succeed, what is most important right now, and who must do what?)
  3. Over-communicate clarity “repeatedly, enthusiastically, and repeatedly” (with an intentional emphasis on repetition)
  4. Reinforce clarity, by establishing simple, basic processes and systems the for people that support that clarity

After explaining these ideas (with his usual flair for using analogies and stories to explain the point), Lencioni adds a few more helpful principles that are necessary for health, including a plan for incorporating effective meetings, steps for establishing momentum, and the importance and role of leadership.

 

Like his other books, The Advantage is a very practical guide for organizational health, with lots of great examples and illustrations. I finished reading this just as I finished my first six months as headmaster in a new Christian school, and I found the ideas to be a tremendous benefit. I already had a previously scheduled planning meeting with my Lead Team, and providentially it then coincided with the completion of this book, so I was able to incorporate the insights and wisdom into the planning process that took place. Based on this experience, I would wholeheartedly say that this is an excellent tool for your leadership and book for your shelf.

 

 

Lencioni, P. (2012). The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business. Jossey-Bass: San Francisco, CA.

How do you know when to make an exception?

 

Groucho Marx famously said, “I never forget a face, but in your case I’ll be glad to make an exception.” We laugh when we hear it, and we probably also have a name (or a face) that pops into our heads, but the truth is, we are often looking to either make an exception or to be one. And if we are not, someone else is probably asking us to make an exception for him. It seems that people (we) always want an exception; which makes me think of one of my favorite lines from the movie, “The Incredibles,” when one of the characters – Dash – in response to the comment from his mother that “everyone’s special,” says, “which is another way of saying no one is.” This also true for exceptions – if you always make an exception, it’s no longer an exception.

The question, then, that follows is, how do you know when to make an exception? Well, it begins by first knowing the norm.   That seems to be common sense – you can’t make an exception to the rule if you don’t first know what the rule is – but it also seems to be something that people forget to do. If you don’t know the standard, the normal expectations and boundaries, then there is no way you can determine where the exception should be granted. This therefore first requires clear standards of normal behavior and process that have been established and communicated. That’s why Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “The young man knows the rules, but the old man knows the exceptions.” You see, it as only after you are familiar and confident with the application of norms that you can begin to determine when and how to make exceptions.

I had the opportunity to learn when and how to make an exception early in my first experience as a headmaster, when I was faced with an exception dilemma. I had been asked to make an exception on something, and I was struggling with whether or not it was the right thing to do. It seemed like I could see both potential positive and potential negative impacts of either decision, and I just wasn’t sure what to do. So, I picked up the phone. I called Larry, who had been a Christian school administrator for many years and had been influential in my life, to seek his counsel. After explaining my situation and the internal turmoil it was causing, he shared some wisdom with me that, since that day, has set my parameters for deciding on exceptions.

Larry explained to me that there were two guiding principles that he used, two questions that he asked, to determine whether or not he should make an exception:

  1. Is it an exception I could make for anyone else?
  2. Is there a legitimate reason I could make an exception for this person and not for anyone else?

The answers to these simple questions – either yes or no – he said made the decision a clear and justifiable one. If he could clearly justify that it was an exception he would be willing and able make for others in a similar circumstance, then it was an exception he could make in this instance as well. In this way, it really became a standard exception, a precedent or guideline that he could use to provide a fair exception in all similar situations. And if he could clearly justify – in a way that could be documented in writing and presented to others – that it was an unusual situation that warranted an exception for this person or this circumstance only, then it was a rare exception that he could make in good conscience. The key to this one, he said, was that you could look someone else in the eye and justify with integrity and credibility why only the other person or situation qualified for an exception. If he couldn’t do that, then he knew it was not an exception he could make; put another way – if he had to hide it or cover it up, it was not an exception that should be made.

These guidelines have become my standard response. In any organization, when faced with having to determine whether or not to make an exception, I first make sure I know what the standard policies, procedures, and expectations are. Then I find out if there have been any precedents that have set the guidelines for standard exceptions. Finally, I apply the two questions I learned from Larry. Applying these guidelines has taken much of the struggle out of these decisions, enabling me to manage exceptions in a fair and justifiable way, while still maintaining consistency.   I still get asked (more often than I would like), but at least now I have a helpful process for determining a good answer.