Tag Archive for sensible

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.

 

 

 

“Mindset,” by Carol Dweck

Mindset, Dweck, coverDo you believe that your qualities are predetermined and unchangeable, or that they can be cultivated through effort, application, and experience? This is the question that Carol Dweck addresses in Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

According to Dweck, your “mindset” is the view you adapt for yourself, which in turn profoundly affects the way you lead your life. She defines two different mindset options – fixed (qualities are predetermined and unchangeable) and growth (qualities are changeable and malleable) – which then affect your life in many ways, such as how you handle challenge, the value of effort, resilience when you face setbacks, and your perception of performance, ability, and limitations. As she differentiates between these two, she describes how a fixed mindset limits learning and growth and leads to negative responses to failure, while a growth mindset learns and grows from challenge and failure. She also provides data (with illustrations and stories) to show how the choice of mindset can affect the development of ability and achievement. The remainder of the book walks through the contexts of sports, business, relationships, parenting, and education, discussing how each of these topics is affected by the two mindsets.

In essence, she says, a fixed mindset believes that intelligence and talent are static, while a growth mindset believes that intelligence and talent can be developed. The mindset, in turn, through which you filter your view of life has a direct impact on how you view challenges, obstacles, effort, criticism, and the success of others. The result is that the individual with a growth mindset tends to reach higher levels of achievement without plateauing.

This book not only helped me to be conscious of my own mindset, intentionally seeking to develop and maintain one that is growth-oriented, but it also helped me to be able to identify the mindset in my employees. This was quite helpful in the process of evaluating employees and assessing my own leadership; but more importantly, helped me to see how my mindset can positively or negatively affect my relationship with my wife and my children. It is definitely a good book for your shelf.

 

Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Random House: New York, NY.

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.

 

Yes, Relationships Are Important

February just seems to be a good month to talk about relationships. I’m sure it has something to do with Valentine’s Day, with it’s accompanying emphasis on flowers, chocolate, and Hallmark cards, and a focus that seems to primarily be on romantic relationships. The reality is, however, that relationships are a vital part of everything we do, whether that involves family, friends, or work. We operate in relationship with others, and more and more it seems that research and study are recognizing this.

Much of the “brain-based education” research in recent years has resulted in the realization of the importance of the teacher-student relationship in the shaping of children, and even, literally, in the shaping of their brains. The concept of social intelligence has pointed out the cellular biological connection and influence that happens in an interaction between people, underscoring the importance of being able to connect well with people. Leadership studies have developed theories that account for both task management and people management, and the most recent theories of leadership – related to authentic leadership – heavily emphasize the need to develop and maintain genuine relationships with people.

You probably realize that this simply makes sense. People matter, and relationships are important. Therefore, we need to intentionally foster relationships with people, and in a great variety of ways. We need to build relationships with people from whom we can learn, mentors who will help us to grow. We need to build relationships with people that have potential to grow, so that we can mentor and develop others. We need to build relationships with our coworkers and peers, our supervisors, and our subordinates, so that we can better function together within the organization. We need to be investing in the relationships we have with our family members – our spouses, our children, our parents (because, after all, your family is more important than your job). Everywhere that we connect with people, we need to be intentionally building relationships.

What is most important in all of these relationships, though, is that they be genuine. They cannot be based on ulterior, selfish motives that seek to take advantage of others for personal gain. If that’s the case, then it is no longer relationship-building, but manipulation, and manipulation will only cause damage and frustration and hurt to both you and them. We need to build relationships, but we need to be genuine about it, connecting with people and caring about people because they matter, and connecting in ways that are beneficial for them as much as for us.

Recently, my boss – the chairman of the board of directors – spoke with me about the need for me to take more opportunities to personally connect with our constituents. I had been guilty of hiding behind my introverted tendencies, and was letting others stand up front at events in the visible role. I was reminded and encouraged by him to put myself in front of people and make myself more accessible, because they needed to be able to feel connected with me, for the benefit and health of the organization. And he was right.

I immediately began putting myself on the agenda at the beginning of public events, even if only to stand in front and take a couple of minutes to welcome everyone. I also started standing at the main exit door after events to simply smile, greet, and thank people. In addition, I took a page from Verne Harnish’s “Scaling Up” and started building into my schedule regular interaction with customers, in the form of a planned personal interaction with two or three individual families a week. All of these things were specific steps to help me meet, connect with, and build relationships with people. I knew it was important to do, but I had allowed myself to let it slip as a priority, and so I needed the reminder to continue focusing on relationships.

Now, I’m reminding you. You also need to be connecting with people and building relationships. You probably have your own story that illustrates the importance of this (and feel free to share your story), but perhaps you too have let it slide. Get back out there, meet with people, invest in people, and put a priority on relationships. Relationship building and maintaining (in a genuine way) are integral and essential to your life – at home, at work, and in your community and social life – therefore you need to be intentional about doing it. Build relationships. It matters.

 

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.

 

 

It’s Time for a Self-Assessment

When I started my graduate school program, I first had to attend an orientation program with the other students who had been accepted as part of that year’s cohort. During those two weeks, we read books, listened to lectures, interacted in discussions and activities, and wrote. And wrote. And wrote.

Several of the writing assignments were specifically aimed at helping us to formulate our own personal IDP (Individual Development Plan) for the program, or, what we intended to accomplish and get out of our graduate school experience. One assignment in particular required us to take a variety of personality and ability inventories, to outline our life experiences, and to think through the things that most drew our interest and brought joy and fulfillment, in order to identify our passion and calling.

It was this exercise that really helped my to clarify what it was that my experiences, abilities, and passions had prepared me to do, and why those things were driving me. Through this process of reflection and writing, I realized what I loved doing and why I loved doing it, and how I was making a difference, and it confirmed and affirmed in me what I was doing with my life. (For me personally, it was also an affirmation of how God had gifted and prepared me, and what He had called me to do for His Kingdom.) It was a very valuable thought process, one that became a touch point in later years for keeping myself in the place where I best fit.

In the years since, I have incorporated a variety of other tools and activities to help me refine my own skill set and passions, and to help me continually improve at what I do. One of those activities is a yearly practice, in December, of listing my major goals for the coming year, and maintaining a list of 5-year goals. The categories that work for me include personal/family goals, spiritual goals, financial goals, intellectual goals, and physical goals. This annual practice is one of the things that helps me regularly self-assess, thinking about what I’m doing, how I’m doing, and what I need to do in the near future in order to grow.

It’s now that time of the year when many of us do some self-assessment. We remember what we did (and didn’t) accomplish in the last year. We determine what we might want to accomplish in this next year. We try to make a fresh start. We make New Year’s resolutions.

So, as you make your resolutions this year, I would encourage you to be very intentional about this process. Identify your own specific interests, abilities and opportunities. List your own one-year and five-year goals (and put them in a place where you can refer to them regularly). Take advantage of self-assessment tools, such as the Myers-Briggs Temperament Analysis; the One Page Personal Plan (OPPP) from Verne Harnish’s Scaling Up, on the Rockefeller Habits, which incorporates the 5F’s (Family, Faith, Friends, Fitness, Finance); or use a tool that works for you. Regardless of what you use, be purposeful about assessing yourself – reflect on your past experience, identify your current abilities and passions, and decide on your direction for the next year.

It’s a new year, a natural time for this kind of review. Do it, do it purposefully, and do it to grow. Happy New Year!