Friday, February 20, 2015

Leadership Development: The Power of Mindfulness

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am currently participating in a Leadership Development Program (LDP) as part of my work at Franklin University. This week, I attended a presentation by Daron Larson, a recognized expert in the practice of mindfulness. Daron is a former Franklin employee who has worked with several well-known businesses and universities, and it was exciting to listen to him today.

Daron Larson presenting on Mindfulness as part of the Leadership Development Program at Franklin University.

Below are my notes from his presentation, including some brief exercises we did as a group. Note that my thoughts and notes are likely intermixed with his throughout the text.

Defining Mindfulness
Based on Daron's presentation and on my notes and thoughts throughout the presentation, I sort of pieced together the following definition of mindfulness:
Mindfulness is purposefully paying attention differently to your experiences. It involves observation - a judgement-free awareness of what is happening. It involves suspending the mental narrative that we are constantly playing in our minds and observing reality, including our emotions, body posture, sensations, thought patterns, and the words and actions of others and of the environment. 
What is the Desired Result of Mindfulness?
The result of mindfulness is a strengthened skill of paying attention. The capacity to observe the world around us is fundamental to success in life - without a clear awareness of reality, we cannot function within reality. There has been a fair amount of research on the benefits of mindfulness, and the following are some observed benefits:
  • Increased gray matter in the brain
  • Slowing of the natural volume loss of brain size with aging
  • Improved management of depression and anxiety
  • Improved concentration
  • Improved attention
  • Addiction recovery
  • Behavioral and cognitive improvement in children
Developing Mindfulness in Key Areas
Daron referenced the poet David White, who emphasized humanity in our relationships, particularly in three major areas: (1) self, (2) spouse/family, and (3) career. To be truly successful, one must find fulfillment and contribute in each of these areas. He notes that our work in these areas is intertwined and elastic - at times we must spend more effort in one area while the others are stretched. It is a constant effort to keep everything balanced, but it is a worthy effort.

Mindful of self - Perhaps the most important entity that we must be mindful of is the self. We must develop awareness of our habits, thought patterns, and emotions. If we can purposefully and somewhat objectively observe ourselves, we can get a sense for how well we are aligning with what matters most to us. Increased levels of self-awareness are the foundation of contribution and personal fulfillment.

Mindful of spouse/family - The most fulfilling (and perhaps the most frustrating!) relationships we experience in life are those with our families. To build positive, enriching, fulfilling relationships with our families, we must develop awareness of their thoughts, patterns, and emotions and of the dynamics that often play out between family members. The first step toward fulfillment and success is awareness, and it is the same in our relationships with our family members.

Mindfulness in our careers - Most people spend the majority of their lives at their place of employment. How we spend our careers, therefore, is absolutely critical to our own sense of happiness. In addition, a carefully selected career can become an outlet for the achievement of our purpose in life. We can exercise mindfulness in our work through the careful observation of coworkers, ourselves, and the dynamics between each of these. We must be mindful of our own emotional and spiritual reactions to the work and the environment in which we labor. Working toward the ideal in this area will yield great success.

Building Our Mindfulness Muscles
Mindfulness is a powerful skill that can be learned (or relearned?) through practice. One way to do this is through practicing mindfulness in things we habitually do every day. In the presentation, Daron had us list several things that we do every single day out of habit. He advised us to pick a few of these and begin to exercise mindfulness - purposefully pay attention in a different way - to everything we do. Here is the list I came up with:
  • Eat breakfast
  • Kiss my wife
  • Read with my daughter
  • Pray
  • Drive my car to work
  • Drive home from work
  • Check my email
  • Send an email
  • Write in a journal or on a blog
  • Fill my cup with water
  • Say hello to coworkers
  • Make the bed
  • Fold clothes
  • Mow the lawn
  • Shower
  • Go on a walk

I will select a few of these and will be more mindful of these activities.

30 Seconds of Reflection
We have been doing 30 seconds of reflection at the end of each leadership session. Here is what I wrote down: I feel like I am pretty good at being mindful of what is going on. I feel like I have obtained many of these skills through my education as a researcher, as well as through self-reflection and through studying and understanding psychology (at least at a basic level). However, there is a certain peacefulness and calmness that comes through the kind if observation and mindfulness that Daron is teaching. I would like to develop more awareness of and gentleness in my emotions. Ultimately, understanding and shaping who and what I am is most important. The development of character is paramount. All of the skills and abilities in the world cannot compete with a passionate, compassionate, centered, purposeful individual. It appears that mindfulness practice can aid me in becoming aware of and developing these kinds of characteristics. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Leadership Development: Communication and Relationshps

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am currently participating in a Leadership Development Program (LDP) as part of my work at Franklin University. This week, I attended a presentation by Dr. Mike Posey, the Chair of the Public Relations Program at Franklin University. I have worked with Dr. Posey in the past and it was good to hear from him in this format. 

Dr. Posey shares his insights on the importance of relationships in leadership.

Dr. Posey presented on the importance of relationships in leadership. He started the session by having us view a presentation on leadership styles of orchestra conductors. I enjoyed the video and have embedded it below.

Below are some of my notes from the meeting. Note that these are likely some of my own ideas mixed in with Dr. Posey's.

A Cool "Warm-Up" Activity
Dr. Posey started out the session by having each member individually roll a die and answer one of 6 questions on the slide, based on what they rolled. Here are the questions that were answered:
  1. Describe in one sentence your professional life.
  2. What are your hobbies?
  3. What makes you happy?
  4. What don’t you now that you would like to know more about?
  5. One thing you want to do professional before you die?
  6. One thing you want to do personally before you die?
Dr. Posey observed that people tend to become more excited and animated about their personal goals and less excited about their professional goals. The take-away message was that we should be sure that our work life aligns as much as possible with our interests and passions in life. It was also a really good way to learn more about the others in the group.

Three People You Admire
Dr. Posey then asked us to write down three people we admire. I was thinking of the list in terms of public figures, and here is who I wrote down (I acknowledge that I wrote more than three, here):
Characteristics of Good Leaders
The following were shared as positive characteristics of leaders, which strongly correlates to the people we admire:
  • Motivator
  • Colleague
  • Passionate
  • Listener
  • Authority
  • Controlled
  • Teacher
I would say that the people that I wrote down as admirable certainly possess many or all of these attributes.

It's All About Relationships, Empowerment, and Communication
Dr. Posey’s belief is that despite the many different theories related to leadership, it all comes down to three major components: relationships, empowerment, and communication.
  • Relationships – everything we do in leadership (and in life) has to do with relationships. We are constantly asking ourselves “How do I relate to this person, object, idea, or environment?” Managing human relationships is absolutely critical. Human beings are relational beings - we must interact with other people to exist and to thrive. For positive interaction, we must have a self-awareness and awareness of other people. The key to relationships to find out what motivates them, what gets them excited, and help them see how they fit within the organization.
  • Empowerment – we empower others by giving them responsibility and ownership. This leads to higher trust, productivity, and a positive working relationship. Let people do what they love and are good at.
  • Communication – in the workplace, communication is very often extremely disjointed. There are means of communication, which disrupt how we communicate. A leader should communicate in ways that they are good at. In addition, communication should not take place as a monologue - it should be two-way. Listening is absolutely critical.
“The hard stuff is easy – the soft stuff is hard. The soft stuff makes all the difference!”
The people/relationships side of things is perhaps the most difficult, yet it can have the most profound impact on our success as an organization. People need to feel empowered, cared for, supported, protected, and trusted.

30 Seconds of Reflection
We have been doing 30 seconds of reflection at the end of each leadership session. Here is what I wrote down: "I continually think about whether I am on the right track with my profession. Am I doing what is truly important to me? I believe so. I enjoy my work - I am learning and growing, and I love higher education.  Ultimately, I want to live an incredible life and have a positive impact on the people I work with and interact with."

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Leadership Development: Leadership Theories and Decision-Making

As noted in a previous post, I have been attending leadership development presentations on a monthly basis at Franklin University. Today we heard from Dr. Timothy Reymann, the Chair of the Business Administration, Management and Applied Management Programs at Franklin. Below are my notes on his topics of discussion, as well as some reflections.

What is leadership? 

A leader has the ability to influence others. It isn’t directly linked to a position within an organization. Simply sharing ideas with others can have a great impact on others and on an organization. Leadership also includes helping move others toward a specific or shared common goal. Importantly, great leaders start off as great followers. Dr. Reymann shared an example of Dr. Tom Seiler, the Dean of the College of Business at Franklin, who exemplified followership at many levels as he progressed in his career.

Leadership Styles

Dr. Reymann outlined some of the major theories of leadership being discussed today. I'll give a brief outline of these below.
  • Transformational Leadership – transformational leaders focus on helping the people they lead to change and improve. They do the following:
    • Build Trust – Work hard and pull through for your people.
    • Act with Integrity – Work hard, stick up for your people, own your mistakes.
    • Inspire Others – Show what is possible. Encourage the growth mindset.
    • Encourage Innovative Thinking – Model and reward creative thinking.
    • Coach Individuals – work with specific people individually to help them move forward
  • Authentic Leadership – The focus here is leadership that is transparent, ethical, and worthy of the trust of the followers. Apparently the Millennial generation wants leaders who are transparent and trustworthy.
  • Transactional Leadership - this is typically seen as less-effective, today. I see this as a remnant of past societal needs - in the industrial society, this kind of management style was probably important, but in our current society, people need to be able to do their work without constraint. Transactional leadership tends to employ micro management strategies wherein they are "all up in their employees' bidness" and don't allow them to move forward with faith and confidence.
  • Servant Leadership – The servant leader’s goal is to develop others and not to develop his or her own interest. Listening, empathy, and foresight are key skills. It is based on principles of Christianity – the leader is there to develop others and have them carry on as leaders.
  • Full Range Leadership – This model seems to show the big picture and help leaders move from totally apathetic to passive, to transactional, to transformational. Transformational seems to be the best fit for the knowledge society, according to this model. I tend to agree, though I might mix in a little servant leadership (as they appear to be very similar). 

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists. Of a good leader, who talks little, when his work is done, his aim is fulfilled, his followers will say “We did it ourselves.” Lao-tsu

Decision-making in Leadership

Reymann identified 8 steps for decision-making. These align well with the “scientific” or “analytical” approach to decision-making. Very often we are making split-decisions instead of using critical thinking approaches. The main thing is to take enough time to make the right decisions.
  1. Identify relevant facts – gather solid data.
  2. Identify ethical issues for the decision – make sure you take care of your ethical obligation.
  3. Identify stakeholders – who will be affected by the decisions? How?
  4. Identify possible consequences and alternatives – predict what will happen when decisions are made and actions taken
  5. Think long-term – how does this decision affect our people and our organization in the long-term? Come up with a 3-5 year plan for increasing your successes.
  6. Identify relevant obligations – what are you obligated to do? What if your decision was published in the newspaper? Would you be comfortable with it?
  7. Think creatively about courses of action – create many options.
  8. What does your gut say? – Get a sense of what your instincts tell you to do. Decisions will tell you what the right decision is.

Other Notes

Self-awareness– without an awareness of your own thinking strategies, emotional intelligence, communication abilities, you will not be able to make the changes necessary to affect positive change.

Risk-taking – leaders must encourage risk-taking among the people they lead. They must not point out when errors are made because this will encourage “playing it safe” and hiding mistakes.

 Leadership Development – to develop yourself toward increased leadership, do the following:
  • Have a clear goal – know where you want to go and how you want to impact the world.
  • Have a clear path forward – evaluate yourself and identify what you need to do to prepare yourself to move forward effectively. Map out how you will do it and get moving!
  • Obtain a mentor – find someone you can go to lunch with, someone that you can rely on for guidance. Ideally, this should be someone who has done what you wish to do in your career. Perhaps have several mentors!
  • Risk-taking – do scary things and do your best. Take risks, try your best, learn from the experience, and try again! If you never take the leap, you will always remain where you are.

30 seconds of reflection

(In these leadership development meetings, we are always directed to reflect for 30 seconds. This is my reflection). I would like a clear path forward toward the fulfillment of my goals. Much of this includes gaining an objective view of my current abilities so that I can identify how to really change and improve myself. I've realized that I really need to get clear feedback and guidance from the people that I work with so I have a clearer picture of what my strengths and weaknesses are. This will be scary and potentially painful, but it may yield a practical path forward.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The 7 Competencies of Self-Leadership

A few months ago, I jotted down some notes on what I think it means to take leadership over your own development, and here I flesh out some of those ideas. In the knowledge society, change occurs quickly. This means that you must be constantly learning, adapting, changing, and improving to succeed and thrive. And you must lead ourselves through the ambiguous, unclear paths ahead. 

I believe the following are critical components and competencies of self-leadership:
  1. Set goals - you must know how to set meaningful, intrinsically motivating goals to work toward. 
  2. Motivate yourself - You must learn to motivate yourself to accomplish your goals. 
  3. Work toward goals - you must have a sense for how to work toward your goals effectively and efficiently. 
  4. Evaluate and adjust - you must assess how well you are doing at reaching your goals and change your approach as needed.
  5. Learn constantly - you must continually develop yourself. Your knowledge should be both broad (across several areas) and deep (expert in one area). Learn knowledge and skills that will help you reach your goals. 
  6. Have fun - you must do work that you love and love your work. Learn how to enjoy your daily work.
  7. Practice ethically - you must work ethically - be honest, carry your weight, and do your best to contribute to bring about goals (yours and others). 
These are, in my opinion, some of the most fundamental competencies for leading yourself in today's volatile, shifting society. Without each of these in place, it will be difficult to succeed and move forward in today's complex society.

Rate Yourself
How are you doing in these areas? Take a minute to rate yourself on each of these competencies. What are your strengths? What should you work on to improve? How could you develop yourself to improve on your weaknesses and maximize our strengths?

In the final analysis, you are the most important resource in your life. You must improve yourself.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Leadership Development: Business Writing and Communication

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am currently taking part in a Leadership Development Program at Franklin University. The major part of this program includes attending weekly presentations by local experts on a variety of leadership topics, and this month we heard from Tom McClain, faculty member in College of Arts Sciences and TechnologyTom has had a great deal of experience over several decades as a leader in industry. I worked with him for a few years and know him to be an excellent communicator and a man of integrity. His presentation was titled Communications Best Practices - Key Writing and Presentation Skills. I will share some of my notes from his presentation below.

Tom McClain, faculty member at Franklin University, presenting on effective business writing and communication.
Big Trends in Industry
Tom began his presentation by sharing some of the major trends that are affecting how we lead and communicate as leaders. He believes that these trends include the following:
  • Change and unpredictability both nationally and internationally. Change is constant in our modern, global society and will certainly continue.
  • Alliance and partnerships. Organizations are increasingly partnering with others.
  • Social media, infotainment. Content is created socially, is pervasive, and often entertainment-focused.
  • Patience and civility. This continues to be an important characteristic for leaders, particularly in their communication.
  • Value and cost of higher education. Higher education's value is sometimes questioned, and its const certainly continues to rise.
10 Guideposts for Rising Leaders
Tom outlined 10 Guideposts for rising leaders. These were particularly useful:
  1. Know the organizations history and accomplishments. This informs who we are.
  2. Know that the organization itself often assume the styles of their leaders. This means that leaders have great power over how the organization, particularly in how they communicate and manage the people they lead.
  3. Understand your community. Who do you serve? Who do you work with? Who do you compete with. 
  4. Resist the "walled off" syndrome. Go to and visit regularly with others in the organization, particularly at multiple levels. Be close to the people you lead.
  5. Know your organization's communication networks. This includes both formal and informal networks. 
  6. Know your business writing and presentation skills. If you can become better than average in both of these, you will have much greater power to influence.
  7. Effectively use social media technology. These tools will yield great capacity to communicate and influence.
  8. Develop media relations strengths. Know how to work with and communicate to the media. 
  9. Learn the art of the "executive speech." You will likely need to speak in a variety of places, so be prepared to speak to many different audiences.
  10. Avoid goofy business lingo fads. (I recommend watching Weird Al's  music video Mission Statement).

Writing Skills
Tom gave a series of really key tips for writing effectively. These included the following:
  • Know your audience! Tailor to their needs.
  • What is the core message? Make it succinct and easy to understand. 
  • Work on making your product inviting to read. Avoid long paragraphs.
  • Avoid filler words or phrases (now then, etc., so).
  • Choose a suitable design and stick to it. 
  • Master your own design and work it! (I liked this advice - it implies developing your own style and approach. Very encouraging.)
  • Revise and rewrite! Iteration is critical. Let things sit for a while, review them, and revise. 
  • Dont overwrite or overstate. Avoid big proclamations. 
  • Research is the foundation of good business writing. Base what you say on research.
  • Culture can shape your delivery - think of the culture you are writing to.
  • Read credible publications. This will help influence how you write.
  • Deadlines are useful - they force you to produce and you get better at producing under pressure over time.
  • Get feedback from others on your writing.

Presentation Skills
Here are some of the tips Tom gave on presentation effectiveness:
  • Know your audience. 
  • Know your subject really well. Do the research and be sure you are ready.
  • Prepare, prepare, prepare!!! This is the most important step, in my opinion.
  • Know the venue. What is the setup? What is the time of the day? Make sure you are prepared for how it is arranged and also for things to go wrong.
  • Approach with care. Be prepared, and spend as much time as you would a written document. 
  • Warm your moth and your body up so that you are ready when the bell rings. As you warm up, start slowly and do more as you approach go time.
  • Make eye contact with your audience and speak clearly.
  • Decide whether or not to use visuals. Technical issues can easily occur, so be very careful about relying on technology. 
  • Break up your presentation - don't spray with information. Weave in stories, facts, and figures to break things up and engage interest.
Tom mentioned that structure is particularly important. He recommended the following general sequence:
  1. Opening statement - catch their attention and set the tone and theme of the talk.
  2. Positioning - frame what you will talk about.
  3. Main Message - Use the FEAR approach in presenting your information: facts, analogies, examples, references. 
  4. Conclusion - a short summary and a positive end.
I thought it was a timely presentation, and Tom McClain is the classic leader. Solid and poised, I am always impressed with his depth of knowledge and reflective, thoughtful manner.

30 Seconds of Reflection
After each of our LDP meetings, we are asked to reflect for thirty seconds on impressions and ideas we have had. Here was what I wrote: "The most critical message today was that great leaders possess both writing and presentation abilities. I believe I am reasonably strong in each of these areas, and I am working hard to refine and improve them both. I am working to make my presentations less "academic report" and more engaging and meaningful. I also want to make my writing more flexible and engaging. It still has a "boring academic" feel, which makes sense."

Friday, November 14, 2014

I Am Now a Certified Performance Technologist!

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I recently applied to become a Certified Performance Technologist (CPT). This is a designation that is offered by the International Society for Performance Improvement. After several  weeks, I have received word from the reviewers and I am happy  to announce that I am now officially a CPT!

ISPI Standards
To qualify for the certification, an applicant must show that they have met each of the 10 ISPI Standards in multiple major projects. In addition, independent attestation from the people I worked with on these projects is required and verified by reviewers.
  1. Results - Focus on results and help clients to focus on results.
  2. Systematic - Look at the problem or need from multiple perspectives and at multiple levels.
  3. Value - Always work to add value in everything you do.
  4. Partner - Work collaboratively with your client, experts, and stakeholders. 
  5. Need Analyze - Use systematic analysis to identify the gaps, needs, or opportunities. 
  6. Cause Analysis - Identify systematically the root causes of the problems and gaps you have identified. 
  7. Design - Systematically select and design solutions and solution sets that are based on the gap, need, or opportunity you have identified. Include design of implementation and evaluation plans. 
  8. Develop - Develop solutions that directly conform to the design and the analysis.
  9. Implementation - Implement the solution, ensuring that it directly addresses the needs and gaps identified. 
  10. Evaluate - Evaluate the effectiveness of your solutions and plan to revise your approach as needed. 
Future Plans
I am excited to have earned this important certification, and I plan to use what I have learned in the future. I plan to continue my work in higher education, and I have found that these principles can be effectively applied to my work as program chair of the IDPT program at Franklin University. The principles have helped me to be much more effective in my work. I have also done some consulting work and teaching work with other universities and organizations, and I plan to continue to consult as opportunities arise. I once again express my gratitude for the opportunity to apply for this certification, and I am particularly grateful to the leadership at Franklin University for supporting me in applying for and earning this certification. Franklin has been an excellent employer, and I have grown through the kindness, mentoring, and support I have received at the university.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Article Review: Leadership Through Instructional Design in Higher Education

I recently read an article by Kristi Shaw entitled Leadership Through Instructional Design in Higher Education. It introduced to me the suggestion that instructional designers have unique skills that enable them to have particular success in higher education leadership. She writes:
"The qualities of instructional designers and the necessary characteristics for leadership overlap. Expert instructional designers are highly educated and many possess advanced graduate degrees. Instructional designers are experts in problem solving and critical thinking. Designers demonstrate high levels of professionalism and believe in a learning mindset. In addition, instructional designers commonly have backgrounds that enrich their leadership and design toolkit. For example, many designers have backgrounds in training, technology and education. "
I will discuss each of these concepts below. Shaw lists several key skills for higher education leadership and describes how instructional designers already possess many of these skills and abilities as a result of their education and the nature of their work.
  • Problem Solving - Leaders must have the capacity to solve complex problems, and instructional designers are in the practice of solving complex problems in their work. I have personally found that the capacities I developed as a designer and in my PhD studies in instructional technology and learning sciences can be transferred and applied to problem solving in many areas.
  • Critical Thinking - Critical thinking involves analysis (taking the whole apart), evaluation (placing value on something), creativity (synthesizing for highly contextualized solutions) and reflection (metacognition, consideration of different approaches and strategies). Designers by default take knowledge apart to make it more easily learned. They continually evaluate their own work, the work of others, and the learning of their students. They create solutions to design problems and have the capacity to consider their own processes and actions and take new approaches to their work.
  • Model Ethical Behavior - I've personally committed to ethical behavior through my commitments of faith (no lying, cheating, misrepresenting, stealing, etc.). In addition, I have committed to live by the 10 Standards espoused by the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI), which standards guide me toward ethical contribution to the organizations I work for. 
  • Constant Adaptation and Learning - This means establishing a habit of continual improvement. It has been shown that higher degrees earned in higher education facilitate the habits of lifelong learning. I am continually learning in my instructional design work - I read dozens of books and many scholarly articles each year, and I attend one or more academic and professional conferences annually.
  • Analyze where an organization lies in comparison to institutional goals - This is the concept of gap analysis - identifying where goals are not being met so that improvement can be made. This is a fundamental task for instructional designers, and bridging this to organizational goals makes sense. I've bridged my analysis skills to organization and program performance issues with some success.
  • Background in the facilitation of learning and an advanced degree - This makes an individual well-suited to lead in higher education. Designers clearly have this kind of educational background. I have personally designed courses for and taught at multiple universities, and these experiences have helped me to understand the processes of learning and instruction.
Again, this was a great article, and I appreciate Dr. Shaw's insights and ideas.