Leadership Lessons Riding in a Peloton

I participated in One Helluva Ride last Saturday and had an amazing time riding 66 miles in a peloton with my husband and a couple of our good friends. For those of you who are not familiar with cycling, a peloton is when a team of riders forms a line and works together so they can all go faster and longer than any of them could individually. Below are a few valuable leadership principles that I have learned from riding in a peloton that I would like to share.

Safety is the most important priority. Riding a bicycle is dangerous and riding fast and closely behind another cyclist increases the risks. It is very important to know and abide by the safety guidelines when you are riding in a peloton and to know and trust your team members. At work, mental and emotional safety are critical so that people are willing to take risks, be creative, and work as a team to solve complex problems. As a leader, this means that you foster a safe environment that builds trust among all team members. A big part of that is establishing clear guidelines and boundaries.

Leadership is shared, roles are clear, and constant communication is vital. In a peloton, the position in the line determines the role of the rider. The line is shifting every few minutes when the leader of the line moves to the back of the line after their shift is done. Communication happens with a combination of hand signals and verbal signals that are clearly understood by each rider. The first person in the peloton is responsible for scanning the horizon, communicating back to others in the line, and setting the pace and direction. The last person is line is responsible for monitoring what is behind the group and communicating forward. Each rider in the middle passes every communication along and also communicates anything they notice, like a slowdown in front of them or someone in the line falling behind.

A peloton team works best when the members together establish shared goals for the ride, including the destination or length of the ride, the expected pace, and the duration of the pulls. At work, when I have had the pleasure of being on a team where everyone is aligned, willing to adjust their roles, and openly communicating, it has been effective and fun.

Managing energy is the key to optimal performance. The main advantage of riding in a peloton is that drafting behind someone takes about 30% less energy than riding alone or at the front of the peloton. Optimal performance happens when each person in a peloton is going at a pace that pushes them when they are leading and allows them to recover when they are not. Each rider has to be conscious that they will hit their limit (aka bonking) if they take the lead for too long or are traveling at a stressful pace when they are not in the lead. If this is happening, they need to communicate that the peloton should slow down or choose a group that is going at a pace that is more appropriate for their fitness level.

Acceleration requires a tremendous amount of energy, so riding at a steady and sustainable pace and avoiding frequent stops and starts conserves energy for the entire team. One of the things that is hardest for me is not accelerating when I get to the front of the peloton because there is a natural feeling of freedom that happens when you are looking up instead of at the tire in front of you. Jumping ahead of the team wastes energy and exhausts the rest of the team.

This translates directly to what it takes to be a leader. If you are constantly stretching and end up stressed with no recovery time, you will become exhausted and burned out. Make sure you and your team have recovery time, are working at a sustainable pace, and are not constantly starting and stopping projects. And make sure that you are not getting too far ahead of the rest of the team, so that they don’t waste energy trying to chase you down.

My challenge for you this week is to look at your current work teams and see how well they are working together. Hopefully, some of these peloton principles can help make your teams even better.  Good luck!

Power Cycling Bloomington Training Camp Photo taken by Jeremy Zeigler

Joyful Interviewing

Before I went through the interview process at Temple University, I would not have thought that interviewing could be joyful. However, that is how I would describe my experience as I went through the many months of interviewing at Temple.

A recruiter reached out to me about the job at Temple last November. I didn’t know much about Temple. My niece had attended there for a couple of years so I knew where it was, that it was a public university, and that they had a good basketball program. The job description, written with the emphasis on the mission of accessibility, affordability, service and excellence, caught my attention. I was intrigued and my conversations with the recruiter and head of the search committee deepened my interest.

At the time I felt that it didn’t make sense to pursue the opportunity because our youngest daughter has two more years of high school and we are tied to Ann Arbor until she graduates. Before I officially applied for the position, my husband, Mark, and I talked about whether we could make it work if I got the position. For me, it was a matter of integrity that I would not pursue the position unless I would be willing to accept the job. Mark was supportive and encouraged me to throw my hat into the ring. We decided together that we would figure out how to make it work if I got the offer and that I needed to pursue the opportunity.

My first interview was a videoconference with the search committee. A couple of the committee members had U-M connections and they were genuinely enthusiastic about my experience and leadership. I met the committee in person when I was invited back to campus a couple of months later for two marathon days of back-to-back interviews.

When I saw the interview schedule for my visit, I knew they were serious. I met with the President, Provost, Deans, Vice Presidents and key faculty and staff members. In preparation for the interview, I talked with my executive coach and wrote my intention to leave everyone that I met with feeling peaceful and energized and that I would get enough information to determine whether this was a place where I could be the positive leader and help in the development of a virtuous organization.

My two days on campus were amazing. My affection for Temple started with my first interaction with a charming student who offered to help as I examined the campus map the night I arrived on campus. It continued to grow during the two days of interviews as I asked each person I met why they chose to work at Temple. Their passion around the mission and the possibilities at the university was inspiring and infectious.

I came home energized and excited but Mark was worried. His concern increased when I was notified that I was one of two finalists and Mark and I were invited for the final day of interviews and a tour of Philadelphia in April. This is when we started serious discussions of how we really could make this work while preserving our marriage and family life.

The final day of interviews had the same energy as my first visit to campus. My favorite interaction of the day was a town hall meeting where all of computing services were invited to attend and ask me questions. That town hall was so much fun with a lots of laughter and great questions. I surprised the group by asking them a couple of questions. The first question I asked was “What are you most proud of that you have accomplished at your time at Temple?” The second question was “What do you want the incoming CIO at Temple to know? For the first question, I asked people to share their responses openly. For the second, I asked them to just write down their response and turn it in so that I could know what was important to them. Those responses gave me valuable information that was crucial to my eventually accepting the job.

While I was interviewing, Mark was investigating. He took the subway to the Temple campus, walked around, struck up conversations with students and parents, tried to attend a class (it was the day of the final exam so he decided not to stay), and went to the bookstore to buy Temple gear. Mark summed up the visit by saying that Temple had fallen in love with me and I had fallen in love with Temple. This was definitely true.

Trying to figure out how this could work with our family was the hardest part of the entire process. Reality dashed my fantasy of having all of us relocate to Philadelphia immediately. Mark can work from anywhere, which is helpful, but children and pets are not easily transportable between locations. We explored many different scenarios through various bouts of stubbornness and hard conversations. The option that we could both live with was to have me work Monday-Thursday at Temple and work remotely on Fridays from Ann Arbor until our youngest graduates in a couple of years.

I was thrilled when I got the call that Temple had selected me as their next CIO. The final barrier to me accepting the job came down to whether it would be feasible for me to telecommute one day a week for two years. While I had been transparent during the entire interview process about our youngest needing to stay in Ann Arbor, the possibility of regular telecommuting had not been discussed as a way for me to balance my work and family obligations. The initial answer was a partial yes with time restrictions that wouldn’t work for my family.

For me, it was a practical and well as a philosophical question. Telecommuting is expected for high tech professionals and I have had flexibility in my work schedule for decades. Also, I had data from the computing services staff that telecommuting was important to them from the question that I asked at the town hall meeting. More broadly, it raised concerns for me about how much autonomy I would have to lead and make changes. Even after talking with the head of the search committee and the provost, the reluctance for me to telecommute remained.

So I turned down the offer.

I did this in complete freedom and peace. As much as I loved Temple and wanted the opportunity, I knew that I couldn’t be the positive leader that I aspire to be if it wasn’t possible to make this change. A friend, who is a positive business consultant, encouraged me to give Temple the opportunity to fire me before they hired me to see if they were really capable of and interested in creating to a more positive work culture and whether they would be open to other changes that I would want to promote.

Happily, Temple demonstrated that they were interested in changing and offered to have me work with HR on a telecommuting policy for all of computing services. This satisfied my practical need to telecommute while advancing my ability to create a more positive and trusted work environment. And it gave me a very positive signal about what a good fit we would be for each other.

I start at Temple in August.

My challenge for you this week is to approach your current job and your next job with integrity and freedom. You should always be looking for a good fit. Remain curious and approach interviews as conversations where both sides are learning about each other.

The Power of Written Positive Intentions

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One of the most valuable tools I have in getting clarity about what I want to achieve, removing apprehension about moving forward, and achieving the results I want is writing a positive intention.

The goal of a positive intention is to move from fear to freedom. Writing an intention allows you to imagine an exceptional outcome and experience the positive emotions of achieving that outcome.

A written positive intention has very specific rules:

  • It is written in past tense (as if it has already happened).
  • It is written in all positive terms.
  • It should be hand-written, not typed, if possible.
  • It identifies the most exceptional outcome you can imagine.
  • It focuses on how you and others feel about the outcome and the impact you can have if you achieve your positive outcome.
  • It is always a draft. Modify it over time. Write several versions to identify when your intention is based of fear, which may mean it is self-focused or your ego is showing up.

I use intentions all the time at work. Before I go into a difficult meeting. When I am setting goals for the year or defining success for a project or initiative. An intention is can be used to communicate with your team or it can be used as a personal tool. When I can go into a meeting with a clear intention and my ego in check, I am more aware and calm and grounded and the results are amazing and I feel energized.

The most powerful experience I had using a positive intention is a very personal one. A couple of years ago, my oldest son was really depressed and I was worried and scared. Our family has a long history with mental illness including three generations of suicides and I have directly experienced the devastating effect when a family member commits suicide. I didn’t want that for my son.

I shared my deep fear with my executive coach and she encouraged me to write an intention about my son. A couple of months later, he came home for a visit and I was confronted directly with the extent of his illness and self-medication. It came to a head one day and as we sat down to talk, the atmosphere was sad, defeated and heavy. We were both crying until I shared my intention with him.

As I shared my intention describing how I could picture him at the end of a successful semester and our family skiing and snowboarding together, the energy in the room shifted and we both felt lighter and hopeful. He took me up on the offer to meet with my coach to learn how to move from fear to freedom and to develop his own intentions. The most amazing part of the story is that six months later, our family was gathered in Park City skiing and snowboarding, and my son had just completed a successful semester at college.

My intention had come true.

Of course, there are many details to the story that I have not shared. My son has worked hard with lots of ups and downs and I have not always been able to keep from worrying. We now have a shared language about intentions and fear to freedom that has been helpful. I talked to him the other day and he told me that he was doing better than ever, which makes me very happy and hopeful.

From Fear to Freedom

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DSC03116, by littlemoresunshine, is licensed CC BY 2.0.

My most common fear is failing and looking bad to others. It goes across all parts of my life, from work to family to church to community. I have tried to manage and suppress these fears by being super competent and working really hard. For years, I over functioned as a manager, wife, and mother, which meant that I would fill any gaps that I saw, which devalued other’s contributions and left me exhausted. I have worked hard to change and know I have made significant progress. However, I was unaware how ingrained these thought patterns were in my life, until I started working to improve my skills through a coaching program I developed with Kim Knapp called “Fear to Freedom.”

As I became more curious about my reactions and emotions, I realized that many things each day were triggers for my fear. It could be someone not showing up for a meeting, which I interpreted as disrespectful. It could be my kids ignoring my text and phone calls, which left me worried about their safety or annoyed that they were ignoring me. It could be selecting whether I attended a meeting not based on the content, but whether it would be good politically to be seen there. The inputs were constant and each time I felt knots in my stomach, I knew I was draining my energy and diluting my focus.

The “Fear to Freedom” model has been helpful to me in disrupting my long held patterns. Kim Knapp developed the “Fear to Freedom” model when she was working as a turnaround consultant who would come in when a company was failing. She now works as an executive coach, and has been working within Medical School Information Services for many years.

So how do you get an entire organization to change when they know that if they don’t do something different, they will go out of business?  Kim focused on shifting everyone to a place of creativity and collaboration so they could do their best thinking.

When we start a new coaching cohort in our group, we use a simple exercise to describe the “Fear to Freedom” model.  We have completed five coaching cohorts and the responses have been similar in each group.

We start by asking, “What do you do when you are afraid?” or “What behaviors have you observed in others when they afraid?” The brainstormed list will include many of the following: avoid, procrastinate, blame, bully, push ideas, defend, or exert control.

The next question is “Think of a time at work when you loved what you were doing at work. What did you love about it?” These answers will probably include: engaged, focused, authentic, creative, fun, or amazing team.

We then talk about where the focus is when someone is fearful.  When someone is in fear, they are focused on themselves. For me, it is often about ego and looking good. When we are operating in fear, we are usually focused on losing something like a job, status, promotion, esteem, love, etc.

fearfreedommodelIn contrast, when someone is operating in freedom, they are focused on something other than themselves. Much has been written about being purpose driven, either as an individual or organization. Clear purpose brings clarity and energy that enables excellence. This is true for individuals as well as organizations.

The first step for me has been awareness. I use the scale from 1 to 10 to help me assess where I am, with 1 being completely in fear and 10 being in complete freedom. It was uncomfortable to let myself feel fear rather than suppressing it, and then ultimately dealing with deep sadness that comes with loss. The loss is giving up the idea that I can control what happens.

The hardest work we do in on ourselves. It takes courage to be willing to be curious and allow ourselves to question why we are afraid. Our emotions come from the stories that we tell ourselves. It is our interpretation of events, not the events themselves that cause most of our suffering. It takes practice to be mindful of where you are on the spectrum and to identify ways that you can move toward freedom.

I hope you find this model useful. It has become a tool for me to become more of the person that I want to be.

Building a Virtuous Organization

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When I joined the U-M Medical School Information Services (MSIS),  I was excited about the opportunity to create an effective and service-oriented IT organization knowing that we would contribute to healing patients, training the next generation of physicians and enabling life-changing research.  I believe the  most important part of my job has been to create a culture of collaboration, innovation and learning.

We branded our culture as “One MSIS” and tried to create an environment where:

  • Every person is empowered and engaged;
  • We work in teams;
  • We learn from mistakes;
  • We celebrate success;
  • We embrace change;
  • Believe we can make a difference;
  • We are supportive of each other; and
  • Progressively evolve through “relentless incrementalism”

We have launched a number of initiatives over the last four years to create this culture in MSIS.  We invested in training, knocked down (literally and figuratively)  walls to bring teams together in open office workspaces, supported employee ideas through events like “Hack Days”, made our work visible across the University (and beyond), and brought in professional coaching.

The most transformational experiment for me  was the Fear to Freedom coaching program Kim Knapp, our executive coach, and I developed to help our leaders learn how to hold others accountable in a supportive way.  Through the program, I was mentored by Kim and she helped me see how many of my own actions were inconsistent with the culture that I was promoting.  It wasn’t just transformational for me.  Several participants have told me how valuable it was for them and it has changed the way we interact as a team across MSIS.

Over the course of several months, I met several amazing thought leaders that continued to challenge my thinking.  Steffani Webb shared the “Jayhawk Way” program that she created that has fundamentally changed the culture at the University of Kansas Medical Center (KUMC).  Kim Cameron described his research on the benefits of being a virtuous organization, Jane Dutton talked about how to infuse positivity to accelerate change and create high quality connections.  Jim Loehr spoke about the need to manage energy and change our stories in order to excel and Billy Taylor demonstrated the power of storytelling.

Word Map of One MSIS Vision StatmentAfter these interactions, I took a long hard look at the “One MSIS” vision and created a word map of the “One MSIS” vision statement. It helped confirm in my mind that the vision itself was flawed because it was self-focused.  If we want to accelerate our culture change, we need to infuse positivity and virtuous behaviors throughout the organization, and focus on others rather than on ourselves.

In the last year, I have learned and grown more as a person and leader than I thought was possible.  I am fully committed to becoming a virtuous leader who practices what she preaches.   It has not been comfortable or easy, but it has been rewarding and energy infusing.  I have learned that the most difficult work I have to do is on myself and that it helps to surround myself with others who are also on the journey to being virtuous leaders.

I invite you to start your own journey to becoming a virtuous leader and join me as a fellow traveler.