Instilling Hope for Deep Change

I have been asked to co-lead the strategic planning for the university. This is both exciting and daunting. In trying to get clarity about the assignment, I had my first one-on-one conversation with Temple’s Chairman of the Board, Mitch Morgan. I came away from the conversation filled with hope. I have been playing back the conversation in my mind trying to understand what he did that left me with such positive feelings.

The first thing he did was introduce himself. He described his journey sharing personal details that clearly communicated his values and management philosophy. He talked about how much of his success was being a great people-picker.

Next, he invited me to share my personal journey and deeply listened to my answer asking questions in a caring way that made me feel comfortable.

He emphasized how great he thought Temple was and also why we needed to change. He articulated the urgency for a clear strategy for the university because of the increasingly competitive educational landscape that has been accelerated by the Covid pandemic.  

He honored every person he talked about. His first sentence about every person was that he loved them and I believed that he did. 

He indicated what he was not good at and what he needed help doing.

He clearly articulated the type of leadership he needed to make the change he was seeking at the university. Then he asked me if I would be willing to help and told me why he picked me for the assignment.  

After I said yes, we talked candidly about the challenges and the ways that he would support me as I did the assignment.

In a nutshell, he demonstrated the positive leadership traits that I have been trying to develop for many years and validated my decision to come to Temple. 

My challenge for you this week is to examine how you are interacting with others, especially when you are trying to activate deep change. 

Practicing Vulnerability as a Leader

Photo by Gerd Altmann

I saw Brené Brown speak at the Philadelphia Conference for Women and was truly inspired. Brené’s work has been very important to me personally and is an integral part of “A Wiser Way” leadership program that we have developed at Temple. The week before I saw Brené speak in person, I taught a couple of Wiser Way sessions that introduced Brene’s “Power of Vulnerability” TED talk. As part of each session, I shared a painful personal story. I was nervous about sharing my story, because I was afraid that I would get emotional and cry. That has happened in a couple of instances to me in a work setting before and I have been mortified because I have labeled it as unprofessional.

However, I was introducing the concept of vulnerability and how important that was in being a courageous leader to the group. I felt that it was important to practice what I was preaching. I also wanted to demonstrate what it looked like to step outside of your comfort zone and sharing a painful personal story was outside of mine.

So, I practiced over and over before the class until I was able to relate my story without crying when I was at home. However, when I shared my story with the group, I got emotional and cried a little. To be fair, this is genetic. I cry during all Hallmark commercials and Disney movies when a parent predictably dies.

The difference for me this time was that instead of feeling mortified for crying at work, I was okay with it. This allowed me to regain control of my emotions and continue with my story during the session. I had relabeled being authentic and vulnerable as being courageous rather than unprofessional.

That label made a huge difference in how I experienced that moment and how I felt after. I was relieved to have gotten through the presentation, but I wasn’t embarrassed or feeling overly exposed after the class. In fact, I felt supported as several people came up after class to thank me for sharing my story. And I felt very honored when many of the participants shared their personal stories with me.

Lyndsey Karp sent me this note after attending the session. “I’ve heard the Brené Brown video you shared before and been to a number of vulnerability workshops, but yours was especially impactful because of the personal story you shared. I personally struggle with vulnerability and it’s a difficult subject to cover especially in the workplace where it’s tempting to remain professional and closed off. Watching you share so openly was something I won’t soon forget. Your courage showed me that being open and honest with your peers doesn’t have to take away from your success as a woman in business. I’m determined to reach my goals in my career and learned from you that sometimes being vulnerable can actually help with that mission where I always worry it will hurt. I wanted to let you know that the experience resonated with me and to say thank you.”

Being vulnerable at work isn’t comfortable, but it has been empowering for me. As I have practiced being vulnerable and authentic, my confidence in my leadership ability and effectiveness have both increased. More importantly, it is creating a safe environment for others to practice being vulnerable, authentic, and creative. It is a lot of fun and very rewarding to work in that kind of space.

My challenge to you this week is to step out of your comfort zone and practice being vulnerable. I hope you will discover that being your authentic self is liberating and increases your effectiveness.

Self-Mastery is a Journey

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Self-mastery is a journey, not a destination and although I am passionate about sharing what I have learned, I am still practicing. I attended the Pennsylvania Area Banner Users Group (PABUG) conference last week and presented a session describing the Fear to Freedom coaching program that I co-developed with Kim Knapp at the University of Michigan Medical School. I enjoyed sharing my experience and reflected again how transformational the coaching has been for me personally.

fearfreedommodelThe Fear to Freedom model is quite simple and powerful. The model is that when you are focused on yourself and worried about being good enough, you are operating in fear. However, when you are focused on others and the positive difference you can make, you can operate in freedom, which is fun and creative.

In order to shift from fear toward freedom, you can write a positive intention. A positive intention is written in past tense and describes the most positive outcome you can imagine. A big clue that you are residing in fear, is when your intention requires someone else to change. Because an intention is always a draft, you can rewrite your intention until you have shifted from wanting to look good to wanting others to feel good. Writing intentions helps me to self-manage my reactions and gives me a concrete way to understand and purify my motives so I can shift toward freedom.

Immediately following my presentation, I had a chance to practice and coach myself using the Fear to Freedom model and writing a positive intention.

I still get regular coaching from Kim and we have been thinking about how we could bring the coaching program to Temple University. I had some pretty concrete ideas about how I wanted to do this and when I presented it to Kim, she did not like my plan at all. We ended up having a heated conversation and agreed to a plan that I was not happy with, especially as I reflected about it over the long holiday weekend.

I had never had that strong of a disagreement with Kim and I was upset. I spent a lot of time in self-reflection and wrote an intention that clarified what I wanted and helped me manage myself out of fear. This week, Kim and I talked again about what had happened and renegotiated our approach. She expressed how she was grateful that we had the conflict because it meant we could create something together and that conflict is at the heart of creativity. I certainly felt better after our conversation.

Be kind to yourself as you travel down your own path toward self-mastery, knowing that there will be both conflict and joy in the journey.


The Curiosity Challenge

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Curiosity is a mindset that propels deep understanding and learning and is foundational in creating a culture of engagement and innovation.

One of the most impactful lessons around the importance of curiosity was a video I saw in a leadership conference. The speaker asked all of us to count the number of balls that were thrown between the people in white shirts in this video. I was quite pleased with myself for getting the right answer until we watched the video again and I realized what I had missed!

This video was a powerful reminder that we see what we pay attention to and are expecting to see. This means unless we are consciously curious, we may be missing vital information that is, literally, right in front of us.

Being curious is assuming there are things you are not seeing or understanding and seeking others’ perspectives and ideas. Being curious is actively investigating your environment, understanding history, and consulting experts.

Being curious is being open to new possibilities. One of the biggest barriers to curiosity was that I used to think that my main job was to sell my idea or defend what my team was doing. As I have shifted from the mindset of selling to partnering, I have been much more successful because I am really listening and constantly seeking ways to improve. Last year, I was formally coaching a colleague who was leading a second attempt at a project that had failed. She was preparing for her presentation to the CIO and was talking about selling her revamped approach. When I asked her if she liked it when others “sold” her something, I could see she had  a profound aha moment as she said she hated it. We then revamped the interaction as a conversation rather than a presentation. She went into the conversation open and curious and it went very well.

Being curious is being able to suspend judgement and more mindfully move up the ladder of inference. I have written about this in previous blogs, but it is remarkable how many times a day we unconsciously judge what is going on around us. Being curious means understanding how our values and previous experiences shape our perceptions of events. When we stop categorizing things as good or bad, we are in a better position to see what is going on around us.

Being curious is being willing to try something new. When I have been able to step back and observe myself, it removes most of the negative emotions when things do not go as I desire. It also puts me in a better position to measure the effectiveness of what I am attempting to do. I have been trying new exercises in our all-staff meetings to identify the best way for generating ideas and fostering communication. The exercises we used in the second meeting were not as well received by the group as the exercises in the first meeting. I knew this because the satisfaction scores went down and I received direct feedback for which I was grateful. I will take that feedback and use it to define something different for our upcoming meeting.

Being curious is learning from mistakes and moving on. Forgiveness is required for growth and learning, not only for others but for ourselves. When we are curious and willing to experiment and try new things, we will fail and make mistakes. We have to learn what we can from our mistakes and move forward.

My challenge for you this week is to experiment on how you could become more curious. Good luck and let me know how it goes.


Five Leadership Traits for Engaged and Empowered Teams

Photo by Wendy Cope:

Last week, I have been spending significant time getting clarity about the leadership traits that I value most. I have been focused on this is because I have been developing the leadership training that we will be offering across Computer Services in order to develop the traits that will create an engaged and empowered culture to elevate the effectiveness and happiness of our teams.

My executive coach suggested that I pay attention to what I value in the leaders around me and to narrow the number of traits to five. Being able to limit the number is important because the computer services team cannot focus on everything.

I asked for input from my senior management team and they listed many important and valuable traits. There were a lot more than five on that combined list. Narrowing the list has been difficult.

As I was wrestling with what was most important. I found that it was easier to describe behaviors that I wanted to stop and much more difficult to describe succinctly those traits that set apart the leaders I admire. I was struggling and started to feel quite overwhelmed and tired thinking about trying to accomplish the culture shift that the computer service staff is asking for.

At the bequest of my coach, I wrote a positive intention about the impact the Computer Services team would have if each member embraced the different traits. That exercise helped me hone in on the leadership traits that would be most impactful and left me excited, energized, and hopeful.

The traits that I settled on incorporated many of the attributes that the senior management team indicated were important to them. They are curiosity, positivity, collaboration, execution and integrity.

To be curious investigate, embrace new ideas, experiment, and learn from failures. To be positive view obstacles as opportunities and cultivate gratitude and kindness. To be collaborative actively engage others to craft innovative solutions and inform decisions. Execution is being able to get things done and hold ourselves and others accountable. To have integrity act with honesty, authenticity, transparency, courage, and respect.

These traits build trust, teamwork, flexibility, and confidence, which are important to the computer services members. As I have grown in my own leadership journey, these traits have been most transformative to me. To create a more engaged and empowered culture, I have relied on these attributes in my short time at Temple and am getting a lot of feedback that it is working. In the coming weeks, I will be taking time to describe each one of these traits in more detail.

Mastery of these traits is a journey, not a destination, but the journey for me has been amazing and fun. My challenge to you this week is to start noticing when you or others around you are displaying any of these traits.