My Leadership Story

Recently I was asked to share my leadership story since graduating from Cornell MOR Associates ITELP. I was honored to be invited last week to share this story at the 2016 Cornell MOR Associates ITELP graduation. Below is my story.

Last year I stood on this stage as a current graduate and shared a personal story of how I helped my daughter navigate a difficult conversation. I shared this story as an example of the impact this program has not just on our professional lives, but our personal lives as well. Recently I attended my daughter’s end of year crew banquette. As a graduating senior each of the girls in her boat shared a story about her. As I listened to each of these young women share their story, I recalled the conversations my daughter and I had had about these situations. They shared stories of how she had motivated them; really listened to what they had to say; been inclusive; and helped them to build relationships of trust. They spoke of how she had led a somewhat fractured team to a gold medal in the state championship and the influence she had had on their belief in their ability to be successful. It was at that moment I realized just how wide our circle of influence really is.

The program impacted every aspect of how I view myself as a leader and my ability to develop relationships and get things done. The opportunity to have the time, space and coaching to work on myself has impacted every aspect of how I interact with others. The results of this can be supported by the feedback I received for my performance review. The MOR program is the best leadership development program I’ve ever participated in and I continue to meet with my peer triad and open my MOR book up at least once a week. If everyone could go through this program we would have an organization built on trust with an entirely re-imagined way of doing business. By working on myself I am better able to lead, coach those around me and understand how to develop relationships built on trust. I truly believe I can have an impact and lead from where I am.

Thanks to the competencies I gained in this program I was able to successfully lead a project that required me to reach across multiple units at Cornell and develop new relationships. It was the things I learned about myself; how to build relationships; and understanding how to delegate and run meetings that enabled me to successfully build a high functioning team where everyone had a voice, felt empowered, and worked collaboratively. This project had a number of setbacks and unexpected issues but thanks to the competencies and confidence I gained from ELP I was able to successfully lead this project and team.

While the above professional examples are important measurements of the outcomes and outputs of this program, I shared a personal story as an example of the human impact this program has on the lives of everyone here, our families, and the community. There are lots of different ways to be a leader and leadership transcends our professional lives. I believe there is no one, quantitative way of measuring it, that would provide evidence of success. Rather, each of our voices and our stories is evidence of greater trust, enhanced relationships and the ability to re-imagine the way we do business.

Thank you to MOR associates for shaping the narrative of our lives.

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Around Education in 80 days

 

I was recently reading a story about a little girl who goes blind and it made me wonder how the journey from seeing to blindness is similar to a student or faculty journey from a face to face classroom to completely online. She talks about how drawers are never where they should be and a glass of water is always too near or too far. What is blindness? “Where there should be a wall her hands find nothing. Where there should be nothing a table leg gouges her shin” p. 27 .She goes through months of bruises and despair, but what keeps her going? The patience and support of her father. Instead of doing everything for her he creates the opportunities for her to figure things out. Her father is a locksmith who works in a museum. Every morning he quizzes her on types of keys. Her hands gather, probe and test. He has her guess how many pages in a book by the length of her fingernail. One day he says “take us home” and her response is “I can’t possibly do that” p.36. His response is, “I won’t let anything happen to you…you know where you are”. Time after time she fails and each time her father tells her you can do this until eventually she does. Isn’t that what it means to truly learning something?

In what ways can we, as faculty developers/educators, provide that patience and support and help learners get over the hurdle of, “I can’t possibly do that”?

What Does it Mean to be Human in the Digital Age?

Over the last two weeks I’ve facilitated three design thinking workshops around “what does it mean to be human in the digital age? (I would like to thank Kristen Eshleman for her time, guidance and expertise on this topic and the design thinking process). In each case the group seemed somewhat apprehensive. What is this design thinking anyway? What could we possibly learn from a question like that?

The question of “what does it mean to be human” is not a new question. A very natural part of being human is wanting to fit in, have relationships and feel connected. We try to make sense of our role within the social hierarchy, understand stereotypes and for some struggle to have our voice heard. To be human means to struggle with inequality, have a never ending desire to love and be loved, and to be recognized and valued for who we are.

PBS posed the question and collected stories back in 2010. In 2010 what were the questions posed? Concerns about texting and driving and spying on your children’s social media (sound familiar?). Read the stories here http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/digitalnation/participate/ . More recently Yann Arthus-Bertrand created a movie called HUMAN based on the stories of 2,000 people across 60 countries. His goal was to understand “What is it that makes us human? Is it that we love, that we fight? That we laugh? Cry? Our curiosity? The quest for discovery? “

The workshops I led were one hour “crash course” sessions so we moved through each stage at a rapid pace.I spent a short amount of time going over what the Design Thinking process is, instead placing most of my emphasis on the importance of listening to the story and gaining empathy.  Empathy is “…not just sympathy for someone else’s circumstances, but the deep intuition for what it feels like to live their lives”. What is the person feeling? What scares them? Frustrates them? Brings them joy? I advised people to ask “why?” a lot and think of it as a conversation. The energy in the room once people got talking was amazing. They were deeply engaged in the conversation and truly interested in the other person’s story. Yet, there were still questions and reservations as participants asked, “I don’t understand the purpose of this.” “We’re having a great conversation but what am I really learning?” Be patient, you’ll see, is all I said. When we got to the POV (point of view) step it all started to come together for people. They began to “break down their findings” and “unpack the juicy parts” of the story. What does this person need? What surprised you? What are your hunches? Crayons and pencils filled sticky notes as people made meaning of what they heard, thought about what it feels like to live this person’s life and created radical prototypes.

During the entire hour the room was filled with positive energy and you could feel how excited people were to have been given “permission” to break “the rules”. That is, space, place and time to ideate in a world with no budgets, no policies, no limitations and most importantly the lack of the word no. The majority of these people were in the technical field and problem solvers. It was initially hard to get them to shift their mindset from problem solver to explorer.  By the end of the hour they were amazed at how much they not only learned about the person next to them, but how quickly they could gain empathy and develop prototypes (four in four minutes!). In listening to their partner’s story they had gotten to know this person in a way they would not have otherwise.

It turns out what it means to be human in the digital age is, in many ways, no different than what it means to be human in any age. People value meaningful relationships, feeling connected to other people, and having opportunities to learn and share from others. What do people need?

A way to sort through all the information and find what is most important to them in an efficient and easy way (some great prototypes were developed as solutions to this).

To feel safe when sharing their opinions and ideas.

What surprised people?

That the world of social media closely replicates the face to face world:

“There are cliques online, it is just like being in high school”

The fear in having what you say be out there forever:

“How can I be sure that what I say won’t offend anyone or come out the wrong way, there are no do overs.”

How can we make the idea of design thinking a part of our daily life? Taking the time to have a conversation, truly listening to another person’s story and gaining a deeper understanding of who they are and what they value, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and sharing our story, and feeling we have a safe space to to plant our ideas, fertilize them and watch them grow.

What impact might a day of empathy have where you work? If school leaders or professors at your university walked alongside a student for the day or those in support staff positions walked alongside those who we support?

How might we reimagine a digital age where to be human means to strive to eliminate inequality; value care work, and be vulnerable without fear?

Listening

The November 18 MOR Associates Tuesday reading focuses on listening. It is based on a Leadership Reflection written by Zachary Jacques. Jacques says, “…if I want to improve my presence, I must focus on listening skills as well as speaking.” Sometimes the most obvious, is the most elusive. He goes on to discuss an exercise they did where the “listener” is intentionally acting distracted and then asked the speaker how they felt. Not surprisingly they felt emotions such as anger, frustration and irritation. Can any of you relate? We’ve all done it, and likely been on the giving and receiving end. Maybe not as frequently in a one to one discussion but certainly during a staff meeting or presentation. We may justify it in any number of ways, but here is a chance to practice  seeing things from the perspective of the other. Practice turning off your devices and listening. If you must check your e-mail do so before the presentation and after, if needed exit the room. You may find that what you thought was “boring” or “irrelevant” only seemed that way because you weren’t really listening. You may learn something new! There is a time, place and method for feedback. If after intently listening you found the speaker could do some things to make their talk more engaging then simply go up and ask, “may i give you some feedback”?

Gratitude

The MOR Associates Tuesday Reading for Nov. 25 was about Gratitude. While I’ve always thought of gratitude as saying thank you and showing appreciation, I haven’t thought of it from a perspective changing lens. We are encouraged not only think about how we can change our own perspective but how can we help others. Each of our colleagues has work frustrations, but they also have personal frustrations. Whether these are related to money, health or something else how can we help them see the “positive”, to be grateful for what they do have. This is not always easy as we don’t always know the personal circumstances of those we work with. This may be a lead by example situation. If we always try to see the positive, to show gratitude for what we do have, and not complain maybe we can help those around us do the same. Although it is well past Thanksgiving it is always the right time of year to show gratitude!

How can I change my perspective and look at the positive? Instead of “complaining” or looking at something as a limitation, how can I instead look at it as an opportunity? We all have processes and procedures and best practices. We all are experts in our field. Rather than approach someone who isn’t doing things the way we think they should be done with a negative thought look at it as an opportunity to build a new relationship. Through the act of building a relationship you will naturally look at the situation from their perspective, see things the way they do and understand where they are coming from. Rather than just jumping in and telling them how things should be done, take the time to ask questions, and get to know them. Before the meeting think about what image you want to portray, how should you approach the situation? How do we do this? The 4 I’s are a great way to start! Initiate, Inquire, show interest and influence.