Visionary Leadership Keeps a 100-Year-Old Mission Relevant

Visionary Leadership Keeps a 100-Year-Old Mission Relevant

 

Jennifer Bartkowski, CEO of Girl Scouts Northeast TX

Innovation, strategic thinking, and execution are marks of Jennifer Bartkowski’s  leadership. She invests these talents as CEO of Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas (GSNETX), and in collaboration with strategic partners, is transforming the Girl Scout experience. Jennifer is committed to making Girl Scouting a path to success for all girls. Her passion and visionary leadership are changing the game for GSNETX.

Staying relevant in a constantly changing world is daunting. As organizations age, their appeal often grows stale and without significant revitalization, they risk demise. Jennifer is accomplishing what has eluded countless leaders: she is bringing new life to a century-old organization to meet the demands of contemporary challenges. And she’s doing it while staying true to the Girl Scout mission: To build girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place.

Building on the Mission

“We asked ourselves, What else can we do with this strong foundation?  Our answer: we can get girls excited about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). We can get them excited about financial literacy and how it makes more things possible as they grow up. We can teach them about healthy living and healthy relationships and other skills required to be healthy adults. We can teach them about the outdoors. It’s fresh and exciting!

“One of the challenges of Girl Scouting is that we’re 105 years old.  It’s a blessing and a curse.  People know us for cookies, camps and crafts.  We are all of these things and we’re proud of them.  And we’re so much more today – the organization has been going through a real transformation.

“For six weeks of the year, Girl Scouts is cookies.  Every single girl owns their own business where they develop important skills like decision-making, goal-setting, financial management, and business ethics.  This experience creates a powerful foundation to build on.

“We are also camp, which is so critically important today.  This generation of kids is the first to grow up almost entirely indoors.  We have a proven history of teaching leadership at camp better than anywhere else.  (Note:  Girl Scouts founder Juliet Gordon Low purchased land for camping before investing in a physical building.)

“And yes, we are crafts.  Girl Scouts has always been about fun and creativity and we intend to keep offering what the girls enjoy.

We are taking all that is foundational and setting it on its edge.”

Women, Technology and Girl Scouts

In 2010, Texas Instruments (TI), a Dallas-based global technology company, approached GSNETX, asking them to be a partner in solving a business challenge: A significant talent shortage in the fields of technology and engineering is predicted by the year 2020. Girls are less likely to go into technical fields and TI would like to change that. TI has long been committed to diversifying the workforce and has been a champion of developing and promoting women. TI imagined that Girl Scouts could offer years of positive STEM experience all the way through high school, shaping their desire to pursue STEM degrees in college. A K-12 STEM Engineering badge was the first accomplishment of the partnership.

Texas Instrument’s offer also fits with Girl Scouts’ commitment to the development of leadership skills in girls and young women. Their curriculum, driven by the earning of badges, provides experiences that develop confidence, critical-thinking, and problem-solving skills and encourages the pursuit of challenging goals.

The STEM Center of Excellence at Camp Whispering Cedars

The timing was auspicious. Alongside the initiative with TI, GSNETX was taking a strategic look at their physical properties. A decision was made to unite the new STEM initiative with an investment in Camp Whispering Cedars, a gorgeous property in southern Dallas. That is how the STEM Center of Excellence at Camp Whispering Cedars was conceived.

Jennifer’s visionary leadership and passion for girls energized a campaign that cast a wide net across the business, academic, cultural and philanthropic communities. She invited them all to take part in giving local girls from all walks of life fun, hands-on experiences with STEM. The community responded with a resounding YES!  A sample of collaborators joining TI in this innovate effort (so far): the University of Texas at Dallas, the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, the Dallas Arboretum, and many very generous donors. Other business partnerships are emerging and they’re eager to make this vision a reality. (Read about Capital One’s boost!)

STEM Highlights at Camp Whispering Cedars:

  • The telescope-equipped Moody Observation Tower is a place for girls to get high above the trees to study astronomy and sleep under the stars. They will also experience themselves as part of something much bigger.
  • Girls will learn underwater robotics when they’re not swimming in the on-site swimming pool.
  • Rockets will be launched, archery skills honed, walls will be climbed and girls will zip-line above the largely un-groomed, wide-open spaces so many kids no longer have access to.
  • A GeoScouting app already guides girls on their hikes through the beautiful escarpment, learning about rocks, plants and the geologic formation of Camp Whispering Cedars.

A Virtuous Cycle

Jennifer, the GSNETX team and their award-winning Board of Directors have created a cycle of contribution and benefit that is acting as a flywheel, reinvigorating itself with each accomplishment.The obvious benefactors are the young women who will experience STEM in an environment that only Girl Scouts can provide: an outdoor, all-girl setting, infused with leadership and life skills. These young women will be primed to follow degree programs leading to a job market hungry for their capabilities.

Local tech businesses will enjoy an enlarged and diversified pool of female talent ready for work for the foreseeable future.

Enrollment in engineering and other STEM-related university programs will increase. The more girls who enter programs with a flourishing peer group, the more will persist and complete their STEM degrees.

The City of Dallas is also a significant benefactor, and Jennifer is “proud to be a part of Mayor Mike Rawling’s Grow South initiative. Girl Scouts is investing $13M in 92 acres of the most beautiful land in Dallas, and we’re happy to be a part of the city’s priorities.”

Also promising is the role Girl Scouts can play in positively impacting race relations. At camp and in many troops, girls are playing, sleeping and learning next to girls of racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds different from their own. Their parents are also interacting with each other for a common goal: to prepare their girls for a bright future.

Innovation in Girl Scouts Delivery: Making the Experience More Accessible

A limiting factor for the number of girls able to participate in Girl Scouting is the number of troop leader volunteers. GSNETX is experimenting with new ways of delivering Girl Scouting: “We’re piloting a partnership with a few DISD elementary schools and exploring possibilities with KIPP schools as well. We’re actually going in and helping the teachers understand the Girl Scouts leadership experience, and enabling them to deliver Girl Scouting to girls at their schools. Those girls are using our STEM Center as a field trip space and becoming Girl Scouts in the process”. Solar Prep, an all girl’s STEAM (A is for Arts!) school in southern Dallas is calling itself a Girl Scouts school. 100% of the students there are Girl Scouts. It’s a new model.

“Finally, we’re piloting a way to make the space available to girls and boys in schools in the southern sector of Dallas for field trips. These schools don’t typically have the revenue to send their students to expensive camps in East Texas. Camp Whispering Cedars is a short bus ride away which gives them access to a 21st century STEM Center and an incredible outdoor space.”

A CEO Exemplar

Jennifer speaks from experience about the impact of Girl Scouting:

“I was a Girl Scout myself through ninth grade and earned the Silver award. Girl Scouting is a long tradition in my family:  my three sisters and I were led by my mother and she was led by her mother.  My daughter is a Girl Scout and I volunteer with her troop. Through Girl Scouts, I got to try new things and have experiences that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I was the oldest of five kids and we didn’t have a lot of money, so every winter I worked hard and sold cookies so I could go to camp for two weeks on my own. I got to be my own person and meet new friends. As I got older I went on destination trips and got to do really cool stuff.

“Between Girl Scouts and competitive swimming, I learned leadership, teamwork, time management and how to work hard and be competitive. Girl Scouts opened doors for me and I’m passionate about making sure that girls from all walks of life have access to the Girl Scout leadership experience and programming. It can be transformative.

“We’re all on a leadership journey: me, all of our staff, and of course the girls. My entire life and career have led me here, building the skills the organization needs now.  And I’m being challenged to develop new ones all the time!  I believe we are doing this work on purpose. We’re leaving a legacy for the future by building on an amazing foundation for Girl Scouts of the 21st Century and beyond.”

For Reflection:

  1. Is your mission clear enough to guide strategic decisions?
  2. How can your legacy products and services be delivered in new ways that fit the current environment?  Explore out-of-the-ordinary ways that your mission can be accomplished.  (GSNETX paired camping with STEM)
  3. Who are your stakeholders?  How can you partner with them for win-win outcomes? (Consider the innovative partnership between TI and GSNETX)
  4. Do you feel on purpose with your vocation? Are you passionate, engaged and creative in your thinking?

 

The Art of a Strong Finish

The Art of a Strong Finish

Accomplishment, completing

Setting and Achieving Goals. Discipline. The sense of accomplishment.

This is what 26.2 conjures for me. The person sporting this sticker demonstrated the grit and determination required to finish a marathon. They trained for months when it was hard and they weren’t in the mood. They persisted in challenging conditions, and followed the plan all the way through to the end.

Many experts write about the struggle and ultimate value of finishing what we start. In his book, The Art of Somatic Coaching, Richard Strozzi-Heckler describes the Rhythm of Energy, the stages we go through when moving from inception to implementation of any idea, activity and even in relationships. We move through the stages of Awakening, Increasing, Containing and Completing on grand and minuscule scales – from large projects to the smallest of activities and tasks. The more consciousness we bring, the more choice we have at each stage.

When we learn to complete, to end chapters and stages of our life, we can then move freely ahead to new frontiers.

– Richard Strozzi-Heckler

The act of completing gives us satisfaction and “creates the possibility of a new beginning. When we learn to complete, to end chapters and stages of our life, we can then move freely ahead to new frontiers“.

And on the flip, “if we’re habituated to not completing we create an unending cycle of dissatisfaction”. The weight of unfinished business is like a ball and chain, keeping us from moving forward. These “open loops”, as David Allen calls them, also cause a restless mind and sleepless nights.

The finish line of another year is in sight. Will you run through the tape with your goals and projects complete or is your year fraught with loose ends and ultimately dissatisfaction? You have a sliver of time left to decide how you will finish.

10 Simple Yet Powerful Practices for Completing

Engaging in these practice on a daily basis helps build habits for finishing what you start.

  • Be imperfect. “Ship it”! (a la Steven Pressfield) Get your ideas out there and iterate if needed.
  • Do one thing at a time – finish one task before you start another.
  • Schedule time-blocks in your calendar for completing activities and moving projects forward.
  • Remind yourself why you are engaging in an activity. Connect with the original intention and desired result.
  • Conduct an After Action Review (AAR) at the end of each project.
  • Mark emails for follow up and delete them upon completion. There’s such sweet satisfaction in taking something off the list!
  • Break large projects down into bite-size chunks and make plans for completing each segment. Celebrate each milestone reached!
  • Engage an accountability partner to support you on your most challenging goals and check in with them regularly.
  • Make your bed every morning. You will begin your day by completing a task.
  • Empty the sink of dirty dishes prior to going to bed each night. You’ll end your day by completing a task and wake to a clean environment for fueling your day.

Expert Advice for Reaching Your Goals:

The Art of Somatic Coaching, by Richard Strozzi-Heckler. Read Chapter Five, The Rhythm of Energy.

Steven Pressfield. Pressfield is well known for his writing on resistance and urges us to just get started and to ship (complete) in his trilogy, The War of ArtDo the Work and Turning Pro. All three are must reads for bringing to life anything that is important to you. I’ve linked to Brian Johnson’s Philosopher’s Notes (TV) to for a quick review of each.

David Allen, author of Getting Things Done (GTD), is THE guru of personal productivity. This book describes the GTD process. The concept most impactful for me was that of closing open loops – that incomplete tasks cause our mind to be restless and nights to be sleepless.

Following the advice in The Power of a Positive No by Bill Ury reframes ‘no’ such that we are actually giving preference to what is most important rather than saying ‘yes’ to what isn’t. This increases the likelihood of fulfilling commitments we make to ourselves and others. Follow this link to an overview of the concept.

LeeAnn Mallory has worked in the field of leadership and organization development for over two decades and has cultivated a diverse portfolio of client engagements. She specializes in practice-based and multi-month leadership programs and presence-based leadership, which she integrates into all of her work. She lives in Dallas, TX, with her husband and LuLu, their sweet boxer. They have two daughters who have launched out of the house and into college. Check out her website www.rise-leaders.com.

You Can’t Lead People You Don’t Love

You Can’t Lead People You Don’t Love

Lead with Love, Exemplary Leadership

Exemplary Leader Michael Sorrell

Profile of an Exemplary Leader: President Michael Sorrell of Paul Quinn College

A core intention of my business, Rise Leaders, is to promote individuals who are making a positive impact in the businesses and communities where they lead. They are taking a different path, coloring outside the lines and disrupting the norm. Michael Sorrell, President of Paul Quinn College, is an exemplar. Paul Quinn College (PQC) is a HBCU (Historically Black Colleges & Universities) located in Oak Cliff, a community in Dallas’ Southern Sector. The college was fighting for its life when he stepped in.

Leadership of the type written about here is uncommon and only for those willing to take a strong stand for what they believe in. President Sorrell demonstrates that it takes a galvanizing vision, a mission that won’t be compromised, a tireless work ethic and love for those being served to turn around a failing institution.

I had the opportunity to hear President Sorrell speak at a Sum + Substance gathering in Dallas early in the Fall of 2015 and knew I wanted him to be my first interview (See the Sum + Substance video here). I hope you enjoy and are inspired by what you read.

As background, President Sorrell had a few goals on his list as a young man. Not like most of our goals. His goals included public service as a mayor, owning an NBA franchise and becoming a college president.  We began our conversation with how becoming a college president arrived on his list in the first place. While attending Oberlin College in Ohio (where he had a very impressive basketball career), Sorrell had a serendipitous meeting with Dr. Johnetta Cole, who was then president of Spelman College. A seed was planted for his future; only he didn’t pursue the qualifications needed to realize that goal. He went on about his plans to become a lawyer, which he did. He said he figured he would get to be president by virtue of his other life’s accomplishments.

In response to his “plan” for becoming president, I jokingly commented that I heard he had admitted to being cocky. While he claims not to remember the admission (smirking), he did comment on his confidence, which comes from a strong work ethic. We’ll pick up the interview there.

Is the willingness to work hard an important leadership trait for you?

The key to my confidence is my work ethic. There is no problem you can give me that I won’t find a way through. I am willing to outwork anybody. This makes me supremely confident in my abilities.

People make excuses for why they come up short and aren’t successful. I think that most people simply don’t want to work hard enough to truly be successful. We’re having a lot of success [at Paul Quinn], but the first three-and-a-half years, I regularly worked fifteen, sixteen, seventeen-hour days. I went back to school to get a doctorate [a Ph.D. in Higher Education from the University of Pennsylvania] and worked full time. My students saw me come to the office on weekends at nine o’clock in the morning and stay until nine, ten o’clock at night. They saw that I don’t ask them to do anything I’m not willing to do myself.

The reality in dealing with under-resourced communities is that this population has a dysfunctional relationship with work. There are a myriad of contributing factors; it’s complex. You have to teach people the expectation of hard work. Telling them that they don’t work hard enough doesn’t mean I don’t love them, doesn’t mean I don’t think they’re wonderful, doesn’t mean I don’t think they’re special. But you can make some amazing things happen for yourself if you roll up your sleeves and work your way through it.

Tell me about the Four L’s of Quinnite Leadership here at Paul Quinn. Did you create those?

Our institutional ethos is WE over Me – the needs of the community supersede the wants of the individual. When I got here I looked around a realized we needed something to hold on to. The Guiding Principles of the institution are the Four L’s of Quinnite Leadership:

  • Love something greater than yourself
  • Leave places better than you found them
  • Live a life that matters
  • Lead from wherever you are

The Four L’s are basically my personal value system, learned through great parenting and a Jesuit education, but repackaged for Paul Quinn. The Jesuits teach us to be men and women for others. That translated to loving something greater than yourself.

My parents taught me to always, always leave places better than you found them.

We wanted to communicate to the students here that you don’t have to wait to lead; leadership begins today. In under-resourced communities, people need to become action-oriented. They need to be empowered. They need to hear, “You have the ability to change this. You don’t have to wait. You have something within your personal arsenal that can change your circumstances. Let’s go find it together.” That is lead from wherever you are.

Live a life that matters … When I was a freshman in high school I learned about renaissance men and women in my World History class. History remembers them as being good a many different things. I thought to myself, “Man, I want to be a renaissance man. I want to be someone that history remembers.” If you live a life that matters, that’s your legacy. Leave places better than you found them, improve other people’s lives, be selfless. History will remember your service.

What is Paul Quinn College to Oak Cliff, symbolically?

Our goal is to be one of America’s great small colleges. Period.

One of the things that’s very important to us, and important to me, is the use of language – controlling your narrative and establishing the narrative to be completely what you want, and not what others impose upon you. That’s important, especially in under-resourced communities and institutions, because people are always telling them who they can be, and what their dreams can be. Our goal is to create an extraordinary national institution. We want to be the signature higher education experience for students from urban, under-resourced communities.

In the context of Oak Cliff, we represent the non-gentrified possibilities for a better tomorrow for the indigenous people from this community. We’re not going to transform this school and then make it inaccessible for the very people we came to serve. What we’re saying is, when you subscribe to these values, the price won’t be what keeps you out. What will keep you out is your ability to serve. If you don’t want to serve, you don’t belong here. If you don’t want to be taught to lead, you don’t belong here.

Everyone has all this angst over “how do we develop Oak Cliff? How do we develop Southern Dallas?” The same way you’ve done it everywhere else. When you have a sustainable four-year, high performing institution, it produces the middle class that transforms the community from within.

Do you hope that graduates of this school stay in the area and reinvest themselves?

It’s not even about hope. I expect that a segment of my students will stay, and that they will pour themselves into transforming the area, absolutely. Not all of them, because we’re national. We need some people to go be mayors of LA, and Oakland, and Chicago, and New York, and to go do extraordinary things so that it raises the profile of the institution and inspires. We’re going to transform the institution and create an amazing place for the folks in this community who have held on for thirty, forty, fifty years, while a city built up everything north, and no one thought about them.

At the Sum + Substance event, you talked a little bit about anger. You said that it’s an important emotion – it causes things to happen if you use it the right way.

I think righteous anger can be incredibly healthy. You need to be angry about the state of affairs because you need to constantly be critical of those who come to you and say, “We did the best we could.” No you didn’t. You did what was in your best interest to do. You did what was safe for you to do. You did what soothed your conscious, but don’t tell me that this imbalance was the best that you could do.

When a bank tells us that our campus is worthless, when grocery stores told us, People in that neighborhood don’t look like our customers”, I said, “Thank you, because you didn’t have to tell me the truth. You could’ve given me the polite song and dance. You telling me the truth has infuriated me. It’s infuriated me enough that I am taking this personally, and I will expend whatever personal capital, whatever institutional capital that we must to do right by the people who deserve it.”

Revolutions don’t start from above. Revolutions start from below. They start from the places of unhappiness. They start from the places of dissatisfaction where people have lost a sense of hope, and they’ve lost their direction. They’re fed up with being told, “It’s not your turn, or you’re not good enough, or sorry, we did the best we could do.”

Revolutions are also messy. How do you plan for that?

Why do we have to plan for the messiness of the revolution? Life is messy. Poverty is messy. So what if some people’s feelings get hurt on the way to creating a better, more balanced city? Don’t we think that people’s lives have been hurt and their feelings have been hurt by living in mind-numbing poverty for generations? I’m not saying that you have to be angry to the point of irrational behavior. What I am saying, is that you also can’t allow yourself to become consumed by what everyone else is going to think about what you’re saying. You have to identify your constituency. You have to represent them to the best of your ability. I don’t want people to hate us, I don’t want people to hate me, but I also don’t think that it’s right that people live in food deserts.

I was struck by a few quotes from another interview and would enjoy hearing what’s behind them: 

You can be our kind and not be our color.

In my estimation, what HBCU’s are meant to really do is provide opportunities for students who have some type of disadvantage in their background.

I’m not insecure about our institutional heritage. I’m not insecure about our African American heritage. In fact, I’m so secure about both that I can welcome others as well. It doesn’t diminish mine.

Are we less of a Historically Black institution because our Miss Paul Quinn College is Latina? Are we less of a Historically Black institution because we have white soccer players? Are we less of a Historically Black institution because we have a diversity of religious experiences? No, we actually now have more to offer our Black students because those things; because we are expanding to become a HBCU that is also a Minority Serving Institution. What often happens when you grow up in under-resourced environments, is that you tend to engage in the ‘politics of less.’   That is, you define everything from a position of what you don’t have. You look around and you say, “I don’t have enough of this and I don’t have enough of that. If I share with you, I will have even less.” We reject that thought process. We believe that we can all have more if we share our resources. It’s not a zero sum game, but if you’ve grown up in poverty, that’s how you’ve been taught to define your life. We’re not going to do that.

The education you’re providing is more than academic.

Absolutely. I think that we would do our students a disservice if all we did was provide them with solely an academic education.

What is next? How can Dallas link arms and be part of the story?

The real estate community has completely embraced us.

Trammell (S. Crow) and The Real Estate Council (TREC) have been amazing. Trammell has been our number one donor for years and I don’t know if TREC could be any more supportive from the stand point of getting their members to provide services and help us in all other sorts of ways. We’ve got to build new buildings. There haven’t been any new buildings on this campus in forty-plus years. We need help. We need friends. They all know this and they’ve just been phenomenal.

As I think about what else we need outside of more economic resources, we need people to have some faith, that what they’re seeing is really happening. People don’t tend to believe something they’ve never seen before.

What would exemplify that people have faith?

I do think a lot of people have faith in us. I would like to see the counselors in DISD (Dallas Independent School District) show some faith by sending us more of their best students. We’re getting really good students now, but they rarely come from DISD. We can get great students from Detroit, Chicago, Pennsylvania, New York, St. Paul, and from California. We do an amazing job with gifted students. Because we are smaller, the line to stardom at Paul Quinn is much, much shorter.

There are so many people embracing us: the business community, the philanthropic community, and the majority of the Black, Hispanic, and Anglo communities. Politically, our elected officials have been incredibly supportive. I think the exception is more with a certain segment of the community that my students engage with more than I do. My students sometimes feel beaten down when they’re so excited to be Paul Quinn students and they go out in the community to serve, and hear disparaging things from this segment.

I think ours is just an issue of time with the non-believers.

It sounds like your reputation hasn’t caught up with you in some circles.

That’s exactly right. Who we are today hasn’t translated yet. In fairness this school (seemingly) struggled for twenty years and just started really getting back on track in the past five. It’s a matter of interpretation, but it makes a difference.

What advice can you give to other leaders facing the hard work of a turnaround situation?  

  • The opportunity has to personally resonate with you. You have to believe in it.
  • I tell people all the time, “You should not lead people you do not love.” I think you lead with love. I think that makes an enormous difference. I love this school, I love my staff, I love my students. I feel it is a privilege every day to come to work and be their president. I genuinely feel that way.
  • You have to know where you want to go.
  • It’s really important to have a sense of humor; you need to be able to laugh at yourself. You’re going to do ridiculous things.
  • Understand that failure isn’t forever.

Coming back to leading with love, you also need to learn how to love. The best advice I was given, advice that fundamentally transformed my presidency, happened early. The first summer that I was at Paul Quinn, I got into a huge argument in the middle of campus with a student. On the outside this young man looked and acted tough. We were still yelling when we got to my office where broke down into tears. After he left, an extraordinary staff member, Ms. Dickerson, said to me, “Baby, you know, I met your mother. I know that your mother loved you. I know that you grew up in an environment where there was strict discipline, but you never spent one second of your life wondering if you were loved. You bear all the markings of a guy who has had an abundance of love. If you hadn’t had that, and your college President yelled at you, would you have heard the love, or would you have just heard the tough?” She said, “They won’t hear you until they know you love them. You have to learn to lead with love.”

I can’t begin to tell you what a difference it made. It didn’t make a difference immediately, because there were still students for whom I thought, “You don’t need love, you need to have your butt kicked. You don’t get that other part,” (laughter) but it made a difference. I see the difference it makes. It’s made me a far better leader.

The other thing is my students need to see me as a husband, and as a father, because many of them have no model for that. They see me being very loving towards my wife. They see me bringing my son up and hugging him. They see him come up here and run around wreaking havoc. They see my little girl (she turned one in February). It turns out that people need to see how I do these things, and it’s okay to be sensitive in front of them.

I have a final question if you will indulge me. Are you in line with what you feel your life’s purpose is? If you think about those kinds of things, would you say that you’re on track?

I think that I have found a peace that I did not have before. To the extent that that peace is only possible when you are aligned with your purpose, then perhaps so. I think I am becoming the man that my family would’ve hoped that I would become. I think maybe this is what I was built to do.

Thank so much for your time. This has been delightful.

Thank you for thinking that I’d be a worthy subject.

 

Today a very solid foundation is in place at Paul Quinn College. There is fidelity in their Core Ideology, which surfaced naturally in our conversation. There is strong alignment between Sorrell’s personal values and those of Paul Quinn – there is no wonder that he feels peace. He is also demonstrating the ability to hold two important poles in business: a relentless pursuit of goals and executional excellence and the ability to be a compassionate leader and role model for a population who direly needs it.

Check out Paul Quinn College on Facebook

 

LeeAnn Mallory is a leadership coach and consultant who develops exemplary leaders and thriving organizations.

 

Leader or Follower?  A Bogus Choice

Leader or Follower? A Bogus Choice

team paceline_cascade cyclist_cc

 

The weekend following my solo outing, my husband and I went out again. He’s a more experienced cyclist than I am and is also much better at navigating our route, so pretty quickly I fall back and he rides out front. Considering our goal is fitness-focused and having an activity we do together, this arrangement works. That said, we do pay attention to our times and feel good when we see improvement. We also push ourselves to ride further as the riding season progresses. Speed is less important than distance. This day we planned to ride 25 miles.

About five miles out I realized I had zoned out – that my level and type of engagement on this trip was very different from the previous weekend. Not only was last weekend’s ride the first on my own,  I had also been caught in a storm which added an element of adventure. While I was enjoying this ride, it lacked the almost hyper-awareness of the previous one.

In Gallup terms I was somewhere between Engaged and Disengaged. Was being a ‘follower’ the cause for this? In a way, yes. Today I had the energy and outlook of ‘being along for the ride’.  I was not connected to any outcome or my role in achieving it. I had been much more invested when I was solely responsible for reaching my destination the prior weekend.  Interesting.

My mind jumped to considering the roles and mindsets of leaders, teams and team members who are focused on achieving organizational goals (or not). Experts tell us that in the near future, organizational success will rely more on the collaborative efforts seen in self-managing teams. As the shape of how work gets done changes, leaders and followers will become less distinct. Leaders will need to fall back and team members will need to step up.  A more intentional level of engagement will be required by both.

The Onus is On Us

Frederic Laloux, author of Reinventing Organizations, writes about a new type of management that is emerging in a few forward thinking companies.   These organizations are finding better ways of working together that produce sustainable results for all stakeholders:  employees, communities, vendors , shareholders, and the environment.  They are defined as Teal organizations (seeThe Future of Management is Teal). Self-managed teams are a key characteristic of Teal organizations and will require more trust, humility, integrity, passion and connection with purpose.

“Teal Organizations operate effectively, even at a large scale, with a system based on peer relationships. They set up structures and practices in which people have high autonomy in their domain, and are accountable for coordinating with others. Power and control are deeply embedded throughout the organizations, no longer tied to the specific positions of a few top leaders.” – Frederic Laloux

The transition to Teal will be easier for some than others. Team members who prefer to work for an authoritative leader, with clear hierarchies and prescribed roles may find this arrangement challenging. The processes and rules will be different; work will be more organic and solutions emergent.

Nick Petrie from the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) also writes about “the rise of collective leadership” in his white paper, Future Trends in Leadership Development.

“…a future made up of complex, chaotic environments is less suited to the problem solving of lone, decisive authority figures than it is to the distributed efforts of smart, flexible leadership networks” – Nick Petrie

Falling Back as a Key Leadership Capability

In group- and team-cycling, the paceline is central. Cyclists ride in a line, taking turns at the front ‘pulling’, which allows others to ‘draft’, or take advantage of the wind being blocked by the leader. Each person leads for a short time and then falls back so that another can step up. The group is able to maintain a faster pace and higher collective energy.   This is a beautiful example of distributed leadership.

As an executive coach I have given clients the assignment to ‘fall back’ – to trust others’ ability to lead. Some people find it difficult, even uncomfortable to not be in charge. They’re concerned things won’t be done ‘right’, or that no one else is prepared to take on the challenge. As in the cycling analogy, not only would this be exhausting but it also impedes the building of trust, the development of others and ultimately the success of the team.

I also appreciate the paceline metaphor because each person has to train,  to prepare themselves to take the lead in order to be a part of the team. In the world of cycling, as I believe it will be in organizational life, individuals choose if they want to train or not, and that will determine the contribution they are able to make to the larger team and how they will be invited to participate.

The roles of ‘leaders’ and ‘followers’ have changed over the thousands of years that we humans have been organizing ourselves for reasons from survival to commerce to connection.  We are on the cusp of a new rendering of these definitions which many of us will welcome.  Every transition brings expected and unexpected consequences; self-awareness and conscious choosing will support our collective efforts during this transformation. Being ‘along for the ride’ won’t be an effective long term strategy for success in the future.

Note:  Thanks to my good friend and serious cyclist, Bob for the lessons on pacelines and team cycling! 

 

Acknowledging Accomplishment

Acknowledging Accomplishment

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My learning adventure beget by a solo cycling excursion was winding down.   I had planned and prepared well for my ride barring the weather faux pas. Getting caught in the downpour had given me the opportunity to practice awareness and centering at a new level and to reframe an unplanned situation into one of learning. And I still had insights to gain before making it back home.

The skies became blue again about halfway home and by the time I was on the final stretch I could see that not a single drop of rain had fallen near my house. The streets were completely dry, and there I was, my back covered in mud from the spray off my rear tire. I felt exhilarated and proud for sticking it out. I was also aware that I was alone in my experience – no one else was wet and muddy and feeling all happy, as far as I could tell. I sensed a desire to be recognized for my small feat and then felt silly for it.

My thoughts and my legs were keeping pace with each other and I was struck by the realization that every day there are multiple chances to recognize someone for their hard work and accomplishments. How many opportunities do I miss to acknowledge others for what they are proud of, for what they have struggled to complete or for important milestones they have reached? How many cyclists have I encountered who are feeling proud of their maiden cycling voyage or who are getting back on the saddle after an illness or injury?

A common request I receive from leaders is to learn to give constructive feedback more effectively. It’s an activity that hardly anyone enjoys but that is necessary. Rarely do I get a request to help a leader shore up his or her ability to give positive feedback and this capability is every bit as important. Take a moment to reflect on the last time you received sincere acknowledgement for a job well done. How did it impact you? You may have noted a sense of pride or satisfaction, of feeling valued and encouraged to continue and maybe even to increase your efforts. There is no shortage of business literature these days extolling the effect of praise and positive work environments on organizational outcomes.

Positive feedback is an essential practice to engage in, given the impact it can have on individuals. When teaching feedback methods I always begin with the practice of giving positive feedback. Two decades have passed since Stephen R. Covey introduced the concept of an ‘emotional bank account’ and suggested that we make more deposits than withdrawals to maintain healthy relationships both in our personal and professional lives. Acknowledgement falls in the category of an emotional bank account deposit. In order to keep a positive balance, I ask leaders to practice giving positive feedback for a few weeks before giving the constructive type (typically experienced as a ‘withdrawal’). At first many find naming others’ virtues uncomfortable and even unnecessary.

 Why is that?

One common argument for giving praise is, “Why should I acknowledge someone for doing his or her job?” Why not? With Gallup reporting that 70% of the U.S. workforce is actively disengaged, a little acknowledgement could go a long way and it doesn’t cost a dime. But it might cost you some humility. Most of us enjoy hearing when our performance is hitting the mark, and specifically how our contribution is adding value to the organization.

When someone does something good, applaud! You will make two people happy.  – Samuel Goldwyn

When acknowledgement, or positive feedback is given meaningfully, a feeling of connection and even vulnerability can result. This sense of connection can be uncomfortable for some and we may shy away from it. Heartfelt acknowledgment touches the giver and receiver in a special way and usually leaves both of them feeling uplifted. When a group of leaders in a workshop practice giving sincere positive feedback to each other there is an immediate and noticeable upshift in the mood. Providing direct and positive feedback mutually beneficial!

Correction does much, but encouragement does more   – Goethe

Some of us are better at seeing gaps in performance, or ‘opportunities for improvement’. We are all naturally built to look for what’s wrong, to notice signs of danger. This is another survival mechanism we come into the world fully loaded with. Yet continually noticing and calling out what’s not working diminishes morale and throttles relationships. Consider developing an alternate habit of catching people doing something right and then acknowledging it.

If I had received correction on my decision to ride that day or on my cycling form, I would have felt at least a little deflated. Instead, my family and friends gave me virtual ‘high fives’ and I’m encouraged to take it to the next level. While both constructive and positive feedback are useful when given skillfully and sincerely, I recommend an out-of-balance condition on the positive side when desiring to keep people engaged. Zenger|Folkman says that “only positive feedback can motivate people to continue doing what they’re doing well, and do it with more vigor, determination, and creativity”. (HBR, March 2013)

Try This:

  • Tune your observation to pay attention to what your team, your friends, your family members are “doing right” – including what they’re attempting, accomplishing and what they may be proud of. The more you look, the more you’ll see.
  • Acknowledge the accomplishment in a meaningful way. Rather than giving general praise, try the S-B-I method: Describe the Situation, the observableBehavior and the Impact. Example: LeeAnn, last Saturday when it started raining during your ride, you stuck with it and turned it into an adventure. I hear it was a great learning experience for you and seems like it gave you more confidence for your next challenging ride.
  • Schedule time each week dedicated to acknowledgement. Use this time for in-person or written (handwritten or digital) acknowledgements. Some will argue against a digital acknowledgement. I say don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good – and I also wouldn’t make digital a primary mode. In person is by far the most effective (over the phone or video call is ‘in person’ when you can’t be in the same physical space.

 

How to Ride Out a Storm

How to Ride Out a Storm

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The phrase, ‘ride it out’ can be interpreted in different ways. Here are two:

     Hunker down until it passes – just get through it.

Experience it; be ‘with’ it. Like riding a wave through to the end.

Almost daily we are given a chance to respond to life’s storms. These storms come in the form of disappointments large and small; changes in our career and personal lives; economic downturns and little annoyances like traffic jams.   On the day I was caught on my bike in a downpour ten miles from home, I was determined to ride it like a wave.

The rain caught me off guard, although it shouldn’t have. It also delighted me. Change and learning, even in small doses, can be thrilling. Experts say that we are most alive when we are fully awake to change – when we allow ourselves to truly feel the shifts, bumps and voids rather than shut them down.

As soon as the rain began to fall, awareness of my environment was heightened to the point of being almost surreal. Through the sheets of rain the day somehow seemed brighter, the grass greener, and the sounds crisper. I was also conscious of how much more precarious this ride had just become.

Is this an experience that feels familiar to you? That during a disturbance in the predictable patterns of work and life you become more awake and alive? More aware of what’s at stake? Breakdowns occur in every field of work: healthcare, transportation, technology, finance, etc. These interruptions create a sort of wedge, an opening that allows for new levels of consciousness to arise. If we tune ourselves to notice and take advantage of these events they provide a rich ground for learning.

I knew from my years of somatic* training that keeping my body centered on my bike, my breath low in my body, and my muscles relaxed would help me stay balanced, fluid and more able to respond as I rode through the silt that had become slippery mud. I had to remind myself many times to relax my jaws, shoulders and hands, and to keep a slow and steady breath.

In this case I was alone – not with or leading others. Had I been in an environment where coordinating with others was necessary, my presence would have been even more important. We humans are hardwired to read and resonate with each other’s non-verbal cues. It’s important for our survival. When a leader is tense, rigid and reactive, this mood is spread to the team and can lead to fear and uncertainty. This state also robs us of critical resources in the form of blood and oxygen to our vital organs, leaving us unable to think clearly and take calm and confident action. When we are relaxed and alert the opposite is true and we inspire trust and confidence in those we work with.

I continued my ride, staying connected to the energy and sense of aliveness I felt. I enjoyed the adventure. It seemed that many fellow cyclists I crossed paths with were having a similar experience and we exchanged knowing smiles with each other – a sort of bonding moment. Other cyclists were hunkered down, getting through it, seemingly without a larger connection to the adventure. Their heads were down, jaws were set and brows were furrowed. Perhaps this was nothing more than an annoyance to them. There was no room for kinship with these riders.

Reflections:

Recall a recent challenge or breakdown. How did you, or how are you meeting it? Just getting through, hoping it will be over soon? Or are you meeting the challenge with enthusiasm and riding the wave to the end? Perhaps there’s a little of both!

When you are feeling challenged, what is your typical somatic response? (tighten jaws, hold breath, contract shoulders, etc.) How can you bring more awareness to this reaction and move quickly to a more resourceful state?

Try this practice: Several times a day, take a moment to center yourself. Very briefly this means that you move your breath to your low belly and encourage the relaxation of muscles throughout your body, from top to bottom. Let your weight drop into your chair or into your feet, at the same time gently lifting through your spine. Relaxed yet alert. Remind yourself of what is most important in the moment and in the bigger scheme of life. You’ll be much more capable of centering yourself during a storm if you’ve practiced in calmer waters.

Definition of somatic: the living body as experienced from within; body/mind integration

I am a Certified Somatic Coach through Strozzi Institute.  Check out their blog for quick lessons on centering and to get a peek at what they’re about:

https://theembodiedlife.wordpress.com/