2015 AGB National Conference on Trusteeship

Howard Teibel working with teams of trustees at the AGB 2015 National Conference on Trusteeship

Howard Teibel working with teams of trustees at the AGB 2015 National Conference on Trusteeship

Howard Teibel has joined the catalog of presenters at the 2015 National Conference on Trusteeship this weekend in Phoenix, Arizona. 

Howard's pre-conference presentation is dedicated to helping trustees as they work to Institutionalize Change.

The trustees mingle at the opening reception of AGB 2105 National Conference on Trusteeship

The trustees mingle at the opening reception of AGB 2105 National Conference on Trusteeship

Trustees understand that business as usual is no longer an option in higher education. Change is a given. But boards often struggle with how to start change initiatives and what questions to ask to shape the process. Utilizing the knowledge of a change-management expert in higher education and the experience of board and institutional leaders, this workshop will address questions such as: How does culture impact our ability to institutionalize change efforts? How do we help individuals and the institution deal with difficult facts while creating a positive vision for change? What are strategies to create a topdown and bottom-up approach that engages all levels of an institution in the change process? The workshop will provide tangible strategies and tools for board and institutional leaders to bring back to their campuses.

To those Arizona-bound looking for some additional insight on the conference, listen to Howard and AGB President Rick Legon discuss board leadership and adaptability in the face of change in higher ed on episode 86 of the Navigating Change podcast. The conference runs through April 21 in Phoenix, Arizona. 

Reflections on NACUBO's 2014 Managerial Analysis and Decision Support Program

I’m just back from a few great days in Charlotte for the NACUBO 2014 Managerial Analysis and Decision Support program. It was a powerful session with strong participation from insightful leaders across the board. I want to reflect with you all my key message and some of my own insights now that you’re back to work.

Your primary job as a communicator is to educate, engage, and inspire your audience to action.

If there is any one thing I’d like you to come away from our time together at the NACUBO MADS conference, that’s it, and here’s why.

As financial officers, we have a natural affinity for the weeds. We live in data and analysis, and thrive at our most authentic place when we’re communicating with others who live in that space with us. But most of our institutional world does not live in our data. To reach them, we have to change the way we see ourselves. We have to recognize that cultivating an environment of creativity means telling the story of our data in a way that inspires others to act.

In that light, here are three key points from our time together which serve as a reminder of our purpose at the leadership table.

  1. Keep Focused on the Big Picture. It’s easy to follow the data down the rabbit hole. In most cases, your audience will not follow you.
  2. Make a Case you can Stand For. If you want to inspire others to act, obviously you have to paint a picture that is worth acting on. That’s easier said than done. The real question to ask yourself is, “when I stand up and deliver my pitch, is it something that I am personally willing to advocate for?” If you believe in your story, your audience will feel it, and they’ll be more likely to follow you. If you don’t, you can bet they’ll pick up on that, too.
  3. You are the Guide for your Audience. Before you take your first step on stage, before you design your presentation materials, ask yourself this question: “What are the key outcomes I need to see from my audience as a result of my story?” If you have these outcomes in mind as you design your talk, you’re in a better position to guide your audience in their role in this presentation. Make sure you’re actively reminding them that they play a part in this presentation dance with you!

I love connecting with rubber-meets-the-road finance leaders, it’s a very comfortable space for me — home turf, as it were. But just as it’s comfortable space for all of us personally, it’s important to be aware when our own work does not translate clearly and effectively to others. As leaders, the responsibility to educate, engage, and inspire others to act is all ours.

Thank you for your time and attention in Charlotte. I look forward to connecting with you all, and hearing your stories at future events!

— Howard 


Photo: James Willamore (Flickr)

Learning as a Team at East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania

Here are some highlights from a fantastic event held at experience at East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania.

Our charge together at ESU was to work together not to address revenue challenges, or enrollment issues, or staffing, or tenure or any of the litany of challenges facing our institutions today. Our charge was to come together and challenge the perception of what it means to work together as a team in the face of long-held belief in the way we’ve always done things.

This, too, is nothing new to so many institutions. We all face the daunting chore of breaking up cemented norms. Here are three areas where ESU is different in my view.

  1. Leadership: Vice President Administration & Finance Ken Long has built a team that is positioned to face new challenges. The positive energy is palpable. More importantly, Long’s demonstrated commitment to growth manifests in his behavior to the team, his willingness to receive sometimes difficult criticism, and his ability to adapt to behavior cues that define how he works with others in his capacity as leader.
  2. Risk: Bruce Tuckman coined the model of group development under the moniker “Forming — Storming — Norming — Performing” back in the mid 1960s. The longevitiy of the model always strikes me when I see it so profoundly demonstrated in teams. At ESU, the team has formed and is clearly on the path to face new challenges. The result of strong leadership and momentum is a team that is developing its own identity. In each exercise I threw into the mix, ESU stepped up with energy and enthusiasm ready to take on the most difficult areas of operation with gusto.
  3. Faith: What was clear to me by the end of our time together was that this is a team that is developing a strong sense of faith. Their growing team identity is one that is steeped in confidence in themselves as individual contributors and confidence in their peers to face the difficult road ahead and deliver results together.

Long and his team are putting into action a plan to change their institutional approach to the challenges we face across our industry. But what’s most noble to me in their effort is their willingness to test their own belief in success, to ask the question, “is good enough, really good enough?” And to recognize the incredible power in facing the future as a strong team, together.

Reflections on Strategic Procurement at Unimarket Annual User Conference

Last month, I was honored to deliver the keynote address on change management and decision making to the Unimarket Fourth Annual User Conference in Nashville, Tennessee. It was a wonderful event, well-orchestrated and efficient — I’d expect nothing less from procurement professionals.

That, as it turns out, is an important statement: I expect nothing less than efficiency from procurement professionals. It is the set of basic skills in procurement that we have come to see as the norm. Of course the event was well planned. Of course it came in under budget. Of course it was staffed appropriately. Anything short of these things would, by definition, equate to an unprofessional execution of a core competency.

The case that Unimarket carries forward through the procurement industry is one I think is worth reflection: From buyers to strategic sourcing to finance, there is no department better positioned for reducing costs quickly than procurement.

Why, then, is it so rare to see procurement rise beyond a tactical role, to a strategic one? Because procurement needs to tell a better story.

  1. Demonstrate an understanding of institutional strategy. If you’re in procurement, do you understand the connection between your tactical role and the broader operation of the academic and business model at your institution? Strategic procurement officers do.
  2. Cultivate a culture of influencing up. If you’re in procurement, do you understand how to genuinely support each department through your unique skills, and demonstrate that support to senior leadership? Strategic procurement officers do.
  3. Deliver insight that hides between tactics and strategy. If you’re in procurement, have you developed the threshold skill of connecting tactics to the strategic plan, delivering key hidden insights to senior leadership in a way that affects change? Strategic procurement officers have.

This is a great group of people, well-positioned to deliver substantial change to their institutions. Unimarket is in an interesting role, both as a vendor to this critical group, and as an advocate for better, smarter procurement. They’re uniquely positioned to help procurement officers in this march to craft procurement as a strategic role.

Next year, let’s keep things simple and hold the conference on Unimarket’s home turf: New Zealand. … Oh, yes: I’m available!

— Howard 


Photo: Daniel Perry — Unimarket

Reflections on Strategic Leadership and Deep Change at EACUBO 2014

This year’s EACUBO Annual Meeting offered us a valuable insight into the continued evolution of our field, perhaps more than any year prior. There was a greater — more tangible — presence of change as a strategic discipline. In our own work with business leaders, we’ve seen a continued progression toward the CBO-as-key-leader mentality, more than just a number cruncher and resource for the president. And this year at EACUBO, we’re seeing an even greater push supported by new data accounting for CBOs as strategic leaders across our institutions.

Every function requires a complex set of skills. It’s rare to find a career in which a singular expertise is a clear marker for success. But in the CBO role, a discussion of meta-competencies is particularly timely. Today’s CBO is being asked to do more, with more groups, and greater responsibilities than ever before. As Cindy Matson reported in her talk, presidents are demanding more of their CBOs as representatives of the institution, not just representatives of the budget. Today’s CBO is the advocate of the business model. 

This transition across our CUBO regions is palpable. Professional development initiatives are framed in such a way that it’s no longer acceptable for CBOs to be simply managers of the institution’s resources. That’s a given. If we want to move the needle on deep change (riffing on the powerful work of Robert Quinn), we have to be able to count on our CBOs and leverage the unique understanding they have for our institutions both as educators and advocates for our place in higher ed. 

Nicole Trufant & Howard Teibel

Nicole Trufant & Howard Teibel

I had the opportunity to wrap up my series of talks around the regions on “Communicating Strategically to Make an Impact,” with the wonderfully talented CBO, Nicole Trufant from University of New England. There is an increasing resonance with this idea of communication as influence among business officers that have attended these sessions. Perhaps the most challenging point for our audience is this: People don’t care what you think. We love to imagine that people tune in to our messages because they believe that our well-educated insights are priceless. But when we stop and reflect, we see that people only care if we can find a way to tune our message to focus on what they think, what they care about.

Howard Teibel & Pete Wright — Preparing for Navigating Change Live at EACUBO 2014

Howard Teibel & Pete Wright — Preparing for Navigating Change Live at EACUBO 2014

As it turns out, that’s the difference between doing what’s expected of us, and inspiring others to action. Between reporting the numbers, and inspiring others to embrace change in their departments as a result.

We had the distinct pleasure of co-hosting the EACUBO Cheers Reception on Monday evening, and set up our recording studio for a few episodes of our show, Navigating Change, interviewing leaders for a live EACUBO audience. Our first episode from that event is live today, a conversation with EACUBO vice chair, Lynne Schaefer, and NACUBO vice president for professional development, Marta Perez Drake. You can listen on the website or find the show in iTunes now.

— Howard 

Howard Teibel and Greg Lovins demonstrate Strategic Communication for NACUBO MADS 2014

Greg Lovins, Vice Chancellor for Business Affairs, Appalachian State University

Greg Lovins, Vice Chancellor for Business Affairs, Appalachian State University

According to our special guest Greg Lovins, although communication is a vital responsibility, it is not always easy for business officers.  As vice chancellor for business affairs at Appalachian State University, Greg and his team are responsible to ensure that the institution is equipped with the information they need to collectively make smart decisions.  Ensuring buy-in and collaboration among key constituencies is a challenge for the very best communicators, but when the message is loaded with complexity and offers a high opportunity for jargon, clear communication becomes much more difficult.

Greg will be joining Howard Teibel at NACUBO's 2014 Managerial Analysis and Decision Support, November 13-14 in Charlotte, North Carolina to deliver their presentation, “Communicating Financial Information Effectively.” This week on the show, Greg joins Howard and Pete Wright for an introduction to their interactive session. 

2014 Great Plains Fall Annual Meeting

I'm just now settled here in Ames, Iowa at the Gateway Hotel and Conference Center for the NAEP Great Plains regional meeting. The hotel is adjacent to Iowa State and I've spent the last while walking the grounds and taking some photos of the beautiful gardens — a wonderful setting for a terrific session!

I'll be speaking tomorrow on impactful group decision-making. I'm characterizing it as an art in this talk, and that's not me being clever. Coming together to make meaningful decisions requires the diligent application of our best creative and cognitive skill, and developing this new muscle will not only streamline efficiency and effectiveness in the work we do in teams, it will make us happier in the process. 

This is one of my very favorite topics and I'm thrilled to be collaborating with the Great Plains region's talented procurement professionals!

Reflections from The Northwest School, Leading Through Change

My deepest thanks to The Northwest School in Seattle. This was one of the most authentic and progressive bodies of faculty I’ve met. In my line of work, I consider it an immense gift to share in transformation, and I can say I’ve learned and grown as much in my work with you as facilitator as I hope you’ve learned about each other. 

Growing Pains

One of the greatest moments of clarity in a change process comes when we are able to make sense of the complexity we have unconsciously grown into our work. This frustration lives in our clear memory of what it was like when there were fewer rules, when we were designing as we went along. The impressions we have of bureaucracy are symptoms of growing pains and maturity, an outgrowth of our affinity to “the good old days.”

There was one question asked frequently in the session, albeit in different ways: "How do we preserve what we love about our place, about the work we do, without becoming an obstacle to change?” Remember this mantra: Don’t try to answer that. Leave that question open.

Our sessions together at The Northwest School demonstrated for me a team absolutely dedicated to both asking difficult questions of themselves as they brave the sea of change, and solving the biggest problems ahead together. To those in attendance this week, I offer you a few reminders which I hope you will carry forward in your work this year.

  1. Assume good will, be of good humor. Nine times out of ten, when we respond to difficult news, we’re responding to style over content. If you assume good intentions of the messenger, you’ll be more nimble as you respond to the message.
  2. Practice the language of the 4 Rooms. The 4-Room Model for Change can help you adapt and respond to disruption more effectively, but using this language is a muscle that must be developed. Use the language of contentment, denial, confusion, and renewal when coming together to discuss issues and opportunities.
  3. Be aware of the subtle difference between airing a problem without commensurate focus on a solution. When we support others, it goes a long way to make sure people not only feel heard, but that the are heard. Feeling heard is a head nod from the listener. Being heard means you’re reflecting back to the speaker their message as you heard it. Just as we did in our time together, look for what lies behind what you’re hearing, reduce misunderstanding, and increase engagement in the real challenges you’re facing.
Howard Teibel

The Other Learning

I’m going to be honest. This marks the first time in my professional career that I have literally been undressed by a set of faculty. 

Thankfully, the audience offered gentle guidance, disabusing me of my west coast assumptions around “business casual” and providing just the right accoutrements so that I fit in perfectly! Why do I tell this story? Because we all need to remember how important it is to be flexible. And I want that vest back! 

As we strive to become change leaders, remember that it’s possible to frame every crisis as an opportunity, and doing so directly informs your ability to respond to it. That’s part of the value of the New Normal, and our work to internalize this language will help us to build a more agile team. 

I had a wonderful time with The Northwest School community. It’s clear to me that this team is poised to continue breathing life into the place this academic year and beyond. Thank you for a trip I’ll not soon forget!

— Howard

Reflections on Decision-Making with the Administrative Management Institute

I’ve just finished my session on decision-making for the Administrative Management Institute conference at Cornell University. To those of you in attendance, thank you for your terrific engagement today. You came ready to be challenged — and to challenge me in return! Our time was brief, and I know you’re all faced with a deluge of information from other sessions. So I want to share with you three key observations from our decision-making model that you can apply directly to your own work. 

Internalize Your Vision of Success
We are exceptionally talented at looking for bad potential outcomes. We’re wired to find fault and risk in our plans. But as you look back at our work today reviewing the Decision-Making Model, the first three steps comprise the most important part of the process of making change: Why?

If we work together to understand why we’re taking on a new initiative, we can then visualize ourselves in the future, looking back as if the successful results of our work are already in place. If you take anything away from our time together today, please take this. There is no better way to motivate individuals and establish team alignment than to create a clear vision of a future in which you’ve already won. 

Reframe Consensus
Remember the classic film The Princess Bride?

Vizzini has just cut the rope The Dread Pirate Roberts is climbing up
Inigo Montoya: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Such is our relationship with consensus. Over the years, the word has evolved, and now it brings with it such baggage that any process seeking consensus is met with eye-rolls at best. But consensus does not mean what we think it means. While team members shudder that all a consensus leader is looking to do is to make sure that everyone agrees before making a decision, the reality is much different. 

When you’re starting a new project, at your first meeting, reframe the word clearly and concisely. I’m even going to give you a script: 

“In our team meetings, we’re going to be working toward consensus. We will not agree all the time. But for us, consensus means that we are all willing to move together in the same direction, even if that direction is not our personal favorite.”

Reset the expectation around consensus and you’ll go a long way toward streamlining your decision-making process. 

Time is Everything
We accomplished what we needed to accomplish today in about 1/3 of the time I typically allot for these sessions. On the surface, I count that as a big win — we came with concrete objectives, and with focus and determination, we met them. You can do the same with your own work as change leaders. 

But that comes at a cost. Without the time in workshop to reflect and practice the principles we learned today, a much greater weight is placed on you all to do that work individually, at home, at work, and beyond. It’s up to you to study the model, to adapt and align it with your internal processes, and most importantly to practice moving through each step with your own teams, on your own projects. 

Yes, we saved time today. But decision-making is a muscle, and to build it takes focus, practice, and repetition. 

I walked out of our session today feeling great about our work together. I hope you share that feeling, and I’m confident that the decision-making model will support your work in leading change in your own institutions. My deepest thanks to AMI for inviting me to present today. I look forward to our paths crossing again down the road.

— Howard.


Wrapping up NACUBO 2014 — Reflections, Observations & Inspirations around Communicating Strategically

This has been a fantastic week. 

We started off with the New Business Officer's forum, helping those new to the role to get acquainted with the skills they'll need to cultivate to succeed. From there, I co-facilitated a conversation on communication with the talented Kelly Fox and Greg Lovins. Somewhere in between, we were joined by the truly incomparable Alison Levine, legendary technologist Bill Gates, and too many terrific concurrent sessions to mention. 

What strikes me yet again is the degree to which NACUBO has internalized the issues and struggles facing business officers every day, and reflects those struggles with spot-on opportunities for continued learning and engagement. This year, whether we're talking about debt or financial aid or the relative "brokenness" of our business models, one thing is clear: communication is a key skill.

We had a wonderful connection with a business officer that supports the point. Chatting at a reception about the importance of communication, this individual said, "what we do is numbers. I can do the touchy-feely stuff for about 30 minutes ... then I need data." 

True, for those of us more accustomed to working with numbers, sitting through sessions on the art and importance of communication can certainly feel "touchy-feely." But think of it this way: if you're struggling with sitting through sessions at a conference around this topic for more than 30 minutes, how does that translate to your leadership team or board room, in which you're charged with presenting beyond the numbers to non-numbers people in a way that highlights your strategy to lead important initiatives? 

Not convinced? Just take a look at NACUBO's last National Profile Report. As you review it, notice how many key profile areas might involve become a better, more articulate, more convincing communicator? Spoiler: most of them.

I've been speaking around the country on this topic for several years now so you can imagine how gratifying it is personally to see NACUBO continue to take up the mantle. Communicating strategically is a key leadership skill; how many great leaders do you know who can't communicate clearly enough to rally support for their initiatives? Remember, great managers have subordinates. Great leaders have followers. It's our job not just to manage change in our institutions, but to inspire it. 

Thanks to everyone for a wonderful week — and here's to the NACUBO Annual Meeting 2015!

— Howard

Team Teibel is in Seattle for NACUBO 2014!

We’re here, joining the incredibly talented field of business officers, administrators, and educators for the NACUBO 2014 Annual Meeting. Seattle is a beautiful city and the perfect backdrop to this year’s conference. 

You’ll be able to find the Teibel team throughout events this year and I encourage you to reach out and connect. From the NACUBO Speaker’s Corner to the New Business Officer’s workshop, to concurrent sessions, we’ll be engaging in the most important topics facing business officers right now, and doing our part to have a little fun while we’re together!

We’ve put together a resource page for those following Teibel events at the conference. In addition, we’ve recorded two special episodes of my podcast, Navigating Change, focused on NACUBO:

It’s going to be a great event, folks, one that continues to define the landscape of best practices in our field. It’s an honor to work with you, and we can’t wait to work with you all this week.

— Howard

Leadership Lessons from EACUBO NY Spring 2014 — Dancing Guy, Followers, and Decision-Making

Howard Teibel at The New School

I am honored to have been speaker at the EACUBO New York City Spring 2014 WorkshopThe New School is a beautiful facility, and served as a terrific location for creative thinking and discussion. 

As a refresher, our time together was focused in two areas: effective decision-making, and leadership. If these concepts were presented as a Venn Diagram, you’d be looking at a circle — or pretty close to it. 

You see, making decisions effectively is inherently a product of leadership. It is the mark of someone who has exercised the critical muscle of influence, whatever their role in the organization may be. Just because you don’t have managerdean, or vice president before your name does not mean you don’t have influence in the organization.

Consider our discussions of the “Dancing Guy.” In just three minutes, we witnessed a lone, shirtless dancer in a field transform into a movement of a hundred or more. How did he do it? As entrepreneur and narrator Derek Sivers frames it, dancing guy was a Lone Nut, committing his passion all alone to something he believes is truly great

But even more importantly, he had the benefit of help from his first follower, that special believer who had the courage to commit his own influence to a cause he believed it. That courage transformed the Lone Nut into a leader that others could follow without fear. 

Now that you’ve had a few weeks to settle back into your work, I ask you to think about these two take-aways, and evaluate how you are applying them each day. 

  1. Do you understand the scope of your own influence? Take the time to reflect on your own work and expertise. Are you regularly considered the Lone Nut? Or are you brave enough to be the First Follower? Where will your own influence lend support to truly important — great — projects in your institution?
  2. Bring a group together, and deconstruct a project. If you haven’t had the opportunity to apply the decision-making model to a current project, do it soon! Condition yourself to approach new challenges using the model and watch how effectively you are able to generate new ideas and overcome past logjam.

Leadership is a powerful and mysterious role, but it doesn’t come courtesy of a title. We are all capable of becoming leaders, of driving change in our organizations. It’s your job to develop an eye for opportunities to lead change as the Lone Nut, or to apply your own influence artfully and effectively as the First Follower. Keep your eyes peeled — these opportunities are everywhere!

Leaders are those who empower others.
— Bill Gates
Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.
— Warren Bennis
Leadership is influence. Nothing more, nothing less.
— John Maxwell

Gearing up for the NAEP Leadership Forum

In the morning, I’ll be leading the Leadership Forum annual meeting for the National Association of Education Procurement. It’s a beautiful evening here in Louisville, Kentucky, and judging by the members I’ve already met, tomorrow promises to be an engaging and productive day.

We’ll be taking on some pretty important issues in today’s session around leadership and strategy. How do you cultivate an environment that is open and encouraging of change? What is your role as a leader in supporting your people through periods of terrific complexity? Becoming an influential leader is very much a personal journey, but the result serves as a foundation for teams that understand — and are excited to build on — the shared strategy of the team, department, or institution.

Speaking of strategy, we’ll be digging in to the strategic planning process, too. When execution suffers, it can often be traced back to holes in the strategic plan. Whether you inherited a plan from a prior leader, or never finished the process in the first place, developing and refining the strategic plan is critical to getting back on track.

We’ll ask some important questions of each other today, questions that get to the heart of the business model we serve. When we’re finished, you’ll have a roadmap for developing your teams around a strategy that you own, for your people, driving toward the shared success of the institution.

This is some of the most fun work I do, engaging high performing teams and helping them to see what’s possible in their work. Get ready for some new skills, new frameworks, and great fun today!

Reflections: Communicating Effectively at SACUBO

One in a series of Texas Firsts for me at SACUBO!

One in a series of Texas Firsts for me at SACUBO!

It’s been a whirlwind trip to San Antonio for the SACUBO Annual Meeting. The team behind the conference has been fantastic, as to be expected. Now that events have started to wind down, I’ve had a chance to reflect on our Communication session I led with Greg Lovins, and would like to offer a few key take-aways to consider as you make your way back to work this week.

With nearly 150 people in the room, there was clearly enthusiasm around this topic. The weight around one particular question was striking, though: how do you communicate bad news?

Short answer: deliver the brutal facts balanced against a positive view of the future.

We drilled down into detail on this one, but I think the focus on tactics comes as a disservice to a deeper mission. Communication is a tool. Our ability to communicate complex information clearly is often directly linked to the direction of our organizations. As business officers, it is our responsibility to own our message, and to understand the impact of its delivery through the choices made by others as a result. Our mandate is one of participation: share the tough insights with leadership, but be ready to share positive solutions and recommendations, too.

Don’t forget: You’re a Storyteller.

When you’re communicating something — whether it’s spoken, written, presented, briefed, or brown-bagged — you need to start thinking about your story. A story has a beginning, middle and end, and crafting your stories in this way helps your audience digest it. We’re wired for stories, us humans. I took a few minutes to read the Three Little Pigs. How many times have you heard this story? And still, how many of you really wanted to know how it turned out at the end?

Big caveat: with adults, remember to start with your key message. When communicating complex news, holding the punchline till the end can frustrate your most important audiences.

Cut the Jargon.

Greg has such a wonderful way of talking to this point. He calls jargon techie talk, and I think the diminutive works so well here. Jargon separates us. It divides us. It can minimize others work in false favor of our own. Jargon isolates.

People love simplicity. As Greg says, do your part to stamp out jargon, even in your own departments, and you’ll go far toward changing the culture of communication across the institution for the better.

When you get back to work, while your SACUBO experience is still fresh, pull out presentation that you’re going to be delivering sometime soon. Read through it with the following three simple questions in mind:

  1. What’s the key message
  2. Who’s the audience I’m trying to serve?
  3. What impact do I want to make when they’re finished with this story?

The third question is the zinger. It highlights the trap we’ve all fallen into from time to time. As business officers, we often hope the data will speak for itself, without any call for change. And yet, we don’t have to look far to see the cries for change around us.

I’m reminded of a wonderful passage in the film The American President. The president is having a difficult conversation with his deputy around the lies in the media, and the president’s preference to remain silent in the face of false accusations. Then the deputy, played by Michael J. Fox, delivers this line:

People want leadership, Mr. President, and in the absence of genuine leadership, they’ll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They want leadership. They’re so thirsty for it they’ll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there’s no water, they’ll drink the sand.

As business officers, we have the obligation and opportunity to not only take active ownership of our message, but to get out in front of it and ask for change.

I played the following example of an exceptional speech from the unlikeliest of sources given the SACUBO audience: Ashton Kucher at the Teen Choice Awards last year. I include it here for those who might like to share.


Reflections on Change — NBOA 2014 Change Leadership Workshop

Today was a banner day. I've just finished the Change Leadership Workshop here at the NBOA Annual Meeting, and I wanted to share a few closing thoughts as we gear up for the wonderful week ahead. 

People who attend change workshops tend to be people who are already primed for change. And yet, this group I had the honor of working with today was hands-down the most excited group of change advocates I've met. This was a group energized and ready to engage their campuses deeply in positive change. 

Photo courtesy  @LeahThayer

Photo courtesy @LeahThayer

What they shared with me was their thirst for a systematic approach to energize the people around them in big ideas. Why are they struggling with this? They're certainly not alone. They're not alone because common sense is so often thrown out the window when people are stressed. And when we attempt big, harrowing, audacious change ... oh boy, do we get stressed.

It's funny, then, that the most important lesson for a group of change leaders might not be the systematic change process after all. The lesson is one of permission. Permission to feel confused when confronted with change. Permission to feel frustration. Permission to feel denial and grief. It is absolutely appropriate to struggle with change, and to let your people feel the same.

In my conversations with attendees after the event, I heard some wonderful snippets of conversation. "I have places I can grow."

"I know I can be better." 

"I know I need to piss some people off." 

To attendees, you're going to head back to your offices in a few days and the conference glow will begin to dim. Before you succumb to the rhythm of work, before you let the day-to-day take over, remember that you have to practice this stuff to master it. So grab the people you work with and bring them all together. Find a problem, use the decision-model, and revisit your collective ability to approach tough problems. Don't skip steps, and don't wait to put these ideas in front of the people who need to see it. Oh, and if you'd like some help on-site, you know who you can call.

Thank you for the opportunity to work with you today. And I wish you the best in your change journey ahead.