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!

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

Seven Steps to Relevant Decision-Making Now Online at NACAS

In the spring 2014 issue of NACAS College Services magazine, you'll find my latest feature, The Seven Steps to Relevant Decision-making.

I've long held that one of the key differentiators of best practice institutions is their ability to cultivate a healthy environment around making decisions. These institutions are more agile, more responsive to dynamic market conditions, and vastly more creative when it comes to defining solutions in a sea of complexity. 

The stakes have become greater in recent years, making the functioning of a well-oiled decision machine that much more critical. In this piece, I discuss the traits of powerful decision making, the pitfalls and trials that come with it, and offer a tested process for decision-making that can help your institution become more responsive to demands of your constituencies, and more creative in the process. 

I invite you to read the article online now, and share your comments and insights below. 

"Getting through this..." is not enough

0909CastagneraI was honored to be interviewed by Jim Castagnera for this month's Today's Campus magazine, for a feature on what I've been calling the new normal. I invite you to read it here, as Jim ably covers issues many of us in the field have been discussing for years: the importance of intelligent business planning, the trouble of increasingly complex systems, and the danger inherent in a mentality many institutions share right now, "we just have to get through this... " These are challenging times. What comes next will be largely what we make of it by making good choices and long-term improvements in campus business operations. Jim has pulled together some terrific resources for this piece and I'm thrilled to be counted among them.

And make sure to bookmark Today's Campus -- it's a terrific online publication that covers issues critical to our field.

If It's Not Broke...

There is a certain relief in change, even though it be from bad to worse! As I have often found traveling in a stagecoach, that it is often a comfort to shift one's position, and be bruised in a new place. ~Washington Irving As part of a larger strategic effort to improve operational performance across your organization, centralizing business functions can be a very useful change. The rationale behind these projects is that by reducing redundancy, the quality of the work can be improved, processes can be made more efficient and cost savings can be realized.

If only it be this easy. Like many initiatives that include structural and people change, solving one problem creates another. Imagine an army of people sitting in their metaphorical chairs for years at a time, comfortable with what they know and their position in the organization. Centralizing work changes all the rules.

Three guiding principles will help when embarking on centralizing work projects:

1. Getting management on the same page

The best way to create positive momentum on these projects is to have leadership speaking with one voice. Once new roles are defined and the model is tested (ex: a Business Center becomes operational) it is critical for staff to know that management will hold people accountable to their new roles. Without a consistent voice from management and regular reminders of people's roles, staff will push on the boundaries of their shifting responsibilities, making it much more difficult for everyone to adjust to the new model.

2. Building trust by being inclusive

The process your staff will go through getting accustomed to new roles and responsibilities takes time and requires patience from everyone involved. Management should set up check points where people can weigh in how the new process is working. Asking for feedback and genuinely listening to their ideas and concerns will go a long way to helping build trust. The more people feel they have a voice, the more they will take ownership in the change.

3. Attitude is everything

Two primary groups are affected by this change - those who will be inheriting the work of others and those giving up pieces of their job. Although this can be stressful, at some point people need to make a choice - they're either part of the solution or part of the problem. This doesn't mean accepting an unworkable process, rather for all players to ask themselves what they can do to help the new process succeed.

By applying these three principles - Leadership speaking with one voice, management listening to staff ideas and concerns and most importantly everyone asking themselves how they can be part of the solution - this is how you get through initiatives that involve changing roles, responsibilities and reporting lines.

There Is No "Right Solution"

What makes for a great solution?  First, understand that there are real alternatives to solving a problem.  Teams at all levels in an organization fall into "analysis paralysis" because they fear making the wrong choices.  Instead, focus your team to find the best solution that takes into account the following factors...

  1. What is the urgency? The greater the urgency, the more willing your team should be to act.
  2. Are the problems understood sufficiently to make a sound recommendation? Again, this is not turning over every stone, but making sure there is a consistent enough understanding by the entire group to come to a sound decision.
  3. Does the solution address the problem? Once a decision has been made on how to solve the problem, teams have already spent way too much time discussing the issue.  There is a "fatigue factor" that comes into play, with the collective group losing focus whether the solution still lines up with the problem.

To combat this fatigue, get to a solution with as little process and brainstorming as necessary.  With a reserve of energy still in people's battery, validate the solution against the defined issues.  Tweak the solution and check again.  Treating this as an iterative exercise will yield greater results than spending too much time hashing over the issues.  With this approach, you will end up with a better solution in half the time.

The Three Things

Around organizational objectives, we define too many goals. When we speak, we have too much content. In our business vision, there is too much we want changed. Take a step back and ask yourself “What are the three things _____ ?” (Fill in the blank)

• …I want to get done today • …our organization should be focusing on • …I want to communicate in this talk

This simple act will drive what’s most important to the surface. The rest is either a secondary concern or will get done without much thought.

Let’s hear from experts in this field, none other than Monty Python. In this scene from The Holy Grail, a monk is reading from a book of scripture:

“…First shall thou take out the holy pin. Then shall thou count to three, no more, no less. Three shall the number thou shall count, and the number of the counting shall be three. Four shall thou not count, neither count now two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out!”

I couldn’t have said it any better.

Decision-Making and Leadership

A book that was recently introduced to me by a good friend has validated and deepened my view on leadership, how decisions get made and trust. “Why Great Leaders Don’t Take Yes For An Answer”, written by Professor Michael Roberto, speaks to the value of a decision-making process that focuses on “deciding how to decide” versus the purely efficient approach of finding the “right solution” to a problem. Focusing on the “decision-making process” has tremendous benefit around building trust in and across organizations. Why? Senior leaders rightfully see themselves as charged with making the right decisions for their organizations. They have a genetic disposition to seeing a problem and quickly identifying the solution. Isn’t this what we expect from those in charge? But what if being in charge is less about having the right answers and more about using the people around you to come up with the “best solution”? This is one of the premises of Michael Roberto’s book.

It makes perfect sense to solve a problem quickly when the issue is straightforward or lacks complexity. Asking for collaboration when there is no intention to consider alternatives is disingenuous and only serves to diminish trust.

However, there are many more decisions that would benefit from rigorous dialogue before coming to a decision. Cutting work force, expanding to different markets or generating new revenue streams are all examples of decisions that have many layers of complexity. In these cases, bringing the right people together having the right conversations increases the likelihood of a well thought out solution. And with the presence of honest dialogue, a higher level of trust can develop between parties.

If we find ways to encourage participation in problem solving, starting with “deciding how to decide”, our leaders and managers will be jumping out bed to get to work and participate in healthy debates. This is exciting work and gets people powerfully engaged. Not only will you get better results, but you’ll see trust in action.

You can also find Professor Michael Roberto’s blog at