Category Archives: Leadership

Leading In Stressful Times

I read somewhere that one manages constraints and leads towards possibilities. Certainly, as a manager, getting things done and delivering services and products with the constraints of  finite resources, including staff, within the time frame  and the level of quality expected is a core of our duties. This responsibility gets even more difficult during stressful times brought on by budget cuts, increased mandates, but with no additional staffing to support the increased demands. However, It is too easy as a manager to get caught up in trying to get the most of our staff in ways that may not be the most productive and produce unintended consequences. For example, in the attempt to become more efficient during busy times, managers begin to micro-manage details making sure that staff are focused and are following procedures to minimize waste. In some cases, new procedures are put into place intended to promote efficiency without realizing the additional time, energy, and effort to implement new procedures. Activities that are not considered part of getting projects and tasks completed are discouraged. For example, one-on-one meetings with the staff are eliminated as they are seen as waste of time and taking time away from projects. However, treating staff as machines and robots, as units of resources, may not be the most productive strategy. After all, our staff are human beings, driven by intrinsic motivations, with emotions, and in my opinion, more productive when engaged. This is where leadership is needed. There are many definitions of leadership, but ultimately, leadership is about people.  As I read once, you manage resources, you lead people.

As leaders, one of our roles in the workplace is to cultivate an environment that promotes engagement which should lead to increased productivity and improved quality of work. Engagement, as I learned in one of my leadership workshops, is the maximum level of personal satisfaction and maximum level of productivity in the workplace. One without the other is not engagement. For example, one can be personally satisfied  doing some work that does not contribute to the goals of the organization. On the other hand, one can be contributing to the goals of the organization, yet they don’t feel personally satisfied.

As leaders, we cannot lose touch of the idea that we need to be available and we need to build relationships with our staff. Managers must take the time to recognize their staff and acknowledge their contributions as well as to resolve staff issues. Having one-on-one meetings when staff have the opportunity to be heard and listened to is a very important activity to have on a manager’s schedule.  Having lunch, taking a walk, or doing an activity with a staff without talking about tasks are good examples of how to be available and how to build relationships.

How we delegate also matter. Giving orders in a command and control style, in my opinion, does not really work. Not when you’re working in an environment that requires independent thinking and creativity. This style of managing only leads to resentment and staff not wanting to do more than what is expected from them. What I’ve found is that staff will go beyond what is asked of them if they know their managers care about them. Even small actions to show managers do care about their staff matter. Stopping by to say “how are you?” mean a lot to some. Taking the time to explain what is being asked of them in person instead of an email that can be misinterpreted also help.

As managers, don’t lose sight of the idea that our staff are human beings and not just units of resources. If organizations are to be productive, managers must make themselves available and build relationships with staff to build an engaged workforce. Being too short-sighted and just giving orders to complete tasks can lead to unintended and counterproductive consequences.

 

The Need for More Conversations on Character

My use and observation of posts and comments (yaks) on Yik Yak, an anonymous geo-location based social media app, leads me to believe that perhaps we should have more discussions on the values of having good moral character. What constitutes a good moral character may be subject to debate but I do believe that there are certain attributes/actions we should consider as we engage on social media as well as in other forms of interactions. It seems to me that being kind, be helpful, and do no harm even when we are  engaged in highly charged conversations are basic principles we should consider and practice, regardless if we are recognized by others or not.Perhaps, we need to remind ourselves more of how to act and to aspire to be individuals that make our world a better place.

In the world of student affairs, there are a lot of discussions regarding reputation and authenticity. They’re related to the concept of personal branding and crafting our own persona and how we choose to present ourselves to our colleagues, students, and future employers. Can we really be authentic though if we are crafting our reputation and personal brand in anticipation/expectation of how others perceive us? In short, our efforts to craft our reputation is based on how we want others to perceive us. We craft ourselves as mavericks, radicals, out-of-the-box thinkers, innovators, and non-conformists as well as passionate, dedicated professionals, and crusaders of certain causes amongst other attributes. I’m not entirely sure which of these presentations are genuine or just facades.

On Yik Yak, the identities of those posting comments are anonymous and so one cannot build a reputation. What is interesting though is that even in this anonymous platform, the comments range from outright despicable and malicious to the kindest, most encouraging posts. Why is that? What drives a person to share the types of comments when their reputation is not a factor. I personally have had to block some individual(s) because of the vulgar and disgusting comments they post. I can still see their comments after I’ve blocked them (they appear as “This reply has been deleted.” to others) and consistently, they post the same types of malicious comments.

There are other users however that post supportive and encouraging comments as a reply to a yak that expresses need for support. For example, several times, I’ve seen yaks from individuals who are depressed or considering suicide and immediately, other users reply sharing their experience, their support, and encouraging them to consider seeking professional help through our school’s counseling services.yikyak_support

I’ve also had civil and respectful debates about national and local events and issues that I can’t have on twitter or on facebook because those involved in these debates can be honest about their perspectives without the fear or retribution or being shamed.

As we educate ourselves and others on how to effectively use social media, let’s go beyond the mechanics and how to build digital reputation. Let’s remind ourselves what it takes to be good human beings.

My IT Organization’s Guiding Values and Principles

SIST_principlesAn IT organization that can effectively deliver quality service and keep up with the dynamic wants and needs of its customers requires guiding values and principles as foundations upon which it operates.Below are what I shared with my organization at our retreat soon after I became the Acting Executive Director for my IT organization in November 2014.The opportunity to be in this position was certainly unexpected and so the transition was short (one month) and within that time, I had to define and communicate my concepts and vision for our organization.It was my preference that we as an our organization go through a process defining these guiding principles and values, but given the circumstance, several of the staff wanted me to share my own ideas as a starting point for the organization to consider and discuss.Upon discussions, the guiding values and principles were adopted for our organization.

As I’ve been with my organization for more than 15 years, I have a good sense of our culture, our strengths, capabilities, and areas of improvements. I firmly believe that we are a very capable organization proven by what we’ve been able to do and we can continue/improve our delivery of quality solutions and excellent customer service. We have a dedicated, highly knowledgeable and skilled team with strong support from our senior management. It is for these reasons that I strive for the idea that when people think of THE model higher education IT, they think UCSB SIS&T!  

I believe the guiding values and principles of my organization have to be able to stand through time in the midst of ever-changing technology landscapes and dynamic customer services and needs. It is with this mindset that these guiding values and principles were formulated.

Mission:

SIS&T is committed to contributing to the success of UCSB students in their pursuit of learning and with their personal developments by providing current, effective, reliable, and secure information technology delivered through exceptional and professional customer service.

Three Components: PEOPLE, PROCESSES, PHILOSOPHY

PEOPLE:

  • We trust, respect, and value diversity and inclusion of ideas.
  • We strive to develop a sense of community, and worth/values are not defined by our organizational roles and hierarchy.
  • We are committed to helping others – our colleagues, our partners (staff/faculty), and customers (students, parents, community).

PROCESSES:

  • We will define processes and frameworks that add value and effectiveness of our work.
  • We will be disciplined in implementing these processes and frameworks.
  • We will make adjustments to these processes and frameworks as necessary.

PHILOSOPHIES:

    • We are an adaptive and learning organization.
      * Supportive and learning environment
      * Concrete learning processes and practices
      * Leadership that reinforces learning
    • We are customer-focused.
      *People, Objective, Strategy, Technology (POST)
    • We must perform as a team.
      * “Teams win championships” – VC Michael Young

It has been about six months since our retreat and I believe we have made some strides towards our goals to be an even better organization. Here are some of my observations:

– Changing the organizational culture, as I’ve found, takes time and requires leadership to model the behaviors we want to see in our organization. Communicating our guiding values and principles must be done through the leadership’s actions and words and they must be practiced consistently.

– It requires participation/contribution from our entire organization to make change happen.

– At times, the environment that encourages diversity and inclusion of ideas, have resulted in honest/frank conversations, from different parts of our organization. I have welcomed and encouraged these sometimes uncomfortable conversations as I believe this a sign of a healthy, evolving organization.

– I expected some missteps on my part in my attempt to implement some changes and I have. But, I acknowledged this at the retreat, and as a matter of fact, I encouraged the idea that at times, we will “fail” with the ideas we try but that’s perfectly okay.

Six Ways to Build Confidence In the Workplace

I believe that as a manager/leader, one of our most important responsibilities is to build leaders and to build productive colleagues by providing them the environment to think for themselves and grow. The confidence to pursue ideas and actions beyond their comfort zones is a big part of this process towards leadership and towards our co-workers’ ability to do their job as well. I also believe having an environment where a person can confidently do their jobs is part of having an engaged staff. Engagement to me means a staff feels maximum personal satisfaction with the work they do and secondly, they are also contributing to organization to the best of their willingness and ability. From experience, here are some ways we can build the confidence of others:

  1. Communicate goals clearly but leave room for staff to find ways to accomplish them. Basically, do not micro-manage, especially when working with talented and creative folks. Unless we work in an environment where it doesn’t require much thinking, providing our co-workers room to explore ideas and come up with their own ways to accomplishing goals you’ve given them is the way to go. However, those goals and expectations must be clearly communicated to save those assigned with the tasks from having to spend emotional energy and wasted time and effort.
  2. Allow room for “failure” as it’s part of the learning/growth process. The world is changing rapidly and we encounter new experiences/ideas everyday and we may not necessarily know how to always respond to them in the right ways. Personally, the biggest moments of growth I’ve experienced have been through my mistakes. These mistakes encouraged me to re-evaluate my approach and certainly, these mistakes helped me improve the quality of my work. Luckily, I had bosses in the past who understood that making mistakes is all part of the learning process and so while they helped me understand how to eliminate those mistakes, they also did not admonish me to a point I stopped trying new ideas. Don’t rob your co-workers with these opportunities to grow by not allowing them to make mistakes.
  3. Set higher expectations and standards beyond their comfort zones and abilities. This requires that you are intimately familiar with your co-workers’ skills, knowledge, and interests. Understand their areas of strengths and weaknesses and challenge them to further utilize their strengths and improve their weaknesses. You may encounter some resistance as this will require more work from them and they may not understand why you are challenging them, but growth isn’t always comfortable.
  4. Praise in public and criticize in private. How demoralizing is it to have your ideas interrupted by your boss in public settings because he/she just happens to believe their ways are better and do it in a way you look incompetent. There are situations when a manager does need to intervene because the information is incorrect. But even then, there’s a diplomatic method to pointing out the error and/or to suggest different ideas. This point relates to point 1 above in that as leaders.managers, we need to be clear about our expectations and goals. If our colleagues don’t understand what they are, they may share their own ideas that are contrary to what we have in mind. In these cases of confusion, it’s best to speak with your colleagues behind closed doors and clarify your expectations as well as to understand their perspectives so you are both on the same page. As I wrote on this blog post, as a manager, your words matter. You can use them to “praise or curse” your colleagues.
  5. Lead via influence, not command and control. Treat your colleagues as human beings and not machines or resources. Build relationships with them so they feel they matter. While ordering your colleagues to perform tasks may yield short-term results, the command and control approach can result in a work force that will not go above and beyond what is expected of them. This type of approach could also lead to unhappy employees and worse, lead to emotional and physical ailments. However, by leading through influence, you can build a work environment that is more positive and more sustainable in the long run. You have a workforce that will go above and beyond what is asked from them because they feel a sense of autonomy, growth, and a sense that they are respected.
  6. Model confidence. As a leader/manager, your co-workers watch your actions and your words. You play the role of the victim/complainer and soon, they will adapt your attitudes and behaviors. Work is not always ideal and we are all presented with challenges from time to time. While I’m not suggesting that we always look and feel invincible, it is important that we display the attitude of solution seekers and optimism, even in the lowest moments.

What other methods have you used to build the confidence of your colleagues?

The Significance of Possibility/Role Models

mdyI attended a campus event to celebrate the retirement of UCSB Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Dr. Michael Young yesterday, January 23, 2015. Dr. Young will retire at the end of this month after 25 years as the VC for Student Affairs starting in 1990. It was an event attended by former and current students, staff and faculty, campus administrators, and local politicians as well. Throughout the three hour event, speakers on stage shared Dr. Young’s accomplishments, the differences he made to the community, and most importantly, the differences he made to them as human beings. During the 24 years I’ve known Dr Young, he has had a profound impact on me, greater than he will realize, as a student, as a professional and as a human being. As I shared in this post dedicated to Dr Young as my mentor/role model, I admired how he led, his integrity, and the ways he made other people feel special. Even as a student new to UCSB, I saw Dr Young as my possibility model. Dr. Young embodies the possibility that I, too, a person of color (PoC), can hold a leadership position at the highest level of the university. And, I can do so without compromising my value systems and my experience – my identity.

The entire event yesterday reminded me of the significance of possibility/role models and the impact  Dr. Young has had on others. Dr. Young inspires others through the virtue of his accomplishments and how he handles himself, especially to other folks who share his similar experience and background.

I became a student affairs professional because of Dr. Young. There were two primary reasons that led me to my career path. For one, I had a positive experience as an undergraduate student, a student leader, and as a student worker at UCSB because of the support provided by many student affairs professionals. The second reason I chose this profession is because I saw how Dr Young was effectively able to use his experience and his value systems to create positive changes for the students and staff at UCSB.  At times, these changes needed principled leaders, like Dr. Young, who brought a sense of dignity and respect to the process leading to the appropriate outcomes. At times, these changes needed strong leaders, like Dr. Young, who was not afraid to challenge the institution. As one of the speakers said yesterday, Dr. Young brought conscience to the institution. Through him, I saw how a PoC was able to overcome racism and other institutional obstacles to get to their position. In addition, I saw how a PoC can bring their unique perspective, experience, and value systems only persons of color can only understand and use them to promote the benefit of others.

My positive experience as an undergraduate student at UCSB were due to  the help of many student affairs professionals  during times of personal struggles and in helping me develop my sense of self. As a first generation Filipino-American student, I faced many challenges during my times at UCSB from culture shock, limited financial resources, micro-aggressions, academic challenges, and just going through the process of growing up. How these professionals viewed their work were shaped by Dr. Young.  Collectively, the student affairs professionals shared a common set of values of putting the needs of students first and treating them like they matter. These are value systems that were developed under the leadership of Dr. Young. Throughout the division of student affairs and the campus, his value systems were on display through the work of his staff and his relationships with students. These are values that matter to Dr. Young. These include: freedom of speech, student activism, mental health and wellness, sustainability, technology, professional development, teamwork, and treating others with dignity.

I worked for a corporation who owned/managed hospitals a few months after I graduated from UCSB as a web developer. A few times, I was invited to meetings attended by hospital CEOs. I still remember to this day walking into those meetings looking at the room and the folks sitting at the table. I sat in the corner of the room. They were all white males, middle-aged or older. I was the only person of color in the room. It was very intimidating. There were a couple of times when I joked to myself how I could never be one of them because I would fail one of the requirements – that I needed to be a white male. After a few months, I left the position to go back and work at UCSB in student affairs. I just didn’t feel like I belonged in the corporate world.

My experience in those meetings highlighted even further the significance of having folks in leadership/management position who share similar backgrounds/values/experience. At the very least, having persons of color at the highest leadership positions in an organization could suggest the org values diversity, or, it could be just tokenism. So, as I describe the significance of Dr. Young and possibility models to PoCs like me, it goes beyond skin colors. It’s also how those folks like Dr Young conduct themselves. It’s about how they were able to overcome obstacles, how they are able to use their value systems and positively influence to provide opportunities for others. Dr. Young embodies the qualities I was looking for in someone I admire and why he’s had such profound impact on my personal life and career as my possibility/role model.