by Justin Sipher
[Today’s Tuesday Reading is from Justin Sipher, Program Leader, Leadership Coach and Consultant at MOR Associates. Justin may be reached at email@example.com.]
This past spring and summer 2020 was a powerful and complex time for participants in our various MOR leadership programs. Like your institutions did in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we pivoted to remote sessions and lost some of the fellowship that comes with the in-person workshops. Gone were the conversations over breaks or meals, and possible camaraderie at the late night hotel bar (or early morning run) for travel programs. At the same point, it surfaced opportunities to connect people we never would have when looking solely through a lens of in-person workshops. We brought together a handful of programs to cross pollinate the relationships and deepen the learning experience. As challenging as it was both personally and professionally for everyone, it was a powerful time to observe and study leadership. Through all of this it has been a leadership amplification moment.
So as the fall semesters start up at our respective institutions, regardless of plans for face-to-face, online, or hybrid, it will be yet another important time for successful leadership. We are already seeing a couple institutions pivot from face-to-face to virtual based on what has happened in the first days and weeks on campus. Despite months of planning and preparing, things can go awry. This is evolving rapidly and being mindful of what is changing around you is important. Many of you have had the privilege of working with my MOR colleague Jack Wolfe when you went through a leadership program. If so, you probably know that Jack loves to articulate things in 3’s. Let me channel my inner Jack and ask you to think about the following.
In my coaching I’ve used this mantra to help focus participants into finding the learning opportunity buried in this unfortunate circumstance.
There is a quote attributed to John Dewey, American philosopher and scholar who lived in the latter half of the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries. I believe it to be paraphrased from his writing but it is most commonly referred to as “We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.” You probably remember this phrase from your time in one of the MOR programs and I find it particularly adept for this moment in time. As you attempt to learn from that which you observe, it happens through the power of reflection. Use defensive calendaring to prioritize time to deconstruct your observation and create the learning. Ask yourself some questions:
Whether the observation is of great success or a shortcoming, analyzing it and finding the true nugget of knowledge is important. You can then evolve your list of observations, into a list of lessons learned. How powerful is that?
Observe, learn, apply. It sounds so simple. Yet too many won’t leverage the learning opportunity before us either because of feeling too busy, or not able to step back and see the forest through the trees. It will require intentional discipline to avoid allowing the pressure of the urgent to crowd out time for the important. Perhaps through defensive calendaring. Perhaps in a small learning team with colleagues who are also MOR alumni. The fall 2020 semester will be complicated and stressful for many. In ways none of us can fully predict, it very well may play out slightly, or drastically, different than we intend or hope. IT will likely be central to helping the institution deal with both the obstacles and the opportunities. This will require many leadership attributes. Going back to your MOR program, what did you observe / learn during that time, and how are you applying it now? Clear communications. Active listening. Empathy for a variety of stakeholders. Being strategic. Navigating politics and culture. Building, maintaining, and leveraging relationships. Managing your presence. Being willing and able to give (and receive) feedback, including difficult conversations when needed.
Now more than ever our institutions need leadership excellence at all levels. You are poised to be an important link in that leadership chain. Figure out how you will document that which you observe. Make time on your calendar to unpack those observations into lessons you can learn. Then figure out where and how to apply them. Step up to the challenges presented and consider observe, learn, and apply as a mantra to help you and your organization be its best.