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Reflecting On What Is Working

by Leadership Participant

Monday, January 25, 2016. I hope everyone had a good weekend.  I, like the rest of the Maryland cohort, spent a good part of the weekend shoveling snow and digging out from the ~30 inches of snow that fell from late Friday and most of Saturday.  And then digging out again once the wind had settled down and the snow drifts ended. I cannot begin to describe how sore I am and how strong my desire to buy a snow blower is now.  With snow removal finished and campus closed until Wednesday at the earliest what better then to reflect on this program.

Before our first session began I had a conversation with a coworker who is an alumni of the program about his experiences and any advice he had for me.  He mentioned that sessions were very intense and packed and to not expect to check email except during lunch or at night.  I told my staff before I left to head to Minneapolis that I would not be checking email much during this trip and that they would have to handle everything that came in.  As someone who was (and still is) very fresh to a management role and used to being a doer with my head buried in email, this email separation was hard.  But it was one of the best things that has ever happened to me.  I remarked to Brian halfway through the first day that being detached from email was life altering.  Problems came in, my staff took action, and they were resolved without my involvement.  Previously if something came in I would immediately jump on it and try to resolve the problem, putting the immediate before the important and my group’s far more important long term goals were going unfulfilled because I was constantly in the day to day which is no longer my role.

Since the first session I limit checking my email to only a few times a day and it has been great.  I’m doing less work below my pay grade and I’m getting some serious progress on important long-term projects for campus as well as having more time to focus on building and improving relationships with people all over campus.  While I still do check my email in the morning and once in the evening (I am in security operations after all and I need to keep an eye on things) I still honor having a Monday morning planning session in my office to chart out the week and in the evenings after a quick glance at email to ensure that everything is all clear I unplug and spend time with my family, something that is far more important than having my head buried in my phone or laptop.

I also found our first impressions exercise enlightening.  I have always worked in environments where the dress code was extremely informal.  If you showed up to work in nice clothes — or heaven forbid a tie — people would mock you and ask where you were interviewing at.  When I was promoted into my current role I told myself I would no longer wear shorts to work and I’d start tucking in my shirt.  I figured that was good enough right?  The first impressions exercise helped hit home with what I had tried to ignore that no that was not good enough and perhaps I should look at dressing more professional.  My first day back in the office after our first session I decided I would channel my inner Bill Clebsch so I threw on a blue sport coat over my shirt and jeans and I wore a dress pair of shoes.  I showed up to a weekly Friday morning meeting and people we’re shocked at the new outfit.  Did I go too far?  I don’t think so.  After the initial shock wore off maybe it was in my head but I felt like people were listening to me a bit more and I felt more comfortable and confident.  Perhaps clothes could be a disruptive technology.

To really drive in the point that presence matters, in that meeting we had a new account rep from a vendor show up and at first I thought he was a student who was woefully lost. He showed up in worn out jeans, a hoodie, and had a huge backpack over his shoulder.  When he spoke he didn’t do so with confidence and many of us quickly dismissed everything he was saying.  He made us long for our previous rep who not only spoke with confidence but was also always well dressed.  The previous rep gave the impression that he knew what he was talking about, maybe he didn’t but he played the part and was confident about it so we believed him.  (Upon further review the previous rep did know what he was talking about and this new rep did not.)

Ok so maybe there is something to this idea of presence matters.  That weekend I decided it was time to start investing in upgrading my wardrobe.  Since our first session I’ve gone through various combinations of dress shirts and slacks (and even a suit a few times for good measure) and I feel it’s paying off.  It’s subtle but it helps give a boost of confidence and it also fits in better with the level of meetings I’m attending more and more these days.  I’m no longer the only one in the room in a polo shirt and jeans.  I do get some ribbing from my staff and several friends who I’ve worked with for years since I’m officially a suit now but it works.  The old adage of dress for the job you want