Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Put On Your Glasses

I’ve never been one to subscribe to such quips as “there is no such thing as a bad idea” or “every opinion has worth.” There are plenty of bad ideas. And as far as opinions go… you may have heard it said that “opinions are like armpits; everyone has a couple and most of them stink.” 

So how do I reconcile all that with the sorts of things I wrote about yesterday in my post about unity and uniformity? Here’s a story.

After wrapping up my MBA, I left the employ of my alma mater (North Central University) to serve in the administration at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. My role as Director for Marketing and Public Relations put me on the management team (Office of the President). While driving to Massachusetts I learned that my first days on the job would be at an off-site meeting of the management team. The on ramp for my new job was short and steep.
Around that table I wasn’t merely the newbie… I was the youngest and least experienced. These were seasoned, distinguished leaders who clearly earned their positions as they served this significant institution. Just as Dorothy explained to Toto that “we are not in Kansas anymore,” I wasn’t at my Bible college in the Midwest anymore (it was North Central Bible College back in those days).
A few weeks into the job I was talking with the Executive Vice President. He was a remarkably perceptive guy; he could see that I wasn’t sure how to function around the table with the management team. Once he got me to admit it, he offered this advice: put on your glasses.
He explained that I was right, nobody cared about my uniformed opinions or my dumb ideas… but what they wanted was my perspective. I didn’t have any great insights (at least in those days) about the nuances of governance in higher education, or the finer points of accreditation, or the different pedagogical approaches that should be applied for traditional verses in-career students, or any number of other highly technical issues that might pass through the team's agenda. But I could carefully consider each issue from the perspective of my role.
Sometimes my education and experience helped me see important things from my perspective. Other times it was just a matter of concentration… being purposeful to see things from the perspective of my role. Every issue that crossed that table had marketing and public relations aspects that should be considered… and sometimes those considerations needed to be voiced so that they could be considered by the entire team.
Whenever I came to the table, I needed to be sure to put on my marketing-and-public-relations glasses. This has stuck with me as an indispensable model, both as I contribute in teams and as I lead teams.
So the question (explicit or implied) is never, “What do you think about this or that,” but rather “What do you see from your perspective?” This approach helps me keep from voicing uniformed opinions or baseless ideas; it helps me speak from a position of expertise and authority. And when leading teams, it helps me qualify, redirect, and even draw out useful input from around the table.
When discussions are largely about team members working through ideas from their various perspectives (expertise, responsibility, background, etc.) meaningful progress toward unity is made.

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