Sunday, April 22, 2018

Reflections on Reflections of Leadership


Two events on Friday just passed stand out. I met with a student at lunch time to talk about an observation she’d made in a professional situation that concerned her. After talking about that and several other topics for a while, she said (paraphrasing), “If I am ever a faculty member someday, I’d like to be like you.” Later in the day, the students at the business school held their annual gala. I was able to go for the first time in several years, and this year I was lucky enough to be accompanied by my wife as we didn’t have other events in conflict. The students at the door when we arrived all greeted me and Sherry warmly. Many students we met commented on how nice it was to meet Sherry and how much they’d heard about her. Many students asked if we were enjoying ourselves. My wife commented afterwards that she felt like “an elusive celebrity” whom everyone wanted to meet.

Together, these events reflect the amazing feeling of support I have built and helped students build at the business school. I could think to myself, “Job well done. You’ve made it.”

But I worked with a coach for a while who would challenge that conclusion. I don’t know exactly what she would say, but it would be something to the effect of, “Have you? What makes you think so? And, even if you have, then what?”

With that question in mind, I challenged myself—even if it was a signal I had somehow "made it", then what? Should I feel satisfied and conclude, “Mission accomplished?”

No.

First, my leadership is not about my success. My leadership is about the success and empowerment of others. What I had “achieved” is not greatness for myself but an empowerment of the students. Access to leadership for students. A sense of community for students. A sense of engagement for students. An outlook of leave no one out; I’d spoken with the student at Friday’s lunch about this topic as one of my main goals before seeing it in action on Friday night.

Second, the fact that my leadership has contributed to this is not an invitation to be done. Instead, it is an invitation to work even harder. An organization that accredits business schools focuses on impact and engagement. I’d managed to make an impact through my engagement with students. I was surprised by how much the impact had increased in just one academic year and might even refer to it as snowballing. While that is great, I also think it is like pushing a snowball uphill rather than down. Thus, I can’t afford to just let it roll and assume it will keep going. Instead, the impact will continue and grow only if I work even harder.

I look forward to rising to the challenge to make sure that the empowerment and community that has been built gets built even stronger and even bigger. My work is not done. My work is only beginning now that I have identified that building an impactful community through relentless engagement with and celebration of those around me makes a difference.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Attire


Many of us have constraints and expectations on what we wear to work. Sometimes the constraints and expectations of how a person in a job should dress are societal. Other times they are employer specific. Some are self-imposed.

Despite the constraints and expectations, I don’t think that anyone should have to spend a fortune to make a positive impression with their attire. I’d hope individuals can find affordable clothes that meet constraints and expectations while reflecting personality.


I had the opportunity to work with a photographer recently (http://www.kaitlinnewman.com/portrait.html), taking a set of photographs that I can use as professional headshots but nonetheless, reflecting my personality. The photos were taken in the area where I spend many hours working, where I run usually at least once a week, and that after more than two decades in Baltimore represents what I consider to be “home”.  The suit is
standard, but the combination of tie, pocket handkerchief, floral lapel pin, and (in a few shots) running shoes, allowed the attire to reflect my personality.

Why is this important?  One job ago, my attire could be fairly casual. In a senior leadership position in a business school now, people notice what I wear. At my first annual review, my supervisor even commented on the importance of attire. I’ve been fortunate to work with a great place to find clothes that meet all the criteria (affordable, quality, reflect my personality) since then (http://christopherschafer.com).  Between then and now, one of my fellow faculty asked whether I’d lost weight—no, just wearing clothes that fit better.

In the past week, I had two occasions on which attire caught people’s attention. Obviously, my supervisor notices what I wear. I had on a suit that was not new. But a combination of a blue pinstriped suit, a light blue and just dry cleaned shirt, fairly new shoes, with a bold pink tie and a bold pink floral lapel pin, led my supervisor to comment, “Nice suit.” The other occasion was at a reception for small business owners who are involved in a program that Johns Hopkins is a partner in (https://hub.jhu.edu/2017/08/02/goldman-sachs-10ksb-baltimore-launch/).  As I was preparing to leave, someone whom I had met for a second time commented positively on my attire—gray pinstriped suit, lavender and white checked shirt, purple paisley tie, and purple floral lapel pin.

In neither case this week was I trying to impress. However, I recognize that attire can make an impression. The floral lapel pins and tie colors reflect my personality.  The suits reflect the expectations and constraints. Together, they make me feel empowered to take on the challenges of each day knowing that people won’t be asking, “What’s that?” about what I wear. That way we can all focus on getting the job done. In theory, should we be able to just get the job done no matter how we come to the table dressed? Yes, we should. But choosing attire that is not distracting and may occasionally make a very positive impression just makes it easier to focus on the job.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

A Quadruple Haiku after a Run That Ended with Light Rain

Friend’s last taper week.
Simple out and back.  Dry out.
The rain beat us back.

But rainy running
Is nothing new for us two.
We just keep going…

Forward with strong hope…
Always doing what it takes
To become better…

People and runners…
Making the world better for
Ourselves and others.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

My Impressions on Easter Morning

I have not written about the celebration of Easter this year.  I rose hoping to get some pictures of a glorious sunrise over a body of water in the city I love on a half marathon distance run with lots of time for reflection by myself.  I achieved almost all those goals.  The main thing I did not achieve was the glorious sunrise pictures as the weather did not cooperate.  Instead I got a series of impressionistic pictures of the reflection on Lake Montebello.  Not bad for the morning.  But not capturing the glorious mystery of Easter morning.
However, that did not mean that I didn't have a chance to ponder the meaning.  My run was a good one.  I averaged 8:14 miles.  My route took me around past the post office and the old grocery story, down the Alameda, down Loch Raven, across 33rd, down Old York Rd to Greenmount, down to 25th, across 25th to Harford, up to Hillen, around Lake, up Hillen, and returning to where I began.  Areas of the city past many churches.  Not many areas that are in really bad condition, but many reminders that not everyone in Baltimore is as comfortable as I am.   

The reason I run a half marathon on Easter morning actually ties in with the Biblical text.  There were two disciples who were on the road to Emmaus who met a stranger, continued the walk with the stranger, and ate a meal with the stranger.  As the story goes, the stranger turned out to be Jesus, whom they disciples recognized because of his actions.  Being recognizable because of the consistency and integrity of my actions is something I always aspire to. The relationship to a half marathon is that some scholars estimate that the distance from Jerusalem to Emmaus was about 1/4 of a marathon.  After the disciples recognized Jesus, the story goes that he disappeared and they disciples ran back to Jerusalem. So, I figure if they went a half marathon between the walk and run, I can run a  half marathon to reflect on what went on.  

Of course, Easter Sunday only happened because of the crucifixion on Good Friday.  My second tattoo helps me remember an important aspect of Good Friday that went along with the crucifixion but focused on another character in the story--Mary Magdalene. She was there when Jesus died, followed the men who took his body to a tomb, saw the stone rolled in from the of the tomb, and (according to at least one Gospel) stayed when everyone else left.  To me, that speaks of being present for someone you love in a way that few other actions could.  

And Good Friday followed the Holy Thursday dinner in which Jesus washed his apostles feet.  A symbol of a leader thinking of how to serve those he was leading. A powerful way to build loyalty and a sense of team.

So, while I will still go to church later and continue to reflect on the messages that the priest will share, my Easter Sunday experience of reflection that only requires thinking about the stories rather than having faith began long before I will enter St Pius X church.  

Friday, March 30, 2018

Details and Impressions

Sometimes I forget just how important details can be when making an impression on someone.  One detail that nearly everyone in the business school knows about me at this point is that I have a selection of floral lapel pins in different colors.  Maybe not everyone could say offhandedly that “Kevin has 10 different colors” but just about everyone knows I wear them.  The pins and the colors are part of my identity.

So, when a colleague from the Office of Development and Alumni relations brought me a new pin to ask me to wear it for several weeks leading up to an event, it was no big deal to me to agree to wear it.  What was interesting was one detail forgotten and one detail noticed.

The pin said, Beet Week.  The detail I had forgotten was “what on earth is Beet Week?  I was quickly reminded that it is a week being planned by our alumni relations team to emphasize the idea of philanthropy for our students who are graduating and will soon be alumni.  The reference to the root vegetable is because of a story related to the donor who gave the money to start the business school at Johns Hopkins (https://youtu.be/v_qiAR1Fz3w). 

The detail that I noticed was that the colors on the pin.  THe background of the pin was blue and the word week was in orange (blue and orange together are the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School colors) but the word beet was in white.  White is not a color I immediately think of when I think of beets.  I think of the red/purple of beets on a salad or pickled beets (sometimes along with pickled eggs).  I asked my colleague, “This word beet must be white to make us think of sugar beets?”  (See the story above.)  She was surprised but pleased that I had noticed that detail, and she commented that I was the only one who had noticed. 

I’ve known this colleague long enough and well enough that I didn’t necessarily need to worry about another positive impression. However, the two minute exchange was a great reminder of how much people appreciate details that are meaningful to them being noticed.  That appreciation can yield a stronger bond, more trust, and better collaboration.  That makes recognizing and pointing out details well worth the effort.