Thursday, May 17, 2018

More of My Baltimore--Many Baltimores Coming Together


This is a story of six amazing women, two amazing university's, and a talented son, all of whom are important parts of my Baltimore. 

Some people use the phrase "worlds colliding" when what seem to be differently compartmentalized parts of their lives intersect.  For my Baltimore, I like to use the phrase "many Baltimores blending together."  In part, because I find the image of blending more appealing than the image of colliding.  In part, because I truly think that in my Baltimore it is more of a blending than a collision.  My city is a wonderful mixture of different elements that sometimes are far apart but other times are brought together.  And in my existence they are all there and mixed together in a way that makes an incredible whole.  It is easy to imagine different ingredients in a mixing bowl that come together and end up as an amazing and integrated whole as the hypothetical electric mixer turns them all together.

My middle son is about to graduate from the Baltimore School for the Arts.  Yesterday was the third annual Courting Art event at which art from students at the city's high schools was on display in the lobby of the Eastside Courthouse.  The art that was there yesterday plus some other pieces were on display at a local community college some time ago.  The pieces on display yesterday were finalists.  

The Eastside Courthouse is a building that I have driven past for years but never been inside.  Yesterday's trip inside was interesting as I learned the interesting fact that all the civil and criminal domestic violence cases are heard there.  I heard from speakers including the CEO of Baltimore City Schools (i.e., superintendent), Judge Weinstein and Chief Judge Barbera.

I have seen each of these three powerful women speak before.  The Superintendent had spoken at a local networking breakfast.  She presents an amazingly hopeful and powerful image of public education in Baltimore City.  She apologized for having to leave early for an event for her own children.  I am glad to know that she is grounded in her own family-based reality.

Judge Weinstein is an amazing woman.  I'd also seen her speak at a networking event and know of her ties to and dedication to finding ways to guide local veterans when they have to interact with the legal system.  I had no idea of her interest in art and local public education.  In retrospect, it is no surprise that she has an interest in those areas--it is reflective of her overall interest in and investment in Baltimore as a community with amazing potential.  It turns out that she was also the supervisor for the colleague closest to me on the organizational chart at the Carey Business School right now when my colleague was interning during the completion of her law studies. Judge Weinstein also mentioned that the Courting Art idea had come from Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, close to where I'd grown up.

Chief Judge Barbera is the chief judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals (what my state calls its state level Supreme Court).  I had seen her speak when my closest mentee and running partner was sworn into the Maryland State Bar in 2016.  She was one of several judges who spoke about the importance of art in students' training and the importance of art in the courtroom.  She, as with others, noted the strong emotions with which people come to a courthouse.  She noted the calming effect of giving people something to look at and ponder other than the bare walls of the courthouse.  I would have heard all the same words she spoke whether I'd seen her before or not.  For me, however, somehow it seemed to make a difference in how I heard her knowing what her position was and what that position means.  More than anything else, knowing that she chose to invest some of her time in this effort in light of all the other things she has to do was impressive.

Finally, I met one of my son's teachers with whom I had not crossed paths in some time.  She is a wonderful and energetic teacher who was clearly connected with the other city art teachers who were at the event.  And she commented on the fact that I had a light blue rose brooch.  She asked if there was some significance.  I told her that it was just my way of trying to add some flare to otherwise conservative business attire and that I was fortunate to work with a local tailor whose shop carried an array of colors of rose brooches.  

So, in one evening I heard from three amazing women who represent crossing paths with two other amazing women (my colleague and mentee).  I met a fourth amazing women who was fascinated by a fashion choice that is a function of advice given to me by my boss and opportunities presented by my tailor.  And all of this is because of the investment in my son's art that another amazing woman (my wife) and I have been willing to make over time and that Baltimore City provides opportunities for within the public school system. 

In conclusion, while my son's art was not chosen among the top five, the top two received not only scholarship money but access to a summer program at MICA. My son will be attending MICA as a student starting this fall and the business school at which I am vice dean for education partners with MICA to offer a design leadership program.  It is wonderful seeing the local art college making an investment in the city's public education as well.  

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Little Things

Yesterday was an amazing day for finding out how recognizing small things (especially when it is done over and over again) can make a difference. 

The day began with a running partner and mentee talking about the impression a text about the Orioles game on Mother's Day had gotten her own mother's attention.  The text was simple--pointing out how well the O's were doing at the games my friend attended.  The point was that the attention to detail as the text was soon after the game ended.  Her mother apparently suggested that should try to find a guy to date with some of the same characteristics I bring to our friendship.  It's not every day that I am used as an example of what to look for in a partner.  I have no illusions about being a perfect partner.  But I do try to take time to supportively recognize positive things about people around me in a timely way. Sometimes I do it very creatively.  That makes an impression. 


At work, I made a point to thank a staff member in the School I was in before the business school whose attention to detail is critical to a positive experience for students and faculty around students' final dissertation defenses.  She seemed pleasantly surprised when I thanked her for consistently doing her job well so that all the students and all the faculty would know where to be when to remove one of the potential stressors on the day of a final defense.


I had yet another student tell me how much she appreciated my support for her and one of the organizations she cared most about while at the business school.  It wasn't just that she shared her thanks in a heartfelt manner. It was that she was the second or third student  this spring to do so.  The feeling of being repeatedly told how helpful my support is helps to reinforce why I continue to do it.  But I try very hard not to let the whole thing go to my head. 


I congratulated several faculty for promotions.  The first one to get back to me talked about how I exemplify the school's tagline about business with humanity in mind and serve as a role model. 


In most cases, I would tell each person, "I'm just doing what comes naturally.  Being a supportive friend, colleague and mentor who works with friends, students, staff, and faculty to make my world a better place each day.  One of the simplest ways to do that is by attention to detail." 


Do I get all the details?  No.


Am I perfect when I do get the details?  No.


Does this mean I have making people feel good all figured out?  No.


Does this mean that I have figured out the level of effort needed to make the world a better place each day?  No.  It challenges me to continue to raise the bar so that I can be a little more effective at making the world a better place today than I was yesterday. 


What can I conclude from all this?  In a world in which people are seeking validation of their interests, actions, work ethic, friendship and so much else, a little bit of "great job" can go a long, long way toward making the world a better place.  My challenge is to continue to notice and bring a little light to the day for people day after day moving ahead. 

Thursday, May 10, 2018

More Today than Yesterday

Inside my wedding band, I have the letters ILYMTTY engraved.  Those are the first letters of the words in the phrase "I love you more today than yesterday."  If that is true every day, then the next line of a song by Spiral Staircase in 1969 logically follows: "But not as much as tomorrow."

All that is a great aspiration for a life-long love relationship.  But I have been thinking recently, "What else do I want to challenge myself to do more today than yesterday?"  

I have recently challenged students to figure out how they interpret the phrase "business with humanity in mind" and do that more today than yesterday.

I have recently journaled that my purpose is to make more of a difference in the world today than yesterday.

If I take the attitude of "everything I do could still be done better," then I could focus on doing everything more today than yesterday.  Maybe more time.  Maybe more effective.  Maybe more efficient.  Maybe higher quality.  

In fact, more today than yesterday could form an attitude toward life in general.  I realize  that I've been trying to live that out for a while.  

Do I always succeed?  Of course not.  The key is this: in 1992 when I suggested the engraving in my wife's and my wedding bands, I don't think I was intentionally setting what could be an entire life approach in my wedding band.  

But for whatever I am sincerely committed to in life, it is a great approach to intentionally take.  

Having discovered that--the key is now to implement that approach to life more today than yesterday.  Then, to keep looking ahead and doing that day after day after day... 

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Helping Others to Help Ourselves to Success

This will be my final post about the Boston Marathon this year.  It's not often that I have several posts about a race that I didn't even run.  Yesterday, I talked about grit--how it influences our ability to finish marathons and do well at work.  Today, I want to comment on an article I read.  This Runners World article talked about all the hormones that get released when we help someone: endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin.  While Des (the women's winner) probably needed the endorphins in the marathon, not many of us will need to overcome pain during the average work day.  However, anyone at work can use dopamine that increases "motivation and focus" and serotonin that "boosts...mood" .  I know that in my workplace the fact that the "brain releases oxytocin when you feel a bond with another person" that can  help me  to "focus on the bigger picture," is also useful. 

Thinking of these three hormones together, I now have a new answer when people give me kudos for all the time I spend with and helping students,  I won't deny that the compliment makes me feel good.  But, whether I receive a compliment or not, the science of  helping suggests that just helping can make me feel good and gives me what I need to do the rest of my job even better.  This raises the question--if I need those shots of hormones each day to be the best I can, should I, then, try to schedule some "helping others" time each day?  Should I try to train myself to think of more of my daily activities as "being helpful" to others?  In summary, how do I use the science of helping others to inform how I structure my days, my weeks, and my years to provide a flow of all the helpful hormones to keep myself going at my best?

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Grit in a Marathon and in the Office

I've written about the importance of grit at least once before.  I want to write about it again today for one reason.  While I am not racing any spring marathons this year, I paced two younger individuals through their first marathons in 2016 and 2017.  The woman I paced in 2016 ran Boston nine days ago.  The woman I paced in 2017 ran in Delaware three days ago.  Each ran faster than she did with me.  Did their talent improve?  Probably.  But they also had grit.  They knew how to keep themselves going--each better than in her first marathon.

Grit also played a role in the men's and women's overall winners in Boston this year.  In what sense?  This year's winners were not the most elite runners who were expected to win.  They were definitely elite runners.  But they were elite runners who knew how to stick it out.  In other words, they had grit.

The grit factor particularly applied to my friend who ran Boston this year.  In telling her story, she related tears at mile 15 and arms so sore at mile 18 that she had to ask a spectator to help her retrieve an energy gel.  But she kept going.  And she ran her second fastest of three marathons.

Will those who are simply fastest win most marathons?  Yes.  But when the conditions are challenging who has a better chance of an unexpected victory?  Those with grit.  Those who can keep pressing forward in the face of adversity.  Those who know how to continue to motivate themselves when the circumstances are not perfect. 

Is this relevant in the workplace?  You bet.  Talent is  important.  Skills are important.  But when the chips are down, we need people who can keep themselves going and share that grit so that their teams keep going when the situation is imperfect.  Those will be the long-term survivors who prove their value in situation after situation and who become valued, stabilizing members of their organizations.  I can't speak for the winners in Boston, but I am confident that the two women I paced through their first marathons bring their grit to the office and can make it through in their jobs in much the same way they did in their most recent races.   

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.