Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Speaking (or Not Speaking) as Necessary

In my role in leadership in an academic institution, one thing I have learned is that there are certain times to say things and certain times not to say things.  And both can be very important.  Going one step further, what to say is also quite critical.  I have had several poignant examples in the past week.

First, last Thursday I was asked to attend presentations by some of our students.  The presentations were made by students in the second year of their academic programs.  The audience was first year students and anyone else interested in hearing about interesting summer internships that crossed between public health and business.  On the day of the presentations, I was asked to give some closing remarks.  The students actually made it very easy on me.  Nearly every student who mentioned a specific course mentioned "Decision Models."  It was one of the least loved but most often mentioned courses.  The other point nearly everyone mentioned was networking.  Putting these two together and wrapping it in a set of comments where I was enthusiastic and expressed enthusiasm for the program and for the students' accomplishments made my commentary much appreciated and positively commented on.  This was actually a great example of a combination of listening and speaking, taking just enough time to make a point, and giving a clear message that added value for the school I represent in the partnership in which these students are involved.

Second, earlier this week, I sent an email that a staff member interpreted (based on the email response) as being directed at one person.  In fact, the email that I sent was really directed at everyone on the email--four people including myself.  It was a little reminder that sometimes we need to include everyone who has a stake in the decision sooner rather than later--while recognizing that everyone hates getting too many potentially unnecessary emails.  In any case, when I noted just how much she seemed to be defending herself, I sent a return message making clear that I didn't intend to single her out and that I actually appreciated her efforts at acting as a bridge between offices and helping to "keep the trains running on time" as my boss likes to say.  She pointed out that the comment was a breath of fresh air and that she was surprised I would take the time to write such a note.  People who do good work deserve to be recognized.  Giving that recognition when it is due gives me a lot of room to call on a person's help later and just develops a better sense of "we are all in this together" as we go along.

Third, I saw an example of when not to say something.  Colleague A brought information about Colleague B that Colleague B had not intended for general consumption.  When Colleague B was told by Colleague A that I knew, Colleague B sent off an email to make sure that I did not share it.  Colleague B had shared other things with me before, so I reassured Colleague B that it would go no further.  In fact, I had spoken with Colleague B even before the email exchange and did not mention what I knew.  Discretion in what to say and when is just as important as saying good things and important things at the right times.  And the trust that I have developed and work hard to keep is one of the most important assets I have moving forward.  If I ever betray that trust, I will go down in flames quickly.

Important lessons.  So many in just a week.  Lots to continue to learn as I move ahead.    

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