Tag Archives: leadership

The Gift of Conflict

8 May


Sometimes people say I am crazy, but I don’t believe that conflict is a bad thing.

Maybe it is because I spent nearly a decade managing national conflict resolution programs at the United States Postal Service. Or maybe it is because I’m the kind of guy that has never been afraid of a challenge or possibly because my life story has been shaped by some powerful experiences of reconciliation.

But whatever reason it is, this is what I know: conflict can actually be very positive. Conflict raises important issues to the surface.  It is how you manage conflict or don’t manage it that can make it a problem.

Most of us want to be happy. We want to live and work in an environment where everyone likes us and where our contributions are valued. We want to walk away from our family life, our jobs, and our friendships feeling better for them and vice versa.

So when conflict arises—whether it be because of miscommunication, differences in personality or a multitude of other reasons—so many of us try to avoid the conflict instead of addressing it head on.

We’d rather live in denial than to have our circumstances be made worse (we think) by bringing up the conflict.

And it is this fear of conflict, especially for those of us in positions of leadership, from which deeply embedded problems emerge.

This is what I know: leaders who can’t deal well with conflict will not have long tenures in whatever place they are seeking to lead.

So for all of you conflict haters out there, here are some of my suggestions:

1. Do not be afraid to talk to the person with whom you have the difficultly. Clear the air. Take them to coffee. Seek to find common ground. Sometimes the worse thing you can do is fill the void of conflict with silence. Making an effort can go a long way to the ultimate resolution.

2.  When you can’t find common ground, do not talk badly about this person to others. Though it could be very comforting to belittle, demean or judge the person with whom you have a conflict in group settings—don’t. Remember what your mama said, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

 3. Consider your own personal responsibility in the conflict. Oftentimes our first reaction to a dispute is to blame the other person, taking ourselves completely out of the picture. But, don’t. There are always two sides to every story, two perspectives to any situation. So spend some time in self-reflection with a willingness to say that you are sorry for your part of the blame.

4. Keep the end goal in mind: new understanding. One of the best gifts any relationship can be given is conflict. For conflict can be a catalyst for deeper connection, stronger appreciation and mutual admiration for what is outside the norm of your own experience. You might actually walk away from a contentious discussion with greater respect for the person you might have once hated.  This all can happen if you are committed to the process, no matter how long it takes!

Bottom line: conflict is not bad.  It’s all in how you deal with it!



Adapting Strategic Plans

12 Jan

Even if you aren’t a visionary leader or a visionary organization, one of the easiest things you can do to make people on the outside think that you are is to create a strategic plan.

The process of writing it can be as simple or complicated as you want it to be. Meeting after meeting, consensus building after consensus building, fight, cry, pray and then emerge from the process with a one year, five year and ten year strategic plan.

I am not anti processes like this. In fact, when I arrived, Feed The Children had a strategic plan that they’d worked diligently on for quite awhile. I appreciated its thoughtfulness and passion for success. This plan did a great job in many ways of steering our big ship in a more fruitful direction.

But, from where I sit and the experiences of leadership that I’ve had thus far in my career, I have come to see a lack of execution as a real hindrance to an organization. For so many times I’ve seen organizations reach the point of creation of a 10 year plan and then feel like it is an invitation to rest on the confidence of the plan– without making leaps and bounds toward what is actually in the plan. So easily strategic plans can be placed on a shelf somewhere gathering dust while the organization continues on in a pattern of status quo.

I don’t want Feed The Children to be one of these organizations. I want us to be vibrant. I want us to challenge the status quo. I want us to be known as an organization that executes our plan well.

This is why when I arrived on the scene 18 months, I listened. Then, as a leadership team we evaluated the current strengths and failures of our organization. And then we took a time out and devoted some of our key energy toward re-writing our plan. Our new strategic plan is in tune with where I know Feed The Children is destined to go. Our new strategic plan is an active document that we are seeking to live into more each day.

I believe this is what adaptive leadership is all about.

We evaluate our assets, our strengths and our downright pitfalls so that our plans are not just strategic, but relevant.

Franklin D. Roosevelt once said: “It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.”

Leadership is as much about having the right ideas as it is being able to adapt to new ones.

Leadership is as much about projecting toward to the future as it is understanding the present.

Leadership is as much about making plans as it actually following through with them.

I’m glad I’m a life-long learner of leadership and that there’s not just one plan.

Chocolate Milk Mondays

16 Oct

photoAs I seek to be an adaptive leader, I often think that the best ideas emerge when you listen to your team.

This is the story of how one such new FTC tradition began. It’s called Chocolate Milk Mondays.

When I came on as CEO of FTC, I asked HR to place a suggestion box in the break room for employees to suggest ideas that they felt would make their experience at FTC a better one.

However, when our head of HR kept telling me that there were countless suggestions for “chocolate milk Mondays” in the suggestion box, I wondered what I had gotten into. As much as I wanted to honor (within reason) what employees suggested, I wasn’t sure about this idea. Surely it was just one person stuffing the box with the same idea over and over again?

But then, one evening last February I worked late. My wife and I had just hosted an all-staff Valentine’s party where we gave each member of the team in Oklahoma a heart-shaped cookie. I wanted to be the one who took the cookies to our night crew in the call center so that they wouldn’t feel left out.

As I spent some time chatting with them, it was soon apparent that it wasn’t one person who stuffed the box with the chocolate milk idea but an entire team: the night-time call center team.

They told me that their crew had asked for chocolate milk Mondays– knowing that it was a silly idea, but something they thought would brighten their day– just to see if I was listening. They wanted to know if it was really true that they could suggest anything and be heard?

The following Monday, I knew what was next. I drove to the local 7-11 and purchased several gallons of chocolate milk. I took it to the call center, and we sat down and drank chocolate milk together as a group.

The joy that followed overwhelmed me.

I heard from several employees that this act was the first time in their experience at Feed The Children that they had felt heard and cared for in such a specific way.

I heard a lot of “I’m so glad I work in an organization where the CEO knows my name.” I left that evening feeling uplifted and encouraged about the workplace culture I’m helping to create.

And so the tradition of chocolate milk Mondays lives on. Once a month, like I did this week (in the picture above), I spend some time with the evening call center thanking them for all they do for us each day at FTC with chocolate milk in hand. I don’t even mind staying late on these days because I always leave encouraged and empowered. I am surrounded by so many incredible people at FTC each day!

Who would have known chocolate milk could do all of this?

To the rest of the FTC team: don’t be afraid to suggest ideas. Who knows what might happen next? I’m listening to you.

Getting Back to Basics: What’s the Mission?

29 Jul

I’m still thinking about the many leadership discussions I was a part of during my time at Harvard Executive Education Program two weeks ago.

One of the best parts of the program for me (besides getting to meet some fabulous new colleagues) was the direct line of questioning that many of the seminars placed before us.

One day a professor asked my class of 150 non-profit leaders: “Is what you are doing valuable and are you really doing it?”

Such a question truly got each of us thinking again about our own unique missions.

And in my case the mission of Feed The Children is: to provide hope and resources to those without life’s essentials.

Is this a valuable mission? I think this is a no brainer… yes. There are so many children and families around our world that truly need our help.

But are we really fulfilling our mission? In many ways we definitely are…

Over 350,000 children are fed each school day because of the work of Feed The Children around the world

In 2012, in the United States, we provided $287 million dollars worth of food and essentials to children and their families.

And all of this is wonderful, but I believe we can do more. Yes, I said it. MORE. We could be more valuable to those we serve.

The goal I’ve set before my staff is that I would like to feed a million kids a school day. Yes, one million kids!

In the past year as we push our efforts in this direction, I’ve asked a lot out of the dedicated team that I work alongside.

I’ve asked them to leave their comfort zones behind — what worked for us in the past.

I’ve asked them to dream bigger.

I’ve asked them to work together across the organization in ways they’ve never tried before.

Most of all I’ve asked our leadership team to be ambassadors for the question, “Does ___ action help further our mission? . . . And if not, why are we doing it?”

Such is never an easy question to ask. It can rattle the foundation on which you stand. It can mean that financial priorities have to completely shift. It can mean that in order to do something really well, you have to be OK with not doing other things that are worthwhile, but don’t go back to your mission.

But another great quote I heard while I was at Harvard was, “No one brings the full package . . . What we do is a team sport.”

This fact is great news for leaders like me who are such a fan of adaptive leadership. Together we can find solutions to any problem we face along the way — if we just stick together! I can’t do it alone, nor can any member of my team.

From my chair, it’s exciting to see more effective programming and strategies emerge for the future. But, I also know it is scary too—- change never comes without some fear.

But as Nietzsche once said, “The most common form of human stupidity is forgetting what we’re trying to accomplish.” We can’t forget. There are too many children counting on us!

I won’t forget thanks to “time-outs” like I had a couple of weeks ago at Harvard, a dedicated staff who encourages me each day to do all I can to further the mission of FTC, and such a valuable mission that gets me out of bed in the morning, even on my hardest days.

I’m here because at Feed The Children we don’t want to see any child go without food or life’s essentials, and I’m confident that together we’re building a team that ensures we’ll live up to that mission!