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Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 12/19/22

December 19, 2022 Dr. Jayne No Comments

I’m participating in a leadership intensive over the next six months. We recently had the first meeting of the course. It’s been a long time since I’ve participated in this kind of program other than as the person responsible for delivering the content. I was looking forward to meeting everyone and seeing what the vibe would be among the people leading the course.

I’ve worked with quite a few dysfunctional clients over the years. My Spidey sense for first impressions is usually spot on. Even when they are trying to put a good face on a total disaster, it’s difficult for most organizations to mask dysfunctional behavior. You can usually get a feel for how the leaders interact with each other and pick up on some subtle body language or comments to identify whether there are things simmering below the surface. For organizations that are well tuned, that becomes apparent when you see the interactions on Day 1.

For our first session, we had two hours together. After an informal “gathering time” of snacks and drinks, the activities were centered on getting to know the overall goals of the organization, understanding what to expect during the next six months, and answering any questions about the program.

The first thing that caught my attention was that the opening presentation was well prepared. There were four presenters, and each knew their part of the presentation cold, with no overlap and no stepping on one another’s material. Still, they came across as warm and engaging and it didn’t feel stilted or overproduced, which can be an issue when a presentation is over prepped. They spent a good amount of time reviewing the expectations and making sure that everyone understands what is expected of them and the communication plan that needs to be followed if they get into trouble with assignments.

They spent a lot of time on the overall agenda and the need to stay on time and on task during the group sessions to ensure everything gets covered. I’ve been in enough courses where the faculty struggles to stay on agenda, so I was impressed to see them literally talking the talk as they stayed right on time. To me, starting and ending meetings on time and staying within your allotted box on the agenda is a sign of respect, so it was nice to know that the message from the leadership was supportive of this idea.

At the mid-morning break, they gave the class the opportunity to vote on whether we wanted a longer break and to finish on time, or a shorter break and to finish early. As a meeting participant, being able to have a say in how the group planned to operate made me feel valued. Even in its shortened state, the break was long enough to allow organic interactions and “getting to know you” moments among the attendees.

When I’ve participated in programs like this, there has always been a fair amount of group work. My experience is that the idea of group work is polarizing. People either love it or hate it. Most of us that are in the “not a fan” cohort either have been burned by group work when people don’t pull their weight or have busy schedules that make it difficult to find time to work together.

I was pleased to hear that there wouldn’t be any group work. Rather than having a group work on a larger project, each of us will be working on a smaller segment, but will be responsible for making sure that it integrates with the larger body of work. Over the last two decades, I’ve seen that being able to do individual work that is part of a larger context also allows people to make the most of their personal skill sets and results in a richer output than that produced through group think. When working in teams that operated this way previously, I did well, so I was glad this was going to be the plan. It seemed like the rest of the attendees were receptive to this as well.

A big part of this course involves presentation skills. I liked that we have the option to use whatever presentation modality we want, even if it’s low tech. There’s no forced use of PowerPoint, and no mandatory creation of slide decks. The faculty illustrated the importance of allowing people to present the way they work best by delivering similar presentations with drastically different visual aids. One did a traditional PowerPoint presentation using standardized slides provided by the parent organization. Another took the same presentation, but customized the slides to match their own personal presentation style. The third used flip charts as an aid, and the fourth used an old-school science fair board.  That final presenter used a single piece of foam board that was set up with four panels with strips of balsa wood in between to create the look of a window with four panes. Each pane was covered with a card that was removed when it was time to discuss that pane.

Guess whose presentation was the most compelling? The one with the windows, in part because it was a different vehicle than what we’ve all been pummeled with during the last three years of remote work. It was a good reminder that the message and the medium need to be in harmony to maximize how the audience interacts with the content.

The final part of the session involved a discussion of some of the overall precepts of the program and how the organizational chart is deliberately set up to support it. Roles and responsibilities are clear, with each person understanding their work and its importance in its own right, as well as how it is necessary and important for the overall success of the endeavor. There’s definitely not going to be crowdsourcing going on and it’s clear who the decision-makers are and where their scopes of responsibility begin and end.

Although we are expected to collaborate and support each other, we are also expected to be accountable for our own work and to avoid causing confusion and delay by not staying in our respective lanes. The way it was presented was similar to the “good fences make good neighbors” adage, but with a reminder that we’re all expected to make sure our houses and lawns are neat and tidy because it reflects on the entire neighborhood.

Throughout the presentation, various deliverables were mentioned by different individuals. They each promised to send the materials after class, which can lead to confusion if you have to wait and figure out which ones have or have not been received. I was pleased to see that by the time I made it back to my car, a link to a shared drive with all the deliverables was waiting in my inbox. This will allow each of us to work at our own pace, especially those of us who like to jump into something while our thoughts are fresh and our minds are focused.

Overall, I was impressed by the level of organization and am looking forward to the next monthly session. I’m sure there will be bumps along the way, but based on my first impression, I’m excited.

What is the best leadership program you’ve ever attended and why? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

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