Monday, September 2, 2013

Mental Rules for the Staff Retreat, Part 2

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Two weeks ago, in Mental Rules for the Staff Retreat, I continued writing about the process I used to create my association's values statement, despite some misgivings about the value of values statements I've previously shared and still hold.

The anonymous staff survey I circulated to gather feedback on the current values our organization rewarded and the kind of change that was needed if we were to be successful in the future had given me plenty of food for thought. As I prepared myself for an all-staff discussion at the retreat we had scheduled to craft our values statement, I codified my thoughts into a set of mental rules that I planned to use as a signpost every time the discussion wandered away from it original purpose.

The first four of these rules I shared openly with the staff, and described them in detail in my last post. The last two rules I kept to myself, but they were just as important to my successful facilitation as any of the others. Here they are:

5. I am the leader I am. I am open to improvement and change, but the shorter path to success may be through closer alignment of the organization to my leadership style.

I am not a charismatic leader. I am not the kind of leader who speaks with passion about the destination we're all rowing towards and inspires people to put even more of their backs into the cause. I'm not good at celebrating wins along the way and I don't do enough to make my association a fun and exciting place to work. I'm aware of my own shortcomings when it comes to the traditional leadership ideal, and I am interested in my own development and improvement.

However, in thinking about the kind of conversation I wanted to have at the staff retreat--and in reading some of the anonymous comments and suggestions offered through the staff survey--I felt it was important to protect against turning our discussion into an examination of my own leadership competencies. I should be willing to recognize that there were things I could do differently to help create the culture that better correlates with the success we would be describing, but I also had to be ready to communicate that there was a limit at which such efforts to change me would lead to diminishing returns for the organization.

Leaders come in all shapes and sizes--and although I may not be the kind of leader some in the organization would choose if we were starting it from scratch, the fact of the matter was that I was the leader the association had. Far greater value would come to the organization by optimizing my existing talents and expertise--and aligning the organization with those--than by trying to reinvent myself and the association at the same time.

6. It is entirely possible that not everyone in the room will be part of the future of the organization. That's OK. The degree of constructive participation each individual shows is one indicator of their readiness for the challenges that lie ahead.

I planned to stay focused on the idea what what we were doing in creating a values statement was the beginning of a process that would reshape the organization over a long period of time--not apply a quick fix to a bunch of problems that are easier for people to diagnose than to solve. As a leader focused on the long game, it would be important for me to recognize that I needed to have greater loyalty to the organization we would say we needed than the organization we currently had.

I would value everyone's perspective. I would use them to shape the direction of our discussion and the kind of values that we would define. But once those values were set, I would need to find the will and the way to hold people accountable for the behaviors they exhibited within the organization. Those that were aligned with our values would be rewarded. Those that didn't would result in reprimands. And it would have to remain conceivable that there were some in the organization who would not be able or willing to rise to the challenge the new values would set before them.

If that became the case, they would need to leave the organization--and it would be my job to bring that fact to their attention. As we went through our initial discussions, I knew that an individual's willingness to constructively participate in the process I had created would give me a first indication of which direction he or she would eventually go.

Stay tuned. I'll continue this story in future posts. Up next: The initial output of the staff discussion and how we began to shape it into an actual values statement.

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This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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