Having Fun at Commencement

Having Fun at Commencement

Yeah  – that’s right  – having fun at commencement.  Last Saturday, ODU held it’s 125th commencement and for me it was a day of commencing.  We have two ceremonies for our fall/winter commencement because of the size of our convocation center.  For some folks in higher education, commencement has become just another chore, but personally, I really it.  Think about it – have you ever been to a sad commencement?  After all, commencement represents not so much an end but a beginning of a new stage of life for the student, family and friends.

As an aside, one of the things that has changed with commencement is the decorating of the mortarboard.  As one of my colleagues pointed out, when we graduated, the decorating of the mortarboard was done by the “rebels” and today it seems that it is the norm rather than the exception.  The messages range from heartfelt gratitude to cheeky goodbyes to the world of studying and books – and the misguided belief that they are “done” with their education.  In any situation – they express joy, excitement and hope for tomorrow.

One of the most difficult tasks of the entire ceremony, is the job of the commencement speaker. Having attended dozens of commencements, I’ve heard good and not so good speakers and I am happy to say that we had two very good speakers at our commencements on Saturday.  I actually took notes so I could capture some the insightful jewels each provided the graduates and all those in attendance.  Below are some of the insights as grouped by me.

Always be aspirational—make stretch goals

Both speakers challenged graduates to continue to grow as individuals.  Encouraging them to never stop learning and to always strive to make a difference.

You can attract more bees with honey than with vinegar     

The morning speaker suggested that we should always take a moment to say thank you to those who provide us assistance.  For me, I’ve been very lucky.  Much of my success is due to the help of others.  The afternoon speaker asked that we “always be nice to others and make time for everyone.”   In my mind, this can be as simple as stopping to say hello and asking someone how are they doing and here is the important, ask and actually you mean it.  Take that extra step and you actually really listen to the answer.

To be successful you must be receptive and adaptable

One speaker reminded the graduates that they need to recognize that they don’t know everything and that we need to learn from others. We can best learn from others by becoming a good listener.  The afternoon speaker put it in a slightly different way in which she challenged the graduates to keep an open mind.

Be accountable for your actions

One of the speakers used the phase “Own your failures.”  Hold yourself accountable and avoid making excuses when things don’t turn out as well as you may have hoped.  We were also reminded “No job is too small, no matter how big we think we’ve become.”  This rings particularly true for an old continuing education guy like me.  We never overgrow the need to move chairs and tables, schlep flip charts, and basically do whatever needs to be done.

Wag more—bark less 

This bit of advice comes not from the commencement speakers but from me.  It goes back to what I learned in kindergarten – if you don’t have something nice to say then……you know the rest.  I also believe that wagging more means having fun whether you are at work or at play.  And speaking of having fun at commencement, there is no substitute to being surrounded by good and fun colleagues during the commencement ceremony. For example, at commencement we sometimes play the over/under game in terms of when the commencement will end.  This year we had no winner (for the record I won at the last commencement).

Finally, I’ll end this post with the last piece of advice from the afternoon speaker: Give more than you receive.   This is certainly poignant advice during this holiday season but it has meaning all year round.  While it is very difficult at times, making that extra effort, going that extra mile, often times makes the difference between success and failure.

Peggy and I wish everyone a safe and happy holiday.

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We’ve lost a thought leader, visionary, trail blazer, colleague and friend

We’ve lost a thought leader, visionary, trail blazer, colleague and friend

Over the thanksgiving holiday we learned of the passing of Dr. John F. Ebersole.  Perhaps like many of you, I was not aware that John had taken a leave from Excelisor College as he battled the myelodyspastic syndromes. Our UPCEA friends Bob Hansen and Lori Derkay, passed the news on to several of us.  The responses were one of shared grief and loss, but also outpourings of admiration for the friend, leader and person that John was to so many and to education.

John was a wonderful colleague, a sentiment shared by all who knew him..  Rather than just offer my memories, I hope my friends don’t mind, that I pass on collective thoughts about John.  He was seen as a trusted colleague, mentor and friend.

John’s contributions to our field will be felt for years to come.  He was the consummate professional and leader.  For many of us, he provided the nudge and a sense of urgency about higher education to be more accessible.  As one colleague indicated, John was a “thought” leader as well as someone drawn to ambitious action. He truly was a force of nature in the implementation of innovation in higher education.

For many of us, we remember his strong leadership in UPCEA.  John was not only instrumental in taking us in new directions at the national level, he also would scout at Regional Meetings and the Annual Conference for future UPCEA leaders.  He encouraged these individuals to take on leadership roles at all levels in UPCEA.

I remember serving on the UPCEA board when John was president and one of my most fond memories was talking with him about “his story.” His road from enlisting in the Coast Guard to his own pursuit of his education which lead to completing his doctorate and advocating for access to education for all provided inspiration to many, not just me. John embodied the person that I hoped I could serve.

More than anything else, my colleagues most often thought of John as a friend.  A person who reminded us of why we do what we do.  John, you will be sorely missed.  While you had a national impact you always took the time to be accessible to all.  As one friend indicated, the best way to recognize our friend John Ebersole is to attempt to emulate his courage and vision.  We can carry forth his vision and passion for educational access.

Many thanks to my friends for giving me the words to celebrate John.

We all extend our sympathy and warm thoughts to John’s family.  You will be missed but not forgotten.

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High EQ–a necessity for professional continuing educators

It’s been awhile sense I posted on my blog.  Here is a note I sent to our staff about the importance of exercising our high EQ in our roles as professional continuing educators based on an article by Travis Bradberry.  I’ve copied a link to the article at the end of the post.

Good morning CoCEPD colleagues:

I hope you had a great weekend and got out to enjoy the surprising sunshiny days. I have a number of news/information outlets that “push” articles to me on a daily basis and I received one today about Emotional Intelligence (EQ) that I think speaks directly to our mindset, high EQ, as professional continuing educators.

The author, Travis Bradberry, looked at data from a million-plus people and identified the habits that set high-EQ people apart. These habits seem to best describe what we strive for as individuals as well as members in CoCEPD.

What sets high-EQ people apart:

They are relentlessly positive—they focus on those things that are completely within their power-their attention and their effort.

They have a large emotional vocabulary-they can pinpoint and describe their emotions, that is, some people can only describe their emotions as feeling “bad” –high EQ people pinpoint their feeling, e.g., being irritable, frustrated, downtrodden, anxious. Why is this important, if you can identify your feelings you are less likely to make irrational choices and counterproductive actions.

They are assertive-they remain balance and neutralize difficult and toxic people without creating enemies.

The are curious about other people-they have empathy for others and are truly curious about how others are doing.

They forgive, but they don’t forget-they avoid the toxic feelings that comes with holding a grudge but they don’t forget in that they avoid a similar situation in the future.

They won’t let anyone (and I think anything) limit their joy—Hi EQ people don’t let anyone’s opinions diminish the pleasure and satisfaction they feel about their own accomplishments.

They make things fun-they go the extra mile to make people they care about happy.

They are difficult to offend—Hi EQ people are self-confident and open-minded, which creates a pretty thick skin. To quote from our staff meetings, “I don’t mean to throw so and so under the bus, BUT……”

They quash negative self-talk-They understand that our negative thoughts are just that, thoughts, not facts.

There is no doubt in my mind to be happy and successful we need a high EQ and I believe that this is particularly true for those of us in the field of professional and continuing education. When I think about our own challenges in fully establishing the new College of Continuing Educating and Professional Development, it is our collective high EQ that allows to continue to move forward even through much of what we do does not fit the traditional university model.

Thanks to all you for bringing your high EQ game to all we do.





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I’ve been thinking about failure recently—-REALLY??

I’ve been thinking about failure recently—-REALLY??

I’ve been thinking about failure recently. Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t in some deep dark mood wondering why things might be going to hell in a hand basket. Actually just the opposite. I was thinking how we best leverage what we learn from things that don’t go exactly like we would have hoped. For example, let’s say we launch a graduate certificate that we believe has been fully vetted and we have clearly identified our target audience but our enrollment falls much shorter than we anticipated. Is this a failure or is it really learning experience.

What got me thinking about failure was my recent reading on innovation and the growing mantra about how important it is to fail early and often and to learn from the failure. Bob Asghar in his article Why Silicon Valley’s ‘Fail Fast’ Mantra Is Just Hype captures my thinking, “Forget the cute mantras. No one should ever set out to fail.” I seriously doubt that anyone who wakes up in the morning and thinks, “Boy I can’t wait to fail so that I can learn fast. I start projects with the idea that they will be successful. I also build into the thinking a contingency plan just in case things don’t go well. Asghar suggests, “The key, really, shouldn’t be to embrace failure, but to embrace resilience and the ability to bounce back. And the goal shouldn’t be to glorify mistakes and errors and catastrophes, but to cultivate the ability to adapt and learn from them.”

If the key in failure is not the failure but your reaction to failure, what do we know about being the ability to bounce back from failure?

Travis Bradberry in his article “How to use failure to your advantage” suggests five actions that you can “take when you fail that will enable you to succeed in the future and allow others to see you positively in spite of your failure.”

  • Break the bad news yourself. Don’t wait around for someone to point out the failure, “when someone else points out your failure, that one failure turns into two.”
  • Provide an explanation “but don’t make excuses.” I would add that sooner the better in owning up to your failure. Remember the old saw “Crow often tastes better when it is warm.”
  • “Have a plan for fixing things” as compared to either just standing there and/or hoping someone will pick up the pieces. Become part of the solution as compared to being the problem.
  • “Have a plan for prevention.” Show others that you learned from the mistake and that you have a plan to prevent this same mistake in the future.
  • “Get back on the horse.” One reaction to failure is to become reluctant to suggest ideas and attempt new projects. There are times when I must admit I think I’m not putting my neck out there again but after some thoughtful moments, I do get back on that horse.

If you don’t get back on the horse than you develop a fear of failure that Bradberry reminds us “is worse than failure itself because it condemns you to a life of unrealized potential.”

I’ve work with people who develop such a fear of failure that they become almost paralyzed, unwilling to try anything until it is fully researched believing the only result will be success. And that is simply never a 100% possibility.

I stumbled across an article (Fail fast, fail often: How losing can help you win, thedailybest.com) that I use when talking to the staff about the importance of getting back on the horse and taking risks. It tells the story of a ceramics teacher who did an experiment with his class (taken from Art and Fear from Ted Orland and David Waylon). The teacher divided the class into two groups. Group one was told that their grade depended on “the single best piece produced over the duration of the course.” And the other group was told that their grade was dependent “on the quantity of their work. The more clay you use the higher your grade.”

You might guess or maybe not, that when it came to judging the pots “by technical and artistic sophistication” the best pots were made by the quantity group.   What happened is that students in the quality group spent most of their time in planning out the pot “to produce refined, flawless work.” Where as those in the quantity group spent their time making lots of pots and in the process “they were experimenting, becoming more adept at working with the class, and learning from the mistakes on each progressive piece.”

Facing failure is inevitable if you are a leader because leaders take chances. What isn’t inevitable is how you react to the failure. The road to success is not embracing the failure it is “to embrace resilience and the ability to bounce back.” I agree with Bradberry, persistence and optimism are two important characteristics to have in dealing with failure. “Persistent people are special because their optimism never dies. This makes them great at rising from failure.”

I wish you all the persistence to do great things and the optimism to rise from failure in making great successes.

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Managing Yourself, How to Embrace Complex Changes

Managing Yourself, How to Embrace Complex Changes

I wish that I had read this article when Peggy and I were making our move from The Valley to Norfolk. The author provides great advices in terms of looking at and dealing with change whether it is a move, changing jobs, or changes in your family.

The author suggests that when thinking about navigating change use what she called the Seven C’s:

  • Complexity—considering all the issues at play in a change effort
  • Clarity—understanding and prioritizing those issues
  • Confidence—believing that the change can be made successfully
  • Creativity—brainstorming innovative solutions to problems that arise
  • Commitment—taking the first steps to implement the change
  • Consolidation—leaving the previous identity to adopt the new one
  • Change—living into the change and its consequences

I don’t think that Peggy and I are much different than others, in that when we have opportunities for changes in our life we create a matrix with the positives and negatives of the prospect. The author takes this step further when she suggests that we first embrace the complexity of making a change and seek the advice of a third-party. Peggy and I are lucky to have colleagues that we use for our sounding boards. One of the things I would add to this process is that we need to be open and not dismiss advice that doesn’t agree with what we think we want to do. In the end, the author suggests an effective approach is “envisioning a successful outcome.”

An important step in dealing with change is seeking clarity about those factors that cause us anxiety. The author suggests that the better we understand those factors the less anxious we will be.   In some ways, in defining and clarifying our concerns, we are better able to deal with our them.

In making a change, you need to have the confidence that you are prepared and capable in dealing with the challenges that will come as part of the change. Let’s face it – change is hard and comes with many unexpected challenges. From my experience many of these challenges are items you simply hadn’t anticipated. I think each of us builds confidence in our decisions in many different ways; from an encouraging word from a colleague to “resolving a minor problem associated with the change.”

In my mind it is hard to embrace change without having the ability to be creative in responding to the new problems the change presents. One of the ways that I’ve dealt in facing problems associated with a new job,is seeking out individuals on campus that I can trust to provide a perspective, usually a historical perspective related to the problem. This information is very helpful in providing guidance to how you might invest your time and efforts in those first few months.

The next step in embracing change is making the commitment. Your commitment is to a course of action that you will do your best to implement. It is that time in which you know you are closing off other options and saying to yourself, “I am moving forward.   I’m all in with what I am about to do.” The author indicates that executives tell her “it’s helpful to think about their decision not as right or wrong but as a different path.” Pesonally, this notion extremely helpful. Once you are all in about the change, you need to reach a point of no longer “weighing the pros and cons of the decision” because you are now working to make the change successful. I liken this to the notion of moving to the point of having “no buyers remorse.” You’ve made the decision based on the best information you had and now work on making it successful.

I think that this next phase, consolidation, is often the hardest for me. This is the phase in which you need to begin to let go of the “previous situation so that new possibilities can arise.” In some ways this is where you begin to unlearn some things so that you can learn something new. What makes this difficult is needing to set aside “some aspects of your old identity” allowing you to adapt to the new. I had a heck of a time finding myself using the name of my previous institution and still referring the old institution as “we.” Some of this is simply habit and after catching myself a few times I am very clear my “we” is ODU. The author recommends “ some individuals get through this stage by focusing not on what they’ve lost but on what they’ve gained.” For me, I don’t think it needs to be an on/off switch because I still have strong positive feelings for the people I’ve worked with and use those experiences in making my change that much more successful.

Change is the last “c.” I particularly like the phrase the author uses in describing this phase. “The final step in the process is living into the change, savoring its positive outcomes while dealing with any unintended consequences or new challenges that arise.” The phrase “living into the change” describes perfectly what I’ve experienced. One of the changes Peggy and I have been through is having our kids leave home and find partners. Early on it is difficult knowing you have to share your kids with their partners and their families but we’ve been lucky because as we began the process of “living into the change” we’ve actually enlarged our family to include lots of wonderful people.

The author ends the article with a nice reminder, now that you’ve survived/thrived through the change we must recognize that we are not at “a static state” and that “you must also be on the lookout for new opportunities that may lead to your next change effort.”

Way back in my undergraduate days, I had a friend and roommate that would remind me “the only constant in the world is change.” I know this has become one of those over used phrases but darn, it is so true and for me thank goodness this is the case. Interestingly a friend told me today that I remind her of her father because he was described by and proud of the title: “Never Leave Well Enough Alone!” Come to think about it, isn’t that a great description for a professional continuing educator? We are always looking the best way to serve our constituents so we will never leave well enough alone.


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Cubs Win! Cubs Win!

Cubs Win!  Cubs Win!

Anyone who knows me well knows that I am a long time suffering Cubs fan. I fell in love with the Cubs, Wrigley Field, WGN broadcast of the games while I was doing my doctorate work at Northwestern.  Because of this love affair, the on air broadcasters became part of our family conversations, Jack Brickhouse and the good kid (great memories Larry),  Harry Carey and Steve Stone joined us at the kitchen table. And I discovered my favorite player Ryan Sandburg, now in the hall of fame!

All Cub fans and probably many baseball fans celebrated the Cubs victory over the St. Louis Cardinals (sorry Craig) earlier this week. And something wonderful happened.  Because of the the big game, I started to hear friends m friends that I hadn’t heard from in a few years.  Emails, texts, and phone calls flowed freely and often between family members.  We shared moments of holding our breath to the celebration at the end of each game.  One grandchild had to put on the lucky cap, another showed off his victory dance while all of us sang Steve Goodman’s Go Cubs Go.

You might wonder am I just gloating and what does this have to do with Shaeffer’s Forays.

First, please know Cub fans don’t gloat, after years of near misses we simply know better.  Second, the lesson for Shaeffer’s Forays has to with leadership. One of the keys to good leadership is an ability to share and to have buy in in a vision for your organization. Everyone needs  to not only understand but also strongly believe in the mission. And that is exactly what we have as Cubs Fans, we believe. Yes we’ve had our share of heartbreaks but our believe is so strong that every year we believe this could be the year.

In the same way successful organizations are sustained through the bad times through the belief in our mission. Those of us in continuing education often are sailing into the wind and we continue to do so because of our belief in our mission and the power of education.

One of the wonderful outcomes from this shared passion is the community it builds. You remember I said that I’ve heard from friends this week due to the Cubs because it was a shared experience I shared with a them. And this tie, the Cubs, then brings back fond memories and a need to reach out and again share the experience.  This is what happens to our organizations when we have a shared vision, we become a community bonded by the commitment to the vision. I am at the UPCEA South conference and you see this manifested as multiple institutions join together as a community in a belief in the power of education.

Finally, no matter how things turn out with the Cubs what we’ve done is the creation of memories. Memories that again bind us together.  You know, like the “Bartman” game. And we draw on these memories as we deal with ups and downs with the Cubs. And the same is true for our organizations, it is important to revisit our history to recognize what we’ve accomplished and that during the hard struggles we remember that we’ve found a way to reach the top of the mountain.

Now I have a secret to tell you, THIS IS THE YEAR!  GO CUBS!

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7 habits of highly Ineffective People

7 habits of highly Ineffective People

I saw the article “7 Habits of Highly Ineffective People” in our local paper the Virginia Pilot almost two months ago and I’ve carried with me hoping I would take the time to use it as a basis for a blog post. I received the inspiration yesterday when I saw the bumper sticker, Bark less—Wag More. The picture of the sticker is below.

When I think about highly effective people, they truly do “Wag more and Bark less. ” And on the other hand, ineffective leaders really are all bark.

In “7 Habits of Highly Ineffective People,” Morgan Quinn shares with us the antitheses of the seven habits Stephen Covey suggests in his famous book. In full disclosure, I found Covey’s 7 habits one of the most helpful leadership books I’ve read. I often refer back to the Seven Habits when I’m in a particularly challenging situation. They are my measure of“how am I really doing.”

Being reactive
The first ineffective habit is being reactive as compared to proactive. Highly ineffective leaders are negative and often blame their inability to succeed on outside forces. Their fall back phrase is, “I could do this if only…….” Quinn and Covey remind us that in the end we may not have control over what may happen but we always are in charge of how we react to what happens. To be effective, Quinn suggests: “Instead of reacting to life’s events, focus your time and energy on something you can control: yourself.”

Losing sight of the end goal
Covey suggests that highly effective people “begin with the end in mind” and the opposite is true of highly ineffective people. Often times ineffective people either forget or simply never have an end in mind. As leaders one of the most important things we can do is to articulate the goals for our organization and to do this in such a way that our team understands and embraces the end goal. Quinn says it well: ”When you begin with the end in mind, you own your destiny, control your desired direction and secure the future you envision.”

I didn’t particularly like this one because I am so guilty of overcommitting. By overcommitting, we dilute our focus on our true priorities. Have you, like me, ever wondered if you are really doing any of any of the things that you responsible for as well as you could if you weren’t so overcommitted? As leaders, we need to be sensitive to what it means to our staff when we overcommit. Are we indirectly impacting our teams ability to be effective? And let’s not forget, overcommitting also impacts our families and friends. I can’t imagine that when my time comes telling my kids that I wish I could have spent more time in the office.

Thinking win-lose
Quinn’s discussion of seeing life,as win-lose was a wake up call for me. He says that“when you think of life as a win-lose situation, you base your self-worth on comparison and competition.” The wake up call for me is that I am a competitive person and yet I think that if as a leader you do begin with the end in mind, you can leverage your competitive side and at the same time find win-win with others who will help all of us get to the goal. Quinn reminds me that seeking mutual benefit and solutions are much more satisfying.

Talking over others
“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Oh, it is so much easier to listen for a second and then go inside your own head and begin to frame what will be your insightful retort. True confession, I remember times while being in meetings that I thought, “Darn. I need to say something insightful or people will think less of me.” By the time I opened my mouth, I should have simply put a sock in it. Probably the best advice I can give any leader is to shut up and don’t answer until the person asking the question has finished. And a second bit of advice would be rather than giving an answer, ask more questions and give the person a chance to reach an answer. We are creating future leaders, future problem solvers. By seeking to understand “you build relationships, and develop high levels of trust with others.”

Operating alone
Have you ever been in meetings when you thought, darn if I were only a committee of one? Well, as they say on ESPN Game Day, not so fast my friend. Operating alone, you insulate yourself from others. Let’s face it, they say two heads are really better than one. The challenges we face are large, multifaceted, and require a variety of expertise to solve. I am smart enough to recognize that I don’t have the depth of experience to address the challenges we face in our College and at our institution so I do want to have the experts at the table. Simply having others at the table will not result in multifaceted problem solving. You need to choose the “experts” carefully because you want to avoid groupthink. I remember the advice about assuring that you include the crazy contrarian on the committee, not always easy to get along with but he or she always assist in coming to a better conclusion.

Working hard, not smart
I remember when I was at the University of North Dakota, Bob Boyd brought together the directors and said, “if it feels like you are doing more with less, well that is because you are doing more with less.” Ive used that line a number of times and giving the staff the challenge of “how can we work smarter not harder” usually follows it. Part of this for Quinn and Covey is taking the time to “sharpen the saw” so that you get recharged and you can find ways to work smarter. This ”sharpening the saw” reminds me of the question I asked earlier, when my time comes will I really say, “Gosh. If only I had one more hour in the office I could have written two more memos You know as I’ve gotten older I have more and more reasons to want one more hour – be it with the our kids and grandkids and time with Peggy and friends and maybe just one more round of golf. And while we are at it having one more year just in case this is the year for the Cubs to take it all. You do know that the Cubs are going to the playoffs.

Well, after all that, to be a great leader, to be a good friend, to be a good parent and partner, it’s simply Wag more—Bark Less.


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