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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Still thinking about this strategic plan thing.

Still thinking about this strategic plan thing.

There are lots of challenges for any leader and if you are a leader who has been asked to develop a new organization and/or it is your first year in a new leadership position, you have the additional challenge of learning and understanding as quickly as you can the new organization as well as the personalities that make up your new organization.

Having finished my first year as the dean of the College of Continuing Education and Professional Development at ODU, I enjoyed and resonated with a recent Chronicle article, “Reflections of a First Time President.” While the challenges this author faced as a new president were not the same as I faced it was very helpful to read his insights.

“One of the things that I learned quickly during my first year as president was that my previous jobs did not prepare me for this role.” I found this to be partially true because some of the hurdles we have to deal with similar issues I’ve had at other institutions. But even though the issues may have been the same, because it was a different institution the context of the issues were quite different and thus requiring different ways of addressing the issue. As the author indicates, “Once you get into the job, you identify strengths and weaknesses you never realized you had.” And I would add, once you identified your strengths and weaknesses make darn sure you exploit your strengths and work on improving your weaknesses.

Which brings me back to still thinking about this strategic plan thing. As I indicated in an earlier blog post, I chose to not rush into a strategic planning process a year ago because I felt that we needed to simply get the work done. I good give you a number of reasons why this was a an optimal approach in the first year the Reflections of a First Time President reminded me of the one of the shortcomings of this approach. In the article, the author outlines his first retreat where he asked “ those in attendance to answer Sinek’s three core questions: (1) What do we do? (2) How do we do it? and (3) Why do we do it (i.e., what is our purpose)?” He referred to Simon Sinek’s TED talk “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” as an inspiration for asking these questions.

Listening to the TED talk it didn’t take me long to see that a flaw in concentrating in the first year on the “what we do and how do we do” and not on the “why do we do what we do.” While the “why” conversation wasn’t completely absent from our conversations in the College I don’t know that I made it a specific or purposeful topic in our conversations. Knowing me, I am confident that I waxed eloquently about why I do what I do but I am guilty about not asking the why question of the team members in the College. One of the suggestions from the “First Time President” is to get to know your team and the weaknesses and strengths they bring. While I know the team’s strengths and weaknesses related to how and what we do, I failed to ask and to listen to the “why” they do what they do.

So as I think about this strategic planning thing, the one item I want on the agenda is discussing “why we do what we do” as an organization and exploring the “why” for each staff member. Watching the TED talk reminded me that we attract students, a.k.a. customers, and also partners who work with us not because of what we do or how we do, we attract and keep raving fans because of why we do what we do.

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Start with a strategic plan. Really?

Start with a strategic plan. Really?


It’s been awhile sense my last blog, I haven’t exactly been inundated with cries of “where is Shaeffer’s Forays” actually just the opposite. Despite that silence I am feeling the need to do some talking with and to myself.


The new College of Continuing Education and Professional Development is now over a year old and to say the least I’ve learned a great deal in this year. As I told my friend Andy, this has been one of the most interesting leadership challenges I’ve had. The challenge really has to do with starting something new that brings together already existing units.


In our Director’s meeting this week I went way off script and simply asked each director what is bugging him or her. And each director listed some of their top frustrations and a reoccurring theme was they felt disjointed; they had trouble connecting the dots, and put simply what the heck is the plan.


I take all the responsibility for these feelings because when we began a year ago I made in consultation with the staff the decision that we needed to hit the ground running in the development and delivery of revenue generating programming and looking back I am proud to say that this just what happened. I am very comfortable saying that one year later we are functioning as a team and we’ve developed a good level of trust.


Here comes the “but”; but given our conversation this week it is clear that we are ready to spend some serious time discussing and making a strategic plan. Now I am not that type of leader that lovingly embraces strategic planning because I’ve been through enough of these exercises and have actually lead them where we enjoyed a couple of days away from the office and had a great conversation but nothing really changed.


Bill Conerly declared the death of strategic planning in his article The death of strategic planning: Why? ( While strategic planning resulted in a number of good things, the least of which brought the CEO together with those who will implement the “new” strategic plan.


Mr. Conerly outlines three pitfalls in strategic planning that keeps the plan from becoming effective. Pitfall number one is avoiding no. If your mission statement is too broad and your vision statement becomes all things to all people then he suggests you need to step back and learn how to say No. I would add part of saying no is providing focus to our mission, vision, and values.


Pitfall number two is not connecting to actions. We see this happen as I mentioned above when we meet for two days, have a great conversation and then we go back to our offices and nothing changes. Conerly suggest that our plan should identify steps and actions “that are necessary to implement the strategy,” and I would add that they must be actions that are measurable which leads to accountability.


The final Pitfall is Vague action steps. The steps must be clear and be directive so that “each manager know(s) what to do first thing in the morning,” to meet the goals of the plan.


One of the things we’ve learned in the last few years is that despite all our planning the future we planned for turned out to be very different. Conerly suggests that new strategic plans focus on execution and on becoming more nimble. Imbedded in our plan should be contingency plans allowing us to respond quickly when the future doesn’t turn out like we hoped.


As I think about our strategic planning process what I would like to see is that our plan moves us from predicting the future to becoming a resilient organization allowing to helps our College to be resilience and adaptable to a changing future. In General McChrystal’s book “Team of Team” he suggests that in the new complex environments the ability to be resilient that is, “the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and still retain its basic function and structure.”


I am fully supportive of engaging in a strategic planning process with outcome being a plan that will be focused in our action steps and will make us a resilient team in dealing with inevitable changes the future will provide.


We will go into the planning with Conerly’s warning….”So have your “strategic planning” retreat, but don’t fall into the trap of the one perfect forecast. Instead, go with a humble attitude about your ability to predict the future and strive for greater flexibility.”


Let the planning begin.





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UPCEA – Happy 100th Anniversary (Part One)

UPCEA–Happy 100th Anniversary

Part One

Two weeks ago UPCEA celebrated its 100th Anniversary with their annual meeting in Washington, DC. Kudos goes out to Bob Hansen and his staff as well as Bea Gonzalez (now Past President of UPCEA), David Schejbal (now President), and the co-chairs for the meeting, Marie Cini and Richard Novak, for putting together not only a great conference but also hosting a celebration that I considered most worthy for the 100th Anniversary of our association.

The meeting began with recognizing the past presidents of UPCEA, and there were quite of few of us. This was especially meaningful for me to have the opportunity to join some of the great leaders in our field on the stage.  The best moment however came when Alex Charters was introduced as the oldest past president of UPCEA.  Alex received a well-deserved standing ovation for his long time support of UPCEA as well as his leadership in the field of professional and continuing education.

The meeting was packed with a number of informative concurrent sessions as well as top-notch general sessions.  I had a few take-aways from all the sessions, but I wanted to share a few from two of the general sessions that I felt were particularly germane to my work as a professional continuing educator.

Paul J. LeBlanc—The State of the Online University: What Lies Ahead?

Paul LeBlanc is the president of Southern New Hampshire University, which has become a powerhouse in online learning under his leadership. He is currently taking a leave of absence to work with the Department of Education on some key projects.

He pointed out the four “Cs” to consider when building and offering online programs and they are: Cost, Credential, Convenience, and Completion time.  In terms of cost, one of the leaders in this area in my mind has been Burck Smith of Straighterline, who has successfully taken on the challenge of lowering the costs of taking courses.  Cost is a key to the accessibility of education. What Burck has done is to break the mold of providing students more ways to borrow money, and instead actually implementing a way to reduce the cost.  I’ve commented about this before in other Shaeffer’s Forays blog posts that we as professional continuing educators need to step up to this challenge and find ways of actually lowering the cost of education.  Certainly implementing competency-based programs is one way, implementing robust Prior Learning Assessments is another, and finding ways to work with the likes of Straighterline, Sofia Learning, and other content providers is another.

Another “C” is credential, and for me this means providing paths and courses that leads the student towards obtaining a credential; I would add not just a credential but a credential that leads to employment.  I understand and support the idea that pursuing a higher education degree is much more than simply preparing for a career.  However, as the cost of higher education increases we have an obligation to assist students in understanding a path to a career through the programs and courses they take – and that path may not include a degree for everyone.  Our Governor of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe, is very clear when he talks about postsecondary education; he wants to see what he calls “Pathways to the 21st Century Workforce” by offering degrees and credentials for high demand jobs.  I’m loosely quoting him when I heard him speak a few weeks ago about education: “I don’t care if it (courses/programs) leads to a degree or certificate as long as it leads to employment in high demand areas.”  I see many opportunities for professional continuing educators in this area, including creating partnerships with our colleagues in community colleges and working closely with them to bring the full spectrum of workforce development to business, industry, government, and military. In addition, we own the ability as professional continuing educators to create multidisciplinary programs, because we are able to reach across content areas and colleges and deliver high-need programming in a compressed time frame.  We can only do this if we have strong partnerships with our academic colleagues throughout the institution.

In addition to cost and credential, LaBlanc mentioned the need for convenience.  Convenience is defined as “a quality or situation that makes something easy or useful for someone by reducing the amount of work or time required to do something.”  Sometimes the notion of providing convenience to our students is interpreted as making the classes themselves easy and therefore not maintaining the academic integrity of the course. I would argue that our job is to make our student services such as registration, advising, tutoring, etc. as convenient as possible.  I am reminded that we live in a world where we can drive up and get gas anytime we need without the help of anyone (unless you are gas pumping challenged, or in New Jersey). We live in a world where Amazon remembers what we’ve purchased and can suggest other items we might like. We live in a world where we have software that make doing our taxes more intuitive than registering for a course.  In my mind, it is clear that convenience is all about providing ease of access.

The final “C” is one that is quickly becoming “the measure” for success for higher education: completion time.  We are seeing more and more states initiating measures of success for determining funding and one of those often mentioned is time to completion.  While I agree that we need to provide ways to accelerate the time to completion, I am most concerned about finding ways to assist with completion and better understanding from the student’s perspective what their goal is, and what consider successful completion.   Successful completion isn’t always finishing a degree; it may be completing a certificate or simply taking a single class and getting the information the student needed.  Having said this, I do believe we need to assist students as they complete degrees/certificates/courses to see how they can also compete with these credentials. Borrowing from a National Governors’ Association report, we have an obligation of taking students from “complete to compete.”

I thought it was refreshing that as an Association we reached out to speakers who forced us to think beyond our higher education walls like Paul LeBlanc. Part two of “Happy 100th Anniversary” will focus on what we learned about “the shift age” and a comment or two about the Nolte Award.

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What Makes An Elite Concierge Experience?

If there is a constant aspiration that I’ve found across professional continuing education units, it’s our obsession with providing outstanding customer service to everyone we work with, from our students, to guests on our campus, and in our interactions within our own units.  For those who have worked with me, you know I have the expectation that we will create “Raving Fans.”

You may remember the 1993 book Raving Fans by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles, where they make the point that having satisfied customers just isn’t good enough; we want to create raving fans.

One of my colleagues here at ODU reminds me that we create raving fans by creating an elite concierge experience.  Now what does that really mean?  Well, it is strange where one finds inspiration, because I stumbled across an article called “What Makes An Elite Concierge Medicine Practice Successful” and found that many of the suggestions raised by the author, Russ Alan Prince, generalize to providing the elite concierge experience for our customer.

Here are some of the criteria, according to Daniel Carlin, CEO and Founder of World Clinic:

The practice must be totally committed to the care of their client-patients.  This must be core to the culture….a great concierge practice makes medical care work for the patient, and not the other way around.

For continuing and professional education units we must be student focused, and if this isn’t at the core of our culture we won’t be successful. There is no doubt that there continue to be policies and procedures that are not user friendly but this is where we come in. We must be an advocate for seeing the process from a students’ point of view.

 …every member of the staff, especially the doctors, should possess top notch interpersonal skills. Poor communicators and those who fail to listen well should work elsewhere.

I was recently asked what is the most important skill for doing my work, and my response was having good interpersonal skills.  Like medicine, interacting with a higher education institution can be an intimidating experience, and we can help alleviate anxiety so that the student can be successful.  The last sentence “Poor communicators and those who fail to listen well should work elsewhere,” reminds me of Jim Collins’ Good to Great in which he encourages us to get the right people on the bus and to get the wrong people off the bus.  Clearly, poor communicators shouldn’t be on the elite concierge experience bus.

Beyond any particular medical problem, the staff should have a broad/holistic understanding of each client/patient. This understanding goes well beyond just mastering the clinical information in their records.

We do students a disservice if we see them as just registrations, butts in seats, and revenue flows.  What we offer is the opportunity to experience the power of education, and we must understand that the motivations and aspirations of our students differ.  By “having a broad/holistic understanding” of the student, we can provide meaningful advice from potential programs to financial aid to career fit.  These are discussions that have potentially life changing results for our students, and they cannot be taken lightly.

Patients should have rapid easy access to their concierge physician.

For me I see this as one of our greatest challenges in the age of over-connectivity.  There can be the expectation that our offices and in some cases our faculty are available 24/7.  I’m not sure if any institution has found the best way of dealing with this expectation, but I’m sure through the use of technology we will find new and better ways of doing it.  And while we may not be available 24/7 we can certainly provide flexible hours for when we offer courses and for providing student services.  Those providing elite concierge experiences know that the days of being open 9 to 5 are gone.

There should be a focus on wellness, prevention, and longevity. This requires a formal, calendared prevention checklist for every patient and a proactive plan to address any unique patient health risks.

For me there are two takeaways from this for creating the elite concierge experience.  The first is having a “calendared and proactive plan” in working with students.  In other words we have a very important role to play in assuring our students are making progress in our courses and programs. Whether it be by using action analytics to assist with persistence in a class or the helping hand in advising students with their program plan, we have a huge role to plan.  And second, by being proactive we can “address the unique needs” of each student.  I recognize that there are limits to how far we can go with customer service, in that there comes a point where the students must take responsibility, and I believe that part of the elite concierge experience is helping the student to understand that and provide next steps.

What is a bit interesting is that the notion of providing an elite concierge medicine practice is geared to wealthy patients. For me, continuing and professional educators aspire to create the elite concierge experience for all, in the hopes that each student will persist and succeed in meeting their educational aspirations.  When that happens I do believe that we create raving fans.

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Right Place, Right Time

Right Place, Right Time

There were a few articles and reports that called out to me to get off my duff and write a few thoughts for Shaeffer’s Forays.

Quick update for those who might be interested. Still learning a great deal about what it means to be a founding dean of the new College of Continuing Education and Professional Development at Old Dominion University. One thing I continue to marvel at is that it is fun when you are making it up. More on that later.

One article and one report that I’ve read recently remind me that those of us in professional continuing education are truly in the right place and at the right time. The article is “Higher Education Options Respond to Market Demands” in ( The author argues that “As tech improves and tuition soars, higher education is transforming big time.”   For those of us who attended UPCEA’s Summit for Online Leadership and Strategy a couple of weeks ago, we found this to be true in spades.

If we look at these “big time changes” we often find professional continuing education units leading the way. For example, we learned about Georgia Tech’s collaboration with AT&T for the Master of Computer Science. This is one of the first examples where MOOCs meet actual degree programs. And leading this effort is Georgia Tech’s Nelson Baker, the Dean of Professional Education. The best part is that Nelson shares the pluses and minuses of his experience, helping us as we engage in our own decision making process of similar efforts.

The author Ryan Craig is quoted in the “Higher Education Options” as indicating that the future of higher education will look like this: “’A student can walk into a school and say, ‘I want to become an environmental engineer,’ show her competencies and ask for a program that will fill the gaps.’” And what this screams about are the recent developments in Competency Based Education. Again, many of the leaders in this area are coming from our professional continuing education colleges and schools. And, these leaders are also very open about sharing their experiences. A great example is David Schejbal at University of Wisconsin Extension and their UW Flexible option.

Another “big time change” is that higher education is not only offering degree programs but are also developing noncredit programs built on “industry standards…and recognized by industry leaders.” I think most of our professional continuing education units are looking at such things as mini MBAs, nano degree programs and other efforts that are just in time knowledge and skills. I must admit that one of the things that I’m enjoying in the Hampton Roads area is that we have many large companies and industries, including  the military installations that need this type of programming.

Another recent report is , “Indicators of Higher Education Equity in the United States,” lead by the Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy at the University of Pennsylvania graduate school of education and the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education. The report painted a very bleak picture of the continuing gap in college attainment by income. One of the gaps reported has to do with degree completion: “In 2013 individuals from the highest-income families were 8 times more likely than individuals from low-income families to obtain a bachelor’s degree by age 24 (77 percent vs. 9 percent). This income gap in bachelor’s degree attainment is not only quite large (66 percentage points), but also greater than 43 years ago. In 1970, students from high-income families were 5 times more likely than students from low-income families to have earned a bachelor’s degree by age 24 (40 percent vs. 6 percent).” (

There is no doubt in my mind that those of us in professional continuing education have an important role to play in reaching those who are underserved by higher education. We do this by providing degree completion programs that build seamlessly on community college degree programs. We do this by providing flexibility in how we deliver our programs.  We do this by providing appropriate student support services for our students. And we do this by providing a wide variety of programs that assist our students in obtaining knowledge and skills to advance their lives and their careers.

What I love about our field of professional continuing education is that we have the opportunities to be at the leading edge of such things as MOOCs and other technologies and at the same time, developing and delivering programming that help to address major challenges facing our society.

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