I’m Mr. Fix It

Well, unfortunately, I am not Mr. (or Mrs.) Fix It, but there are times where I wish that I had that power.

One of the many hats I wear as a department chair is the ‘Customer Service hat’.  Teachers, students, staff, administrators, etc. will bring me problems or questions, confidential and not, privately and publicly, that they seek advice or answers to.  I think it is important to listen before you speak so I do my best to focus my attention on the situation at hand.  When I first became the Department Chair I would then attempt to resolve the issue by providing solutions or offering services related to the request.  This became overwhelming very quickly.  The last thing I needed as a new leader was a longer to-do list.  I think the most complicated piece of my leadership at the start was the fact that I was younger than every person I was to oversee.  I understand that ‘being tested’ comes with the leadership territory, and I do not resent any valuable learning experience I have encountered as a result.  It would be easy to, but these experiences have taught me more about work, leadership, delegating, listening, collaborating, and community than any advanced degree.

I received the following advice from a wonderful CEO who was able to balance his life, leaving his work at the office and saving his non-working hours devoted to his family… instead of checking off his to-do list:

“Thought some more about our phone conversation yesterday.

Seems that there are always those who want to test the “new boss” with what they think are the most critical concerns of the department.  Not that they do not offer valid input to the process but we discussed most of the time the input is self serving.  You certainly want to listen as time permits.  But that is where the problems start.  Talk is cheap and puts the balance of the workload on you.  I was thinking of ways for you to sift out the valid from the invalid and force a little more of the work back onto others.

Case in point:  Bob wants to unload on you all of his concerns regarding a departmental issue that he feels is overlooked and could use immediate attention. He corners you for thirty minutes and downloads his entire concern on you verbally expecting you to take in all of the information and comprehend all of his concerns.  On top of that he leaves you feeling as if you need to come up with all of the solutions to his concerns.  He may even offer a potential solution.

You can slow this type of data download with the expectation that you will solve all of Bob’s problems by asking just a few very quick questions. Most of the time these will cause “Bob” to really think about his concern and measure his passion for the issue at hand.

1.  Bob, I have listened to your idea and think you may have something we can use.  Can YOU put together, in writing, the needed information to support the concern along with your solutions and get it to me as soon as possible.  I want to clearly understand the concern and give it my fullest attention, but really need to be clear on the points you are presenting.

2.  Bob, several others have mentioned to me the same concern.  I am thinking of putting together a small group to discuss the concern. Would you be able to assist with that/ head up the committee?

3.  Bob, many others have brought requests to me over the past couple weeks.  I am reviewing their written ideas and prioritizing them so that we can determine which concerns/solutions offer the most benefit to our department.  Give me the materials you want me to review and I will add them to list for consideration.

Step one seeks to put the work load back on them by making them articulate the concern in writing so you have a document trail not a conversation to rely on for the facts.  It seeks to find out how committed they are to their cause.  Most people just want to dump the work on someone else and are not committed.  They have no skin in the game and it makes it easy for them to stand on the sidelines and criticize.  If they are not willing to go through the process of writing out the concern with possible solutions they are most likely just whining about something.

Step two seeks an additional level of commitment over item 1.  You have a valid concern that you are now asking them to put together a team to resolve the concern.  Bob has to search himself to find out how committed he is to the cause and its solution.  This forces Bob to make the tough decision.  Team player or pot stirrer.

Step three lets Bob know that while you feel his concern is valid that you will not be able to address all of the items fully and will evaluate and prioritize.  I like to let folks know that we will focus our efforts on the ideas that get maximum bang for the buck and that are most urgent.  That we cannot ‘boil the ocean’!”

Without this advice, my leadership experience could have fared much differently.  I hope that this advice can be used by others.  Read it, save it, and share it!  Remember, you are not Mr./Mrs Fix It as a leader, you are an encourager, inspiration, guide, director, conductor, influence, advocator, provider, and so much more.