THE LARGEST ROOM – CONTEXT
The largest room in our house is the room for improvement.
In my previous life as a college president I would often pose this question to my colleagues: What is the largest room in any house? After concluding that is was a trick question, I would provide the answer: The largest room in any house is the room for improvement.
The ultimate objective of my weekly commentary is improvement. Therefore I will place the label of The Largest Room in this portion of the Weekend Memo.
Last week you will recall my reference to Studs Terkel and the lessons imparted to him from his mother regarding homework. I trust that we all will take to heart the principle that we will always have homework to do. For this week I want to share with you a passage from the opening remarks of the new president of Harvard University — Dr. Drew Gilpin Faust on the subject of collaboration. I will then present suggestions on how to capitalize on the experiences of each member of the community, and I will conclude with some thoughts on attitudes.
Dr. Faust was an unlikely choice as the president of Harvard University. As I read her remarks regarding her appointment, I saw parallels for us in the DCCCD . I ask you to ponder them in the bullets that follow.
- Our shared enterprise is to make Harvard’s future even more remarkable than its past.
- This will mean recognizing and building on what we already do well. It will also mean recognizing what we don’t do as well as we should and not being content until we find ways to do better.
- We face extraordinary opportunities. But if we at Harvard are to accomplish all we intend, we need to find new ways of working together, of engaging the creativity of one of the most talented communities in the world.
We need to break down barriers that inhibit collaboration among schools or among disciplines, barriers that divide the sciences and the humanities into what C.P. Snow once famously called two cultures, barriers that separate the practice of the arts from the interpretation of the arts, barriers that lead us to identify ourselves as from one or the other side of the river. Collaboration means more energy, more ideas, more wisdom; it also means investing beyond
We could easily replace the words Harvard and university with the Dallas County Community College District and your location, and those phrases would resonate with the words that you have heard from me on the subject of collaboration and trust.
In their book, The Accidental Leader, Harvey Robbins and Michael Finley outlined several things that we need to learn (and practice) in order to take advantage of the set of unique talents, gifts, and lessons resident in each of us. Consider their suggestions that follow as they relate to collaboration and teamwork.
- Learn how long each team member has been with the organization.
- Learn who’s had experience with teamwork. Find out whos been a part of an effective collaborative team. It may tell you how to organize future tasks and assignments.
- Learn the most fulfilling work experience each team member has ever had. Their answers will tell you what you need to do to create a more positive and collaborative work environment.
They move beyond experiences to inform the reader that individuals on teams and in organizations come with a set of expectations. Do you know what they are? Or are you merely guessing? It’s an uphill battle if you don’t address the subject of expectations. Again they offer suggestions.
- Learn what your team members want. What motivates them?
- Learn their mission expectations. Do they understand the teams mission? Do they have any doubts or reservations?
- You can’t presume they automatically get it and are on board.
- Learn your teams expectations of a leader.
Now to the third point in this commentary attitude. I recall reading where a young Ph.D. was about to get his first teaching assignment. He had simply wowed the search committee and they had nothing but good comments to make about him. He sat for the final session with the crusty dean. His remarks really caught his attention. He said it looks like you’re good kid, darn good. But I’ll tell you this. I run a positive team around here, and that comes first. I don’t care how good of a teacher you are. If I hire you . . . and you ruin that team, you’re outta here. You got that?
The young Ph.D. was hired because he entered the situation with an early lesson. Being good at something is never good enough. You’ve got to have more than expertise. You’ve got to have the right attitude and people skills to fit in, excel and succeed.
Charles Swindoll says the same thing with this expression, Your attitude will determine your altitude.
Zig Ziglar says the same thing in his book Over the Top. Skill alone will not take you over the top or keep you there. You might possess the most advanced skill set in your profession, but if you have a doom-and-gloom attitude, you will become a liability to yourself, your team, and your organization. Peak performance can only be attained with the powerful combination of excellent skill and a positive, proactive attitude.
I have seen too many instances when attitude is not given enough consideration. Fortunately, there are a growing number of adherents to the criticality of attitude. Consider the great football coach Lou Holtz who says, Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.
In fact, your attitude will imprison you or embolden you. Now consider the late African American legend who founded Ebony and Jet magazines, John Johnson. Starting out at the bottom, with nothing, dealing with discrimination and unfair treatment, he pulled himself to the top of the business world with his attitude. Johnson says, Men and women are limited not by the place of their birth, not by the color of their skin, but the size of their hope.
Johnson is absolutely correct. And his life is a testimony to the importance of having a positive attitude. He took out a loan for $500 on his mothers furniture and as Paul Harvey would say you know the rest of the story. But some people don’t know what it means to have a positive attitude. They always operate from the mentality of the glass is half empty, rather than the glass is half full.
Some people think if they have a positive attitude they will always be happy. Or they will never have a problem. Wrong! It is not possible to be happy all the time. And life will always give you plenty of problems. But a positive attitude will give you the energy to get through your problems and feel better more quickly.
William Arthur Ward gives one of the best definitions of a positive attitude. Ward says, Real optimism is aware of problems but recognizes solutions, knows about difficulties but believes they can be overcome, sees the negatives but accentuates the positives, is exposed to the worst but expects the best, has reason to complain but chooses to smile.
When you look at Wards definition, how do you stack up? So no matter what your role is in the DCCCD , no matter where you are now, your attitude is one of the most powerful forces you have working for you or against you. And theres no better time than now to build your attitude. Using Wards definition, answer these questions about yourself. If you don’t like your answers, decide right now to go to work on your attitude.
- Are you more aware of the possible solutions in your life and work? Or are you focused more upon the problems?
- Do you believe your difficulties can be overcome? Or do you believe you’re simply stuck with those difficulties?
- Do you see the negatives but accentuate the positives?
- Can you see the best even when you’re exposed to the worst?
You could frame those same questions and direct them to your college and your role in it.
If you find yourself focusing more on the negative aspects of your life than the positive, it may be time for an attitude adjustment. I would suggest that you read Dr. Alan Zimmermans book titled Pivot. It could be a life and attitude changer for you.
Your attitude determines your altitude. In other words, if you want to go higher or achieve more, if you want your college or your location to move towards becoming a great entity, you’ve got to have the right attitude. And there is good news anyone can have the right attitude. Also, do not forget that being good at something . . . is never good enough.
Thank you for reading and listening colleagues. I will talk to you next week.