“Go ahead and share it”

“Go ahead and share it”

A couple weeks ago I toured a brick plant to learn how bricks were made, the process for improvement, and a bit more about the industry. I was overwhelmed by the warm reception, not only the radiant heat of the kiln, but also the open nature of those working at the company. Within ten minutes of my visit the plant manager presented to me the variety of products and unique bricks that they produced. The distinctive bricks made for a special project were different than anything I had seen, I asked if I could take a picture. I understand that in some industries the product is proprietary. He responded “go ahead, we share all the time, our work is unique to the clay and building architect”.

Really, they were just willing to share?

After the visit I realized that this confidence comes with over 40 years of expertise in a field and knowing the value of giving it away. These leaders didn’t drop into brick making yesterday, they had been doing it for years, and they knew that their experience impacted their product and their worth. The confidence from everyone I met on that day, radiated with the heat of the kiln, and helped me believe in their product and process.

As I reflected on my work and my belief that transparency is key to building a strong team and organization, it became evident that confidence in my team is reflected through my willingness to share. When I begin a process, I try to outline who will be consulted, what groups and then ask for help to widen the circle. It takes time to be this transparent. I have found that when I take the time to open myself and the process to full engagement, the outcome is better. It is better vetted and more likely to be adopted. This is not a fast process, it is painstakingly slow, frustrating as hell, and ….. honestly, better. To ensure that I stay true to my core value of transparency, I just added a PS to my email messages (see below), and I LOVE the feedback.

Keep me on task friends. Be confident enough to risk transparency.

Grateful for each of you,


PS: Please forward this email to those I may have inadvertently missed. Anyone who needs this information is welcome to being in the loop. Let me know who I missed so I can add them to future correspondence. Radical transparency is a fundamental practice I choose to follow.



“We need to replace the roof on the church. Then replace the wall paper, carpet, and test for mold.” I remember asking, “How long have we had these issues?” The answer was “since it was built”. Oh, my, that has been a while, apparently since the early ‘70’s.

I was about 3 months into my elected role as president of the church at the advanced age of 31. I had no idea where to go, so the church council discussed the problem. We asked experts to come in to evaluate and found that the fixes could be done, but the structure was not sound and more issues were guaranteed. Next, we asked for an evaluation on removing the church and rebuilding and then requested an estimate on “off-site” building of a new church. Then we brought it to the congregation in an open meeting. The discussion was:

“Where do we go from here?”

Honestly, I didn’t really know. I am not an expert on church replacement. So, we brought in experts. We discussed the expert feedback with the congregation and we made a decision.

During the professional consultations, I privately asked a lot of questions of my colleagues, they were able to describe what HVAC, R value, and other building essentials were described to me. Having people in my life that understood this world was very helpful. To this day I think about all of the people who have shared their expertise with me, and WOW! Am I blessed!! (BTW – the questions have continued).

Sometimes, it seems that asking for help or outside opinion may be seen as a sign of weakness. I have experienced only the opposite. I ask for help, a lot, I also freely help out when asked. Having the courage and confidence to identify your own strengths and recognizing the strengths of others, and asking for help, is key for productive, healthy outcomes and work environments.

I appreciate the expertise of those that I work with professionally and those I engage with for non-profit work. If you receive a note from me that says “let’s connect” or “help” or “let’s brainstorm” – that means you are the expert and I am hoping you will share your strengths zone with me. These are precious collaborative moments and result in some of the best work that I do (actually we do). Additionally, I just started “crowdsourcing” and found the opportunity to explore is so much more fun when recommendations come from a large group of friends. Thank you!!

My challenge for you: Identify a big issue in your life – and ask for help. There are a lot of ‘strengths rich’ people out there who can help!


The Team and Their Strengths

The Team and Their Strengths

I recently asked one of the professionals that I work with what he expects from me as his supervisor. After some time, I received the response from him and asked him to share a bit more about the words and concepts that were shared. “No one has ever asked me that question before”, was how his feedback started.

Then I started to think, what would I have answered? Honestly, this has monopolized my thoughts over the past few weeks. Then I realized, it is probably what I hope that I am doing and have done with those I engage with (never perfectly, always striving):

  • Welcome creativity
  • Welcome surprises (my team surprises me all the time – and I love it!!)
  • Appreciate that I do not know what others are doing and that controlling other people is a waste of time
  • Power, authority and ego are always present – and seldom about role
  • When asking the team for genuine engagement and honesty, not holding a comment or facial expression against the sending person
  • Empower people to do their job, in the way they choose, as strengths are unique in each individual.

(This, is of course, an opportunity for those I would with to keep me on task.) 🙂

The entire idea of considering people first is central to how I lead. To be clear, I do get frustrated and need to refocus, however, when I do – it is about people and their strengths. My strengths coach has been working with me and my team and knows the team well, she describes me as a lioness. Protective of the pride, willing to scavenge for short term wins (food) to achieve the bigger outcome (kill, to keep with the metaphor). Always surveying the surroundings for the best next migration with the pride. Everyone matters, we take care of our own and developing people is key to a stronger team and the creation of the next team leader.

I have experienced the transformation of a team when focusing on strengths. Individuals choosing to update their own position descriptions and reviewing the changes with me to outline what they actually do and how the role then empowers them to achieve the outcomes that better the work we do together. Individuals going from unhappy to much more jolly in the work-place. Individuals feeling safe to be creative and daring. Am I the change, no, they are the change, I am just the fortunate observer and supporter. Watching transformation of people is rewarding for me. The outcomes fall into place. I love seeing people grow in their roles and explore new ways to develop their Strengths. Their happy place becomes my happy place.

I deeply appreciate the heartfelt work that the WSU-R team expertly engages in everyday and know that our WSU-W colleagues support this work. Further, as a community engaged learning institution, our community partners are dedicated and loyal. Our students and future employees benefit from our focus on Strengths and encouraging individuals to work in their “Strengths Zone”.

Indeed, I am blessed!

WSU Learning Community Images.Jeanine

Bringing Joy and Inspiring Energy

Bringing Joy and Inspiring Energy

“OMG, why didn’t I know you a year ago?” I know, right!

Last week I met another dynamic woman leader. She talked about her journey through careers, education, life direction, and relationships. Her journey brought her to a point in time where we were meeting and talking about how we could (and should!!) work together. Her energy was palpable. Her ideas for ways to connect were just what I needed to hear. Finally, someone understands that work can be done in hundreds of ways, relationships created, people served, a more engaged and connected community. The time flew by and I wanted the conversation and the “stream of consciousness” to keep going.

I am grateful for the people I engage with on a daily basis. Every once in a while you meet that individual who seems like you have known for ever. Ideas connect and the discussion and concepts grow to a better idea. This idea of being “better together” transcends occupation, affiliation and relationship types. It is essential to moving a concept forward to an idea, to a plan, to change and betterment.

It is clear to me that I love connecting with people. I am helplessly drawn to joy and individuals with energy – “get up and go”, all resulting from connections. It drives me to be better, to do the work that is less enjoyable, so that more people can connect and be better together. Better together is the tagline to my life story.

The concept of being better together is a theme in my life and career. Really nothing is possible without connecting to others. As I contemplate my 2 year anniversary in my role in Rochester for WSU, I think about the successes and yet to be successes. I like working with people who will “play in my world”. What does that mean? People who have a positive attitude – in fact have found their personal joy and share that with others – those are the people who play well. It is essential that connecting people to people – communicating though any means possible – will cultivate relationships – bring joy and inspire energy.


Stage Perceptions/ Leadership Reflection

Stage Perceptions/ Leadership Reflection

Lights, camera, action. The music is playing, the dancing begins, Lord don’t let me forget too many steps and keep my feet moving when I do miss a step or two. Keep on moving, keep on smiling, focus on joy. What fun!

Recap. I saw the judges, the first few tables under the judges box, and nothing else. My view was focused because I was in the spotlight (and maybe room 2). This is not within my comfort zone. I would much rather plan the event and host the experience. Keep the acts moving, be the conductor of the three ring circus. That was not my role when I danced. I was to perform. Yikes.

In retrospect and after reviewing the recording I was forced to confront the reality that my view from stage with lights beaming down was very different from the view from the audience. The energy seems high from both perspectives, although no one joined me on stage (I did issue an invitation). The number of people in the audience, the people clapping and engaging, the number of people who stormed the stage with purple roses seemed to be much more than from the stage. To be honest, I only saw one person come forward with the roses from stage. Boy, was my perception off!

Clearly, in this experience, as with many situations in life, context, perspective and personal reality form individual experience. My experience from stage, was so different from my perspective after I viewed the recording. It was stunning. I started thinking about how perceptions and spot lights influence my everyday choices.

Being unaware of other perspectives and perceptions can be comforting. I could dance through life and decisions without thinking. No need to move the spotlight to consider another view. However, I am uncomfortable with that narrow approach. I never really believed in the concept of one simple problem, one solution, done. First, what if the one solution is not a good solution. Second, is there any such thing as one, simple problem? My experience has been that every problem is complex and simple answers run the risk of missing the point. Life is complicated. People are complicated. Solutions need to be multi-faceted. Any solution that doesn’t consider a broad scope of approaches falls short of being acceptable. We owe it to our work, our community and our neighbors to consider complexity when identifying solutions, developing policy or determining direction.

The best way, from my perspective, to shine light in many corners of the room is to be intentional, invite everyone to the stage, and build more stages, or just turn up the house lights(!!). Shining light into the darkness and dim-lighting when addressing complex issues will be a goal for me. I am open to suggestions and hope that others can begin to reframe perceptions which focus our choices, and shine a light on a broader perspective.

Hope and Transcendence 

I imagine 100 years ago several Winona “normal college” faculty were visiting with Rochester school teachers about ways to offer education courses in Rochester and the surrounding area. Well that happened, and then in 1920 Winona State started a nursing program in Rochester. The programs kept growing and the offerings expanded to meet the needs of local industry. More learning from industry experts and programs grew. Here we in our centennial years with over 7,000 living alums in the county and celebrating another commencement on Friday (May 5).

The graduates have accomplished a lot and they have a great future ahead of them. Their parents will be celebrating as will the WSU community of faculty, staff and students. This is my favorite time of year, hope is in the air. Actually, hope is always in the air in higher education, students are hoping for a better next semester, a better approach to life, a better future. The tools to bring people together and be tomorrows leaders, developing a path to a brighter future. There are few experiences that embody hope in the same way that education does.

It is this time of year that I recall a quote that fits the energy and hope of the season.

“Hope is not prognostication. It is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons.”
~ Václav Havel, “An Orientation of the Heart“

Enjoy the week – experience the hope and consider your role in transcending the world and mentoring a new graduate.

Why public higher education?

Why public higher education?

The buzz in higher education funding is about technical careers (note*). These are entry level positions that often are above minimum wage and may or may not include benefits. These positions are a great way to get to work quickly and many individuals launch their life careers with a technical education. Some of the people who have a technical education choose to step to leadership roles and may need another certification, degree, or credential, which is why connecting technical careers to a solid pathway is essential. Further, it is imperative that we consider the importance of partnering with public institutions for these pathways as they are obligated to a president, chancellor, board of trustees, state legislature, and the public. This is not about an entitlement but how our nation has entrusted the education of citizens to become productive (tax paying) members of our society. “The connections among industry, education, and government are at the core of higher education today—and for the future—and the partnership will have to be about more than just money” (Lambert, 2014). The obligation to educate and partner is considered the primary responsibility of leaders in public higher education institutions.

I believe we need to also consider the cost, benefit and portability of options in higher education institutions. In public higher education, I do not feel obligated to sell you a narrow set of options (McMillian Cottom, 2017); I want to hear about your interests, skills and educate you about choices that fit you and the current/emerging career needs in the region. This takes time and serious respect for individuality. Career availability in our region includes multiple sectors and roles, so I don’t need to determine a career for someone – they should love what they do in their career.

The risks of embarking on a higher education path include the financial, personal time, and the ability to sacrifice those costs to achieve a future benefit. If you are someone who is living paycheck to paycheck, then these risks may not seem reasonable. If you are able to begin your higher education path and then have a life hiccup that requires you to stop out, what is the risk financially and is there an opportunity to step back in? The complexity increases with family needs (children, parents, grandparents) and stability of transportation, daycare, housing, and food security. These are real. I would like everyone to consider the risk and portability options that tend to happen with public higher education institutions:

  1. Less risk
    1. Cost is reasonable
    2. If you take out loans, chances are you will be able to pay them back and not default
  2. More portable
    1. Credits come from regionally accredited institution; these credits are more likely to transfer
    2. The institution is likely to be around if you stop out and come back, so you can step in and not lose credits or years of work.

I think it is fair to reconsider how we advise and see the benefits of a public education.

Lambert, M. T. (2014). How is the historic role of public higher education changing? https://www.agb.org/trusteeship/2014/11/how-historic-role-public-higher-education-changing

McMillian Cottom, T. (2017). Lower Ed. interview heard on Fresh Air. http://www.npr.org/2017/03/27/521371034/how-for-profit-colleges-sell-risky-education-to-the-most-vulnerable

Note * my career path began in high school in a career training course and continued in an area vocational technical institute. I transitioned from career education to bachelors, masters and PhD. A pathway success.