Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Next Rest Area 15 weeks

One semester down, how do I reflect appropriately on one semester of awesome? I could have titled my blog with a recognition of how far we (as a cohort) have come, but I thought I would look to the future instead. Why? I don't want to get caught up in the accomplishment of 1/6 of the way done any longer than I did on Monday.

After the test in Econ, a third of the class went to the cafeteria for a free breakfast, I think it was a called something like midnight cram session (umm, yeah I know it was from 9pm-11pm but that's ok). What I found awesome about the buffet was that the Provost Alan Runge was there serving food to students. This school has amazing values. That is servant leadership - every job is equally important, and the leaders are willing to do any job that needs to be done. Concordia, the students heard you loud and clear. That was awesome.

That evening, I got hung up with my pride again. I felt like I deserved a break, and kind of checked out all of Tuesday evening. That was a real problem, because I still had a Manifesto paper due, even though the class sessions are complete. Take note future cohorts - the Manifesto is not as easy as it leads you to believe. My paper felt forced and I still am wrestling with final edits because it can be hard to make a declaration about what you stand for when you are still learning about yourself. I think I should have waited to celebrate until that was complete. I need more patience.

I also have another hint for Cohort 3 - Consider being an overachiever and doing the Strengths Finder test before you start the program. If you understand your team's strengths you will get a 10 week head start. Also, do not wait a minute to start your econ and marketing projects. They will likely be due around the same time and you will panic. Start brainstorming as fast as possible and aim to have a rough draft three weeks before it is due if possible. That is my $0.02.

Final thoughts on Econ class:
  Started out really exciting because of the math. The last 5 weeks were not as enjoyable, but that might be due to the level of thought I started to put into Leadership.

Final thoughts on Leadership:
  Unfortunately, Cohort 3 will not get to have Dr. Ford teach the leadership course, but I am certain that Dean Christian will find a suitable successor. Dr. Ford had gained my respect very early on in the program and she encouraged me to dig very deep into my thoughts about leadership. Thank you Dr. Ford for the life changing experience.

Today has been a struggle trying to get the words out to express my leadership manifesto. All that and working from home today has been intense.

No time to slow down, the next rest stop is quite a ways away. We can do it.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Difference between a Stumbling Block and a Stepping Stone

I chose this title today based on a footer of an email I read today. It just reminds me of the week in class. Again I will try to be concise today.

The assignment for the week was titled "Journey". Using a movie or television show, we were to compare our life story to a leader from a more widely known story. This assignment meant just as much as the passionography assignment, because it required me to reflect on a work that someone else has done. Additionally, we were required to talk with our group about our journey and listen to feedback. This was a great bonding experience for the team, as we found how closely our stories are related. The nicest feeling for me came when I had a heartfelt conversation with Matt from my group about his vulnerability. I've seen him changing in the last weeks, but more so on Sunday. He completely changed his story after we all talked to him. I won't get into the personal side as they will tell their story where it is appropriate. Matt did tell me that I can expect a more opened up Matt in the future. I think he is now "All In". Previously, I would have told you he was "Reserved".

In class, we took a look back at all of our readings from the semester and were challenged with a question to discuss about how we lead with our faith, values, and ethics. The main thought I had about that was that we need to extend grace. I say this, because I am seeing God more as a leader in my life and he is most successful getting through to me by his grace. Undeserved, by nature of the term, and I feel so so enabled as a result. I see that grace may be the answer to some personnel issues I have seen at work that get me so angry. I'm not perfect, so it will surely need refining. Humans are not naturally inclined to extend grace (except for our children, makes sense to me).

Economics actually had a similar feeling to me last night, because we were asked to critique a paper and were offered a chance to respond to a critique from another group. I think I speak for the whole class when I say that it is more difficult to receive criticism (even if positive) from our peers than from our teacher. When I read the critique given to our group, I was discouraged and felt that the criticism wasn't done in a positive manner. I had to turn the thought in my head and put it in perspective. The group that critiqued our paper was, in effect, required to critique our paper. This causes a tension in their mind that forces them to try to prove they are worthy of a good grade, but also try to respect the team. This wrestling in the mind is actually a value and a desired output of the MBA program. I know that Team II was professional in their presentation, and I respected their thoughts. Team III appeared calm when dealing with our critique, but one student appeared very defensive in my opinion. This is to be expected and I don't see that as a fault. It may be a learning opportunity. This is why the stepping stone can appear as a stumbling block sometimes.

Most of you reading this know that I am very vocal and am rarely quiet, especially if I am critiqued. However, I intentionally held my tongue the entire evening. I am taking the feedback I have heard and attempting to listen instead of just waiting for my turn to speak.

Last thought, I allowed my team to show their expertise in the critique and response this week, and only opened up and closed the presentation this week. I wanted to show the other team that we were really concerned that the critique may not have been received as friendly. I am babbling here, but I thought the only real criticism we had was that they tried to cover so much. I mean they tried to show all aspects of the Texas Public School System. What a daunting task. I would have asked that they didn't take the critique so personally.

I'm out of stuff to say, but I leave this blog frustrated, because I feel like I am missing something important about the week. I'll update if I think of something. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Deep End of the Pool

I'll keep it short today, I hope.

I don't really want to talk about what happened in class this week (John Griffin probably wrote about how class went, if you are interested). We turned in our Passionographies this week and I was so thankful to get such diverse feedback. Thanks to those that helped with this project.

On Monday, I had a great conversation with a classmate and it left me pondering my behavior over the last two days. I think I have resolved the issue in my mind, but really it came down to my attitude. I probably appeared a little cocky in this program when I spoke up about being challenged on our first econ test. I came off as abrasive, but I was actually stating my desire to be challenged, and the fact that I want this to be the best Master's program. I can't single-handedly change the prestige of the program, but I was trying to ask my peers to step up to the challenge.

I named this post "Deep End of the Pool", because today I totally engaged myself in the experience of growing with a classmate. John Griffin and I met for lunch today, and we pretty much could have held the table until dinner as well. We talked for three hours over a nice Thai cuisine lunch. Thanks again John. I honestly feel I am in the deep end where life isn't easy because you can always "touch". I like the freedom of this deep end. John and I were able to roll out our stories and peel back the outer shell to see what we are truly made of. My consensus was that we are alike in many ways, and its probably evident by how similar our posts are. We both agreed to the rule that we don't read any Concordia blogs from the week until we write our own. That's how it has been in the past any way, but there is a running joke about John and I getting to the same stuff each week. I look forward to more of these meetings with my cohort. In fact I have scheduled a lunch with Travis next week already. By the way, Travis and I both like to talk, I imagine that lunch could be just as long as today, but I love that. I wouldn't go to lunch if I didn't want to do this.

By the way, I feel like I have done a better job of listening lately. Reflection and Listening are two areas I was aiming to improve on, and I feel like the growth has been happening.

See ya next week, hopefully I'll be able to focus on the class discussions.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Last Week of my 20s

The end of this week brings with it the sadness of reaching my 30s. I shall bask in the glory of my youth for two more days. At which point, I will then be required to carry my "OLD" card with me at all times. I have felt my youth slipping in the past months. In fact, I missed the beginning of the Super Bowl and both the NCAA Football and Basketball national championships. This is a major change in my behavior. Last year I could honestly tell you there was no way in the world I would not watch those games. This year, I will tell you it was an easy choice to make. I also have noticed that sports are taking a toll on my body and have had to cut back. This seems like enough evidence to prove I am getting older, but I think the physical is just scratching the surface.

I believe I am maturing rapidly in my work, spiritual and home life. I feel that I have been embracing my gifts and continue to build on them. Patience is now a word that doesn't have the negative connotation it had when I was such an anxious young engineer. Patience used to be an excuse for lazy in my mind. There would be times that I would get so excited even with speaking that I made a fool of myself. I will hopefully continue growing throughout the next ten decade of my life, at which point I believe I will be in a very pleasant state of mind (with a red mustang convertible, maybe a lamborghini, yea right not me).

With all joking aside, I wanted to talk about 2 great songs that spoke to me today. I heard them in succession today during the KLove pledge drive. J.J. Heller's "Love Me" and Casting Crowns "Who I Am". If you haven't heard these songs they are both beautiful songs about God's Love, and I recommend you have a listen on YouTube. There is a theme that relates back to my education and a quote that Dr. Ford (Leadership-Self) posted on the whiteboard this week from the Talmud. It stated God will not judge Akiba for not being Moses. God will judge Akiba for not being Akiba. What this means is that we must not worry about being great people or not having the gifts that are so deeply admired and left to permeate the history books. Instead, we must use our gifts to the best of our ability and not worry about the gifts we don't have. So Heller's song begs the question "Who will Love me for me? Not for what I have done or what I will become?" At the end of the song a criminal cries out the question, and hears the voice of God. The response is, "I know you've murdered, and I know you've lied. I have watched you suffer all of your life. But now that you're listening. I'll tell you that I will love you for you, not for what you have done or what you have become". That's a real father. The other song by Casting Crowns (my favorite band) has a chors that says "Not because of who I am, but because of what You've done. Not because of what I've done, but because of who You are." This song flipped everything I was feeling about having to perform at the highest level to please God. I was so motivated about my strengths that I lost sight of that fact that I will be loved not by my accomplishments, but instead because He is God, and He is Love. This shook me today.

So, I am a learner, achiever, strategic, all those things so I had to do really well on the Economics test, but why? Because those are my strengths? Well, as I mentioned earlier in my blog, I try so hard as a sign of respect to my wife. There may be a hint of trying to prove myself to myself, since I didn't focus on high marks in my undergraduate studies. That said, My preparation paid off once again. After the last test, Dr. Estrada stated he was happy with my effort but reminded me that this is a cohort system and I need to focus on helping others achieve high marks as well. Well this time (as well as last time) I met with my group for a 4 hour study session. I believe everyone did better on this test than last test from my group.

There is still one more test and maybe we can all ACE that one together. Additionally, I am going to start ask each group to host a study session on a different day before our next test, so that there will be 4 options for sessions to attend. Also, each group doesn't necessarily have to go to the session they host. I have to see how receptive everyone is to the idea, but I like it for the most part. There may be some details that end up making it on 3 days or whatever, but the point is to try a little harder to reach out for those finding the material to be more challenging. This is a team effort and I want to treat it as such.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Recognition of Personal Strengths

Today was a fantastic day in my life (Surpassed only by a handful of days), so this log entry will be very long-winded.

I honestly don't know where to start because everything is so exciting in my opinion and it all means so much. In that case I'll start with a short comment I made to my wife this morning. I told Whitney that "I think today is going to be a really good day". I don't feel prophetic because there were signs in my life that pointed to it being a good day. I already gave it away that it was a fantastic day, darn, I should have left you in suspense.

Since my last journal entry I have spent about 5 extra hours a day at work looking for an elusive software bug. The issue was severe and complicated, and every lead that I found was a dead end. I spent a total of 57 hours looking for it, but today was finally able to pin it down. That was one thing that helped start the day off right.

Thirty minutes later I checked my grade for Marketing and every grade turned in was an A. That guaranteed the final grade I was looked for in my first Masters class. Awesome. Fifteen minutes later, my boss stopped by with even more great news that I won't go into. I'll revisit a part of my conversation with him here shortly. Without all the details of this scenario it may not sound amazing, but I assure you it was fantastic for me.

Backtrack to last week. Last week was full of stress because of the second econ test that I hadn't really studied for. All my attention has been so focused on Marketing that I really hadn't gotten a full understanding of the econ concepts like on the first exam. With work keeping me late each night, Friday rolled around and I was panicking about studying for the test. So, I sent a shout out to John Griffin and another classmate to see if I could join their study session on Saturday. Of course they were gracious enough to let me join them, and I think we all benefited from the session. Paradigm Shift is their team name (they even have a logo, overachievers). I invited Paradigm Shift to attend Team 1's (my team) review session to reciprocate the favor. Paradigm Shift made review sheets and prepared a great study guide for the test including videos and webpages with graphical displays that were quick, concise and not confusing. I am very thankful for their efforts. All in all, I felt prepared by the time that we had to take the test.

Ironically, that was the abridged version of my thoughts toward the study session. Needless to say, I will be joining forces with Paradigm Shift again, soon. I really enjoyed opening up to another group and starting to operate as a team with the entire cohort and not just my team. Previously, I had been working with one other classmate, but not another group.

Leadership class - To start the course, we were required to take an online assessment that accompanies the book Strength Finder 2.0. This helps readers to identify the areas that they are particularly talented at. They are identified as areas that are likely your natural strengths. There are 177 questions to answer and each must be answered in 20 seconds to make sure that you answer with your gut and don't over think your answer. My gifts were the following with a brief (biased) description:

Learner - I find it easy to learn new information and am always trying to attain knowledge
Achiever - I like being busy and getting things done
Significance - I need to feel important in other people's eyes
Strategic - I can quickly come up with solutions, and have a good sense of logic
Communication - I like to talk a lot

So those aren't exactly the descriptions that go with these as a talent, but they were what I saw when I read the results. I was actually very upset with one because I thought that it wasn't something to consider as a strength. That one I had an issue with was Significance. I have always been very humble and never try to be important to others. This leads to a conversation we had in our leadership course.

Dr. Ford asked for our thoughts on our strengths and I spoke up to say mine pretty much stunk. It sounded so selfish. Then she asked everyone to quickly review significance. There was a roar from the class, and others were saying I wish I had that, and I was completely puzzled. Who, in their right mind wants this gift. Then, the craziest comment came from my teammate. She said "You're a poet". I replied "What?" She whipped back with "You wrote your wife a poem to propose to her." Again, puzzled I said "How is that ... oh". She finished my thought by saying "You obviously wanted that moment to be important for your wife." This was a revelation. Her comment flipped my perception of the word. So much so, that I have spent all day focusing on how awesome this is. It made so much more sense. Also, I'm now realizing that my work is the quality that it is, because I honestly believe the things I do in life have meaning. I'm very excited to think about my gift in this way.

Learner and Achiever were givens and everyone would get that after a 15 minute talk with me, but I'm more interested in learning more about significance.

This week in class was a moment where the whole class came to my defense so that I could embrace my gifts. Also, through my transparency, displayed through this blog, and my communication gift, others were able to help me grow as a leader. This was a priceless moment. My wife and I agreed that already the cost of tuition paid off in that one evening.

Back to my discussion with my boss. I handed my boss, Toby, a list of my strengths this week and he quickly glanced at the meanings before we spoke today. He had the same thought about significance that I had, but after sharing what I learned in class last night I was able to explain how this is truly a gift that will help to mold me into a great leader. This is important to note, because while I have a mentor at work, we tend to have a similar perspective since we are a part of the same work culture and we are engineers by trade. This is a great reason to surround yourself with different types of people with different talents.

I look forward to any thoughts you may have about talents and strengths. If you know what strengths you possess, I'd love for you to post them in the comments. If you don't know your strengths I recommend buying Strengths Finder 2.0 ($10) and taking the online test. It's easy. Thanks for hanging in there to read the whole post.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

End of Marketing Management

Last night was the end of my first master's class. I'm sure I made an A, but not guaranteed just yet. We finished class by turning in our two group projects, performing group presentations, and finishing up a few individual presentations.

My final thoughts on Marketing were that I originally was frustrated by the fact that I "had" to do a Facebook project. Professor Warren didn't show his hand as to why the project until the end. I won't give it away for the next class. I was pessimistic on the project, and it didn't yield anything incredible, but it did allow me to look into the issue a little further.

In an odd twist, I met up for coffee today with someone I met in August at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit, and he is currently writing a chapter for a book where he will discuss Facebook marketing. I found that ironic and was able to point him to the David Meerman Scott book that we just read in class. He already had read the book, so at least he was going in the correct direction. This can be a small world.

Marketing was a lot of fun and set the pace for the program. It's cool to think that we are 1/9th of the way done.
It's been stressful as all Concordia MBA bloggers have pointed out. For future students, I recommend you start your group projects immediately. I had to sacrifice some family time as a result of poor planning early.

Economics papers were also due this week, but no presentations just yet. We discussed different business competition markets and Dr. Estrada recapped the items that will be on the exam next Monday.

While we as a class are collectively anxious for the econ test, I think a few of us are anxious to begin our leadership "self" course. It is only a five week course but this is the real reason I wanted to get an MBA. Leadership is not just important at work. I think that everyone leads something regardless if they know it, but not everyone is highly effective at it. Some people also lead others to places they didn't want to go to. I use the words intentional and effective when I describe what kind of leader I want to become.

One issue I have been dealing with and learning about at work is understanding the difference between controlling and leading. My frustrations with my ability to lead at work, may be related to my inexperience at the moment. I like that I have support from my boss and director, and they have given me votes of confidence with my project. It may not be a perfect ride, but it is effective enough this time around. That's as much detail as I feel comfortable getting into in this forum. I will say that discomfort in a position can cause some people to buckle, but others transform as a result of the difficult circumstance. I think that is the mold I am from.

For those wondering about my grandma, she is back at home and was in great spirits tonight. I didn't expect my grandma to be doing so well, as today was her first day home after 3 weeks in the hospital. Grandma and I had a great chance to catch up. I told her I was coming by this week, but I don't think she expected me tonight. I hope that was a good surprise for her.

<Here's were I let out a big sigh> There's a lot going on in life, but everything is positive. I will try to stay up-to-date with my blog now that all the papers are complete. Just a lot of reading left mainly.

10 classes down, 80 left. I can do this.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Speed Limit

Personal thoughts (Not really school related, but I need to share these thoughts)

I would describe my last two weeks as very difficult, because I have been running at full speed. My school and work life have consumed all my time over that period. Fortunately, I have been getting the results I want from work and school. I have maintained high marks in class and my project at work is functioning as desired.

There is a problem though, I am not giving myself time to relax, time for family, or time for reflection. Up to this point I have been very good at turning work off after hours, but that has changed now that I'm in school.

Last weekend my grandma emailed me to say that she is so proud after reading my blog, and I got a chance to respond and apologized for not making time to come see her, as I'm so busy. Unfortunately, on Monday morning I got a call to tell me that my grandma is the hospital. I don't want to share the details, but my grandma has suffered a serious health issue, and it kills me that I couldn't even make time to get over to see her this week. I plan to try this weekend, hopefully I can wrap up my paper, my presentation and get a rough draft of my team project also. Put that with sharing some time with my precious daughter and wife.

I never expected that going back to school would be easy, but I didn't realize exactly how free I was before starting the MBA program. I could have easily handled this load nine weeks ago. Oh yeah, I almost forgot, I've been keeping something from my journal. My wife is (16 weeks) pregnant. I've described this time as "having a full plate, with no reason to go for seconds".

I apologize that the content hasn't focused on school so much, but this was therapeutic for me this week.

Reflection from school: Second Marketing test complete, and I think I scored a 100 on it as well. I'm kind of owning school, I would consider focusing less on school and more on my personal life, but for my family I want them to see that I didn't sign up half-heartedly. I'm in to win it, if I can say that.

I need to work on my paper, because I really want to see my grandma this weekend.

Grandma, if you read this soon, please know that I was glad you read my blog, and I'm glad I make you proud. I've always been proud of your courage as well. You are in my prayers tonight, as you are always.