November 24, 2008

Functional Leadership

How do you describe the verb to lead? Some of my favorite definitions include these from Merriam-Webster:

  1. to direct the operations, activity, or performance of <lead an orchestra>.
  2. to guide on a way especially by going in advance.
  3. to bring to some conclusion or condition <led to believe otherwise>.
  4. to guide someone or something along a way.

I think we need all four definitions to adequately describe the functions of a leader. Oftentimes, we stop at #1 on the list and assume we're done. Directive-only leaders sometimes work well to accomplish small projects with inexperienced staff. When the project gets bigger, things change.  Being a one-dimensional directive leader is shortchanging yourself by ignoring the talents all around you.

The leader who goes in advance is one who can lay out the landscape ahead, as described in definition #2. That part of their job isn't so much to direct, but rather to scout the obstacles. They report back to the team, and then help plan the way to attack. In the Bible, the book of Numbers tells of the story of Moses, who sent out spies to scout out the promised land. Ten of the twelve came back with scary stories, and when Moses heard it, he delayed. God wasn't happy with that response. Perhaps Moses didn't trust his team (with God as leader). God had already told him that it was theirs for the taking. Sometimes, overanalyzing can be a bad thing, and it didn't work out well for Moses, who is one of the top leaders in the Bible.

The third definition, bring to conclusion, is also a critical one. Projects that languish for never being completed is one of the biggest all-time leadership failures. The very definition of project must include a start and an end. Without a specific, measurable, and attainable goal - the project may never complete and therefore remain in perpetuity. Without a conclusion, effort declines, visibility is lost, and energy diminishes.

The fourth definition is perhaps the most critical. The team is what is important. That team can be one or hundreds of individuals, but they all look for guidance. The leader as coach is that thing that captures our imagination. Think back to your favorite boss. Was he/she always telling you what to do? Or did they help you figure it out on your own? Chances are, they could have given you the answer on day one. But by letting you figure it out yourself, perhaps even struggle, you learned by experience. And that experience is what makes you, in turn, a more desirable employee.

I was blessed to have some very good mentors. I'm thinking about one in particular, who stood out as both cheerleader and coach for me. She was the one who kept pushing me when I was ready to rest on my laurels. I had just accomplished something that (I thought) was great! What did she do? A quick pat on the back, but then a big kick in the butt. She recommended me for a position that was way out of my comfort zone. I took the job, and learned more in three months that I had in my previous fifteen years of professional life. Fifteen years later, I am still indebted to her for that kick.

Tell me about your favorite leader. What was so special about him/her? What have you learned to emulate of them?

P.S. I've started a new website Leadership In Action ( with the mission of building a community of leaders dedicated to the advancement and development of ethical leadership. Come visit us there.

November 21, 2008

AACRAO SEM 18 - CRM Experiences

I just returned from AACRAO SEM in Orange County, CA this week. Besides the nearby wildfires, which took an incredible amount of property and effort to control, the trip was great. My presentation there was How To Engage Your Web Audience. I had great feedback from the attendees - thank you all very much.

I sat in on a few other sessions, always looking to pick up new ideas and research data. Many of the sessions were on using Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) for recruitment of college prospective students. What struck me as I browsed the sites and watched some of the demonstrations was Man, nobody has paid attention to the user experience at all!

Frustrated_user_188155223_stdSome of the tools' created web forms were downright embarrassing. I went online to visit some of the (unnamed) schools to see how they worked. Come on guys! The forms themselves were cumbersome, not well integrated (running on a separate server), designed poorly, and just not at all intuitive. http/https errors abound. After completing one form, it sent me back to the home page using https and none of the style sheets or images loaded. The entire site was text at that point. Yuk!

There is no doubt that CRM tools (Datatel's included) can be great time savers and even increase customer service. They help administrative personnel handle the load and are capable of tracking and reporting prospect status very well. But we have to examine the TOTAL experience from the persona of the prospective student. Millennials and even Gen-X's today have little tolerance for bad web design. Your web site might look awesome, and have all the tools the prospective student is looking for, but you HAVE to make sure that when the CRM forms take over that experience remains consistent.

Will you lose students if that integrated experience is poor? I really don't know. Maybe not. But I can guarantee that their view of your institution will drop a notch or two.

Make sure your vendor knows the Web, and how best practice forms need to look and behave. I highly recommend Luke Wroblewski's book, Web Form Design: Filling in the Blanks (2008, Rosenfeld Media). If your site (vendor or your home grown) follows Luke's simple advice when it comes to forms design, you'll be on your way to brand consistency.

Don't give your prospective students a reason to abandon your site. In Luke's words, forms on your website "are all that stand in the way of your user completing a task." Make it work well.