Friday, May 9, 2014

A Closing Speech

I will be retiring on May 21, 2014.  This week I was privileged to be invited to give the keynote address at the Annual Women's Luncheon sponsored by the University of Minnesota Duluth Commission for Women.  I had many compliments on this speech, so I've decided to post it here on my blog.  This will be my final post as a technology leader, although I may change its emphasis if I discover I have things to say about retirement.


I am deeply honored to be here today.  I thank the Commission on Women for giving me the opportunity to talk with you.

I want to tell you about three things, in hopes that they might interest and inform you for your own lives.
  1. My career and some lessons learned
  2. My mentors and the values they instilled
  3. A challenge to the community

My Career

Like most people, I love to talk about myself.  Thanks to the Commission for giving me the encouragement to do so.
  1. In high school, I loved math and wanted to be a high-school math teacher.
  2. In college, I loved math and wanted to be a college math professor.
  3. In graduate school at Michigan State, I earned a Ph.D. in math in 1981 as well as masters’ degrees in both math and probability and statistics.  My love for math got a bit tarnished due to the rather esoteric nature of the specialization required for research at this level.  Although there were a number of women in the graduate program at this time, I still encountered an occasional faculty member who thought that math was for men.
  4. My first faculty position was at Beloit College, where I taught math and was asked to teach computer science.  For my first year there, I was the only woman faculty member in the entire science division.  I taught at Beloit for three years, from 1982 to 1985.
  5. While at Beloit, I attended the Institute for Retraining in Computer Science for two summers and found that I loved computer science.
  6. In 1985 I moved to UMD and joined the newly founded Department of Computer Science.  I taught there for seven years, got tenure and promotion to associate professor, and served as department head for three years.  My friend Dianne Dorland and I developed a peer-mentoring program for women in science and engineering.
  7. In 1992, I took the position of Director of Information Services, which later became Information Technology Systems and Services.  I have held that position for 22 years.
  8. I plan to retire on May 21, 2014. 

My Mentors

My mentors have been hugely important to me.  They encouraged me when I was uncertain and gave me good advice when I needed it.  Because this is the Annual Women’s Luncheon, I will talk about my women mentors.  However, as a woman in mathematics, computer science, and technology, men have also been very important mentors for me.
  • My parents encouraged me to go to school for as long as I wanted, although they made me pay for it once I hit graduate school.
  • Don Tarbutton was my high-school math teacher.  He taught me that math could be fun and encouraged me to further my education.
  • Doug Nance and Bill Lakey were my favorite professors when I was an undergraduate.  They encouraged me to go to graduate school, and their support helped me to believe in myself.
  • Ed Ingraham was my graduate dissertation advisor.  He taught me the value of compassion and a good work-life balance in addition to providing the professional direction I needed to complete my Ph.D.
  • Sabra Anderson was the Dean of Science and Engineering when I was department head.  She taught be how to be tough but fair.
  • Dianne Dorland was department head of Chemical Engineering while I was head of Computer Science.  She taught me not to apologize too often.
  • Sandra Featherman was the Vice Chancellor for Academic Administration when I was hired as Director of Information Services.  She taught me how to base my decisions on principles.  This enabled me to make consistent decisions efficiently, without having to rethink my approach to each new problem.
  • Andrea Schokker is the Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and my current boss.  She has demonstrated transparency in decision making, even when it gives her critics ammunition.  She emphasized the importance of having fun and enjoying your work.

A Challenge to the Community

When I was a graduate student, I was very involved in the feminist movement.  Back then we dreamed of how women would change the world for the better.  As we moved into positions of power, we would use that power for good.  We would leverage our people skills to empower others.  We would advocate for peace and a better world.

I have discovered that things are more complex than that long-ago vision.  I have had wonderful women mentors who more than exceeded that early feminist vision, but I have also known women that I did not admire.  Men have been important mentors to me, often exemplifying the soft skills that women are known for.  It just goes to show you to be wary of generalizations, although vision and goals are still powerful tools.

UMD has changed a great deal in the past three years.  With such great changes often comes disruption and angst.  I am troubled by the polarization that has resulted in our community.  I challenge all of you to put your skills to good use rebuilding the UMD community.  Here are some specific suggestions:
  • Give people the benefit of the doubt.  Don’t jump to conclusions without concrete evidence.
  • Recognize that those with opposing views may have some parts of their arguments you can agree to.
  • Talk to those on both sides of the issues and really listen to what they have to say.  Don’t rely on hearsay.
  • Advocate for understanding and positive working relationships.

I have loved working at UMD, and I will truly miss all of the great people here who have been my colleagues and friends.  UMD is a great institution.  Please do your best to make it even better.

Thank you very much.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Banning Bossy

Last weekend I read an article in Parade Magazine, "Condolezza Rice, Sheryl Sandberg, and Girl Scouts CEO Anna Maria Chavez:  Let's Ban Bossy."  I also found the Ban Bossy web site.  The goal of this movement is to encourage leadership development in young girls by removing the negative connotation that comes with the label "bossy."

Like many women leaders, I am familiar with the "bossy" label.  I just hadn't thought about it much until I read this article.  The label definitely sends a message to girls that they should not step up to a leadership role.  Those that do earn the label and the resultant teasing.  It saps confidence.  How many times have you heard a girl called bossy?  How about a boy? 

Of course, times are changing, and we see more and more women in leadership positions these days. Many of us have had to struggle to overcome a lack of confidence to take our places, including me.  A woman friend and I used to coach each other to "not apologize," as we both recognized our tendency to start out a request or an opinion with an apology or an acknowledgement that we "might be wrong about this...."

Like some many things in life, I learned a few good things from the bossy label.  I learned to be more sensitive to the way I present myself, to the way I ask for someone to do something.  I learned to be more diplomatic in offering criticism.  These are good lessons.  But I'm still all for banning bossy.

Friday, March 7, 2014

It's So Easy to be a Critic

We had an incident on our campus yesterday when someone reported a person on campus with a gun, near our bus stop.  Our police responded quickly, resolved the problem, and arranged to have a campus alert sent out.  An all-clear followed somewhat shortly after the original alert.  Our campus has practiced for just this type of scenario, and from my point of view, I thought it all went very well.

Today I heard that the police had come in for a fair bit of criticism about this event.  I don't know any details, and I'm not sure what the gist of the complaints were.  But I've heard that sending out an alert has often resulted in criticism aimed back at the sender, some of it bordering on abusive.  I wonder why this is.

I've been thinking today about how easy it is to be a critic, especially when you are criticizing some faceless human being.  I wish that as a society we could learn to be a bit more tempered in our criticism.

Critical thinking is an important skill.  We pride ourselves in higher education that this is something we teach our students.  But critical thinking is a two-sided coin.  The good side helps us to see things that are wrong and work to correct them.  The bad side lets us fall into a knee-jerk response that the other person must be an idiot.  Let's work to stay on the good side.  And when we do have useful criticism to offer, let's try to do it diplomatically.

I hope you'll join me in thanking our police officers for putting their lives on the line to protect us.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Reconciling Multiple Stories

Whenever I come across a conflict, I notice how the key to the conflict is almost the different stories the participants bring to the issue.  I have learned that it is almost always best to make sure I hear all of the stories before I start to take any action.

It is mighty tempting to buy into the first, or most recent, story I've heard.  This is especially true when the story is coming from someone I like or respect.  How can they be wrong in what they are telling me?

I counsel patience and further investigation.  Nearly every time, when I hear a different person's story, I find that story makes sense to me, too.  Even if it is about the same issue or incident.  And if there are multiple people involved, then there are multiple stories, and they are almost all different.

The challenge for a leader is to find ways to reconcile these multiple stories and to help the participants become aware of them.  Most of the time we can find common ground and a solution when we listen to each other and integrate these multiple perspectives.

People that have the hardest time with this are those that have a strong tendency toward seeing things as black or white.  These people often miss those important shades of gray, which makes it harder to see the full picture.  If you see yourself in this, just remember that seeing shades of gray is a skill that can be learned, just like most skills.  Take the time to practice and you will surely improve.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Leading Into Retirement

My retirement was announced this week.  I'll be leaving work at the end of May and moving into the next stage of my life. 

This change is bittersweet.  I have been thinking of all the great friends and colleagues that I have worked with over the years.  It seems hard to imagine that I will no longer have the regular interactions with them that I have enjoyed as an IT leader for 22 years.  I like to think that I might still see many of them from time to time, but I know that this will be seldom if ever for many.  It is hard to think of this loss without some regrets.

Nevertheless, this still feels like a great decision to me.  We all have to go sometime, and I'm happy to be going while I am healthy and full of ideas about what to do next.  I am looking forward to managing my time to please myself, at least much of the time.

I have been thinking about all of the great leadership lessons I've learned and how they might guide me in retirement.  I think I still want to plan my time, prioritize my goals, and actively manage my calendar.  I hope I can avoid being one of those retirees who still feels she must manage those around her;  I think my husband would object to that.  But I know building and maintaining relationships will still remain at the top of my list.

I plan to spend the next four months helping the ITSS team prepare for the future.  I know they will do a great job without me.  Ultimately, that's the best payoff for good leadership.

Friday, January 31, 2014

This week I will point you to the fourth and final article by Mark Goulston and John Ullmen, "When You've Done Enough, Do More."

The authors talk about "overdelivering" and doing more than what was expected of you in order to strengthen relationships.  This can pay off in surprising and positive ways.  The article has some great examples, so please read it.  And here is a quote:
When you begin interactions in this way — by doing more, and sometimes even taking a risk in the process — you form instant bonds with people who are tired of being ripped off, manipulated, or given the bare minimum of service. You prove immediately to these people that you have integrity. And they tell other people, who tell still more people.
In fact, you can “do more” for people who have no connection with you at all. Think of this as committing “random acts of doing more.”
In the past year, I have been approached by three newer administrators, all of whom have asked me to meet with them regularly.  In these sessions they have asked my advice, shared their difficulties and successes, and built a valued relationship with me.  I hope I have helped them, and I know they have helped me.  By taking the extra step of meeting with them regularly, I have benefited in ways that I didn't anticipate.

In working with customers, I often take the extra step of making a final follow-up query.  Even when I think their issue has been resolved, I take the time to ask them how they feel about it.  Most of the time, all is well, but occasionally I find that there is a still an unresolved problem.  If I hadn't followed up, they might not have complained, and I would probably never know that I had left behind an unhappy customer.  Taking that extra step pays off over and over again.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Watching Leaders Emerge

Today the Governor of Minnesota, Mark Dayton, visited our campus, along with three legislators and the Commissioner of Education.  Although I could write about the leadership styles of these seasoned politicians, I'm choosing instead to write about the leadership exhibited by the students who spoke during the question-and-answer period.

I estimate that about half of the attendees were students, and in addition to our students from the University of Minnesota Duluth, we also had attendees from the College of St. Scholastica, Lake Superior College, and Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College.  Students from all of these campuses spoke, and they did a terrific job.  I think it takes leadership to get up in front of a large crowd and ask a question.  So many people worry about looking dumb or foolish, but these students overcame these fears in order to speak. 

Here are some of the characteristics I noticed.
  • They came prepared.  Many had notes on pieces of paper, and one read from his smart phone.  They used data to support their arguments.  They had clearly thought ahead about what to say.
  • They were respectful.  Even those that clearly had a strong opinion behind their statements were careful to speak with care and respect.  There was no name-calling.
  • They listened to the responses.  There is nothing more frustrating than a person who asks a question and doesn't wait for the response.  With perhaps one exception, these people were truly interested in the answers.  They were not looking for a debate or trying to push the speakers to give a particular answer.
  • They spoke from the heart.  The speakers clearly conveyed how much they cared about the issues they were raising.  This made it nearly impossible to dismiss or ignore what they said.
I was proud of our students today.  They exhibited real leadership as well as critical thinking.  I think we must be doing something right at UMD.