Monday, August 13, 2012

Always Learning, Always Sharing

When I became president of PSI, the company sent me to “utility school” at Edison Electric Institute. I traveled to Leesburg, Virginia and lived there for five weeks, attending classes on EEI’s beautiful campus. The training course was an education experience designed for up-and-coming utility executives, to help them learn what they needed to know in order to lead an electric company successfully.

As part of the introductions on the first day, we went around the room, and each person said what company he or she worked for and what his or her particular work was. When it was my turn, I introduced myself and said, “I’m president of Public Service Indiana.” My fellow participants looked at me with surprise. One student said, “Well, what are you doing here? This training course is for people who hope someday to be president.” All week, I was the standing joke.

I told them I wasn’t asked to do this job because I knew a lot about utilities, but because I had a public persona that had some respect around it as well as some management ability. All week we learned fascinating things—like the physics section on how electrons flow—as well as practical things, like what type of power each of three lines on a utility pole carries. It’s an important  difference to know if you ever plan to get up there on a ladder--climb up on an aluminum ladder, and you’re gone.
Toward the end of the training session, we did a battery of tests—mainly vocational testing--with a staff psychologist. Then we had private conferences to hear the results. One of the things the psychology told me was, “John, you’ve been around so long, you have insights. You ought to regularly make those insights available to your people.” I took those words to heart, and in my role at PSI, and beyond, I’ve tried to keep listening—that is, being a learner—in balance with sharing my thoughts with others.
When you share what you’re thinking, you invite others—maybe your staff, your managers, or your family and friends—to better understand how you see the world. And when you listen to them in return, you may hear a subtle but important alchemy happening as your idea inspires thoughts of their own and becomes something new. This learning and sharing is how relationships grow, how companies flourish, and how our society adapts, expands, and evolves.

That type of growth just doesn’t happen if you stop learning and sharing. If you’re feeling like you’ve “already arrived” in an area of your life, maybe it’s time to learn something new. Challenge yourself. Listen to a new perspective. Try to master a new skill. As a learner, you’ll bring more energy to your team and experience more energy in your life. You’ll find you have more to share with others, as well.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Philanthropic Studies: The Leaven in the Loaf

Robert L. Payton, 1926 – 2011
A few weeks back, there was big news from IUPUI that the nationally known Center on Philanthropy, pending approval from Indiana Commission for Higher Education, is to become its own school of philanthropic studies. The idea is that the new school will raise the bar
on excellence in philanthropic studies, helping to prepare people professionally for careers in the philanthropic world by offering a variety of degrees at undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral levels. This is news because currently no school in the nation offers a school specifically dedicated to the study of philanthropy. If all goes as planned and IUPUI receives the approval it needs from the state, classes could begin in the 2013-14 academic year.

True, there is a big demand for trained and experienced people in the non-profit world, and that sector is experiencing good growth, even in our slowly recovering economy. And voluntary giving and action and philanthropy in general are worthy of academic consideration. I wonder, however, if this new school is really the right approach for the times in which we live.

When Bob Payton became the first director of the Center on Philanthropy, he was careful to articulate the philosophy that his goal was in fact to get teachers and professors throughout the university to include philanthropy in the subject matter they were teaching, whether that was law, medicine, sociology, or another discipline. The subject matter could be almost anything, but included in them all—in the form or remarks or sections of study—would be ideas about the ways philanthropy could benefit and complement their field. For example, medical students could learn about writing grant proposals for the National institutes of Health, and students in the social sciences could learn about ways they could fund their research or get new programs off the ground.

In the academic world, all too often, we silo everything and limit the creative conversations we could be having. Instead of allowing inspiration to germinate where it will and benefit all disciplines, we take the approach, “We won’t talk about that because that topic is in their area. We focus on this topic.” If by creating this new school we serve in effect to “silo” the rich potential of the Center on Philanthropy, I think other disciplines will miss out on learning that could be instrumental in furthering students’ careers.  It may be possible for this new school to continue to plant the philanthropic spirit in other disciplines, but I think it’s less likely to happen if all the philanthropists have their own program.

Bob Payton was the first tenured professor in philanthropic studies in the world, and he had a vision for the Center on Philanthropy, one I share and feel is worth upholding. What Bob Payton wanted was to grow and spread the “philanthropic spirit,” or the “habit of the heart,” across disciplines. He wanted to elevate the professional excellence in philanthropy and develop an expertise without segregating the field. I hope as plans continue to move forward for the new school of philanthropic studies at IUPUI, program planners will consider the solid foundation the Center already has and protect, preserve, and grow Bob’s original vision. It’s one that will continue to benefit not only the school of philanthropy alone but all other disciplines it touches.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Knowing When to Quit

Discerning the right time to make a change in employment is an important but sometimes difficult call. Ultimately for the health and stability of the organization you lead, making the choice sooner rather than later and having a solid exit strategy in place will help the business move forward without stumbling.

There can be many thoughts tugging at the heart of a leader who is considering the right time to leave.  Some are positive, arising out of a concern for the ongoing health of the organization and wanting to ensure that the transition is as smooth as possible. Some people think the organization can’t get along without them. I tend to think of this attitude as a kind of hubris—meaning exaggerated pride or self-confidence, according to Merriam-Webster’s definition—that can cloud our thinking and keep us from seeing situations realistically.

And some leaders may feel it’s time to leave but find it hard to step away before finishing that one more big project or launching that one last great idea (which of course leads to the next idea…and then the next…

One key to preparing a healthy exit strategy involves creating while you’re there an environment that will be able to continue to flourish without you. As part of your preparation for the company, you either line up a successor or have a process in place that you feel will bring into the organization a competent leader. You may not identify that person yourself, but contributing to the process can go a long way toward helping the organization transition smoothly. In some organizations I’ve been involved with, leaders are asked at their annual review, “Who in the organization can take your place?” This question helps the reviewer learn who else in the organization the leader thinks is good, and it also says something about the way in which that leader thinks about people.

Ultimately when we are thinking about when to leave an organization, we need to do some sorting to help clarify the choice. Determining which thoughts are the voice of the ego, and which ones are truly in the best interest of the organization will help bring some light to the decision. When I left my role as president of Lilly Endowment in 1973 to become president of PSI Energy (which became Cinergy and sold to Duke Energy in 2006), some confidants questioned my judgment—why would I want to leave this organization that seemed to be in the center of everything? But I knew there were a number of talented younger leaders who could contribute and lead the organization.

Most recently, I made the decision to step down as chairman of Lumina Foundation for Education. I was an advocate of limited terms for board members, and I pushed the board to put that policy in place. Although I loved my work there and really didn’t want to relinquish my role at that point, I realized that after advocating for term limits, I needed to walk the talk and step down myself. I have continued to serve on the board and will continue to do so until my current term is completed early next year.

Clarifying your choices when you’re feeling it might be time to move on and helping to put a solid exit strategy in place are two ways to ensure the transition unfolds as evenly as possible. The truth is, if it’s time for you to go and instead of facing it, you’re digging in your heels, life might help you by presenting an exit strategy you might not have chosen for yourself I’ve witnessed a number of people who missed the opportunity to quit in an honorable way and were subsequently embarrassed. A much better choice is to look clearly at the situation at hand and make the call you want to make--if possible, well in advance of the day you actually say goodbye.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Wining & Dining--All for the Cause

Fundraising for Dummies
I’m at that stage in my life now when it seems lots of folks are interested in taking me to lunch. We talk about business, we chat about politics, we often speculate about the business future of Indiana. And then my lunch companion shifts in his or her seat and begins the approach to the real heart of the conversation: the ask. With considerable experience both as a fundraiser and as a former CEO of the Lilly Endowment, I’ve been on both sides of the fundraising ask: I’ve asked others for contributions, and I’ve represented a major private foundation that distributed funds to other organizations when they asked. So I know what it means to ask--and to be asked--for money.
In fact, I enjoy those lunches when they are done well, when the fundraiser has done his or her homework, when the cause is something I care about, and when we share interests that make for an engaging lunch conversation. But invariably, when the time for the check arrives, the fundraiser reaches for it in a show of generosity. “Oh, no—“ he or she says, “This lunch is on me.”

This just happened a week ago. We get to the end of the lunch, and each of us starts to fumble for the check. My lunch companion said, ”Let me have this, I invited you to lunch.”

Then I say, “Gosh, I guess you haven’t read my book.”

She laughed and said, “No I haven’t. Maybe I ought to buy it.”

“If you’d read it, you’d know I suggest that when you're seeking money from somebody and the person you’re asking offers to get the check, I say let em.” She laughed and then handed me the check!

The reason I advocate this is that you want your prospective giver to know how frugal your organization is. Of course this means that over time, I get a lot of invitations to lunch.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Making the Effort at Balance

Indiana Senate in session
It’s helpful when you’re weighing the pros and cons of two different items to take a look at the facts in black and white. But as you probably know from your own life when important decisions need to be made, answers are often not as clear-cut as the facts would indicate. We see celebrities on the public stage taking risky chances and making bad choices, and we might wonder, “How could somebody so smart/ talented/accomplished do such a stupid thing?”

Most of us have at least two things going on in our brains when we have a big decision to make about something. One part of our thinking deals with immediate reactions to desires or wants. This is the type of impulsive reaction that might occur in a momentary flirtation or when you’re really craving that brownie you saw in the lunchroom today. This is short-term thinking that is heavily influenced by the desires and emotions of the moment. This type of thinking can be inspiring and creative, and it definitely has it merits; but it also needs to be balanced with a longer, more studied view.
The other part of our thinking process during decision-making involves envisioning the best answer long-term. And this often takes the decision out of the realm of the “me” (as in, “What do I want here?”) and into the realm of the “us” (as in, “What is best for us as a family, company, or nation right now?”). Long-term thinking is largely rational and involves big picture thinking and long-range planning.

As we consider the potential impact direct democracy could have on the ability of our elected officials to lead, we can do our best to keep the short-term, “fix-the-problem-now” desire and the long-term, “What’s best for our country?” perspective in balance.