“I think I’m done here” – Graceful Exits

“I think I’m done here” – Graceful Exits

What does it mean, when well-regarded leaders say they are done? 

Just in the last month, Police Chief Todd Axtell of St. Paul and Police Chief Medaria Arrodondo of Minneapolis tendered their resignations.   Both steered their departments through the difficult times of the pandemic and months of continued social unrest following the murder of George Floyd.   Both were well-regarded by the communities in which they served, and by their own staffs.

I as well as many are sad and disappointed to see them go.  We had hoped that they would see us through this next transition –  the critical work of re-defining what public safety looks like going forward, and changing the culture of policing.  

At the same time, I think I get it.   On the one hand, after a lengthy career, a leader has probably both the experience and wisdom to deal with the hard stuff – having learned from the best and worst that life and people can bring.   On the other hand, the energy it takes to do this work, and the mental and emotional exhaustion it creates, can take its toll.   The need for new energy and new ideas is real.   After thirty-one years in my own business, I can relate.

Every good leader innately knows when it is time to step back and let someone else take the reins, but it’s hard to do.  It’s about recognizing when you are “done.”  For instance:

  • When what you came to do has been completed.
  • When what it takes to get the organization to the next level is not what you can or want to provide.
  • When you know in your heart that you owe it to yourself to do something different.
  • When you are ready to welcome someone else to take the lead.

It takes courage to take this leap, to step into the abyss, and to trust that:

  • You did the best you could to leave your organization a better place than when you walked in.
  • The next generation of leaders is ready and willing to take on problems and issues with fresh perspectives, ideas, and energy.
  • You, yourself, will find a new path that gives your life purpose and makes use of your wisdom and talents as much as you choose.   

The graceful exit of one generation, and the welcome entrance of another – that’s what this is about.   We welcome you, our next generation of leaders, and we look forward to where you will lead us!

–Cathy

Cathy Perme, current Managing Partner, will be stepping down to Consulting Partner next year (2022) as she transitions to a semi-retirement role.  She is looking forward to the fresh leadership and new directions that Amber Peterson, our new Managing Partner, will bring to the firm in 2022 and beyond!

Contact The Amber Edge

Phone: 218.213.1303

e-Mail:  info@theamberedge.com

“Blessed are the Peacemakers:” Making Peace

“Blessed are the Peacemakers:” Making Peace

Learning how to make peace is something that we all need to learn how to do, especially with people or situations that we find difficult.  But what if that is your job?  In working with law enforcement agencies over the last twenty years, I have come to appreciate those who really understand what it means to be a “peace officer.”

Take “Big Red,” a cop that was well known in his community and who knew almost everyone in it as well.  When the inevitable bar fight broke out on a Saturday night, all it took was for “Big Red” to walk in, break it up, look people in the eye, and tell them to go home or they were going to jail.  Contrast that to the same bar in the same town a few years later, after “Big Red” had retired.  When a bar fight broke out, five squad cars would descend on the scene and officers would rush into the bar.  Instead of calming the scene, they often further enraged bar patrons and owners by escalating the situation with their actions and words.

Somewhere along the line, the process of policing began to change not only in this city but across the country, moving from a sense of mutual respect and accountability to that of a well-armed and unapproachable law enforcement agency.  Historically, with the advent of patrol cars, police officers took to their squads and left their walking beats, becoming more and more disconnected from the communities they served.  And after the Vietnam War with a lot of vets returning home, anyone who knew how to handle a gun and defend themselves seemed like a good fit for law enforcement, especially since there was little required firearms training to get them started.  But as any good cop will tell you, learning how to defuse a situation – or make peace – is the more important skill and not something that was really taught.

“When public trust and service are combined, police organizations are able to keep the peace and improve the quality of life for their community.”   

While it is fortunate that in recent years a large emphasis has been placed on de-escalation training for officers, many police departments still fail to recognize that they are not the law, but simply enforcers of it.  Their power comes from the community that charters them and the trust that people have in them.  When public trust and service are combined, police organizations are able to keep the peace and improve the quality of life for their community.    But this requires a completely different mindset than ONLY resorting to physical tactics when something goes wrong – much more finesse, with an eye toward short- AND long-term community relations, is necessary.

A number of years ago, I worked on a consulting team composed of a retired Chief of Police, a retired SWAT guy, and a law enforcement researcher.  We were hired to help a city police department improve its relationship with the community.  There was a fairly low crime rate and there were no active lawsuits, but there was a growing dissatisfaction with the police department, as well as complaints about police behavior that seemed to fall on deaf ears.  With shrinking city revenues, lawmakers wondered about whether this was a good investment of their money.  When a new Chief of Police was appointed, both he and the City Manager thought it would be a good time to make some changes.

As external consultants, we conducted an overall assessment of the situation and quickly realized that we needed to focus first on the department’s management team.  There were five managers – a Chief of Police and four Lieutenants – that did not get along well or respect each other.  They ran the department like four different “mini-departments,” because each shift had its own supervising Lieutenant who had his own management style and priorities.  Citizens said they simply had to look at their watches to know when police would be setting speed traps, looking for drunk drivers, or simply waiting at the local donut house for a dispatch call.  None of their priorities were based on actual crime data or community input.

We began with a 2 ½ day “deep dive” leadership retreat that confronted the Command Staff with data and feedback from the community, their officers, and civilian staff, as well as key choices to make about the future.  What did they want to create together?  As individual leaders, were they “in” or were they “out?”  Were they willing to put aside their differences to work cohesively as a team?  What would they do differently, as a leadership team, and each individual, going forward?

The talk was difficult, and it was real.  By the time we finished the session, the team had come together around what they saw as the purpose of the department, their goals and aspirations for it, and how they needed to manage differently.  In addition, each person got personal feedback from his or her peers about what they wanted to see changed in order for that person to be a better leader and team player.  The result was that although one Lieutenant decided to retire, the remainder recommitted to their work and a new leadership team was born, carrying a united message to their staff and the community.

The Command Staff’s vision was that this police department was going to help raise the quality of life in their city, by working with citizens and other governing bodies to address safety issues that needed attention.  It meant that the management team would need to redesign police services and retrain their officers to focus on smaller problems to keep them from becoming bigger problems.  This required a huge shift in thinking, because the average cop would now be accountable for getting to know the citizens of his or her assigned geographic area, learning what was important to them in terms of safety and quality of life, and working with them and other city agencies to solve problems creatively.

A great example of this was the installation of streetlights in a dark downtown alleyway that attracted problems after bars closed.  Business owners would often have to clean up trash the next day before opening their doors.  The police department was unable to “stakeout” the alley every night due to resource constraints.  Rather than just respond to the crimes as the occurred, the officer assigned to the downtown business district worked with business owners to propose additional streetlights to the City Council, and then worked with the City Engineer on where to install them.  Better lighting and selective enforcement made the problem go away.

Although the new approach made sense, it was counter to the current police culture in which officers felt that everyday nuisance issues were beneath them to handle.  The leadership team had to tackle a great deal of internal resistance and union pressure to implement this approach, and needed to be resolutely consistent and united in its purpose.  They worked at it, and slowly but surely, their department started to change.   Several years later, the department was recognized by the International Association of the Chiefs of Police for their community policing success.  Five years later, it was ranked as the best department nationally with respect to citizen complaints, based on interviews conducted in undercover visits.

Making peace, from city-wide initiatives, to defusing violence, is an invaluable gift to us all.  And as an incredibly famous person once said, “Blessed are the peace makers, for they will be called children of God.”  (Matthew 5:9)

–Cathy
Catherine M. (Cathy) Perme is a partner at Peterson & Perme Associates, LLC and the author of “Confucius in My Cubicle: Practical Wisdom for the Leader in All of Us” (2017), available on Amazon.

Contact The Amber Edge

Phone: 218.213.1303

e-Mail:  info@theamberedge.com

Leadership Lessons for the Year of the Ox

Leadership Lessons for the Year of the Ox

Here we are, 11 months into the pandemic (at least in terms of the US shutting down), and we are still not certain when or even IF life will get back to “the way it used to be.”  So, it’s time to assess: what “bad” habits did we drop last year which should be left in the past, and what “new” habits did we pick up that we want to keep?  It’s time to “plow the ground for the future” and fully embrace the work ahead with the “Year of the Ox!”

Lucky for us the Ox carries some excellent advice about how to approach what could still be a challenging year, even after last year’s trials and tribulations.  The Ox is a symbol of strength, focus, and determination.  It promises prosperity through hard work and sustained effort.   It is an animal that works in teams and nourishes the community in which it lives.  So, what does the Ox suggest for 2021?

  • Invest in relationshipstake time out for people.
    • Last year, we were forced to quarantine and seclude ourselves. We also learned how to connect over distances using technology such as Zoom and Google Hangouts.  Now is NOT the time to let these connections lapse!
    • This is known as a “Metal Ox” year, which tells us a focus on interpersonal relationships is essential. As it becomes safe to do so, find ways to see each other IN PERSON (a novel concept!), while still socially distancing, of course.  And in the meantime, keep using technology to build and maintain your connections.
    • Take the lesson to heart from 2020 about slowing down to focus on people in your work. Even as we “get used to” this new reality, there is still a need to care for your organization’s people, and celebrate those who have helped your organization and team still exist to this point!
  • Remember to practice self-careyour continued success depends on it.
    • Keep a positive attitude and please get help if you feel down.
    • Don’t let the stubbornness of the Ox get the best of you! It’s easy to feel overwhelmed as business resumes and our world speeds up again – you’re not alone in this.  Speak up when you need a break, even if it’s just a few hours.
    • This is set up to be a busy year, as we all recover from 2020. Celebrate increases in success, but be sure to balance it out with your own self-care (and the good habits you hopefully built for yourself last year!).
  • Work hard on your goals, and remember to bring others alongbecause that’s what it will take.
    • Many of us are ready for action after such a stagnant period, and have been building our vision of the opportunities for 2021. Persistence and patience as you push through barriers and work toward your goals.
    • YOU may have a vision and goals for the future – but have you shared those with your team? The true success of the ox comes from the success of the team!
    • As much as the hard work of the Ox is a gift, it can also be a challenge. You may find that stubbornness getting in the way of sharing new ideas and utilizing innovative techniques.
  • Focus on the future.
    • Don’t make the mistake of making only short-term decisions to conserve your resources (the turtle approach). If there’s any time to focus on planning for the future, it’s now!
    • Now is the time to invest in assessing your culture, determining how is has been changed by the pandemic, and deciding what you want to keep for the future.

Invariably, there will be those who prosper in the year ahead.  Remember the Chinese saying, “When the winds of change blow, some people build walls and others build windmills.”

–Cathy
Catherine M. (Cathy) Perme is a partner at Peterson & Perme Associates, LLC.

Contact The Amber Edge

Phone: 218.213.1303

e-Mail:  info@theamberedge.com

Sticking Close to the Bucking Horse

Sticking Close to the Bucking Horse

Often when working with organizations in the process of change, I encounter what I like to call “a bucking horse.”  This is a person or group that seems to resist change loudly and forcefully and generally makes life difficult for those who are tasked to lead it.  For me it was a union that was convinced that the plan and process I suggested would result in their jobs being outsourced.

Resistance to change is a reality that challenges every leader and consultant at some point in their tenure. There are typical ways to deal with this, ranging from strong-arming the other party to rolling over and giving up, which are all about power and control. There is another way, though – more effective but hard to do – which is “staying close to the bucking horse.”   It takes patience and courage, and the willingness to make oneself vulnerable.  I personally experienced challenges to my reputation, many sleepless nights, and intense bursts of anger, self-doubt and hopelessness — unlike the cool, collected facilitator that I always wanted to portray.

The Situation

I was hired by a large urban school district to conduct strategic planning with their school health program.   The district had over 45,000 students in nearly 90 schools, and it could not keep up with the growing health care needs of its student population.  Many children had no health insurance and no connection to primary health care.

As in many other districts with budget problems, the school health department had been severely cut.  By the time I started consulting with them, only 25 members of the school health staff were registered school nurses.  School buildings were actually staffed by health assistants, who worked part time with limited training.  They were to operate under the supervision of nurses; however, the nurses were spread so thin that they were often unable to provide it.  The result was that health assistants took on situations and tasks that were often outside of their training, and the school district as a whole was potentially exposed for a multi-million-dollar malpractice suit.  To make matters worse, the union representing the health assistants was now demanding that their members be paid the same as nurses, since obviously they were doing the work of them.

My Process Causes Concern

This situation was actually symptomatic of a much larger system breakdown that was out of the school district’s control – access to affordable health care.  As a result, I proposed inviting the larger community – including local health care providers, parent groups, government agencies, and foundations, among others – to join the school district in solving this problem.

Everyone loved the approach except for the paraprofessional union, which was convinced that this was simply a ploy for the district to outsource their jobs.  No amount of discussion could dissuade the union of this opinion.  In addition, their president (I will call her Mona) was a force to be reckoned with.    Mona had learned the ropes of union organizing the hard way, from the ground up, and was a formidable opponent.   She continually stoked the fire with rumors and insinuations.

Because I believed so strongly in the need to “stay close to the bucking horse,” I made sure that Mona as union president was a member of the planning team and included in every meeting that took place, along with the business agent for the union and several other key union members.  This was different from the normal “arms-length” approach that department leaders had used in the past.   However, I respected that Mona was simply trying to protect her members and was probably distrustful of management.  I believed that if she and union members were integral to the planning team, they would realize that no one had a preconceived notion of what was going to come out of this planning effort, and would begin to trust us and collaborate for a solution.

Practical Tips to Make This Work

  • Expect the horse to buck! Resistance to change is normal, and is more about fear of loss than fear of change.   Understanding — and helping others to understand — the difference between real and imagined losses is critically important.  In addition, helping people to tangibly experience what the future might look like can help them support a change.  
  • It is OK to be objective and not simply neutral. As a facilitator, I am trained to be neutral.  However, being neutral in this situation would have allowed misinformation to continue unchecked.  I needed to be objective, and to state the facts for all to consider on a regular basis.
  • Engage the larger system. Had we only focused on the conflicts between the union and management nothing would have changed.  It was only with the involvement and feedback from the larger system that we could craft a solution and help these two parties find common ground.   
  • Remain open and balanced yourself, and refrain from angry attacks based on your own frustration – that will only strengthen the resistance. It helps to get support from peers, mentors, or other trusted professionals so that you can maintain your own focus and objectivity. 
  • At some point, the horse will get tired and stop bucking.   If you have consistently shown that you can be trusted, you can step in and guide it to greener pastures.

The result?  Mona tried to have me fired by the school board.

I quickly learned that she had earned her reputation as being a disruptive force for good reason.  She worked hard to throw me off balance as a facilitator with a litany of complaints and accusations about my loyalties, the fairness of ground rules, and how I facilitated the meetings.  This was truly the biggest “bucking horse” I’d ever encountered.

Now What?

My client wanted her off the planning team, and my “loser self” was kicking in – really angry and wanting to teach Mona a lesson.  It would be so easy to do!  But I knew if that happened, we would be playing directly into her hand:  she wanted to prove that this was not an open and collaborative effort, that there was an underlying agenda, and that her union was not respected or accepted as full partners in the process. There were two things I decided to do:

  • I convinced the members of the leadership team to double their effort in communicating with all staff to provide regular in-person updates, so that everyone (including Mona’s union members) would have the opportunity to hear directly from leaders and judge for themselves about the facts, the realities, leader motivations, and the emerging plans.
  • I decided to get some help for Mona had figured out how to get to me.  I knew that I could compromise the entire project if I dealt with her poorly.  I realized that I could use some help to avoid getting personally enmeshed with this client.

With the help of a coach I hired for myself during this process, I began to see that I was confused in my interpretation of my role as a facilitator.  Usually, I saw my role as remaining neutral while working with often differing parties to forge solutions, which usually worked when all parties were faithfully engaged in the process.  However, in the face of active resistance and manipulation, staying purely neutral was not only unhelpful in this situation, but was also against my personal and professional values to let dysfunction go unchecked.  I realized I had to take an objective stance – that is, stating facts and realities, and pointing out patterns as they emerge, even if this information was not well received.

My coach helped me to detach my ego from the work that I was doing with this client, and to recognize when and how I needed to speak up.  This preserved my mental health over the next several months as the planning team started to shape the new organizational design.

The Crisis Comes

The defining moment came as I worked with the planning team to do a one-day “test drive” of the new organizational model with all staff and representative stakeholders – over 125 people.  The goal was to provide everyone with a sense of what a redesigned organization might look like, especially one that had a new and strengthened relationship with the community.   We wanted to get feedback on what processes needed to change.

I was told the night before that Mona was planning to stage a “walk out” to protest the changes.   I was completely disheartened.  There was nothing more I could do.  I braced myself for the confrontation. All morning I waited for something to happen as we walked through the various design elements and tested them out.   After lunch I noticed a buzzing in the hallway, as Mona and several other union leaders gathered.   Here it comes, I thought.

What happened – or better put, what did not happen – was amazing.  People were so engaged in the process that when Mona tried to stage the “walk out,” no one joined.   Even more surprising, Mona and the rest of her union leaders eventually came back into the room and began to engage in the process.

Two days later, the planning team gathered once again to adjust the new organizational model based on the results of the “test drive.”   We were stunned when Mona announced that although some people were “resistant” to change, she herself was fully supportive of the new direction.  Whether she fully embraced the change or simply recognized that her leadership was in jeopardy, it was not clear.   However, her whole demeanor had changed, and she was helpful and collaborative for the remainder of the workshop.  The “bucking horse” had stopped.

The Results

The next few years provided remarkable progress as the organization, the school district, and the community banded together to support children’s health.   Local clinics offered free immunizations to children at the start of school.  The school welcome center and the medical community worked together to get children connected to regular health care.  The school district received a sizable grant from the Centers for Disease Control to implement a new approach to dealing with chronic illnesses.   Within five years, the health of these school children was better than it ever was before, and no jobs had been lost.

When I think back on my time on this project and with Mona, I realize that in another life, I too could have made one hell of a union president.  She and I are both smart, driven, and passionate – she about her cause, me about my work – and I can be as bull-headed as she about what is important to me.  By the time we finished working together we had a grudging respect for one another.

The Moral of the Story

“Sticking close to the bucking horse” means recognizing that today’s opponent might be tomorrow’s ally.  It takes patience and courage, and the willingness to make yourself vulnerable in the process of change as well.

–Cathy
Catherine M. (Cathy) Perme is a partner at Peterson & Perme Associates, LLC and the author of “Confucius in My Cubicle: Practical Wisdom for the Leader in All of Us” (2017), available on Amazon.

Contact The Amber Edge

Phone: 218.213.1303

e-Mail:  info@theamberedge.com

What I’ve Learned about Surviving Economic Busts

What I’ve Learned about Surviving Economic Busts

 

These are such scary times, both personally and professionally, that the easiest thing to do would be to crawl into a shell and stay there until everything sorts itself out.  Unfortunately, life goes on and so must we, as we maneuver through this pandemic and try to come out whole on the other side of it.

Luckily, I’ve learned a few things over my 30 years of being in business, about how to weather economic realities that are beyond my control.   I’ve successfully survived the impact of the first Gulf war in 1991 (just a year after starting my business); the Tech bust in 1998; 9/11 in 2001; and the Great Recession in 2009-12.   Here is what I am putting into my own playbook now to get through this unprecedented time;  I offer these “lessons learned” to you as well.  

  • Focuson the Future
    • Prepare for a very different future.
    • Consider the consequences of decisions for both short and long term to balance the needs of both.
    • Continually scan to see what patterns are emerging in business/industry; think about what opportunities these patterns might present for you.
  • Invest“plow the ground for the Future”
    • Now is the time to invest in marketing, building new skills, developing capacity, and expanding networks to be ready for a different future.  
    • Get better at what seems to be looming in the future (technology?)
    • Don’t have a lot of money? You can still invest by volunteering time and effort in ways that provide new learning opportunities, community visibility, and expanded networks.
  • Team upand care for the people around you
    • Care for the people (customers, employees, community, vendors, etc.) that make your business a success. Now is the time to be generous with others. 
    • Reach out to clients to maintain the relationship; find out what is becoming important to them.
    • Now more than ever, it is also important to build partnerships and teamwork across businesses and industries to identify and shape new opportunities for the future.
  • Stay Positiveand take care of yourself
    • Take care of your own mental health.
    • Don’t be shy to apply for benefits and loans of which you may be eligible – it is not a personal failure!
    • Everyone wants to work with a winner – your attitude is your strength.

Invariably, there will be those who prosper in the year ahead.  Remember the Chinese saying, “The times produce their heroes.”   Best to you, and good luck to us all!

–Cathy
Catherine M. (Cathy) Perme is a partner at Peterson & Perme Associates, LLC and the author of “Confucius in My Cubicle: Practical Wisdom for the Leader in All of Us” (2017), available on Amazon.

Contact The Amber Edge

Phone: 218.213.1303

e-Mail:  info@theamberedge.com

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