8 Steps for Leading Organizations


An effective leader needs to have fire – a passion, light, and ability to create change. Fire can transform, comfort, and make way for new life. Yet, too much fire can destroy and decimate our communities, structures, and assets. In order to understand how leaders can manage their own fire, I have applied the fire management practices below to leading organizations.

(Adapted from the Standard Firefighting Orders of the National Wildfire Coordinating Group.*)

1. Keep informed on fire weather conditions and forecasts. Know what is going on around campus – campus climate – and in the larger field of higher education. Read campus and higher education publications, attend campus programs and conferences, and follow social media to understand the current conditions.

2. Know what your fire is doing at all times. Success in campus leadership requires an accurate assessment of the current situation. Lack of knowledge and information leaves leaders vulnerable and unprepared to respond. You may create unintended consequences if your fire starts burning out of control.

3. Base all actions on current and expected behavior of the fire. A leader must be able to interpret the existing conditions and predict changes based on reliable indicators.

4. Identify escape routes and safety zones, and make them known. Have a backup plan in the event that your fire takes an unpredicted direction. A contingency plan will be necessary if you are met with resistance or lack of resources.

5. Post lookouts when there is possible danger. Surround yourself with trusted advisors. Ask others to help you identify red flags, danger zones, and threats.

6. Be alert. Keep calm. Think clearly. Act decisively. Risk-taking, living passionately, and being a change agent can be exhilarating and scary. Stay calm and clear-headed. Your team will feel your confidence and take your lead.

7. Maintain prompt communication with your forces, your supervisor, and adjoining forces. Leadership is not just about providing direction, it requires two-way communication. Communicate and listen to those around you. Be prepared to change directions and use new information to correct your course.

8. Give clear instructions and be sure they are understood. Again, communication is crucial. Once you have assessed the conditions and identified threats, provide a clear direction for your team. Check for understand and answer questions. Create opportunities for your team to ask for clarification and encourage people to summarize what they think you said.


* Thanks to my partner Aaron for sharing his firefighting resources!



7 Lessons I Have Learned from Being a Mother 


Today my daughter is celebrating her 7th birthday! I have learned so many lessons – big and small – from this spirited little person.

Here are some of the big ones:

1.  How to be an advocate. I could deal with annoying, disrespectful or immature treatment in my own life, but when my daughter was born I realized I had to confront these behaviors for the greater good. In both my personal and professional life, I began tackling difficult conversations and making hard decisions in order to create a better world for her.

2. How to listen more and fix less. My daughter has taught me that more problems can be solved by listening than fixing. Even at a young age she was capable of completing complex tasks if I offered my support from a distance rather than stepping in to “help.”

3.  How to be flexible. Little people are unpredictable. They get sick, have accidents, say things. I have learned it is necessary to let go of my agendas, plans, and expectations to create space for the unexpected wonders and frustrations that come with life.

4. How to recognize when I need sleep. I’ve always needed a lot of sleep. Being sleep deprived has helped me realize that any problem seems more manageable after a good night’s sleep. When I feel completely overwhelmed and cannot deal with one more thing, it’s usually time for bed.

5. How to accept help. When my daughter was six-months old, I broke my foot and could not walk or drive for six months. I am fiercely independent and accepting help was humbling. My friends and family came to do my laundry and take my daughter on walks. While it was difficult to admit I couldn’t do it all, I learned to graciously accept help and have become better at serving others.

6. How to be patient. Before becoming a mom, I kept a rigid schedule. My days were full and I was always on the fast-track. Now, getting out the door can be a production. I have learned to be patient with myself and others. I no longer begrudge the driver in front of me for missing the green light because we are all just doing the best we can.

7. How to be present. I am constantly working on this one. With so many distractions, it can be challenging to be present at all times. I have learned to designate times when my daughter gets my full attention and let her know that in that moment she is my sole focus.