One of the challenges of innovative leadership is to ensure that new ideas and viewpoints are considered when making the wide range of decisions that we face on a regular basis.
In a recent blog on strategic planning, Harvard Business School authors Logan Chandler and Ron Ashkenas gave several pieces of advice about innovative decision making. They said that while the process should generate “intense debates,” what it more often generates is a set of dense documents, crowded with data and text, that end up on the shelf.
How can we avoid this fate for our decision making processes? I found this advice be the most interesting: to ask provocative questions – the kind that lead to authentic discussion. Here are some of the questions they suggest:
- What are the top 2 or 3 things that must go right for this strategy to work?
- If we pursue this strategy, what are we deciding not to do?
- What specific capabilities will we need to develop in order for this plan to succeed?
Similar to strategic planning, much of leadership decision-making is about asking hard questions and listening carefully for the answers. What strategies do you use to create questions that drive innovative decisions?
–Dee Anne Bonebright
My high school football coach would “remind us” of the importance of accountability with that phrase “excuses are for losers..” when we offered up reasons for why we were not executing our assignments during practice. At times it was frustrating to hear but I came to recognize that he cared about us and wanted us to succeed. That was why he wanted us to take accountability for our actions. As leaders we also need to accept and embrace our accountability for decision-making. Think about the leaders you most admire, it is clear that they know that the “buck stops with them.”
Over the next month we will be exploring different ways you can make effective decisions, how to involve and engage your people in decision-making, and the importance of communicating and supporting decisions after they are made. How you do that directly affects the relationships and trust you build with your team, your effectiveness as a manager and your ability to drive innovation. Before any of that can happen, however, true leadership demands the willingness to actually make the tough decisions and to accept the consequences of those decisions. As Coach McKay, not so gently, reminded me years ago, make sure you act in a way that makes it clear to your team that “the buck stops with you,” even in the tough times.
We’ve reached our final discussion on the MnSCU leadership competencies. The last topic is one of the most visible indicators of good leadership – effective decision making.
Decision making plays out in many ways across higher education. Examples from the MnSCU competencies include:
- Ability to creatively and efficiently solve problems
- Demonstrating critical thinking and asking appropriate questions
- Seeking alternative viewpoints
- Using appropriate decision-making methods based on the situation
- Preparing stakeholders for, and involving them in, decisions that affect them
- Communicating decisions effectively to stakeholders
- Supporting decisions once they are made
This list is a bit daunting. Exhibiting all of these behaviors requires a strong set of leadership skills in a wide variety of areas. At the same time, it’s a great description of leadership that is not dependent on rank, position, or job role.
If you were describing effective decision making, which items do you think are most important? What else might you add to the list?
Dee Anne Bonebright
“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
John F. Kennedy (1917-1963);
35th Us President
As we take some time off to remember the things we are thankful for, I find that this quote by President John F. Kennedy is a useful reminder. As a leader within higher education, I have much to appreciate:
- Challenging work
- Stimulating colleagues
- Collaborative partnerships
- A chance to make a difference
I plan to come back to work refreshed and ready to behave as if I appreciate my colleagues and the work we are doing together.
What would be on your appreciation list?
Dee Anne Bonebright
I was listening to a podcast on NPR’s All Things Considered this week that got me thinking about the Thanksgiving holiday, hectic travel, family and friend get-togethers (or at least my family and friends!) and our blog.
Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, shared his “collision” theory of collaboration and innovation. He describes it as “bringing the spirit of a party” to work. By encouraging random collisions between people new ideas are generated, productivity goes up and an innovative culture is fostered. Taking action as a leader to promote serendipity and almost random networking opportunities between people, within and outside of your institution, is a way to “institutionalize return on luck.” (Forbes article) Bumping into your distant uncle at the Thanksgiving table or a stranger at the airport or a neighbor at the gas station may just spark a conversation that leads to a new idea next Monday at work!
Hsieh has removed a skyway between two buildings to get his people outside and walking on the public sidewalks so they bump into more people, other organizations have added trivia games to elevator doors to spark random conversations, and National Public Radio hosts “serendipity days” where groups of employees randomly come together to work on projects. (Wall Street Journal – online)
At your campus or in your organization where can you find places for people to bump into each other and perhaps make a connection? Given the opportunity people can find new ideas in the strangest places. Who knows, in addition to catching up on medical conditions and getting some new recipe’s I may get an idea for my next blog at dinner tomorrow!
Have a peaceful Thanksgiving.
How do we learn to embrace our vulnerabilities and imperfections so that we can engage in our lives from a place of authenticity and worthiness? This is a pretty heady question that has been rumbling around in my brain ever since I watched a compelling TED talk by Brené Brown last week. It is also a question that is incredibly important for leaders to consider when they think about how to lead authentically. Embracing vulnerability takes incredible emotional intelligence, requiring self awareness, skill in expressing emotions, and an ability to communicate those emotions to others that you lead.
I’d encourage you to take a few minutes from your day to do what 12 million other people have done and view her TED talk You’ll be glad you did.
Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past ten years studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame. She spent the first five years of her decade-long study focusing on shame and empathy, and is now using that work to explore a concept that she calls Wholeheartedness.
As a child growing up in the suburbs of Minneapolis the Mississippi River was a giant, deep, fast flowing river that we crossed on a large bridge going to grandma’s house. It seemed impossible to swim it or cross it on foot. The future challenges we face in higher education are as turbulent as the fast flowing river I knew growing up and as daunting to overcome. Yet, as the picture of me crossing the Mississippi River at Lake Itasca demonstrates, the unimaginable can be accomplished if we open ourselves up to innovative thinkers from outside our usual sphere of influence.
The ITASCAproject – Higher Education Partnerships for Prosperity initiative is an example of collaboration across educational and governmental boundaries that provides leaders in higher education access to a wider network of innovative thinkers. The Itasca Project is an employer-led civic alliance that recognizes the future challenges we face in higher education are beyond the scope and capabilities of any one group and any single jurisdiction. And that we can make the progress we need only through active cooperation among the public, nonprofit and business sectors. 12 executive leaders from business, non-profits and higher education are guided by the input of over 40 business, community and higher education thought leaders. The report identifies 4 overall strategies:
- Align academic offerings with workforce needs
- Foster an ecosystem of research and innovation
- Form new collaborations across higher education to optimize intellectual assets and efficiency
- Graduate more students
The commitment, new ideas and new approaches that wider collaborations, like the Itasca Project, provide to leaders in higher education are the rocks that can help us innovate our way across the turbulent river of higher education in the United States!
Where do you find your new ideas?