Your reflection…

reflection girlOver the long holiday weekend I was searching for just the perfect topic to wrap up our month-long blog series on personal leadership. As I thought about it,  I could find no better topic than “reflection.”

Throughout time people have remarked on the importance of reflection. Here are a few quotes for you to ponder.

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.” – Confucius

“It is not by muscle, speed, or physical dexterity that great things are achieved, but by reflection, force of character, and judgment.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero

“Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.” – Margaret J. Wheatley

Reflecting on the lessons I’ve learned from both my successes and failures this year will hopefully make me a more effective leader and a better person. However, making time for reflection in our very busy lives can be a challenge. Often, I use my commuting time in my car to think through a particular challenge or to reflect on my day or week. I turn off the radio and just think.

How do you make time for reflection?  What works for you?

Anita Rios

Finding your SPARK

spark1I hope that all of our readers are having a happy Thanksgiving holiday and a refreshing break from work. As we’ve discussed before, taking time for rest and relaxation can help us be more effective as leaders.

If you’re like me, when you come back there will be a rush of year-end planning and deadlines. It will be easy to get caught up in day-to-day activities and lose sight of big-picture goals. One thing that can easily get neglected is time for our own professional development.

Having a professional development plan can help leaders remember to focus on their own development. I recently found a useful article by the American Management Association that had very practical tips for creating a plan. They recommended these steps:

 1. Identify your SPARK:  What skills, abilities, and experiences can help you:

  • Share information
  • Play to strengths
  • Ask for input and appreciate different ideas
  • Recognize and respond to individual needs
  • Keep your commitments

2. Measure your Success:  The article lists 10 questions that can be used as indicators of success. Create a list that works for you and review it periodically to keep yourself on track.

3. Leverage your Style. Use what you know about your personality and preferences to increase your self-awareness and develop specific development goals.

4. Build your influence:  Use your plan to challenge yourself about ways to build and maintain the influence you need to achieve goals for yourself and your team.

As you finish off this year and start thinking about goals for next year, it’s a good time to create a professional development plan.

Dee Anne Bonebright


A balancing act

tightrope blog“Step with care and great tact. And remember life is a Great Balancing Act”  –Dr. Seuss

As we near the Thanksgiving holiday, I’m reminded both of how thankful I am for the terrific team I work with and the talented people we serve in our colleges and universities. At the same time, I’m very cognizant of the great balancing act all leaders must engage in to be effective. This week, balancing work and home is really prominent for me, given the fact that I’m hosting Thanksgiving for my family and in-laws. That means tons of preparation; like shopping, cleaning, roasting the turkey and cooking all of the wonderful side dishes that go with it. That on top of a busy work schedule this week feels a little like walking a tightrope with every step carefully planned and executed. Every hour on my calendar is dedicated to a particular task or activity, whether it is for work or home.

In addition to balancing work and home, leaders must also balance many seemingly opposite characteristics in order to be effective, such as:

  • Confidence and Humility
  • Candor and Diplomacy
  • Guidance and Tolerance
  • Control and Empowerment
  • Structure and Flexibility
  • Planning and Implementation
  • Decisiveness and Mindfulness

You’ll notice that each of these characteristics appear to be polar opposites. They are called polarities. Leaders must sometimes walk a tightrope in balancing the two. They can’t choose one characteristic or pole to the exclusion of the other. For example, good leaders balance confidence with humility. If they focus too much on confidence, they can appear arrogant. And if they are focused solely on humility, they can appear to completely lack confidence in their own abilities. Think about leaders you’ve known. What has been the effect on those they lead if they have overfocused on confidence? Have you known anyone who has overfocused on humility? What has been the result? In my observation, leaders who are successful approach both confidence and humility as a great balancing act.

As with any skill set, balancing some leadership polarities just comes naturally for us. Others are a bit of a stretch. In the structure/flexibility polarity, I tend to overfocus on structure at times. I like to be prepared and do quite a bit of planning in order to ensure that leadership programs, events, and presentations go well. And yes, that same preparation extends to our family Thankgiving celebration. Sometimes that means that I can have trouble shifting gears in the moment if something happens to upset all those plans. I know I need to increase my tolerance for flexibility and to stretch my skills in thinking on my feet so I stay nimble in the moment. Which of the leadership polarities listed above do you balance naturally? And which ones do you have to work at?

Anita Rios



What can I do?

cortana-what-can-i-do-now-100261361-primary.idgeTragedy in Paris and Beirut. What can I do? Refugees with no where to go. What can I do? Homeless in America. What can I do? Climate change. What can I do?

Events worldwide seem overwhelming. Events closer to home also seem overwhelming. Jobs eliminated, programs closed, leadership decisions, health concerns and family disruption all tear at us and our hearts. What can one person do?

That question came up several times during a leadership program I was facilitating recently, what can I do as a leader when I work in a culture that doesn’t support change? What can I do if my manager disagrees with me? What can I do if the budget gets cut?

What can I do?

Steven Covey first answered that question with Habit 1 of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People –  Be Proactive and choose to respond to the realities of the world by focusing our energy and attention on what we can influence. He created an image of our circle of concerns and our circle of influence.

circle of influenceOur circle of concern contains all the realities of the world that we care about. The important parts of our lives and the world that we pay attention to and react to. Our circle of influence includes all the elements of our lives that we can actually affect through our actions. What Covey reminds us is that if we take action on the elements within our circle of influence, instead of only worrying about our concerns, we will actually be able to make a difference and our circle of influence will grow larger.

Within our circle of influence are:

  • the people we work with
  • the work we do
  • how we vote
  • where we donate our time and money
  • the actions we take at work
  • how we communicate and who we communicate with
  • the decisions we make
  • where we spend our time

A co-worker and I were sharing our concern over the Syrian refugee crisis and she mentioned that she had contacted a neighborhood group that was working on sponsoring a refugee family. A small action but one that will make a difference!

In higher education we are quite concerned over how prepared new students are for post-secondary courses and on the decreasing economic support for public higher education. Recently Chancellor Steven Rosenstone challenged us to focus on our circle of influence and consider volunteering to be a tutor in a public K-12 school or to donate one hour of our salary to a scholarship fund at a foundation. Those are examples of taking action within our circle of influence!

As a leader, what is in your circle of concern and how can you take action within your circle of influence to make a difference?

Todd Thorsgaard


Action and reflection

Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.  — Peter Drucker

gearsI recently had a conversation with one of our college administrators about advice she received as a new leader. One of the tips that stuck with her over the years is the necessity for reflection and strategic thinking.

As leaders, we all know how easy it can be to get caught up in the day-to-day work and not pull back to take a deep breath and look at the big picture. Here are some tips that can help.

  1. Plan reflection time into your calendar. If you have a big meeting coming up, schedule time to strategize. What are your key goals? Who do you need to talk to? How can  participants prepare to make the best use of the time?
  2. Find a space for reflection. It can be helpful to physically get away from day-to-day demands in order to spend time planning and thinking about the big picture. You may need to visit the local coffee shop – and leave your cell phone behind!
  3. Stress the importance of reflection with your staff. By consistently treating planning time as a “real” hold on your calendar, you will model the importance of strategic reflection for others on your team.
  4. Build reflection into the team culture. Make reflection and analysis an expectation for how the work gets done. For example, discuss lessons learned after major projects are completed, or ask reflective questions in one-on-one meetings with staff.

How have you been able to find time for planning and reflection?

Dee Anne Bonebright

Lash yourself to the mast!

storm at seaEmails hit you like waves, crises tear at your sails, institutions rise and fall with each swell and you are responsible for your crew! Leadership challenges are as powerful as a storm at sea. Luckily your leadership vision is a mast you can lash yourself to like Ulysses did when approaching the Sirens.

Stewart D. Friedman, professor at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, the founding director of the Wharton Leadership Program, author and creator of Total Leadership, describes personal leadership vision as “an essential means for focusing attention on what matters most; what you want to accomplish in your life and what kind of leader you wish to be.” A clear leadership vision is essential for success in today’s volatile, uncertain and chaotic sea of work.

Friedman describes four crucial elements of a leadership vision and encourages leaders to the work required to identify and develop:

  1. A compelling story of the future that will engage people. What in the future captures your heart and will encourage others to join?
  2. An image of the future. What do you see in the future? What will it actually look like and how will others see themselves in the future?
  3. An achievable but challenging view of the future. A realistic enough vision that it won’t be dismissed out of hand and will motivate people to work with you.
  4. A forward focus. A vision of the future that compels action today to get there.

To learn more about creating your vision you can read this article or watch this video.

Holding on to a powerful vision can help you survive the storms of leadership and stay focused on how to make a significant difference at your institution and with your people.

Todd Thorsgaard

Stressed out?

stressedLast weekend I had the luxury of spending time with my daughter who is a sophomore in college. She had come home for the weekend to de-stress. Between having second thoughts about her declared major, the usual roommate issues that crop up when you live with four other college-aged women, and juggling her campus job and her role as social coordinator for her sorority, she was what we call a “stress ball.” For her, the weekend at home was a perfect solution to manage her stress. We talked through many of the challenges she is facing, spent lots of fun family time together, and even indulged in a little shopping therapy.

Reflecting on the weekend, I thought about how we never outgrow the need to manage stress in our lives. As leaders, with multiple demands on our time and attention, it’s normal to experience stress. The key is how can you manage it effectively, without your stress negatively impacting your decisions or those you lead?

As you may recall from our blog last Monday, stress management is actually an important part of our emotional intelligence. Last week we briefly talked about three behaviors that can help you manage stress. I thought it might be helpful to explore them a little more fully today.

Flexibility: This  has to do with how easily can we adapt to change. Do you get annoyed when something doesn’t go according to your plan? Or are you able to quickly respond to changing circumstances and adapt your approach? Some of us are by nature more flexible than others. After taking multiple personality assessments, I know that I tend to be more pre-planned than some of my colleagues who naturally have a “go with the flow” approach. I’ve had to work on my ability to flex where I need to compromise with others or quickly adapt to changing circumstances.  In those moments, it can be helpful to stop and ask, “How can I flex my attitude, my behaviors, or my approach?”

Stress Tolerance: This has to do with our ability to cope with stressful situations. Do you have healthy ways to cope with stress? For me, ways to improve my stress tolerance include regular exercise, eating healthy foods, and getting enough sleep. (I won’t go into detail about some of my less healthy ways of coping which include wine and copious amounts of chocolate.) Sometimes in stressful situations, just taking a quick moment to reflect and “breathe in, breathe out” helps me to not over-react. For my daughter, taking time away with her family was an excellent coping strategy.

Optimism: This is all about having a positive outlook. While the expression, “Is your glass half empty, or half full?” seems trite, it is really true. If you’re seeing something in a negative light, can you reframe it? Is there a positive perspective you can bring to the situation? For me, it helps to think about someone else’s viewpoint other than my own. If I’m having trouble seeing a clear positive viewpoint, I seek out other’s perspectives and ask lots of questions. Just reframing the situation as a learning opportunity or a chance to grow, I’ve found can be very helpful.

What are some of your strategies to manage stress?

Anita Rios