Monthly Archives: December 2012

Rest and renewal

“If you neglect to recharge a battery, it dies. And if you run full-speed ahead without stopping for water, you lose momentum to finish the race.”   —Oprah Winfrey

Many leaders in higher education have all-consuming jobs –the sort that can eat you up if you let them.

Years ago when I was partnering with the American Council of Education (ACE) on a national project to support women leaders, an experienced college president gave me some good advice. I asked her what she saw as a key to a leader’s success. She told me, “Every leader needs to purposely plan for times of rest and renewal. Without purposeful renewal, burnout is inevitable.” She went on to say that she often counseled younger, up-and-coming leaders to take quarterly breaks to recharge their batteries and to find passions outside of work that brought them deep satisfaction and renewal. For her, playing piano was that everyday passion that allowed her to recharge and bring fresh perspective to her work. She also practiced what she preached by actually taking her vacation.

With the holiday season upon us, many of us will be taking some time away from work to spend with family and friends. I’m happy to say that I’ll be doing the same and preparing to host 22 of my relatives for Christmas Eve. I’m also planning to recharge my batteries by getting outside and enjoying the Minnesota winter on my cross-country skis.

What do you plan to do to recharge your batteries so you don’t lose momentum for the race ahead?

Anita Rios


Higher EDge will be taking a break and returning on Wednesday, January 2.


Lists and more lists!

As the year comes to a close the lists have begun to appear everywhere. My music radio station (yes, I still listen to the radio and not Pandora!) is creating the top 100 songs of 2012; the papers I read are compiling the top stories of the year, and my twitter and Facebook accounts are filling up with lists large and small. Many are humorous, quite a few are interesting, some are just plain fun and a few feel powerful. We have just started our blog so we cannot even fill a list of our top ten posts of the year. That will have to wait for next year!

Instead of giving you a list, I am going to create my own list for my leadership development using what I have learned from earlier posts and invite you to do the same. I will post my list and I encourage you to post your list to HigherEDge over the next two weeks. Anita encouraged us to take a bite of P.I.E. (December 7 post), Dee Anne reminded us of the power of questions (December 14 post) and I suggested shifting your perspective to what is right about ourselves and what is right about our teams (December 12 post). As I wrap up 2012 and move into 2013, I will be emphasizing my strengths and the strengths of those around me to provide the highest value leadership development expertise, resources, and support to leaders across our system. To do that my P.I.E. recipe list (Performance, Image and Exposure) includes:

  1. Reach out to leaders across divisions and functions and ask them what they need to be wildly successful in this new higher education environment and how we can partner to accomplish it.
  2. Enhance my collaboration by scheduling feedback and dialogue time with my colleagues and asking them to help me recognize my blind spots.
  3. Manage my non-strength area of linear project management through the use of simple project updates with my boss.
  4. Ask the people on my team what they need from me to help them be successful in 2013.

What does your list look like? I am curious to read what strengths each of you will be polishing as we move into 2013 and what you will be doing to bake your P.I.E. Please take a few minutes and post your list here.

Todd Thorsgaard

When tragedy happens

I remember exactly where I was on September 11, 2001.  Like many of you, I was at home preparing for work.  The first phone call told me to turn on the TV to see what was happening.  The second phone call was from a trainer who was facilitating a session for a leadership development program I managed.  He wanted to know what to tell the participants.  Should he stop the program and make an announcement?  Should he continue with business as usual? How could he possibly explain what was going on?

Friday’s events in Connecticut made me think of that event.  As leaders, when national tragedies occur we face not only our own feelings but also those of our staff and colleagues.  Unlike 2011, news now arrives in bits and pieces over social media, and people want to share information, trying to make sense of events.

I found an interesting article at that has several useful suggestions for leaders for dealing with national or local tragedies. The author, Susan Heathfield, included these tips:

  1. First, if the event is happening near you, make sure your people are safe.  It’s a hard conversation, but every workplace should have disaster plans in place. As a leader, it’s important that you help people know what to do before a dangerous event occurs.
  2. Don’t expect business as usual.  Recognize that people will need to talk and will be distracted. It is not the time to stress tasks and deadlines.
  3. Provide information.  If possible, allow people to check the internet or listen to the radio. During the September 11 attacks, we set up a TV in a conference room and allowed people to go in and out during the day to follow news events.
  4. This leads to another useful tip – provide ways for people to gather and talk. The article suggested calling a meeting or having a group lunch in the following days so people can encourage each other.

As leaders in higher education, tragic events in one school affect us all.  In addition, we may face local tragedies in our communities or workplaces. How we handle these events can influence the workplace well into the future. Considering how you might handle them and identifying resources to help you can help you be more prepared when the time comes.

Dee Anne Bonebright

That’s a good question

In both my professional and academic life, I often interview people. No matter what the topic, my favorite reply is “That’s a good question. I hadn’t thought of it before.”  When someone says that, I know we will have a creative dialogue.

I recently conducted a seminar on leading project teams. We discussed the ability to ask questions as an essential leadership tool. At first glance a question might not seem like a tool for leading project teams, but it can be very powerful. As leaders, the sort of questions we ask will frame the direction that our projects take.  They drive the sort of data that is collected, the kind of outcomes that are created, and the people that are included along the way.

When you lead others, consider using the following types of questions. They will help you look at things from a variety of viewpoints, and ultimately be more effective.

1. Framing questions help identify the purpose of the conversation and help the group engage in discussion.

  • “If we were to implement this solution by next month, what information would we need?”
  • “What kind of solutions have you tried so far?”

2. Exploration questions are used to open new viewpoints, uncover layers of cause and effect, and help people think through problems more deeply.

  • “What is stopping us from moving forward?”
  • “What is the root cause of this problem?”
  • “What resources haven’t we used?”

3. Affective questions invite participants to share feelings and reactions.  They are about the “heart” issues rather than the “mind” issues.

  • “How does this solution make you feel?”
  • “What makes students feel so strongly about this issue?”

4. Reflective questions help the group go deeper into an issue.

  • “Why do you think this keeps happening?”
  • “If this problem was resolved to everyone’s satisfaction, what would that look like?”

What is something you can ask so your team will say, “That’s a good question. We haven’t thought of it that way before”?

Dee Anne Bonebright

Learn More:

Marquardt, M. Leading with Questions, Jossey-Bass, 2005

Wilkinson, M. The Secrets of Facilitation, Jossey-Bass, 2004

What is right about me?

What is right about me? What is right about the people on my team?

These are the questions that led to a very energetic conversation during the three day leadership development program I just finished facilitating with a group of higher education leaders. We were discussing the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment and their individual strengths profiles. (Rath, Tom. StrengthsFinder 2.0. Gallop Press. 2007.)  The work of Donald Clifton and Tom Rath encourages us to embrace our strengths and use our natural talents to enhance our leadership by focusing on “what is right about me!”  I was struck, once again, by how passionate and enthused the 34 leaders got when I asked them to share stories about their strengths, about what is “right about them?”  The conversations were full of laughter, vigorous head nodding and an authentic sense of pride and satisfaction.

Their conversations were a reminder to me of how powerful a small shift in perspective can be as I work to be the best leader I can be. From my experience, and the stories I hear from leaders, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the challenges we face in higher education. I can feel stuck and unable to work effectively with those around me who are also feeling overwhelmed. Yet I know when I rely on my strengths and ask myself, “how can I use my strength of individualization (the ability to identify unique attributes in others) to solve a problem with a course I am developing or a program I will be facilitating,” I have much more energy to tackle the challenge and I am more likely to come up with an effective solution.

This small but purposeful shift in perspective when working with others also makes a big difference in my leadership. I find that when I specifically start interactions with colleagues by asking myself, “what is right about this person?” or “what unique attribute or experience or information makes them successful?,” I am more open to new ideas and better able to move beyond the frustration I feel when things don’t go the way I expected!

Next time you feel stuck or overwhelmed, stay energized by asking, “What is right about me and what is right about the people on my team?”

Todd Thorsgaard

Leadership is a balancing act

My 16-year-old daughter Emma bounded into my bedroom and hopped on my bed where I was winding down for the night. “How was youth group?” I asked. “Great!” she replied. I asked her what made it great and she said that they talked about whether you can be a good friend by focusing more on truth or on love in your relationships. “Well, what did you learn?” I asked. “You can’t choose one or the other,” Emma said with a big smile, “you have to choose both!” She went on to say that you can’t just share a hard truth with a friend, you have to do it with care and concern….or with love. And conversely, you can’t just express care for someone and avoid telling them something that could help them, because it might be difficult.

Wow! That is one of the lessons I often share with leaders. Whether it is choosing truth and love, or candor and diplomacy, leadership is a balancing act. To be an effective leader, you often have to manage two seemingly opposite, but interdependent alternatives (aka polarities). Here are some examples of leadership polarities that all leaders must manage well:

  • Candor and Diplomacy
  • Guidance and Tolerance
  • Confidence and Humility
  • Grounded and Visionary
  • Structure and Flexibility
  • Control and Empowerment

With my own leadership, I find that I manage some of these polarities extremely well without having to think about it. It just comes naturally. You might look at the list above and come to the same conclusion about yourself.

With other polarities, I need to work harder on managing them. That’s the case with candor and diplomacy. I’m a pretty straightforward, frank person. I often favor candor over diplomacy, especially with those whom I know well. But I also recognize that if I choose to be brutally honest, it could break down trust with the people I lead at work.

At those times, when I am tempted to be overly candid, I recognize the need to pause and ask myself:

  1. How can I convey my concern or perspective while maintaining the relationship?
  2. What can I say that will help the recipient of my feedback feel valued?

On the other hand, I tend to use more diplomacy with those I know less well or who are positioned higher in an organization than I am. In some situations, I have found myself holding back from expressing an opinion. At those times, I need to ask myself:

  1. Am I holding back on sharing a valid viewpoint because I’m afraid of what that person will think of me?
  2. Will I erode trust with others, because they sense that I am not forthcoming with my opinion or with valuable information?

I know that to be truly effective as a leader I have to choose BOTH candor and diplomacy and manage them well.

When you look at the list of polarities above, is there one that seems to require more work from you to manage well?

If so, what questions can you ask yourself in order to manage it better?

To read more about polarities, see Barry Johnson’s work on polarities at:

In addition, our Talent Management team offers a half-day seminar on managing polarities: We wrapped up a seminar on polarities at Itasca Community College in November and will be scheduling another one in early 2013. We’ll keep you posted!

Anita Rios



To develop your leadership potential, take a bite of PIE

In my role as director of talent management, one of the most pleasurable things I get to do is coach leaders within our colleges and universities as they explore their career options, strengthen their leadership skill set, and interview for the many leadership opportunities that we have. As people prepare for taking that next step, it is often helpful to ask them think about their PIE.

What is PIE, you might ask? It’s a useful acronym that I was reminded of at a recent talk on strategic diversity leadership. PIE stands for Performance, Image, and Exposure.

Performance, of course, is the baseline for all leaders. When looking for leaders, we are always looking for those who have high performance and high potential. In the words of one of our senior leaders, “we are looking for rock stars!”

Here are some questions for you to consider with regards to performance:

  1. What are your strengths?
  2. What goals are you setting for yourself and how are you meeting them?
  3. What difficult or complex projects have you accomplished recently?
  4. Are you satisfied not only with what you’ve accomplished, but how you’ve accomplished it?
  5. How can you build upon your good performance to make it great?

Image is what you are known for.  It is the personal brand that you project based upon what you do, how you communicate what you do, and how you present yourself to the world. Ask yourself:

  1. What am I known for in my work community?
  2. What would my supervisor or others say about my knowledge, skills, and abilities?
  3. How am I using my expertise and my sphere of influence to be of service to others?
  4. Do I project an image of professionalism in my communications, both verbally and in writing?
  5. Am I trustworthy? Have I demonstrated reliability, respect, and competence to others?
  6. How am I managing first, second, and third impressions? Is there something in my personal appearance that might need to be updated?

Exposure is the opportunity to meet with internal and external leaders and groups who aren’t in your normal sphere of colleagues. Positive exposure can build your credibility quickly and open up leadership opportunities that may have been closed to you. Ask yourself:

  1. When was the last time I took a risk to speak to leaders or groups outside of my normal work sphere?
  2. What possible opportunities do I have in the future to: a) make a presentation; b) lead a project team; c) network with others?
  3. How might I initiate a conversation with my supervisor to create new job assignments that would increase my exposure?
  4. Is there a particular leader that I could ask about initiating a mentoring relationship?
  5. What current job openings are of interest to me and which ones should I apply to?

As I’ve coached others throughout the last week, whether it’s in improving their leadership performance or image, or increasing their exposure through interview preparation, I’ve thought about my own PIE. One of my strengths is that I’m an achiever and work to “get things done.” This was repeated back to me yesterday, when in a rush at the end of the day, I delivered a report, with many attachments to my supervisor. I told her that I was in a panic to get it done and turned in by the deadline we had set. She said, “I wasn’t worried about that Anita, you always meet your deadlines.” Whew! I walked away thinking, “that’s part of my personal brand.” That’s one thing down, now I have to keep working on exposure.

What parts of PIE resonate with you?

Anita Rios

Leadership is a skill

Leadership is a skill

As I was preparing for a three day leadership development program I facilitate I read a blog by Amy Gallow on How to Master New Skills (HBR Blog) and I was reminded that leadership is a skill that needs to be continually developed, not just learned one time.

Mastering any skill takes practice and leadership is no different. Yet, as leaders, it is often challenging to find the time to continually practice and develop your leadership skills. Gallow recommends that you;

  1. Start small.
  2. Be patient.
  3. Get the right help.

Small changes that you master and then consistently practice will have more impact on your leadership success than we often assume. Leadership development does not need to be a complicated and time-consuming activity. As a part of an international program to redesign healthcare I led a leadership development project that involved in-depth training and skill development for a group of leaders. Yet, when we surveyed over 350 of the people they supervised and asked them what had the greatest impact of their leader’s success they primarily listed simple actions their leaders took. What mattered most to them was the consistency and reliability of the action. In fact, the consistency of the behavior was more important than what the actual behavior was!

As a leader in higher education I know that increasing employee engagement is vital to being successful. While that can feel like an overwhelming skill to develop I have discovered that by starting small and focusing on using questions consistently with my team I have been able to increase my confidence and the feeling of engagement. I need to continually remind myself that practicing one small skill and actually using it consistently will have a much larger impact than focusing on a large change.

Second, you are not alone and you do not need to take this on by yourself. Who can you seek out on your campus that can provide leadership guidance, feedback and support? In the busyness of daily work it is easy to overlook resources and people who are willing and interested in helping you succeed. We just need to ask!

Todd Thorsgaard

It’s a small world

Last month a bus drove off a steep mountain cliff in Thailand. While the accident site is known for its fatality rate, in this case there were, miraculously, no deaths and few serious injuries.

Within a short time, I learned that the son of family friends had been on the bus and was OK. A few days later, I learned from friends in a small nonprofit that their office manager and her husband were also on the bus. (She was injured and is receiving excellent hospital care.)

The experience of having two unrelated groups of people expressing concern about an accident that happened on the other side of the world has me thinking about the global nature of leadership. Who are the people that connect this group? How did they build the global network that brings us together? How can I be a more global leader? How can I nurture my place in the broader educational community?

As we enter the final weeks of the semester and face one of the busiest and most hectic times of the year, I plan to be much more intentional about focusing on what is really important. I hope I can focus on the people and projects that matter to me and nurture my networks, rather than getting caught up in busywork or, worse, complaining about people who see things differently.

Sometimes the world is a very small place, and our impact can be very large.

Dee Anne Bonebright