Monthly Archives: September 2013

Navigating the future

Lao tzu 2

Of a good leader, who talks little,

When his work is done, his task fulfilled

They will all say, “We did this ourselves.”

–Lao Tzu (6th Century B.C.)

Our world in higher education is changing rapidly due to influences that include changing student demographics, changing technology, defunding of public higher education at the state and federal levels, and ever increasing levels of complexity in the workforce development needs of our state. Within the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, our chancellor charged three workgroups last year with addressing these challenges and setting  direction for:

  • The education of the future
  • The workforce of the future
  •  The system of the future (our network of 31 colleges and universities throughout the state)

The workgroups developed a set of recommendations called Charting the Future and all faculty, staff, and administrators have been asked to read it and provide feedback this fall. Charting the Future includes strategies to help us function more as a coordinated system, rather than a set of 31 autonomous institutions. It has a strong emphasis on working towards common objectives that are shared by all institutions. As I’ve been reading the set of recommendations, I’ve been asking myself: “what skill set will this require of our leaders in higher education?”

To accomplish the recommendations in Charting the Future, I think our leaders will need to be skilled at sharing leadership responsibilities and building partnerships across multiple institutions. They’ll need to be good at creating vision and engaging people in the process, so that they can be a part of it and can own it. They’ll need to value and leverage diversity and the richness it brings to our institutions. And in a time of increasing ambiguity, leaders will really need to be able to create structure where there is none.

In his book, Nobody in Charge (John Wiley & Sons, 2002), Harlan Cleveland states that he believes that there are four major attributes the leader of the future will need to have:

  • Energy to work hard, long hours. Future leaders will need to go the extra mile to study and learn cutting edge technology and information that will be needed to make good decisions.
  • Managing through consensus. With a wide range of people in charge of various aspects of the enterprise, future leaders will need the ability to include them all in the decision-making process.
  • Facing ambiguity with enthusiasm. Leaders of the future will need a personal disposition that is enthused, rather than daunted by choices and options. They will need to thrive on ambiguity to be successful.
  • Ability to guide rather than taking the reins solely in their own hands. They will need to be adept at influencing direction without necessarily mandating it.

I think Cleveland is spot on in his assessment. When you think about the challenges ahead in your environment, what skill sets do you think leaders will need to successfully navigate the future?

Anita Rios


Be a good one

“Whatever you are, be a good one.”

Abraham Lincoln, (1809-1865); 16th U.S. President

In looking for inspiration for this blog, I searched the internet for quotes on stewardship. This one by President Lincoln was included, and I really liked it. At first I wondered how it represented stewardship, but on reflection I think that if someone was trying to boil the concept down to its basic core, this might be the key.

I was reminded recently that the vast majority of spending in higher education goes to pay for faculty and staff – much more than any other expense, including buildings, technology, and other kinds of educational resources.  That means that as leaders in higher education, our greatest responsibility for stewardship is to help our people be at their best.

As Anita has already mentioned, investing in our own and others’ strengths is an important aspect of stewardship. That means I need to be sure I am well informed about my field and have the tools I need to be an effective leader. I need to understand the strengths of the people I work with and know how to help them use those strengths to contribute to our mutual goals. I need to be intentional about helping them to be good at their individual responsibilities.

Viewed in this light, professional development goes from “nice to do” to “essential” if I am going to be an effective steward of my institution’s resources.

Dee Anne Bonebright

Accountability and transparency

Powerful words, accountability and transparency. Add them to stewardship and you have a recipe for strong leadership. Marc Effron, co-author of One Page Talent Management, encourages us in the HR field to design our processes with accountability and transparency. I believe that that accountability and transparency can be a guide for all leaders in higher education for both the tactical and strategic aspects of stewardship.

At a basic level, leaders are accountable for developing a functional level of competency in finance and budgeting to ensure they are not misusing fiscal resources. In addition, leaders are accountable for prioritizing objectives and making the tough decisions that are required to allocate resources in alignment with the organizational mission and vision.

Transparency and communication comes into play on the people side of your leadership role. How you communicate your decisions ultimately determines how they work out! The priorities you set and the decisions you make have a direct impact on your people. On the resources they have available, the projects they are working on, their job or their colleague’s jobs, their work roles, or the  equipment they have. Their lives are changes and for them to rally around the changes and continue to perform they need clarity and transparency from you. Information on how decisions were made, what information was used, who was involved and, most importantly, how you will be supporting their success moving forward.

True stewardship as a leader requires transparent communication. Not only does it build strong relationships with your team, transparency will reinforce the mission of the organization, demonstrate priorities and help your team navigate the changes they are facing.

Todd Thorsgaard

Good stewardship builds public trust

coffeeLast month, I was meeting with a consultant who I’ve known for a few years over coffee to discuss some change management efforts.  Jokingly, he said “I’d buy your coffee for you, but I know that as a state employee you can’t receive any gifts.” I thanked him and said that in public higher education, I was used to paying my own way.

Actually, our employee code of conduct does allow for nominal gifts, which would include an occasional $1.60 cup of coffee. I chose not to disabuse my colleague of his notion by saying that he could indeed spring for a cup of coffee. I thought it more important that he was able to remain confident that any employee within the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities is held to a high standard and avoids conflict of interest at all costs….even $1.60. That incident also made me think how guidelines like our code of conduct really do help instill and maintain public trust.

When our newspapers are full of stories about organizations that break public trust, it’s critically important for leaders to remember that people are watching what you and your employees are doing. Adhering to an employee code of conduct is just another form of good stewardship.

Anita Rios

Taking the longer view

In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations. –Iroquois Nation Maxim

An important aspect of stewardship is to consider the legacy we are leaving for future generations.

Japanese GardenA few years ago a friend traveled to Japan. She told me about a park she visited there. It was celebrating the completion of its 100-year master plan, and was just now fulfilling the vision of its original designers.  The trees were grown, the rocks at the waterside were properly weathered, and visitors were able to enjoy the fulfilled vision for what the space could be.

In mainstream U.S. culture, long-term planning is often thought of in terms of five- or ten-year spans.  Higher education sometimes takes a longer view.  But there are few occasions when we stop to ask “what do we want to be in 100 years?”

This is an important question given the current pace of change in higher education. We often feel like we don’t know what the next few years will hold, or whether anything recognizable will remain when today’s toddlers are ready for college. Dealing with fast-paced change is important, but it’s also worth asking what needs to stay the same. That’s a great way to clarify our values and what is core to our mission.

I suspect, if MnSCU is to thrive for the next 100 years, we will still be providing an extraordinary education for all Minnesotans. We will be partnering with employers and communities. And we will be offering access to all at an affordable price.  We probably can’t even imagine what that will look like, but like the architects in the Japanese park, we need to think about which trees to plant and which boulders to place now so that the foundation is there for future generations to build upon.

Dee Anne Bonebright

Stewardship and innovation

Stewardship of resources is often viewed as a risk-mitigation responsibility; more of a management task focused on budgets, allocations, and reports. Leaders need to be able to manage their resources and must understand basic financial processes. At MnSCU we offer an online course for all our administrators titled, “Finance for the Non-Financial Administrator.” It helps leaders understand revenue calculations, expense estimates, operating budgets and financial reports.

The current challenges in higher education require a deeper look at stewardship. Stewardship as a strategic balancing of the resources you manage and the innovation required to meet the needs of all our learners. teeter_totter_art_orig_43PRBPZR

William E. Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, in his opinion piece in the April 15, 2013 Chronicle of Higher Education, pushes us to look for opportunities to use our resources differently:

Finally, in this era of constrained public support for higher education, we must vigorously pursue new teaching and learning paradigms that offer lower-cost means of delivering high-quality higher education. The capabilities made possible by new technological advances, combined with cognitive research into how today’s students learn, make “disruptive innovations” possible.

While still honoring the time-tested strategies that lead to quality.

 Yes, we must proceed carefully, making sure to maintain the quality of learning produced by these innovations. But we cannot ignore the potential that these technology-driven “disruptions” to traditional classroom instruction offer.

To succeed as a leader, a solid foundation of fiscal stewardship is your starting point. From there you have the opportunity to truly make a difference at your institution and in higher education with your stewardship.

Todd Thorsgaard

Invest in strengths

According to decades of Gallup data on leadership and studies of more than one million work teams, findings show that the most effective leaders invest in the individual strengths of their people.

In fact, findings show that when an organization’s leadership does not focus on individuals’ strengths, only 1 in 11 employees are engaged (9%). However, when an organizations’ leadership focuses on the strengths of its employees, engagement increases to 73%. This finding translates into significant productivity for any organization.

In higher education, this finding has even greater significance, since most of our costs are in the people we employ to deliver an extraordinary education to our students, whether it is in teaching, student services, information technology, facilities, or administration.  But, you might ask: what difference can I make to invest in strengths?

1royk3gebk-tz0kqjrkbdgIn their book, Strengths Based Leadership, Tom Rath and Barry Conchie, outline Gallup’s findings and provide resources to help leaders invest in their employees’ strengths, maximize their team, and understand their followers’ needs.

I am particularly grateful to work with a smart, hard-working, collaborative team. Every day I am glad that we each have opportunities to play to our strengths and to contribute to this enterprise to deliver an extraordinary education to all Minnesota State Colleges and Universities students. To me, hiring the best people and investing in their strengths is the epitome of good stewardship.

Anita Rios

Giving and taking

When we think of stewardship, we typically think about using our organization’s resources to help achieve its goals and priorities. We don’t think about giving them away.

giveandtakeIn his new book, Give and Take, psychologist Adam Grant makes an interesting argument that while giving resources away can be a path to disaster, it can also be a path to the biggest success. In this short video, he describes more about his findings.

Grant believes that most of us function in the workplace as “matchers” – we operate on a principle of reciprocity and fairness, building collaborations in which each party receives benefit from the relationship. A few people are “takers” who like to get more than they give, putting their own interests ahead of others and ahead of the organization.

On the other end of the spectrum are “givers” who help others without expecting anything in return and without assessing the personal costs. These people mentor others, share their intellectual capital, and put the interests of others ahead of their own. Grant says that this kind of behavior is common in personal relationships, but less common in the workplace.

Grant cited many studies in which professionals from a variety of fields were ranked according to their tendency to be givers, takers, or matchers. As you might expect, those with the least professional success tended to be givers. As salespeople, givers tended to be less aggressive. In negotiating salary, they tended to earn less income. They were even more likely to be victims of crime.

But here’s what’s interesting – givers were also more highly represented at the top of the success scales. As salespeople, they tended to have loyal repeat customers. Going out of their way to help others sometimes distracted them from short-term tasks, but it could also mean that they had strong and deep networks to deal with long-term priorities. As Grant noted, “although we often stereotype givers as chumps and doormats, they turn out to be surprisingly successful.”

One example of a giver is President Abraham Lincoln. Early in his political lincolncareer he withdrew from an election and handed his support to an opponent, even though he was leading, because he believed this move would be in the best interests of the state. When he finally became president, he invited the three Republican candidates that he defeated for the nomination to become members of his cabinet. Throughout his career, he is regarded as “one of the least self-centered, egotistical, and boastful presidents ever.”

Giving away resources without thought of return may not seem like good stewardship, but I believe that cultivating a giving mindset will be important to meeting the challenges identified in the MnSCU report on Charting the Future. I recently heard Chancellor Rosenstone discuss this report, and he very clearly said that we need to move from a pattern of competition among our colleges and universities to looking a new ways of working together as a system.

While reciprocity and matching are often appropriate, I think there will be times when we as leaders in MnSCU will need to lead by giving. Like President Lincoln, we may need to make choices that appear to be costly in the short run, but will lead to individual and organizational success in the future. I wonder what our organization could accomplish if all of its leaders became more intentional givers.

Dee Anne Bonebright

So many demands

Stewardship in higher education demands that we prioritize and direct the use of resources so that we can continue to provide access to our campuses, faculty and the learning they deliver. In her blog on Monday Anita shared the importance of stopping and thinking about the decisions we are making before we move forward. Today I want to share a tool that is a classic and powerful model that leaders can use to make decisions on the best way to use their time, commit resources under their control and, most importantly, guide the decisions their people make day to day.

Stephen R. Covey urged us to put “first things first” by focusing on what is truly important. As we decide where to allocate limited financial resources, negotiate the multiple competing demands leaders face and set goals with our team members this simple principle is even more valuable than when he shared in in “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, his first book.

time_managementTaking a moment to stop and prioritize based on your institutions’s mission and your goals for your team can help you know when to:

  1. Do it – now
  2. Decide when to do it even when it is not pressing
  3. Dump it
  4. Delegate it

Developing the discipline to proactively make choices, to be able to say no to the urgent demands leaders face that are not actually important to the mission of higher education and to help your people focus on the activities that are directly related to educating our students is stewardship.

Todd Thorsgaard

Stop and think

thinkingLast week, my team and I participated in a workshop on critical thinking, led by Judy Chartrand, one of the authors of the new book, Now You’re Thinking! As I was reflecting on what I learned last week, it was very apparent that improving my critical thinking skills can also help me be a better steward in managing the people, time, and money that has been entrusted to me as a leader.

In Now You’re Thinking!, the authors outline a 5-step thinking process to improve your thinking and decision-making. The first step: Stop and Think, was the most helpful concept for me. Oftentimes, as leaders we are faced with urgent situations and are asked to respond immediately. With the Stop and Think step, you literally stop and take time to reflect, asking questions like:

  • What am I trying to accomplish?
  • What is the organizational context?
  • Is the situation urgent?

This reflective pause is so helpful in making sure that your thinking and decision making  is grounded in your organizational goals.  It can also prevent you from launching head first into a reactive response that doesn’t align with your overall mission, and would be a waste of the resources (time, money, people) that you manage.

To learn more about the 5 steps to better critical thinking, I encourage you to pick up a copy of Now You’re Thinking!

Anita Rios