Monthly Archives: April 2015

Listening authentically

listeningIn last week’s blog, I personally committed to working on my listening skills. To tamp down that automatic urge I have for interrupting someone before they have finished what they are saying. And to listen fully, without formulating a response in my head while they are talking. I’ve been doing pretty well with my resolution over the week, but it’s amazing how quickly those resolutions to listen authentically can devolve when someone comes to you with a conflict situation and emotions are charged.

Last month at a professional development event, Karmit Bulman, executive director of the Conflict Resolution Center, shared a helpful 3-step strategy for listening and reflecting to someone who comes to you with a conflict.

Step 1: Ask the person to share the details of the conflict, problem, or issue with you.

Step 2: Listen carefully, without making judgments or giving advice.

Step 3: Reflect what you heard back to the individual. First, reflect the feelings that you observed, summarize the facts, and state the values you heard being confronted in the conflict.

Here’s an example of what that 3-step process might look like in action:

A student comes into your office upset about a bad experience with their advisor. Rather than going straight into advice mode, you listen carefully, ask for any pertinent details, and then begin reflecting. You might say:

“I can see you are angry and you feel frustrated by your last interaction with your advisor. You expected to have an advisor who could support your career goals and give you constructive advice on which courses to take next semester. Instead he told you that girls often don’t like the science required in your major and that you should consider a different career path. This threatened your sense of competence and your identity as a young woman.” 

While as a leader, you may follow-up responsibilities in this scenario, it is important to first listen authentically. The student then feels both that you have heard and understood her and are willing to help her move forward with an action plan for next steps to resolve the conflict.

During a professional development event, we actually practiced this 3-step process and it was amazing how it both diffused the emotions and improved my ability to listen authentically. The process of summarizing the facts lets the individual know that you really have been listening and paying attention to them. But more important, the addition of reflecting the feelings that you observed and the values that have been confronted, helps that person to feel heard. It affirms their experience and makes it possible to sort out emotion, so that you can help them move forward.

What tools have helped you to listen authentically?

Anita Rios


What does authentic leadership mean?

“The point is not to become a leader. The point is to become yourself, and to use yourself completely – all your gifts, skills and energies – to make your vision manifest. You must withhold nothing. You must, in sum, become the person you started out to be, and to enjoy the process of becoming.”
— Warren Bennis, On Becoming a Leader

thisIbelieveLooking for inspiration on authentic leadership, I visited the public radio web site, This I Believe. It includes over 125,000 essays in which people from all walks of life describe their core values. The quote above was mentioned several dozen times.

Why does that quote strike a nerve? It doesn’t say the things that you’d expect to hear in an essay about effective leadership. But somehow people find Bennis’ words inspiring when developing their own leadership style. Here are some reflections from their essays:

  • “I have been told that I am a natural leader and somebody to look up to. I have also been told if my heart is not in the goal, my leadership skills lack.”  (Jackson)
  • “There’s nothing wrong with trying to improve one’s skillset or work on an area that isn’t quite up to par. However, simply copying a successful leader isn’t leadership and it isn’t how those leaders got to where they are today.” (Gabriel)
  • “I do think that leaders often forget that they are ordinary people too, who also need constant guidance and seek for opportunities to learn.” (Murray)
  • “It is hard for a young, motivated individual to enjoy a process of becoming… If I use what I have learned so far in my life and have a positive attitude towards new ideas and different beliefs, I can be a more successful and effective leader.” (Elise)
  • “I am learning each day that it takes a strong person with a strong personality to become a leader. You have to hold fast in what you believe, but you also have to be able to let pride not get in the way.” (Rafeeq)
  • “To me, the best leaders are not sitting in an executive chair, or speaking in front of crowds. They are the people so dedicated to their cause that people can’t help to notice. This, I believe, is the leader I’m striving to become.” (Joshua)

Some of the  people who wrote these essays were formal leaders. Others were students or young professionals exploring what leadership means in their lives. But they all agreed that leadership involves more than a particular set of skills – it’s about how you show up. Livonia summarized authentic leadership well: “There is no easy road and no organized, detailed instruction guide that explains how you should become yourself; it is up to each of us to be who we really are and understand it in our efforts to become a leader.”

What does authentic leadership mean to you?

Dee Anne Bonebright

It isn’t always easy….

confrontation“How do I say this?” or, “Do I really have to say this?”  are two challenging questions we face when we need to talk straight and demonstrate concern as Anita described in her last post on the five touchstones of Authentic Leadership.

It is not easy for most of us to express ourselves authentically when it involves sharing tough messages with people close to us. Yet as Susan Scott describes in her book, Fierce Conversationsit is these specific interactions, the ones that require the most courage, that establish your credibility and authenticity. Luckily with practice and dedication we can get more comfortable initiating these “courageous conversations.”

Elise Chambers from the Conflict Resolution Center of Minnesota shared a seven- step protocol for courageous conversations at a conference I attended recently. It can help you speak candidly, listen respectfully and search for solutions, even in the most contentious situations.

  1. Prepare yourself – do your homework and clarify your intentions before you start.
  2. Create the needed space and time for the emotions and the importance the conversation requires – this clarifies expectations, creates transparency and facilitates two-way dialogue.
  3. Acknowledge the Four Agreements* – stay engaged, speak your truth, experience discomfort, and expect and accept non-closure.
  4. Focus on shared interests and a positive future outcome – the conversation is not about assigning blame.
  5. Work to discover possibilities in the shared interests – assume that there is a mystery to be embraced and a positive resolution ahead.
  6. Plan the action to take next – courageous conversations focus on outcomes and actions rather than identifying what not to do.
  7. Review and recap – take the time to clarify outcomes, acknowledge how difficult the conversation was, and highlight positive steps.

Leaders may not relish friction, but courageously and respectfully having the conversations that are needed demonstrates your ability to stay true to your values and get results – as an authentic leader.

Todd Thorsgaard

* Additional information can be found in the previous blog  Sparks before collaboration


How do you show up in the world?

reflection penguin“Leaders must attend to one key growth question: How authentically am I showing up in the world and my organization?”     –Tom Gegax

How are you showing up in the world and your organization? When was the last time you paused to reflect on this question? For me, I know I can often get so overscheduled and busy getting the work done, that I don’t often think about HOW I am getting it done. How am I interacting with my team and other colleagues? Is it in an authentic way?

Am I communicating in a genuine, honest way with others? Are my messages congruent? Am I listening openly and valuing the feedback of others? Is my behavior aligned with my purpose and values?

As DeeAnne shared in her last blog, most leaders don’t ever set out to be inauthentic, it just happens from lack of reflection or lack of purposeful practice. Another resource that I’ve found helpful is Kevin Cashman’s: Leadership from the Inside Out  (1999). Written in a workbook style, meant to help you with reflective practice in your leadership journey, Cashman outlines what he’s observed as the five touchstones of authentic leadership:

  1. Know yourself authentically: Invest in becoming self aware. How well do you know your strengths and weaknesses? Even more important, what is your core purpose and the values that underlay that purpose? If you want to be more effective with others, you need to know yourself first.
  2. Listen authentically: As Stephen R. Covey succinctly put it: “Seek to understand first, then to be understood.” This is a tough one. How often do you really hear what another person is saying and feeling, without filtering it first with assessments, opinions, and judgments? Authentic listening can help you be open to purpose and learning from others and can create a platform for synergy and team effectiveness.
  3. Express authentically: This is more than just communicating honestly, it’s really about communicating from the heart in a way that demonstrates straight talk combined with concern for people. Cashman explains that it can be helpful to ask yourself these questions when communicating: Am I authentically expressing my requests? Am I authentically fulfilling my promises?
  4. Appreciate authentically: Cashman says that “as leaders, we do too much and appreciate too little.” Have you ever been appreciated too much? Most likely not! Look for what is going well and celebrate the good things with your team. Appreciation energizes people and makes people want to exceed their goals.
  5. Serve authentically: As Cashman points out, leadership is actually a continuum of service. We serve our organization. We serve our people. We serve our students. We serve our community. Ask yourself, how do you want to be of service? As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said,  “Life’s most urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others.’ “

When you look at these five touchstones, which ones come naturally to you? Which ones are more of a struggle? For me, appreciation comes easily, it’s something that was reinforced by my parents growing up. But listening authentically is more challenging.

This month I’m going to commit to listening openly to others and tamping down that urge to formulate an immediate response. I’m hoping that it will improve how authentically I show up in the world.

What can you do this month to strengthen how authentically you show up in the world?





Developing your authentic leadership

In a court ruling on obscenity, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously said “I know it when I see it.”  Some things are hard to define, but clear in practice. Authentic leadership can be like that.

mirrorOne of the best definitions I know is from Bill George’s Authentic Leadership. I had a chance to hear him speak soon after publishing this book, and one comment particularly stuck with me. He cited examples of leaders who were in the news for a variety of dishonest activities, and said he didn’t believe that such people woke up one morning and decided “today I’m going to be unethical.”  Rather, he said it’s a gradual process of moving away from one’s core values and beliefs – of forgetting to be an authentic leader.

So what does authentic leadership look like?  Here are some of the qualities Bill George proposed:

  • They develop their natural leadership abilities, and also work to overcome their shortcomings
  • They know where they stand and lead with purpose, meaning, and values
  • They build enduring relationships and lead with their hearts as well as their heads
  • They are consistent and self-disciplined
  • They don’t compromise their core principles

On Wednesday Todd quoted from this HBR blog post. One of the things I like about this article is that it provides suggestions for developing this kind of authentic leadership. Here are some themes from the authors’ research:

  1. Understand your life story and how it influences your leadership
  2. Continually strive for self-awareness
  3. Practice your values and principles routinely so they can stand up under pressure
  4. Understand your intrinsic and extrinsic motivations
  5. Build a support team
  6. Integrate the various aspects of your life (home, work, community, etc.)
  7. Develop authentic leadership in others

This list can seem daunting, but it’s not a checklist that can be completed and marked off.  It’s an ongoing approach to leadership and personal growth. As Bill George said, “becoming a leader takes a lifetime of personal growth.*”

What activities do you practice to promote your authentic leadership?

Dee Anne Bonebright

* Authentic Leadership, page 12.

Leading authentically

“No one can be authentic by trying to imitate someone else. You can learn from others’ experiences, but there is no way you can be successful when you are trying to be like them. People trust you when you are genuine and authentic, not a replica of someone else.” Discovering Your Authentic Leadership. Harvard Business Review, February 2007.

I am always heartened when I review the literature on authentic leadership. It is reaffirming to remind myself that successful leaders can “be themselves.” It is also daunting because it highlights the importance of clarifying and challenging my deeply held values and expectations of myself!

During the month of April we will be focusing on Authentic Leadership: what it means, why it is important in today’s ever-changing work environment and how to “discover your own authentic leadership.”

Striving to be an authentic leader requires work and constant attention, yet it is also energizing to clarify why we do what we do and how we can do it better. This month each of us will have the opportunity to focus on our own:

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Transparency in relationships
  3. Balanced and fair interactions
  4. Purpose for actions

Leading with authenticity allows us to bring out the best in ourselves and in the people we lead.

As Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself.  Everyone else is taken.”

Todd Thorsgaard