Monthly Archives: July 2015

Keeping the balls in the air, or not

This monthjuggle free to use we’ve been talking about managing tight resources and scarce demands. For leaders, it can feel a lot like a juggling act – and one that usually involves other people. Part of the challenge is to keep all the balls in the air. We’ve talked about time management, leveraging resources, dealing with stress, and other activities that can help leaders accomplish that.

Recently I dropped a ball. I reached the upper limit of my ability to multi-task and something just dropped to the ground. Made a loud crashing noise. Shattered into a lot lot of little pieces. Bang.

After partially recovering from the initial embarrassment I started thinking about mistakes as resources. Leadership literature talks about learning from mistakes and using them as growth opportunities. But that’s easier said than done. Mostly I just wanted it to go away.

The 99u blog suggested these steps to recover from a big mistake:

  1. Own the mistake, without blaming others
  2. Fix what you can, and tell your leader so they can help you deal with side effects
  3. Give a genuine apology to those affected
  4. Reflect on what happened and how you might have contributed
  5. Look for patterns and address the root cause
  6. Share what you learned

I worked my way through the steps, and this is want I learned. Mistakes can be painful, especially when it involves performing badly in front of other people. Not all of them are of the type where “that didn’t work but we learned from it so it’s all good.”

We have to do the best we can to fix it and then forgive ourselves and move on. Eventually we often do learn from it and become stronger leaders. Also, it helps to cultivate a sense of perspective. Without minimizing the inconvenience to other people, my mistake wasn’t really earth-shattering in the scheme of things. This Robert Fulghum quote says it well:

If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire, then you’ve got a problem. Everything else is an inconvenience. Life is inconvenient. Life is lumpy. A lump in the oatmeal, a lump in the throat, and a lump in the breast are not the same kind of lump. One needs to learn the difference. -Robert Fulghum

Dee Anne Bonebright


Leadership is not for the faint of heart

I am very excited to share a guest post today. I heard Dr. Christina Royal, Provost/VP of Academic Affairs at Inver Hills Community College, talk about a life changing practice she has adopted. Her heartfelt story impressed me and I am confident you will also find it valuable. Thank you Christina!

zen-stone-tower_Gkt0x1PdThere is Zen proverb that states: “You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day — unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.”

Leadership in today’s world is not for the faint of heart. The problems of today are more complex, we have fewer resources in which to address the challenges, and our public accountability to our students, our communities, the State, the Federal Government, and our accreditors is at an all-time high. We are all busy, but the problem is that busyness doesn’t necessarily lead to productivity; it can actually have the opposite effect.

Mindfulness and meditation are two tools that may help reduce the busyness and create an awareness that leads to increased performance.

According to a study highlighted in the Harvard Business Review, spending time on thinking and purposeful reflection, rather than solely working, led to greater productivity. Taking just 15 minutes at the end of your day to engage in mindful thought and reflection could lead to a more productive tomorrow.

Meditation may help with sustaining focus and attention to tasks. There was a study conducted in 2012 that studied how meditation training impacted the behaviors of individuals who were multi-tasking at work and found that “those trained in meditation stayed on tasks longer and made fewer task switches, as well as reporting less negative feedback after task performance” (Wobbrock, Kaszniak, & Ostergren, 2012).

While meditation may not solve all of your problems, there is research showing how meditation positively affects the brain. If you find that the stress of your job is overwhelming, you may want to consider experimenting with mindfulness or meditation to ease anxiety and improve focus.

Christina Royal

References and Additional Resources:

Di Stefano, G., Gino, F., Pisano, G, & Staats, B. (2014, April). Learning by thinking: How reflection improves performance. Retrieved from

Gina, F., & Staats, B. (2015, April). The remedy for unproductive busyness. Harvard Business Review [online]. Retrieved from

Headspace. (2015). How can mindfulness meditation improve your focus? Retrieved from

Levy, D., Wobbrock, J., Kaszniak, A. & Ostergren, M. (2012). The Effects of Mindfulness Meditation Training on Multitasking in a High-Stress Information Environment. Proceedings of Graphics Interface. 45-52.

MacLean, K. A., Ferrer, E., Aichele, S. R., Bridwell, D. A., Zanesco, A. P., Jacobs, T. L., Saron, C. D. (2010). Intensive Meditation Training Improves Perceptual Discrimination and Sustained Attention. Psychological Science. 21, 6. 829-839.

Walton, A. (2015, February). 7 Ways Meditation Can Actually Change the Brain. Retrieved from

Saying no with a greater yes in mind

Quotation-Steve-Jobs-say noIs it ever ok to say no to a good idea? As hard as it may be, the answer is yes.

Resources are limited. There are only 24 hours in a day, money doesn’t actually grow on trees, everyone has a life outside of work and, as we have talked about this month, leaders in higher education are facing shrinking financial support!

Despite knowing this reality many leaders have expressed how hard it is to say no, particularly to good ideas from their team. Making decisions and setting priorities leads them to “feel like the bad guy.” It is one of the toughest parts of being a leader.

A concept I learned long ago from Steven Covey and 7 Habits of Highly Effective People can help. Covey encourages leaders to identify the greater yes that is leading them to say no. Most times you are not saying that an idea is a bad idea but that energy and resources will add more value if you say yes to something else.

Taking the time to clearly describe what the “greater yes” is and how it will benefit students, stakeholders, or the team clarifies how you are setting priorities and making decisions. Focusing on what provides the most value and allowing yourself and your team members to say no, when there is a greater yes, can help keep work manageable and lead to higher performance.

What is your greater yes for your team or organization?



Time management in higher ed

clock free to useOne of the scarcest resources for leaders in higher education is time. At any given moment, we are usually balancing, at the least, something that needs to be done immediately, something that someone else is waiting for, an upcoming meeting, and several urgent emails. That doesn’t even count making steps toward the important goals that keep sliding to the back burner.

According to Microsoft Education, time management means that a leader “uses his or her time effectively and efficiently; concentrates his or her efforts on the most important priorities; and adeptly handles several tasks at once.”  If you haven’t checked out their competency model for education leaders, it’s worth a visit. The time management description includes questions for self-reflection and applicant interviews, a bibliography, and suggested development activities to include on a professional development plan. Here’s an example of self-assessment questions:

  • When reviewing my daily and weekly schedule, do I allot ample time for the important and balance it with the urgent?
  • What future needs and events must I incorporate now into my long range plan?
  • Am I committed to saying “no” to extraneous requests or to asking the requester to choose what they would like me to cancel or delay in favor of their request?
  • Am I committed to staying on track with my schedule, cutting conversations or tasks short where necessary to move on?
  • Am I scheduling my time too tightly, not providing opportunity for personal interaction with others?
  • What tasks can I delegate to someone else?

The Chronicle of Higher Education published an essay focused on time management for new professors. It had some useful tips for all of us, including:

  • Be strategic about accepting committee work. Consider checking with your department head or a senior faculty member before accepting committee roles. In addition to having someone who can help protect your time, it also allows you breathing room to consider the request.
  • Make time to write (or address other back burner items). Break the task into small steps and schedule them in your planner. If possible, give yourself due dates such as presenting the concept to the leadership team at the spring retreat.
  • Develop time management go-to tricks.  The article described his strategies for course prep. What tasks do you do often, and what shortcuts can you use routinely?
  • Prioritize early and often.  Use some form of planner and include time for yourself, lunch with colleagues, and other activities that are flexible, but important. For example, I usually spend the last few minutes of each day reviewing my plans for tomorrow.

What do you do that  helps you manage your time effectively?

Dee Anne Bonebright

Leading with shrinking resources

shrinking resourcesby guest blogger Kathy Hanon

In higher education, “shrinking resources” has become a topic of conversation in the board room, the break room, and the classroom. While there are many ideas about what to do and what not to do, here are four elements to consider that are central to any management strategy.

Think about the students. What impact will shrinking resources have on your students? Will it mean that their costs rise which could reduce their ability to complete their education in the time they’ve planned? What about advisors, counselors and other services students rely on to succeed? Will these services be reduced so as to lose meaning? How will this play out in the classroom? Will students become stressed and overwhelmed? Will they disappear or disconnect? Being mindful of these possibilities and making choices to mitigate the negative impact on students should be the first thing a leader in higher education considers.

Think about the staff and faculty. What about the employees? What about those advisors and counselors; the staff that provide secretarial, janitorial, and food services; the instructors in the classroom? Even if their job is ‘safe’, they could be asked to serve more students, spending less time and effort on each engagement in order to increase their ‘productivity.’  Being mindful of the impact that shrinking resources has on employee morale and making choices that provide some measure of emotional support is critical to being a successful higher education leader.

Think about the college/university. We must not forget the ‘organism’ in which our students and our faculty and staff co-exist: the college/university campus. What happens to our campus when our resources shrink? Facilities grow stale, tired and less safe. We are unable to provide the cutting edge classrooms our students need and desire; our infrastructure weakens and we become vulnerable to risks. Being mindful that maintaining and growing the quality of our facilities while reducing financial and physical risk elements is critical to the long-term health of our colleges and universities.

Think about the community. What role does your campus play in the community? Are you a core jobs provider and the primary source of higher education options for your youth? What is your role within the business community? Being mindful of your role as a community partner will have an impact on the kinds of decisions you must make as a leader in higher education.

As leaders in higher education, we must be prepared to work hard to balance the interests we serve when making the difficult decisions required by our reality of shrinking resources.

Kathy Hanon,  System Office Budget Director, Financial Planning and Analysis, MnSCU; Luoma Leadership Academy graduate (2011-2012 cohort)

Kathy works with Minnesota State College and Universities system office leadership and staff to provide information, advice and assistance about managing fiscal resources efficiently, with a focus on students, staff/faculty, campuses and community.

Stressed employees?

stressAccording to a 2013 study conducted by American Psychological Association, more than one-third of American workers experience chronic work stress. It’s no wonder that with many organizations trying to “do more with less” that it often translates into heavier workloads for employees and higher stress levels.

But what can you do to alleviate workload stress for your employees? Here are some excellent strategies from the University of St. Andrews that leaders can employ:

  • Monitor workload and refuse additional work when your team is under pressure
  • Set realistic deadlines
  • Foster a problem solving approach
  • Developing action plans and plan/forecast workloads
  • Review processes to identify improvements
  • Provide training when needed
  • Promote task rotation/job enrichment
  • Identify additional resources that can be brought in such as temporary or part-time help

Additionally, they identified unhelpful management strategies that you will want to avoid (or stop) doing:

  • Delegate work unequally
  • Create unrealistic deadlines
  • Listen, but don’t take action
  • Demonstrate lack of consistency in approach or indecisiveness
  • Panic instead of planning workflow and deadlines
  • Stay oblivious or unaware of team pressures

What has worked for you in monitoring and managing workload stress for those you lead?

Anita Rios


Doing “real” work

I recently ran across a book with the title Fake Work: Why People Are Working Harder than Ever but Accomplishing Less, and How to Fix the Problem. I have to confess that it went on my “so many books, so little time” pile. That probably says a lot right there.

mtg free to useThe idea of “fake” work is very compelling when we think about managing resources effectively.  According to Forbes author Dean Duncan, this work can be well intentioned, and it can lead to a lot of hard effort, but it is not clearly linked to an organization’s goals and objectives. It’s easy to think of examples in higher education – staff meetings that are held only because it’s tradition, collaborative meetings to decide on something that could have been delegated to a few experts,  travel time to in-person events that could have been held electronically, or reports that are generated even though the metrics are outdated.

Duncan provides some tips for ensuring that we as leaders, and the people we work with, are focusing on “real” work.

  1. Be strategic. Position descriptions and work assignments should clearly describe how the task is contributing to the organization’s purpose.
  2. Use meaningful metrics. Everyone should be on the same page about what success looks like and how it will be measured.
  3. Monitor busy-ness. When people are unclear about priorities, they can spend a lot of effort and energy on the wrong things. What has been done in the past that no longer needs to happen? Where are people doing lots of activity without generating concrete results?
  4. Communicate. A lot.  Treat communication as a key part of everyone’s role. Seek feedback to be sure you were understood and that you understand others.
  5. Understand yourself and others. The more you know about your own work style and that of your team members, the easier it will be to recognize tendencies to generate fake work.

If there is no clear link to strategy, no one is paying attention to outcomes, and it’s hard to figure out what you accomplished even though it took a long time — then consider whether the task needs to be done, or at least whether it can be done with fewer resources.

What’s an example of fake work that you’ve seen? How did you manage it?

Dee Anne Bonebright



Keeping people engaged in service work

If you’ve been in higher education for any length of time, you know that we rely heavily on service work to accomplish goals and objectives. From search committees for hiring to task forces for high priority projects and college or system-wide efforts, we need the collaborative effort of faculty, staff, and often students to get things done in the Academy.

Unfortunately, in times where  we are all asked to do more with less, I’ve found that it can be tough to recruit volunteers for service efforts. Employees feel pressed for time and are increasingly selective about how they use it. 

Talent Management Steering Committee

Talent Management Steering Committee

Since I began my work at the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities ten years ago, I’ve been fortunate to work with an 18-20 person steering committee that guides how we actively manage and develop our talent within our system.

I’ve noticed a trend in the last couple years with more members cycling off of the committee before their term ends due to lack of time. Often I hear that folks are taking on more responsibilities on their home campus as their institutions are trying to do more with less, so they have less time to contribute to service work.

In an effort to learn more about how leaders can better retain faculty and staff on service efforts, I asked a few members of my steering committee why they choose to serve on efforts outside their primary role and what keeps them engaged. Here’s what they said:

When something is a critical need for the institution, and it doesn’t look like we can meet the need, I will make the time,” said Michael Berndt, Chief Academic Officer for Century College,  “I will also make the time when I see a direct benefit to students.” Kristina Keller, Dean of Business and IT at St. Cloud Technical and Community College, said it is more about “filling her bucket.” Since her job focuses on so many details, she likes contributing to service work that helps her “see the big picture or set strategy.”  Mary Nienaber, Chief Human Resources Officer for Century College, says that she likes to focus on work with that “will improve things, move something forward,  and in short DO something.”

When asked what committee chairs and project leaders can do to keep them engaged in the work, here is what they advised:

  • Communicate goals. What is the goal for the committee and/or task force? Help people understand the larger picture and how they might fit in. Michael adds, “Continually tell me the story of my committee’s or project’s work. Here is what we did, here is what we need to do, and here is how it fits to the goals of the institution.”
  • Define roles and responsibilities. What are you asking from members? Clearly defining member roles and responsibilities helps them to know their parameters.
  • Clarify expectations! Let folks know what is needed and when it is needed. Discuss timelines and due dates, then hold them accountable to meet the expectations and report on their work. Kristina adds, “I need a clear understanding of the expectations and responsibilities before and during the work.”
  • Conduct organized meetings. Send out meeting reminders and agendas in advance. Let people know in advance what they will be reporting on. Mary says, “Be organized! One of the reasons I’ve stayed so long [on this committee] is that is planned out well in advance, a reminder is sent, and we are accountable to get something done.”
  • Use time-saving technology. When possible, use online meetings to reduce time and travel for committee members who would need to travel hours for an in-person meeting.
  • Celebrate milestones and recognize accomplishments. Keeping track of milestones and acknowledging completion of projects reinforces accountability. Kristina said, “I think setting and reaching milestones in a project keep me going…this ongoing sense of accountability with with recognition of accomplishment and completion are motivating to me.”

When I asked what made their service worthwhile, I learned that all three wanted to know that their contribution has made a difference.

Mary said that “there are too many committee or work groups that plod along without a clear objective, spend years “gathering information” only to decide the topic is being handled by all the sources “discovered” in the research…which means it wasn’t necessary in the first place!”  In addition to making a difference, Kristina said that the work must be “aligned with something I am passionate about.” Michael said, “We are so tremendously busy, so we need to make all our time meaningful.”

In your experience, what keeps people engaged in important service work?

Anita Rios


Get Lean!

Glass-half-empty-half-fullAre you a glass half full or a glass half empty type of person? Do you see great opportunities for making significant change in higher education over the next few years or does it feel like the decrease in funding and financial instability will rob us of our ability to educate our students?

However you answer it is clear that higher education leaders need to be stewards of diminishing resources while providing hope and opportunity to their communities and to our society. This demands that we identify the crucial and eliminate the unnecessary. Or as the old saying goes, “doing more with less.”

While this is a daunting task one concrete place to start is to think LEAN.

Lean thinking asks leaders to fully engage the people on their team and identify how and where they make the greatest contribution to student success and, as importantly, what obstacles or inefficiencies exist in their day-to-day work. It focuses on the work flows and work processes that support higher education and applies a rigorous examination of how valuable each step in the process is and what is getting in the way of your people and making it harder to do their jobs!

A colleague of mine, Theresa Waterbury, wrote a book titled, Educational Lean:Theory and Practice. It provides an introduction to lean thinking and hands-on examples of how to make changes in your workplace. A simple way to start thinking lean is to ask your team the following questions – do this both with your whole team and with individuals:

• What things keep you from doing your work?
• What is something you should not have to do?
• What would make your work easier?
• What would make your work more satisfying?
• What would improve the skills and capabilities of those who work for you?
• What would improve your work environment?
• What would make you more successful in your job?

We can’t magically change the national economy or print more money but leaders can help ensure that the work they are doing and the work of their team is focused and efficient by thinking lean.

Todd Thorsgaard


For more information on Lean Thinking in Higher Education check out the following resources:

Constanta Maritime University Annals, Vol. 18, 2012.





When is it good enough?


“Perfect is the enemy of good.”  When I looked up this quote, I was mildly surprised to discover that Voltaire said it in 1770. Apparently the problem has been around for a long time.

It’s still important today when we talk about managing tight resources and increasing demands. For many leaders, there is a temptation to take everything to that last final level of excellence rather than stopping when something is good enough.  According to sources ranging from Psychology Today to the Workplace Insanity blog, this causes several problems:

  1. We can end up with a solution that is less effective. Often it’s better to get something out there in a timely manner than to delay by seeking that last 20% of excellence. General George Patton is quoted as saying that “a good plan implemented today is better than a perfect plan implemented tomorrow.”
  2. We can end up dithering. Excessive reworking can spiral into time wasting activity with little return. In extreme cases, we can even set something that’s “almost ready” aside for another look and never get back to it.
  3. We can lose perspective. Nothing is ever perfect, and the more we seek it the more we can lose track of what the goal was in the first place.

let it goAs the Psychology Today post points out, recognizing when rework leads to diminishing returns is challenging. It’s also an important leadership skill for ourselves and the teams we lead. Here’s a lighthearted reminder: the most outside-of-the-box rendition of the song Let it Go that I could find. You might want to save the link and play it back when you start getting stuck in rework.

What other strategies have helped keep you from getting caught up in the search for perfection?

–Dee Anne Bonebright