Monthly Archives: December 2015

Each one, reach one

 Best of 2015, first published on May 4, 2015
I spent most of the weekend shopping to get that “perfect” gift for friends, family, and co-workers. It’s the holiday season. The season where many of us are expressing our appreciation and care for friends and family through gift giving. It made me reflect that one of the most perfect gifts we can give another person is to be a mentor and provide a listening ear and sound advice. Is there someone in your workplace who could benefit from your mentoring? I challenge you to add just one more gift to your giving list this season – the gift of mentoring.
–Anita Rios

mentor 2“Mentoring brings us together – across generation, class, and often race – in a manner that forces us to acknowledge our interdependence, to appreciate, in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words, that ‘we are caught in an inescapable  network of mutuality, tied to a single garment of destiny.’ In this way, mentoring enables us to participate in the essential but unfinished drama of reinventing community, while reaffirming that there is an important role for each of us in it.” – Marc Freedman

Over the last couple weeks, I’ve been involved in several conversations about the value of mentoring in helping underrepresented faculty, staff, and students feel included and welcome in our campus communities. Not surprisingly, good mentoring helps ALL employees feel supported and valued and promotes their success. I was reminded of this very fact when I met with my mentor last week to discuss recent challenges I’ve faced in my work and strategies for moving forward. Not only did I walk away from that meeting with better perspective and some concrete next steps I could take, but I left feeling more supported and valued.

In talking with colleagues, I’ve been able to identify some successful mentoring efforts happening at a few of our colleges, like a faculty mentoring program or teaching circles that help new faculty build relationships while learning from each other. Or a buddy program that pairs new employees with experienced employees to help introduce them to the campus, its culture, and people they should know.

Most colleagues, however, talked about the challenges of starting and maintaining mentoring programs.  Colleagues who have started formal matched mentoring programs, experience about a 50% or lower success rate, in terms of mentors-mentee pairs who continue to meet and find value from the relationship over time. Probably more troubling, was a colleague who mentioned that with his campus mentoring program there are far more people who want to be mentored, than there are those who are willing to be mentors.

It made me think about what would happen if we began fostering a mentoring culture on our campuses. Much like the “each one, teach one” literacy campaigns around the nation to help k-12 students, why couldn’t we begin an “each one, reach one” campaign, where every employee reaches out to mentor someone else?

Perhaps this is a pie in the sky idea. But given the benefits that could result from mentoring, like making all faculty, staff, and students feel included and welcomed, and supporting their success, wouldn’t it be worth a try?

Anita Rios

Why respect matters

Best of 2015, first published on October 30, 2015
As I’m writing this I can see the NPR news crawl out of my office window. It’s filled with stories about people talking disrespectfully about other people and other groups. Showing respect continues to be an important way for us  as leaders to reach out to our students, faculty, staff, and community.

–Dee Anne Bonebright

respect effectAs you read this I’ll be at the Academic and Student Affairs leadership conference. One of the breakout sessions that Todd and I are leading is loosely based on The Respect Effect by Paul Meshanko.

Respect and its opposites, bullying and incivility, have been a hot topic in higher education for the past 10 years or so. What is it about respect that’s so important to shaping organizational culture?

First, as we pointed out in the breakout session, a culture of respect is more inclusive and allows people with different backgrounds and viewpoints to bring their best.

Second, students and staff who feel respected are more engaged. They are more likely to share their ideas, contribute their thoughts, and work collaboratively.

In addition, Meshanko’s research has shown that people have different cognitive responses to respect and to incivility. Those who show respect are viewed as potential collaborative partners, while those who display incivility or bullying are viewed, naturally enough, as threats.

Meshanko provides 12 rules for demonstrating respect.  Those that are especially important for academic leaders include:

  • Develop a curiosity about the perspective of others
  • Assume everyone is smart about something
  • Look for opportunities to connect with and support others
  • When you disagree, explain why
  • Balance the time you spend talking and the time you spend listening

These actions seem common-sense, but I have found that they can be improved with time and attention.  What other ways have you developed to show respect?

Dee Anne Bonebright

The never ending debate?

Best of 2015, first published on March 4, 2015
As the title suggests this dilemma cannot be vanquished but only revisited and managed – not solved!
–Todd Thorsgaard

disagreeEver since we could argue it seems as if people have been debating the merits of working for the common good or working for individual success and survival. Thomas Hobbes, the philosopher, wrote in 1651 that we needed government to enforce behaviors that support the common good. The economist Adam Smith argued in 1776 that we must establish a free economic market to ensure that the common good wins. Otherwise the power of individual success will win.

The Selfish GeneI first got involved in this debate as a behavioral biology student in 1976 when Richard Dawkins published one of my favorite books, The Selfish Gene. At the time it was described as “the most thrilling stretches of explanatory writing ever penned. It’s breathtaking.” Dawkins continued the scientific debate that is occurring today: is it better to act for the common good or is it better to act for the good of the individual?

While this debate has fueled many wonderful conversations and arguments on college campuses, during long car trips, or at the local bar it highlights a dilemma that all leaders face. Do I focus on the success of my team and our services or do I focus on the success of the larger organization, even if it hurts my team or my success?

What if there isn’t a “right” answer and instead it is actually a polarity that you can leverage? In her 2014 post, Leveraging polarities,  Anita introduced the concept of polarity thinking as a tool for leaders to use when facing these types of ongoing dilemmas. A recent article from the Polarity Partnership Group highlights the need to recognize the benefits of supporting the common good AND supporting your team while also acknowledging and acting on the downside of the common good AND the downside of team-focused success.

Over the next month we will be sharing tips and tools you can use to reap the benefits of focusing on the common good in your organization. Yet, in today’s complex environment we must also follow F. Scott Fitzgerald’s advice and “hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” It isn’t a debate between the common good and the good of your team, it is a polarity of the common good and the good of your team.

Todd Thorsgaard

Small choices to improve well being

Best of 2015, first published on January 14, 2015
Given the busy holiday season, and my own tendencies to do too much (not to mention overindulge in spending and eating), I thought this blog post was a good reminder. We can all make small choices to improve our well being, whether it is through getting that extra hour of sleep, eating more veggies, or just fitting in a 10-minute walk or stretch in your schedule. 

–Anita Rios

As leaders, I think we all know intuitively that we need to pay attention to our own health and wellness in order to be at the top of our game. However, making healthy choices, whether it involves eating well, exercising, or getting adequate sleep, can take a back seat to the busy work and life demands of a leader.

eat move sleepFor leaders looking for some good ideas to improve their well being, I can recommend Tom Rath’s recent book Eat Move Sleep.  You may recognize Tom as the grandson of the founder of StrengthsFinder and a bestselling author and leadership expert in his own right. What you may not know is that Tom has been quietly managing a serious illness for more than 20 years. I was surprised to hear him speak last year at a national conference and tell about his long battle with cancer and his resulting quest to keep himself alive through nutrition, exercise, and rest. His new book is a result of wide range of information he has collected on the impact of eating, moving, and sleeping.

His main point is that small choices can lead to big changes, especially as you make good decisions automatic by building them into habits.

I’ve experienced the small choices/big changes effect first hand. Over the last year, while trying to manage the effects of chronic facial pain, I made a couple of small choices to improve my overall sense of wellbeing. I decided to exercise more in hopes of increasing endorphins to manage my pain. More specifically, I challenged myself to exercise a minimum of 30 minutes per day. To make this happen, I also committed to utilizing the workout facility in our office building over my lunch hour and I bought a used stationary bike at home for days when I can’t get outside to exercise.

Those choices meant no longer scheduling lunch meetings when I could avoid it and scheduling time on my calendar for exercise either at work or at home. It has now become automatic for me and I’m seeing some additional health benefits as a result, like stress reduction and maintaining a healthy weight.

What small choices might you consider to make big changes in your well being?

Anita Rios

Teamwork and mistakes

Best of 2015, first published on February 4, 2015
As leaders, how we handle mistakes – our own and our team members’ – sends a strong message about the workplace climate. This post provided some helpful steps for addressing the mistakes that inevitably occur.

–Dee Anne Bonebright

If we aren’t making mistakes, then we likely aren’t trying enough new things outside our comfort zone, and that in itself is a mistake.  — Amy Reese Anderson

One of the challenging truths about leadership is that people are looking at our example to set the workplace climate.  And nowhere is that more true than in managing mistakes. It’s easy to say “this is a safe place to make mistakes.”  It’s more challenging to make sure our coworkers and team members feel supported to take risks, even when it doesn’t work out as planned.

mistakeAmy Reese Anderson wrote an article in Forbes online that provided some helpful tips for creating a climate in which individuals and teams can make mistakes safely. As leaders, we can:

  1. Identify the areas of our work where mistakes can occur without causing significant damage to the organization’s mission and vision. Allow employees freedom in those areas, and provide more oversight to critical activities.
  2. Create clear expectations around risk and mistakes. For example, Anderson’s policy was that the entire team would support anyone who made a particular mistake for the first time. However, employees were expected to learn from the experience and not repeat that mistake again.

As employees and team members, we will all make mistakes. When it happens, Anderson says we should:

  1. Learn from it – objectively figure out what we did and why it was wrong
  2. Own it – take accountability for the damage without making excuses
  3. Fix it – do what we can to make things right
  4. Prevent repeats- create safeguards to be sure that mistake doesn’t happen again

How do you practice these steps when you make mistakes?  How do you establish a climate where team members can do the same?

Dee Anne Bonebright

A month of cogitation

winter-contemplationOne of the recurring leadership challenges you identified over the past year was finding time to lead. With that in mind we will be selecting blog posts from the past year and republishing them for a second and hopefully deeper look – a time for intentional development – during the month of December.

Many of the posts may seem new to you, especially if you didn’t get a chance to read them when they were first published. But even if you start to get that sense of déjà vu from reading our blog this month, we hope that the “Best of 2015” blog posts cause you to stop and think, share a message, or even better: add your comments to the mix.

We encourage you to join us this month in a community dialogue on the challenges you face.

Todd Thorsgaard