We’ve pointed out before that listening is an essential leadership skill. When it comes to leading for the common good, it’s more important than ever.
I recently heard a TED talk by Julian Treasure in which he pointed out the importance of conscious listening. He said filters – things like culture, values, expectations, attitudes, and beliefs – impact how we listen. Even though most people are unconscious of their filters, these filters create our reality by determining what we pay attention to.
Our fast-paced and noisy culture is inhibiting our ability to do the kind of conscious listening that creates understanding across differences. Treasure recommends that we practice these five skills, and encourage our staff to practice them, in order to enhance our listening skills.
- Embrace silence – spend 3 minutes each day in quietness.
- Focus on channels – listen to all the sources of sound around you and try to separate as many distinct sounds as possible.
- Savor sounds – focus on everyday sounds and learn to appreciate them.
- Examine your listening positions – identify your filters and learn to be intentional. Are you being active or passive? Critical or empathetic? What is impacting your perception of what you’re hearing?
- Practice RACA – Receive information consciously, Appreciate the viewpoint of the speaker, Summarize what you heard, and Ask followup questions.
Treasure says that we’re losing our ability to listen. Do you agree? If so how can we reverse that trend?
Dee Anne Bonebright
“That’s crazy,” “I could never do it that way,” You’re wrong,” “No, listen to me!”
Are you hearing statements like these at work? When new ideas are introduced are you seeing battle lines drawn? How do you lead for the common good when it seems like your people have completely different goals in mind?
Well, not to ignore how hard it is but the place to start is with dialogue. Which means helping people actually listen to each other, even if they disagree with what the other person is saying. Your goal is to help people move from:
- persuading or telling
- focusing on differences
- talking at each other
All of which lead to frustration, lack of trust and either/or thinking.
And move to:
- talking with each other
- looking at options
That requires finding some sort of common or shared interests as a starting point for dialogue. Instead of focusing on the dangers of the other point of view and highlighting the positive of their own point of view, help people work on specific issues by looking deeper and identifying underlying values, goals, and concerns that both sides share.
We encourage the leaders we work with to ask these two straightforward questions to build trust and identify shared interests.
- What do we all want?
- We do we all fear or want to avoid?
It will take work to keep people from focusing on their initial points of view and look at the bigger picture, but facilitating this conversation will help you and your people find a common good you can all agree on, and that is a great starting point!
Posted in building teams, common good, communication, goals, polarities, trust
Tagged communication, culture, ego, innovation, purpose, transparency, vision
One aspect of leading for the common good is the ability to lead across boundaries. We’re all familiar with the problem of silos in academia. Many times even well-meaning activities fail to include everyone who has a stake in an issue or tools to help address it. And there are many other potential divisions that can be formed by race, gender, age, even which candidate someone voted for. Bringing people together across these boundaries is a critical leadership challenge.
I recently came across an article in Forbes that made a connection between boundaries and another hot issue in academia – incivility. The author pointed out, logically enough, that much of the incivility we’re dealing with is based on an unwillingness to work together with people that are on the other side of some perceived boundary.
Somehow I hadn’t connected the idea that by leading people to work together across boundaries, we are also creating an environment where people show respect and civility. Here are some recommendations from the article:
- Treat employees as problem-solving partners
- Make sure everyone has a voice
- Provide ways for people to speak up about concerns and ideas
- Build teams that bring diverse people together
- Make sure it’s OK to ask uncomfortable questions
- Promoting collaboration that is focused on the common good
How have you seen leaders effectively lead across boundaries? Do you agree that it promoted an environment of respect and civility?
Dee Anne Bonebright
Image: Hands Across the Divide, sculpture by Maurice Harron, Co Derry, Ireland
Leading for the common good isn’t peaceful. Agreement isn’t the goal. Paraphrasing writer Walter Lippmann, “when we all think alike, no one thinks very much.” To work together for the common good a leader needs to be prepared for conflict and embrace conflict.
Liane Davey, author of You First: Inspire Your Team to Grow Up, Get Along, and get Stuff Done, reminds us that for teams to be effective and work together they need to experience tension and disagreement, wrestle with it, push back, open up, share, listen and only then move forward. It’s not a quiet process and not what we often think of as good leadership. But think about the best teams you have worked on. Was it acceptable to have a different opinion? To raise a concern? Or to even get a little worked up about the problem you were addressing? I bet it was!
If you are willing to dive into the messiness of collaboration and conflict as a necessary element of moving towards a common good, Davey recently shared three ideas that leaders can use to help their teams embrace “productive conflict.”
- Define, discuss and understand the different roles and agendas of each person on the team. Take the time to ensure that everyone understands that each person has an agenda based on their role and that each agenda is different. Not better or worse but different. And that it is normal for the different agendas to lead to conflict that is not personal but necessary to reach the best solution in the end. Make it OK to disagree based on their unique roles and responsibilities.
- Pay attention to style differences between team members. Use a tool or a facilitated discussion to clarify the different approaches team members use to learn, take in information, communicate, make decisions, or do tasks. Ensure that each style is described in a positive way and highlight the value that each style brings to the team. Finally, highlight how it is natural for conflict to arise due to style differences and that you expect people to leverage their styles to facilitate collaboration, even if it gets uncomfortable.
- Set ground rules on acceptable dissension. Have an open conversation and identify what behaviors lead to conflict that improves how the team functions and what behaviors actually destroy trust and teamwork. Describe what is acceptable and what is not acceptable and the process the team will use to hold each other accountable.
As nice as peace and calm can be, leadership is a lot messier and noisier – and that’s OK!
Posted in building teams, communication, Diversity, leading authentically, organizational culture, polarities, racial tension, self awareness
Tagged communication, community, culture, ego, Leadership, performance, self-awareness, stress, transparency
Organizations, leaders, and brands with a real and genuine purpose are primed to deliver success not only in the marketplace but also where it really counts—in the lives of others.
— Karin Volo, Huffington Post
A challenging part of leading for the common good is figuring out exactly what that looks like in any particular situation. One helpful strategy is to reflect on the organization’s mission and purpose.
Huffington Post recently published an article called Why Becoming Purpose Driven is the Path to Success in the 21st Century. The author described several benefits that come with a clear understanding of purpose. When everyone is on board with an organization’s mission, it translates into higher levels of confidence and engagement among employees. It encourages working together and promotes collaboration rather than self-focused competition.
When individuals and organizations understand their purpose, they are also able to be more innovative by changing the “rules” that aren’t core to the mission. For example, many leaders in higher ed are taking a serious look at open-source course materials. They’re asking how we can change the rules that say students have to spend money on expensive textbooks. How can we collaborate, share knowledge, and use technology in new ways?
In my field of training and development, we traditionally had a rule that said the best way to deliver training was in person. Over the past decade we’ve been learning to break that rule. We’re asking if there are better ways to reach learners with the information they need, when they need it.
How can focusing on your organizational mission help you to lead for the common good?
Dee Anne Bonebright
It seems clear that the common good isn’t always the same as our personal preference. Sometimes leading for the common good means putting others’ interests ahead of our own.
Robert Greenleaf called this behavior servant leadership. It starts with taking care to make sure other people’s high priority needs are being met. Beyond that, Greenleaf said we should ask “Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?”According to the Greenleaf Center, this doesn’t only apply to individuals – organizations can also demonstrate servant leadership.
So does that mean that I should greet my employees with coffee every morning and be ready to set aside my own tasks to help out when things get busy? According to consultant Skip Pritchard, that’s not servant leadership. He proposed nine qualities that define a servant leader:
- Valuing diverse opinions
- Promoting a culture of trust
- Developing leadership in others
- Helping people with life issues, not just work issues
- Encouraging others
- Using persuasion more than command
- Thinking about “you,” not “me”
- Thinking long term
- Showing humility
Have you had the chance to work for an individual or organization that demonstrated these traits? How did it feel? For me, those have been the times when I was able to bring my best to the workplace. How can we all work together to make Minnesota State a place where servant leadership is the norm?
Dee Anne Bonebright
Much has happened since we wrote our last blog in December. I know my social media feeds are full of arguments, passionate points-of-view and a lot of ALL CAPS statements of righteousness or outrage.
All of this emotion, energy and disagreement also enters the workplace. The Minnesota Women’s March actually started at one of our schools, Saint. Paul College. Your people are navigating the current political landscape and you need to be prepared to lead during a very chaotic time. As nice as it may seem to just ignore all the divisiveness, true leadership demands that you step into the tumult and help your people work together.
To start the conversation we are going to share some ideas during February on how to lead for the common good. Specifically, we’ll be talking about:
- discovering shared interests
- managing conflict
- truly listening
- integrative leadership
- servant leadership
Please share whatever ideas you have to help your people work together for a common good in the midst of raw emotions. Otherwise our teams may end up as divided as the couple cited in today’s Reuters poll – From disputes to a breakup
Before I sign off I want to share one hopeful picture from a blog I follow. A peaceful bike march in Paris with flags reading “Bikes not War.”
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