Monthly Archives: November 2017

Advice for new executive leaders

Rich Bents, Ph.D., Partner, Future Systems Consulting

Are you in a new executive role or contemplating one? If so, this advice from Rich Bents might be very timely for you. I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Bents this month and found that he has a wealth of wisdom to share. (My questions are noted in bold, with his answers below.)

Rich, you’ve been serving as an executive coach to quite a few of our new and emerging executive leaders in the last seven years. What do you see as the top two or three challenges that new executive leaders face in their roles?

A common challenge for those seeking executive positions in higher education is fiscal management, particularly fundraising. Delegation is often a challenge. The basic act of clearly assigning a task and accountability can be difficult for new executive leaders. Another challenge is creating a stimulating vision for an organization that fits comfortably into the vision for Minnesota State. It is easy to just articulate a vision, the difficult part is demonstrating how that vision fits into a larger context.

In your observation, are there any predictors of success for a new executive leader? What do successful leaders do?

The predictors of success I have found are emotional intelligence and the ability to create trust while exuding trust-worthiness. The first step is to ensure high self-trust. Then attend to the following questions: Are my intentions pure? Do I have high integrity? Do I have the necessary abilities to get the work done that is before me? Do I exhibit the appropriate behaviors? Am I engaging in collaborative ways? Do I get desired results? These six questions pretty well cover all trust issues. A breech of any one of them will always challenge a trust relationship.

What are some of the most common pitfalls for new executive leaders?

A common pitfall is not understanding or not identifying all of the stakeholders and attending to their needs. New executives often do not realize who all of their stakeholders might be. And even when all of the stakeholders are identified, new executives may not know what the stakeholders are expecting. The needs of the stakeholders may be very diverse and at times unexpected. Validating the various stakeholder needs is an important and rewarding exercise.

Another common pitfall is not identifying potential blind spots in their leadership style or in their values. Blind spots are just that –things that we do not see. When looking at leadership styles and personality preferences, blind spots can be exposed by looking at the opposing styles and types. Opposing values are more difficult to discern because executives dearly hold to their personal values and find it difficult to find and state an opposing value in positive terms. Usually what happens is a value is stated i.e., “Optimism” and we quickly say “Pessimism” is the opposing value. However an opposing value to “Optimism” may well be “Realism.” Understanding that other people will hold opposing values to our own gives the executive greater insight to their own values and behaviors.

What do you advise leaders to do to avoid those pitfalls?

Reflect to identify all stakeholders and articulate, then validate, their needs. It is important to engage stakeholders in discussions that answer the following questions: What is it they want? What is it they need? What is it they expect?

First clarify personal values. Then share your values with those close to you. And always live your values.

If there is one thing you could advise all leaders to do whether they are new in their role or not, what would it be?

Know your values and live them. Learn how to create trusting relationships. Be emotionally strong/well.

For executives, I always try to instill the full meaning of what Max De Pree once said: “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the two, the leader must become a servant.”

Thanks for your willingness to share your wisdom, Rich!

Anita Rios

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It’s all in your mind….. thank goodness

As Buddha said, we can use our minds to drive our behaviors. Developing a more strategic way of thinking leads to more strategic behaviors.

In fact, leadership development expert Melissa Karz highlights how having a “strategic mindset gives you a lens to think big in every moment.” In a recent article, she suggests practicing four specific habits to develop your own strategic mindset.

Align to Organizational Objectives. Asking yourself the following questions can help you stay aligned and take the actions necessary to help your team be aligned to the vision, values and goals of your organization.

  • Where are we today and where do we want to be in 12 months?
  • What skills am I missing, and is my team missing, to accomplish those goals?
  • What relationships do I need to build or nurture?
  • How are we defining success now, and in the future?

Identify Highest Value Activities.  Strategic thinking means scanning all the demands, options, requests, and opportunities and identifying the ones that will best support short-term and long-term success. Prioritization means saying no or delegating. High value activities include:

  • Coaching and developing your direct reports.
  • Building relationships and networks to facilitate collaboration and a broader perspective.
  • Creating a direct line of sight for your team so they can see how their work contributes to the big picture.

Seek Under-The-Radar Information. The reality is that leaders are shielded from much of the information they actually need. It is human nature to withhold bad news or to hesitate to “bother” leaders. To overcome this leaders need to actively seek out information and make it easier for people to share information, even bad news. Practice:

  • Asking questions.
  • Using mistakes as a learning opportunity.
  • Reinforcing open and transparent communication.
  • Taking time to meet with colleagues and peers.
  • Meeting with people outside your own industry.

Schedule Time for Reflection. Developing a strategic mindset requires action and reflection. Scheduling time to analyze and assess what you have learned, what you want to continue doing, and what you want to do differently is strategic. Just like you schedule important meetings, dedicating scheduled time daily, weekly, quarterly and annually is a challenging but necessary habit to develop.

Over time these habits reinforce a strategic mindset which leads to more strategic behaviors further establishing strategic habits making strategic leadership a part of who you are.

Todd Thorsgaard

 

Giving thanks

“Silent gratitude isn’t very much use to anyone.”
-Gertrude Stein

Like most of you, I’ll be enjoying the Thanksgiving holiday on Friday.

While I’m thankful for the opportunity to take a break and spend time with friends and family, I’m also thankful that I have a job I enjoy, great coworkers, and interesting projects to come back to on Monday.

As the Gertrude Stein quote reminded me, I’ll take time over the weekend to be sure that my gratitude isn’t only silent, and that the people I’m thankful for know it.

Dee Anne Bonebright

 

Do you see that bird? What bird?

After college I took a road trip to the western United States with two roommates, Digger and Jorgy. While we had a great adventure I also learned a fascinating lesson about the challenge of strategic leadership.

As we were driving Digger kept exclaiming, “do you see that bird!” And Jorgy would say, “no, where?” Then Jorgy would shout out, “look at that formation” and Digger would say, “what formation, where?” Digger, the ornithologist, was always scanning the sky or treetops, while Jorgy, the geologist, was always scanning the ground. They did not easily see what the other saw.

Author and leadership consultant Bruna Martinuzzi suggests that a strategic leader has to be able to “keep an eye on the ground and on the horizon at the same time.” In an article she wrote last year she provides advice on how to develop that tricky skill of looking up and down at the same time, or developing “the ability to oversee the day-to-day operations while directing the long-term strategic imperatives.”

  1. Practice Using Reframing.  Reframing is the ability to view an issue or topic from a completely different and new perspective. A physician I worked with at my previous employer shared my favorite example of reframing. Whenever she worked with a patient who kept failing when trying to quit smoking she would reframe it by focusing on the patient’s willingness to keep trying, not on the failure. Then they could reinforce the patient’s tenacity and agree to work on trying something new. Marinuzzi describes how leaders can use a Reframing Matrix to view an issue from four different perspectives before you make a decision.
  2. Adopt Practical and Conceptual Approaches. Honestly acknowledge if you typically use a more concrete or a more abstract approach and then force yourself to carve out time in your schedule to practice the opposite. If you tend to be more practical, take time to research industry trends and analyze trends over time. If you are more comfortable in the conceptual realm, take time to review the project plans of your people or examine the day-to-day processes your people use to get their work done.
  3. Strike a Balance Between Informing and Inspiring. Examine all your different types of communication and assess how often they focus on creating clarity and sharing of information versus inspiring and motivating people. Strategic leaders must do both.

As a strategic leader you can help your team keep their eyes on the ground and the horizon.

Todd Thorsgaard

It’s about relationship

“When leadership is a relationship founded on trust and confidence, people take risks, make changes, keep organizations and movements alive.” – James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner

Have you ever noticed that its much easier to get things done when you are working with people you trust? I certainly have. There is ease, satisfaction, and sometimes even joy working towards a common goal with those whom you’ve developed solid relationships. I’ve also noticed that leaders who focus first on building relationships often are far more successful, than those who are singularly focused on getting things done. People naturally want to work with leaders who care about them and are invested in their success.

In their classic book The Leadership Challenge, Kouzes and Posner relay numerous case stories and research studies that reinforce the importance of relationship-building skills for leaders. According to their 20 years of research, leaders who demonstrate strong social skills and get along well with others, take time to build relationships with their subordinates, and work to see a situation from someone else’s point of view, experience the most success.

Knowing how important social skills are, what can leaders do to enhance their ability to build solid, trusting relationships?  Here are a few thoughts:

  • Engage: Open up dialogue by asking good questions. Questions about people’s expertise and point of view are great starting points to build relationships. Just a simple, “What do you think?” question can be a good start.
  • Listen: Let other people talk and then pay attention.  Focus on what people are trying to convey and reflect back what you’ve heard. Take time to understand what other people do. Stay open to new ideas and embrace learning new things from others.
  • Acknowledge: Value people’s contributions. Give credit to others for their contributions and successes. Celebrate accomplishments of your team. People are always more motivated to work hard and try new things if their efforts are acknowledged.

Most important, remember that relationships take continual care and feeding. It’s not a one and done proposition. Since I’ve returned from work after being on medical leave for a year, I’ve been working on rebuilding relationships with my team and others. It’s a work in progress. I’m holding regular 1:1 meetings with each of my staff and bi-weekly team meetings to build more collaboration and camaraderie.

What tips do you have for building solid, trusting relationships at work?

Anita Rios

What does strategic leadership look like?

We know strategic leadership is important, but how do we recognize when it’s happening?  What efforts should we focus on to develop strategic leaders within our organizations?

The Strategy + Business magazine has identified 10 principles of strategic leadership. They also created a one-page infographic summary of the highlights.

The article defines strategic leaders as people who are able to tackle “wicked problems” – the ones that “can’t be solved by a single command, have causes that seem incomprehensible and solutions that seem uncertain, and often require companies to transform the way they do business.”

Higher education, like most other sectors, is facing any number of wicked problems. We’re going to have to continue to step up our leadership game.  Here are 10 principles that can help.

  1. Distribute responsibility
  2. Be honest and open about information
  3. Create multiple paths for raising and testing ideas
  4. Make it safe to fail
  5. Provide access to other strategists
  6. Develop opportunities for experience-based learning
  7. Hire for transformation
  8. Bring your whole self to work
  9. Find time to reflect
  10. Recognize leadership development as an ongoing practice

There are several items on this list that resonate with me – either because it’s something I’m involved with frequently or because it’s something I need to work on. Where could you focus as you address the wicked problems in your life?

Dee Anne Bonebright

Painting the closet

My grandfather was a master painter and wallpaper hanger and I had the amazing fortune to work for him for over 20 years. One of the many lessons I learned from him was that you have to deliver the basics to get the opportunity to become a true master at your craft. The first years that I worked for him I spent much of my time painting the insides of closets or the priming coat of paint. Strategic leadership also has a foundation in delivering the basics before moving to the strategic.

Rosabeth Moss Canter, in a November Harvard Business Review article, highlights that successful strategic leaders are those that have mastered execution and implementation by following these four imperatives.

Question everything. Force yourself to challenge your assumptions and tackle “sacred cows” that exist in your organization or industry.

Inform everyone, then empower champions. Focus on both breadth of awareness and ideas and depth of committed support. Share information broadly and ask for all ideas to ensure that you are considering all options. Then take action to support your early and enthusiastic adopters to demonstrate early results.

Keep relationships tight and rules loose. Build a large network of people who are comfortable sharing good and bad news with you. Focus on creating a shared vision and trust and then giving people the freedom to take action and make decisions based on their expertise.

Modify quickly. Recognize and be willing to acknowledge bad news or challenges. Learn from what isn’t working and modify as soon as possible.

Developing a strategy and announcing it isn’t enough, you have to dive in and get the closet painted.

Todd Thorsgaard