Monthly Archives: November 2017

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

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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

Your best laid plans

Strategic plans, work plans, goals, action items, tactics, timelines… these are all fantastic tools for strategic leaders. They are important, and even necessary, to help leverage people’s work efforts and accomplish organizational mission. But we all know that our best laid plans can be disrupted by problems and opportunities during the year.

In those cases, what is a strategic leader to do? Abandon all hope of strategic planning and just go with the flow? Dump your plan and stay in reactive mode? I think not!

One strategy my team used to plan for unexpected problems or opportunities was a priority-setting brainstorm session. We identified criteria that should be used in prioritizing the activities we already have in our work plan as well as any new work that might emerge during the year. Some of the questions we explored included:

  • How should we set priorities?
  • What criteria do strategies or activities need to meet in order to be included in our work plan?
  • What goals and guiding principles should we be consistently supporting as a unit?
  • Does new work need to meet ALL priority-setting criteria or just some?

It was a fruitful discussion that helped us anchor our work plan and work priorities in overarching goals for our division and the system. We discussed the impact of our work, our customer’s needs, and the environment in which we work. We also had a useful conversation about how we want to work together as a team, and we agreed upon our own set of operating principles.

Since that conversation, I’ve noticed some of my team members have been more mindful of high-level priorities and have increased confidence in setting boundaries with other colleagues. In fact, just today I was copied on an email one of my team members sent to a colleague, explaining that a particular project would need to sit on the back burner until her higher priority work was completed. Now that’s leading and working strategically.

Anita Rios

 

 

Balancing strategy and purpose

“Most companies have articulated their purpose–the reason they exist. But very few have made that purpose a reality for their organizations.” — L. Chevreux, J. Lopez, and X. Mesnard

The quote above is from a recent Harvard Business Review blog post. The authors made some excellent points that apply to higher education as much as the business world. They described many examples where organizations got caught up in strategy, lost sight of their purpose, and eventually failed.

Strategies are time-bound and target-specific results. In contrast, the article said that purpose is “what makes an organization durably relevant to the world.” Climate assessment surveys, online curriculum development, and even transfer pathways are important strategies for Minnesota State. But they are not, in themselves, the reason that anyone will care whether we exist twenty years from now.

Our interim chancellor, Devinder Malhotra, has clearly defined three three areas of strategic focus:  Student success, diversity and inclusion, and financial sustainability. As we work toward these goals, the article gave three tips for ensuring that we can keep focused on purpose:

Create personal connections to purpose:  We need to understand how providing educational resources can make people’s lives better. Effective leaders in higher education believe in what we provide, not just at a surface level but as a deeply held value.

Don’t compromise on purpose:  As leaders, we are often pulled between conflicting extremes. Another recent HBR post identified some of these strategic tensions. Do we need strong leadership, or broad empowerment? Do we need to develop capacity or generate quick results? As we examine these tensions, we need to focus on getting the best from both sides.

Walk the talk.  As leaders, we set the tone for our organizations. We need to model the importance of purpose and show how to use effective strategies to get there.

Dee Anne Bonebright

 

A strategic leader pop quiz – are you ready??

The dreaded pop quiz. I can still remember how I felt when hearing those words when I was in school. If I had done my homework, I didn’t flinch. But if I wasn’t prepared, my heart would start pounding!

Yes, I have a strategic leader pop quiz for you today, but first let’s study what will be on the test.

Research conducted by the Wharton School of Business and the consulting firm Decision Strategies International, Inc. (DSI) on over 20,000 leaders identified six “essential skills” that can be assessed and developed to become an adaptive strategic leader.

Anticipate – the ability to recognize subtle or ambiguous threats and opportunities before they affect your team or organization. Strategic leaders take action to “scan the horizon” by:

  • continually talking and listening to all stakeholders
  • gathering market research and utilizing scenario planning
  • interacting with people and organizations in other fields

Challenge – closely examining the current situation, assumptions being made and the popular point of view. Strategic leaders focus on reflection and examination from multiple points of view by:

  • searching for root causes and underlying issues not just the surface indicators
  • identifying and examining assumptions
  • actively seeking out alternative perspectives and encouraging debate

Interpret – the ability to accept and synthesize diverse and conflicting input and information. Strategic leaders seek new insights by:

  • identifying multiple explanations for observations, issues and results
  • actively seeking out and listening to diverse perspectives when analyzing information
  • using both observational and analytical analysis
  • taking a break and providing space for uncluttered analysis

Decide – use a disciplined process to make decisions, even when lacking information or time. Strategic leaders take responsibility for making decisions and using a robust process by:

  • rejecting either-or scenarios and asking “what other options do we have?”
  • identifying unexpected consequences
  • keeping stakeholders informed on the status of the decision
  • utilizing pilots and staged decisions

Align – discover common ground and buy-in among diverse perspectives and multiple stakeholders. Strategic leaders proactively build the trust needed to facilitate alignment between divergent points of view by:

  • over communicating (early, often, 8 ways, 8 times, etc.)
  • identifying and acknowledging concerns and issues in advance
  • reaching out to resisters and listening before explaining
  • recognizing when and where team members and stakeholders are willing to support the overall purpose or values of the organization

Learn – facilitate continuous organizational learning. Strategic leaders promote a culture of inquiry and learning lessons, both from success and failures, by:

  • conducting after-action reviews and lessons learned sessions
  • transparently sharing and communicating the information from the reviews and learning sessions
  • recognizing and rewarding people who take action and utilize lessons learned

Strategic leadership requires a mix of all six essential elements but the good news is that leaders can develop them.

Are you ready for a short pop quiz to help you identify where you shine and where you may want to take action to become a more strategic leader? Here is a link to a short assessment developed by the Wharton School and DSI on the six essential elements of strategic leadership.

Todd Thorsgaard

 

Increasing your learning agility

Innovative, continually learning and adapting, ready to take risk, able to deal with complexity. Those are of some of the attributes of strategic leadership. Combined together, these attributes can also be referred to as learning agility.

In their white paper Learning About Learning Agility, Adam Mitchinson and Robert Morris report that researchers define learning agility as being “continually able to jettison skills, perspectives and ideas that are no longer relevant, and learn new ones that are.” Given the complexity of our environment in higher education, this has never been more important. In fact, research over the last 20 years shows that the most successful leaders are those who are comfortable with uncertainty and sudden change and have the ability to learn and adapt.

Easily said, right? But how can you break down learning agility into concrete behaviors that are easy to employ?

Mitchinson and Morris do just that. They write about research conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) and Teachers College, Columbia University, where researchers identified four behaviors that enable learning agility and one that derails it.

They describe the four learning-agility “enablers” as:

Innovating: Questioning the status quo and challenging long-held assumptions with the goal of discovering new and unique ways of doing things. Learning-agile individuals generate new ideas through their ability to view issues from multiple angles.

Performing: Learning from experience occurs most often when overcoming an unfamiliar challenge. To learn from challenges, an individual must remain present and engaged, handle the stress brought on by ambiguity and adapt quickly in order to perform. This requires observation and listening skills, and the ability to process data quickly.

Reflecting:  Learning-agile people look for feedback and eagerly process information to better understand their own assumptions and behavior. As a result they are insightful about themselves, others and problems.

Risking: Learning-agile people are pioneers–they venture into unknown territory and put themselves “out there” to try new things. They take “progressive risk” –not thrill-seeking, but risk that leads to opportunity. They volunteer for jobs and roles where success is not guaranteed, where failure is a possibility. They stretch themselves outside their comfort zones.

The learning-agility “derailer” is:

Defending. Individuals who remain closed or defensive when challenged or given critical feedback tend to be low in learning agility. By contrast, high learning-agile individuals seek feedback, process it and adapt based on their newfound understanding of themselves, situations and problems.

So given these enablers and derailer, what can you do to increase your learning agility? Mitchinson and Morris recommend some helpful strategies below:

Innovating. Seek out new solutions. Repeatedly ask yourself, “What else?” “What are 10 more ways I could approach this?” “What are several radical things I could try here?”

Performing.  Seek to identify patterns in complex situations. Find the similarities between current and past projects.  Cultivate calm through meditation and other techniques. Enhance your listening skills – listen instead of simply (and immediately) reacting.

Reflecting. Regularly seek out real input. Ask, “What are three or four things I or we could have done better here?”  Make sure the questions are still open-ended – that will encourage colleagues to speak up.

Risking. Look for “stretch assignments,” where the probability of success isn’t a given.

Avoid defending. Acknowledge your failures (perhaps from those stretch assignments) and capture the lessons you’ve learned from them

Over this next week I challenge you to explore how you can increase your own learning agility. Pick one thing to focus on and see what happens. For my part, I’m going to focus on listening more intently before reacting. What about you?

Anita Rios