Monthly Archives: January 2018

Truly understand by hearing everything.

To truly understand others, leaders need to listen – not talk! That may sound easy but in the day-to-day crush of work and deadlines and priorities it is a challenge. Yet the payoff is huge. In fact, one study discovered that the strongest predictor of trust is a leaders ability to listen with empathy and respond based on what they hear.

Harvard Business Review suggests that leaders focus on three crucial “behavioral sets” to improve their listening.

  1. Actively recognizing ALL verbal and nonverbal cues. People speak with much more than the words they use and listening is different than just reading a transcript of their statement. We all have “misheard” or “misread” an email. Empathic listening involves paying attention to things like tone, emphasis, energy, excitement, reticence, body movement, gestures, and facial expressions. Seeking to understand both what is being said and what isn’t being said demonstrates true listening.
  2. Processing the message or tactical listening. Sharpen your skills and use techniques or tools to help you follow along with the speaker, remember what is being said, keep track of key points, identify areas of agreement/disagreement, and capture the overall message. This can be as simple as taking notes, using summary statements and minimizing distractions. It also involves giving up control of the conversation and focusing all attention on the other person.
  3. Assuring others that genuine listening has occurred and that conversations will continue.  Only the people on your team can accurately state if they feel listened to. Leaders need to use verbal and nonverbal actions to share the message that they are listening and want to continue listening. Ideas include verbal acknowledgements, clarifying questions, summary statements, check-in’s, paraphrasing and at times even restating a point being made. Your non-verbals are also being watched so eye contact, posture, facing each other, nodding along, and mirroring body language all reinforce your empathic listening.

Learning to listen builds trust and helps you say more with less talking.

Todd Thorsgaard

Reading your environment

How confident are you in reading your environment? Most days I feel pretty confident in my abilities to read the environment….that is until something happens to tell me otherwise.

Just last week I was surprised by a very negative response to an email  I had sent out. My email was meant to address some problem issues that were raised by a group of leaders in our colleges. My boss and I had agreed that I should respond directly to the leaders who had expressed the concern and copy key stakeholders who were impacted most by the issues. The leaders seemed fine with the response, but the stakeholders felt disrespected because they were not consulted first. We misread the environment.

According to The EQ Edge authors Steven Stein and Howard Book,  an “unblinkered reading” of your environment leads to success because it helps you accurately identify and address problems and recognize opportunities. A key emotional intelligence competency, reading your environment, is also called reality testing.

Stein and Book say that “finely honed reality testing allows you to read a group’s emotional climate and the power relationships at work.” It is an important complement to self awareness. While self awareness allows you to, in a sense, take your “internal temperature,” reality testing allows you to measure the “external temperature.”

How is your reality testing ability?  To help you reflect, here are some self-assessment questions that are included in The EQ Edge:

  1. Does feedback from others consistently tell you that your reading of various situations is:
    1. Objective?
    2. Realistic?
    3. Sound?
    4. Seasonable?
    5. In perspective?
    6. On target?
  2. Do others indicate that you tend to:
    1. Overlook difficulties?
    2. Minimize problems?
    3. Make mountains out of molehills?
    4. Sweat the small stuff?
    5. Catastrophize?
  3. Are you often told that you are:
    1. Whistling in the dark?
    2. Dreaming in technicolor?

For question 1) give yourself a score of -2 for rarely, -1 for sometimes, +1 for usually, and +2 for frequently

For questions 2 and 3, give yourself a score of +2 for rarely, +1 for sometimes, -1 for usually, and -2 for frequently.

Total your score. A positive score indicates that your reality testing is headed in the right direction, while a negative score suggests that your judgment may be clouded by fears or wishful thinking.

Reality testing is an important emotional intelligence skill for leaders. Stein and Book say it can help you accurately size up a situation, rather than turn a blind eye or rationalize real problems. It also curtails a tendency to catastrophize problems.

Thinking back to my email, my boss and I were attempting to respond in a timely way and not magnify the issues. Unfortunately, we created a bigger problem by not considering the emotional climate of the stakeholders affected. As we move forward to re-establish trust with those stakeholders, reality testing will be even more critical in our conversations and consultations.

What recent situations have challenged your reality testing abilities?

Anita Rios

 

 

 

 

Communicating across preferences

Have you noticed that sometimes people don’t perceive your messages the way you intended? As leaders, we know that people have different communication styles and preferences. It can be challenging to adapt our own styles and help people understand what we want to say.

A Google search for “communication style differences” yielded about 3,650,000 results. Clearly many people recognize the challenge! Most of the resources I saw dealt with verbal and non-verbal communication preferences across cultures.

One resource that I particularly liked was a Cross-Cultural Communication 101 course from the U.S. Department of State. While it was written to assist U.S. citizens who are traveling and working abroad, it could also be useful for those of us who work with a multicultural audience. Some of the communication factors they cover include:

  • Different gestures, such as head nodding or finger pointing, mean different things across cultures.
  • Time has different meaning across cultures. For example, what is the appropriate time to show up for a party that starts at 8:30?
  • People from different cultures prefer different amounts of personal space.
  • Conversation norms, such as appropriate tone and volume levels, also vary across cultures. Are the two people in the photo above angry with each other or excited?

That last one is a challenge for me. As I was growing up with a mostly-female peer group, it was acceptable to talk over each other and finish each other’s sentences. In fact, the more engaged we were the more likely that was to happen. As an adult, that behavior doesn’t always express support and engagement. Sometimes, as my daughter would say, it’s “just rude.”

Even when working with a group of people who all grew up in Minnesota I’ve seen different preferences for verbal and nonverbal communication styles. Paying attention to my audience and adjusting my behavior accordingly has been a helpful leadership strategy.

Dee Anne Bonebright

 

 

Can you see from where you are?

What engages your people? At our colleges and universities we hope it is the success of our students both during college and after graduation! What would your people say?

In reality it is often challenging for people to see a direct connection between their day-to-day work and the ultimate difference it makes to your customers, be they students in higher education, patients in health care, or whomever. Focusing this line of sight for your people helps them directly see the value and importance of their work which has been shown to increase engagement and performance. A real win-win for leaders.

Management educator and author Russ Linden shares a few ideas on how leaders can do a better job to create a line of sight for their people.

  1. Put a human face on your mission and vision. A health care organization I worked at for many years would always invite patients to join our work team meetings. It truly changed how we thought about our work.
  2. Encourage and make it easy for people to take short-term assignments or projects in different departments/divisions/locations. Exposing people to the full range of work required to serve your customers and how the pieces fit together helps them understand the importance of each step.
  3. Turn employees into customers. Actively look for ways to let your people experience your organization as a customer. Make it real for them.
  4. Schedule and hold multi-unit and multi-location meetings and training events. Whenever possible have people working together as a “whole” rather than in separate “pieces” so they begin to see themselves as an integral element in the overall process.

Leaders have the responsibility and the opportunity to sharpen the line of sight for every person on their team. What examples can you share of a leader doing a great job or an idea you used successfully?

Todd Thorsgaard

 

Do you know your values?

One of the starting points to understanding yourself as a leader is to become crystal clear about your own values. Values are your ideas and deeply held beliefs about what is most important to you in your life. They can include things like achievement, helping other people, fairness, influencing others, and harmony. They are often the silent forces behind many of your actions and decisions.

According to research conducted by leadership gurus James Kouzes and Barry Posner, knowing your values, communicating them, and leading in a way that is consistent with your values, helps you have the most credibility as a leader. The challenge is to make sure that what drives you is not an unrecognized silent force, but is based upon clear values that you hold dear.

So, I’ll go ahead and ask the obvious question. How well do you know yourself? Can you quickly name your top 2 or 3 values?

If not, I’d encourage you to take advantage of one of the many values clarifications exercises that are available. Just 30 minutes of focused reflection can help you clarify your values. Values clarification exercises can be extraordinarily helpful when you are going through a transition in work or life, or when you are investing in your own leadership development.

In the past 20 years, I’ve used several different values clarification exercises when I’m working with groups of leaders. Here is a nice resource from Carleton Community College in Vermont that you can access for free online. Go ahead and try it! It’s worth the time you will invest.

As Kouzes and Posner state in their book The Leadership Challenge,  “To become a credible leader, you first have to comprehend the deeply held beliefs … that drive you. You have to authentically communicate your beliefs in ways that uniquely represent who you are.”

Anita Rios

 

 

 

Which pet are you?

Is your personality more like a dog? A fish? A hermit crab? According to National Geographic Kids, I’m a hermit crab. Apparently I’m adaptable and fit into many settings.  What can I do with this information? Not a lot. As the site says, it’s just for fun.

This week I’ll be co-facilitating with Todd on our Art of Supervision program, which includes several personality-based assessments. In fact, almost all of the leadership development programs I’ve been involved with over the past decade have included assessments to help leaders increase their self-awareness.

No instrument can tell us all about ourselves, and it’s never helpful to put ourselves or others into boxes.  However, I have found that knowing about myself  – how I’m likely to react in certain situations, what energizes me, and how I can contribute in the workplace – has strengthened my core leadership abilities.

Knowing that other people have different strengths and preferences has helped me be a better supervisor and team member. Assessments can help us think about what other people bring to the table, and sometimes they remind us that the other person isn’t trying to be annoying on purpose! Using a well-vetted instrument and working with a qualified facilitator can help you better understand yourself and your impact on others. There are many options, such as those on this list compiled by the Piras Consulting Group.

As you think about the competency of Understanding Self and Others, it might be a good time to take a new assessment or re-visiting an old favorite.

Dee Anne Bonebright

It takes more than understanding

The harsh reality for leaders is that understanding without action is not enough to make a difference. In fact, a more accurate title for our January leadership competency could be – Understands Self and Others – and does something with that understanding. Kind of cumbersome but more realistic.

Tom Rath and Barry Conchie in Strengths Based Leadership, identify four essential elements that people want from their leaders and when they get them they are more engaged and committed to their work.

  1. Trust: Credibility, respect, integrity and honesty
  2. Compassion:  Caring, concern about whole person, genuine interest in whole person
  3. Stability:  Predictability, consistency, fairness and security
  4. Hope: Direction, clarity, guidance and optimism for the future

Understanding these human needs for engagement is a starting point for identifying day-to-day actions you can take to demonstrate trust, compassion, stability and hope to your people. It will look different for each of us but taking action is what is important.

A great starting point is to think back to leaders who have most inspired you and ask yourself, what specifically did they do to demonstrate trust, compassion, stability and hope?

Please share your answers and we can build a toolkit of action ideas to share among us!

Todd Thorsgaard

Authentic conversations about difference

Having authentic conversations about difference can be hard. This is especially true in the workplace. Sometimes, leaders can feel like they might say something wrong, so they choose to say nothing. In these instances, they can miss valuable opportunities to increase awareness of racial, ethnic, and gender differences and to create greater inclusivity on their own campuses.

Having spent over a decade in my early career working primarily on diversity and gender equity issues, I know it can feel intimidating to wade into topics of equity, diversity, and inclusion, especially as a white, middle-class woman with privilege. I also appreciate those who work hard to genuinely understand difference and create inclusive work and learning environments.

Understanding and creating a climate where difference is respected and honored is not just a nice thing to do, it has real benefits. Research from Catalyst shows that “employees reported feeling included when they feel both valued for their uniqueness and a sense of belonging. When employees feel more included, they reported being more team-oriented and innovative.”  Authentic conversations where different viewpoints are encouraged and shared and “outsider” perspectives are honored, can set the foundation for building good working relationships, fostering collaboration and resolving conflict.

So, are you wondering how to get an authentic conversation started? If so, Catalyst has created a wonderful tool to help, called: Engaging in Conversations about Gender, Race, and Ethnicity in the Workplace. The 29-page booklet published in 2016 is full of excellent information to help you navigate talking about difference. To give you an idea, here are a few of the conversation starters and suggested actions included:

  • Ask people who are different from me how they experience their own gender, race, or ethnicity—and then really listen to the answer.
  • Talk to my colleagues about what the most salient issues are for different ethnic groups in our country, in our organization, and in our work team.
  • Ask my colleagues what fears or misconceptions prevent them from having discussions about differences.
  • Encourage one-on-one or group discussions about traditionally “unspoken” issues related to race or ethnicity in the culture in which I am working. For example, “I’d like to talk about how we can make our team meetings more inclusive and build trust among teammates. What are one or two issues we need to put on the table, but are usually overlooked or considered undiscussable? Why do we find these issues undiscussable? Why are they important?”
  • Ask my colleagues to think about times when discussing “difference” (in any sense) has led to a positive outcome.

As Catalyst authors say, “Openness and the ability to have difficult conversations are needed to effectively communicate across our differences and build inclusive workplaces.”

In recognition of Martin Luther King day, I want to challenge each of us as leaders to find opportunities to initiate more conversations about difference. Go ahead, try it out in a one-on-one conversation, or your next team meeting. Be bold! Why not think about facilitating a large group discussion about difference in your workplace? You’ll be modeling an inclusive workplace.

Anita Rios

Work-Life balance in 5 easy steps

Sorry. I just added that title so you’d open this post. Actually, the more experience I have as a leader and the more I hear other people’s stories, the less I think there are any easy answers for work-life balance.

A popular post from Inside Higher Ed, titled “It’s 4:30 in the morning, do you know where your work-life balance is?” recounts the daily experiences of a wife, mother, and tenure-track faculty member. She says that her life can be crazy, and while she hasn’t found balance, she has found fulfillment in both home and career.

On the other hand, this report in the Wall Street Journal, written about a year after the death of her husband, explains how “Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg rethinks part of ‘lean in’.” Raising two teens by herself, and dealing with grief in public, have given her a new view of work and life. As she says, it’s really hard. Sometimes things change and Option A is no longer available. So what will you do with Option B?

If you are a faculty member of color, or a female in a male-dominated field, things get even more challenging. An article from Inside Higher Ed describes the stress and frustration that may result from being the only minority in a predominantly white institution. The author gives some suggestions for dealing with this stress. While they won’t promote work-life balance in a few easy steps, they are good advice for anyone:

  1. Find some mentors
  2. Work efficiently and manage time well
  3. Find and use wellness resources
  4. Separate work time and personal time
  5. Build your professional brand and credentials

As leaders, there is no single policy or procedure we can enact that will ensure work-life balance for ourselves and our team members. Maybe that’s not even the right goal. The common theme to these stories is about figuring how to thrive wherever our live and career journeys take us.

Dee Anne Bonebright

“Tell me more about that….”

(Click on image to expand)

To truly understand someone you need to care about them, at least a little bit. As a proud introverted leader that sounds daunting. Yet a close look at the Gallup Q12 Engagement Index shows that a “manager caring about their people” is a clear determinant of employee engagement!

How can you get to know your people while still respecting and acknowledging the natural boundaries that exist between leaders and their teams? You are busy, your people are busy, and you are their boss. Leaders can’t become best friends or confidants, but genuine caring about employees as a whole person is crucial. For most leaders the problem isn’t the genuine caring but figuring out HOW to show their interest and caring in a work setting.

A recent article in Forbes highlights “Seven Ways a Leader Can Get to Know Their Team Better” with practical ideas.

  1. Help Your People Succeed Anywhere, Not Just in Their Current Role. Remind yourself and your people that success and development in their current role will help them in their future, regardless of where they choose to go.
  2. Schedule Regular Celebrations. This isn’t a new idea but in the chaotic world of work it is easily overlooked. Taking time together and talking about non-work topics builds stronger relationships.
  3. Manage By Walking Around. Get up and informally talk with your people. Share personal anecdotes and inquire about non-work activities, milestones, and experiences.
  4. Talk Naturally During Downtimes. Take advantage of the time before meetings, in the hallway, on the elevator, or while webinars are starting to chat about anything other than work.
  5. Ask About Displayed Photos, Trinkets, Mementos, Art Work, etc. This is my favorite! I started the post with a saying I have posted on my wall and I have many stories behind it. What your people display is important to them and asking about it will help you truly connect.
  6. Make Sure to Listen! All your hard work will be for naught if you don’t actually listen. Enough said.
  7. It Requires Variety. Genuineness and caring is not one size fits all. When you open up your interactions to the whole person you need to be flexible and adaptable.

Ask about that photo and see what you learn. I bet it will be interesting.

Todd Thorsgaard