Monthly Archives: April 2018

Conversation-powered leadership

I thought it would be apropos to wrap up our month of exploring the fundamental leadership competence of effective communication by recommending the book Talk, Inc.  In it, authors Boris Groysberg and Michael Slind draw on the experience of leaders in organizations around the world, who are using the power of conversation to increase employee engagement and strategic alignment.

While top-down, one-way communication has been typically used in hierarchical organizations as a way to distribute news to internal and external audiences, it is a relic of a command-and-control model which no longer works.  Groysberg and Slind assert that  “…. people–and the energies and capabilities that lie inside them–are the ultimate source of optimal performance and sustainable competitive advantage.”  Given that, they have found thriving organizations that are using organizational conversation to engage the best in their people to drive performance.

Organizational conversation, in their words,  replicates the elements of good person-to-person conversation where the scale of the conversation is small and intimate; the structure of the conversation is dynamic and interactive; participation is equal and inclusive and the approach is focused and intentional.

Where they have seen organizational conversation flourishing, it has the following four elements:

Intimacy – leaders reduce the distance, institutional as well as spatial–that separate them from their employees. They do this by cultivating the art of listening to people at all levels of the organization and by learning to talk with those people in ways that are personal, honest, and authentic.

Interactivity – leaders talk with employees not just to them. Cultural norms are now favoring dialogue over monologue and changes in the technology of communication especially with social media, support this shift.

Inclusion – leaders invite all employees to add their ideas into the conversational mix. And they call upon employees to participate in the work of representing their organization as unofficial bloggers or trained brand ambassadors.

Intentionality – leaders promote conversation that develops and follows an agenda that aligns with the strategic objectives of their organization.

I’d encourage you to pick up a copy of the book in your local library or bookstore to learn more. Their insights about how to make organizational cultures more intimate, interactive, inclusive, and intentional through purposeful organizational conversation make it a good read.

Anita Rios

 

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Communicating effectively – or not

By guest blogger John Kearns

Early in my career as an academic leader, I was serving as my university’s business dean. One day, a department chair named Michelle stopped by my office and said she needed to speak with me about an adjunct faculty member. I recognized the person’s name, but I could only vaguely match the name to a face.

“Does he have a mustache?” I asked.

Michelle gasped and covered her upper lip with her palm. “What??? Do I have a mustache?!?”

“No, no!” I sputtered, imagining that I had somehow managed to blow up the great working relationship I had built over time with one of my chairs. I immediately tried to clarify: “Does the adjunct have a mustache?”

“Oh,” Michelle said, suddenly realizing it was just a misunderstanding. “Yes,” she said matter-of-factly, “he does.” The conversation continued, thankfully without any further awkwardness.

I felt terrible for days. I assumed it was my fault. Had I been staring at Michelle’s upper lip when I asked the question? (Probably not.) Had I used the wrong pronoun – you instead of he? (Definitely not.)

And yet Michelle had, for a brief moment, been pretty certain that her dean thought she had a mustache. The more I reflected on what I would later call the mustache incident, the more it taught me a critical lesson about how, in a hierarchical organization, some people are listening to their leader on two levels. On one level, they’re listening to your words and taking them at face value. But on another level–and this is where you can stumble onto an interpersonal explosive device–they’re expecting the worst: bad news or a difficult request or a negative comment. You may have never acted with anything but integrity and respect as a leader, but for some people there is always the expectation that eventually you are going to slip up and reveal that you are, in fact, a horrible boss after all.

From that day forward, I approached every form of communication, from email to memos to speeches, on two levels:

  1. What I hoped my audience would hear
  2. How my words might be interpreted in the worst possible way

It didn’t always keep me from the occasional fumble, but no one ever again wondered if I was inquiring about a mustache.

John Kearns serves as Minnesota State’s senior writer for executive and strategic communication

Extending your leadership presence on Twitter

By guest blogger Kirsten Jensen

Over the years, I’ve heard lots of reasons why leaders don’t have a professional social media presence. From being unsure about what they would post to simply not having time, there are plenty of reasons why we don’t get started. But, when done with intention, social media can be a powerful tool in service of some of our most important leadership priorities.

The real magic happens when we use social media to connect. In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown writes, “I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued.” Stephen M.R. Covey describes a similar energy in The Speed of Trust, comparing relationships to bank accounts where we deposit and withdraw trust. The more abundant the trust in our accounts, the more connected we are, the better we work together and the faster we get things done.  As leaders, so many of our priorities center around building trust. And, while in-person connections will always be our biggest deposits, I believe social media can create small but important moments where our students and staff know they are seen, heard and valued.

So, don’t spend time on social media. Spend time building connections and trust, using social media as a tool. The leadership team at Minnesota State University Moorhead has done an exceptional job of extending their leadership presence on Twitter. Here are four ways you can extend your leadership influence with Twitter, with examples from MSUM.

Why Twitter?

It’s often said that Facebook is for the people you know personally,  LinkedIn is for the people you know professionally and Twitter is for the people you want to know. That is to say, the fact that you don’t have to mutually follow one another and privacy settings are often open, makes Twitter an ideal place to connect with folks who care about similar ideas, organizations or people. Because we aren’t always sure who we want to meet, it can take a little longer to get started on Twitter. But, once you begin to listen for mentions of your organization or your hashtags, you’ll find lots of amazing conversations to join.

Get inspired.

Check out a live feed from MSUM’s social media team, at this Twitter list: https://twitter.com/MSUMoorhead/lists/msum-social-media-team Or, for examples that cross multiple industries, see this Twitter list of people who have been featured as examples in my training: https://twitter.com/NextKirsten/lists/nextinspiration1

I hope this inspires you to overcome the excuses and try your hand at Twitter. Connect with me @NextKirsten – I’d love to get to know you.

 

Kirsten Jensen (@NextKirsten) is a social media coach, trainer and consultant at Next Action Digital.

https://twitter.com/NextKirsten

Let’s schedule a meeting

As leaders, much of our communication isn’t one-on-one. It’s in groups. Often, it’s in a meeting. When we’re leading meetings, how can we make the best use of our time and our team members’ time?

When I was searching for tips, I came across a list from CBS News of Nine Hardcore Steps to Leading Incredibly Effective Meetings.  Some of the steps seemed useful. Others made me think “that would never work in higher ed.”  I’m sharing it with you because it can be good to challenge set ideas. See what you think:

  1. Never set a regular schedule. The Monday morning meeting can become boring and predictable. Alternate days of the week, times of day, and schedules to maintain team members’ interest.
  2. The agenda should only list action items. A meeting should be used to decide something or do something.
  3. Never use meetings to share information. Share the information in advance so people can make decisions. Sharing it during the meeting is a waste of people’s time.
  4. A meeting should never be primarily about “team cohesion.” Spending time together doesn’t automatically generate good working relationships.
  5. Allow digression.  Assuming they are related to the subject, tangents can produce surprisingly useful results.
  6. Clearly identify decisions, take-aways, and action steps.
  7. Create accountability.
  8. Publish a meeting recap, but only include action items.
  9. Conduct initial follow up individually. Don’t have a meeting just to share progress updates that could be shared electronically.

Maybe you had the same reaction I did to some of the items.  I liked #5, because I love a good tangent. On the other hand, I do a lot of team building activities so #4 struck a sore spot. That one made me consider how the team building activities are supporting the team’s goals.

Which tips stood out for you?  Why?

Dee Anne Bonebright

Did you miss the conversation?

A few years ago I was shopping at Ikea and decided to get some lunch. In the cafeteria line in front of me were a mom and her young daughter. They selected their food, sat at a table not far from me, and enjoyed their meal together.

But here’s the thing – during that entire time the mom never got off her phone. She got the food, sat down, cut up her daughter’s meatballs, and ate her lunch one-handed all while conducting a long conversation with whoever was on the other end of the line. The memory of that young girl trying unsuccessfully to get her mother’s attention still makes me want to cry. They were potentially making a memory together and mom missed it.

That experience solidified my resolve to try to be present with whatever conversation I’m in. It’s still very much a work in progress, but I try to use good listening skills whether I’m at home or at work.

In our Art of Supervision course we talk about three basic elements of listening.

  1. Stay focused. Minimize internal and external distractions, pay attention to the speaker, and use nonverbal signals to show you are listening.
  2. Capture the message. Paraphrase and restate the speaker’s key points to be sure you understand them. In work situations you may want to take notes to help with future conversations.
  3. Help the speaker communicate. Ask clarifying questions. Try to understand the feelings and perceptions behind the person’s words. Don’t worry about whether you agree with the message at this point, just try to understand it.

When I can follow these three steps, it helps me stay present. Focusing my energy on listening helps me avoid distractions such as multitasking and, I hope, prevents me from missing important conversations – even when I’m right there in the same room.

Dee Anne Bonebright

Conversations and neurochemistry

“Conversations are not what we think they are.”  And so begins my new favorite book Conversational Intelligence by Judith Glaser. Powered by both neurological and cognitive research, she says that conversations go much deeper than simple information sharing. They impact the way we connect, engage, interact, and influence others, because they actually have a chemical component. Conversations can stimulate the production of hormones and neurotransmitters, stimulate body systems and nerve pathways and change our body’s chemistry, in both good and bad ways.

Think about it. When was the last conversation you had that didn’t go well? How did you feel? Threatened? Sick to your stomach? Did it change how you continued the conversation? What did you do? Retreat? Become more forceful? Or even antagonistic?

Glaser states that even at the simplest level, of asking and telling – I ask a question, you tell me an answer – conversations can become complex as questions provoke thoughts and feelings about what you mean or your intentions. If a question feels threatening, that can activate the defensive role of the amygdala to “handle” a threat.

Of course, conversations can also trigger dopamine and serotonin, those good-feeling chemicals, as you experience an exchange that increases sense of belonging, care and concern for your well being, and a shared sense of purpose. Those conversations tamp down the defensive role of the amygdala and free the prefrontal cortex to generate new ideas, insights, and wisdom.

In every conversation, we are constantly reading content and emotions sent our way and we are sending content and emotions to others. In fact, Glaser asserts that leaders are communicating that they are happy or sad with almost every communication.

Her book is full of helpful information to help increase conversational intelligence for leaders and their teams.  Here is a brief summary of Glaser’s 5-step STAR (Skills That Achieve Results) model that can help tamp down the amygdala’s threat response and can turn adversaries into partners.

  1. Build Rapport – get on the same wavelength as the person you are talking to; connect with them as a person and demonstrate you care
  2. Listen without Judgment -pay full attention to the other person as they speak and set aside the tendency to judge the person; resist the temptation to formulate your response while they are speaking; just listen
  3. Ask Discovery Questions – be curious; ask smart questions that may change your views as you listen and learn
  4. Reinforce Success – see and validate what “success looks like” for both people
  5. Dramatize the Message –  ensure understanding by telling a story or drawing a picture if needed; this can elevate awareness to make sure you are on the same wavelength

Using STAR’s five steps, Glaser says leaders can create a positive shift in brain chemistry (theirs and others) as they work towards having productive conversations that can shape reality, mind-sets, events, and outcomes in a collaborative way.

Anita Rios

 

No more boring presentations!

Sad to say this is often what we see after making a presentation! If people can’t stay awake or follow along, it is hard to be an effective communicator, no matter how important your message is.

A few years ago, I had an epiphany on how to design and deliver presentations after I read Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds. In his landmark book, he describes a new philosophy—not a method—to help professionals create and deliver meaningful presentations.

While I highly encourage you to peruse his website or buy his book, I want to highlight one key aspect of his philosophy. Garr emphasizes that slides are only one part of a presentation. Your slides don’t have to include everything and when they do you miss an opportunity do deliver an effective message. Effective presentations have three parts.

  1. The visuals. These are the slides your audience will actually see. They only support your key message.
  2. Your notes. The content and information you need to see to help you verbally share your key messages.
  3. The handout. A document (not your slides or notes) that your audience will take away with them.

This does require more effort by you, but the outcome is worth it. People will walk away with a clear understanding of your core message and with the details they need to take action. Simplifying your visuals keeps them from being a distraction, impossible to read, or boring. Taking the time to create a full set of notes will help you rehearse and feel more confident. Developing and distributing a handout provides people with the extra details or background information they after you present.

As Garr states in his book, “Handouts can set you free!”

Todd Thorsgaard