Author Archives: Anita Rios

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

Advertisements

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Emotional intelligence matters!

Last week, in my blog post “Nature or nurture?,”  I talked about the personality traits that are often predictive of an individual’s ability to become a transformational leader. Among my colleagues, this research is bothersome, and causes quite a bit of consternation, especially where their natural tendencies do not align perfectly with the “Big Five” personality traits. For those of you who experience the same angst about scoring high on extraversion, conscientiousness, agreeableness, openness, and low on neuroticism, there is good news.  Nurture counts too!

Increasingly, there is research that supports the strong links of emotional intelligence to transformational leadership. As you may know, emotional intelligence can be developed over time, and nurtured if you will, unlike personality traits that are something you are born with and are usually stable over time. Emotional intelligence, as developed by Daniel Goleman, is measured by five different constructs:

  1. Self Awareness – the ability to know one’s emotions, strengths, weaknesses, drives, values and goals and recognize their impact on others
  2. Self Regulation – controlling or redirecting one’s disruptive emotions and impulses and adapting to changing circumstances
  3. Social Skill – managing relationships to move people in the desired direction
  4. Empathy – considering other people’s feelings especially when making decisions
  5. Motivation – being driven to achieve for the sake of achievement

There are quite a few emotional intelligence tests available online. For a free introduction to one, click here.

In his Industrial Psychology journal article, Sanjay Kumar makes a case for the strong linkages between emotional intelligence and transformational leadership. Dr. Kumar argues that emotional intelligence attributes of self-awareness, empathy, and motivation have a direct correlation to transformational leadership traits of individual influence, individualized consideration, and inspirational motivation. Simply translated, leaders who have worked to increase their emotional intelligence are more able to influence their followers, motivate them, and give individualized consideration to their followers.

Below is Kumar’s chart outlining the links between emotional intelligence and transformational leadership.

 

So to end our month of discourse on Transformational Leadership, nurture does count! As witnessed by the multiple posts Dee Anne, Todd, and I have written, there are many strategies to up your game as a transformational leader.

Anita Rios

Nature or nurture?

Are transformational leaders born or developed? It’s a question that can be debated from multiple perspectives. If I didn’t firmly believe that leadership skills can be learned, I wouldn’t be in my current profession. However, I also believe that people’s natural dispositions can influence how they lead. Interestingly, there is quite a bit of research that supports how personality traits have clear links to leadership success.

To give an example, transformational leadership can be measured by how well an individual scores on the “Big Five,” a set of five major personality traits that contribute to the likelihood of a person displaying the behaviors of a transformational leader. These personality traits are universal across culture and have biological origins. Kendra Cherry, author and psychology educator describes the Big Five as:

Extraversion
Characterized by excitability, sociability, talkativeness, assertiveness, and high amounts of emotional expressiveness, people who are high in extraversion are outgoing and tend to gain energy in social situations. People who are low in extraversion (or introverted) tend to be more reserved and have to expend energy in social settings.

Agreeableness
Attributes of agreeableness include trust, altruism, kindness, and affection. People who are high in agreeableness tend to be more cooperative while those low in this trait tend to be more competitive and even manipulative.

Conscientiousness
Standard features of conscientiousness include high levels of thoughtfulness, with good impulse control and goal-directed behaviors. People high in conscientiousness tend to be organized and mindful of details. Those who are high on the conscientiousness continuum also tend to be organized, spend time preparing, mindful of details, and finish important tasks right away.

Neuroticism
Characterized by sadness, moodiness, and emotional instability, individuals who are high in neuroticism tend to experience mood swings, anxiety, irritability and sadness. Those low in this trait tend to be more stable and emotionally resilient. They deal well with stress, don’t worry much and are very relaxed.

Openness
Attributes of openness include imagination and insight. People high in this trait also tend to have a broad range of interests, and tend to be more adventurous and creative. They are open to trying new things, tackling new challenges, and thinking about abstract concepts. People low in this trait are often set in traditional ways of doing things and may struggle with abstract thinking.

Leadership assessments that measure the “Big Five” personality traits, find that those who score higher in extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness and lower in neuroticism, most often demonstrate behaviors that are described as transformational leadership. If you’re interested, you can take a free  assessment online to measure how you score in the five personality traits.

What do you think about the Big Five? Where in your experience have you seen leaders with these traits that you would describe as transformational? And would you say that transformational leadership is determined by nature? nurture? or both?

Anita Rios

 

 

Co-creating the future

Last Wednesday, my team and I met for a long overdue planning session. (The photo featured here depicts some of our work.) Usually we conduct these every summer and spend a day off-site to re-focus on our mission, review our collective work from the year before and to set goals and priorities for the year ahead. Needless to say, due to staff turnover and my absence on medical leave, we didn’t get around to this important task until October.

In our two-hour abbreviated planning session, we still made time to include a discussion on each person’s “big ideas” for enhancing the programs, services, and resources we deliver to our campuses. And we talked through a draft workplan for this year in record time. While it wasn’t ideal…I would have liked to have had more time for everyone to discuss their ideas in detail…it was a start to reconnecting as a team and continuing to c0-create a desired vision for the near-future.

When I look at the Bass’s 4 I model of Transformational leadership, planning sessions are a key tool that leaders can use demonstrate Inspirational Motivation. If you recall from last Monday’s post, it was defined as:

  • Inspire and motivate followers by providing meaning and a sense of challenge to their work.
  • Involve followers in creating a desired vision for the future
  • Communicate clear expectations
  • Demonstrate commitment to shared goals of the team

Team planning sessions involve followers in creating a desired vision for the future. Documenting what happened in those planning sessions through a workplan can help set clear expectations and demonstrate commitment to shared goals. In addition, making sure that your team is grounded with a set of guiding principles or goals helps to provide meaning for everyone as they work together and contribute to the good of the organization.

What other tools, processes, or behaviors have you used to demonstrate Inspirational Motivation? Please feel free to share your expertise and leave a comment below.

Anita Rios

 

 

 

 

 

Demystifying transformational leadership

As my colleague Todd shared last week, “Transformational leadership causes people to trust, respect, and even admire, their leaders.” It also inspires and empowers followers to exceed normal levels of performance. Sounds like wonderful, but heady stuff!

As a leader, you might ask: what can I do to become more of a transformational leader? How can I inspire trust and respect and empower those I lead? Is there a recipe or a checklist that can help guide me? To answer that question, Bass, author of Transformational Leadership, outlines four helpful components to transformational leadership.

Often referred to as the 4 I model, the four  components listed below describe specific behaviors that leaders can adopt.

Idealized Influence
Serve as role models for followers.  “Walk the talk.” Demonstrate appropriate risk-taking, consistency, and high levels of integrity.

Inspirational Motivation
Inspire and motivate followers by providing meaning and a sense of challenge to their work. Involve followers in creating a desired vision for the future, communicate clear expectations and demonstrate commitment to shared goals of the team.

Intellectual Stimulation
Involve followers in addressing organizational problems and support them in being as innovative as possible in identifying solutions. Encourage followers to challenge assumptions, reframe problems, and approach existing problems in novel ways.

Individualized Consideration
Give individualized attention to each follower’s professional development by acting as a coach or mentor. Provide customized learning opportunities for  each follower based on that person’s unique needs and desires.

Over the next week and a half, my colleagues and I will be diving deeper into each of the 4 I’s. For now, I challenge you to read through each short description and to make a mental note of which I’s you are strong in and which I’s you may need to focus on as you reflect on your own leadership.

Anita Rios