Author Archives: Anita Rios

A model of integrity

In recognition of President’s Day and our continuing dialogue on integrity this month, it’s a good opportunity to focus on a president who exuded integrity. George Washington, our nation’s first president, demonstrated integrity both on the battlefield and in the nation’s highest office. In the words of author and historian David Hackett Fischer, Washington possessed “integrity, self-discipline, courage, absolute honesty, resolve, and decision, but also forbearance, decency, and respect for others.”

Washington’s integrity was tested in the early years of our new nation, especially during the Revolutionary War. By 1777-78, he was commanding troops and had suffered losses in all major battles against the British. Retreating 18 miles north to Valley Forge, he helped his soldiers build log cabins where they stayed the winter in freezing cold conditions. With the lack of food, cold, illness, and a demoralized army, he lost at least a dozen men each day to death or desertion.

Washington urged Congress to send the troops food, but Congress advised him to steal food from nearby farmers. But that didn’t pass Washington’s integrity test. Even though local farmers were selling their corn and beef to the British, who paid in gold, Washington rejected Congress’s advice and promised to hang any soldier caught stealing food. Washington won the trust of his troops who were impressed with his integrity.  The next summer, his men who had trained hard over the winter, won a victory that set the stage for overcoming the British and gaining independence for America.

During Washington’s presidency, his integrity was tested often.  For instance, he recognized that America’s integrity, both at home and abroad, depended on honoring its war debt. Some Americans wanted to default on payments to those at home and in France who had invested in the war for independence. Some advised repaying part, but not all of the debt. Washington clearly saw this as an issue of integrity and persuaded Congress to pass a tariff to pay all our debts.

Washington wasn’t always popular with everyone, but he was respected and trusted. And that trust went a long way to ensure Washington’s success as our first president even when he did make mistakes. As Dr. Burton Folsum, Senior Fellow in Economic Education, Mackinac Center for Public Policy, observes, “Politicians of weak character are often second-guessed and challenged on their motives. Washington’s strong character helped Americans forgive him when he made errors in judgment.”

In Washington’s own words, he expressed the value of always acting with the deepest integrity:

“Without virtue, and without integrity, the finest talents and the most brilliant accomplishments can never gain the respect, and conciliate the esteem, of the truly valuable part of mankind.” – George Washington

Anita Rios

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Are you congruent?

Congruent, what’s that? Congruence is defined as behaving in a way in which your values and your actions match. Sounds simple, right?

Over the last decade or so, I’ve done quite a bit of coaching with leaders who are preparing to interview for various leadership roles. One of my best pieces of advice to them is to demonstrate congruence in their interview. That is, when they say they have particular values, strengths or abilities, they need to be able to give clear examples of those things and weave them throughout their interview.

Demonstrating congruence is important for leaders at all times, not just in an interview setting.  When your actions match your values, it gives people confidence that you lead authentically and act with integrity. Still, demonstrating congruence is not easy.  It’s one thing to have the self-awareness to know and communicate your values, but it’s another thing to ensure that your actions always follow your espoused values.

In her chapter on Congruence in the edited book, Leadership for a Better World, Tricia R. Shalka, says “Acting in congruence means you give time and energy to the things you say are important. If you say your family is most important but you choose to work 80 hour weeks and, via technology, are never truly with your family 100%, is that congruent with saying your family is most important? Probably not.”

So how can you ensure that your values and actions are congruent? Here are a few questions for you to ponder:

  • What are my core values?
  • How do my actions demonstrate my values?
  • What actions have I taken recently that are clearly aligned with my values?
  • What actions have I taken recently that are not aligned with my values?
  • Do I need to change my actions to bring them in line with my espoused values? Or do I need to re-evaluate my values and communicate them honestly to myself and others?
  • How can I demonstrate congruence with those I lead?

Last week I was struck with the congruence that Dr. Annette Parker demonstrated while sharing her story of her early career. She started working at a GM plant fresh from high school and only later began her education at a community college, quickly becoming a tutor and then an instructor.  Dr. Parker continued her education and rose through her career to become a president of a community and technical college, and now leads collaborative workforce development efforts for the system. Her career has demonstrated the way she values both technical and continuing education for herself and others.

What examples of congruence have you seen in yourself or leaders around you?

Anita Rios

 

 

Radical transparency?

Last week when I was preparing to meet with one of our university leaders, I noticed that her email to me had an interesting tagline. At the end of her email signature and institution’s mission, she had added a postscript. It read:

PS: “Please forward this email to those I may have inadvertently missed. Anyone who needs this information is welcome to being in the loop. Let me know who I missed so I can add them to future correspondence. Radical transparency is a fundamental practice I choose to follow.”

Wow! After reading it, I began to think about how her message not only communicated that she was committed to transparency, but was a declaration of her values AND a demonstration of integrity. Many leaders say they practice transparency in their communications, but few go to lengths of demonstrating it in this way.

At the end of our meeting, I asked her about the postscript in her email and remarked on its uniqueness. She affirmed that this practice has built trust among her teams. (I have to add that it is just one of the many things she does to create a productive work environment on her campus.)

As we were talking, she remarked that anyone who doesn’t think that their emails are completely public is fooling themselves. Everything we communicate online is open to sharing and can circle the globe quickly.

The phrase radical transparency makes me smile, in that it communicates transparency to the extreme. Simply defined, radical transparency includes actions and approaches that radically increase the openness of organizational process and information.

In that one postscript, this leader clearly demonstrates her integrity with every email message.  What practices do you employ that demonstrate integrity?

Anita Rios

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

Want to increase your self awareness? Try this!

I have a confession. While I’ve read the research showing that mindfulness meditation practice has the capability of increasing self awareness and leadership effectiveness, I’m rather late to the party. Perhaps my resistance was a result of my introduction to meditation as a high school sophomore.  In gym class we were instructed to sit cross-legged on a mat, close our eyes, slowly breathe in and out, and recite a two-syllable mantra of our choosing for 15 minutes. Needless to say, it felt weird not talking or listening or moving for that long. Plus, I didn’t really understand why sitting with my eyes closed, repeating the word hel-lo was at all useful at the time. I just chalked it up to something that didn’t work for me.

So, many years later, upon the urging of my neurologist, I finally tried it.  Not as a way to improve my leadership effectiveness, mind you, but as a strategy to manage and reduce pain from a head injury. Last November, I picked a free mindfulness meditation app on my phone that promised to work for “fidgety skeptics.” I thought that was an accurate description of me. I was still pretty resistant to practicing meditation, although I fully understood the benefits.

Interestingly, I found that after a couple weeks of using the mindfulness meditation app, I was able to not only increase my awareness of my body and reduce pain by recognizing where I was tensing muscles in my face, neck, and shoulders and relaxing them, but I also increased awareness of my emotions.  I began to recognize emotional triggers faster and manage them better. Rather than reacting in the moment, I found myself stepping back and examining my emotions more often. More important, I noticed that I was choosing my responses more effectively. These were pretty huge benefits from 5-9 minutes of mindfulness meditation a day.

While I’m just at the beginning of my mindfulness practice, I’m looking forward to reaping more benefits from it. According to neuroscience research articulated by a leading mindful leadership program called Id8TE, mindfulness can help to:

  • Increase self awareness and authenticity
  • Train your attention and deepen concentration
  • Improve critical thinking, planning, and decision making
  • Increase working memory and attention span
  • Sharpen situational awareness
  • Communicate thoughtfully and strategically
  • Respond to adversity with strength and resilience
  • Establish a calm and compassionate leadership presence
  • Attract, engage, and mobilize others

Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? If you’re not already practicing mindfulness or you’re a fidgety skeptic like me, I’d encourage you to give it a try. There are many mindfulness apps you can download right to your phone these days, like: The Mindfulness App, Headspace, Calm, Mindbody, buddhify, Insight Timer, Smiling Mind, Meditation Timer Pro, Sattva, Stop Breathe & Think, and 10% Happier.

At a basic level, mindfulness helps you pay attention to and recognize your thoughts, feelings and physical sensations. Recognizing your feelings is especially helpful.  As emotional intelligence guru Daniel Goleman says, “Without being able to recognize your feelings, you can’t control them. This inevitably effects your disposition–and output–at work.”

Anita Rios