Author Archives: Anita Rios

Who is your customer?

This month we’ll be focusing on the leadership competency: customer service. In higher education, we tend to focus on the complexity of our relationships in supporting student success and don’t always define students as our customers.

In reality, if you are working in higher education, no matter what your role, students ARE our customers. And depending on the situation, internal and external stakeholders such as peers, direct reports, bosses, community members, business leaders, legislators, and all tax payers in Minnesota can be our customers too.

For example, I’m currently working on a master contract that will provide a valuable service to our HR offices in each of our colleges and universities. While I often work with my HR colleagues as business partners or peers, in this instance they are also my customers.

In Minnesota State, here are the behaviors we focus on to provide excellent customer service:

  • Demonstrates a positive attitude
  • Listens attentively and respectfully
  • Responds effectively to internal and external customer needs, requests, and concerns
  • Exercises creative problem solving

We’ll be exploring these topics and more during the month of June. In the meantime, I challenge you to think about each of your relationships in your leadership role and ask: who is my customer? You might be surprised how many you actually have.

Anita Rios

 

 

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The 3 C’s of trust

Today, on Memorial Day, as we honor our military men and women who have served and died for our country, I thought it might be apropos to share the 3 C’s of trust published by naval academy graduate and helicopter pilot Philip Gift in The Military Leader.

Gift says that building trust boils down to three fundamentals: 1) Competence;  2) Caring; and 3) Communication.   Here are a few insights that he shares about the 3 C’s:

  • If people are not competent, then no matter what is promised, they will not be able to deliver.
  • If people don’t care about the other members of the workforce, then there is no guarantee that they will keep their word when a better deal arises.
  • No matter how competent people are or how much they care, if they cannot communicate that information to other people, then trust will never grow.

Given the importance of competence, care, and communication in building trust, here are some questions for you to consider about your own leadership.

Competence: Are you competent in the job you currently hold? Do you understand your leadership role and your impact on others? What steps can you take to improve your effectiveness as a leader?

Caring: Do you care about your organization and the people who report to you? What do you do specifically to demonstrate that care? Do you listen to your employees and take time to learn more about them as whole people? How do you support them with the necessary tools and resources to accomplish their jobs? What growth opportunities can you give them?

Communication: How well do you communicate your ideas and decisions? Do you find that people understand what you are trying to convey? What do you do to ensure effective two-way communication? When do you opt for face-to-face meetings, email, memos, phone and online meetings? Do your communication strategies and modes seem to work well? What can you do to improve your communications?

While I work hard to demonstrate caring with my team members, when I’m overloaded, it sometimes falls by the wayside. The last couple of months have been so frenetic, that I haven’t had much time to check in with each staff member individually to see how things are going. This week I’m going take extra time to do just that.

In the next week, I challenge you to take one of the 3 C’s and see how you can work to enhance trust with your team as well.

Anita Rios

 

 

Insights from a trusted leader

Last month, I had the pleasure of talking with Dr. Hara Charlier, President of Central Lakes College about her onboarding experience as a new president in Minnesota State. President Charlier has a natural ability to connect with people and even over the phone, had me enjoying our conversation. During our talk, she shared some very useful insights about building relationships and trust on her campus. Knowing that other leaders would benefit from her wisdom, I asked if we could feature her on our blog this month.

Here are some highlights from our conversation:

We talked about your onboarding experience as a new president at Central Lakes College in Minnesota State. During that conversation, you told me that your very first challenge was a cultural challenge around trust. Can you tell me more about that?

Sure. I think that trust can be challenged any time there is a leadership transition. People think about the new leader and ask: Can I trust him or her? Will he or she uphold the traditions of this college? Will he or she make decisions that are in the best interest of the college? Leadership transitions can shake the foundation of trust.

When I first came here, Central Lakes College was experiencing extensive turnover in leadership positions, from deans to directors and vice presidents. Issues of trust were evident from years of leadership transition. It was no reflection on the leaders themselves. It takes time to build trust and because of the continual turnover, there was no time to build trust with individual leaders.

What specifically did you do to build trust on your campus?

I believe that leaders should listen and learn first. So, as a part of my onboarding process, I conducted focus groups with all employees. I asked employees: What do we do well? What can we improve? What is our ideal culture? And how can we create our ideal culture?

That is when I realized there was a trust issue. People were fearful and did not feel heard. They were not trusting of administration.

The focus groups helped me to really hear employees’ voices and provided fabulous data to help us understand and begin to create the culture people wanted.

Based on the data, we formed a community-building team of volunteers to begin building the culture that people had identified…one where all employees are respected, feel heard, and care about each other. The team led an employee recognition day and created a calendar of social events with the goal of connecting people from different parts of the college so they could get know each other as people.

I also send out regular email newsletters to the campus community… helping them to see all of the terrific things happening on our campuses, thanking them, and letting them know that we value all that they do. This often takes the form of a top ten list. People report that they like hearing about the great work that is happening at CLC. It helps people feeling valued, contributes to the sense that we’re doing good work together, and helps to build trust.

Why do you feel building trust is essential to your effectiveness as a leader and to the success of your institution?

I believe everything we do is about “relationship,” which is the foundation of trust. It’s a personal value of mine, and it aligns with the values of the college. We are really in the relationship business.

It sounds so simple. As a public proponent of relationships, I talk about the value of people and relationships at every opportunity. We have been very vocal about how relationships are a top priority at CLC, and we work to share that message consistently across the college.

A college can’t do its work without relationships with students, each other, and with our community. CLC employees do that every day. They go above and beyond. I watch them. It is the cornerstone of what we do. We can’t get momentum without valuing and trusting one another.

How have you helped your team focus on relationships at Central Lakes?

Our leadership team actively works on strategies to build relationships – how to ensure that employees feel supported, valued, and heard, how to have meaningful conversations, and how to nurture a culture of respect. This work happens through professional development and ongoing conversations about relationships and trust, so that it is instilled in the employees of Central Lakes College.

One of our key initiatives has been knowing people’s names. If we believe that we should know employees as whole people, we need to know their names. We ask people to wear name tags at college events to help people learn and remember each other’s names. We ask them to please know each other’s names and smile at each other. We are whole, complicated beings, with lives outside of work. Knowing each other’s names is the beginning to know people.

In your role as president, people are paying attention to you. How does that influence your actions every day as a leader?

I believe that it is important for leaders to be authentic. I think it is important to just BE me. I work hard to be authentic, vulnerable and let people get to know me. It is only when we know who people are and what values guide them that we can trust.

We also spend lot of time working to gather input about decisions and ultimately conveying the WHY we make decisions. Explaining “the why” is important so that we are all going in the same direction. That contributes to trust.

The most important time I spend is walking around our campuses, stopping by offices, labs, and having hallway conversations. It’s my opportunity to talk with and listen to students and employees. Through these casual, unplanned conversations, we get to know each other as whole people – and build trust. Of course, it’s challenging to find time to do this, but if we recognize it as critical, it becomes a priority. I schedule “walk abouts” on my calendar.

What advice would you give to other leaders to enhance their ability to build trust with others?

  • You can’t build trust unless you are authentic, vulnerable, and approachable.
  • It’s hard to find time to walk around and talk to people, but it is worth every minute.
  • Be yourself and let people see who you are (even your flaws).
  • Get to know employees as people. They will appreciate you taking the time, and you will gain so much from learning about the wonderful people that make things happen in our colleges.

Anita Rios

Assume good intent

Want to build trusting relationships fast? Start with assuming good intent! According to Stephen M.R. Covey and Greg Link, when people in one part of an organization are asked to interface with another part, they often start with assumptions of negative intent such as:

  • “Is there a hidden agenda?”
  • “What is her real motive?”
  • “Is he trying to position himself or his team to get more, so we’ll get less?”

Sound familiar? At times, I’m sure we’ve all had those assumptions of others that we need to work with. However, in their book Smart Trust, Link and Covey say, “…the best leaders, the best teams, the best companies start from that promise [of assuming good intent] and doing so creates the very behavior they’re seeking.”

Doing otherwise and assuming negative intent can be a self-fulfilling prophecy and create the very behavior that is feared.  Think about it. Our assumptions are pretty powerful and influence how we behave AND the behaviors we elicit from others.

I had a recent experience where a partnering organization made an accounting error that negatively impacted the budget of a professional board that I serve. While leaders in the organization did acknowledge the error, they did not offer to remedy it immediately. In fact, they indicated that it would be a hardship to do so.  Assuming negative intent could have easily devolved into a very combative situation that could threaten both the partnership and the sustainability of the professional board. I’m glad to say that the board members and I worked hard to assume good intent and offered up several options for resolving the issue. That good will perpetuated a much better response.  I have now heard from the leaders that they are working on the issue and want to pursue a mutually satisfying resolution.

Thinking about your own experience, here are some questions from Covey and Link for you to consider:

  • Have you ever assumed negative motives on the part of someone else?
  • Have you ever been surprised to discover that your assumptions might have been wrong?
  • What has been your experience in working with others when people assumed good intent on the part of others? What was your experience when they didn’t?

While it is important to accurately assess situations or relationships where it may be smart not to assume good intent, Covey and Link argue that in most cases, assuming good intent with coworkers, teams, organizations, partners, suppliers, spouses, children and others is a more productive, positive, and prosperous place to start.

Anita Rios

 

Are you building or losing trust?

“There are no trust neutral interactions… you either build trust or lose trust.” I can’t remember the name of the person who said this at a conference I attended almost 20 years ago, but I can tell you the saying has stuck with me.

I’ve found that I can walk away from each meeting or conversation I have with others and use the simple measuring stick: Did I build trust? Or did I lose trust?

Still, building trust is not always simple. For example, it can be challenging to focus on building trust when confronting an individual or group about a difficult issue. Add to that an emotionally charged discussion and your amygdala can be hijacked, sending out warning signals to protect yourself and shutting down the ability of your pre-frontal cortex to think constructively.

In those situations, it begs the questions: how do you have healthy conversations when you feel pushed to the edge? And more importantly, how do we deal with others to build relationships rather than erode them?

In her book, Conversational Intelligence, Judith Glaser shares how she has coached leaders to build trust by moving from an I-centric to WE-centric focus in her TRUST model below. Her approach integrates how each step impacts our brains in creating safety and allowing the pre-frontal cortex to engage in greater candor, cooperation, and collaboration.

T – Transparency – create transparency which signals “safety” to the amygdala

  • I-centric: secrecy, threats, lack of clarity, lack of alignment
  • WE-centric: openness, sharing of threats, intentions, aspirations, and objectives; movement toward establishing common, aligned objectives

R- Relationships – focus on connecting with others first, which signals “friend” not “foe”

  • I-centric: rejection, resistance, retribution, adversarial relationships, suspicion
  • WE-centric: respect, rapport, caring, candor, nonjudgmental listening to deeply connect and build partnership

U – Understanding – see the world from another’s eyes, enhancing bonding and a feeling that “we’re all in this together”

  • I-centric: uncertainty, focus on tasks, unrealistic expectations, disappointment, judgment
  • WE-centric: understanding, ability to stand in each other’s shoes, empathy for others’ context, seeing another perspective of reality, partnership; support

S – Shared Success – create a shared view of mutual success. Put words and pictures to what success looks like and signaling to the pre-frontal cortex that it’s safe to open up

  • I-centric: promotion of self-interest; focus on “I” and “me”; seeking of personal recognition and reward
  • WE-centric: bonding with others to create a vision of shared success; building a shared vision that holds space for mutual success; pursuit of shared interests and celebration of shared successes

T- Truth telling and testing assumptions – use candor and caring to build and expand trust

  • I-centric: reactions of anger, anxiety, withdrawal, resignation
  • WE-centric: regular, open, and nonjudgmental discussion of assumptions and disappointments as part of collaborative problem solving; identification of “reality gaps” and effort to close the gaps for mutual success; willingness to start over again if distrust emerges

Here’s my leadership challenge to you for today: Think about an upcoming difficult meeting or conversation that you are anticipating. How can you apply some of the WE-centric ideas above to your approach?

Anita Rios

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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