Author Archives: Dee Anne Bonebright

The over-promising trap

I was recently discussing a large-scale project with some of its leaders. As they looked back on the effort, they agreed that one of the key problems was promising too much, too quickly.

Without carefully talking to the people on the ground, institutional leadership made public statements about how much better the system was going to work, and how quickly it would happen. The system didn’t live up to expectations. We’ve all seen that same thing. For a variety of reasons, leaders often promise more than their staff can deliver.

When we think about the leadership competency of delivering on one’s promises, it’s easy to think about the personal side. As a leader, I try hard to do what I said I was going to do. But sometimes I am making promises for my unit or project team. With the best intentions, I can estimate timelines, costs, and outcomes that end up not being met.

Making the best guess when all the data isn’t available means that we will sometimes be wrong about our predictions. When that happens it’s important to own the mistake and review it to avoid the same thing in the future.

At the same time, we can try to be realistic about the expectations we set. Change is hard, and new systems rarely work perfectly the minute the switch is flipped. Helping people have a realistic picture of what to expect can make the effort more successful in the long run.

Dee Anne Bonebright

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The perfect apology

We all know that effective leaders admit and learn from their mistakes, but admitting that we were wrong can be hard to do well. And if we’re taking ownership for an error related to work that was done under our leadership it can be even trickier.

On a website devoted to The Perfect Apology, the authors say that in a business setting, a good apology “will help solidify relationships with existing customers, acquire new ones, enhance customer confidence and improve overall loyalty to the brand.”

As an example, they analyze an apology given by JetBlue Airline after a particularly difficult week that included multiple delays and missed connections. The authors say it includes the key elements of an effective apology:

  1. It starts by expressing appropriate humility and remorse.
  2. It gives a detailed account of what happened and takes responsibility. In this case, the delays were caused by a severe winter storm, but the company didn’t try to minimize the effects of what happened.
  3. It offers restitution and proposes a Consumer Bill of Rights to remedy the situation in the future.
  4. It ends by saying that the airline values customer relationships and hopes to do business again in the future.

We could say that the experiences of an airline CEO don’t relate to us in higher education. We don’t sell tickets or compete for customer flight miles. We don’t seek customer brand loyalty (or do we?). But we all know that higher education isn’t perfect. People and organizations make mistakes, and leaders have to take responsibility. Is there anything we can learn from this example?

Dee Anne Bonebright

 

When compliance really matters

Part of acting with integrity is to comply with the laws, policies, and procedures that impact our work. While this might not seem as exciting as being innovative or as important as being strategic, it is an an essential leadership competency.

As a parent of a female athlete and someone who spent my career in higher education, I’ve been stunned by the stories about Dr. Lawrence G. Nassar. Clearly he illustrated extreme unethical and illegal behavior. But how did it go on for so long?

Here’s part of Aly Raisman’s testimony:  “If over these many years, just one adult listened and had the courage and character to act, this tragedy could have been avoided. I and so many others would never, ever have met you.”

Michigan State had policies and procedures to prevent what happened. But somehow the culture of the school, and of organized sports, did not make them easy to implement. Many of his victims were not famous athletes – they were college students. A New York Times article said that one of them remembered it as being “common knowledge; everybody knew that if you went to him you got weird treatment.”

I’ve heard of supervisors that “everybody knew” harassed employees, or managers that “everybody knew” discriminated against certain groups of people. Sometimes that behavior had gone on for years. Higher education is clearly not unique in this, but how does it happen that people aren’t always held accountable for following the laws and policies that ought to be governing their professional work?

I keep thinking back to Raisman’s statement. How can we be that one adult who did something?

Dee Anne Bonebright

 

Acting with integrity

The second in our Minnesota State leadership competencies is Acts with Integrity. As I was reviewing it and the behaviors that describe it, I was struck by the fact that it’s included under “Leader of Self.” Does that mean that a leader can’t really act with integrity without demonstrating self-awareness and self-control?  I think it does.

Some of these behaviors, such as abiding by relevant laws, rules and regulations, might not appear linked to self-awareness. But as I read about some of the public leadership failures we’ve had recently, they seem at least partly driven by a failure to ask the question:  “This act seems like it will benefit me, but does it align with my core values?”

This month we’ll look at this competency and how it applies to us as leaders within higher ed.

  • Demonstrates honesty
  • Abides by all relevant laws, rules and regulations
  • Encourages others to do the same
  • Gives credit where credit is due
  • Delivers what is promised
  • Admits and learns from mistakes
  • Corrects mistakes to utmost ability

Dee Anne Bonebright

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

 

 

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

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