Author Archives: Dee Anne Bonebright

Choices and new beginnings

Sometimes leaders know they need to make a new beginning, either personally or for the organization, but they can’t figure out how to start.  There may be many options, and sometimes these options are complete opposites.

We’ve written several times before about managing polarities – the kind of decision making that needs to happen when there are two opposing options, both of which have positive benefits.

A natural tendency is to look for some sort of compromise. But sometimes the compromise results in an outcome that doesn’t satisfy anyone. In their new book, Creating Great Choices: A Leader’s Guide to Integrative Thinking, Jennifer Riel and Roger Martin talk about ways to get out of the trap of either/or thinking and come up with new solutions.

So what does that have to do with Legos? As Riel describes in this interview with Harvard Business Review, the executives at Lego had to make a difficult choice related to the movie. Should they hold on to creative control and protect the brand, or should they give creative control to skilled professionals who would create an exciting movie but might not serve the brand well?

The executives came up with a new solution that resulted in a blockbuster hit. It was a win for Lego and for the creators of the movie. (Check out the interview to find out what that solution was.)

Is there an area where you are feeling stuck in either/or thinking? How can you look at the problem in new ways?

Dee Anne Bonebright

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Making a reset

I have a confession. A few minutes ago I finished a task that I’ve been procrastinating about for several weeks. It took less than 15 minutes and I’m sure I’ve spent more time than that adding it to to-do lists and thinking about it. It feels great to finally check it off!

That step was part of some new habits that I’m working on. I decided I would start managing my time differently, and so far it’s working. I’ve been able to make significant progress on some big projects as well as get little things done.

To celebrate my “accomplishment,” I went into the break room for some tea and met a colleague who was excited about some new time management techniques her daughter learned from her piano teacher.  Not only was it making practice much easier, but mom had also started using the techniques in her work and home life.

Sometimes we can make our own new beginnings. Attending a class, reading a book, or a conversation with a piano teacher can create a spark that makes us want to make a change.  Whatever the reason, it helps to tell someone about your new goal. It keeps you accountable, and it means someone else will notice your success.

What new beginning would you like to make?  What’s one step you can take to get there?

Dee Anne Bonebright

 

Greeting the new day

My daughter’s dog, Lucy, frequently visits overnight. She’s enthusiastic and curious, and really fun to have around. But we often have this conversation in the mornings:

Lucy (while jumping all over me):  It’s morning! The sun is up!! That means we can get up and do things!!!

Me (pulling blanket over my head):  But the alarm didn’t go off yet. That means I can sleep 10 more minutes.

It seems like some people greet new beginnings with lots of exclamation points and are genuinely happy to jump in, while other people need to go more slowly. As leaders, we need to respond to both kinds of people.

That might mean having action steps ready for those who want to get started. We need to take advantage of the enthusiasm and channel it towards positive change. Or it might mean providing more information for people who want to consider things, and helping them adapt at their own pace.

Which sort of morning person are you when it comes to new beginnings at work? What has been useful when communicating with the other type?

Dee Anne Bonebright

 

Should leaders set the vision?

Last week I had a chance to hear a presentation by Gervase Bushe, an internationally known author and scholar in my field of organization development. One of the first things he said was that, basically, he thinks leaders with a clear vision can be dangerous to organizations.

That was unexpected. Aren’t leaders supposed to create a clear vision, get others on board, and then lead the organization to success?  Well, not always.

We’ve written before about adaptive challenges. Unlike technical business problems, they don’t have clear solutions, a right answer, or a single clear end goal. Leaders who treat adaptive challenges as technical problems are doing what Bushe called the “pretend it isn’t really complicated” method of leadership. They can cause great harm.

Instead, Bushe said that what we need is “generative leadership” in which leaders promote dialogue among the stakeholders who actually do the work. The role of generative leaders isn’t to drive change, it’s to support the change process and promote collaborative decision-making.

This article from the Higher Learning Commission talks about the benefits of generative leadership in community colleges. I appreciated this observation:

Sometimes community colleges try to do so many things that they have difficulty doing any one thing well. Often, especially at small colleges, employees wear so many hats that it is difficult for them to find the time to communicate with each other, as well as to reflect on their practices and the theories inherent in them, and to exercise their creative energy to think through challenges and to innovate instead of simply adapt.

We’re all been there, and it can be easy to create coping strategies rather than systemic change. In addition, there are challenges in moving higher education from a culture of isolation and stability to one of collaboration and nimble change.

The article says that anyone in an organization can show generative leadership. What examples have you seen?  Who on your team has been a generative leader, and how can you support them?

Dee Anne Bonebright

 

 

Communicating about change

We all know that leaders need to communicate about change, and there’s an overwhelming amount of advice about how to do that. It can be hard to figure out how to create the strongest messages.

Make Change Work, by Randy Pennington is a guidebook for communicating about change. It provides five practical questions to help craft your change messages. Pennington says people want to know:

  1. What is changing and what will the new way look like?
  2. What does it mean for what I do on a daily basis?
  3. Will this make a difference?
  4. How will success be measured?
  5. What is the leadership support for this change?

In a review of Pennington’s book, Carol Kinsey Gorman made an important observation: it’s not only what you say, it’s how you say it. Answering these questions is critical, and it’s equally important to deliver the message in a consistent way. Whether we’re presenting to a large group or discussing change one-on-one, our body language speaks as much as our words. Do our actions convey that we really support the change? Do people believe that our feelings match our words?

I once had a leader that was great at this. She identified a few key points about the change and delivered them consistently, regardless of the situation. Her words and actions were aligned. Because of this, people trusted her information and valued her assessment of issues related to the change. She was able to be a strong advocate for the change effort.

What is one thing you could do this month to strengthen your change communication?

Dee Anne Bonebright

 

 

 

 

Let’s talk about that

It takes effort and energy to actually pay attention to someone, but if you can’t do that, you’re not in a conversation. You’re just two people shouting out barely related sentences in the same place.  – Celeste Headlee

 

An important leadership skill in transitions–and every other time–is to be able to talk to people. To talk about their concerns, about how the change might impact them, about your views of the change, about their views of the change; to have an effective conversation that promotes collaboration.

Radio host Celeste Headlee did a TED talk about 10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation. Americans are more divided in their opinions now than they have ever been, and leaders need to bridge the gap in order to help people work together to implement change. Here are her 10 tips:

  1. Don’t multitask. Be fully present to the conversation.
  2. Don’t pontificate. As Headlee says, if you want to state your opinion without pushback, write a blog.  <grin>
  3. Use open-ended questions.
  4. Go with the flow. Stay focused on what the other person is saying and see where it might lead.
  5. If you don’t know, say so.
  6. Don’t equate your experience with theirs. If the person is telling a story, don’t hijack it by telling about yours.
  7. Try not to repeat yourself.
  8. Stay out of the details.
  9. Listen to the other person.
  10. Be brief.

This sounds like a very useful list, but it can be overwhelming to do all of it at once. Headlee notes that focusing on one item and getting better at it would help us have better conversations. Where might you get started?

Dee Anne Bonebright

 

Putting out the welcome mat

Sometimes,  a work group or project we manage is facing change and we are leading the transition. More often, the change is happening somewhere else and we need to support it. This is especially true with leadership transitions. What role do we have when there is change in the organization’s leadership? How can we put out the welcome mat and help the new leader be successful?

The Association for Talent Development (formerly ASTD) created a blog post and podcast with some useful tips for preparing organizations for new leadership. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Clearly identify what is worth maintaining. What programs, relationships, and business practices are critical to accomplishing core goals?  How can we help shepherd them through the transition? What will the new leader need to know?
  • Communicate throughout the organization. Develop a formal transition plan with specific communication strategies to ensure regular, open, two-way communication. People will tell you if you’re communicating too much. In my experience, that hardly ever happens!
  • Build a strong leadership team. When a leadership team is working well together, with clear goals, transparent decision-making, and trust among the members, it is easier to welcome in new members.
  • Complete major projects. It can be tempting to put things on hold until the new leader arrives. It’s more effective to identify critical tasks or projects and make sure there is a plan to keep them on track. As the article commented, finishing things up is a gift to successors.
  • Provide orientation and training for the new leaders. When a new leader arrives, provide both formal and informal orientation. This can include the core processes of the organization, resources for getting things done, and standard practices. They’ll also need to understand the organization’s history. Where possible, provide a transition time so the new person can learn directly from the outgoing leader.
  • Help the new leader build networks. In addition to figuring out what needs to be done and how to do it, a new leader needs to learn who can help. Providing formal opportunities to build connections should be part of the transition plan.

Are you anticipating leadership changes in the near future? What can you do now to ensure things go smoothly?

Dee Anne Bonebright