Author Archives: Todd Thorsgaard

I’ve got a secret…..

Unless you have a birthday coming up, these are not words you want to hear. Especially at work from your boss. They strike fear and sow mistrust, yet, as leaders, you have information that you cannot share with your people – you have secrets! How do you balance the transparency needed to demonstrate integrity with the confidentiality your position requires?

Karen Seketa, a blogger that I follow, suggested that we think of it as being translucent not completely transparent. Leaders are “not sharing ALL information ALL of the time” but taking “an intentional approach to empowering your employees with the information they need in order to be successful.” When I consult with leaders they get hung up on what they can’t share and they overlook all they can share. Even in the most chaotic and tumultuous times you can share how decisions are being made, how you will keep them informed, how they can be involved and how they can share their concerns with you. People need and want clarity, honesty and how they can be involved. You can share that, even when you can’t share every detail or name or potential option being considered.

Yes, you may have a secret but that doesn’t mean you are hiding things from your people.

Todd Thorsgaard

 

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A slippery slope to disaster

It had been a good morning of snowboarding out west. Each run I pushed the edge a little more, tried to go a little faster or carve a tighter turn. And, no falls! I was ready to risk a double black diamond run. It was just slightly steeper I told myself, I can get away with it. But no! I lost my edge and took a spectacular fall.   Luckily all I lost was a little snowboard cred with my buddies but when leaders push the edge of integrity they can get on a slippery ethical slope that leads to a much more damaging career crash.

You may have heard about the slippery slope of ethics but until 2015 it had not been closely studied or truly understood how it works. A study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology answered a few of those questions and can help leaders avoid falling down an ethical slope. The study also addressed how to create a culture that discourages ethical breeches. The key finding is that when small trivial behaviors that are slightly questionable are not noticed or called out over time there is a large increase in the likelihood that ethical people will commit larger violations in the future. This evidence demonstrates that getting away with seemingly minor acts like grabbing a few pens from the supply closet and bringing them home or extending a medical appointment to run an errand makes it easier for people to next add a few extra dollars on their meal expense report or fudge a few data points in their research. And if that isn’t noticed it can build to covering up safety issues, rigging a hiring processes, embezzlement or outright financial fraud. Crashing careers, reputations and institutions.

Personally leaders need to be aware that even they can be swept down an ethical slippery slope without realizing it if they work in a culture that doesn’t pay attention to trivial incidents. The study recommends establishing a personal vigilance on ethics that encompasses all issues, large and small. In addition, it reinforces the importance of leaders clearly defining misconduct and quickly addressing even trivial behaviors to ensure that people don’t set themselves up for a larger crash down the road. The authors describe this as developing a “prevention focus” by:

  • setting clear ethical standards
  • openly discussing and describing potential ethical dilemmas employees may face
  • role-modeling ethical behavior
  • responding quickly and openly to even minor violations – this doesn’t require draconian punishment but it does require notification and follow-through
  • reinforcing vigilance and respect for ethical behavior in all settings

Slippery slopes are exhilarating on my  snowboard but they can cause even the most ethical of leaders to crash and destroy their integrity without proper vigilance.

Todd Thorsgaard

How did you decide that!

You have gathered input, asked questions, mulled options and finally reached a tough decision and then you hear “How did you reach that decision!” And it is an accusation not a question. In fact it actually feels like a challenge to your integrity as a leader. Luckily a close examination will usually reveal not a lack of integrity but a lack of transparency on the decision-making process you used.

Writer John Cutler highlights this point in his article “Decision Making Transparency.”  People on your team want to know how you are making the decision and how they will be involved. It is crucial that you communicate this information with your team before, during and after decisions. Cutler recommends that you ask yourself the following:

  1. Who makes the actual decision?
  2. Who will be impacted by the decision?
  3. What criteria are being used to make the decision? Factors, budget, timing, scope, requirements, regulations, etc.?
  4. What are we attempting to maximize, minimize, improve, reduce, develop, or achieve?
  5. How will we involve others in the improvement of decision-making?

Answering these questions and sharing the information will help ensure that your decision-making actions are transparent and demonstrate integrity.

Todd Thorsgaard

 

 

 

Truly understand by hearing everything.

To truly understand others, leaders need to listen – not talk! That may sound easy but in the day-to-day crush of work and deadlines and priorities it is a challenge. Yet the payoff is huge. In fact, one study discovered that the strongest predictor of trust is a leaders ability to listen with empathy and respond based on what they hear.

Harvard Business Review suggests that leaders focus on three crucial “behavioral sets” to improve their listening.

  1. Actively recognizing ALL verbal and nonverbal cues. People speak with much more than the words they use and listening is different than just reading a transcript of their statement. We all have “misheard” or “misread” an email. Empathic listening involves paying attention to things like tone, emphasis, energy, excitement, reticence, body movement, gestures, and facial expressions. Seeking to understand both what is being said and what isn’t being said demonstrates true listening.
  2. Processing the message or tactical listening. Sharpen your skills and use techniques or tools to help you follow along with the speaker, remember what is being said, keep track of key points, identify areas of agreement/disagreement, and capture the overall message. This can be as simple as taking notes, using summary statements and minimizing distractions. It also involves giving up control of the conversation and focusing all attention on the other person.
  3. Assuring others that genuine listening has occurred and that conversations will continue.  Only the people on your team can accurately state if they feel listened to. Leaders need to use verbal and nonverbal actions to share the message that they are listening and want to continue listening. Ideas include verbal acknowledgements, clarifying questions, summary statements, check-in’s, paraphrasing and at times even restating a point being made. Your non-verbals are also being watched so eye contact, posture, facing each other, nodding along, and mirroring body language all reinforce your empathic listening.

Learning to listen builds trust and helps you say more with less talking.

Todd Thorsgaard

Can you see from where you are?

What engages your people? At our colleges and universities we hope it is the success of our students both during college and after graduation! What would your people say?

In reality it is often challenging for people to see a direct connection between their day-to-day work and the ultimate difference it makes to your customers, be they students in higher education, patients in health care, or whomever. Focusing this line of sight for your people helps them directly see the value and importance of their work which has been shown to increase engagement and performance. A real win-win for leaders.

Management educator and author Russ Linden shares a few ideas on how leaders can do a better job to create a line of sight for their people.

  1. Put a human face on your mission and vision. A health care organization I worked at for many years would always invite patients to join our work team meetings. It truly changed how we thought about our work.
  2. Encourage and make it easy for people to take short-term assignments or projects in different departments/divisions/locations. Exposing people to the full range of work required to serve your customers and how the pieces fit together helps them understand the importance of each step.
  3. Turn employees into customers. Actively look for ways to let your people experience your organization as a customer. Make it real for them.
  4. Schedule and hold multi-unit and multi-location meetings and training events. Whenever possible have people working together as a “whole” rather than in separate “pieces” so they begin to see themselves as an integral element in the overall process.

Leaders have the responsibility and the opportunity to sharpen the line of sight for every person on their team. What examples can you share of a leader doing a great job or an idea you used successfully?

Todd Thorsgaard

 

It takes more than understanding

The harsh reality for leaders is that understanding without action is not enough to make a difference. In fact, a more accurate title for our January leadership competency could be – Understands Self and Others – and does something with that understanding. Kind of cumbersome but more realistic.

Tom Rath and Barry Conchie in Strengths Based Leadership, identify four essential elements that people want from their leaders and when they get them they are more engaged and committed to their work.

  1. Trust: Credibility, respect, integrity and honesty
  2. Compassion:  Caring, concern about whole person, genuine interest in whole person
  3. Stability:  Predictability, consistency, fairness and security
  4. Hope: Direction, clarity, guidance and optimism for the future

Understanding these human needs for engagement is a starting point for identifying day-to-day actions you can take to demonstrate trust, compassion, stability and hope to your people. It will look different for each of us but taking action is what is important.

A great starting point is to think back to leaders who have most inspired you and ask yourself, what specifically did they do to demonstrate trust, compassion, stability and hope?

Please share your answers and we can build a toolkit of action ideas to share among us!

Todd Thorsgaard

“Tell me more about that….”

(Click on image to expand)

To truly understand someone you need to care about them, at least a little bit. As a proud introverted leader that sounds daunting. Yet a close look at the Gallup Q12 Engagement Index shows that a “manager caring about their people” is a clear determinant of employee engagement!

How can you get to know your people while still respecting and acknowledging the natural boundaries that exist between leaders and their teams? You are busy, your people are busy, and you are their boss. Leaders can’t become best friends or confidants, but genuine caring about employees as a whole person is crucial. For most leaders the problem isn’t the genuine caring but figuring out HOW to show their interest and caring in a work setting.

A recent article in Forbes highlights “Seven Ways a Leader Can Get to Know Their Team Better” with practical ideas.

  1. Help Your People Succeed Anywhere, Not Just in Their Current Role. Remind yourself and your people that success and development in their current role will help them in their future, regardless of where they choose to go.
  2. Schedule Regular Celebrations. This isn’t a new idea but in the chaotic world of work it is easily overlooked. Taking time together and talking about non-work topics builds stronger relationships.
  3. Manage By Walking Around. Get up and informally talk with your people. Share personal anecdotes and inquire about non-work activities, milestones, and experiences.
  4. Talk Naturally During Downtimes. Take advantage of the time before meetings, in the hallway, on the elevator, or while webinars are starting to chat about anything other than work.
  5. Ask About Displayed Photos, Trinkets, Mementos, Art Work, etc. This is my favorite! I started the post with a saying I have posted on my wall and I have many stories behind it. What your people display is important to them and asking about it will help you truly connect.
  6. Make Sure to Listen! All your hard work will be for naught if you don’t actually listen. Enough said.
  7. It Requires Variety. Genuineness and caring is not one size fits all. When you open up your interactions to the whole person you need to be flexible and adaptable.

Ask about that photo and see what you learn. I bet it will be interesting.

Todd Thorsgaard