Author Archives: Todd Thorsgaard

“If you don’t fall, you aren’t learning”

Paul falling 2Last week this photo of my brother crashing showed up in my Facebook feed. Ouch. Having biked with my brother often, I know he got up, checked himself for injuries, and then tried to get over that boulder again – and made it! He took a risk, tried an unknown, fell, figured something out and succeeded. Leaders have to do the same thing. Take risks, be prepared to crash, learn from it and try again.

A recent article in the Telegraph Connect, an online community for leaders, highlighted that successful leaders “will take carefully calculated risks, while accepting that failure is a byproduct of success and innovation.” The key point being that they are calculated risks and a part of a leadership strategy having four parts.

  1. Calculated risks mean predicted success. Assess if your goal is important enough to take a chance. Do your preparation and planning and don’t rush in blindly. And, purposely accept and have a plan for how you will learn from each and every misstep, mistake, blunder or crash!
  2. Failure is a part of experimenting. This requires trust and actually accepting the fact that failure WILL be a part of your career.
  3. Change requires growth. You will operate out of your comfort zone during times of important growth.
  4. Accept failure and build rapport. You can create a culture that takes risks, and then acknowledges, accepts and learns from the failures that inevitably follow.

Growing up my family always shared the phrase I used in the title, “If you aren’t falling, you aren’t trying something new and learning.” Are you encouraging your team to “go for it?”

Todd Thorsgaard

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A fresh start!

back-to-school-300x199As a kid the start of a new school year was both exciting and a little unnerving. A chance to build on what you did last year and a chance to make a fresh start!

Similarly, when you are a new leader or an experienced leader each day is a new start. A chance to build on your experience and the opportunity to make a fresh leadership start.

Amy Jen Su, author and co-founder of the executive coaching and leadership development firm Paravis Partners, encourages leaders to “step back and think about your leadership presence and if you are thinking, saying, and showing up as you most hope to and intend.” In her Harvard Business review article she highlights four key fresh start actions for both new and experienced leaders.

  1. Set or update a leadership values-based goal. Your people pay great attention to what you do and how you do it. Having an aspirational other-directed goal to guide your daily decisions and actions will directly impact the perceptions your team has of you and will strengthen your relationships at work.
  2. Continue to develop and increase your emotional intelligence and situational awareness. Leaders get work done through others and everyone on your team is different and every situation is different. Different motivations, different perspectives, different backgrounds, different experiences, and on and on. You need to be agile and adaptive. A starting point is to ask yourself the following questions before important interactions:
    • Who is the other person or audience?
    • What might their (not yours) perspective on this topic be?
    • How are they best motivated or what is most important to them?
    • What is unique about this situation, what variables are important here and now?
    • What are the optimal outcomes in this situation, for these specific players, for our team, for our organization?
  3. Be clear and direct, with respect. Leadership is build on two-way dialogue and trust. Leaders need to be clear and open to other perspectives – at the same time.
    • Know what you think and what is important to you – what are your convictions.
    • Ask, listen and acknowledge – provide space and acceptance of other points of view.
    • Share the WHY – include context, connection to personal and organizational priorities, and alignment.
  4. Be a stable and grounded presence in the face of change, stress, or difficult news. People need to feel safe bringing you news, even bad news. Otherwise you will end up in a vacuum with no information and no ability to make a difference. In addition, your team will look to you and mimic how you react to stress and changes. It is important to be genuine but prepared to demonstrate your leadership presence, even in tough times.

Fresh starts are exciting and a little scary. They give us an opportunity to reflect, build on what has worked and try something new.

Good luck!

Todd Thorsgaard

 

Don’t forget the endings!

It is tempting to focus on the new beginnings as a leader. We craft messages that highlight the benefits of the new system or the new structure. We glowingly describe the advantages of a new procedure or we document the potential dollars saved “after” the change is implemented. Yet study after study have confirmed that often we never reach the hoped-for Shangri-la.

William Bridges, in the 25th anniversary edition of his ground breaking book,  (Bridges, William. Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change. Da Capo Press. 2009.)  counsels leaders to actually meet their people where they are at, the endings they are facing! All new beginnings include something ending or being lost. When we only focus on the new beginnings and ignore that our people are losing something we won’t get to the new beginning as smoothly or successfully as we hope.

Think about it, a new school year also means the end of unstructured summer time. A new leader also means the end of knowing how your previous leader liked to get updates. Or a new house also means not knowing where the closest take-out pizza place is!

It isn’t necessary, or even advisable, to wallow in the losses and endings but it is important to start there to ensure a better transition to the new beginning. Specifically Bridges advises leaders to work with their people and make sure they understand what losses they are experiencing. It may be a loss of:

  • competency
  • comfort
  • status
  • influence
  • routines
  • independence
  • or many others

While many of these losses can and will be replaced or redefined you can help your people understand what is actually ending and what isn’t ending. As an example, the human resource division at Minnesota State is changing to a service center model for HR transactions. Most employee record keeping and status changes will be done by staff at four regional centers. Campus HR staff will clearly feel a loss of direct connection with people on their campus since they won’t be processing the paper work in this new model. It is important for campus HR leaders to acknowledge that loss and also highlight that their staff  will still have have access to employee records. They will be able to answer questions and will still have a personal relationship with the faculty and staff on their campus. Lack of clarity on what is ending and what is staying can lead to the natural tendency to over estimate what is ending!

Yes, the new beginnings are bright and shiny but we need to see and acknowledge that our people are experiencing some losses and endings if we want them to join us on the other side of the change.

Todd Thorsgaard

 

Welcome aboard!

Welcome to Uncertainty

Congratulations! You just hired a new leader. Helping them succeed is a crucial, and often overlooked, transition. The new leader is ready to show their stuff, you are excited about the grand ideas you shared during the search process, your colleagues are expecting results, and their new team is full of experienced workers. What could go wrong?

Actually quite a bit. As leadership transition expert Michael Watkins says in his book, Your Next Move “Transitions into significant new roles are the most challenging times in the professional lives of managers.”

The book does a great job describing the different types of transitions the new leader will experience. Regardless of their specific transition you can take the following five actions to give them the best chance of succeeding in their new role.

  1. Deliver transition support just-in-time – Strategically identify what information and resources are needed immediately and what can wait. No one can digest everything on the first day! Your new leader needs time to assimilate information.
  2. Leverage the time before they start – Provide access to meetings, people, information, budgets, and yourself before their first official day. Check in and answer questions they have before they are swamped with first-day paperwork and work demands.
  3. Create action-forcing events to guide the transition – Don’t rely on random circumstances during the first few weeks. Instead use your influence and experience to create a learning environment for your new leader. Set up meetings, invite him or her to your meetings, delegate certain tasks to them, add them to different groups, and actively debrief with them to strengthen their understanding and competence.
  4. Provide focused resources that support their transition – A new leader needs a different type of support than an experienced leader. Resources, information and contacts must address culture, basic information, unstated rules, “land mines” to avoid, and other topics above and beyond project or work issues.
  5. Clarify roles – Take the time to clearly identify who is responsible for what. Start with your role, their role, and the roles of other leaders on your team. Then move on to the roles and responsibilities of leaders in other departments and divisions.

You can’t guarantee the success of a new leader but you can give them the best possibility to succeed with your actions.

Todd Thorsgaard

 

What, you’re leaving!

charlie-brown-waving-goodbye“I have a new job.” Often the worst words you can hear when a valued team member tells you they are moving to a different department, school or institution.  Suddenly you, and your team, are facing a transition that impacts on-going work and the on-going culture of your team.  Managing departures is as important as managing arrivals.

William Bridges, author of Managing Transitions, reminds leaders to start with the endings. When a colleague leaves you need to help your team understand what is changing, acknowledge what they are losing and take time to recognize the past and the future. Doing this successfully can build trust and a stronger team.

Teammates may be happy for their colleague and their new opportunity but personally they will be losing a relationship and a part of their day-to-day routine or structure. You can help by:

  • accepting their feelings and acknowledging that you also will miss the relationship
  • identifying what routines will and will not be changing after their colleague leaves
  • clarifying how they will have an opportunity to redefine or reinvent work processes

Another overlooked, and often avoided, topic for leaders is the importance of a ceremony or symbolic event to both recognize the past work and relationships and to “officially” gain closure so people can move forward. I just attended a small going away ceremony for a co-worker and it was clear that her teammates were getting as much from the celebration as she was. It was their opportunity to talk about successful projects, past challenges and what they will carry forward even after she departs. I counsel leaders to plan events when people leave, even if they say “I don’t want any attention.” It is actually a milestone for the rest of the team and will help your team move through transition.

While it is not easy to replace a team member it is an opportunity to reinforce the culture of your work group and highlight your commitment to their success.

Todd Thorsgaard

 

Building your team in flight

When you start a new job there are two transitions in play.  As a new leader you have to fly your new plane and you have to rebuild the team of people you inherit. You are going through a major transition – and so are they! They have lost a leader and they need to figure out who you are. You also need to figure out how to work with them. And you don’t have time to land the plane while you both adjust.

Writer Carolyn O’Hara share six tips for new leaders in her article, What New Team Leaders Should Do First.

  1. Get to know each other – In our leadership programs at Minnesota State we highlight the importance of personal relationships and trust for effective leadership. Leaders lead through influence and relationship building, not power and control. You need to know who your people are and they need to know who you are.
  2. Show what you stand for – Communicate and demonstrate your vision and values. Your people are not only listening to you, they are watching you. What you say and how you act clarifies what your priorities are and how you define success. Be intentional and clear with your words and actions.
  3. Explain “how” you want the team to work – Don’t assume your norms are their norms. Work together to clarify expectations and processes. Make sure no one is surprised or confused about how to be successful.
  4. Set or clarify goals – Based on what you learn from your boss, your assessment of the situation and what your team tells you take time to explicitly clarify what the goals are for the team. Goals change but you and your team need a common understanding of your current goals and how you will assess progress.
  5. Communicate, communicate, communicate – While it is always true, as a new leader it is vital to interact with your people. Don’t rely on an open door, set up interactions. Schedule 1-1’s, don’t cancel staff meetings, manage by walking around, actually “job-shadow” your people, send emails, share progress reports and just say hi! You only get to be a new leader for a short time so take advantage of your opportunity to build strong relationships and open communication channels.
  6. Solve a problem, remove a barrier, score an “early win” – Most teams have come to accept “the way things are” but as a new leader you can listen to their frustrations and take action to solve a problem and demonstrate that you are listening and able to make a difference.

Enjoy the video!

Todd Thorsgaard

Hit the ground running – maybe not!

Bull in a china shop photoYou nailed the interview, you got the job and now it’s time to prove your value – full speed ahead! Peter Daly and Michael Watson, authors of The First 90 Days in Government: Critical Success Strategies for New Public Managers at all Levelsencourage leaders to take a different approach to successfully navigate one of the most treacherous transitions you will face – starting a new job.

The pressure to deliver results – fast – can backfire and end up looking like the proverbial bull in the china shop. Making a lot of noise, causing a lot of action but not demonstrating your ability to lead and succeed.

To avoid a crash, Daly and Watson describe five crucial subjects or themes that  new leaders need to understand before they charge forward. This will require structured on-going dialogue with your boss that they call “the five conversations:”

  1. The Situation Conversation – discover how your boss perceives the current standing or status of the overall organization and your unit. Your goal is to ensure a shared understanding of the challenges and opportunities you face.
  2. The Expectations Conversation – define, clarify, and perhaps, negotiate what success looks like for you in your new job.
  3. The Style Conversation – discuss and determine how the relationship with your new boss will work. How do you each prefer to communicate, what boundaries exist, how are decisions made, and how frequent do you need to interact to ensure trust and success.
  4. The Resources Conversation – determine what resources are available, what you believe you need, confirm how resources are allocated and begin negotiating to ensure access to critical resources.
  5. The Personal Development Conversation – mutually identify opportunities and expectations for continual development to ensure success in your current and future roles in the organization.

In reality these will not be distinct one-time conversations but they are a framework to help new leaders strategically approach the transition to a new role. This is a time that it is “all about you!”

Todd Thorsgaard