Author Archives: Todd Thorsgaard

Painting the closet

My grandfather was a master painter and wallpaper hanger and I had the amazing fortune to work for him for over 20 years. One of the many lessons I learned from him was that you have to deliver the basics to get the opportunity to become a true master at your craft. The first years that I worked for him I spent much of my time painting the insides of closets or the priming coat of paint. Strategic leadership also has a foundation in delivering the basics before moving to the strategic.

Rosabeth Moss Canter, in a November Harvard Business Review article, highlights that successful strategic leaders are those that have mastered execution and implementation by following these four imperatives.

Question everything. Force yourself to challenge your assumptions and tackle “sacred cows” that exist in your organization or industry.

Inform everyone, then empower champions. Focus on both breadth of awareness and ideas and depth of committed support. Share information broadly and ask for all ideas to ensure that you are considering all options. Then take action to support your early and enthusiastic adopters to demonstrate early results.

Keep relationships tight and rules loose. Build a large network of people who are comfortable sharing good and bad news with you. Focus on creating a shared vision and trust and then giving people the freedom to take action and make decisions based on their expertise.

Modify quickly. Recognize and be willing to acknowledge bad news or challenges. Learn from what isn’t working and modify as soon as possible.

Developing a strategy and announcing it isn’t enough, you have to dive in and get the closet painted.

Todd Thorsgaard

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A strategic leader pop quiz – are you ready??

The dreaded pop quiz. I can still remember how I felt when hearing those words when I was in school. If I had done my homework, I didn’t flinch. But if I wasn’t prepared, my heart would start pounding!

Yes, I have a strategic leader pop quiz for you today, but first let’s study what will be on the test.

Research conducted by the Wharton School of Business and the consulting firm Decision Strategies International, Inc. (DSI) on over 20,000 leaders identified six “essential skills” that can be assessed and developed to become an adaptive strategic leader.

Anticipate – the ability to recognize subtle or ambiguous threats and opportunities before they affect your team or organization. Strategic leaders take action to “scan the horizon” by:

  • continually talking and listening to all stakeholders
  • gathering market research and utilizing scenario planning
  • interacting with people and organizations in other fields

Challenge – closely examining the current situation, assumptions being made and the popular point of view. Strategic leaders focus on reflection and examination from multiple points of view by:

  • searching for root causes and underlying issues not just the surface indicators
  • identifying and examining assumptions
  • actively seeking out alternative perspectives and encouraging debate

Interpret – the ability to accept and synthesize diverse and conflicting input and information. Strategic leaders seek new insights by:

  • identifying multiple explanations for observations, issues and results
  • actively seeking out and listening to diverse perspectives when analyzing information
  • using both observational and analytical analysis
  • taking a break and providing space for uncluttered analysis

Decide – use a disciplined process to make decisions, even when lacking information or time. Strategic leaders take responsibility for making decisions and using a robust process by:

  • rejecting either-or scenarios and asking “what other options do we have?”
  • identifying unexpected consequences
  • keeping stakeholders informed on the status of the decision
  • utilizing pilots and staged decisions

Align – discover common ground and buy-in among diverse perspectives and multiple stakeholders. Strategic leaders proactively build the trust needed to facilitate alignment between divergent points of view by:

  • over communicating (early, often, 8 ways, 8 times, etc.)
  • identifying and acknowledging concerns and issues in advance
  • reaching out to resisters and listening before explaining
  • recognizing when and where team members and stakeholders are willing to support the overall purpose or values of the organization

Learn – facilitate continuous organizational learning. Strategic leaders promote a culture of inquiry and learning lessons, both from success and failures, by:

  • conducting after-action reviews and lessons learned sessions
  • transparently sharing and communicating the information from the reviews and learning sessions
  • recognizing and rewarding people who take action and utilize lessons learned

Strategic leadership requires a mix of all six essential elements but the good news is that leaders can develop them.

Are you ready for a short pop quiz to help you identify where you shine and where you may want to take action to become a more strategic leader? Here is a link to a short assessment developed by the Wharton School and DSI on the six essential elements of strategic leadership.

Todd Thorsgaard

 

Walking the slackline

Nimble, agile, focused, adaptable, relying on others, willing to take a risk, moving forward, and getting up after you fall. That is how I describe my slackliner friends. It is also describes a leader who is strategic and works as a partner.

During November we will be sharing stories, ideas and resources focused on being a strategic leader and partner. In a recent HBR article, Paul Schoemaker, Steve Krupp and Samatha Howland say that leaders can make the biggest difference for their people and their organizations when the work environment is most uncertain–if they are adaptive, strategic leaders. In their words, this means “Someone who is both resolute and flexible, persistent in the face of setbacks but also able to react strategically to environmental shifts.”

Certainly the higher education work environment is uncertain. The national and global economy is going through rapid changes and most leaders I talk with point out that their industry is in the midst of epic transformations. So, we all have a great opportunity to make a difference as leaders now. But it takes work and skill development to be strategic leader and partner.

Are you ready to try walking the slackline?

Todd Thorsgaard

Get your steps!

Becoming a transformational leader can seem intimidating. It can seem like something you are either born to be or not. In reality it all starts with getting your daily steps in. Sometimes called “management by walking around” as described in the Tom Peters and Bob Waterman 1982 bestseller In Search of Excellence.

An article in one of my favorite resources for leaders, the website MindTools: Essential skills for an excellent career, highlights how to connect with your people and build the relationships that lead to transformational work by getting your steps in!

Management by wandering around” does require more than just aimless chatting or random office visits.  MindTools encourages leaders to:

  • Relax – take a deep breath, calm your mind and make it easy for people to be open with you.
  • Listen and Observe – take the time to understand your people and demonstrate genuine interest in their perspective.
  • Be Inclusive – wander everywhere, strategically plan to connect with your whole team.
  • Recognize Good Work – encourage people to share what they are proud of and give specific compliments.
  • Spread the Word – share what you hear with others and share what you know about the work being done.
  • Embrace Chat – learn more about people’s non-work interests and lives. Demonstrate that you are aware they are more than just what they do at work.
  • Don’t Overdo It – don’t hover over people or become a distraction.
  • Review Your Conversations – assess what you have learned, take action and solve problems.

Transformational leaders know their people and know their work.

Todd Thorsgaard

 

One size DOESN’T fit all

Standardization and consistency are necessary but not sufficient if you want to be a leader that truly helps your people thrive. As my humorous picture depicts: people are not the same! They need different sizes and types of leadership from you. Different strokes for different folks informs individualized consideration which is the fourth I of transformational leadership.

Individualized consideration focuses on the importance of leaders recognizing the unique characteristics of each person on their team, respecting and valuing their uniqueness, and most importantly taking different actions based on their unique needs and strengths.

The first step starts at a personal level. Individualized concern asks leaders to genuinely demonstrate awareness and interest in the individual needs or concerns of their people.  Next your leadership actions must vary and be customized to bring out best in each person on the team.

Sounds challenging and it is. However small steps matter and people appreciate authentic interest. Informal conversations, purposeful checking in, listening and being open to new perspectives will help you detect what is important to each person on your team. Do they like data? Are they drawn to the concerns of others? Do deadlines energize them? Are they focused on new ideas? Do they want clear processes or structure? You get the idea.

Acknowledging the uniqueness of the people you lead and supporting them so they can leverage their strengths will unleash the potential in your team.

Todd Thorsgaard

Follow the leader

It takes more than saying the right things to be a transformational leader; you have to do the right things! And that takes work.

Through their work transformational leaders demonstrate Idealized Influence, the first of the 4 I’s that Anita described in her post on Monday.  Just like the lead biker in a team time trial, they don’t just have a powerful message or good ideas. They lead by example. They are the type of leader who isn’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and work along side you.

In fact, through their actions they become such a positive role model that people are inspired to follow. The following actions or behaviors are often listed when people describe a transformational leader. They:

  • Walk the talk
  • Would never ask you to do something they wouldn’t do
  • Stay true to their values without worrying about outside opinions
  • Spread enthusiasm and integrity
  • Provide real-life examples through their actions
  • Take personal risks when it is the right thing to do
  • Inspire through action

Becoming a more transformational leader is a lot of work, but the trust and engagement you build can set the stage for success.

Todd Thorsgaard

 

 

 

The time is right!

Devinder Malhotra, the new interim chancellor for Minnesota State, has stated that there has never been a better moment in time for our leaders to make a profound difference. Due to the challenges we face, the complexity of a system of colleges and universities, and the incredible difference our schools can make in the lives of the people of Minnesota, now is the time to be a leader.

One type of leadership Malhotra was highlighting is defined by Bernard Bass in his groundbreaking book, Transformational Leadership.  Transformational leadership works well in exceedingly complex organizations made up of diverse and challenging work groups that need to feel empowered to succeed in times of great uncertainty. Sound familiar?

Transformational leadership is best recognized by the impact it has on people in the organization. This type of leadership causes people to trust, respect, and even admire, their leaders. Transformational leaders:

  • Hold positive expectations for their people and show their people that they believe they will succeed.
  • Focus on and demonstrate that they care about their people’s personal and professional development.

Can you picture the leaders who have made a difference in your life through their transformational leadership?

Todd Thorsgaard