Author Archives: 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

It never stops!

transition

I don’t want to cause alarm. Don’t be shocked! But, as Bob Dylan reminded us in 1964, “The Times They Are a-Changin'”. People change, jobs change, leaders change, organizations change, students change, politics change, technologies change, employees change, you change and I change.

Change can be good, bad or in-between. It can be planned or unexpected, purposeful or random, small or large. And it will affect you and your people.

During March and April we will be sharing ideas, tips, tools, resources and asking questions related to your role as a leader during the transitions that occur as a result of these changes. What can be done to plan for change, how to respond to change, ideas for leading change, how to support a new leader, how to be a new leader, what to do when a leader is leaving, what to do when you are leaving, facilitating employee transitions, and other ideas you suggest or want to share.

We can’t stop change. In fact, we don’t want to stop it but we can learn how to make the transitions more successful.

Todd Thorsgaard

That makes no sense!!

conflict-management-techniques

“That’s crazy,” “I could never do it that way,” You’re wrong,” “No, listen to me!”

Are you hearing statements like these at work? When new ideas are introduced are you seeing battle lines drawn? How do you lead for the common good when it seems like your people have completely different goals in mind?

Well, not to ignore how hard it is but the place to start is with dialogue. Which means helping people actually listen to each other, even if they disagree with what the other person is saying. Your goal is to help people move from:

  • arguing
  • persuading or telling
  • focusing on differences
  • talking at each other

All of which lead to frustration, lack of trust and either/or thinking.

And move to:

  • listening
  • talking with each other
  • problem-solving
  • looking at options

That requires finding some sort of common or shared interests as a starting point for dialogue. Instead of focusing on the dangers of the other point of view and highlighting the positive of their own point of view, help people work on specific issues by looking deeper and identifying underlying values, goals, and concerns that both sides share.

We encourage the leaders we work with to ask these two straightforward questions to build trust and identify shared interests.

  1. What do we all want?
  2. We do we all fear or want to avoid?

It will take work to keep people from focusing on their initial points of view and look at the bigger picture, but facilitating this conversation will help you and your people find a common good you can all agree on, and that is a great starting point!

Todd Thorsgaard

Common good doesn’t mean we all agree

conflictLeading for the common good isn’t peaceful. Agreement isn’t the goal. Paraphrasing writer Walter Lippmann, “when we all think alike, no one thinks very much.” To work together for the common good a leader needs to be prepared for conflict and embrace conflict.

Liane Davey, author of You First: Inspire Your Team to Grow Up, Get Along, and get Stuff Done, reminds us that for teams to be effective and work together they need to experience tension and disagreement, wrestle with it, push back, open up, share, listen and only then move forward. It’s not a quiet process and not what we often think of as good leadership. But think about the best teams you have worked on. Was it acceptable to have a different opinion? To raise a concern? Or to even get a little worked up about the problem you were addressing? I bet it was!

If you are willing to dive into the messiness of collaboration and conflict as a necessary element of moving towards a common good, Davey recently shared three ideas that leaders can use to help their teams embrace “productive conflict.”

  1. Define, discuss and understand the different roles and agendas of each person on the team. Take the time to ensure that everyone understands that each person has an  agenda based on their role and that each agenda is different. Not better or worse but different. And that it is normal for the different agendas to lead to conflict that is not personal but necessary to reach the best solution in the end. Make it OK to disagree based on their unique roles and responsibilities.
  2. Pay attention to style differences between team members. Use a tool or a facilitated discussion to clarify the different approaches team members use to learn, take in information, communicate, make decisions, or do tasks. Ensure that each style is described in a positive way and highlight the value that each style brings to the team. Finally, highlight how it is natural for conflict to arise due to style differences and that you expect people to leverage their styles to facilitate collaboration, even if it gets uncomfortable.
  3. Set ground rules on acceptable dissension. Have an open conversation and identify what behaviors lead to conflict that improves how the team functions and what behaviors actually destroy trust and teamwork. Describe what is acceptable and what is not acceptable and the process the team will use to hold each other accountable.

As nice as peace and calm can be, leadership is a lot messier and noisier – and that’s OK!

Todd Thorsgaard