Author Archives: Todd Thorsgaard

How deep is your well of trust?

When I was growing up, my dad and grandpa dug the well at our cabin by hand. I still remember how deep they were, how they had to reinforce the dirt to make sure it didn’t collapse and and how scary it was. They had to keep digging deeper and deeper before they hit water. They had to have a deep trust in each other and in what they were doing to stay safe. After about 32 feet they struck water and 53 years later we still get our water from that well.

Leadership may not be quite so dangerous, but it does require trust. Diane Gray, owner of Grayheart Consulting, describes three levels or depth of trust that leaders need to build to be successful. As you get deeper, it gets harder, but the payoff is worth it.

One Strike and You Are Out Trust

This is the most shallow level of trust. It is transactional and exists when there is a punishment as a consequence for behaviors that break trust. Fear of reprisal and positional power are the basis for trust at this level. Trust is fragile and broken easily. While it is a tenuous trust, it can be successful when leaders act with integrity.

Knowledge and Understanding Trust

This is the mid-level of trust. It exists when people know and understand what they need to do and when others know and understand what to do. Interactions and behaviors are predictable and “make sense” so people trust each other. This level of trust takes time to develop since it requires multiple interactions and repeated behavior. It isn’t based on immediate transactions, includes forgiveness and a more complete understanding of behaviors, and thus is a deeper level of trust. Trust at this level creates loyalty and more engagement.

Advocating Trust

The deepest level of trust. Leaders develop this level of trust by demonstrating “they have their people’s backs.” When leaders are open, transparent, and willing to listen to their people they can build deeper relationships and deeper trust. Taking the time explore options, argue, share concerns and how decisions are made helps people feel valued and safe. They trust that their leader will advocate for them and are willing to fully engage in their work and the success of their organization. Gray suggests that this depth of trust includes:

  • Integrity
  • Competence
  • Consistency
  • Loyalty
  • Openness

How deep is your well of trust? Do you need to do some digging?

Todd Thorsgaard

 

“I knew you were going to do that!”

Predictability is a core foundation of trust. In fact it is a requirement if you want people to trust you. And in the world of work it is often where you, as a leader, have the best opportunity to earn the trust of the people you work with.

The Oxford Dictionary defines trust as “the firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone.” Or in my words, can you count on someone! Certainly being honest and having skills is important but what people are watching is your behavior. Do they have confidence in what you will do or say next – based on what you have done and said in the past.

Roger Fisher and Scott Brown in their book, Getting Together, highlight that personal predictability is the one constant that can maintain trust, even in complex and uncertain work environments. So how do leaders demonstrate predictability? You certainly can’t make guarantees and you can’t predict the future with 100% certainty but you can take the following actions:

  1. Don’t over commit. Carefully examine what what you are committing to do. Following through on a commitment is more important than making a large number of commitments.
  2. Document or note your commitments. In the chaos of leadership it is easy to lose track of statements you have made to people.
  3. Take time to review your commitments. It is easy to get distracted or to move on to your next task. Taking the time to review commitments and purposely finishing them makes you trustworthy to others.
  4. Provide updates. Let others know the behind the scenes progress you are making or share the reasons that priorities have changed. Don’t be a black hole.

There are few guarantees in the world but demonstrating that you can be counted on helps your people say, “Yes, I trust you!”

Todd Thorsgaard

Earning trust

Welcome to the month of May. In the Midwest we are working hard to rid ourselves of our final snow piles and welcome the first signs of spring. Less than two weeks ago we had over 20 inches of snow on the ground but this weekend my first tulips poked through. Sometimes it is hard to trust that they will return but they do! May is also the month that we will be talking about leaders building trust. Not just building trust but earning trust!

The late author Max De Pree stated “Earning trust is not easy, nor is it cheap, nor does it happen quickly. Earning trust is hard and demanding work.” And the author of The Trust Edge, David Horsager states that the starting point for leaders is to “resist the urge to think about others and whether or not they deserve to be trusted. Take responsibility for yourself … when you change yourself, you have the best chance of impacting your organization …”

Specifically Horsager tells leaders to focus their attention on the question, do people trust me? What am I doing so that they “believe in my ability, my consistency, my integrity, and my commitment to deliver.”  When you are believed in you are trusted.

We will be sharing ideas and opening a dialogue with you on actions you can take to build, sustain and earn the trust of the people you lead. It is a never-ending process but as the leadership pioneer and scholar Warren Bennis says, “trust is the lubrication that makes it possible for organizations to work.”

Todd Thorsgaard

Extending your leadership presence on Twitter

By guest blogger Kirsten Jensen

Over the years, I’ve heard lots of reasons why leaders don’t have a professional social media presence. From being unsure about what they would post to simply not having time, there are plenty of reasons why we don’t get started. But, when done with intention, social media can be a powerful tool in service of some of our most important leadership priorities.

The real magic happens when we use social media to connect. In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown writes, “I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued.” Stephen M.R. Covey describes a similar energy in The Speed of Trust, comparing relationships to bank accounts where we deposit and withdraw trust. The more abundant the trust in our accounts, the more connected we are, the better we work together and the faster we get things done.  As leaders, so many of our priorities center around building trust. And, while in-person connections will always be our biggest deposits, I believe social media can create small but important moments where our students and staff know they are seen, heard and valued.

So, don’t spend time on social media. Spend time building connections and trust, using social media as a tool. The leadership team at Minnesota State University Moorhead has done an exceptional job of extending their leadership presence on Twitter. Here are four ways you can extend your leadership influence with Twitter, with examples from MSUM.

Why Twitter?

It’s often said that Facebook is for the people you know personally,  LinkedIn is for the people you know professionally and Twitter is for the people you want to know. That is to say, the fact that you don’t have to mutually follow one another and privacy settings are often open, makes Twitter an ideal place to connect with folks who care about similar ideas, organizations or people. Because we aren’t always sure who we want to meet, it can take a little longer to get started on Twitter. But, once you begin to listen for mentions of your organization or your hashtags, you’ll find lots of amazing conversations to join.

Get inspired.

Check out a live feed from MSUM’s social media team, at this Twitter list: https://twitter.com/MSUMoorhead/lists/msum-social-media-team Or, for examples that cross multiple industries, see this Twitter list of people who have been featured as examples in my training: https://twitter.com/NextKirsten/lists/nextinspiration1

I hope this inspires you to overcome the excuses and try your hand at Twitter. Connect with me @NextKirsten – I’d love to get to know you.

 

Kirsten Jensen (@NextKirsten) is a social media coach, trainer and consultant at Next Action Digital.

https://twitter.com/NextKirsten

No more boring presentations!

Sad to say this is often what we see after making a presentation! If people can’t stay awake or follow along, it is hard to be an effective communicator, no matter how important your message is.

A few years ago, I had an epiphany on how to design and deliver presentations after I read Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds. In his landmark book, he describes a new philosophy—not a method—to help professionals create and deliver meaningful presentations.

While I highly encourage you to peruse his website or buy his book, I want to highlight one key aspect of his philosophy. Garr emphasizes that slides are only one part of a presentation. Your slides don’t have to include everything and when they do you miss an opportunity do deliver an effective message. Effective presentations have three parts.

  1. The visuals. These are the slides your audience will actually see. They only support your key message.
  2. Your notes. The content and information you need to see to help you verbally share your key messages.
  3. The handout. A document (not your slides or notes) that your audience will take away with them.

This does require more effort by you, but the outcome is worth it. People will walk away with a clear understanding of your core message and with the details they need to take action. Simplifying your visuals keeps them from being a distraction, impossible to read, or boring. Taking the time to create a full set of notes will help you rehearse and feel more confident. Developing and distributing a handout provides people with the extra details or background information they after you present.

As Garr states in his book, “Handouts can set you free!”

Todd Thorsgaard

 

Bridge building

Not all bridges look alike but they are crucial connections when we need to get from one place to another.

At its core, leadership communication is about building connections between people – who all have their own lived experience, point of view, culture and ideas. Communication gets more complicated when you want to connect genuinely with someone who sees the world differently than you do!

Authors Claire Raines and Lara Ewing in their book, The Art of Connecting, provide tips and ideas to help leaders communicate across all points of view. They describe five principles that help strengthen connection:

  1. There is always a bridge. Move from asking if you can connect to asking yourself what you will discover and use to connect. Remind yourself that with persistence there is always something to use as a bridge between two people.
  2. Curiosity is the key.  Stay open to what you are hearing and experiencing when you are interacting with others. Remind yourself that everyone has something to teach.
  3. What you assume is what you get. Perception is reality when dealing with people.
  4. Each individual is a culture. Everyone is a complex and unique combination of factors. Don’t rely on one or two pieces to define anyone.
  5. No strings are attached. You can only control yourself. Your genuine curiosity and connection can’t be used as leverage to influence others. Authenticity is crucial.

If you look hard enough you will find a bridge to connect with anyone!

Todd Thorsgaard

How to listen? – Don’t talk!

Simon Sinek offers a simple, yet powerful, rule for leaders to be better listeners. Refrain from sharing your opinion until everyone else has spoken! It is his “Lesson Four” for successful leaders.

Your people are super-attuned to your words and behaviors and naturally search for cues to understand what your priorities are. This human tendency can get in the way when you want to hear their opinions, ideas, insights or concerns – to truly listen to them.

Inc. magazine recently shared three tips to help leaders “talk last” to ensure that their people talk first.

  1. Listen – and do absolutely nothing else! Don’t speak verbally or non-verbally. Do your best to eliminate gestures, head nodding, comments, affirmations, or concerns until all have shared and others have commented.
  2. Ask questions like an interviewer. When you do talk start by asking “unbiased” or clarification questions. Think of yourself as an outside interviewer who just wants to better understand what you have heard – with no stake in the game! Seek to discover the “why” behind their ideas and then the “how” before you add your perspective.
  3. Disagree and commit. If you have concerns about what you are hearing, continue to explore the reason behind their ideas until you completely understand the why  – then share your ideas. If possible commit to trying their idea or search for potential alternatives that address all points of view.

I think you will be impressed by what you hear if your people have the space to speak – first!

Todd Thorsgaard

 

Driving growth, fueling retention, and improving organizational outcomes

By guest blogger Josefina Landrieu

What if I told you that there is a practice out there that will get at:

  • Driving  growth?
  • Fueling retention?
  • Improving organizational outcomes?

You’ll likely question my idea by saying “there is no silver bullet!” And no, there is no silver bullet. But there is a practice that when implemented effectively, helps to address some of the greatest challenges in employee retention, workplace inclusion, and organizational outcomes. More importantly, THIS practice helps employers build a diverse and inclusive workforce, cultivate relationships with their employees and recruit/retain talent in an extremely competitive marketplace. Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) deliver real value in promoting diversity and helping employees feel included in the organization’s culture. And it doesn’t have to stop there, ERGs help with retention, team productivity, and workplace climate. Although ERGs have been mostly used in the corporate sector, higher education is now following suit.

I was a member of an ERG at my previous institution and it served as a great opportunity to network with peers, to gain a stronger sense of belonging, and to experience mentorship opportunities. As an ERG, we co-sponsored events for professional development for employees of color that included bringing in speakers, conducting trainings, and delivering workshops. The group also provided less structured opportunities for employee socialization and engagement. It’s critical to allow the group to decide its focus while adhering to the organization’s principles, and mission for equity and inclusion.

What do ERGs look like in higher education? Here are some tips for successful implementation:

  • They are supported by an HR/Equity & Inclusion lead
  • They are open to all employees & participation is voluntary
  • They promote diversity, inclusion, and understanding
  • They adhere to the organization’s policies and procedures
  • They serve as a vehicle for a more distributed leadership model
  • They have organizational sponsors and sometimes funding

The first 60 to 90 days of employment are a critical time for any new hire, and they can be particularly challenging for members of traditionally underrepresented groups. That short window of time can mean the difference between whether an employee stays for the long run or leaves before the year is out. Research from the Conference Board shows that participating in an ERG leads to greater retention for employees from underrepresented groups. And, in addition to impacting employee retention, ERGs can provide key cultural insights, which can be critical to HR practices. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT, has actively embraced this inclusive practice. They report that ERGs have resulted in increased workplace satisfaction among participants and provide insightful feedback to the organization, an excellent return on investment.

Josefina Landrieu is the Assistant Chief Diversity Officer for Minnesota State.

“Ruthlessly realistic”

“Stop pretending.”
“How did they treat you?”
“No such thing as color blind.”
“Being comfortable being uncomfortable”

These are strong words that capture the essence of a TED talk I want to share with you. Mellody Hobson says that mentioning race is the conversational equivalent of “touching the third rail.”  It can feel risky and people don’t know how to respond.

As leaders, Hobson says it is important for us to step bravely into the conversation about racism and discrimination at work. Acknowledging the realities of discrimination and overcoming our fear of talking about it is the first step to creating inclusive workplaces.

Join over 2 million people and take a few minutes to watch and listen to her 2014 TED talk.

It’s hard, but we need to be “color brave, not color blind.”

Todd Thorsgaard

Can you hear me?

Are you reacting differently to these quotes? Would it be different if they weren’t attached to the photos or attributed to a specific person?

This isn’t a new phenomenon but it seems to be getting worse. We are not very good at listening to people we perceive as different from ourselves. That makes it hard to build inclusive work teams, share diverse points of view, and leverage the strengths of everyone on your team.

The founders of Living Room Conversations want to help people actually listen to each other rather than debate and talk at each other. Recently a number of leaders at several of our campuses have used the Living Room conversation agreements and topic-specific conversation guides to tackle the tough topics of status, privilege and race with diverse groups of faculty and staff.

Conversation Agreements

  1. Be curious and open to learning
  2. Show respect and suspend judgement
  3. Look for common ground and appreciate differences
  4. Be authentic and welcome that from others
  5. Be purposeful and to the point
  6. Own and guide the conversation

The actual conversations become structured “deep listening sessions” that include an orientation to the process, intentional time-keeping and facilitation and a closing period. An example of the status and privilege guide can be found here – Conversation Guide.

I can attest to the almost magical listening and sharing that occurs during a living room conversation. People stop interrupting each other, they smile as they hear the stories others share, and they are surprised by how easy it is to share their own story with people who are actually listening to them.

When we asked participants after the conversations the majority responded that they had not changed their personal points of view but they now could see more common ground with their colleagues, despite their differences. Further, there was universal support for more dialogue.

Using a structure to help people actually listen to each other can provide a starting point for greater inclusion, in the workplace and beyond.

Todd Thorsgaard