Strategic plans, work plans, goals, action items, tactics, timelines… these are all fantastic tools for strategic leaders. They are important, and even necessary, to help leverage people’s work efforts and accomplish organizational mission. But we all know that our best laid plans can be disrupted by problems and opportunities during the year.
In those cases, what is a strategic leader to do? Abandon all hope of strategic planning and just go with the flow? Dump your plan and stay in reactive mode? I think not!
One strategy my team used to plan for unexpected problems or opportunities was a priority-setting brainstorm session. We identified criteria that should be used in prioritizing the activities we already have in our work plan as well as any new work that might emerge during the year. Some of the questions we explored included:
- How should we set priorities?
- What criteria do strategies or activities need to meet in order to be included in our work plan?
- What goals and guiding principles should we be consistently supporting as a unit?
- Does new work need to meet ALL priority-setting criteria or just some?
It was a fruitful discussion that helped us anchor our work plan and work priorities in overarching goals for our division and the system. We discussed the impact of our work, our customer’s needs, and the environment in which we work. We also had a useful conversation about how we want to work together as a team, and we agreed upon our own set of operating principles.
Since that conversation, I’ve noticed some of my team members have been more mindful of high-level priorities and have increased confidence in setting boundaries with other colleagues. In fact, just today I was copied on an email one of my team members sent to a colleague, explaining that a particular project would need to sit on the back burner until her higher priority work was completed. Now that’s leading and working strategically.
Last week we talked about ways to show your support for an organizational decision, beyond just talking about it. But what happens if it soon becomes apparent that it was the wrong decision?
A Google search of “incorrect decisions”, which is how I began brainstorming for this post, brings up multiple links: “America’s Biggest Foreign Policy Fiascos”, “Stupidest Business Decisions Ever Made”, and the more generic “10 of the Worst Decisions Ever Made”. Poor decisions are everywhere, but it’s how they’re handled that often gets noticed the most.
Leaders who successfully weather these storms have some things in common:
Take responsibility: Nobody likes to hear excuses. Own up to the mistake, then describe how it will be fixed.
Don’t play the blame game: Throwing your employees under the bus by publicly blaming them, either indirectly or directly, isn’t generally well received.
Learn from it: In retrospect, what could have been done to avoid this, and how can you keep it from happening again?
Everyone makes mistakes, but not everyone handles them the same. Taking the high road when things go wrong is almost always the correct route.
One of the best decisions a leader can make is to decide to let others make decisions and to create a decision-maker culture. That is what Dennis Bakke recommends in his book, The Decision Maker: Unlock the Potential of Everyone in Your Organization, One Decision at a Time.
As a leader, you are ultimately accountable for how decisions turn out. That can cause many people to hold tightly to their decision-making authority. Instead Bakke reminds us that sharing decision-making responsibility actually can lead to better decisions, more employee engagement, develops employees expertise and supports professional development. To help leaders identify the best person, or group, to make different decisions Bakke describes a formal “decision-maker process.” Use the following four elements to guide your selection:
- Proximity – how close to the situation is the person and can they also see the big picture?
- Perspective – can the person bring a different point of view or utilize multiple points of view?
- Experience – does the person have enough experience in the situation to be able to actually make a decision?
- Wisdom – will you and others trust their decision?
From my experience, when a leader asks me to make a decision it can feel overwhelming and I may feel like I need to prove my worth by making the decision all on my own! If your people react in the same way sharing decision-making can actually backfire. To help address this issue Bakke encourages leaders to coach their people on how to seek out and take advice when making a decision. He also defines good advice as coming from people who have:
- Experience – they know or understand the situation.
- Different positions in the organization – they can provide multiple and diverse perspectives.
- Responsibility – they have an actual connection to the situation and the decision or outcome.
- Ownership – they will back up their advice and the ultimate decision.
It can be scary to relinquish decision-making responsibility but it is a risk worth taking!
Since I work in the Wells Fargo Place building, I’ve been interested in their recent ethical problems. A business professor from Wharton recently published an article about the issue. He looked at similar violations in the finance industry, as well as the Volkswagen scandal, and concluded that actions by leadership can normalize what would otherwise be seen as dishonest.
For example, it appears that over 5,300 employees at Wells Fargo were involved in creating unauthorized accounts and charging unauthorized fees against them. Equally troubling, the HR unit had a plan for firing employees who reported the unethical behavior. And because of the widespread misbehavior, authorities are now having a hard time holding people accountable.
We in higher education are not responsible for people’s finances, but as leaders we make decisions that impact hiring, work roles, and many aspects of the campus climate. We can normalize decisions that are ethical, civil, and respectful to everyone. Over the past year I’ve been learning a lot about unconscious bias in hiring and employment, and how some things we consider “normal” are putting some people at a disadvantage without our realizing it. I need to examine my leadership decisions to be sure they support the climate we want to create.
What kind of decisions do you make in your leadership role? How can you be sure they are promoting ethical behavior in others?
Dee Anne Bonebright
In the end, Dorothy, the lion, the scarecrow and the tin man each had what they needed within themselves to get to the end of the yellow brick road. To build organizational capacity, leaders and team members must also travel down an unknown road into the future. This type of action in the face of uncertainty requires personal accountability by leaders and the development and support of personal accountability for team members.
Roger Conners and Tom Smith, in their book The Wisdom of Oz, share ideas on how to assume accountability for our own actions, how not be defined by our circumstances and how to take action to reach our goals.
Their Four Steps to Accountability are:
- See It – acknowledge your own blind spots to reality and seek out additional information to truly “see” the whole picture. This often involves asking others for their point of view – and listening to it.
- Own It – acknowledge your own role in the current situation and take responsibility for finding a solution or taking action to move forward.
- Solve It – do the work required to find a solution, or make a change. This can involve doing research, seeking input, working with others, trying options, or other techniques. But you must take ownership of finding what you need to do.
- Do It – take concrete action to do what you need to do when you need to do it!
We don’t always know what the future will bring but if we accept our personal accountability we can shape our own future and not be controlled by a wizard behind the curtain.
Posted in Accountability, build organizational talent, Developing Capacity, Leadership, leadership development, leading authentically, self awareness
Tagged accountability, asking questions, blind spots, Leadership, self-awareness
It is pretty easy to collaborate with close colleagues, it gets much trickier when we need to collaborate across boundaries. It can even get downright painful!
Today, I am excited to share an example of collaboration across boundaries to ensure future success. The Minnesota State system of colleges and universities announced at today’s Board of Trustee meeting that we will guarantee admission to students who students who complete the Minnesota Transfer Curriculum and earn a minimum 2.0 GPA* in an Associate of Arts (AA) degree from any Minnesota State college to every one of our seven Minnesota State universities with junior year status.
This required collaboration across multiple boundaries, including; community and technical colleges, state universities, administrators, faculty, labor organizations, local admissions offices, system office leaders and just a whole bunch of individuals with strong opinions.
As Dan Sanker highlights in his book, Collaborate! The Art of We, collaboration like this is required for success in the complex and competitive world we face in higher education (and all fields.)
I was not a part of the work to develop the admissions guarantee collaboration but I imagine it contained most of the elements that Sanker describes as essential for successful collaboration:
- Ongoing communication – even when it gets tough
- Willing participation – not up front agreement but a willingness to explore
- Brainstorming – open to alternative ideas
- Teamwork – all must participate
- A common purpose – the crucial starting point that requires clarification and alignment
- Trust – requires both time and demonstrated behavior
- A plan – turn ideas to action
- A diverse group – provides the unique perspectives to develop innovative ideas and action
- Mutual respect – foundation for work
- A written agreement – creates a shared understanding
- Effective leadership – not just a single title but actions to keep the group focused and help when the process goes off-track
Each of us are responsible for creating the conditions that will support collaborative efforts on our teams and across work groups on our campuses. Sanker’s list can help our teams avoid getting stuck on the barbed wire fences that pop up at work.
Posted in Accountability, build organizational talent, building teams, Developing Capacity, higher education, Leadership
Tagged accountability, Capacity, collaboration, communication, diversity, higher education, innovation, Leadership
One leadership competency that is always important is the ability to respond in the moment. I am going to take a quick detour from stewardship and share a powerful set of stories and images from the past week. This photo by @NickLenz captures what it means to be a leader in higher education. Students, faculty, staff, administrators and interim president Ashish Vaiyda all joined together for a rally this week in response to the stabbing incident in St. Cloud, Minnesota.
I have been proud to read the stories of how one of our schools has demonstrated true compassion in response to a tragedy and unwavering support of students and community members who are threatened because of their ethnic background. They all stepped up in a public arena and led a rally for unity. Afterwards they also hosted small group discussions.
I will let their words and pictures speak for themselves.
#StCloudUnited twitter feed
MPR News story
Bring Me the News story
St. Cloud Times story
Stillwater Patch story
KNSI radio story
Have a peaceful weekend.
Posted in Accountability, common good, equity, higher education, integrity, Leadership, leading authentically, racial tension
Tagged accountability, cultural competency, diversity, equity, executive presence, higher education, integrity, Leadership, organizational culture, Tragedy at Work, values