Category Archives: change and transition

Creating a sense of system

I recently heard a great example of transformational leadership. Devinder Malhotra, the interim chancellor for Minnesota State, shared his vision of what it means to be a system:  it’s when we jointly take ownership of the success of all our students, no matter where they are enrolled.

I first heard him make this comment in an interview on Minnesota Public Radio. He reinforced it earlier this week at the Academic and Student Affairs leadership conference. This definition presents a clear picture of where we are going, and helps us to think about the necessity to work together outside of our usual boundaries and silos.

During the conference I learned about many ways this is happening. There are large-scale efforts such as the transfer pathways work that is supporting what students are already doing–completing their education by attending multiple institutions within Minnesota State. On a smaller scale, I learned how the culinary program at Saint Paul College is helping students from China to succeed at Metropolitan State University.

Another conference speaker, Dr. David J. Weerts from the University of Minnesota, helped us think about what it means to work together for the common good of our students and our society. He pointed out that historically this has meant different things to different people. Does it mean educating citizens and preparing leaders for the future? Does it mean ensuring that all of our students can achieve economic success? Or does it mean focusing on social justice and ensuring that everyone has an equal chance for education?

Clearly we need to do all of these things. It is going to require working together in new ways, across institutions, across lines of rank and status, and across bargaining unit lines, to name a few. As Chancellor Malhotra said, no individual institution will be sustainable by standing on its own.

Dee Anne Bonebright

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Becoming a strategic leader

Our HR community at Minnesota State is in the midst of a lot of change, both at the system level and at our individual campuses. We’ve been together this week at our fall conference and have been thinking about how we can all be strategic leaders to help ourselves and our clients navigate the changes successfully.

I was able to enjoying the beautiful scenery in Brainerd and have time for some personal reflection, which always refreshes my personal leadership.  Here are a few other things I took away:

Everyone has a role to play. Our group included several people with over 30 years of service, and someone with 3 days. It was great to experience the sense of collaboration as we talked about ways to work together and support each other. I appreciated how our HR leadership team showed that we all need to be leaders in our own areas.

Change is hard. The conference included operational issues and technical problems that need to be addressed as new technology is introduced. It also included discussions of how to help people deal with personal implications of changing job roles. It was clear that any major change includes a lot of moving pieces and it takes a whole community to manage them.

People are in different places.  In one of the breakout sessions, Todd reminded us about the “marathon effect” of change. Some of us are leaders who have been working with our new organization structure for quite some time, others of us were further back from the starting line and are just now getting involved day-to-day. We all need to recognize each other’s viewpoint and perspective.

It’s been valuable to be together as a community to learn together and recognize that we’re not alone in what we’re thinking and feeling. As leaders, providing opportunities for our team members to spend time focusing on our shared work creates long-term benefits for everyone.

Dee Anne Bonebright

You mean I have to talk (and listen) to people!

As a confirmed and proud introvert it is hard for me to reach out and ask for help. Others of you may be confident extroverts and struggle to truly listen to others. Either way, when you transition into a new leadership role it is crucial to take the time to initiate conversations and to spend time listening to what others have to say.

Peter Daly and Michael Watson, authors of The First 90 Days in Government: Critical Success Strategies for New Public Managers at all Levels,   describe five crucial subjects or themes that  new leaders need to understand as they move into a new role or take on a new project. This requires having the following “the five conversations” with your leader or colleagues.

  1. The Situation Conversation – discover how your boss and others perceive 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 and colleagues or stakeholders 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 leaders strategically approach the transition to a new role.

Todd Thorsgaard

Choices and new beginnings

Sometimes leaders know they need to make a new beginning, either personally or for the organization, but they can’t figure out how to start.  There may be many options, and sometimes these options are complete opposites.

We’ve written several times before about managing polarities – the kind of decision making that needs to happen when there are two opposing options, both of which have positive benefits.

A natural tendency is to look for some sort of compromise. But sometimes the compromise results in an outcome that doesn’t satisfy anyone. In their new book, Creating Great Choices: A Leader’s Guide to Integrative Thinking, Jennifer Riel and Roger Martin talk about ways to get out of the trap of either/or thinking and come up with new solutions.

So what does that have to do with Legos? As Riel describes in this interview with Harvard Business Review, the executives at Lego had to make a difficult choice related to the movie. Should they hold on to creative control and protect the brand, or should they give creative control to skilled professionals who would create an exciting movie but might not serve the brand well?

The executives came up with a new solution that resulted in a blockbuster hit. It was a win for Lego and for the creators of the movie. (Check out the interview to find out what that solution was.)

Is there an area where you are feeling stuck in either/or thinking? How can you look at the problem in new ways?

Dee Anne Bonebright

“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

Making a reset

I have a confession. A few minutes ago I finished a task that I’ve been procrastinating about for several weeks. It took less than 15 minutes and I’m sure I’ve spent more time than that adding it to to-do lists and thinking about it. It feels great to finally check it off!

That step was part of some new habits that I’m working on. I decided I would start managing my time differently, and so far it’s working. I’ve been able to make significant progress on some big projects as well as get little things done.

To celebrate my “accomplishment,” I went into the break room for some tea and met a colleague who was excited about some new time management techniques her daughter learned from her piano teacher.  Not only was it making practice much easier, but mom had also started using the techniques in her work and home life.

Sometimes we can make our own new beginnings. Attending a class, reading a book, or a conversation with a piano teacher can create a spark that makes us want to make a change.  Whatever the reason, it helps to tell someone about your new goal. It keeps you accountable, and it means someone else will notice your success.

What new beginning would you like to make?  What’s one step you can take to get there?

Dee Anne Bonebright

 

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