Category Archives: Developing Capacity

Focus on strengths!

Best of HigherEDge, first published on December 12, 2012.

I am kicking off a leadership program today. I am looking forward to another engaging discussion about how we can help our team members fully develop their strengths. Todd Thorsgaard

What is right about me? What is right about the people on my team?

These are the questions that led to a very energetic conversation during the three day leadership development program I just finished facilitating with a group of higher education leaders. We were discussing the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment and their individual strengths profiles. (Rath, Tom. StrengthsFinder 2.0. Gallop Press. 2007.)  The work of Donald Clifton and Tom Rath encourages us to embrace our strengths and use our natural talents to enhance our leadership by focusing on “what is right about me!”  I was struck, once again, by how passionate and enthused the 34 leaders got when I asked them to share stories about their strengths, about what is “right about them?”  The conversations were full of laughter, vigorous head nodding and an authentic sense of pride and satisfaction.

Their conversations were a reminder to me of how powerful a small shift in perspective can be as I work to be the best leader I can be. From my experience, and the stories I hear from leaders, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the challenges we face in higher education. I can feel stuck and unable to work effectively with those around me who are also feeling overwhelmed. Yet I know when I rely on my strengths and ask myself, “how can I use my strength of individualization (the ability to identify unique attributes in others) to solve a problem with a course I am developing or a program I will be facilitating,” I have much more energy to tackle the challenge and I am more likely to come up with an effective solution.

This small but purposeful shift in perspective when working with others also makes a big difference in my leadership. I find that when I specifically start interactions with colleagues by asking myself, “what is right about this person?” or “what unique attribute or experience or information makes them successful?,” I am more open to new ideas and better able to move beyond the frustration I feel when things don’t go the way I expected!

Next time you feel stuck or overwhelmed, stay energized by asking, “What is right about me and what is right about the people on my team?”

Todd Thorsgaard

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It’s all in your mind….. thank goodness

As Buddha said, we can use our minds to drive our behaviors. Developing a more strategic way of thinking leads to more strategic behaviors.

In fact, leadership development expert Melissa Karz highlights how having a “strategic mindset gives you a lens to think big in every moment.” In a recent article, she suggests practicing four specific habits to develop your own strategic mindset.

Align to Organizational Objectives. Asking yourself the following questions can help you stay aligned and take the actions necessary to help your team be aligned to the vision, values and goals of your organization.

  • Where are we today and where do we want to be in 12 months?
  • What skills am I missing, and is my team missing, to accomplish those goals?
  • What relationships do I need to build or nurture?
  • How are we defining success now, and in the future?

Identify Highest Value Activities.  Strategic thinking means scanning all the demands, options, requests, and opportunities and identifying the ones that will best support short-term and long-term success. Prioritization means saying no or delegating. High value activities include:

  • Coaching and developing your direct reports.
  • Building relationships and networks to facilitate collaboration and a broader perspective.
  • Creating a direct line of sight for your team so they can see how their work contributes to the big picture.

Seek Under-The-Radar Information. The reality is that leaders are shielded from much of the information they actually need. It is human nature to withhold bad news or to hesitate to “bother” leaders. To overcome this leaders need to actively seek out information and make it easier for people to share information, even bad news. Practice:

  • Asking questions.
  • Using mistakes as a learning opportunity.
  • Reinforcing open and transparent communication.
  • Taking time to meet with colleagues and peers.
  • Meeting with people outside your own industry.

Schedule Time for Reflection. Developing a strategic mindset requires action and reflection. Scheduling time to analyze and assess what you have learned, what you want to continue doing, and what you want to do differently is strategic. Just like you schedule important meetings, dedicating scheduled time daily, weekly, quarterly and annually is a challenging but necessary habit to develop.

Over time these habits reinforce a strategic mindset which leads to more strategic behaviors further establishing strategic habits making strategic leadership a part of who you are.

Todd Thorsgaard

 

Transformational leadership

This year my talent development colleagues have been engaging our chief human resources officers in conversations about transformational HR. The conversations are meant to support human resources leaders as we begin a system-wide effort to move key transactional work to regional service centers. The move is designed to create efficiencies in our system and assist HR leaders so they can spend more of their time doing strategic work at the local level.

As we go down that path, it begs the question, what do we mean by transformational? Our HR community has agreed upon a discipline-specific definition of transformational HR that includes mastery of the following leadership competencies:

  • strategic leadership and partnership
  • organization development
  • employee engagement
  • diversity, equity, and inclusion
  • change management

Still, the core idea of transformational HR builds upon transformational leadership itself. With that in mind, we thought it might be helpful to discuss the broader concept of transformational leadership this month. We’ll explore the following questions:

  • What exactly is a transformational leader?
  • What differentiates transformational from transactional leadership?
  • Why does it matter?

We’ll also explore some of the characteristics of transformational leadership in our blog posts.

Before we dig in, tell us your thoughts on transformational leadership. What does it mean to you?

Anita Rios

 

 

 

Should leaders set the vision?

Last week I had a chance to hear a presentation by Gervase Bushe, an internationally known author and scholar in my field of organization development. One of the first things he said was that, basically, he thinks leaders with a clear vision can be dangerous to organizations.

That was unexpected. Aren’t leaders supposed to create a clear vision, get others on board, and then lead the organization to success?  Well, not always.

We’ve written before about adaptive challenges. Unlike technical business problems, they don’t have clear solutions, a right answer, or a single clear end goal. Leaders who treat adaptive challenges as technical problems are doing what Bushe called the “pretend it isn’t really complicated” method of leadership. They can cause great harm.

Instead, Bushe said that what we need is “generative leadership” in which leaders promote dialogue among the stakeholders who actually do the work. The role of generative leaders isn’t to drive change, it’s to support the change process and promote collaborative decision-making.

This article from the Higher Learning Commission talks about the benefits of generative leadership in community colleges. I appreciated this observation:

Sometimes community colleges try to do so many things that they have difficulty doing any one thing well. Often, especially at small colleges, employees wear so many hats that it is difficult for them to find the time to communicate with each other, as well as to reflect on their practices and the theories inherent in them, and to exercise their creative energy to think through challenges and to innovate instead of simply adapt.

We’re all been there, and it can be easy to create coping strategies rather than systemic change. In addition, there are challenges in moving higher education from a culture of isolation and stability to one of collaboration and nimble change.

The article says that anyone in an organization can show generative leadership. What examples have you seen?  Who on your team has been a generative leader, and how can you support them?

Dee Anne Bonebright

 

 

Let someone else decide?

youdecideOne 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:

  1. Proximity – how close to the situation is the person and can they also see the big picture?
  2. Perspective – can the person bring a different point of view or utilize multiple points of view?
  3. Experience – does the person have enough experience in the situation to be able to actually make a decision?
  4. 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!

Todd Thorsgaard

 

Who is accountable?

yellow-brick-roadIn 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:

  1. 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.
  2. Own It – acknowledge your own role in the current situation and take responsibility for finding a solution or taking action to move forward.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Todd Thorsgaard

 

Foolish or appropriate?

teeter-totterI rode my first teeter-totter last week on my mountain bike. To me it felt like a well thought out and reasonable action to take. I have been practicing my “skinny” skills and my bike handling has improved over the past year. I have watched my brother ride teeter-totters and he has shared with me information on technique so I felt well prepared. Was I afraid? Yes! Was it scary? Yes! Was it a risk? Yes! (Did I make it? Yes!)

We all assess and take different types of risk. Leaders are asked to take “appropriate” risks and then make decisions. Your success depends on your ability to accurately understand, assess, judge and take risks.

Dylan Evans, a researcher on risk and author of Risk Intelligence, believes that we can develop our skills in this area and actually build our “risk quotient.” The starting point for increasing our risk intelligence is the ability to accurately understand and accept what we do know and what we don’t know. Research has shown that most of us are bad at estimating probabilities based on what is actually know or not known. We end up either overconfident or excessively uncertain, both of which lead to poor risk assessment and decisions.

Leaders can use the following checklist that Evans developed to better understand and improve their risk intelligence.

  1. Do you consciously review what you know before making a decision?
  2. How does what you know actually relate to the decision?
  3. How likely is each piece of information to be true and how does that likelihood influence your decision?
  4. What else do you know that might actually relate to the decision?

Purposely and consciously asking these questions and using the results will increase your ability to assess risks and then make better decisions about an uncertain future.

Good luck on your next teeter-tooter of leadership!

Todd Thorsgaard