Category Archives: Developing Capacity

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

 

 

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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

 

Tough collaboration!

barbed_wireIt 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.

Todd Thorsgaard

 

Fourth and Inches

Fourth and inches: the point in a football game where they’re almost over the goal…but just need that final push to get there.  And the crowd goes wild when it works as planned, but just as often the punter is brought in, after the goal isn’t attained.

Many things need to happen on the field to get to this point:

  • Knowing each player’s, and the other team’s players, strengths and weaknesses
  • Calling the correct plays
  • Having the right people where they need to be
  • Consistently moving forward, with everyone’s eye on the same goal.

The Long-Term Financial Sustainability Workgroup at Minnesota State has been moving towards the goal of making our system sustainable for the future.

They’ve kept going by strategically identifying, then listening to and involving, all stakeholders, right from the start; communicating with everyone, clearly and consistently; figuring out who needs to be where and when, and moving steadily forward toward their goal.

The workgroup’s next move is a study session presentation to the Minnesota State Board of Trustees on Tuesday, November 15, at 3:15 p.m.  You can listen to streaming audio here.

Cindy Schneider

Who would have predicted that!

dewey-winsOk, I admit it. This post is a day late. I stayed up until 3:00 a.m. on Tuesday night watching the presidential electoral college vote results and the commentators trying to explain how all the predictions were wrong. Then on Wednesday, more analysis and exploration of what happened. I promise, this will not be a political post, but the election of president-elect Trump highlights how hard it is to predict the future! And we have a long history of getting predictions wrong.

So, how do leaders build organizational capacity to meet future challenges when it is so hard to see what will happen in the future?

Gary Hamel encourages leaders in his book What Matters Now (2012) to go back to the basics and focus on values to prepare for an uncertain future. He lists the following as “pivotal, overarching concerns” for leaders:

  1. Values – act as a steward and take actions that demonstrate concern for your people and organization.
  2. Innovation – provide opportunities for all your people to contribute their ideas to meet your customers’ needs.
  3. Adaptability – “future-proof” your company by relentlessly pushing for internal change to match external changes. Hamel stresses the need to “seek out the most discomforting facts you can find and share them with everyone in your organization.”
  4. Passion – clearly demonstrate that your people are affecting the outside world with their work. Highlight the importance of each and every person’s day-to-day work.
  5. Ideology – examine, discuss and challenge the status quo. Make it safe for people to express their opinions and concerns.

We may mess up predicting the future but Hamel implores leaders to speak up for “the good, the just and the beautiful” to better prepare for the uncertainty ahead.

The following link provides a detailed summary of What Matters Now.

https://www.getabstract.com/en/summary/leadership-and-management/what-matters-now/17412?dfs=wxmmqkfksovueayhlzbvluhtiwngbj&rf=DLZPJVUFWN&utm_campaign=share&utm_souce=getAbstract&utm_medium=email&u=MNSCU

Todd Thorsgaard