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
My daughter just started a new job and recently spent a full day in a new employee onboarding program. Since she knows what I do for a living, she called to tell me that I should have been there – so I could tape it and use it as an example of what not to do!
The arrival of a new employee is often one of the greatest missed leadership opportunities. During the period of transition, employees are wondering not just about the nuts and bolts of their jobs, but also about the organization. What kind of team have I joined? What is the culture? How can I fit in?
Last summer I introduced the 4 C’s model of onboarding. Based on work by the Society for Human Resource Management, it identifies four key focus areas:
- Compliance: the basic legal and policy requirements of their role.
- Clarification: the roles and expectations for the new positions.
- Culture: introduction to formal and informal organizational norms
- Connection: integrating new employees into the work group.
My daughter’s program focused on compliance. She learned about the laws and policies that govern her new work. She filled out the paperwork to be covered by benefits. But she didn’t hear from organizational leaders about their goals and priorities, and she didn’t have an opportunity to build a connection with the other new employees who were there. She walked away feeling like they had wasted her time on things she could have done from her own desk.
The organizational leaders missed the chance to meet with a group of eager new staff who wanted to hear what they had to say. Even a brief welcome and greeting could have made them feel like the organization was glad they were there and wanted them to succeed.
Many of our Minnesota State schools are examining their new employee programs and looking for new ways to build culture and connection. How can we as leaders make better use of this important transition?
Dee Anne Bonebright
Organizations, leaders, and brands with a real and genuine purpose are primed to deliver success not only in the marketplace but also where it really counts—in the lives of others.
— Karin Volo, Huffington Post
A challenging part of leading for the common good is figuring out exactly what that looks like in any particular situation. One helpful strategy is to reflect on the organization’s mission and purpose.
Huffington Post recently published an article called Why Becoming Purpose Driven is the Path to Success in the 21st Century. The author described several benefits that come with a clear understanding of purpose. When everyone is on board with an organization’s mission, it translates into higher levels of confidence and engagement among employees. It encourages working together and promotes collaboration rather than self-focused competition.
When individuals and organizations understand their purpose, they are also able to be more innovative by changing the “rules” that aren’t core to the mission. For example, many leaders in higher ed are taking a serious look at open-source course materials. They’re asking how we can change the rules that say students have to spend money on expensive textbooks. How can we collaborate, share knowledge, and use technology in new ways?
In my field of training and development, we traditionally had a rule that said the best way to deliver training was in person. Over the past decade we’ve been learning to break that rule. We’re asking if there are better ways to reach learners with the information they need, when they need it.
How can focusing on your organizational mission help you to lead for the common good?
Dee Anne Bonebright
As this is being posted, I’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving with friends and family. I’m looking forward to hearing about my nephew’s new job and other family transitions during the past year.
While I may not be thinking about my work team over the holiday, I frequently reflect on how fortunate I am to work with a supportive group of talented people. As a leader, I probably don’t express my thanks to them as often as I should. There’s plenty of research that says acknowledgement of good work is a significant reward. We often forget about this very simple way to support innovation and advance excellence.
So thanks, Talent Management team, for working together through a challenging few months. I appreciate the work we’ve been able to accomplish together and look forward to what’s ahead!
Dee Anne Bonebright
Ok, 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:
- Values – act as a steward and take actions that demonstrate concern for your people and organization.
- Innovation – provide opportunities for all your people to contribute their ideas to meet your customers’ needs.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
Posted in build organizational talent, building teams, change and transition, Developing Capacity, Engagement, integrity, Leadership, leading authentically, stewardship, stewardship
Tagged Change, engagement, innovation, integrity, Leadership, organizational culture, stewardship, values
To wrap up our Mission and Vision topic for this month, here’s an interview from an organization where employees live and work by both of them.
Becky M, Member Services Director of a local YMCA
Do you feel like all or most of the employees know the mission and vision of the YMCA?
I think most employees know our vision and mission or they know the general idea of it
How does this happen? Are you reminded of it regularly, is it woven into your daily work?
Every week a manager of each department walks around and ask random employees to recite our vision and mission and how we live it in our everyday life. At our staff meetings we do what’s called a “Mission Moment” where we tell stories where we have witnessed our mission and vision in full swing. We are reminded of it daily through our members, program participants, staff, and volunteers. Our mission and vision is the reason I work for the Y. I believe in our cause and how we can help our community.
Have you worked somewhere that this was not the case, and what differences do you see?
I have worked at places where there was a mission statement but they didn’t really explain to us why or how they came up with that mission statement. I have worked at places where I didn’t see it put into action from day to day.
The big difference I see is that at other companies we didn’t base our work off the mission and vision where at the Y the work that we do is all based off of the mission and vision and how we can impact someone’s life.
Mission: To put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body for all.
Vision: To serve relentlessly with our community until all can thrive in each stage of life.
Could you see any of the above practices working for your organization, or come up with others that would? Please share your thoughts, ideas and suggestions in the comments!
If the people on your team have to ask “Where is the meaning in my work?” something is wrong!
In his book Meaning, Inc. , Gurnek Bains ecourages leaders to bring the organization’s mission and vision to life through meaningful work. Between actual work time and digital connections people spend over half of their waking hours “at work.” Understanding how those work activities are making a contribution to customers (students at Minnesota State), the community or larger society will make work more meaningful.
While each person on your team has their own personal values and beliefs about what is important, there are actions that leaders can take to strengthen meaning at work. Bains identifies the following leadership activities that help create more meaningful work:
- Discussing and supporting personal stretch goals that are related to the vision.
- Focusing on the unique strengths and talents that each person brings to work.
- Documenting, evaluating, providing feedback and highlighting each person’s work and contribution to group efforts.
- Clearly linking individual and team work activities and accomplishments to wider issues.
- Ensuring that short-term goals don’t conflict with the deeper organizational purpose.
- Role modeling stated ideals.
Making sure your people know the difference their work makes in the lives of other people builds meaning. And meaning is powerful.
Posted in common good, communication, Engagement, higher education, Leadership, leading authentically, mission and vision, Motivation
Tagged communication, engagement, higher education, integrity, Leadership, motivation, organizational culture, stakeholders, values, vision