Category Archives: Guest blog

Communicating effectively – or not

By guest blogger John Kearns

Early in my career as an academic leader, I was serving as my university’s business dean. One day, a department chair named Michelle stopped by my office and said she needed to speak with me about an adjunct faculty member. I recognized the person’s name, but I could only vaguely match the name to a face.

“Does he have a mustache?” I asked.

Michelle gasped and covered her upper lip with her palm. “What??? Do I have a mustache?!?”

“No, no!” I sputtered, imagining that I had somehow managed to blow up the great working relationship I had built over time with one of my chairs. I immediately tried to clarify: “Does the adjunct have a mustache?”

“Oh,” Michelle said, suddenly realizing it was just a misunderstanding. “Yes,” she said matter-of-factly, “he does.” The conversation continued, thankfully without any further awkwardness.

I felt terrible for days. I assumed it was my fault. Had I been staring at Michelle’s upper lip when I asked the question? (Probably not.) Had I used the wrong pronoun – you instead of he? (Definitely not.)

And yet Michelle had, for a brief moment, been pretty certain that her dean thought she had a mustache. The more I reflected on what I would later call the mustache incident, the more it taught me a critical lesson about how, in a hierarchical organization, some people are listening to their leader on two levels. On one level, they’re listening to your words and taking them at face value. But on another level–and this is where you can stumble onto an interpersonal explosive device–they’re expecting the worst: bad news or a difficult request or a negative comment. You may have never acted with anything but integrity and respect as a leader, but for some people there is always the expectation that eventually you are going to slip up and reveal that you are, in fact, a horrible boss after all.

From that day forward, I approached every form of communication, from email to memos to speeches, on two levels:

  1. What I hoped my audience would hear
  2. How my words might be interpreted in the worst possible way

It didn’t always keep me from the occasional fumble, but no one ever again wondered if I was inquiring about a mustache.

John Kearns serves as Minnesota State’s senior writer for executive and strategic communication

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Extending your leadership presence on Twitter

By guest blogger Kirsten Jensen

Over the years, I’ve heard lots of reasons why leaders don’t have a professional social media presence. From being unsure about what they would post to simply not having time, there are plenty of reasons why we don’t get started. But, when done with intention, social media can be a powerful tool in service of some of our most important leadership priorities.

The real magic happens when we use social media to connect. In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown writes, “I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued.” Stephen M.R. Covey describes a similar energy in The Speed of Trust, comparing relationships to bank accounts where we deposit and withdraw trust. The more abundant the trust in our accounts, the more connected we are, the better we work together and the faster we get things done.  As leaders, so many of our priorities center around building trust. And, while in-person connections will always be our biggest deposits, I believe social media can create small but important moments where our students and staff know they are seen, heard and valued.

So, don’t spend time on social media. Spend time building connections and trust, using social media as a tool. The leadership team at Minnesota State University Moorhead has done an exceptional job of extending their leadership presence on Twitter. Here are four ways you can extend your leadership influence with Twitter, with examples from MSUM.

Why Twitter?

It’s often said that Facebook is for the people you know personally,  LinkedIn is for the people you know professionally and Twitter is for the people you want to know. That is to say, the fact that you don’t have to mutually follow one another and privacy settings are often open, makes Twitter an ideal place to connect with folks who care about similar ideas, organizations or people. Because we aren’t always sure who we want to meet, it can take a little longer to get started on Twitter. But, once you begin to listen for mentions of your organization or your hashtags, you’ll find lots of amazing conversations to join.

Get inspired.

Check out a live feed from MSUM’s social media team, at this Twitter list: https://twitter.com/MSUMoorhead/lists/msum-social-media-team Or, for examples that cross multiple industries, see this Twitter list of people who have been featured as examples in my training: https://twitter.com/NextKirsten/lists/nextinspiration1

I hope this inspires you to overcome the excuses and try your hand at Twitter. Connect with me @NextKirsten – I’d love to get to know you.

 

Kirsten Jensen (@NextKirsten) is a social media coach, trainer and consultant at Next Action Digital.

https://twitter.com/NextKirsten

Driving growth, fueling retention, and improving organizational outcomes

By guest blogger Josefina Landrieu

What if I told you that there is a practice out there that will get at:

  • Driving  growth?
  • Fueling retention?
  • Improving organizational outcomes?

You’ll likely question my idea by saying “there is no silver bullet!” And no, there is no silver bullet. But there is a practice that when implemented effectively, helps to address some of the greatest challenges in employee retention, workplace inclusion, and organizational outcomes. More importantly, THIS practice helps employers build a diverse and inclusive workforce, cultivate relationships with their employees and recruit/retain talent in an extremely competitive marketplace. Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) deliver real value in promoting diversity and helping employees feel included in the organization’s culture. And it doesn’t have to stop there, ERGs help with retention, team productivity, and workplace climate. Although ERGs have been mostly used in the corporate sector, higher education is now following suit.

I was a member of an ERG at my previous institution and it served as a great opportunity to network with peers, to gain a stronger sense of belonging, and to experience mentorship opportunities. As an ERG, we co-sponsored events for professional development for employees of color that included bringing in speakers, conducting trainings, and delivering workshops. The group also provided less structured opportunities for employee socialization and engagement. It’s critical to allow the group to decide its focus while adhering to the organization’s principles, and mission for equity and inclusion.

What do ERGs look like in higher education? Here are some tips for successful implementation:

  • They are supported by an HR/Equity & Inclusion lead
  • They are open to all employees & participation is voluntary
  • They promote diversity, inclusion, and understanding
  • They adhere to the organization’s policies and procedures
  • They serve as a vehicle for a more distributed leadership model
  • They have organizational sponsors and sometimes funding

The first 60 to 90 days of employment are a critical time for any new hire, and they can be particularly challenging for members of traditionally underrepresented groups. That short window of time can mean the difference between whether an employee stays for the long run or leaves before the year is out. Research from the Conference Board shows that participating in an ERG leads to greater retention for employees from underrepresented groups. And, in addition to impacting employee retention, ERGs can provide key cultural insights, which can be critical to HR practices. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT, has actively embraced this inclusive practice. They report that ERGs have resulted in increased workplace satisfaction among participants and provide insightful feedback to the organization, an excellent return on investment.

Josefina Landrieu is the Assistant Chief Diversity Officer for Minnesota State.

Retention starts with us

By guest blogger Clyde Pickett

Student retention is a priority for higher education. We all have a responsibility to support retention efforts no matter our role or position.

To serve our students inclusively, we must commit ourselves to providing our students with outstanding service in every interaction they have with us.

In an article on academic advising, Ricky Boyd* provides some specific action steps to provide quality service to all students:

  1. Treat students with dignity and respect.
  2. Give students clear directions on how to solve their problems and issues, rather than giving them a run-around or sending them on a wild goose chase.
  3. Be responsive to students and their parents/families.
  4. Give timely answers to students’ questions and provide regular feedback on their progress.

Excellent service and communication should be the norm for all of our students no matter who they are, where they come from, or what they look like. Implementing these tips is a step towards advancing a positive campus climate and creating a culture to support retention.

As employees we must ask ourselves “what else can I do to support students in my interactions?” For some of us it might mean additional training on best practices. For others it might mean reviewing policy and procedural best practices to support front line service to students. Above all it means understanding we are here to serve their needs. The work of retention starts with us.

Clyde Pickett is the Chief Diversity Officer for Minnesota State Colleges and Universities

*Boyd, R. L. (2012). Customer Service in Higher Education: Finding a Middle Ground. The Mentor, an Academic Advising Journal, 1. Retrieved from https://dus.psu.edu/mentor/2012/06/customer-service-in-higher-education/

The intersection of integrity and pride

by guest blogger Leslie Bleskachek

cslewis700208The author C.S. Lewis is credited as saying “integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching.” This suggests we have an internal moral compass, a sense of purpose and pride in what we are doing. As educational professionals, we all take pride in what we do, and take pride in doing it well. But it’s important to remember that our pride can also have a dark side.

Pride can go too far. Sometimes, if we want to be in the spotlight, pride can keep us from giving public credit for a teammate’s great work. Or, perhaps we want to hide from scrutiny. As Marvin Williams said “there is no better test of a man’s integrity than his behavior when he is wrong.” Pride can get in the way if we are too proud to admit we’ve made a mistake. We might try and cover it up, or blame others to move the sense of shame from ourselves. Our Leadership Competencies remind us that to be a person of integrity, we must keep in mind where integrity and pride intersect. At our best, our integrity shows when we take pride in good work, are honest and law-abiding, delivering what we promised. But we also have to set aside our pride, admit when we make a mistake, correct it, and learn from it.

Perhaps it’s time to update that old saying, with apologies to C. S. Lewis. After all, integrity is doing the right thing when no one is watching. . . and also when everyone is watching.

Leslie Bleskachek

Leslie is the Vice President Academic Affairs at Minnesota State College – Southeast Technical which has campuses in Winona and Red Wing, Minnesota. She is currently participating in the yearlong MnSCU Executive Leader Development Program. During the last seminar leadership integrity was discussed and Leslie asked to share her insights with the readers of Higher EDge.