Category Archives: higher education

The perfect apology

We all know that effective leaders admit and learn from their mistakes, but admitting that we were wrong can be hard to do well. And if we’re taking ownership for an error related to work that was done under our leadership it can be even trickier.

On a website devoted to The Perfect Apology, the authors say that in a business setting, a good apology “will help solidify relationships with existing customers, acquire new ones, enhance customer confidence and improve overall loyalty to the brand.”

As an example, they analyze an apology given by JetBlue Airline after a particularly difficult week that included multiple delays and missed connections. The authors say it includes the key elements of an effective apology:

  1. It starts by expressing appropriate humility and remorse.
  2. It gives a detailed account of what happened and takes responsibility. In this case, the delays were caused by a severe winter storm, but the company didn’t try to minimize the effects of what happened.
  3. It offers restitution and proposes a Consumer Bill of Rights to remedy the situation in the future.
  4. It ends by saying that the airline values customer relationships and hopes to do business again in the future.

We could say that the experiences of an airline CEO don’t relate to us in higher education. We don’t sell tickets or compete for customer flight miles. We don’t seek customer brand loyalty (or do we?). But we all know that higher education isn’t perfect. People and organizations make mistakes, and leaders have to take responsibility. Is there anything we can learn from this example?

Dee Anne Bonebright

 

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Acting with integrity

The second in our Minnesota State leadership competencies is Acts with Integrity. As I was reviewing it and the behaviors that describe it, I was struck by the fact that it’s included under “Leader of Self.” Does that mean that a leader can’t really act with integrity without demonstrating self-awareness and self-control?  I think it does.

Some of these behaviors, such as abiding by relevant laws, rules and regulations, might not appear linked to self-awareness. But as I read about some of the public leadership failures we’ve had recently, they seem at least partly driven by a failure to ask the question:  “This act seems like it will benefit me, but does it align with my core values?”

This month we’ll look at this competency and how it applies to us as leaders within higher ed.

  • Demonstrates honesty
  • Abides by all relevant laws, rules and regulations
  • Encourages others to do the same
  • Gives credit where credit is due
  • Delivers what is promised
  • Admits and learns from mistakes
  • Corrects mistakes to utmost ability

Dee Anne Bonebright

Communicating across preferences

Have you noticed that sometimes people don’t perceive your messages the way you intended? As leaders, we know that people have different communication styles and preferences. It can be challenging to adapt our own styles and help people understand what we want to say.

A Google search for “communication style differences” yielded about 3,650,000 results. Clearly many people recognize the challenge! Most of the resources I saw dealt with verbal and non-verbal communication preferences across cultures.

One resource that I particularly liked was a Cross-Cultural Communication 101 course from the U.S. Department of State. While it was written to assist U.S. citizens who are traveling and working abroad, it could also be useful for those of us who work with a multicultural audience. Some of the communication factors they cover include:

  • Different gestures, such as head nodding or finger pointing, mean different things across cultures.
  • Time has different meaning across cultures. For example, what is the appropriate time to show up for a party that starts at 8:30?
  • People from different cultures prefer different amounts of personal space.
  • Conversation norms, such as appropriate tone and volume levels, also vary across cultures. Are the two people in the photo above angry with each other or excited?

That last one is a challenge for me. As I was growing up with a mostly-female peer group, it was acceptable to talk over each other and finish each other’s sentences. In fact, the more engaged we were the more likely that was to happen. As an adult, that behavior doesn’t always express support and engagement. Sometimes, as my daughter would say, it’s “just rude.”

Even when working with a group of people who all grew up in Minnesota I’ve seen different preferences for verbal and nonverbal communication styles. Paying attention to my audience and adjusting my behavior accordingly has been a helpful leadership strategy.

Dee Anne Bonebright

 

 

Can you see from where you are?

What engages your people? At our colleges and universities we hope it is the success of our students both during college and after graduation! What would your people say?

In reality it is often challenging for people to see a direct connection between their day-to-day work and the ultimate difference it makes to your customers, be they students in higher education, patients in health care, or whomever. Focusing this line of sight for your people helps them directly see the value and importance of their work which has been shown to increase engagement and performance. A real win-win for leaders.

Management educator and author Russ Linden shares a few ideas on how leaders can do a better job to create a line of sight for their people.

  1. Put a human face on your mission and vision. A health care organization I worked at for many years would always invite patients to join our work team meetings. It truly changed how we thought about our work.
  2. Encourage and make it easy for people to take short-term assignments or projects in different departments/divisions/locations. Exposing people to the full range of work required to serve your customers and how the pieces fit together helps them understand the importance of each step.
  3. Turn employees into customers. Actively look for ways to let your people experience your organization as a customer. Make it real for them.
  4. Schedule and hold multi-unit and multi-location meetings and training events. Whenever possible have people working together as a “whole” rather than in separate “pieces” so they begin to see themselves as an integral element in the overall process.

Leaders have the responsibility and the opportunity to sharpen the line of sight for every person on their team. What examples can you share of a leader doing a great job or an idea you used successfully?

Todd Thorsgaard

 

Which pet are you?

Is your personality more like a dog? A fish? A hermit crab? According to National Geographic Kids, I’m a hermit crab. Apparently I’m adaptable and fit into many settings.  What can I do with this information? Not a lot. As the site says, it’s just for fun.

This week I’ll be co-facilitating with Todd on our Art of Supervision program, which includes several personality-based assessments. In fact, almost all of the leadership development programs I’ve been involved with over the past decade have included assessments to help leaders increase their self-awareness.

No instrument can tell us all about ourselves, and it’s never helpful to put ourselves or others into boxes.  However, I have found that knowing about myself  – how I’m likely to react in certain situations, what energizes me, and how I can contribute in the workplace – has strengthened my core leadership abilities.

Knowing that other people have different strengths and preferences has helped me be a better supervisor and team member. Assessments can help us think about what other people bring to the table, and sometimes they remind us that the other person isn’t trying to be annoying on purpose! Using a well-vetted instrument and working with a qualified facilitator can help you better understand yourself and your impact on others. There are many options, such as those on this list compiled by the Piras Consulting Group.

As you think about the competency of Understanding Self and Others, it might be a good time to take a new assessment or re-visiting an old favorite.

Dee Anne Bonebright

Work-Life balance in 5 easy steps

Sorry. I just added that title so you’d open this post. Actually, the more experience I have as a leader and the more I hear other people’s stories, the less I think there are any easy answers for work-life balance.

A popular post from Inside Higher Ed, titled “It’s 4:30 in the morning, do you know where your work-life balance is?” recounts the daily experiences of a wife, mother, and tenure-track faculty member. She says that her life can be crazy, and while she hasn’t found balance, she has found fulfillment in both home and career.

On the other hand, this report in the Wall Street Journal, written about a year after the death of her husband, explains how “Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg rethinks part of ‘lean in’.” Raising two teens by herself, and dealing with grief in public, have given her a new view of work and life. As she says, it’s really hard. Sometimes things change and Option A is no longer available. So what will you do with Option B?

If you are a faculty member of color, or a female in a male-dominated field, things get even more challenging. An article from Inside Higher Ed describes the stress and frustration that may result from being the only minority in a predominantly white institution. The author gives some suggestions for dealing with this stress. While they won’t promote work-life balance in a few easy steps, they are good advice for anyone:

  1. Find some mentors
  2. Work efficiently and manage time well
  3. Find and use wellness resources
  4. Separate work time and personal time
  5. Build your professional brand and credentials

As leaders, there is no single policy or procedure we can enact that will ensure work-life balance for ourselves and our team members. Maybe that’s not even the right goal. The common theme to these stories is about figuring how to thrive wherever our live and career journeys take us.

Dee Anne Bonebright

Use your action verbs!

One of the competencies included in “Understanding Self and Others” is understanding one’s role in the organization. When I first started working here I got a good lesson in how that works.

Anita, my new supervisor, asked me to write a list of goals to discuss at one of our first meetings. I came in with the list, and she rejected it! I had written about how I would “support” this program, and “provide resources for” that team. She told me that I had been hired for a leadership position and I needed to start describing my role that way.

It was a very useful exercise, that I still think about 5 years later, to re-write that list describing my role as “managing” the program and “leading” the team. When we talked about it yesterday, Anita didn’t remember the conversation. But it was very helpful to me in growing into my  new role.

Words matter. Over the next few weeks, think about  how you describe your work to others. Equally important, listen to how your people describe their roles. It’s one way to be sure people feel ownership over their work and are clear about their roles.

Dee Anne Bonebright