Category Archives: higher education

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

 

 

Communicating about change

We all know that leaders need to communicate about change, and there’s an overwhelming amount of advice about how to do that. It can be hard to figure out how to create the strongest messages.

Make Change Work, by Randy Pennington is a guidebook for communicating about change. It provides five practical questions to help craft your change messages. Pennington says people want to know:

  1. What is changing and what will the new way look like?
  2. What does it mean for what I do on a daily basis?
  3. Will this make a difference?
  4. How will success be measured?
  5. What is the leadership support for this change?

In a review of Pennington’s book, Carol Kinsey Gorman made an important observation: it’s not only what you say, it’s how you say it. Answering these questions is critical, and it’s equally important to deliver the message in a consistent way. Whether we’re presenting to a large group or discussing change one-on-one, our body language speaks as much as our words. Do our actions convey that we really support the change? Do people believe that our feelings match our words?

I once had a leader that was great at this. She identified a few key points about the change and delivered them consistently, regardless of the situation. Her words and actions were aligned. Because of this, people trusted her information and valued her assessment of issues related to the change. She was able to be a strong advocate for the change effort.

What is one thing you could do this month to strengthen your change communication?

Dee Anne Bonebright

 

 

 

 

Let’s talk about that

It takes effort and energy to actually pay attention to someone, but if you can’t do that, you’re not in a conversation. You’re just two people shouting out barely related sentences in the same place.  – Celeste Headlee

 

An important leadership skill in transitions–and every other time–is to be able to talk to people. To talk about their concerns, about how the change might impact them, about your views of the change, about their views of the change; to have an effective conversation that promotes collaboration.

Radio host Celeste Headlee did a TED talk about 10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation. Americans are more divided in their opinions now than they have ever been, and leaders need to bridge the gap in order to help people work together to implement change. Here are her 10 tips:

  1. Don’t multitask. Be fully present to the conversation.
  2. Don’t pontificate. As Headlee says, if you want to state your opinion without pushback, write a blog.  <grin>
  3. Use open-ended questions.
  4. Go with the flow. Stay focused on what the other person is saying and see where it might lead.
  5. If you don’t know, say so.
  6. Don’t equate your experience with theirs. If the person is telling a story, don’t hijack it by telling about yours.
  7. Try not to repeat yourself.
  8. Stay out of the details.
  9. Listen to the other person.
  10. Be brief.

This sounds like a very useful list, but it can be overwhelming to do all of it at once. Headlee notes that focusing on one item and getting better at it would help us have better conversations. Where might you get started?

Dee Anne Bonebright

 

Putting out the welcome mat

Sometimes,  a work group or project we manage is facing change and we are leading the transition. More often, the change is happening somewhere else and we need to support it. This is especially true with leadership transitions. What role do we have when there is change in the organization’s leadership? How can we put out the welcome mat and help the new leader be successful?

The Association for Talent Development (formerly ASTD) created a blog post and podcast with some useful tips for preparing organizations for new leadership. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Clearly identify what is worth maintaining. What programs, relationships, and business practices are critical to accomplishing core goals?  How can we help shepherd them through the transition? What will the new leader need to know?
  • Communicate throughout the organization. Develop a formal transition plan with specific communication strategies to ensure regular, open, two-way communication. People will tell you if you’re communicating too much. In my experience, that hardly ever happens!
  • Build a strong leadership team. When a leadership team is working well together, with clear goals, transparent decision-making, and trust among the members, it is easier to welcome in new members.
  • Complete major projects. It can be tempting to put things on hold until the new leader arrives. It’s more effective to identify critical tasks or projects and make sure there is a plan to keep them on track. As the article commented, finishing things up is a gift to successors.
  • Provide orientation and training for the new leaders. When a new leader arrives, provide both formal and informal orientation. This can include the core processes of the organization, resources for getting things done, and standard practices. They’ll also need to understand the organization’s history. Where possible, provide a transition time so the new person can learn directly from the outgoing leader.
  • Help the new leader build networks. In addition to figuring out what needs to be done and how to do it, a new leader needs to learn who can help. Providing formal opportunities to build connections should be part of the transition plan.

Are you anticipating leadership changes in the near future? What can you do now to ensure things go smoothly?

Dee Anne Bonebright

Leading transitions

William Bridges’ Managing Transitions is a leadership classic. Todd talked about the highlights in this post from a couple of years ago. As you may recall, Bridges proposed that every transition has three stages, each of which requires particular leadership actions.

  1. Ending, losing, and letting go
  2. Neutral zone
  3. New beginning

The Change Factory group created a useful set of checklists for leaders at each stage. It includes questions such as:

  • Am I giving people accurate information, again and again?
  • Have I said thank you to everyone who contributed in the past?
  • Have I made sure that realistic feedback is flowing upward?
  • Am I pushing for certainty where it would be more realistic to live a little longer with uncertainty?
  • Am I being careful not to introduce extra, unrelated changes?

As you can see, these questions require some thought and reflection. When we’re in the middle of major change (which might feel like most of the time), it can be hard to take the time to reflect and plan. The checklists can provide useful reminders. For those who want extra discipline, they are a great starting point for writing in a leadership journal.

Think of a major transition you’re experiencing. Which stage do you think you’re in? Is there a question from the checklist that was particularly useful?

Dee Anne Bonebright

Missed opportunities

boredMy 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:

  1. Compliance: the basic legal and policy requirements of their role.
  2. Clarification: the roles and expectations for the new positions.
  3. Culture: introduction to formal and informal organizational norms
  4. 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

 

It never stops!

transition

I don’t want to cause alarm. Don’t be shocked! But, as Bob Dylan reminded us in 1964, “The Times They Are a-Changin'”. People change, jobs change, leaders change, organizations change, students change, politics change, technologies change, employees change, you change and I change.

Change can be good, bad or in-between. It can be planned or unexpected, purposeful or random, small or large. And it will affect you and your people.

During March and April we will be sharing ideas, tips, tools, resources and asking questions related to your role as a leader during the transitions that occur as a result of these changes. What can be done to plan for change, how to respond to change, ideas for leading change, how to support a new leader, how to be a new leader, what to do when a leader is leaving, what to do when you are leaving, facilitating employee transitions, and other ideas you suggest or want to share.

We can’t stop change. In fact, we don’t want to stop it but we can learn how to make the transitions more successful.

Todd Thorsgaard