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:
- Find some mentors
- Work efficiently and manage time well
- Find and use wellness resources
- Separate work time and personal time
- 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
One aspect of leading for the common good is the ability to lead across boundaries. We’re all familiar with the problem of silos in academia. Many times even well-meaning activities fail to include everyone who has a stake in an issue or tools to help address it. And there are many other potential divisions that can be formed by race, gender, age, even which candidate someone voted for. Bringing people together across these boundaries is a critical leadership challenge.
I recently came across an article in Forbes that made a connection between boundaries and another hot issue in academia – incivility. The author pointed out, logically enough, that much of the incivility we’re dealing with is based on an unwillingness to work together with people that are on the other side of some perceived boundary.
Somehow I hadn’t connected the idea that by leading people to work together across boundaries, we are also creating an environment where people show respect and civility. Here are some recommendations from the article:
- Treat employees as problem-solving partners
- Make sure everyone has a voice
- Provide ways for people to speak up about concerns and ideas
- Build teams that bring diverse people together
- Make sure it’s OK to ask uncomfortable questions
- Promoting collaboration that is focused on the common good
How have you seen leaders effectively lead across boundaries? Do you agree that it promoted an environment of respect and civility?
Dee Anne Bonebright
Image: Hands Across the Divide, sculpture by Maurice Harron, Co Derry, Ireland
Much has happened since we wrote our last blog in December. I know my social media feeds are full of arguments, passionate points-of-view and a lot of ALL CAPS statements of righteousness or outrage.
All of this emotion, energy and disagreement also enters the workplace. The Minnesota Women’s March actually started at one of our schools, Saint. Paul College. Your people are navigating the current political landscape and you need to be prepared to lead during a very chaotic time. As nice as it may seem to just ignore all the divisiveness, true leadership demands that you step into the tumult and help your people work together.
To start the conversation we are going to share some ideas during February on how to lead for the common good. Specifically, we’ll be talking about:
- discovering shared interests
- managing conflict
- truly listening
- integrative leadership
- servant leadership
Please share whatever ideas you have to help your people work together for a common good in the midst of raw emotions. Otherwise our teams may end up as divided as the couple cited in today’s Reuters poll – From disputes to a breakup
Before I sign off I want to share one hopeful picture from a blog I follow. A peaceful bike march in Paris with flags reading “Bikes not War.”
Posted by https://www.dcrainmaker.com/
Last Friday, after one of our year-long leadership development programs was wrapping up, I joined a group of the participants for lunch. The program they had completed included two intensive week-long sessions in residence (one year apart), combined with journaling, mentoring, coaching, and an action learning team project spanning the entire year.
At lunch, I asked them: “What was the highlight of the program for you?” Then I listened. For the next 10 minutes, each person at the table shared stories about how much they appreciated and learned from the other participants in the program. They talked about strong relationships that they built with people from other colleges and universities in our system. And they shared how much they respected each other.
I asked what made it possible for them to build these relationships in the program and listened again. They talked about the ground rule of “no rank in the room” that made it possible to respect everyone and what they had to say whether they were a staff member, faculty, or administrator. They learned that they all had something to share and to learn from each other. One person shared that this last week especially, there were more breaks built in so that participants could connect with each other and get to know each other. There were also social activities in the evenings that encouraged them to build relationship with each other.
On my drive home from the program Friday afternoon I reflected on what they had to say and how it affirmed the 70:20:10 model of learning and development. If you recall from my earlier blog, 20% of development should come through relationship building, whether it is through mentoring, coaching, or working with your peers. Each graduate in this program now has a trusted group of colleagues to contact when they are looking to build collaborative partnerships across institutions or are navigating a new challenge, or struggling with a tough issue. That’s pretty powerful.
It made me think: “How can leaders make sure their people are building strong relationships and learning from others in their organization, even when they are not in a cohort-based program like this?”
Here are a few ideas I’ll offer up:
- Assign your staff to cross-functional teams on projects where they have to build expertise or stretch their skills
- Ensure the teams are setting ground rules that respect differences
- Encourage team members to create safe spaces within their work to question the project and the process and conduct regular debriefs to reflect on their work
- Include team-building activities into your team’s agenda
What has worked for you to build organizational talent through encouraging good working relationships?
It turns out that if you design for the people in the margins, your building works better for everyone. – CAST (education design and resources)
We’ve been talking this month about customer service and what it looks like in higher education. Thinking about a couple of recent conversations with that lens gave me a new leadership insight – sometimes we don’t know who all the customers will be for our work. We do something that meets the needs of one group, and it turns out to have broader application.
As an instruction designer, I’ve had a version of the same conversation several times. Basically, it’s about the balance between creating content that’s accessible for everyone and using the fun new bells and whistles that don’t work for all learners.
While I want to make my content as engaging as possible, I also remember the principles of universal design. A good example is sidewalk curb cuts. When they were first proposed as an accessibility measure, there were complaints about the cost and effort. Once they became common, everyone found them useful. After breaking my ankle and being on a scooter for a few months, I know I appreciated them in new ways.
The CAST organization has proposed guidelines for Universal Design for Learning. While their focus is K-12 education, I thought many of their observations were useful in higher education as well. For example, they suggest that teachers ask first, what are my learning goals? Then ask, what barriers in the classroom might interfere with my diverse students reaching those goals? Following their principles about presenting the message in multiple ways and providing multiple means for engagement will make the lessons more informative for everyone.
Similarly, providing excellent service for people in the margins can have a much broader impact. When I worked at the University of Minnesota I saw a good example. For many years the custodial staff were required to wear a uniform that included polo shirts. When newly hired Somali women objected, the leadership team got creative. Rather than asking people to wear a uniform that didn’t fit their cultural norms, they added a second option – a smock that could be worn over existing clothes. It turned out that many staff members preferred the smock and it became a popular alternative.
Who are the customers at your margins, and what can you build that would make things better for everyone?
Dee Anne Bonebright
Students at our colleges and universities are becoming increasingly diverse, and many of our schools are promoting diversity initiatives on campus. But how often do students get a chance for meaningful conversation with people from different backgrounds?
We’ve all heard that authentic conversation is one of the building blocks of trust. For our students, this may be the first time they have an opportunity to meet someone from a very different background. Developing curiosity and respect for other people’s traditions will help them succeed in school and also in the world of work. At the same time it can also present a challenge for faculty and staff who want to provide safe environments where students trust each other enough to engage in deeper dialogue.
I just attended our MnSCU Academic and Student Affairs leadership conference and heard about a creative idea to address this problem. Tiffany Korver and Jan Stanley from St. Cloud Technical and Community College have developed a collaborative partnership that builds cross-cultural dialogue into the curriculum.
Stanley teaches a course in cultural anthropology and Korver teaches an introductory writing course aimed at ESL learners. As part of each course, students meet together several times to interview each other and learn about a variety of subjects such as cultural traditions, work, family, and even religion. Students are then assigned to write papers that apply their experiences to the course content.
For the ESL students, it’s a chance to practice speaking, increase their vocabulary, and use their writing skills to explain aspects of their cultures. The anthropology students are able to develop curiosity and and apply textbook knowledge to real-life interviews. Both groups report that they recognized their commonalities and were able to develop a stronger campus community.
What examples have you seen of creative ways to create connections?
Dee Anne Bonebright
If you’re a native of Minnesota, you’ve probably heard of the phrase “Minnesota Nice.” And maybe you’ve heard that it’s a good thing. According to Wikipedia, Minnesota Nice is “…the stereotypical behavior of people born and raised in Minnesota, to be courteous, reserved, and mild-mannered.”
Interestingly enough those same “nice” behaviors often make it difficult for those not born and raised in Minnesota, or those not part of the dominant white culture, to fit in and feel welcome. Recently I’ve become acquainted with Corey Bonnema and Jerilyn Veldof, authors of an e-book: Minnesota Nice? A Transplant’s Guide to Surviving and Thriving in Minnesota. After much research into the Minnesota Nice culture, they’ve identified common behaviors shared by many Minnesota natives that often confounds people who move here from other areas of the country. They include:
- Polite friendliness. Polite friendliness is just that; it doesn’t mean interest in being friends or imply any future obligation.
- An aversion to conflict and confrontation. This goes both ways – Minnesota Nice makes it hard to confront and to be confronted. This can include a strong aversion or unwillingness to give or ask for feedback that might cause friction as well as a pattern of jumping to surface agreement rather than dealing with conflicting and divergent ideas.
- A tendency toward understatement. This can show up in the workforce as a difficulty to tell others when they have done something well.
- A disinclination to make a fuss or stand out. Minnesota Nice causes people to squirm under the spotlight. They still may want to be acknowledged, but in a low key sort of way
- Emotional restraint. You’ll hear a lot of “not too bad” when you ask how a Minnesotan is doing.
- Self-deprecation. When asked to explain their own contributions or critique their own performance Minnesotans are more likely to undervalue themselves.
- Resistance to change. As you have most likely discovered, Minnesotans tend to be born, raised and continue to live in the same town surrounded by the same friends they’ve had since baby play dates and preschool. These tend to be folks who are suspicious of anything different and fearful of a lot of change.
- Passive aggressiveness. Look for signs like procrastination, sullenness, stubbornness, or confusion and it’s likely you’ve hit on passive aggressive behavior.
Of course, not every Minnesotan shares every characteristic of Minnesota Nice, but I’m sure you can recognize some of these behaviors in your Minnesotan-born friends, colleagues, and possibly yourself!
Non-Minnesotans often say that it is very difficult to make new friends here because most Minnesotans socialize with friends that they’ve had since preschool. In fact, a few months ago while at Macy’s, I met an African-American makeup artist who said that he had moved here 18 years ago from San Francisco, but his only friends were also transplants. He said it was just too hard to get past “Minnesota Nice” to make good friends.
Listening to Corey and Jerilyn, I realized that these behaviors can create unwelcoming campus climates for many people. At the same time, I realized that there are a few things I can do to help new employees feel welcome in my workplace. I can help decode Minnesota Nice behaviors and point them to “8 Tips for Dealing With Your Passive-Aggressive Colleagues, Friends and Neighbors.” Or better yet, I can move beyond polite friendliness and take the time to invite that person to coffee or lunch and really help them feel welcomed.
What can you do to combat the effects of Minnesota Nice and make your campus climate or workplace more welcoming?