Category Archives: leadership challenges

Conversations and neurochemistry

“Conversations are not what we think they are.”  And so begins my new favorite book Conversational Intelligence by Judith Glaser. Powered by both neurological and cognitive research, she says that conversations go much deeper than simple information sharing. They impact the way we connect, engage, interact, and influence others, because they actually have a chemical component. Conversations can stimulate the production of hormones and neurotransmitters, stimulate body systems and nerve pathways and change our body’s chemistry, in both good and bad ways.

Think about it. When was the last conversation you had that didn’t go well? How did you feel? Threatened? Sick to your stomach? Did it change how you continued the conversation? What did you do? Retreat? Become more forceful? Or even antagonistic?

Glaser states that even at the simplest level, of asking and telling – I ask a question, you tell me an answer – conversations can become complex as questions provoke thoughts and feelings about what you mean or your intentions. If a question feels threatening, that can activate the defensive role of the amygdala to “handle” a threat.

Of course, conversations can also trigger dopamine and serotonin, those good-feeling chemicals, as you experience an exchange that increases sense of belonging, care and concern for your well being, and a shared sense of purpose. Those conversations tamp down the defensive role of the amygdala and free the prefrontal cortex to generate new ideas, insights, and wisdom.

In every conversation, we are constantly reading content and emotions sent our way and we are sending content and emotions to others. In fact, Glaser asserts that leaders are communicating that they are happy or sad with almost every communication.

Her book is full of helpful information to help increase conversational intelligence for leaders and their teams.  Here is a brief summary of Glaser’s 5-step STAR (Skills That Achieve Results) model that can help tamp down the amygdala’s threat response and can turn adversaries into partners.

  1. Build Rapport – get on the same wavelength as the person you are talking to; connect with them as a person and demonstrate you care
  2. Listen without Judgment -pay full attention to the other person as they speak and set aside the tendency to judge the person; resist the temptation to formulate your response while they are speaking; just listen
  3. Ask Discovery Questions – be curious; ask smart questions that may change your views as you listen and learn
  4. Reinforce Success – see and validate what “success looks like” for both people
  5. Dramatize the Message –  ensure understanding by telling a story or drawing a picture if needed; this can elevate awareness to make sure you are on the same wavelength

Using STAR’s five steps, Glaser says leaders can create a positive shift in brain chemistry (theirs and others) as they work towards having productive conversations that can shape reality, mind-sets, events, and outcomes in a collaborative way.

Anita Rios

 

Advertisements

Fueling innovation through diversity

In his 2016 book, Driven by Difference, David Livermore makes the case that high-functioning, diverse teams outperform homogenous teams. However, he says diversity by itself doesn’t contribute to organizational success unless it supports your organization’s mission. And, he adds that unless leaders leverage diversity’s potential, it can actually erode performance and productivity.

So how can a leader leverage the potential of diverse teams? The secret is to minimize conflict while maximizing the informational diversity found in varied values and experiences. To overcome inherent frictions among diverse team members, Livermore says a leader needs to develop their workforce’s cultural intelligence or CQ.

Drawing on success stories from Google, Alibaba, Novartis, and other groundbreaking companies, Livermore identifies key leadership practices and elements of cultural intelligence that fuel innovation:

CQ drive: Build a desire to learn about other cultures and a willingness to adapt.

CQ knowledge: Cultivate appreciation and understanding of cultural differences.

CQ strategy: Be aware of the perspectives and ideas of different people and how their viewpoints affect the work of teams.

CQ action: Adjust to cultural differences and leverage diversity into results.

Leaders can increase their teams CQ by encouraging curiosity,  listening, respect and “perspective-taking” among diverse team members. Drawn from real-life examples, Livermore demonstrates that innovation is fueled by cultural intelligence and the ability to see things from others’ perspectives. Encouraging employees to consider their co-workers’ points of view and to mix their colleagues’ perspectives with their own can pave the way to developing innovative solutions that borrow from many ideas and work for everyone.

What advice do you have for increasing your team’s or your own cultural intelligence?

Anita Rios

A model of integrity

In recognition of President’s Day and our continuing dialogue on integrity this month, it’s a good opportunity to focus on a president who exuded integrity. George Washington, our nation’s first president, demonstrated integrity both on the battlefield and in the nation’s highest office. In the words of author and historian David Hackett Fischer, Washington possessed “integrity, self-discipline, courage, absolute honesty, resolve, and decision, but also forbearance, decency, and respect for others.”

Washington’s integrity was tested in the early years of our new nation, especially during the Revolutionary War. By 1777-78, he was commanding troops and had suffered losses in all major battles against the British. Retreating 18 miles north to Valley Forge, he helped his soldiers build log cabins where they stayed the winter in freezing cold conditions. With the lack of food, cold, illness, and a demoralized army, he lost at least a dozen men each day to death or desertion.

Washington urged Congress to send the troops food, but Congress advised him to steal food from nearby farmers. But that didn’t pass Washington’s integrity test. Even though local farmers were selling their corn and beef to the British, who paid in gold, Washington rejected Congress’s advice and promised to hang any soldier caught stealing food. Washington won the trust of his troops who were impressed with his integrity.  The next summer, his men who had trained hard over the winter, won a victory that set the stage for overcoming the British and gaining independence for America.

During Washington’s presidency, his integrity was tested often.  For instance, he recognized that America’s integrity, both at home and abroad, depended on honoring its war debt. Some Americans wanted to default on payments to those at home and in France who had invested in the war for independence. Some advised repaying part, but not all of the debt. Washington clearly saw this as an issue of integrity and persuaded Congress to pass a tariff to pay all our debts.

Washington wasn’t always popular with everyone, but he was respected and trusted. And that trust went a long way to ensure Washington’s success as our first president even when he did make mistakes. As Dr. Burton Folsum, Senior Fellow in Economic Education, Mackinac Center for Public Policy, observes, “Politicians of weak character are often second-guessed and challenged on their motives. Washington’s strong character helped Americans forgive him when he made errors in judgment.”

In Washington’s own words, he expressed the value of always acting with the deepest integrity:

“Without virtue, and without integrity, the finest talents and the most brilliant accomplishments can never gain the respect, and conciliate the esteem, of the truly valuable part of mankind.” – George Washington

Anita Rios

Radical transparency?

Last week when I was preparing to meet with one of our university leaders, I noticed that her email to me had an interesting tagline. At the end of her email signature and institution’s mission, she had added a postscript. It read:

PS: “Please forward this email to those I may have inadvertently missed. Anyone who needs this information is welcome to being in the loop. Let me know who I missed so I can add them to future correspondence. Radical transparency is a fundamental practice I choose to follow.”

Wow! After reading it, I began to think about how her message not only communicated that she was committed to transparency, but was a declaration of her values AND a demonstration of integrity. Many leaders say they practice transparency in their communications, but few go to lengths of demonstrating it in this way.

At the end of our meeting, I asked her about the postscript in her email and remarked on its uniqueness. She affirmed that this practice has built trust among her teams. (I have to add that it is just one of the many things she does to create a productive work environment on her campus.)

As we were talking, she remarked that anyone who doesn’t think that their emails are completely public is fooling themselves. Everything we communicate online is open to sharing and can circle the globe quickly.

The phrase radical transparency makes me smile, in that it communicates transparency to the extreme. Simply defined, radical transparency includes actions and approaches that radically increase the openness of organizational process and information.

In that one postscript, this leader clearly demonstrates her integrity with every email message.  What practices do you employ that demonstrate integrity?

Anita Rios

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

 

Where to start?

Many days being a leader feels like this image. Where do you start?

Being a leader is complicated! Not only do you have your own job you are also responsible for leading and managing a team of people, representing your organization, collaborating with other leaders and functions, developing talent, making decisions, communicating up, and on and on. It can feel overwhelming.

To help all our leaders at Minnesota State we asked successful leaders across the system to identify what knowledge, skills, abilities and attributes were key to their success. Based on their answers we identified 11 Leadership Competencies that serve as a framework and a starting point for leadership success. You can see them above. We would also like to share them with you, our readers, in 2018. Each month we will focus on one competency and share insights, current literature, experiences and opportunities for your feedback and ideas. January will kick off with Understands Self and Others.

Our 11 Leadership Competencies are broken in four key leadership roles as follows:

Leader of Self

  • Understands Self and Others
  • Acts with Integrity

Leader as Relationship Builder

  • Values Diversity
  • Communicates Effectively
  • Builds Trust

Leader as Manager

  • Delivers Customer Service
  • Builds Organizational Talent
  • Demonstrates Good Stewardship

Leader as Innovator

  • Articulates Vision and Mission
  • Builds Organizational Capacity to Meet Future Challenges
  • Demonstrates Effective Decision-Making

Todd Thorsgaard

Blind spots

Best of HigherEDge, first published on January 9, 2013.

We had our first snow and ice of the year and the news has been filled with reports of car accidents and spin-outs. It reminded me of this post. I hope those of you in the midwest scraped your windows so you could avoid a crash due to a blind spot.   Todd Thorsgaard

Has this happened to you? You are a good driver, you have the best intentions, and you are paying attention and following all the rules, yet when you signal your lane change and start to move – suddenly you hear a horn honking! Next comes screeching brakes or a crunching sound and an impact. What happened? There was a car in your blind spot.

As leaders, we also have blind spots. Have you ever been surprised by how people on your team react to something you have said or done? Are there times when the pep talk you gave to help motivate someone or the wise piece of advice that you knew was exactly what your team member needed didn’t have the effect you intended?

I still remember the reaction I got from teammates in one of my first jobs after graduate school. My boss called me into her office for my 30 day check-in. I was meeting all my initial goals and I was providing good consulting resources, but my colleagues had shared that they did not think I valued their experience and they didn’t like my “attitude.” I was crushed! I respected them and was so happy to be working on a high performing committed team. What was going on? It was a blind spot. I had just spent a period of time in graduate school where we were expected to always ask critical and probing questions, on every idea raised by anyone. I thought I was demonstrating respect and letting my colleagues know how much I valued their experience and insight by asking questions and seeking to better understand what they were sharing. What they were feeling was that I was challenging their ideas and didn’t trust their experience!

Leadership is a two-way street filled with people. As Anita described in her last post, successful leaders need to understand how their actions impact others.  The Johari Window, a tool created by Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham in 1955, highlights that we need feedback to better understand ourselves and to minimize our blind spots. (click on image to enlarge)

johari-window2

Increased self-understanding leads to greater effectiveness in leading others.  I needed to ask my boss in that new job what was happening, why were people reacting the way they were? I was unaware that when I immediately responded with a question to a colleague’s idea they felt like I didn’t value their expertise. It felt attacking. I was destroying trust while I blindly thought I was engaging in a spirited debate. Now, as a leader, my natural style is to focus on facts and reasons and I can be blind to how that feels to people on my team. I have learned that I need to continually seek feedback from others on the impact of my actions. Luckily I also have a trusted relationship with my current manager and I am able to ask about my blind spots and the impact they have on my leadership.

What leadership blind spots have you discovered in yourself? How can you invite feedback from others or gain more self-awareness?

Todd Thorsgaard