Category Archives: leadership challenges

Increasing your learning agility

Innovative, continually learning and adapting, ready to take risk, able to deal with complexity. Those are of some of the attributes of strategic leadership. Combined together, these attributes can also be referred to as learning agility.

In their white paper Learning About Learning Agility, Adam Mitchinson and Robert Morris report that researchers define learning agility as being “continually able to jettison skills, perspectives and ideas that are no longer relevant, and learn new ones that are.” Given the complexity of our environment in higher education, this has never been more important. In fact, research over the last 20 years shows that the most successful leaders are those who are comfortable with uncertainty and sudden change and have the ability to learn and adapt.

Easily said, right? But how can you break down learning agility into concrete behaviors that are easy to employ?

Mitchinson and Morris do just that. They write about research conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) and Teachers College, Columbia University, where researchers identified four behaviors that enable learning agility and one that derails it.

They describe the four learning-agility “enablers” as:

Innovating: Questioning the status quo and challenging long-held assumptions with the goal of discovering new and unique ways of doing things. Learning-agile individuals generate new ideas through their ability to view issues from multiple angles.

Performing: Learning from experience occurs most often when overcoming an unfamiliar challenge. To learn from challenges, an individual must remain present and engaged, handle the stress brought on by ambiguity and adapt quickly in order to perform. This requires observation and listening skills, and the ability to process data quickly.

Reflecting:  Learning-agile people look for feedback and eagerly process information to better understand their own assumptions and behavior. As a result they are insightful about themselves, others and problems.

Risking: Learning-agile people are pioneers–they venture into unknown territory and put themselves “out there” to try new things. They take “progressive risk” –not thrill-seeking, but risk that leads to opportunity. They volunteer for jobs and roles where success is not guaranteed, where failure is a possibility. They stretch themselves outside their comfort zones.

The learning-agility “derailer” is:

Defending. Individuals who remain closed or defensive when challenged or given critical feedback tend to be low in learning agility. By contrast, high learning-agile individuals seek feedback, process it and adapt based on their newfound understanding of themselves, situations and problems.

So given these enablers and derailer, what can you do to increase your learning agility? Mitchinson and Morris recommend some helpful strategies below:

Innovating. Seek out new solutions. Repeatedly ask yourself, “What else?” “What are 10 more ways I could approach this?” “What are several radical things I could try here?”

Performing.  Seek to identify patterns in complex situations. Find the similarities between current and past projects.  Cultivate calm through meditation and other techniques. Enhance your listening skills – listen instead of simply (and immediately) reacting.

Reflecting. Regularly seek out real input. Ask, “What are three or four things I or we could have done better here?”  Make sure the questions are still open-ended – that will encourage colleagues to speak up.

Risking. Look for “stretch assignments,” where the probability of success isn’t a given.

Avoid defending. Acknowledge your failures (perhaps from those stretch assignments) and capture the lessons you’ve learned from them

Over this next week I challenge you to explore how you can increase your own learning agility. Pick one thing to focus on and see what happens. For my part, I’m going to focus on listening more intently before reacting. What about you?

Anita Rios

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Creating a sense of system

I recently heard a great example of transformational leadership. Devinder Malhotra, the interim chancellor for Minnesota State, shared his vision of what it means to be a system:  it’s when we jointly take ownership of the success of all our students, no matter where they are enrolled.

I first heard him make this comment in an interview on Minnesota Public Radio. He reinforced it earlier this week at the Academic and Student Affairs leadership conference. This definition presents a clear picture of where we are going, and helps us to think about the necessity to work together outside of our usual boundaries and silos.

During the conference I learned about many ways this is happening. There are large-scale efforts such as the transfer pathways work that is supporting what students are already doing–completing their education by attending multiple institutions within Minnesota State. On a smaller scale, I learned how the culinary program at Saint Paul College is helping students from China to succeed at Metropolitan State University.

Another conference speaker, Dr. David J. Weerts from the University of Minnesota, helped us think about what it means to work together for the common good of our students and our society. He pointed out that historically this has meant different things to different people. Does it mean educating citizens and preparing leaders for the future? Does it mean ensuring that all of our students can achieve economic success? Or does it mean focusing on social justice and ensuring that everyone has an equal chance for education?

Clearly we need to do all of these things. It is going to require working together in new ways, across institutions, across lines of rank and status, and across bargaining unit lines, to name a few. As Chancellor Malhotra said, no individual institution will be sustainable by standing on its own.

Dee Anne Bonebright

You mean I have to talk (and listen) to people!

As a confirmed and proud introvert it is hard for me to reach out and ask for help. Others of you may be confident extroverts and struggle to truly listen to others. Either way, when you transition into a new leadership role it is crucial to take the time to initiate conversations and to spend time listening to what others have to say.

Peter Daly and Michael Watson, authors of The First 90 Days in Government: Critical Success Strategies for New Public Managers at all Levels,   describe five crucial subjects or themes that  new leaders need to understand as they move into a new role or take on a new project. This requires having the following “the five conversations” with your leader or colleagues.

  1. The Situation Conversation – discover how your boss and others perceive the current standing or status of the overall organization and your unit. Your goal is to ensure a shared understanding of the challenges and opportunities you face.
  2. The Expectations Conversation – define, clarify, and perhaps, negotiate what success looks like for you in your new job.
  3. The Style Conversation – discuss and determine how the relationship with your new boss and colleagues or stakeholders will work. How do you each prefer to communicate, what boundaries exist, how are decisions made, and how frequent do you need to interact to ensure trust and success.
  4. The Resources Conversation – determine what resources are available, what you believe you need, confirm how resources are allocated and begin negotiating to ensure access to critical resources.
  5. The Personal Development Conversation – mutually identify opportunities and expectations for continual development to ensure success in your current and future roles in the organization.

In reality these will not be distinct one-time conversations but they are a framework to help leaders strategically approach the transition to a new role.

Todd Thorsgaard

Leadership adaptations

New beginnings often come with the need for adaptations. I’m learning that is very much the case for me after sustaining a traumatic brain injury in a bicycle crash a year ago. Strengths and strategies that used to work for me no longer do.

For instance, my ability to focus for long periods of time on a task and power through to completion, now can be a liability. If I try to work too long on my computer without a break, I can end up with crushing head pain that lasts for a couple of days and is incapacitating. So, with help from my doctor and therapists, I’m learning to take breaks when I need. And I’m learning to apply other strategies to adapt while my brain is still healing and overly sensitive to noise, light, and other stimulation.

For leaders taking on new roles the same can be true. Adaptations may be needed. In their book, The Leadership Pipeline, authors Charan, Drotter, and Noel explain that as leaders are promoted from one level to another in an organization, what used to work for them may not work in their new role. They may need to let go of the very strengths or skills that made them successful in their last role and adapt by learning new strategies.

For instance, one of the most obvious shifts in the leadership pipeline is when someone moves into a managerial role and moves from getting work done themselves to getting work done through others. It can be tough to adapt and give up things that you were good at and had pride in, to focus on what is needed in a new role.

Another shift that requires adaptation is when a leader moves from managing others in a functional area to managing people in areas of the organization where they have little expertise. Leaders may have a steep learning curve to understand other functions. It is also necessary to make adaptations when leaders begin reporting to a new leader, who may have a different communication style or set of expectations.

If you are experiencing a new beginning in your role, it may be helpful to ask yourself the following questions:

  • What am I doing that is no longer working or producing the results I desire?
  • Who can give me helpful feedback to examine practices and approaches that I may need to adapt? (a peer? boss? coach?)
  • What strategies might I employ to adapt to this new beginning?
  • How can I implement and sustain these new strategies to ensure I’m successful?

Most important, remember that any adaptation in practice or behavior takes time and repetition to make it a new habit. I’m still having trouble disciplining myself to take breaks as needed, especially when I’m really excited about what I’m working on. As my doctor kindly said to me last week, “Be patient with yourself.” I’d encourage you to do the same.

Anita Rios

 

 

New beginnings

 “The beginning is the most important part of the work.” – Plato

Working in higher education for the last 30 years, September has always signaled new beginnings for me. The beginning of the new school year. New energy with students on campus starting classes. And new leaders who are joining the enterprise of educating students and leading our institutions. In my department, this season signals work with my team on new work plans and projects that support our mission. It is an exciting time as the academic year gets underway.

On a personal level, this blog post represents another new beginning. A year ago, I crashed my bicycle and suffered a traumatic brain injury that kept me out of work for nearly a year. I’m thrilled to be returning to work (albeit part-time and slowly). It is truly a new beginning for me as I rejoin my colleagues at work and learn how to adapt to the realities of my slow recovery.

You might have noticed that Todd and DeeAnne kept the HigherEdge blog going until April of this year in my absence. It was a Herculean effort since they were also backfilling many of my duties while I was out on medical leave.  Now that I’m back to work, we are looking forward to posting articles on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays once again.

This month, we will be writing about all kinds of new beginnings:  new directions, new leaders, new coworkers, and new challenges. We invite you to join us by adding your comments to our discussions. If you like, you can start by sharing any new beginnings are you experiencing.

Anita Rios

 

 

 

Hit the ground running – maybe not!

Bull in a china shop photoYou nailed the interview, you got the job and now it’s time to prove your value – full speed ahead! Peter Daly and Michael Watson, authors of The First 90 Days in Government: Critical Success Strategies for New Public Managers at all Levelsencourage leaders to take a different approach to successfully navigate one of the most treacherous transitions you will face – starting a new job.

The pressure to deliver results – fast – can backfire and end up looking like the proverbial bull in the china shop. Making a lot of noise, causing a lot of action but not demonstrating your ability to lead and succeed.

To avoid a crash, Daly and Watson describe five crucial subjects or themes that  new leaders need to understand before they charge forward. This will require structured on-going dialogue with your boss that they call “the five conversations:”

  1. The Situation Conversation – discover how your boss perceives the current standing or status of the overall organization and your unit. Your goal is to ensure a shared understanding of the challenges and opportunities you face.
  2. The Expectations Conversation – define, clarify, and perhaps, negotiate what success looks like for you in your new job.
  3. The Style Conversation – discuss and determine how the relationship with your new boss will work. How do you each prefer to communicate, what boundaries exist, how are decisions made, and how frequent do you need to interact to ensure trust and success.
  4. The Resources Conversation – determine what resources are available, what you believe you need, confirm how resources are allocated and begin negotiating to ensure access to critical resources.
  5. The Personal Development Conversation – mutually identify opportunities and expectations for continual development to ensure success in your current and future roles in the organization.

In reality these will not be distinct one-time conversations but they are a framework to help new leaders strategically approach the transition to a new role. This is a time that it is “all about you!”

Todd Thorsgaard

Listening and leading

listeningWe’ve pointed out before that listening is an essential leadership skill. When it comes to leading for the common good, it’s more important than ever.

I recently heard a TED talk by Julian Treasure in which he pointed out the importance of conscious listening. He said filters – things like culture, values, expectations, attitudes, and beliefs – impact how we listen. Even though most people are unconscious of their filters, these filters create our reality by determining what we pay attention to.

Our fast-paced and noisy culture is inhibiting our ability to do the kind of conscious listening that creates understanding across differences. Treasure recommends that we practice these five skills, and encourage our staff to practice them, in order to enhance our listening skills.

  1. Embrace silence – spend 3 minutes each day in quietness.
  2. Focus on channels – listen to all the sources of sound around you and try to separate as many distinct sounds as possible.
  3. Savor sounds – focus on everyday sounds and learn to appreciate them.
  4. Examine your listening positions – identify your filters and learn to be intentional. Are you being active or passive? Critical or empathetic? What is impacting your perception of what you’re hearing?
  5. Practice RACA – Receive information consciously, Appreciate the viewpoint of the speaker, Summarize what you heard, and Ask followup questions.

Treasure says that we’re losing our ability to listen. Do you agree? If so how can we reverse that trend?

Dee Anne Bonebright