Category Archives: leadership competencies

Choices and new beginnings

Sometimes leaders know they need to make a new beginning, either personally or for the organization, but they can’t figure out how to start.  There may be many options, and sometimes these options are complete opposites.

We’ve written several times before about managing polarities – the kind of decision making that needs to happen when there are two opposing options, both of which have positive benefits.

A natural tendency is to look for some sort of compromise. But sometimes the compromise results in an outcome that doesn’t satisfy anyone. In their new book, Creating Great Choices: A Leader’s Guide to Integrative Thinking, Jennifer Riel and Roger Martin talk about ways to get out of the trap of either/or thinking and come up with new solutions.

So what does that have to do with Legos? As Riel describes in this interview with Harvard Business Review, the executives at Lego had to make a difficult choice related to the movie. Should they hold on to creative control and protect the brand, or should they give creative control to skilled professionals who would create an exciting movie but might not serve the brand well?

The executives came up with a new solution that resulted in a blockbuster hit. It was a win for Lego and for the creators of the movie. (Check out the interview to find out what that solution was.)

Is there an area where you are feeling stuck in either/or thinking? How can you look at the problem in new ways?

Dee Anne Bonebright

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“If you don’t fall, you aren’t learning”

Paul falling 2Last week this photo of my brother crashing showed up in my Facebook feed. Ouch. Having biked with my brother often, I know he got up, checked himself for injuries, and then tried to get over that boulder again – and made it! He took a risk, tried an unknown, fell, figured something out and succeeded. Leaders have to do the same thing. Take risks, be prepared to crash, learn from it and try again.

A recent article in the Telegraph Connect, an online community for leaders, highlighted that successful leaders “will take carefully calculated risks, while accepting that failure is a byproduct of success and innovation.” The key point being that they are calculated risks and a part of a leadership strategy having four parts.

  1. Calculated risks mean predicted success. Assess if your goal is important enough to take a chance. Do your preparation and planning and don’t rush in blindly. And, purposely accept and have a plan for how you will learn from each and every misstep, mistake, blunder or crash!
  2. Failure is a part of experimenting. This requires trust and actually accepting the fact that failure WILL be a part of your career.
  3. Change requires growth. You will operate out of your comfort zone during times of important growth.
  4. Accept failure and build rapport. You can create a culture that takes risks, and then acknowledges, accepts and learns from the failures that inevitably follow.

Growing up my family always shared the phrase I used in the title, “If you aren’t falling, you aren’t trying something new and learning.” Are you encouraging your team to “go for it?”

Todd Thorsgaard

A fresh start!

back-to-school-300x199As a kid the start of a new school year was both exciting and a little unnerving. A chance to build on what you did last year and a chance to make a fresh start!

Similarly, when you are a new leader or an experienced leader each day is a new start. A chance to build on your experience and the opportunity to make a fresh leadership start.

Amy Jen Su, author and co-founder of the executive coaching and leadership development firm Paravis Partners, encourages leaders to “step back and think about your leadership presence and if you are thinking, saying, and showing up as you most hope to and intend.” In her Harvard Business review article she highlights four key fresh start actions for both new and experienced leaders.

  1. Set or update a leadership values-based goal. Your people pay great attention to what you do and how you do it. Having an aspirational other-directed goal to guide your daily decisions and actions will directly impact the perceptions your team has of you and will strengthen your relationships at work.
  2. Continue to develop and increase your emotional intelligence and situational awareness. Leaders get work done through others and everyone on your team is different and every situation is different. Different motivations, different perspectives, different backgrounds, different experiences, and on and on. You need to be agile and adaptive. A starting point is to ask yourself the following questions before important interactions:
    • Who is the other person or audience?
    • What might their (not yours) perspective on this topic be?
    • How are they best motivated or what is most important to them?
    • What is unique about this situation, what variables are important here and now?
    • What are the optimal outcomes in this situation, for these specific players, for our team, for our organization?
  3. Be clear and direct, with respect. Leadership is build on two-way dialogue and trust. Leaders need to be clear and open to other perspectives – at the same time.
    • Know what you think and what is important to you – what are your convictions.
    • Ask, listen and acknowledge – provide space and acceptance of other points of view.
    • Share the WHY – include context, connection to personal and organizational priorities, and alignment.
  4. Be a stable and grounded presence in the face of change, stress, or difficult news. People need to feel safe bringing you news, even bad news. Otherwise you will end up in a vacuum with no information and no ability to make a difference. In addition, your team will look to you and mimic how you react to stress and changes. It is important to be genuine but prepared to demonstrate your leadership presence, even in tough times.

Fresh starts are exciting and a little scary. They give us an opportunity to reflect, build on what has worked and try something new.

Good luck!

Todd Thorsgaard

 

That makes no sense!!

conflict-management-techniques

“That’s crazy,” “I could never do it that way,” You’re wrong,” “No, listen to me!”

Are you hearing statements like these at work? When new ideas are introduced are you seeing battle lines drawn? How do you lead for the common good when it seems like your people have completely different goals in mind?

Well, not to ignore how hard it is but the place to start is with dialogue. Which means helping people actually listen to each other, even if they disagree with what the other person is saying. Your goal is to help people move from:

  • arguing
  • persuading or telling
  • focusing on differences
  • talking at each other

All of which lead to frustration, lack of trust and either/or thinking.

And move to:

  • listening
  • talking with each other
  • problem-solving
  • looking at options

That requires finding some sort of common or shared interests as a starting point for dialogue. Instead of focusing on the dangers of the other point of view and highlighting the positive of their own point of view, help people work on specific issues by looking deeper and identifying underlying values, goals, and concerns that both sides share.

We encourage the leaders we work with to ask these two straightforward questions to build trust and identify shared interests.

  1. What do we all want?
  2. We do we all fear or want to avoid?

It will take work to keep people from focusing on their initial points of view and look at the bigger picture, but facilitating this conversation will help you and your people find a common good you can all agree on, and that is a great starting point!

Todd Thorsgaard

Common good doesn’t mean we all agree

conflictLeading for the common good isn’t peaceful. Agreement isn’t the goal. Paraphrasing writer Walter Lippmann, “when we all think alike, no one thinks very much.” To work together for the common good a leader needs to be prepared for conflict and embrace conflict.

Liane Davey, author of You First: Inspire Your Team to Grow Up, Get Along, and get Stuff Done, reminds us that for teams to be effective and work together they need to experience tension and disagreement, wrestle with it, push back, open up, share, listen and only then move forward. It’s not a quiet process and not what we often think of as good leadership. But think about the best teams you have worked on. Was it acceptable to have a different opinion? To raise a concern? Or to even get a little worked up about the problem you were addressing? I bet it was!

If you are willing to dive into the messiness of collaboration and conflict as a necessary element of moving towards a common good, Davey recently shared three ideas that leaders can use to help their teams embrace “productive conflict.”

  1. Define, discuss and understand the different roles and agendas of each person on the team. Take the time to ensure that everyone understands that each person has an  agenda based on their role and that each agenda is different. Not better or worse but different. And that it is normal for the different agendas to lead to conflict that is not personal but necessary to reach the best solution in the end. Make it OK to disagree based on their unique roles and responsibilities.
  2. Pay attention to style differences between team members. Use a tool or a facilitated discussion to clarify the different approaches team members use to learn, take in information, communicate, make decisions, or do tasks. Ensure that each style is described in a positive way and highlight the value that each style brings to the team. Finally, highlight how it is natural for conflict to arise due to style differences and that you expect people to leverage their styles to facilitate collaboration, even if it gets uncomfortable.
  3. Set ground rules on acceptable dissension. Have an open conversation and identify what behaviors lead to conflict that improves how the team functions and what behaviors actually destroy trust and teamwork. Describe what is acceptable and what is not acceptable and the process the team will use to hold each other accountable.

As nice as peace and calm can be, leadership is a lot messier and noisier – and that’s OK!

Todd Thorsgaard

Moving beyond brainstorming

This is our last post for the year. We’ll take a break and come back in January with a wrap-up on the Minnesota State leadership competencies.

Therefore, I’d like to propose an early New Year’s resolution – for myself and each of us as leaders. During the year I want to expand my toolbox and find new ways to help my work groups reach decisions.

When we’re leameetingding meetings and there are decisions to be made, it’s easy to default to the tools that are comfortable and familiar. That usually means brainstorming and group discussion. Using other techniques can add a spark of creativity, help people remain engaged, and generate better decisions.

Here are some easy alternates to brainstorming:

  • Six Thinking Hats – Assign each member to approach the decision from a particular viewpoint. Ask people to have fun and get into their roles, even if it’s outside of their usual comfort zone.
  • Interviewing – Ask each team member to talk to 1-2 stakeholders who are impacted by the decision. Share the results and identify common concerns and any new issues that came up.
  • Pair-pair-share – Ask everyone to pair up with a partner and spend three minutes discussing their views about the decision. Then group the pairs into teams of four and have them come up with a list of considerations to share with the whole group. You’d be surprised how much new information can be generated in 10 minutes!

We hope you all have chance to relax and renew over the winter break!

Dee Anne Bonebright

 

 

Too much on my mind!

too-many-tabsThe holidays are looming, errands must be run, deadlines are pressing, family is calling, the academic session is ending, end-of-year reports are due, and decisions must be made! In fact, author Noreerna Hertz, in her book Eyes Wide Open: How to make smart decisions in a confusing world, estimates that most of us make over 10,000 decisions a day! No wonder we make bad decisions sometimes.

I’m sure you are in the middle of chaos so I am posting a short but very practical post today sharing Hertz’s top 10 steps for making better decisions – even when under deluge.

  1. Acknowledge, accept and “come to grips” with reality – we are exposed to more information than our brains can process and we need to accept that and create strategies to deal with it. It isn’t going to change.
  2. See the forest and the trees – don’t stop looking for the complete picture. Our brains automatically screen out details.
  3. Don’t automatically accept the stated narrative – work to understand the hidden meanings or intentions in information shared by others. Don’t automatically reject it but dig a little deeper.
  4. Don’t be afraid to challenge “the experts” and the status quo – ask questions and seek out alternative points of view to ensure you accept what you are hearing.
  5. Listen and learn from those “who know” – include the ideas and information from those with hands-on experience.
  6. Use technology to connect with a wider circle of people – take advantage of crowd-sourcing, affinity groups, networks, and instant communication channels to develop a wider circle of peers and colleagues to provide insight, advice and counsel.
  7. But, confirm the identity, background, knowledge and expertise of your network – you are responsible for the information you gather.
  8. Embrace “math” – good decision-making requires basic understanding of probabilities, expectations and risk. You don’t have to be a stats nerd but you need to learn the basics.
  9. Monitor your emotional state – emotions affect decisions just like information does. Develop an awareness for how your emotional state influences your decision-making effectiveness and take action to make decisions at the appropriate time.
  10. Embrace dissent and encourage diversity – multiple perspectives can open up new ideas, expose additional details, add different information, and facilitate true dialogue.

Happy decision-making!

Todd