Category Archives: mission and vision

Dancing with change, and watching the dance

Best of HigherEDge, first published on February 7, 2014

Ron Heifetz’s concept of viewing organizations “from the balcony” frequently comes up in our leadership development programs.  It’s been helpful to me as a reminder to keep my eye on the big picture. Bonus:  Todd Thorsgaard provided another view of this concept in this post from November 2015.

Dee Anne Bonebright

One of the first elements in leading change is to assess the current state. When we’re busy leading day-to-day efforts,  it can be easy to lose the sense of the big picture. We can forget to take time to think about where we are now, and where we want to go.

Ron Heifetz is one of my favorite authors on change. His concept of “getting on the balcony” has been useful to me and to participants in our leadership development programs.  Here’s how he describes it in his book Leadership Without Easy Answers.

Rather than maintain perspective on the events that surround and involve us, we often get swept up by them. Consider the experience of dancing on a dance floor in contrast with standing on a balcony and watching other people dance. Engaged in the dance, it is nearly impossible to get a sense of the patterns made by everyone on the floor. Motion makes observation difficult. Indeed, we often get carried away by the dance. Our attention is captured by the music, our partner, and the need to sense the dancing space of others nearby to stay off their toes. To discern the larger patterns on the dance floor – to see who is dancing with whom, in what groups, in what location, and who is sitting out which kind of dance – we have to stop and get to the balcony.

What helps you to step back occasionally and take a look from the balcony?

Dee Anne Bonebright

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Advice for new executive leaders

Rich Bents, Ph.D., Partner, Future Systems Consulting

Are you in a new executive role or contemplating one? If so, this advice from Rich Bents might be very timely for you. I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Bents this month and found that he has a wealth of wisdom to share. (My questions are noted in bold, with his answers below.)

Rich, you’ve been serving as an executive coach to quite a few of our new and emerging executive leaders in the last seven years. What do you see as the top two or three challenges that new executive leaders face in their roles?

A common challenge for those seeking executive positions in higher education is fiscal management, particularly fundraising. Delegation is often a challenge. The basic act of clearly assigning a task and accountability can be difficult for new executive leaders. Another challenge is creating a stimulating vision for an organization that fits comfortably into the vision for Minnesota State. It is easy to just articulate a vision, the difficult part is demonstrating how that vision fits into a larger context.

In your observation, are there any predictors of success for a new executive leader? What do successful leaders do?

The predictors of success I have found are emotional intelligence and the ability to create trust while exuding trust-worthiness. The first step is to ensure high self-trust. Then attend to the following questions: Are my intentions pure? Do I have high integrity? Do I have the necessary abilities to get the work done that is before me? Do I exhibit the appropriate behaviors? Am I engaging in collaborative ways? Do I get desired results? These six questions pretty well cover all trust issues. A breech of any one of them will always challenge a trust relationship.

What are some of the most common pitfalls for new executive leaders?

A common pitfall is not understanding or not identifying all of the stakeholders and attending to their needs. New executives often do not realize who all of their stakeholders might be. And even when all of the stakeholders are identified, new executives may not know what the stakeholders are expecting. The needs of the stakeholders may be very diverse and at times unexpected. Validating the various stakeholder needs is an important and rewarding exercise.

Another common pitfall is not identifying potential blind spots in their leadership style or in their values. Blind spots are just that –things that we do not see. When looking at leadership styles and personality preferences, blind spots can be exposed by looking at the opposing styles and types. Opposing values are more difficult to discern because executives dearly hold to their personal values and find it difficult to find and state an opposing value in positive terms. Usually what happens is a value is stated i.e., “Optimism” and we quickly say “Pessimism” is the opposing value. However an opposing value to “Optimism” may well be “Realism.” Understanding that other people will hold opposing values to our own gives the executive greater insight to their own values and behaviors.

What do you advise leaders to do to avoid those pitfalls?

Reflect to identify all stakeholders and articulate, then validate, their needs. It is important to engage stakeholders in discussions that answer the following questions: What is it they want? What is it they need? What is it they expect?

First clarify personal values. Then share your values with those close to you. And always live your values.

If there is one thing you could advise all leaders to do whether they are new in their role or not, what would it be?

Know your values and live them. Learn how to create trusting relationships. Be emotionally strong/well.

For executives, I always try to instill the full meaning of what Max De Pree once said: “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the two, the leader must become a servant.”

Thanks for your willingness to share your wisdom, Rich!

Anita Rios

Balancing strategy and purpose

“Most companies have articulated their purpose–the reason they exist. But very few have made that purpose a reality for their organizations.” — L. Chevreux, J. Lopez, and X. Mesnard

The quote above is from a recent Harvard Business Review blog post. The authors made some excellent points that apply to higher education as much as the business world. They described many examples where organizations got caught up in strategy, lost sight of their purpose, and eventually failed.

Strategies are time-bound and target-specific results. In contrast, the article said that purpose is “what makes an organization durably relevant to the world.” Climate assessment surveys, online curriculum development, and even transfer pathways are important strategies for Minnesota State. But they are not, in themselves, the reason that anyone will care whether we exist twenty years from now.

Our interim chancellor, Devinder Malhotra, has clearly defined three three areas of strategic focus:  Student success, diversity and inclusion, and financial sustainability. As we work toward these goals, the article gave three tips for ensuring that we can keep focused on purpose:

Create personal connections to purpose:  We need to understand how providing educational resources can make people’s lives better. Effective leaders in higher education believe in what we provide, not just at a surface level but as a deeply held value.

Don’t compromise on purpose:  As leaders, we are often pulled between conflicting extremes. Another recent HBR post identified some of these strategic tensions. Do we need strong leadership, or broad empowerment? Do we need to develop capacity or generate quick results? As we examine these tensions, we need to focus on getting the best from both sides.

Walk the talk.  As leaders, we set the tone for our organizations. We need to model the importance of purpose and show how to use effective strategies to get there.

Dee Anne Bonebright

 

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

Transformational and Transactional Leadership

Whatever your role, knowing how to be a transformational leader and how to be a transactional leader is important. While you may spend more time doing one or the other, it’s important to understand and use both skill sets.

A distinction is often made between “leadership” and “management.” In my mind, this is similar to being “transformational” and being “transactional.” For example, this 2011 article in an international management journal described some of the differences.

  • Leadership thinking focuses on people and looks outward; management thinking focuses on things and looks inward
  • Leadership goal-setting creates a vision; management goal-setting executes plans
  • Leadership creates change; management implements change
  • Leadership trusts and develops people; management directs and coordinates people
  • Leadership sees the forest; management sees the trees

As management expert John Kotter points out in this conversation, organizations need both superb leadership and superb management. In your leadership role, sometimes you have to be a transformational leader who can create a vision and inspire people to follow it.  Other times, you may need to be a transactional leader who can provide specific feedback to help people get the day-to-day work done.

Dee Anne Bonebright

 

 

 

The time is right!

Devinder Malhotra, the new interim chancellor for Minnesota State, has stated that there has never been a better moment in time for our leaders to make a profound difference. Due to the challenges we face, the complexity of a system of colleges and universities, and the incredible difference our schools can make in the lives of the people of Minnesota, now is the time to be a leader.

One type of leadership Malhotra was highlighting is defined by Bernard Bass in his groundbreaking book, Transformational Leadership.  Transformational leadership works well in exceedingly complex organizations made up of diverse and challenging work groups that need to feel empowered to succeed in times of great uncertainty. Sound familiar?

Transformational leadership is best recognized by the impact it has on people in the organization. This type of leadership causes people to trust, respect, and even admire, their leaders. Transformational leaders:

  • Hold positive expectations for their people and show their people that they believe they will succeed.
  • Focus on and demonstrate that they care about their people’s personal and professional development.

Can you picture the leaders who have made a difference in your life through their transformational leadership?

Todd Thorsgaard

Living the Mission

To wrap up our Mission and Vision topic for this month, here’s an interview from an organization where employees live and work by both of them.

Becky M, Member Services Director of a local YMCA

Do you feel like all or most of the employees know the mission and vision of the YMCA?
I think most employees know our vision and mission or they know the general idea of it

How does this happen?  Are you reminded of it regularly, is it woven into your daily work?
Every week a manager of each department walks around and ask random employees to recite our vision and mission and how we live it in our everyday life.  At our staff meetings we do what’s called a “Mission Moment” where we tell stories where we have witnessed our mission and vision in full swing.  We are reminded of it daily through our members, program participants, staff, and volunteers.  Our mission and vision is the reason I work for the Y.  I believe in our cause and how we can help our community.

Have you worked somewhere that this was not the case, and what differences do you see?
I have worked at places where there was a mission statement but they didn’t really explain to us why or how they came up with that mission statement.  I have worked at places where I didn’t see it put into action from day to day.

The big difference I see is that at other companies we didn’t base our work off the mission and vision where at the Y the work that we do is all based off of the mission and vision and how we can impact someone’s life.

Mission:  To put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body for all.

Vision:  To serve relentlessly with our community until all can thrive in each stage of life.

Could you see any of the above practices working for your organization, or come up with others that would?   Please share your thoughts, ideas and suggestions in the comments!

Cindy Schneider