Category Archives: leadership development

Painting the closet

My grandfather was a master painter and wallpaper hanger and I had the amazing fortune to work for him for over 20 years. One of the many lessons I learned from him was that you have to deliver the basics to get the opportunity to become a true master at your craft. The first years that I worked for him I spent much of my time painting the insides of closets or the priming coat of paint. Strategic leadership also has a foundation in delivering the basics before moving to the strategic.

Rosabeth Moss Canter, in a November Harvard Business Review article, highlights that successful strategic leaders are those that have mastered execution and implementation by following these four imperatives.

Question everything. Force yourself to challenge your assumptions and tackle “sacred cows” that exist in your organization or industry.

Inform everyone, then empower champions. Focus on both breadth of awareness and ideas and depth of committed support. Share information broadly and ask for all ideas to ensure that you are considering all options. Then take action to support your early and enthusiastic adopters to demonstrate early results.

Keep relationships tight and rules loose. Build a large network of people who are comfortable sharing good and bad news with you. Focus on creating a shared vision and trust and then giving people the freedom to take action and make decisions based on their expertise.

Modify quickly. Recognize and be willing to acknowledge bad news or challenges. Learn from what isn’t working and modify as soon as possible.

Developing a strategy and announcing it isn’t enough, you have to dive in and get the closet painted.

Todd Thorsgaard

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A strategic leader pop quiz – are you ready??

The dreaded pop quiz. I can still remember how I felt when hearing those words when I was in school. If I had done my homework, I didn’t flinch. But if I wasn’t prepared, my heart would start pounding!

Yes, I have a strategic leader pop quiz for you today, but first let’s study what will be on the test.

Research conducted by the Wharton School of Business and the consulting firm Decision Strategies International, Inc. (DSI) on over 20,000 leaders identified six “essential skills” that can be assessed and developed to become an adaptive strategic leader.

Anticipate – the ability to recognize subtle or ambiguous threats and opportunities before they affect your team or organization. Strategic leaders take action to “scan the horizon” by:

  • continually talking and listening to all stakeholders
  • gathering market research and utilizing scenario planning
  • interacting with people and organizations in other fields

Challenge – closely examining the current situation, assumptions being made and the popular point of view. Strategic leaders focus on reflection and examination from multiple points of view by:

  • searching for root causes and underlying issues not just the surface indicators
  • identifying and examining assumptions
  • actively seeking out alternative perspectives and encouraging debate

Interpret – the ability to accept and synthesize diverse and conflicting input and information. Strategic leaders seek new insights by:

  • identifying multiple explanations for observations, issues and results
  • actively seeking out and listening to diverse perspectives when analyzing information
  • using both observational and analytical analysis
  • taking a break and providing space for uncluttered analysis

Decide – use a disciplined process to make decisions, even when lacking information or time. Strategic leaders take responsibility for making decisions and using a robust process by:

  • rejecting either-or scenarios and asking “what other options do we have?”
  • identifying unexpected consequences
  • keeping stakeholders informed on the status of the decision
  • utilizing pilots and staged decisions

Align – discover common ground and buy-in among diverse perspectives and multiple stakeholders. Strategic leaders proactively build the trust needed to facilitate alignment between divergent points of view by:

  • over communicating (early, often, 8 ways, 8 times, etc.)
  • identifying and acknowledging concerns and issues in advance
  • reaching out to resisters and listening before explaining
  • recognizing when and where team members and stakeholders are willing to support the overall purpose or values of the organization

Learn – facilitate continuous organizational learning. Strategic leaders promote a culture of inquiry and learning lessons, both from success and failures, by:

  • conducting after-action reviews and lessons learned sessions
  • transparently sharing and communicating the information from the reviews and learning sessions
  • recognizing and rewarding people who take action and utilize lessons learned

Strategic leadership requires a mix of all six essential elements but the good news is that leaders can develop them.

Are you ready for a short pop quiz to help you identify where you shine and where you may want to take action to become a more strategic leader? Here is a link to a short assessment developed by the Wharton School and DSI on the six essential elements of strategic leadership.

Todd Thorsgaard

 

Walking the slackline

Nimble, agile, focused, adaptable, relying on others, willing to take a risk, moving forward, and getting up after you fall. That is how I describe my slackliner friends. It is also describes a leader who is strategic and works as a partner.

During November we will be sharing stories, ideas and resources focused on being a strategic leader and partner. In a recent HBR article, Paul Schoemaker, Steve Krupp and Samatha Howland say that leaders can make the biggest difference for their people and their organizations when the work environment is most uncertain–if they are adaptive, strategic leaders. In their words, this means “Someone who is both resolute and flexible, persistent in the face of setbacks but also able to react strategically to environmental shifts.”

Certainly the higher education work environment is uncertain. The national and global economy is going through rapid changes and most leaders I talk with point out that their industry is in the midst of epic transformations. So, we all have a great opportunity to make a difference as leaders now. But it takes work and skill development to be strategic leader and partner.

Are you ready to try walking the slackline?

Todd Thorsgaard

Emotional intelligence matters!

Last week, in my blog post “Nature or nurture?,”  I talked about the personality traits that are often predictive of an individual’s ability to become a transformational leader. Among my colleagues, this research is bothersome, and causes quite a bit of consternation, especially where their natural tendencies do not align perfectly with the “Big Five” personality traits. For those of you who experience the same angst about scoring high on extraversion, conscientiousness, agreeableness, openness, and low on neuroticism, there is good news.  Nurture counts too!

Increasingly, there is research that supports the strong links of emotional intelligence to transformational leadership. As you may know, emotional intelligence can be developed over time, and nurtured if you will, unlike personality traits that are something you are born with and are usually stable over time. Emotional intelligence, as developed by Daniel Goleman, is measured by five different constructs:

  1. Self Awareness – the ability to know one’s emotions, strengths, weaknesses, drives, values and goals and recognize their impact on others
  2. Self Regulation – controlling or redirecting one’s disruptive emotions and impulses and adapting to changing circumstances
  3. Social Skill – managing relationships to move people in the desired direction
  4. Empathy – considering other people’s feelings especially when making decisions
  5. Motivation – being driven to achieve for the sake of achievement

There are quite a few emotional intelligence tests available online. For a free introduction to one, click here.

In his Industrial Psychology journal article, Sanjay Kumar makes a case for the strong linkages between emotional intelligence and transformational leadership. Dr. Kumar argues that emotional intelligence attributes of self-awareness, empathy, and motivation have a direct correlation to transformational leadership traits of individual influence, individualized consideration, and inspirational motivation. Simply translated, leaders who have worked to increase their emotional intelligence are more able to influence their followers, motivate them, and give individualized consideration to their followers.

Below is Kumar’s chart outlining the links between emotional intelligence and transformational leadership.

 

So to end our month of discourse on Transformational Leadership, nurture does count! As witnessed by the multiple posts Dee Anne, Todd, and I have written, there are many strategies to up your game as a transformational leader.

Anita Rios

Get your steps!

Becoming a transformational leader can seem intimidating. It can seem like something you are either born to be or not. In reality it all starts with getting your daily steps in. Sometimes called “management by walking around” as described in the Tom Peters and Bob Waterman 1982 bestseller In Search of Excellence.

An article in one of my favorite resources for leaders, the website MindTools: Essential skills for an excellent career, highlights how to connect with your people and build the relationships that lead to transformational work by getting your steps in!

Management by wandering around” does require more than just aimless chatting or random office visits.  MindTools encourages leaders to:

  • Relax – take a deep breath, calm your mind and make it easy for people to be open with you.
  • Listen and Observe – take the time to understand your people and demonstrate genuine interest in their perspective.
  • Be Inclusive – wander everywhere, strategically plan to connect with your whole team.
  • Recognize Good Work – encourage people to share what they are proud of and give specific compliments.
  • Spread the Word – share what you hear with others and share what you know about the work being done.
  • Embrace Chat – learn more about people’s non-work interests and lives. Demonstrate that you are aware they are more than just what they do at work.
  • Don’t Overdo It – don’t hover over people or become a distraction.
  • Review Your Conversations – assess what you have learned, take action and solve problems.

Transformational leaders know their people and know their work.

Todd Thorsgaard

 

Nature or nurture?

Are transformational leaders born or developed? It’s a question that can be debated from multiple perspectives. If I didn’t firmly believe that leadership skills can be learned, I wouldn’t be in my current profession. However, I also believe that people’s natural dispositions can influence how they lead. Interestingly, there is quite a bit of research that supports how personality traits have clear links to leadership success.

To give an example, transformational leadership can be measured by how well an individual scores on the “Big Five,” a set of five major personality traits that contribute to the likelihood of a person displaying the behaviors of a transformational leader. These personality traits are universal across culture and have biological origins. Kendra Cherry, author and psychology educator describes the Big Five as:

Extraversion
Characterized by excitability, sociability, talkativeness, assertiveness, and high amounts of emotional expressiveness, people who are high in extraversion are outgoing and tend to gain energy in social situations. People who are low in extraversion (or introverted) tend to be more reserved and have to expend energy in social settings.

Agreeableness
Attributes of agreeableness include trust, altruism, kindness, and affection. People who are high in agreeableness tend to be more cooperative while those low in this trait tend to be more competitive and even manipulative.

Conscientiousness
Standard features of conscientiousness include high levels of thoughtfulness, with good impulse control and goal-directed behaviors. People high in conscientiousness tend to be organized and mindful of details. Those who are high on the conscientiousness continuum also tend to be organized, spend time preparing, mindful of details, and finish important tasks right away.

Neuroticism
Characterized by sadness, moodiness, and emotional instability, individuals who are high in neuroticism tend to experience mood swings, anxiety, irritability and sadness. Those low in this trait tend to be more stable and emotionally resilient. They deal well with stress, don’t worry much and are very relaxed.

Openness
Attributes of openness include imagination and insight. People high in this trait also tend to have a broad range of interests, and tend to be more adventurous and creative. They are open to trying new things, tackling new challenges, and thinking about abstract concepts. People low in this trait are often set in traditional ways of doing things and may struggle with abstract thinking.

Leadership assessments that measure the “Big Five” personality traits, find that those who score higher in extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness and lower in neuroticism, most often demonstrate behaviors that are described as transformational leadership. If you’re interested, you can take a free  assessment online to measure how you score in the five personality traits.

What do you think about the Big Five? Where in your experience have you seen leaders with these traits that you would describe as transformational? And would you say that transformational leadership is determined by nature? nurture? or both?

Anita Rios

 

 

Follow the leader

It takes more than saying the right things to be a transformational leader; you have to do the right things! And that takes work.

Through their work transformational leaders demonstrate Idealized Influence, the first of the 4 I’s that Anita described in her post on Monday.  Just like the lead biker in a team time trial, they don’t just have a powerful message or good ideas. They lead by example. They are the type of leader who isn’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and work along side you.

In fact, through their actions they become such a positive role model that people are inspired to follow. The following actions or behaviors are often listed when people describe a transformational leader. They:

  • Walk the talk
  • Would never ask you to do something they wouldn’t do
  • Stay true to their values without worrying about outside opinions
  • Spread enthusiasm and integrity
  • Provide real-life examples through their actions
  • Take personal risks when it is the right thing to do
  • Inspire through action

Becoming a more transformational leader is a lot of work, but the trust and engagement you build can set the stage for success.

Todd Thorsgaard