Category Archives: leadership development

Are you congruent?

Congruent, what’s that? Congruence is defined as behaving in a way in which your values and your actions match. Sounds simple, right?

Over the last decade or so, I’ve done quite a bit of coaching with leaders who are preparing to interview for various leadership roles. One of my best pieces of advice to them is to demonstrate congruence in their interview. That is, when they say they have particular values, strengths or abilities, they need to be able to give clear examples of those things and weave them throughout their interview.

Demonstrating congruence is important for leaders at all times, not just in an interview setting.  When your actions match your values, it gives people confidence that you lead authentically and act with integrity. Still, demonstrating congruence is not easy.  It’s one thing to have the self-awareness to know and communicate your values, but it’s another thing to ensure that your actions always follow your espoused values.

In her chapter on Congruence in the edited book, Leadership for a Better World, Tricia R. Shalka, says “Acting in congruence means you give time and energy to the things you say are important. If you say your family is most important but you choose to work 80 hour weeks and, via technology, are never truly with your family 100%, is that congruent with saying your family is most important? Probably not.”

So how can you ensure that your values and actions are congruent? Here are a few questions for you to ponder:

  • What are my core values?
  • How do my actions demonstrate my values?
  • What actions have I taken recently that are clearly aligned with my values?
  • What actions have I taken recently that are not aligned with my values?
  • Do I need to change my actions to bring them in line with my espoused values? Or do I need to re-evaluate my values and communicate them honestly to myself and others?
  • How can I demonstrate congruence with those I lead?

Last week I was struck with the congruence that Dr. Annette Parker demonstrated while sharing her story of her early career. She started working at a GM plant fresh from high school and only later began her education at a community college, quickly becoming a tutor and then an instructor.  Dr. Parker continued her education and rose through her career to become a president of a community and technical college, and now leads collaborative workforce development efforts for the system. Her career has demonstrated the way she values both technical and continuing education for herself and others.

What examples of congruence have you seen in yourself or leaders around you?

Anita Rios

 

 

Truly understand by hearing everything.

To truly understand others, leaders need to listen – not talk! That may sound easy but in the day-to-day crush of work and deadlines and priorities it is a challenge. Yet the payoff is huge. In fact, one study discovered that the strongest predictor of trust is a leaders ability to listen with empathy and respond based on what they hear.

Harvard Business Review suggests that leaders focus on three crucial “behavioral sets” to improve their listening.

  1. Actively recognizing ALL verbal and nonverbal cues. People speak with much more than the words they use and listening is different than just reading a transcript of their statement. We all have “misheard” or “misread” an email. Empathic listening involves paying attention to things like tone, emphasis, energy, excitement, reticence, body movement, gestures, and facial expressions. Seeking to understand both what is being said and what isn’t being said demonstrates true listening.
  2. Processing the message or tactical listening. Sharpen your skills and use techniques or tools to help you follow along with the speaker, remember what is being said, keep track of key points, identify areas of agreement/disagreement, and capture the overall message. This can be as simple as taking notes, using summary statements and minimizing distractions. It also involves giving up control of the conversation and focusing all attention on the other person.
  3. Assuring others that genuine listening has occurred and that conversations will continue.  Only the people on your team can accurately state if they feel listened to. Leaders need to use verbal and nonverbal actions to share the message that they are listening and want to continue listening. Ideas include verbal acknowledgements, clarifying questions, summary statements, check-in’s, paraphrasing and at times even restating a point being made. Your non-verbals are also being watched so eye contact, posture, facing each other, nodding along, and mirroring body language all reinforce your empathic listening.

Learning to listen builds trust and helps you say more with less talking.

Todd Thorsgaard

It takes more than understanding

The harsh reality for leaders is that understanding without action is not enough to make a difference. In fact, a more accurate title for our January leadership competency could be – Understands Self and Others – and does something with that understanding. Kind of cumbersome but more realistic.

Tom Rath and Barry Conchie in Strengths Based Leadership, identify four essential elements that people want from their leaders and when they get them they are more engaged and committed to their work.

  1. Trust: Credibility, respect, integrity and honesty
  2. Compassion:  Caring, concern about whole person, genuine interest in whole person
  3. Stability:  Predictability, consistency, fairness and security
  4. Hope: Direction, clarity, guidance and optimism for the future

Understanding these human needs for engagement is a starting point for identifying day-to-day actions you can take to demonstrate trust, compassion, stability and hope to your people. It will look different for each of us but taking action is what is important.

A great starting point is to think back to leaders who have most inspired you and ask yourself, what specifically did they do to demonstrate trust, compassion, stability and hope?

Please share your answers and we can build a toolkit of action ideas to share among us!

Todd Thorsgaard

“Tell me more about that….”

(Click on image to expand)

To truly understand someone you need to care about them, at least a little bit. As a proud introverted leader that sounds daunting. Yet a close look at the Gallup Q12 Engagement Index shows that a “manager caring about their people” is a clear determinant of employee engagement!

How can you get to know your people while still respecting and acknowledging the natural boundaries that exist between leaders and their teams? You are busy, your people are busy, and you are their boss. Leaders can’t become best friends or confidants, but genuine caring about employees as a whole person is crucial. For most leaders the problem isn’t the genuine caring but figuring out HOW to show their interest and caring in a work setting.

A recent article in Forbes highlights “Seven Ways a Leader Can Get to Know Their Team Better” with practical ideas.

  1. Help Your People Succeed Anywhere, Not Just in Their Current Role. Remind yourself and your people that success and development in their current role will help them in their future, regardless of where they choose to go.
  2. Schedule Regular Celebrations. This isn’t a new idea but in the chaotic world of work it is easily overlooked. Taking time together and talking about non-work topics builds stronger relationships.
  3. Manage By Walking Around. Get up and informally talk with your people. Share personal anecdotes and inquire about non-work activities, milestones, and experiences.
  4. Talk Naturally During Downtimes. Take advantage of the time before meetings, in the hallway, on the elevator, or while webinars are starting to chat about anything other than work.
  5. Ask About Displayed Photos, Trinkets, Mementos, Art Work, etc. This is my favorite! I started the post with a saying I have posted on my wall and I have many stories behind it. What your people display is important to them and asking about it will help you truly connect.
  6. Make Sure to Listen! All your hard work will be for naught if you don’t actually listen. Enough said.
  7. It Requires Variety. Genuineness and caring is not one size fits all. When you open up your interactions to the whole person you need to be flexible and adaptable.

Ask about that photo and see what you learn. I bet it will be interesting.

Todd Thorsgaard

Want to increase your self awareness? Try this!

I have a confession. While I’ve read the research showing that mindfulness meditation practice has the capability of increasing self awareness and leadership effectiveness, I’m rather late to the party. Perhaps my resistance was a result of my introduction to meditation as a high school sophomore.  In gym class we were instructed to sit cross-legged on a mat, close our eyes, slowly breathe in and out, and recite a two-syllable mantra of our choosing for 15 minutes. Needless to say, it felt weird not talking or listening or moving for that long. Plus, I didn’t really understand why sitting with my eyes closed, repeating the word hel-lo was at all useful at the time. I just chalked it up to something that didn’t work for me.

So, many years later, upon the urging of my neurologist, I finally tried it.  Not as a way to improve my leadership effectiveness, mind you, but as a strategy to manage and reduce pain from a head injury. Last November, I picked a free mindfulness meditation app on my phone that promised to work for “fidgety skeptics.” I thought that was an accurate description of me. I was still pretty resistant to practicing meditation, although I fully understood the benefits.

Interestingly, I found that after a couple weeks of using the mindfulness meditation app, I was able to not only increase my awareness of my body and reduce pain by recognizing where I was tensing muscles in my face, neck, and shoulders and relaxing them, but I also increased awareness of my emotions.  I began to recognize emotional triggers faster and manage them better. Rather than reacting in the moment, I found myself stepping back and examining my emotions more often. More important, I noticed that I was choosing my responses more effectively. These were pretty huge benefits from 5-9 minutes of mindfulness meditation a day.

While I’m just at the beginning of my mindfulness practice, I’m looking forward to reaping more benefits from it. According to neuroscience research articulated by a leading mindful leadership program called Id8TE, mindfulness can help to:

  • Increase self awareness and authenticity
  • Train your attention and deepen concentration
  • Improve critical thinking, planning, and decision making
  • Increase working memory and attention span
  • Sharpen situational awareness
  • Communicate thoughtfully and strategically
  • Respond to adversity with strength and resilience
  • Establish a calm and compassionate leadership presence
  • Attract, engage, and mobilize others

Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? If you’re not already practicing mindfulness or you’re a fidgety skeptic like me, I’d encourage you to give it a try. There are many mindfulness apps you can download right to your phone these days, like: The Mindfulness App, Headspace, Calm, Mindbody, buddhify, Insight Timer, Smiling Mind, Meditation Timer Pro, Sattva, Stop Breathe & Think, and 10% Happier.

At a basic level, mindfulness helps you pay attention to and recognize your thoughts, feelings and physical sensations. Recognizing your feelings is especially helpful.  As emotional intelligence guru Daniel Goleman says, “Without being able to recognize your feelings, you can’t control them. This inevitably effects your disposition–and output–at work.”

Anita Rios

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

New Year Greetings

We’ll be taking some time off over the winter break and returning in January with a new set of blog posts. In the meantime, we wish you all happy holidays and a great new year.

And on that note, I’m sure that many of us will make new year’s resolutions over the next few weeks, and then find reasons to start working on them later. So here’s a post from Harvard Business Review called 5 Research-based Strategies for Overcoming Procrastination.  Here are a few examples:

  • Know your triggers. People are more likely to procrastinate with tasks with tasks that they think of as boring, frustrating, difficult, ambiguous, or lacking in personal meaning. How can you think of the task differently to minimize these triggers?
  • Just get started.  Doing something – anything – helps get over the initial hurdle. It’s easier to keep going than it is to begin.
  • Disconnect. Electronic devices offer a wide range of options for avoiding tasks. Consider taking a break from electronics over the holidays. Or tell yourself not to check email or social media until you’ve made progress on the task you’re avoiding.

See you in 2018!

Dee Anne Bonebright

Focus on strengths!

Best of HigherEDge, first published on December 12, 2012.

I am kicking off a leadership program today. I am looking forward to another engaging discussion about how we can help our team members fully develop their strengths. Todd Thorsgaard

What is right about me? What is right about the people on my team?

These are the questions that led to a very energetic conversation during the three day leadership development program I just finished facilitating with a group of higher education leaders. We were discussing the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment and their individual strengths profiles. (Rath, Tom. StrengthsFinder 2.0. Gallop Press. 2007.)  The work of Donald Clifton and Tom Rath encourages us to embrace our strengths and use our natural talents to enhance our leadership by focusing on “what is right about me!”  I was struck, once again, by how passionate and enthused the 34 leaders got when I asked them to share stories about their strengths, about what is “right about them?”  The conversations were full of laughter, vigorous head nodding and an authentic sense of pride and satisfaction.

Their conversations were a reminder to me of how powerful a small shift in perspective can be as I work to be the best leader I can be. From my experience, and the stories I hear from leaders, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the challenges we face in higher education. I can feel stuck and unable to work effectively with those around me who are also feeling overwhelmed. Yet I know when I rely on my strengths and ask myself, “how can I use my strength of individualization (the ability to identify unique attributes in others) to solve a problem with a course I am developing or a program I will be facilitating,” I have much more energy to tackle the challenge and I am more likely to come up with an effective solution.

This small but purposeful shift in perspective when working with others also makes a big difference in my leadership. I find that when I specifically start interactions with colleagues by asking myself, “what is right about this person?” or “what unique attribute or experience or information makes them successful?,” I am more open to new ideas and better able to move beyond the frustration I feel when things don’t go the way I expected!

Next time you feel stuck or overwhelmed, stay energized by asking, “What is right about me and what is right about the people on my team?”

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


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