Category Archives: leading authentically

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

 

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Don’t forget the endings!

It is tempting to focus on the new beginnings as a leader. We craft messages that highlight the benefits of the new system or the new structure. We glowingly describe the advantages of a new procedure or we document the potential dollars saved “after” the change is implemented. Yet study after study have confirmed that often we never reach the hoped-for Shangri-la.

William Bridges, in the 25th anniversary edition of his ground breaking book,  (Bridges, William. Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change. Da Capo Press. 2009.)  counsels leaders to actually meet their people where they are at, the endings they are facing! All new beginnings include something ending or being lost. When we only focus on the new beginnings and ignore that our people are losing something we won’t get to the new beginning as smoothly or successfully as we hope.

Think about it, a new school year also means the end of unstructured summer time. A new leader also means the end of knowing how your previous leader liked to get updates. Or a new house also means not knowing where the closest take-out pizza place is!

It isn’t necessary, or even advisable, to wallow in the losses and endings but it is important to start there to ensure a better transition to the new beginning. Specifically Bridges advises leaders to work with their people and make sure they understand what losses they are experiencing. It may be a loss of:

  • competency
  • comfort
  • status
  • influence
  • routines
  • independence
  • or many others

While many of these losses can and will be replaced or redefined you can help your people understand what is actually ending and what isn’t ending. As an example, the human resource division at Minnesota State is changing to a service center model for HR transactions. Most employee record keeping and status changes will be done by staff at four regional centers. Campus HR staff will clearly feel a loss of direct connection with people on their campus since they won’t be processing the paper work in this new model. It is important for campus HR leaders to acknowledge that loss and also highlight that their staff  will still have have access to employee records. They will be able to answer questions and will still have a personal relationship with the faculty and staff on their campus. Lack of clarity on what is ending and what is staying can lead to the natural tendency to over estimate what is ending!

Yes, the new beginnings are bright and shiny but we need to see and acknowledge that our people are experiencing some losses and endings if we want them to join us on the other side of the change.

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

Who is accountable?

yellow-brick-roadIn the end, Dorothy, the lion, the scarecrow and the tin man each had what they needed within themselves to get to the end of the yellow brick road.  To build organizational capacity, leaders and team members must also travel down an unknown road into the future. This type of action in the face of uncertainty requires personal accountability by leaders and the development and support of personal accountability for team members.

Roger Conners and Tom Smith, in their book The Wisdom of Oz, share ideas on how to assume accountability for our own actions, how not be defined by our circumstances and how to take action to reach our goals.

Their Four Steps to Accountability are:

  1. See It – acknowledge your own blind spots to reality and seek out additional information to truly “see” the whole picture. This often involves asking others for their point of view – and listening to it.
  2. Own It – acknowledge your own role in the current situation and take responsibility for finding a solution or taking action to move forward.
  3. Solve It – do the work required to find a solution, or make a change. This can involve doing research, seeking input, working with others, trying options, or other techniques. But you must take ownership of finding what you need to do.
  4. Do It – take concrete action to do what you need to do when you need to do it!

We don’t always know what the future will bring but if we accept our personal accountability we can shape our own future and not be controlled by a wizard behind the curtain.

Todd Thorsgaard

 

Who would have predicted that!

dewey-winsOk, I admit it. This post is a day late. I stayed up until 3:00 a.m. on Tuesday night watching the presidential electoral college vote results and the commentators trying to explain how all the predictions were wrong. Then on Wednesday, more analysis and exploration of what happened. I promise, this will not be a political post, but the election of president-elect Trump highlights how hard it is to predict the future! And we have a long history of getting predictions wrong.

So, how do leaders build organizational capacity to meet future challenges when it is so hard to see what will happen in the future?

Gary Hamel encourages leaders in his book What Matters Now (2012) to go back to the basics and focus on values to prepare for an uncertain future. He lists the following as “pivotal, overarching concerns” for leaders:

  1. Values – act as a steward and take actions that demonstrate concern for your people and organization.
  2. Innovation – provide opportunities for all your people to contribute their ideas to meet your customers’ needs.
  3. Adaptability – “future-proof” your company by relentlessly pushing for internal change to match external changes. Hamel stresses the need to “seek out the most discomforting facts you can find and share them with everyone in your organization.”
  4. Passion – clearly demonstrate that your people are affecting the outside world with their work. Highlight the importance of each and every person’s day-to-day work.
  5. Ideology – examine, discuss and challenge the status quo. Make it safe for people to express their opinions and concerns.

We may mess up predicting the future but Hamel implores leaders to speak up for “the good, the just and the beautiful” to better prepare for the uncertainty ahead.

The following link provides a detailed summary of What Matters Now.

https://www.getabstract.com/en/summary/leadership-and-management/what-matters-now/17412?dfs=wxmmqkfksovueayhlzbvluhtiwngbj&rf=DLZPJVUFWN&utm_campaign=share&utm_souce=getAbstract&utm_medium=email&u=MNSCU

Todd Thorsgaard

Where’s the meaning?

where-is-the-meaningIf the people on your team have to ask “Where is the meaning in my work?” something is wrong!

In his book  Meaning, Inc. , Gurnek Bains ecourages leaders to bring the organization’s mission and vision to life through meaningful work. Between actual work time and digital connections people spend over half of their waking hours “at work.” Understanding how those work activities are making a contribution to customers (students at Minnesota State), the community or larger society will make work more meaningful.

While each person on your team has their own personal values and beliefs about what is important, there are actions that leaders can take to strengthen meaning at work.  Bains identifies the following leadership activities that help create more meaningful work:

  • Discussing and supporting personal stretch goals that are related to the vision.
  • Focusing on the unique strengths and talents that each person brings to work.
  • Documenting, evaluating, providing feedback and highlighting each person’s work and contribution to group efforts.
  • Clearly linking individual and team work activities and accomplishments to wider issues.
  • Ensuring that short-term goals don’t conflict with the deeper organizational purpose.
  • Role modeling stated ideals.

Making sure your people know the difference their work makes in the lives of other people builds meaning. And meaning is powerful.

Todd Thorsgaard

Demonstrating the vision

planeLast week I was on a United Airlines flight to visit family in Colorado. As I was settling in, the usual voice started giving instructions. But then I heard this: “Hi, I’m your captain. I always like to greet the passengers and welcome them to the flight.” He told us about his background, his co-pilot’s background and the fact that they were friends who enjoyed flying together. He told us that the weather was choppy over Denver and they were taking an alternate route to avoid the worst turbulence.

He went on for at least 5 minutes, and people actually applauded at the end.

Afterwards, several passengers commented that they had never been on a flight before where the pilot personally welcomed people and told us what to expect. That pilot was visibly demonstrating United’s commitment to good customer service and safe travel.

It doesn’t take a lot of time or effort for leaders to show commitment to an organization’s mission and vision. And the effects can be powerful. When have you seen this in action?  What could you do?

Dee Anne Bonebright