Category Archives: leading authentically

Leading with powerful questions

Best of HigherEDge, first published on December 13, 2013

If you’ve followed our blog for any period of time, you’ll note that I’m a fan of asking good questions. It’s an essential part of leading effectively. While I don’t always succeed in asking the right question at the right moment, I’m always working at that particular skill. The post below from my colleague Dee Anne Bonebright challenges leaders to ask thought-provoking questions that will generate productive dialogue. – Anita Rios

In my last post, I talked about the importance of asking good questions. This can seem obvious, but I’ve found it to be very difficult in practice.  As leaders, it’s easy to believe that we are asking thought-provoking questions, while in reality others see them differently.  How often have you heard people say “He asked for our opinion, but I know the decision was already made.”

Asking powerful questions is one of the most effective ways to involve stakeholders in decisions that affect them, and to increase buy-in to the decision once it’s made. As I’ve been learning more about the art of asking questions, a colleague shared an excellent resource created by the World Cafe and Pegasus Communications: The Art of Powerful Questions. I highly recommend the entire article.  As a sample, here are some questions they recommend to help leaders frame questions that will generate productive dialogue:

  • Is this question relevant to the team’s goals?
  • Do I genuinely not know the answer?
  • What do I want to happen as a result of the question?
  • Is the question likely to generate new trains of thought or new directions?
  • Is this question likely to generate creative action?
  • Is it likely to generate more questions?

As I prepare to lead meetings, I’ve been challenging myself to be intentional about the questions I’ll ask. It really makes a difference in what I bring to the table and in the outcomes that are generated.

Einstein is supposed to have said that if he had only one hour to solve a life-threatening problem, he’d spend the first 55 minutes forming the right question, because then the problem could be solved in the remaining 5 minutes. How much time do you typically spend forming the right question?

–Dee Anne Bonebright

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

It’s about relationship

“When leadership is a relationship founded on trust and confidence, people take risks, make changes, keep organizations and movements alive.” – James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner

Have you ever noticed that its much easier to get things done when you are working with people you trust? I certainly have. There is ease, satisfaction, and sometimes even joy working towards a common goal with those whom you’ve developed solid relationships. I’ve also noticed that leaders who focus first on building relationships often are far more successful, than those who are singularly focused on getting things done. People naturally want to work with leaders who care about them and are invested in their success.

In their classic book The Leadership Challenge, Kouzes and Posner relay numerous case stories and research studies that reinforce the importance of relationship-building skills for leaders. According to their 20 years of research, leaders who demonstrate strong social skills and get along well with others, take time to build relationships with their subordinates, and work to see a situation from someone else’s point of view, experience the most success.

Knowing how important social skills are, what can leaders do to enhance their ability to build solid, trusting relationships?  Here are a few thoughts:

  • Engage: Open up dialogue by asking good questions. Questions about people’s expertise and point of view are great starting points to build relationships. Just a simple, “What do you think?” question can be a good start.
  • Listen: Let other people talk and then pay attention.  Focus on what people are trying to convey and reflect back what you’ve heard. Take time to understand what other people do. Stay open to new ideas and embrace learning new things from others.
  • Acknowledge: Value people’s contributions. Give credit to others for their contributions and successes. Celebrate accomplishments of your team. People are always more motivated to work hard and try new things if their efforts are acknowledged.

Most important, remember that relationships take continual care and feeding. It’s not a one and done proposition. Since I’ve returned from work after being on medical leave for a year, I’ve been working on rebuilding relationships with my team and others. It’s a work in progress. I’m holding regular 1:1 meetings with each of my staff and bi-weekly team meetings to build more collaboration and camaraderie.

What tips do you have for building solid, trusting relationships at work?

Anita Rios

Strategic influence

Part of strategic leadership and partnership is the ability to influence others. Whether advocating for their own positions, representing a group of stakeholders, or explaining the priorities of a work unit, strategic leaders need to communicate in a way that helps others understand and support their viewpoints.

Quite a while ago I was given a little book called The Power of Ethical Persuasion, by Tom Rusk.  I appreciated his argument that influence can be more than trying to get people to do things your way. He defined ethical persuasion as communicating with respect, understanding, and fairness in order to build stronger connections and shared goals.

Rusk provides a three-step process which has worked for me over the years.

Step 1: Explore the other person’s viewpoint

  1. Focus on mutual understanding, not problem solving.
  2. Ask the other person to help you understand their thoughts and feelings.
  3. Listen without defending or disagreeing. Refer to your position only as needed to keep the conversation going.
  4. Repeat the other person’s position in your own words.
  5. Repeat the steps above until the other person agrees that you understand their position.

Step 2: Explain your viewpoint

  1. Ask for a fair hearing in return.
  2. Explain how the other person’s thoughts and feelings affect you. Avoid blaming and defensiveness as much as possible.
  3. Explain your thoughts and feelings as your truth, not the truth.
  4. Ask the other person to restate your position, and correct any factual inaccuracies as necessary.
  5. Repeat until you both can understand and explain each other’s positions.

Step 3: Create resolutions

  1. Review each other’s positions and identify any mutual goals and shared values.
  2. Brainstorm multiple options without analysis and criticism.
  3. Review the options and determine whether there is a mutually agreeable solution.
  4. If not, consider any of the following:
    – Taking a time out and then reconsider the options
    – Compromise by meeting each side’s strongly held goals and meeting in the middle on others
    – Agree to the other person’s position, as long as you believe your position has been completely and respectfully considered
    – Seek help from a third party mediator or counselor
    – If no solution is needed in order to maintain collaboration, agree to disagree and still respect each other

It’s amazing how often positions that at first seemed mutually exclusive are actually based on similar values and goals. For example, we may disagree strongly on the campus budget, but we can respect that we are both seeking what’s best for the students. I’ve found that starting from that point and working toward mutual understanding can be much more persuasive than continuing to re-state the reasons why my side is correct.

Dee Anne Bonebright

 

Creating an ethical climate

People don’t usually wake up one morning and say “I think I’ll be unethical today.” It’s more of a gradual slide away from the moral center.
— Bill George

Several years ago I heard leadership expert Bill George talk about the idea of “true north,” which he defines as an internal ethical compass. He said it is shaped by a leader’s personal experience and it guides their leadership decisions.

The comment above has stayed with me. As we’ve seen in recent ethical failures by business and government organizations, most often it can be traced to a gradual path of unethical leadership decisions rather than one big mistake. For George, that can be traced back to the lack of a clearly defined moral center.

Transformational leadership needs to be ethical. And in order to be ethical, it needs to be authentic. George has identified five key areas for developing this kind of leadership:

  • Knowing your authentic self
  • Practicing your values and leadership principles
  • Understanding your motivations
  • Building your support team
  • Staying grounded by integrating all aspects of your life

You can explore this topic futher by reading the True North book and using the reflection activities available on the True North web site. Consider these reflection questions from the introduction activity:

  • Do you understand your purpose?
  • Do you practice your values?
  • Do you lead with your heart?
  • Do you establish connected relationships?
  • Do you demonstrate self-discipline?

Think about leaders that you admire and who demonstrate their “true north.” How might you want to follow their examples?

Dee Anne Bonebright

 

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

 

One size DOESN’T fit all

Standardization and consistency are necessary but not sufficient if you want to be a leader that truly helps your people thrive. As my humorous picture depicts: people are not the same! They need different sizes and types of leadership from you. Different strokes for different folks informs individualized consideration which is the fourth I of transformational leadership.

Individualized consideration focuses on the importance of leaders recognizing the unique characteristics of each person on their team, respecting and valuing their uniqueness, and most importantly taking different actions based on their unique needs and strengths.

The first step starts at a personal level. Individualized concern asks leaders to genuinely demonstrate awareness and interest in the individual needs or concerns of their people.  Next your leadership actions must vary and be customized to bring out best in each person on the team.

Sounds challenging and it is. However small steps matter and people appreciate authentic interest. Informal conversations, purposeful checking in, listening and being open to new perspectives will help you detect what is important to each person on your team. Do they like data? Are they drawn to the concerns of others? Do deadlines energize them? Are they focused on new ideas? Do they want clear processes or structure? You get the idea.

Acknowledging the uniqueness of the people you lead and supporting them so they can leverage their strengths will unleash the potential in your team.

Todd Thorsgaard

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

 

 

 

Demystifying transformational leadership

As my colleague Todd shared last week, “Transformational leadership causes people to trust, respect, and even admire, their leaders.” It also inspires and empowers followers to exceed normal levels of performance. Sounds like wonderful, but heady stuff!

As a leader, you might ask: what can I do to become more of a transformational leader? How can I inspire trust and respect and empower those I lead? Is there a recipe or a checklist that can help guide me? To answer that question, Bass, author of Transformational Leadership, outlines four helpful components to transformational leadership.

Often referred to as the 4 I model, the four  components listed below describe specific behaviors that leaders can adopt.

Idealized Influence
Serve as role models for followers.  “Walk the talk.” Demonstrate appropriate risk-taking, consistency, and high levels of integrity.

Inspirational Motivation
Inspire and motivate followers by providing meaning and a sense of challenge to their work. Involve followers in creating a desired vision for the future, communicate clear expectations and demonstrate commitment to shared goals of the team.

Intellectual Stimulation
Involve followers in addressing organizational problems and support them in being as innovative as possible in identifying solutions. Encourage followers to challenge assumptions, reframe problems, and approach existing problems in novel ways.

Individualized Consideration
Give individualized attention to each follower’s professional development by acting as a coach or mentor. Provide customized learning opportunities for  each follower based on that person’s unique needs and desires.

Over the next week and a half, my colleagues and I will be diving deeper into each of the 4 I’s. For now, I challenge you to read through each short description and to make a mental note of which I’s you are strong in and which I’s you may need to focus on as you reflect on your own leadership.

Anita Rios

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