Category Archives: self awareness

Leadership adaptations

New beginnings often come with the need for adaptations. I’m learning that is very much the case for me after sustaining a traumatic brain injury in a bicycle crash a year ago. Strengths and strategies that used to work for me no longer do.

For instance, my ability to focus for long periods of time on a task and power through to completion, now can be a liability. If I try to work too long on my computer without a break, I can end up with crushing head pain that lasts for a couple of days and is incapacitating. So, with help from my doctor and therapists, I’m learning to take breaks when I need. And I’m learning to apply other strategies to adapt while my brain is still healing and overly sensitive to noise, light, and other stimulation.

For leaders taking on new roles the same can be true. Adaptations may be needed. In their book, The Leadership Pipeline, authors Charan, Drotter, and Noel explain that as leaders are promoted from one level to another in an organization, what used to work for them may not work in their new role. They may need to let go of the very strengths or skills that made them successful in their last role and adapt by learning new strategies.

For instance, one of the most obvious shifts in the leadership pipeline is when someone moves into a managerial role and moves from getting work done themselves to getting work done through others. It can be tough to adapt and give up things that you were good at and had pride in, to focus on what is needed in a new role.

Another shift that requires adaptation is when a leader moves from managing others in a functional area to managing people in areas of the organization where they have little expertise. Leaders may have a steep learning curve to understand other functions. It is also necessary to make adaptations when leaders begin reporting to a new leader, who may have a different communication style or set of expectations.

If you are experiencing a new beginning in your role, it may be helpful to ask yourself the following questions:

  • What am I doing that is no longer working or producing the results I desire?
  • Who can give me helpful feedback to examine practices and approaches that I may need to adapt? (a peer? boss? coach?)
  • What strategies might I employ to adapt to this new beginning?
  • How can I implement and sustain these new strategies to ensure I’m successful?

Most important, remember that any adaptation in practice or behavior takes time and repetition to make it a new habit. I’m still having trouble disciplining myself to take breaks as needed, especially when I’m really excited about what I’m working on. As my doctor kindly said to me last week, “Be patient with yourself.” I’d encourage you to do the same.

Anita Rios

 

 

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Hit the ground running – maybe not!

Bull in a china shop photoYou nailed the interview, you got the job and now it’s time to prove your value – full speed ahead! Peter Daly and Michael Watson, authors of The First 90 Days in Government: Critical Success Strategies for New Public Managers at all Levelsencourage leaders to take a different approach to successfully navigate one of the most treacherous transitions you will face – starting a new job.

The pressure to deliver results – fast – can backfire and end up looking like the proverbial bull in the china shop. Making a lot of noise, causing a lot of action but not demonstrating your ability to lead and succeed.

To avoid a crash, Daly and Watson describe five crucial subjects or themes that  new leaders need to understand before they charge forward. This will require structured on-going dialogue with your boss that they call “the five conversations:”

  1. The Situation Conversation – discover how your boss perceives the current standing or status of the overall organization and your unit. Your goal is to ensure a shared understanding of the challenges and opportunities you face.
  2. The Expectations Conversation – define, clarify, and perhaps, negotiate what success looks like for you in your new job.
  3. The Style Conversation – discuss and determine how the relationship with your new boss will work. How do you each prefer to communicate, what boundaries exist, how are decisions made, and how frequent do you need to interact to ensure trust and success.
  4. The Resources Conversation – determine what resources are available, what you believe you need, confirm how resources are allocated and begin negotiating to ensure access to critical resources.
  5. The Personal Development Conversation – mutually identify opportunities and expectations for continual development to ensure success in your current and future roles in the organization.

In reality these will not be distinct one-time conversations but they are a framework to help new leaders strategically approach the transition to a new role. This is a time that it is “all about you!”

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

 

Foolish or appropriate?

teeter-totterI rode my first teeter-totter last week on my mountain bike. To me it felt like a well thought out and reasonable action to take. I have been practicing my “skinny” skills and my bike handling has improved over the past year. I have watched my brother ride teeter-totters and he has shared with me information on technique so I felt well prepared. Was I afraid? Yes! Was it scary? Yes! Was it a risk? Yes! (Did I make it? Yes!)

We all assess and take different types of risk. Leaders are asked to take “appropriate” risks and then make decisions. Your success depends on your ability to accurately understand, assess, judge and take risks.

Dylan Evans, a researcher on risk and author of Risk Intelligence, believes that we can develop our skills in this area and actually build our “risk quotient.” The starting point for increasing our risk intelligence is the ability to accurately understand and accept what we do know and what we don’t know. Research has shown that most of us are bad at estimating probabilities based on what is actually know or not known. We end up either overconfident or excessively uncertain, both of which lead to poor risk assessment and decisions.

Leaders can use the following checklist that Evans developed to better understand and improve their risk intelligence.

  1. Do you consciously review what you know before making a decision?
  2. How does what you know actually relate to the decision?
  3. How likely is each piece of information to be true and how does that likelihood influence your decision?
  4. What else do you know that might actually relate to the decision?

Purposely and consciously asking these questions and using the results will increase your ability to assess risks and then make better decisions about an uncertain future.

Good luck on your next teeter-tooter of leadership!

Todd Thorsgaard

 

A cautionary tale

rainy ski hillMaybe it’s just me, but some of my best lessons are learned from observations of what not to do, especially when it comes to customer service. That was the case last March when my sister and I took my two daughters and their two friends to a ski resort for a 3-day get away. We had planned for a total girls vacation. When we weren’t skiing outside, we planned to make full use of the resort’s pool and spa, and of course, the fitness room to offset the homemade chili, tacos, and loads of snacks we were going to consume over the three days.

As it happened, March was rather warm. We arrived in pouring rain, making skiing a remote possibility. While we were a bit daunted, we were still determined to have a good time and make use of the resort’s inside facilities that I had touted to the girls on the road trip north. So as I was checking in at the front desk, my daughters went to scout out the pool and spa and the fitness center. They came back distraught from their scouting mission. “The fitness center is closed…all there is is an empty room,” said my 20-year-old daughter, “And the hot tub is broken,” my 16-year-old daughter cried. “What are we going to do for three days…especially if it keeps raining?”

I turned to the front desk clerk and asked if there was another fitness center we could use during our time there. I explained that we had booked with the resort precisely because their web site said they had workout facilities. The front desk clerk replied, “Oh, they were supposed to take that off the web site a month ago.” Disappointed, but looking to make everyone happy, I then asked when the hot tub would be fixed. “I don’t know. The maintenance guy went home,” she replied. “Why don’t you come down tomorrow morning and ask the person at the front desk to contact him?” she added. I was flabbergasted. I couldn’t believe that she wasn’t willing or able to contact him. And that she was putting the responsibility for that back on a guest.

Because of the remote location of the resort, with very few restaurants nearby, we had brought our own food to cook in the condo kitchenettes. After checking in to our rooms, we noticed that the kitchenettes didn’t have coffee makers, so I made one more trek down to the front desk. Very politely, I asked if there was a coffee maker that I could borrow for our room. I was rewarded with a heavy sigh, as the front desk clerk rolled her eyes at me and said, “Let me see.” She then turned around to open a door behind her revealing a shelf of coffee makers inside the door. I nearly laughed. She had acted as if my request was absolutely unreasonable, and yet here were a half dozen coffee makers on a shelf waiting for guests to request them.

Perhaps the front desk clerk was having a bad day or perhaps she really didn’t like her job, or perhaps she perceived that we were overly demanding guests. Whatever the underlying problem was, the reality was that she was not able at that moment to deliver good customer service or make us feel like welcomed guests at that resort. We felt like our arrival was an inconvenience to her.

Thinking about that experience, I wondered. What are the lessons here for me? Are there times in my work that I make my customers feel like they are unwelcome or a nuisance? Are there times when I need a shift in my attitude to approach a request with a positive attitude? And in my leadership of others, am I demonstrating how to provide excellent customer service, rather than displaying what not to do?

I’m sure we all have cautionary tales to share that highlight “what not to do.” What have you learned from your customer service experiences?

Anita Rios

 

Calming the crazy

TSASince 9/11, one of the most annoying, but necessary, things about air travel is going through long security lines and being treated like you are a potential security threat. Still, most of us are now accustomed to removing our jackets and shoes, going through body scans, and sometimes getting patted down by dour-faced TSA agents. In fact, it’s become normal and acceptable that TSA agents are less than friendly as they focus on processing thousands of people in airports and ensuring our safety every day.

So, imagine my surprise when I was in the Dallas airport returning from a business trip last month, and my experience was vastly different. I handed a TSA agent my boarding pass and ID and she gave me a big, warm smile and said, “Good morning! How are you this beautiful day?” Her attitude and smile was contagious. I smiled back and said, “I’m doing well. And I really appreciate your friendly smile.” Her smile widened into a big grin and she said to me with a knowing look, “Honey, it calms the crazy!” At that I laughed and went through the rest of the security line, noticing that all the TSA agents there were different than I had experienced elsewhere. They were doing their jobs competently and efficiently, but they were all smiling. They took extra care to interact with people in positive ways. And most importantly, people flying out that day responded in kind. The mood was lighter in that line and people seemed much more tolerant and patient.

On my flight home, I was pondering that experience and wondered: What kind of leader do they have, that they were approaching their jobs with such positive attitudes?

As Todd said last week, one of the behaviors that contributes to exemplary customer service is demonstrating a positive attitude. The TSA agents at the Dallas airport were doing that in spades.

Positive attitudes can do wonders when we interact with customers, no matter what business we’re in.  A simple smile and warm greeting, like the TSA agent said, can “calm the crazy.” It can also leave our customers with a desire to do business with us again and to recommend our colleges and universities to others. So, for me, it begs the question: What can we do as leaders to ensure that the staff and faculty we lead in our colleges and universities demonstrate a positive attitude when working with students, community members, colleagues, or any other potential customers?

Anita Rios