Category Archives: self awareness

Stealing from the classroom

What can leaders learn from college faculty about customer service? I was pondering this question as I participated in our annual Academic and Student Affairs/Equity and Inclusion conference two weeks ago. After listening to LuAnn Wood, Student Success Coordinator at Century College, describe the work she is doing at their Institute for Culturally Responsive Pedagogy (ICRP) my answer is yes! Similar to faculty needing to change how they teach to ensure the success of students from all cultures, leaders need to change how they lead to support the success of the ever increasing diverse population of employees.

In the book, Culturally Responsive Leadership in Higher Education, leaders are challenged to change their leadership practice to meet the needs of all their employees, regardless of their diverse cultural backgrounds. They identify nine key activities that leaders can use to examine and develop their leadership to be more culturally responsive.

  1. Initiate and engage in critical conversations with individuals from different cultures and who have a different point-of view.
  2. Choose to use a critical lens and examine multiple cultural perspectives when making decisions.
  3. Use consensus building decision-making and consciously acknowledge stereotypes.
  4. Use research-based information to better understand differences between cultural groups and outcomes.
  5. Honor all members of your constituencies.
  6. Lead by example to meet the needs of different cultures.
  7. Take on the responsibility to bring cultural issues to your stakeholders to get resolution.
  8. Build trust with stakeholders who are not yet culturally responsive.
  9. Lead for the greater good of all cultures.

Where do you have an opportunity to be more culturally responsive?

Todd Thorsgaard

 

 

Of course I’m trustworthy, right?

I have to admit, as a leader it is natural to look outward and try to help other people succeed, or change, or improve, or tackle a sensitive issue. Yet, looking inward is the first step to take when building trust.

I was reminded of that when I took an “Am I Trustworthy”online quiz. I wasn’t sure I wanted to take the quiz but I wanted to share some trust-building ideas I had discovered in this article.  The last tip was to “be courageous,” acknowledge you have blind spots, and uncover them. So I had to! But first, I will share all 7 tips from Michelle Reina, co-founder of Reina, A Trust Building Consultancy, on how to earn trust.

Ask what you can give. Authentically support your people and ask them how you can help them succeed.

Facilitate breakthrough conversations. Pay attention and help identify miscommunication, misunderstandings and missing information. Help people stay on track and make a difference with their time and energy.

Let people know what they can count on. As we have talked about previously it is important to share information and context. Help people understand decisions and build clarity.

Provide whole person feedback. Let people know how they have made a contribution–and let people know what is getting in their way to further success. Everyone needs both.

Draw the line against gossip. Establish, reinforce and role-model a “no gossip” policy. Ensure that your work culture is a safe one where people don’t have to worry what is being said behind their backs or when they are not in the room.

Admit your own mistakes. Acknowledging and sharing your own fallibility demonstrates your authenticity and helps others feel safe and willing to share.

Know thyself. Good intentions don’t earn trust, actual behavior does. We have to examine our own behavior and assess how trustworthy we are. It is important to know what you do well–and keep doing it. Honestly recognize where you need to make changes to be more trustworthy. Here is a link to the short assessment in the article – How trustworthy am I?

I learned I need to do a better job in giving people authentic feedback. I didn’t like seeing my lower score but now I know what I need to do differently.

Todd Thorsgaard

Assume good intent

Want to build trusting relationships fast? Start with assuming good intent! According to Stephen M.R. Covey and Greg Link, when people in one part of an organization are asked to interface with another part, they often start with assumptions of negative intent such as:

  • “Is there a hidden agenda?”
  • “What is her real motive?”
  • “Is he trying to position himself or his team to get more, so we’ll get less?”

Sound familiar? At times, I’m sure we’ve all had those assumptions of others that we need to work with. However, in their book Smart Trust, Link and Covey say, “…the best leaders, the best teams, the best companies start from that promise [of assuming good intent] and doing so creates the very behavior they’re seeking.”

Doing otherwise and assuming negative intent can be a self-fulfilling prophecy and create the very behavior that is feared.  Think about it. Our assumptions are pretty powerful and influence how we behave AND the behaviors we elicit from others.

I had a recent experience where a partnering organization made an accounting error that negatively impacted the budget of a professional board that I serve. While leaders in the organization did acknowledge the error, they did not offer to remedy it immediately. In fact, they indicated that it would be a hardship to do so.  Assuming negative intent could have easily devolved into a very combative situation that could threaten both the partnership and the sustainability of the professional board. I’m glad to say that the board members and I worked hard to assume good intent and offered up several options for resolving the issue. That good will perpetuated a much better response.  I have now heard from the leaders that they are working on the issue and want to pursue a mutually satisfying resolution.

Thinking about your own experience, here are some questions from Covey and Link for you to consider:

  • Have you ever assumed negative motives on the part of someone else?
  • Have you ever been surprised to discover that your assumptions might have been wrong?
  • What has been your experience in working with others when people assumed good intent on the part of others? What was your experience when they didn’t?

While it is important to accurately assess situations or relationships where it may be smart not to assume good intent, Covey and Link argue that in most cases, assuming good intent with coworkers, teams, organizations, partners, suppliers, spouses, children and others is a more productive, positive, and prosperous place to start.

Anita Rios

 

Communicating effectively – or not

By guest blogger John Kearns

Early in my career as an academic leader, I was serving as my university’s business dean. One day, a department chair named Michelle stopped by my office and said she needed to speak with me about an adjunct faculty member. I recognized the person’s name, but I could only vaguely match the name to a face.

“Does he have a mustache?” I asked.

Michelle gasped and covered her upper lip with her palm. “What??? Do I have a mustache?!?”

“No, no!” I sputtered, imagining that I had somehow managed to blow up the great working relationship I had built over time with one of my chairs. I immediately tried to clarify: “Does the adjunct have a mustache?”

“Oh,” Michelle said, suddenly realizing it was just a misunderstanding. “Yes,” she said matter-of-factly, “he does.” The conversation continued, thankfully without any further awkwardness.

I felt terrible for days. I assumed it was my fault. Had I been staring at Michelle’s upper lip when I asked the question? (Probably not.) Had I used the wrong pronoun – you instead of he? (Definitely not.)

And yet Michelle had, for a brief moment, been pretty certain that her dean thought she had a mustache. The more I reflected on what I would later call the mustache incident, the more it taught me a critical lesson about how, in a hierarchical organization, some people are listening to their leader on two levels. On one level, they’re listening to your words and taking them at face value. But on another level–and this is where you can stumble onto an interpersonal explosive device–they’re expecting the worst: bad news or a difficult request or a negative comment. You may have never acted with anything but integrity and respect as a leader, but for some people there is always the expectation that eventually you are going to slip up and reveal that you are, in fact, a horrible boss after all.

From that day forward, I approached every form of communication, from email to memos to speeches, on two levels:

  1. What I hoped my audience would hear
  2. How my words might be interpreted in the worst possible way

It didn’t always keep me from the occasional fumble, but no one ever again wondered if I was inquiring about a mustache.

John Kearns serves as Minnesota State’s senior writer for executive and strategic communication

How to listen? – Don’t talk!

Simon Sinek offers a simple, yet powerful, rule for leaders to be better listeners. Refrain from sharing your opinion until everyone else has spoken! It is his “Lesson Four” for successful leaders.

Your people are super-attuned to your words and behaviors and naturally search for cues to understand what your priorities are. This human tendency can get in the way when you want to hear their opinions, ideas, insights or concerns – to truly listen to them.

Inc. magazine recently shared three tips to help leaders “talk last” to ensure that their people talk first.

  1. Listen – and do absolutely nothing else! Don’t speak verbally or non-verbally. Do your best to eliminate gestures, head nodding, comments, affirmations, or concerns until all have shared and others have commented.
  2. Ask questions like an interviewer. When you do talk start by asking “unbiased” or clarification questions. Think of yourself as an outside interviewer who just wants to better understand what you have heard – with no stake in the game! Seek to discover the “why” behind their ideas and then the “how” before you add your perspective.
  3. Disagree and commit. If you have concerns about what you are hearing, continue to explore the reason behind their ideas until you completely understand the why  – then share your ideas. If possible commit to trying their idea or search for potential alternatives that address all points of view.

I think you will be impressed by what you hear if your people have the space to speak – first!

Todd Thorsgaard

 

Not feeling heard?

“We didn’t feel like we were heard.

People were dancing around the topic to avoid offending anyone.

How can I get my message understood?”

Do those comments sound familiar? If so, you’re not alone. Those exact phrases were shared with me last week by a leader who was asking for help to communicate more effectively.

While the acts of listening, speaking, and sharing ideas seems straightforward and simple, they are anything but; especially when you add in the fact that we each bring our own filters or lenses through which we interpret messages. And if there are positional power differences or emotions are running high, communications can be fraught with peril.

During this month, we will be taking a deep dive into our Minnesota State leadership competency: communicates effectively, defined as:

  • Effectively conveys ideas and shares information with others using appropriate methods
  • Listens carefully and understands differing points of view
  • Presents ideas clearly and concisely

Please join in the conversation by sharing your leadership and communication challenges.

Anita Rios

Sharing credit

“A good leader takes a little more than his share of the blame, and a little less than his share of the credit.” – Arnold H. Glasow

In your leadership role, when someone gives you credit, do you simply take it? Or do you generously share credit with others and acknowledge their contributions? It can take a lot of discipline to pass on credit to others, but that’s what good leaders do.

Giving credit builds loyalty among employees. It builds others up and lets them know that they are part of a team. And most importantly, people want to work with leaders who credit their colleagues and team members.

In his HBR article on giving credit, executive coach and OD consultant Ben Dattner provides three tips for leaders:

Give credit where credit is due.  This may sound obvious but it doesn’t always happen in highly political and hierarchical organizations. People often get credit based upon their power, not their actual contributions. Look at your team to identify the biases that cause some people’s work or ideas to be overvalued or undervalued. Then make sure the right people are getting credit.

Credit team members for crediting one another.  Incentivize your team members to acknowledge and appreciate others’ contributions. This “expansion” of credit enhances team cohesion and trust, promoting more and better collaboration. Encourage sharing credit at team meetings and discourage those who take too much undue credit themselves and deflect blame onto others.

Avoid the temptation to blame. When setbacks occur, it’s natural to look for a scapegoat or a rationalization. But this diminishes your team’s social capital. You should instead give everyone (even those outside your team) the benefit of the doubt and consider all the complex factors that may have directly or indirectly contributed to poor performance or bad outcomes. Encourage your team members to do the same by reminding them of their long-term shared interests and goals.

At my last team meeting, rather than having everyone share their own “good news” about recent accomplishments, I asked each team member to share what they appreciated about one other team member’s contributions. It was a great way to learn more about how we are each impacting each others work in a positive way. It also reinforced that we work collaboratively in our team and rely on each other to accomplish our goals.

What strategies do you have for giving credit to others?

Anita Rios

 

 

 

 

 

 

A model of integrity

In recognition of President’s Day and our continuing dialogue on integrity this month, it’s a good opportunity to focus on a president who exuded integrity. George Washington, our nation’s first president, demonstrated integrity both on the battlefield and in the nation’s highest office. In the words of author and historian David Hackett Fischer, Washington possessed “integrity, self-discipline, courage, absolute honesty, resolve, and decision, but also forbearance, decency, and respect for others.”

Washington’s integrity was tested in the early years of our new nation, especially during the Revolutionary War. By 1777-78, he was commanding troops and had suffered losses in all major battles against the British. Retreating 18 miles north to Valley Forge, he helped his soldiers build log cabins where they stayed the winter in freezing cold conditions. With the lack of food, cold, illness, and a demoralized army, he lost at least a dozen men each day to death or desertion.

Washington urged Congress to send the troops food, but Congress advised him to steal food from nearby farmers. But that didn’t pass Washington’s integrity test. Even though local farmers were selling their corn and beef to the British, who paid in gold, Washington rejected Congress’s advice and promised to hang any soldier caught stealing food. Washington won the trust of his troops who were impressed with his integrity.  The next summer, his men who had trained hard over the winter, won a victory that set the stage for overcoming the British and gaining independence for America.

During Washington’s presidency, his integrity was tested often.  For instance, he recognized that America’s integrity, both at home and abroad, depended on honoring its war debt. Some Americans wanted to default on payments to those at home and in France who had invested in the war for independence. Some advised repaying part, but not all of the debt. Washington clearly saw this as an issue of integrity and persuaded Congress to pass a tariff to pay all our debts.

Washington wasn’t always popular with everyone, but he was respected and trusted. And that trust went a long way to ensure Washington’s success as our first president even when he did make mistakes. As Dr. Burton Folsum, Senior Fellow in Economic Education, Mackinac Center for Public Policy, observes, “Politicians of weak character are often second-guessed and challenged on their motives. Washington’s strong character helped Americans forgive him when he made errors in judgment.”

In Washington’s own words, he expressed the value of always acting with the deepest integrity:

“Without virtue, and without integrity, the finest talents and the most brilliant accomplishments can never gain the respect, and conciliate the esteem, of the truly valuable part of mankind.” – George Washington

Anita Rios

A slippery slope to disaster

It had been a good morning of snowboarding out west. Each run I pushed the edge a little more, tried to go a little faster or carve a tighter turn. And, no falls! I was ready to risk a double black diamond run. It was just slightly steeper I told myself, I can get away with it. But no! I lost my edge and took a spectacular fall.   Luckily all I lost was a little snowboard cred with my buddies but when leaders push the edge of integrity they can get on a slippery ethical slope that leads to a much more damaging career crash.

You may have heard about the slippery slope of ethics but until 2015 it had not been closely studied or truly understood how it works. A study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology answered a few of those questions and can help leaders avoid falling down an ethical slope. The study also addressed how to create a culture that discourages ethical breeches. The key finding is that when small trivial behaviors that are slightly questionable are not noticed or called out over time there is a large increase in the likelihood that ethical people will commit larger violations in the future. This evidence demonstrates that getting away with seemingly minor acts like grabbing a few pens from the supply closet and bringing them home or extending a medical appointment to run an errand makes it easier for people to next add a few extra dollars on their meal expense report or fudge a few data points in their research. And if that isn’t noticed it can build to covering up safety issues, rigging a hiring processes, embezzlement or outright financial fraud. Crashing careers, reputations and institutions.

Personally leaders need to be aware that even they can be swept down an ethical slippery slope without realizing it if they work in a culture that doesn’t pay attention to trivial incidents. The study recommends establishing a personal vigilance on ethics that encompasses all issues, large and small. In addition, it reinforces the importance of leaders clearly defining misconduct and quickly addressing even trivial behaviors to ensure that people don’t set themselves up for a larger crash down the road. The authors describe this as developing a “prevention focus” by:

  • setting clear ethical standards
  • openly discussing and describing potential ethical dilemmas employees may face
  • role-modeling ethical behavior
  • responding quickly and openly to even minor violations – this doesn’t require draconian punishment but it does require notification and follow-through
  • reinforcing vigilance and respect for ethical behavior in all settings

Slippery slopes are exhilarating on my  snowboard but they can cause even the most ethical of leaders to crash and destroy their integrity without proper vigilance.

Todd Thorsgaard

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