Category Archives: self awareness

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

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Increasing your learning agility

Innovative, continually learning and adapting, ready to take risk, able to deal with complexity. Those are of some of the attributes of strategic leadership. Combined together, these attributes can also be referred to as learning agility.

In their white paper Learning About Learning Agility, Adam Mitchinson and Robert Morris report that researchers define learning agility as being “continually able to jettison skills, perspectives and ideas that are no longer relevant, and learn new ones that are.” Given the complexity of our environment in higher education, this has never been more important. In fact, research over the last 20 years shows that the most successful leaders are those who are comfortable with uncertainty and sudden change and have the ability to learn and adapt.

Easily said, right? But how can you break down learning agility into concrete behaviors that are easy to employ?

Mitchinson and Morris do just that. They write about research conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) and Teachers College, Columbia University, where researchers identified four behaviors that enable learning agility and one that derails it.

They describe the four learning-agility “enablers” as:

Innovating: Questioning the status quo and challenging long-held assumptions with the goal of discovering new and unique ways of doing things. Learning-agile individuals generate new ideas through their ability to view issues from multiple angles.

Performing: Learning from experience occurs most often when overcoming an unfamiliar challenge. To learn from challenges, an individual must remain present and engaged, handle the stress brought on by ambiguity and adapt quickly in order to perform. This requires observation and listening skills, and the ability to process data quickly.

Reflecting:  Learning-agile people look for feedback and eagerly process information to better understand their own assumptions and behavior. As a result they are insightful about themselves, others and problems.

Risking: Learning-agile people are pioneers–they venture into unknown territory and put themselves “out there” to try new things. They take “progressive risk” –not thrill-seeking, but risk that leads to opportunity. They volunteer for jobs and roles where success is not guaranteed, where failure is a possibility. They stretch themselves outside their comfort zones.

The learning-agility “derailer” is:

Defending. Individuals who remain closed or defensive when challenged or given critical feedback tend to be low in learning agility. By contrast, high learning-agile individuals seek feedback, process it and adapt based on their newfound understanding of themselves, situations and problems.

So given these enablers and derailer, what can you do to increase your learning agility? Mitchinson and Morris recommend some helpful strategies below:

Innovating. Seek out new solutions. Repeatedly ask yourself, “What else?” “What are 10 more ways I could approach this?” “What are several radical things I could try here?”

Performing.  Seek to identify patterns in complex situations. Find the similarities between current and past projects.  Cultivate calm through meditation and other techniques. Enhance your listening skills – listen instead of simply (and immediately) reacting.

Reflecting. Regularly seek out real input. Ask, “What are three or four things I or we could have done better here?”  Make sure the questions are still open-ended – that will encourage colleagues to speak up.

Risking. Look for “stretch assignments,” where the probability of success isn’t a given.

Avoid defending. Acknowledge your failures (perhaps from those stretch assignments) and capture the lessons you’ve learned from them

Over this next week I challenge you to explore how you can increase your own learning agility. Pick one thing to focus on and see what happens. For my part, I’m going to focus on listening more intently before reacting. What about you?

Anita Rios

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Emotional intelligence matters!

Last week, in my blog post “Nature or nurture?,”  I talked about the personality traits that are often predictive of an individual’s ability to become a transformational leader. Among my colleagues, this research is bothersome, and causes quite a bit of consternation, especially where their natural tendencies do not align perfectly with the “Big Five” personality traits. For those of you who experience the same angst about scoring high on extraversion, conscientiousness, agreeableness, openness, and low on neuroticism, there is good news.  Nurture counts too!

Increasingly, there is research that supports the strong links of emotional intelligence to transformational leadership. As you may know, emotional intelligence can be developed over time, and nurtured if you will, unlike personality traits that are something you are born with and are usually stable over time. Emotional intelligence, as developed by Daniel Goleman, is measured by five different constructs:

  1. Self Awareness – the ability to know one’s emotions, strengths, weaknesses, drives, values and goals and recognize their impact on others
  2. Self Regulation – controlling or redirecting one’s disruptive emotions and impulses and adapting to changing circumstances
  3. Social Skill – managing relationships to move people in the desired direction
  4. Empathy – considering other people’s feelings especially when making decisions
  5. Motivation – being driven to achieve for the sake of achievement

There are quite a few emotional intelligence tests available online. For a free introduction to one, click here.

In his Industrial Psychology journal article, Sanjay Kumar makes a case for the strong linkages between emotional intelligence and transformational leadership. Dr. Kumar argues that emotional intelligence attributes of self-awareness, empathy, and motivation have a direct correlation to transformational leadership traits of individual influence, individualized consideration, and inspirational motivation. Simply translated, leaders who have worked to increase their emotional intelligence are more able to influence their followers, motivate them, and give individualized consideration to their followers.

Below is Kumar’s chart outlining the links between emotional intelligence and transformational leadership.

 

So to end our month of discourse on Transformational Leadership, nurture does count! As witnessed by the multiple posts Dee Anne, Todd, and I have written, there are many strategies to up your game as a transformational leader.

Anita Rios

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

 

Nature or nurture?

Are transformational leaders born or developed? It’s a question that can be debated from multiple perspectives. If I didn’t firmly believe that leadership skills can be learned, I wouldn’t be in my current profession. However, I also believe that people’s natural dispositions can influence how they lead. Interestingly, there is quite a bit of research that supports how personality traits have clear links to leadership success.

To give an example, transformational leadership can be measured by how well an individual scores on the “Big Five,” a set of five major personality traits that contribute to the likelihood of a person displaying the behaviors of a transformational leader. These personality traits are universal across culture and have biological origins. Kendra Cherry, author and psychology educator describes the Big Five as:

Extraversion
Characterized by excitability, sociability, talkativeness, assertiveness, and high amounts of emotional expressiveness, people who are high in extraversion are outgoing and tend to gain energy in social situations. People who are low in extraversion (or introverted) tend to be more reserved and have to expend energy in social settings.

Agreeableness
Attributes of agreeableness include trust, altruism, kindness, and affection. People who are high in agreeableness tend to be more cooperative while those low in this trait tend to be more competitive and even manipulative.

Conscientiousness
Standard features of conscientiousness include high levels of thoughtfulness, with good impulse control and goal-directed behaviors. People high in conscientiousness tend to be organized and mindful of details. Those who are high on the conscientiousness continuum also tend to be organized, spend time preparing, mindful of details, and finish important tasks right away.

Neuroticism
Characterized by sadness, moodiness, and emotional instability, individuals who are high in neuroticism tend to experience mood swings, anxiety, irritability and sadness. Those low in this trait tend to be more stable and emotionally resilient. They deal well with stress, don’t worry much and are very relaxed.

Openness
Attributes of openness include imagination and insight. People high in this trait also tend to have a broad range of interests, and tend to be more adventurous and creative. They are open to trying new things, tackling new challenges, and thinking about abstract concepts. People low in this trait are often set in traditional ways of doing things and may struggle with abstract thinking.

Leadership assessments that measure the “Big Five” personality traits, find that those who score higher in extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness and lower in neuroticism, most often demonstrate behaviors that are described as transformational leadership. If you’re interested, you can take a free  assessment online to measure how you score in the five personality traits.

What do you think about the Big Five? Where in your experience have you seen leaders with these traits that you would describe as transformational? And would you say that transformational leadership is determined by nature? nurture? or both?

Anita Rios

 

 

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

 

 

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