Category Archives: Uncategorized

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

 

 

When compliance really matters

Part of acting with integrity is to comply with the laws, policies, and procedures that impact our work. While this might not seem as exciting as being innovative or as important as being strategic, it is an an essential leadership competency.

As a parent of a female athlete and someone who spent my career in higher education, I’ve been stunned by the stories about Dr. Lawrence G. Nassar. Clearly he illustrated extreme unethical and illegal behavior. But how did it go on for so long?

Here’s part of Aly Raisman’s testimony:  “If over these many years, just one adult listened and had the courage and character to act, this tragedy could have been avoided. I and so many others would never, ever have met you.”

Michigan State had policies and procedures to prevent what happened. But somehow the culture of the school, and of organized sports, did not make them easy to implement. Many of his victims were not famous athletes – they were college students. A New York Times article said that one of them remembered it as being “common knowledge; everybody knew that if you went to him you got weird treatment.”

I’ve heard of supervisors that “everybody knew” harassed employees, or managers that “everybody knew” discriminated against certain groups of people. Sometimes that behavior had gone on for years. Higher education is clearly not unique in this, but how does it happen that people aren’t always held accountable for following the laws and policies that ought to be governing their professional work?

I keep thinking back to Raisman’s statement. How can we be that one adult who did something?

Dee Anne Bonebright

 

Truly understand by hearing everything.

To truly understand others, leaders need to listen – not talk! That may sound easy but in the day-to-day crush of work and deadlines and priorities it is a challenge. Yet the payoff is huge. In fact, one study discovered that the strongest predictor of trust is a leaders ability to listen with empathy and respond based on what they hear.

Harvard Business Review suggests that leaders focus on three crucial “behavioral sets” to improve their listening.

  1. Actively recognizing ALL verbal and nonverbal cues. People speak with much more than the words they use and listening is different than just reading a transcript of their statement. We all have “misheard” or “misread” an email. Empathic listening involves paying attention to things like tone, emphasis, energy, excitement, reticence, body movement, gestures, and facial expressions. Seeking to understand both what is being said and what isn’t being said demonstrates true listening.
  2. Processing the message or tactical listening. Sharpen your skills and use techniques or tools to help you follow along with the speaker, remember what is being said, keep track of key points, identify areas of agreement/disagreement, and capture the overall message. This can be as simple as taking notes, using summary statements and minimizing distractions. It also involves giving up control of the conversation and focusing all attention on the other person.
  3. Assuring others that genuine listening has occurred and that conversations will continue.  Only the people on your team can accurately state if they feel listened to. Leaders need to use verbal and nonverbal actions to share the message that they are listening and want to continue listening. Ideas include verbal acknowledgements, clarifying questions, summary statements, check-in’s, paraphrasing and at times even restating a point being made. Your non-verbals are also being watched so eye contact, posture, facing each other, nodding along, and mirroring body language all reinforce your empathic listening.

Learning to listen builds trust and helps you say more with less talking.

Todd Thorsgaard

Can you see from where you are?

What engages your people? At our colleges and universities we hope it is the success of our students both during college and after graduation! What would your people say?

In reality it is often challenging for people to see a direct connection between their day-to-day work and the ultimate difference it makes to your customers, be they students in higher education, patients in health care, or whomever. Focusing this line of sight for your people helps them directly see the value and importance of their work which has been shown to increase engagement and performance. A real win-win for leaders.

Management educator and author Russ Linden shares a few ideas on how leaders can do a better job to create a line of sight for their people.

  1. Put a human face on your mission and vision. A health care organization I worked at for many years would always invite patients to join our work team meetings. It truly changed how we thought about our work.
  2. Encourage and make it easy for people to take short-term assignments or projects in different departments/divisions/locations. Exposing people to the full range of work required to serve your customers and how the pieces fit together helps them understand the importance of each step.
  3. Turn employees into customers. Actively look for ways to let your people experience your organization as a customer. Make it real for them.
  4. Schedule and hold multi-unit and multi-location meetings and training events. Whenever possible have people working together as a “whole” rather than in separate “pieces” so they begin to see themselves as an integral element in the overall process.

Leaders have the responsibility and the opportunity to sharpen the line of sight for every person on their team. What examples can you share of a leader doing a great job or an idea you used successfully?

Todd Thorsgaard

 

“Tell me more about that….”

(Click on image to expand)

To truly understand someone you need to care about them, at least a little bit. As a proud introverted leader that sounds daunting. Yet a close look at the Gallup Q12 Engagement Index shows that a “manager caring about their people” is a clear determinant of employee engagement!

How can you get to know your people while still respecting and acknowledging the natural boundaries that exist between leaders and their teams? You are busy, your people are busy, and you are their boss. Leaders can’t become best friends or confidants, but genuine caring about employees as a whole person is crucial. For most leaders the problem isn’t the genuine caring but figuring out HOW to show their interest and caring in a work setting.

A recent article in Forbes highlights “Seven Ways a Leader Can Get to Know Their Team Better” with practical ideas.

  1. Help Your People Succeed Anywhere, Not Just in Their Current Role. Remind yourself and your people that success and development in their current role will help them in their future, regardless of where they choose to go.
  2. Schedule Regular Celebrations. This isn’t a new idea but in the chaotic world of work it is easily overlooked. Taking time together and talking about non-work topics builds stronger relationships.
  3. Manage By Walking Around. Get up and informally talk with your people. Share personal anecdotes and inquire about non-work activities, milestones, and experiences.
  4. Talk Naturally During Downtimes. Take advantage of the time before meetings, in the hallway, on the elevator, or while webinars are starting to chat about anything other than work.
  5. Ask About Displayed Photos, Trinkets, Mementos, Art Work, etc. This is my favorite! I started the post with a saying I have posted on my wall and I have many stories behind it. What your people display is important to them and asking about it will help you truly connect.
  6. Make Sure to Listen! All your hard work will be for naught if you don’t actually listen. Enough said.
  7. It Requires Variety. Genuineness and caring is not one size fits all. When you open up your interactions to the whole person you need to be flexible and adaptable.

Ask about that photo and see what you learn. I bet it will be interesting.

Todd Thorsgaard

Where to start?

Many days being a leader feels like this image. Where do you start?

Being a leader is complicated! Not only do you have your own job you are also responsible for leading and managing a team of people, representing your organization, collaborating with other leaders and functions, developing talent, making decisions, communicating up, and on and on. It can feel overwhelming.

To help all our leaders at Minnesota State we asked successful leaders across the system to identify what knowledge, skills, abilities and attributes were key to their success. Based on their answers we identified 11 Leadership Competencies that serve as a framework and a starting point for leadership success. You can see them above. We would also like to share them with you, our readers, in 2018. Each month we will focus on one competency and share insights, current literature, experiences and opportunities for your feedback and ideas. January will kick off with Understands Self and Others.

Our 11 Leadership Competencies are broken in four key leadership roles as follows:

Leader of Self

  • Understands Self and Others
  • Acts with Integrity

Leader as Relationship Builder

  • Values Diversity
  • Communicates Effectively
  • Builds Trust

Leader as Manager

  • Delivers Customer Service
  • Builds Organizational Talent
  • Demonstrates Good Stewardship

Leader as Innovator

  • Articulates Vision and Mission
  • Builds Organizational Capacity to Meet Future Challenges
  • Demonstrates Effective Decision-Making

Todd Thorsgaard

Painting the closet

My grandfather was a master painter and wallpaper hanger and I had the amazing fortune to work for him for over 20 years. One of the many lessons I learned from him was that you have to deliver the basics to get the opportunity to become a true master at your craft. The first years that I worked for him I spent much of my time painting the insides of closets or the priming coat of paint. Strategic leadership also has a foundation in delivering the basics before moving to the strategic.

Rosabeth Moss Canter, in a November Harvard Business Review article, highlights that successful strategic leaders are those that have mastered execution and implementation by following these four imperatives.

Question everything. Force yourself to challenge your assumptions and tackle “sacred cows” that exist in your organization or industry.

Inform everyone, then empower champions. Focus on both breadth of awareness and ideas and depth of committed support. Share information broadly and ask for all ideas to ensure that you are considering all options. Then take action to support your early and enthusiastic adopters to demonstrate early results.

Keep relationships tight and rules loose. Build a large network of people who are comfortable sharing good and bad news with you. Focus on creating a shared vision and trust and then giving people the freedom to take action and make decisions based on their expertise.

Modify quickly. Recognize and be willing to acknowledge bad news or challenges. Learn from what isn’t working and modify as soon as possible.

Developing a strategy and announcing it isn’t enough, you have to dive in and get the closet painted.

Todd Thorsgaard

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

 

What, you’re leaving!

charlie-brown-waving-goodbye“I have a new job.” Often the worst words you can hear when a valued team member tells you they are moving to a different department, school or institution.  Suddenly you, and your team, are facing a transition that impacts on-going work and the on-going culture of your team.  Managing departures is as important as managing arrivals.

William Bridges, author of Managing Transitions, reminds leaders to start with the endings. When a colleague leaves you need to help your team understand what is changing, acknowledge what they are losing and take time to recognize the past and the future. Doing this successfully can build trust and a stronger team.

Teammates may be happy for their colleague and their new opportunity but personally they will be losing a relationship and a part of their day-to-day routine or structure. You can help by:

  • accepting their feelings and acknowledging that you also will miss the relationship
  • identifying what routines will and will not be changing after their colleague leaves
  • clarifying how they will have an opportunity to redefine or reinvent work processes

Another overlooked, and often avoided, topic for leaders is the importance of a ceremony or symbolic event to both recognize the past work and relationships and to “officially” gain closure so people can move forward. I just attended a small going away ceremony for a co-worker and it was clear that her teammates were getting as much from the celebration as she was. It was their opportunity to talk about successful projects, past challenges and what they will carry forward even after she departs. I counsel leaders to plan events when people leave, even if they say “I don’t want any attention.” It is actually a milestone for the rest of the team and will help your team move through transition.

While it is not easy to replace a team member it is an opportunity to reinforce the culture of your work group and highlight your commitment to their success.

Todd Thorsgaard

 

Take the High Road

Last week we talked about ways to show your support for an organizational decision, beyond just talking abouhigh-roadt it.  But what happens if it soon becomes apparent that it was the wrong decision?

A Google search of “incorrect decisions”, which is how I began brainstorming for this post, brings up multiple links: “America’s Biggest Foreign Policy Fiascos”, “Stupidest Business Decisions Ever Made”, and the more generic “10 of the Worst Decisions Ever Made”.  Poor decisions are everywhere, but it’s how they’re handled that often gets noticed the most.

Leaders who successfully weather these storms have some things in common:

Take responsibility:  Nobody likes to hear excuses.  Own up to the mistake, then describe how it will be fixed.

Don’t play the blame game: Throwing your employees under the bus by publicly blaming them, either indirectly or directly, isn’t generally well received.

Learn from it:  In retrospect, what could have been done to avoid this, and how can you keep it from happening again?

Everyone makes mistakes, but not everyone handles them the same.  Taking the high road when things go wrong is almost always the correct route.

Cindy Schneider