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.
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
- Focus on mutual understanding, not problem solving.
- Ask the other person to help you understand their thoughts and feelings.
- Listen without defending or disagreeing. Refer to your position only as needed to keep the conversation going.
- Repeat the other person’s position in your own words.
- Repeat the steps above until the other person agrees that you understand their position.
Step 2: Explain your viewpoint
- Ask for a fair hearing in return.
- Explain how the other person’s thoughts and feelings affect you. Avoid blaming and defensiveness as much as possible.
- Explain your thoughts and feelings as your truth, not the truth.
- Ask the other person to restate your position, and correct any factual inaccuracies as necessary.
- Repeat until you both can understand and explain each other’s positions.
Step 3: Create resolutions
- Review each other’s positions and identify any mutual goals and shared values.
- Brainstorm multiple options without analysis and criticism.
- Review the options and determine whether there is a mutually agreeable solution.
- 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
“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.
Last week we talked about ways to show your support for an organizational decision, beyond just talking about 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.
“Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong….To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
You’ve done it: Shown courage, followed through, and made a decision that will impact your entire organization. The next step is just as important: demonstrating to employees and stakeholders that you really meant it.
This is where Actions Speak Louder Than Words comes in handy. It’s easy to tell people that a big change is coming. And it’s often just as easy for those you’re telling to ignore it, hoping it will just go away. That’s human nature – change is scary! But actions aren’t quite as easy to ignore.
“I pay ZERO attention to what you say. But your actions have my undivided attention.”
― Sotero M. Lopez II
Are you launching a new process? Give public kudos to a team which used it well.
Bringing in a new technology? Ask the early adopters in your organization to try it and share with others what they’ve learned.
Introducing new collaborations? Find some early successes and brag about them.
Letting it be known by your actions that you support a decision creates powerful connections in people’s minds.
One of this month’s competencies is: Prepares stakeholders for and involves them in decisions that affect them.
This statement seems like a bit of a no-brainer, but is high on the list of frustrations among staff who suddenly find themselves carrying out changes they had no input into, even thought it directly affects them and their work.
I recently heard a story from an friend who works as a hospital nurse. The batteries used in their bedside machines lasted a long time and came in packs of four, the amount that the machines hold. With no warning, they were switched to a different brand, with the batteries now in packs of three. Not only do the new ones not last as long, there are now partially used packages of batteries to be stored and organized. Nobody asked the staff nurses, the people who would be most affected by this change – it just happened.
Even though this may sound like a pretty minor issue, it certainly wasn’t to the nurses directly impacted by it. And when these types of “minor” situations become the norm in an organization, morale can take a downward plunge.
Inviting staff that will be directly impacted by a change into the planning process, well before it’s reached the decision making stage, shows them that you value them, their contributions, and what they bring to the organization. It’s a simple, but often overlooked, morale booster.
Last week we reviewed why different types of networking are important for leaders. And as a leader, you know it’s important for your staff to start building these solid networks of relationships. However, there can be challenges to finding your personal network, especially if you’re just starting.
I recently became Communications Coordinator for CUPA-HR’s Minnesota chapter, and have made some terrific connections in a short period of time. I was asked to take on this responsibility by a co-worker who knew my skills and interests (another important aspect of networking.) I’m enjoying this new opportunity, while learning and growing my skills in my current position – a win-win for all.
The document below was originally created as part of an Employee Onboarding Toolkit, to be shared with new employees; particularly those new to Minnesota. It has a wide variety of valuable networking resources, across broad categories. Take a look through it, share it with your employees or organization, and see what connections can be found.
Career and Professional Resources Guide: professional_assn (downloadable PDF)