It takes effort and energy to actually pay attention to someone, but if you can’t do that, you’re not in a conversation. You’re just two people shouting out barely related sentences in the same place. – Celeste Headlee
An important leadership skill in transitions–and every other time–is to be able to talk to people. To talk about their concerns, about how the change might impact them, about your views of the change, about their views of the change; to have an effective conversation that promotes collaboration.
Radio host Celeste Headlee did a TED talk about 10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation. Americans are more divided in their opinions now than they have ever been, and leaders need to bridge the gap in order to help people work together to implement change. Here are her 10 tips:
- Don’t multitask. Be fully present to the conversation.
- Don’t pontificate. As Headlee says, if you want to state your opinion without pushback, write a blog. <grin>
- Use open-ended questions.
- Go with the flow. Stay focused on what the other person is saying and see where it might lead.
- If you don’t know, say so.
- Don’t equate your experience with theirs. If the person is telling a story, don’t hijack it by telling about yours.
- Try not to repeat yourself.
- Stay out of the details.
- Listen to the other person.
- Be brief.
This sounds like a very useful list, but it can be overwhelming to do all of it at once. Headlee notes that focusing on one item and getting better at it would help us have better conversations. Where might you get started?
Dee Anne Bonebright
Sometimes, a work group or project we manage is facing change and we are leading the transition. More often, the change is happening somewhere else and we need to support it. This is especially true with leadership transitions. What role do we have when there is change in the organization’s leadership? How can we put out the welcome mat and help the new leader be successful?
The Association for Talent Development (formerly ASTD) created a blog post and podcast with some useful tips for preparing organizations for new leadership. Here are some of the highlights:
- Clearly identify what is worth maintaining. What programs, relationships, and business practices are critical to accomplishing core goals? How can we help shepherd them through the transition? What will the new leader need to know?
- Communicate throughout the organization. Develop a formal transition plan with specific communication strategies to ensure regular, open, two-way communication. People will tell you if you’re communicating too much. In my experience, that hardly ever happens!
- Build a strong leadership team. When a leadership team is working well together, with clear goals, transparent decision-making, and trust among the members, it is easier to welcome in new members.
- Complete major projects. It can be tempting to put things on hold until the new leader arrives. It’s more effective to identify critical tasks or projects and make sure there is a plan to keep them on track. As the article commented, finishing things up is a gift to successors.
- Provide orientation and training for the new leaders. When a new leader arrives, provide both formal and informal orientation. This can include the core processes of the organization, resources for getting things done, and standard practices. They’ll also need to understand the organization’s history. Where possible, provide a transition time so the new person can learn directly from the outgoing leader.
- Help the new leader build networks. In addition to figuring out what needs to be done and how to do it, a new leader needs to learn who can help. Providing formal opportunities to build connections should be part of the transition plan.
Are you anticipating leadership changes in the near future? What can you do now to ensure things go smoothly?
Dee Anne Bonebright
William Bridges’ Managing Transitions is a leadership classic. Todd talked about the highlights in this post from a couple of years ago. As you may recall, Bridges proposed that every transition has three stages, each of which requires particular leadership actions.
- Ending, losing, and letting go
- Neutral zone
- New beginning
The Change Factory group created a useful set of checklists for leaders at each stage. It includes questions such as:
- Am I giving people accurate information, again and again?
- Have I said thank you to everyone who contributed in the past?
- Have I made sure that realistic feedback is flowing upward?
- Am I pushing for certainty where it would be more realistic to live a little longer with uncertainty?
- Am I being careful not to introduce extra, unrelated changes?
As you can see, these questions require some thought and reflection. When we’re in the middle of major change (which might feel like most of the time), it can be hard to take the time to reflect and plan. The checklists can provide useful reminders. For those who want extra discipline, they are a great starting point for writing in a leadership journal.
Think of a major transition you’re experiencing. Which stage do you think you’re in? Is there a question from the checklist that was particularly useful?
Dee Anne Bonebright
I 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.
- Do you consciously review what you know before making a decision?
- How does what you know actually relate to the decision?
- How likely is each piece of information to be true and how does that likelihood influence your decision?
- 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!
Posted in change and transition, decision making, Developing Capacity, Leadership, leadership development, self awareness
Tagged asking questions, assessments, blind spots, Change, Leadership, leadership development, questions, risk taking, self-awareness
Ok, I admit it. This post is a day late. I stayed up until 3:00 a.m. on Tuesday night watching the presidential electoral college vote results and the commentators trying to explain how all the predictions were wrong. Then on Wednesday, more analysis and exploration of what happened. I promise, this will not be a political post, but the election of president-elect Trump highlights how hard it is to predict the future! And we have a long history of getting predictions wrong.
So, how do leaders build organizational capacity to meet future challenges when it is so hard to see what will happen in the future?
Gary Hamel encourages leaders in his book What Matters Now (2012) – to go back to the basics and focus on values to prepare for an uncertain future. He lists the following as “pivotal, overarching concerns” for leaders:
- Values – act as a steward and take actions that demonstrate concern for your people and organization.
- Innovation – provide opportunities for all your people to contribute their ideas to meet your customers’ needs.
- Adaptability – “future-proof” your company by relentlessly pushing for internal change to match external changes. Hamel stresses the need to “seek out the most discomforting facts you can find and share them with everyone in your organization.”
- Passion – clearly demonstrate that your people are affecting the outside world with their work. Highlight the importance of each and every person’s day-to-day work.
- Ideology – examine, discuss and challenge the status quo. Make it safe for people to express their opinions and concerns.
We may mess up predicting the future but Hamel implores leaders to speak up for “the good, the just and the beautiful” to better prepare for the uncertainty ahead.
The following link provides a detailed summary of What Matters Now.
Posted in build organizational talent, building teams, change and transition, Developing Capacity, Engagement, integrity, Leadership, leading authentically, stewardship, stewardship
Tagged Change, engagement, innovation, integrity, Leadership, organizational culture, stewardship, values
Well, by definition that may not be true – (Merriam-Webster definition of future\ˈfyü-chər\: coming after the present time) – but leaders need to take action now to ensure that their people and their organizations are successful both tomorrow and further down the road.
The leadership competency we will be discussing in November is Builds Organizational Capacity to Meet Future Challenges. Specifically what actions do you need to take now to understand the challenges you and your people will be facing in the future and how to take action now to tackle those challenges.
The colleges and universities of Minnesota State define this leadership competency as:
- engaging and supporting appropriate risk-taking
- identifying and removing barriers to innovation
- rewarding and supporting innovations advancing excellence and effeciency
- promoting accountability for self and others
- collaborating across educational and governmental boundaries in the system, nation and world
- networking with innovative thinkers, developers and donors
We will use that definition as a starting point for our conversations with you.
The future is full of opportunity and uncertainty but one thing we know – it will be here soon!
Posted in build organizational talent, building teams, change and transition, Developing Capacity, higher education, leadership challenges
Tagged accountability, Change, collaboration, higher education, innovation, Leadership, Transition
“Great communication – no matter the topic – always connects with people’s feelings and with what they find meaningful.”
John Kotter from his latest book, Accelerate: XLR8
Can you remember projects that you “got to” work on compared to projects that you “had to” work on. The feeling of energy and the opportunity to do work that made a difference. I recently listened to one of our state university presidents talk about the amazing and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity we have to contribute to transforming higher education. All of us felt the emotion in his message and it resonated with meaning for each of us.
In his latest book, XLR8, John Kotter shares ideas to help leaders communicate in a way that creates this type of “get-to” mindset. Communication that “captures people’s attention in a way that almost compels” them to engage in their work with messages that describe both the urgency and the opportunity to make a difference in a meaningful way.
A starting point for leaders is to focus and align people’s energy and enthusiasm using what Kotter calls “Big Opportunity” statements. These statements must include both emotion and reason. At Minnesota State Colleges and Universities we have an opportunity in front of us that is described in the following statement:
Charting the Future is a strategic effort to help change how we work and encourage collaboration among MnSCU institutions to better prepare our students for success and achieving a more prosperous Minnesota. We are imagining a better world for our students, our colleges and universities, and our communities across the state.
Creating “Big Opportunity” statements that are realistic, emotionally compelling and memorable can help you connect with both your people’s heads and hearts. “Big opportunity” statements are:
- Short: Less than one page so they are easy to share and can reach more people.
- Rational: They need to make sense in the current reality so they are not dismissed immediately.
- Emotionally Compelling: Speak to the hearts of all relevant audiences.
- Positive: Focus on the opportunity and what “burning desire” people have to make a difference.
- Authentic: It feels real, is believed in by you and demonstrates your level of excitement.
- Clear: Provide clarity and focus.
- Aligned: Supports or is consistent with existing mission or vision statements.
Leaders who are able to communicate with their heart and heads can unlock the potential and passion of the people they lead.
Posted in building teams, change and transition, communication, Engagement, higher education, Leadership, Motivation
Tagged Change, communication, engagement, higher education, Leadership, values, vision