Tag Archives: Change

Foolish or appropriate?

teeter-totterI 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.

  1. Do you consciously review what you know before making a decision?
  2. How does what you know actually relate to the decision?
  3. How likely is each piece of information to be true and how does that likelihood influence your decision?
  4. 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!

Todd Thorsgaard

 

Who would have predicted that!

dewey-winsOk, 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:

  1. Values – act as a steward and take actions that demonstrate concern for your people and organization.
  2. Innovation – provide opportunities for all your people to contribute their ideas to meet your customers’ needs.
  3. 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.”
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

https://www.getabstract.com/en/summary/leadership-and-management/what-matters-now/17412?dfs=wxmmqkfksovueayhlzbvluhtiwngbj&rf=DLZPJVUFWN&utm_campaign=share&utm_souce=getAbstract&utm_medium=email&u=MNSCU

Todd Thorsgaard

The future is now!

the-future-is-nowWell, 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!

Todd Thorsgaard

Communicate to accelerate!

Accelerate-455x687“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.

Todd Thorsgaard

Snow storms, bumper cars and highly effective teams?

Best of 2015, first published on February 15, 2015
We just had our first “biggest blizzard in years” yesterday. While it ended up with a modest total amount of snow it did create traffic snarls and many accidents for those working this week. I had the luxury of time off and was able to enjoy the beauty of the snow falling and look forward to skiing. That reminded me of this post that highlighted the value of messiness and collisions! Enjoy.  –Todd Thorsgaard

 

jeopardy

And the answer is?? Planned accidental collisions!

We had a freezing rain and snow “event” yesterday and cars were slipping and sliding into each other by the hundreds. Not a pretty sight but actually a great metaphor for building effective teams. In fact both urban planners and highly successful leaders have been promoting the idea that density and unplanned interactions, or “collisions” can spark creativity and help build an engaged culture at work.

The main idea is that “running” into other people, sharing ideas, asking questions, and listening to what they are working on stimulates our brains and opens us up to more possibilities.

Leaders can make changes in the physical work space and the processes a team uses to facilitate these creative accidental collisions. The department I work in has created an informal work space. Several times while I was using it a colleague has ask me what I was working on and then shared some ideas I had not thought of.

Other ideas you can try to foster “accidental collisions” include:

  • scheduling work and share times where people talk about their projects and others are encouraged to share ideas
  • rotating project team members on a regular basis
  • encouraging people to participate in cross-functional projects
  • inviting representatives from other departments to participate on project teams
  • support participation in professional organizations and interest groups

Creating safe opportunities for people and ideas to collide will help your team succeed over the long run, and they will have more fun!  bumper cars

Todd Thorsgaar

Speak to the heart

Best of 2015, first published on September 9, 2015
Over the past weekend I attended the holiday show, Tales from the Charred Underbelly of the Yule Log, by the master storyteller, Kevin Kling. Kling is able to make a universal connection as he weaves his tales. I know I experienced both tears and joy as he reached out to each one of us in the audience. During this time of world-wide chaos and local uncertainty your team needs you to speak to their hearts.
–Todd Thorsgaard

nelson-mandela

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.

Nelson Mandela,

This may sound like a paradox but I am going to suggest that the way to a person’s heart is through their brain. At least when it involves communication!

A powerful way for you to communicate through the distractions and noise at work is to share your message in a way that goes to the heart of your people and engages their passion around the work they do. Yet for the message to get to the heart it needs to be recognized by the brain. Or as Nelson Mandela said, “in their own language.” The problem is that each of us have our own brain and our own language! Our brains influence our individual thinking preferences which then drives how  people “hear” or “don’t hear” what you are saying.

I have found an approach that is powerful and easily recognized by all brains called the Whole Brain model. Based on over thirty years of research it identifies four thinking styles and describes communication preferences related to each style:

  • Analytical style leads to communication preferences:
    • Facts only, no fluff
    • Accuracy
    • Brief
  • Experimental style leads to communication preferences:
    • Metaphors
    • Overviews
    • Conceptual
  • Relational style leads to communication preferences:
    • Informal
    • Expressive
    • Conversational
  • Practical style leads to communication preferences:
    • Detailed
    • Step by step
    • Thorough

When your message is delivered in a style that your people prefer they will better hear you and take your messages to heart. This basic model opens up a world of strategies for you to increase your communication effectiveness. A few to start with include:

  1. Step back and self-assess what style you prefer and begin to utilize the other styles in your messages.
  2. Listen to your team members and the styles they use for clues to their preferences – then mirror their style in your 1-1 communications.
  3. Share important messages multiple times utilizing multiple styles.
  4. Incorporate multiple styles into each message.

Todd Thorsgaard

Lash yourself to the mast!

storm at seaEmails hit you like waves, crises tear at your sails, institutions rise and fall with each swell and you are responsible for your crew! Leadership challenges are as powerful as a storm at sea. Luckily your leadership vision is a mast you can lash yourself to like Ulysses did when approaching the Sirens.

Stewart D. Friedman, professor at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, the founding director of the Wharton Leadership Program, author and creator of Total Leadership, describes personal leadership vision as “an essential means for focusing attention on what matters most; what you want to accomplish in your life and what kind of leader you wish to be.” A clear leadership vision is essential for success in today’s volatile, uncertain and chaotic sea of work.

Friedman describes four crucial elements of a leadership vision and encourages leaders to the work required to identify and develop:

  1. A compelling story of the future that will engage people. What in the future captures your heart and will encourage others to join?
  2. An image of the future. What do you see in the future? What will it actually look like and how will others see themselves in the future?
  3. An achievable but challenging view of the future. A realistic enough vision that it won’t be dismissed out of hand and will motivate people to work with you.
  4. A forward focus. A vision of the future that compels action today to get there.

To learn more about creating your vision you can read this article or watch this video.

Holding on to a powerful vision can help you survive the storms of leadership and stay focused on how to make a significant difference at your institution and with your people.

Todd Thorsgaard

The view from the balcony

overcome-fear-of-heightsThe changes that are required for our organizations to succeed and thrive will disturb our comfortable view of work. Successful leaders must not only manage that feeling of disequilibrium, but make it productive. Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow and Marty Linksy label this Adaptive Leadership.

Adaptive leaders tackle the real issues we all face, while pushing people to look at the world differently. I just experienced a powerful example of adaptive leadership when Steven Rosenstone, the chancellor of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, challenged a group of leaders to “…ask ourselves hard questions: Can we really succeed doing things the way we are now, and what do I need to do differently?” That was a scary question but it made me, and all of us, closely examine what is important to us and to our students! And what are we willing to do about it? Will we step into the disequilibrium of real change and make a difference?

Heifetz highlights that leaders must be able to manage their own reactions and those of their team during these unsettled times. A metaphor that he uses is to “get off the swirl of the dance floor and get onto the balcony.” Intentionally stepping back from the chaos of a situation and observing it from a distance can help leaders see patterns, underlying issues, connections, and unexpected opportunities. The view from the balcony also allows leaders to recognize their own fears and beliefs about the situation and not allow them to cloud their interpretation of the events.

Adaptive leadership is all about connecting first with your own values, beliefs and fears and then connecting with the values, beliefs and fears of your people while asking them to take on the tough challenges we face in making a real difference. That is deeply personal work.

Todd Thorsgaard

 

 

Inspiration and culture

By guest blogger John Kearns

Leaders in higher education lead by fiat at their own peril. So when they want to shape the culture of an organization such as a college or university or system, they need to do a lot of persuading. There’s an art to persuasion in the western tradition that goes back to Aristotle, who said there were three things you have to do if you want to persuade people to follow you. You have to prove you’re worthy of being followed. You have to convince people that your way is the right way. And you have to make people feel something.

I’ve written a lot of speeches over the past decade – for myself when I was a dean and provost, and more recently for higher education chief executives – at a time when we don’t have the luxury of ignoring the need to change. Leading today in an academic setting is all about shaping a new organizational culture. But our leaders – especially those who come from the academic ranks – tend to be more comfortable proving their worth (i.e., the verbal résumé) and stating the facts that prove they’re right (i.e., the verbal graph). That’s because bona fides and facts are the main things valued in academic research. Making people feel all the feels? Don’t be ridiculous!

I’m not saying proving your worth and establishing your facts aren’t important. They’re extremely important and a leader’s communication must include them. But organizational culture is ultimately something that’s experienced, that’s felt. Simon Sinek’s book Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action is all about reminding us that leaders are much more likely to succeed in shaping an organization culture when they can explain WHY. For Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, WHY means Why we do what we do and Why we care about providing access to all Minnesotans.

But WHY also explains WHAT we do. We prioritize access: That’s why we have 54 campuses in 47 communities across the state where students from every walk of life come to learn. We protect affordibility: That’s why we don’t set tuition according to what the market will bear. We’re growing the pipeline of future college students: That’s why we work with public schools to redesign the transition from high school to higher education. And we want Minnesota communities to prosper: That’s why we graduate people in every profession, from nurses to mechanics to teachers and more.

Once an audience understands why, they’re ready to hear about what needs to happen.

John Kearns is the Senior Writer, Executive & Strategic Communication for Minnesota State Colleges and Universities.

Todd Thorsgaard

Painting the roses

paint the rosesAnita pointed out in her last post that influencing organizational culture is a challenge for many leaders. Changing an organization’s culture is even more challenging. As Alice in Wonderland found out, it’s easy to paint the roses, but it’s much harder to make it stick.

Steve Denning from Forbes observed that single-strategy approaches such as adding a new processes or implementing quality improvement rarely result in lasting change. He provided a useful model describing three kinds of tools leaders can use to change culture:  power tools that rely on intimidation, management tools that provide structure and information, and leadership tools that inspire.

Denning recommends beginning culture change with leadership tools such as vision setting and story telling.  This should be supported by strategic management tools to solidify the change. Power tools, including widespread staffing changes and top-down reorganizations, should be used later in the process, if at all.

The Wall Street Journal provided additional tips for leading organizational change:

  1. Identify and start with people who have strong influence on the current culture
  2. Help people personally experience the realities that make the change necessary
  3. Focus on activities that require few resources and will make a big difference
  4. Engage employees by finding new ways to use their strengths and providing new options for collaboration

How have you seen leaders create culture change that went beyond painting the roses to result in lasting difference?

Dee Anne Bonebright