Tag Archives: communication

Do you see that bird? What bird?

After college I took a road trip to the western United States with two roommates, Digger and Jorgy. While we had a great adventure I also learned a fascinating lesson about the challenge of strategic leadership.

As we were driving Digger kept exclaiming, “do you see that bird!” And Jorgy would say, “no, where?” Then Jorgy would shout out, “look at that formation” and Digger would say, “what formation, where?” Digger, the ornithologist, was always scanning the sky or treetops, while Jorgy, the geologist, was always scanning the ground. They did not easily see what the other saw.

Author and leadership consultant Bruna Martinuzzi suggests that a strategic leader has to be able to “keep an eye on the ground and on the horizon at the same time.” In an article she wrote last year she provides advice on how to develop that tricky skill of looking up and down at the same time, or developing “the ability to oversee the day-to-day operations while directing the long-term strategic imperatives.”

  1. Practice Using Reframing.  Reframing is the ability to view an issue or topic from a completely different and new perspective. A physician I worked with at my previous employer shared my favorite example of reframing. Whenever she worked with a patient who kept failing when trying to quit smoking she would reframe it by focusing on the patient’s willingness to keep trying, not on the failure. Then they could reinforce the patient’s tenacity and agree to work on trying something new. Marinuzzi describes how leaders can use a Reframing Matrix to view an issue from four different perspectives before you make a decision.
  2. Adopt Practical and Conceptual Approaches. Honestly acknowledge if you typically use a more concrete or a more abstract approach and then force yourself to carve out time in your schedule to practice the opposite. If you tend to be more practical, take time to research industry trends and analyze trends over time. If you are more comfortable in the conceptual realm, take time to review the project plans of your people or examine the day-to-day processes your people use to get their work done.
  3. Strike a Balance Between Informing and Inspiring. Examine all your different types of communication and assess how often they focus on creating clarity and sharing of information versus inspiring and motivating people. Strategic leaders must do both.

As a strategic leader you can help your team keep their eyes on the ground and the horizon.

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

 

Get your steps!

Becoming a transformational leader can seem intimidating. It can seem like something you are either born to be or not. In reality it all starts with getting your daily steps in. Sometimes called “management by walking around” as described in the Tom Peters and Bob Waterman 1982 bestseller In Search of Excellence.

An article in one of my favorite resources for leaders, the website MindTools: Essential skills for an excellent career, highlights how to connect with your people and build the relationships that lead to transformational work by getting your steps in!

Management by wandering around” does require more than just aimless chatting or random office visits.  MindTools encourages leaders to:

  • Relax – take a deep breath, calm your mind and make it easy for people to be open with you.
  • Listen and Observe – take the time to understand your people and demonstrate genuine interest in their perspective.
  • Be Inclusive – wander everywhere, strategically plan to connect with your whole team.
  • Recognize Good Work – encourage people to share what they are proud of and give specific compliments.
  • Spread the Word – share what you hear with others and share what you know about the work being done.
  • Embrace Chat – learn more about people’s non-work interests and lives. Demonstrate that you are aware they are more than just what they do at work.
  • Don’t Overdo It – don’t hover over people or become a distraction.
  • Review Your Conversations – assess what you have learned, take action and solve problems.

Transformational leaders know their people and know their work.

Todd Thorsgaard

 

Creating a sense of system

I recently heard a great example of transformational leadership. Devinder Malhotra, the interim chancellor for Minnesota State, shared his vision of what it means to be a system:  it’s when we jointly take ownership of the success of all our students, no matter where they are enrolled.

I first heard him make this comment in an interview on Minnesota Public Radio. He reinforced it earlier this week at the Academic and Student Affairs leadership conference. This definition presents a clear picture of where we are going, and helps us to think about the necessity to work together outside of our usual boundaries and silos.

During the conference I learned about many ways this is happening. There are large-scale efforts such as the transfer pathways work that is supporting what students are already doing–completing their education by attending multiple institutions within Minnesota State. On a smaller scale, I learned how the culinary program at Saint Paul College is helping students from China to succeed at Metropolitan State University.

Another conference speaker, Dr. David J. Weerts from the University of Minnesota, helped us think about what it means to work together for the common good of our students and our society. He pointed out that historically this has meant different things to different people. Does it mean educating citizens and preparing leaders for the future? Does it mean ensuring that all of our students can achieve economic success? Or does it mean focusing on social justice and ensuring that everyone has an equal chance for education?

Clearly we need to do all of these things. It is going to require working together in new ways, across institutions, across lines of rank and status, and across bargaining unit lines, to name a few. As Chancellor Malhotra said, no individual institution will be sustainable by standing on its own.

Dee Anne Bonebright

You mean I have to talk (and listen) to people!

As a confirmed and proud introvert it is hard for me to reach out and ask for help. Others of you may be confident extroverts and struggle to truly listen to others. Either way, when you transition into a new leadership role it is crucial to take the time to initiate conversations and to spend time listening to what others have to say.

Peter Daly and Michael Watson, authors of The First 90 Days in Government: Critical Success Strategies for New Public Managers at all Levels,   describe five crucial subjects or themes that  new leaders need to understand as they move into a new role or take on a new project. This requires having the following “the five conversations” with your leader or colleagues.

  1. The Situation Conversation – discover how your boss and others perceive 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 and colleagues or stakeholders 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 leaders strategically approach the transition to a new role.

Todd Thorsgaard

Don’t forget the endings!

It is tempting to focus on the new beginnings as a leader. We craft messages that highlight the benefits of the new system or the new structure. We glowingly describe the advantages of a new procedure or we document the potential dollars saved “after” the change is implemented. Yet study after study have confirmed that often we never reach the hoped-for Shangri-la.

William Bridges, in the 25th anniversary edition of his ground breaking book,  (Bridges, William. Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change. Da Capo Press. 2009.)  counsels leaders to actually meet their people where they are at, the endings they are facing! All new beginnings include something ending or being lost. When we only focus on the new beginnings and ignore that our people are losing something we won’t get to the new beginning as smoothly or successfully as we hope.

Think about it, a new school year also means the end of unstructured summer time. A new leader also means the end of knowing how your previous leader liked to get updates. Or a new house also means not knowing where the closest take-out pizza place is!

It isn’t necessary, or even advisable, to wallow in the losses and endings but it is important to start there to ensure a better transition to the new beginning. Specifically Bridges advises leaders to work with their people and make sure they understand what losses they are experiencing. It may be a loss of:

  • competency
  • comfort
  • status
  • influence
  • routines
  • independence
  • or many others

While many of these losses can and will be replaced or redefined you can help your people understand what is actually ending and what isn’t ending. As an example, the human resource division at Minnesota State is changing to a service center model for HR transactions. Most employee record keeping and status changes will be done by staff at four regional centers. Campus HR staff will clearly feel a loss of direct connection with people on their campus since they won’t be processing the paper work in this new model. It is important for campus HR leaders to acknowledge that loss and also highlight that their staff  will still have have access to employee records. They will be able to answer questions and will still have a personal relationship with the faculty and staff on their campus. Lack of clarity on what is ending and what is staying can lead to the natural tendency to over estimate what is ending!

Yes, the new beginnings are bright and shiny but we need to see and acknowledge that our people are experiencing some losses and endings if we want them to join us on the other side of the change.

Todd Thorsgaard

 

Should leaders set the vision?

Last week I had a chance to hear a presentation by Gervase Bushe, an internationally known author and scholar in my field of organization development. One of the first things he said was that, basically, he thinks leaders with a clear vision can be dangerous to organizations.

That was unexpected. Aren’t leaders supposed to create a clear vision, get others on board, and then lead the organization to success?  Well, not always.

We’ve written before about adaptive challenges. Unlike technical business problems, they don’t have clear solutions, a right answer, or a single clear end goal. Leaders who treat adaptive challenges as technical problems are doing what Bushe called the “pretend it isn’t really complicated” method of leadership. They can cause great harm.

Instead, Bushe said that what we need is “generative leadership” in which leaders promote dialogue among the stakeholders who actually do the work. The role of generative leaders isn’t to drive change, it’s to support the change process and promote collaborative decision-making.

This article from the Higher Learning Commission talks about the benefits of generative leadership in community colleges. I appreciated this observation:

Sometimes community colleges try to do so many things that they have difficulty doing any one thing well. Often, especially at small colleges, employees wear so many hats that it is difficult for them to find the time to communicate with each other, as well as to reflect on their practices and the theories inherent in them, and to exercise their creative energy to think through challenges and to innovate instead of simply adapt.

We’re all been there, and it can be easy to create coping strategies rather than systemic change. In addition, there are challenges in moving higher education from a culture of isolation and stability to one of collaboration and nimble change.

The article says that anyone in an organization can show generative leadership. What examples have you seen?  Who on your team has been a generative leader, and how can you support them?

Dee Anne Bonebright

 

 

Welcome aboard!

Welcome to Uncertainty

Congratulations! You just hired a new leader. Helping them succeed is a crucial, and often overlooked, transition. The new leader is ready to show their stuff, you are excited about the grand ideas you shared during the search process, your colleagues are expecting results, and their new team is full of experienced workers. What could go wrong?

Actually quite a bit. As leadership transition expert Michael Watkins says in his book, Your Next Move “Transitions into significant new roles are the most challenging times in the professional lives of managers.”

The book does a great job describing the different types of transitions the new leader will experience. Regardless of their specific transition you can take the following five actions to give them the best chance of succeeding in their new role.

  1. Deliver transition support just-in-time – Strategically identify what information and resources are needed immediately and what can wait. No one can digest everything on the first day! Your new leader needs time to assimilate information.
  2. Leverage the time before they start – Provide access to meetings, people, information, budgets, and yourself before their first official day. Check in and answer questions they have before they are swamped with first-day paperwork and work demands.
  3. Create action-forcing events to guide the transition – Don’t rely on random circumstances during the first few weeks. Instead use your influence and experience to create a learning environment for your new leader. Set up meetings, invite him or her to your meetings, delegate certain tasks to them, add them to different groups, and actively debrief with them to strengthen their understanding and competence.
  4. Provide focused resources that support their transition – A new leader needs a different type of support than an experienced leader. Resources, information and contacts must address culture, basic information, unstated rules, “land mines” to avoid, and other topics above and beyond project or work issues.
  5. Clarify roles – Take the time to clearly identify who is responsible for what. Start with your role, their role, and the roles of other leaders on your team. Then move on to the roles and responsibilities of leaders in other departments and divisions.

You can’t guarantee the success of a new leader but you can give them the best possibility to succeed with your actions.

Todd Thorsgaard

 

Communicating about change

We all know that leaders need to communicate about change, and there’s an overwhelming amount of advice about how to do that. It can be hard to figure out how to create the strongest messages.

Make Change Work, by Randy Pennington is a guidebook for communicating about change. It provides five practical questions to help craft your change messages. Pennington says people want to know:

  1. What is changing and what will the new way look like?
  2. What does it mean for what I do on a daily basis?
  3. Will this make a difference?
  4. How will success be measured?
  5. What is the leadership support for this change?

In a review of Pennington’s book, Carol Kinsey Gorman made an important observation: it’s not only what you say, it’s how you say it. Answering these questions is critical, and it’s equally important to deliver the message in a consistent way. Whether we’re presenting to a large group or discussing change one-on-one, our body language speaks as much as our words. Do our actions convey that we really support the change? Do people believe that our feelings match our words?

I once had a leader that was great at this. She identified a few key points about the change and delivered them consistently, regardless of the situation. Her words and actions were aligned. Because of this, people trusted her information and valued her assessment of issues related to the change. She was able to be a strong advocate for the change effort.

What is one thing you could do this month to strengthen your change communication?

Dee Anne Bonebright

 

 

 

 

Building your team in flight

When you start a new job there are two transitions in play.  As a new leader you have to fly your new plane and you have to rebuild the team of people you inherit. You are going through a major transition – and so are they! They have lost a leader and they need to figure out who you are. You also need to figure out how to work with them. And you don’t have time to land the plane while you both adjust.

Writer Carolyn O’Hara share six tips for new leaders in her article, What New Team Leaders Should Do First.

  1. Get to know each other – In our leadership programs at Minnesota State we highlight the importance of personal relationships and trust for effective leadership. Leaders lead through influence and relationship building, not power and control. You need to know who your people are and they need to know who you are.
  2. Show what you stand for – Communicate and demonstrate your vision and values. Your people are not only listening to you, they are watching you. What you say and how you act clarifies what your priorities are and how you define success. Be intentional and clear with your words and actions.
  3. Explain “how” you want the team to work – Don’t assume your norms are their norms. Work together to clarify expectations and processes. Make sure no one is surprised or confused about how to be successful.
  4. Set or clarify goals – Based on what you learn from your boss, your assessment of the situation and what your team tells you take time to explicitly clarify what the goals are for the team. Goals change but you and your team need a common understanding of your current goals and how you will assess progress.
  5. Communicate, communicate, communicate – While it is always true, as a new leader it is vital to interact with your people. Don’t rely on an open door, set up interactions. Schedule 1-1’s, don’t cancel staff meetings, manage by walking around, actually “job-shadow” your people, send emails, share progress reports and just say hi! You only get to be a new leader for a short time so take advantage of your opportunity to build strong relationships and open communication channels.
  6. Solve a problem, remove a barrier, score an “early win” – Most teams have come to accept “the way things are” but as a new leader you can listen to their frustrations and take action to solve a problem and demonstrate that you are listening and able to make a difference.

Enjoy the video!

Todd Thorsgaard