Tag Archives: higher education

Did you miss the conversation?

A few years ago I was shopping at Ikea and decided to get some lunch. In the cafeteria line in front of me were a mom and her young daughter. They selected their food, sat at a table not far from me, and enjoyed their meal together.

But here’s the thing – during that entire time the mom never got off her phone. She got the food, sat down, cut up her daughter’s meatballs, and ate her lunch one-handed all while conducting a long conversation with whoever was on the other end of the line. The memory of that young girl trying unsuccessfully to get her mother’s attention still makes me want to cry. They were potentially making a memory together and mom missed it.

That experience solidified my resolve to try to be present with whatever conversation I’m in. It’s still very much a work in progress, but I try to use good listening skills whether I’m at home or at work.

In our Art of Supervision course we talk about three basic elements of listening.

  1. Stay focused. Minimize internal and external distractions, pay attention to the speaker, and use nonverbal signals to show you are listening.
  2. Capture the message. Paraphrase and restate the speaker’s key points to be sure you understand them. In work situations you may want to take notes to help with future conversations.
  3. Help the speaker communicate. Ask clarifying questions. Try to understand the feelings and perceptions behind the person’s words. Don’t worry about whether you agree with the message at this point, just try to understand it.

When I can follow these three steps, it helps me stay present. Focusing my energy on listening helps me avoid distractions such as multitasking and, I hope, prevents me from missing important conversations – even when I’m right there in the same room.

Dee Anne Bonebright

I would have made it shorter

I wanted to start this post with the quote “I’m sorry this is so long. I didn’t have time to make it shorter.” Turns out that has been attributed to a lot of people, starting with Blaise Pascal in 1657 and including Benjamin Franklin in 1750.

That means that for at least 350 years people have known that it’s harder to write a short and concise letter or document than a long one. Twitter aside, that is still true.

Here are some tips from writing consultant Mary Cullen at 87 advanced tips for business writing:

  • Purpose: Before you start, ask “who is my reader” and “what do I want them to know or do?”  If you don’t have an answer, there’s no purpose for continuing.
  • Plan: For a standard business document or email, spend about half of the time planning and half of the time writing.
  • Everyday language. Avoid jargon. Never use a big word when a small word will do.
  • Clear language. Use strong verbs (“We need to decide”… is better than “we need to make a decision”…) Any time a word is not truly needed, cut it.

Cullen says that online readers can only handle about 7 lines of text before readability goes down and they are more likely to skip it.  Adding headers, lists, and white space can help – as in the paragraph above.

As leaders, we can feel too busy to edit. But taking the time to remove extra words and present a clear message can save time in the long run. People will actually read what we send and are more likely to get the point!

Dee Anne Bonebright

Seeking a diverse administration

By 2020, 45 percent of U.S. high school graduates will be non-white. Citing that fact, the American Council on Education says that it’s more important than ever to ensure diversity among admissions representatives. A 2017 blog post highlights the importance of admissions counselors in representing their institutions and in shaping the student body.

The articles says that, similar to other administrative roles, we have work to do to achieve that goal. The authors identified three issues that are limiting diversity in college administration.

Leaky pipelines – Students who graduate with four-year degrees are still predominantly white. This results in lower numbers of qualified minority individuals to fill administrative positions.

Insufficient recruiting – Search committees may not be skilled in recruiting and selecting diverse candidates. Members may not be aware of unconscious biases and strategies for mitigating them.

Lower retention – Even after hiring administrators who bring diversity to the campus, institutions may have difficulty retaining them. This can be especially true in high-turnover positions such as entry-level admissions counselors.

The article proposed some strategies that can help retain all administrators, including administrators of color.

  • Offer diversity and/or cultural competency training for all staff
  • Emphasize diversity in the recruitment process
  • Establishing orientation and mentoring programs for new administrators
  • Foster open communication
  • Invite administrators to be part of decision-making
  • Support administrators’ professional development goals

Building a faculty and administrative staff that reflects our student body is an ongoing challenge for Minnesota State. What effective strategies have you seen?

Dee Anne Bonebright

John Lennon or Harry Potter?

 

 

 

When you see wire-rimmed glasses, do you think of John Lennon or Harry Potter? Or maybe John Denver? It might depend on your age.

The Mindset List is an intriguing way to think about the diversity of our student body. Each year Beloit College puts out a list of facts about the incoming freshman class. For 2018, it included:

  • During their initial weeks of kindergarten, they were upset by endlessly repeated images of planes blasting into the World Trade Center.
  • In their lifetime, a dozen different actors have portrayed Nelson Mandela on the big and small screen.
  • FOX News and MSNBC have always been duking it out for the hearts and minds of American viewers.
  • Female referees have always officiated NBA games.
  • Bill Gates has always been the richest man in the U.S.
  • One route to pregnancy has always been through frozen eggs.
  • Their collection of U.S. quarters has always celebrated the individual states.
  • When they see wire-rimmed glasses, they think of Harry Potter.

As interesting as it is, the list makes some assumptions about our freshman students that may nor may not be the case. For example, that they have always lived in the U.S., or that they  have always had access to mainstream U.S. media.

As our higher education workforce ages, it can be harder to understand the mindset of the students we are serving. Activities that worked well may not work anymore, or new options might exist. For example, Beloit suggested that students who are used to binge-watching TV programs might also want to binge-watch video portions of their coursework. Whether or not that’s desirable, what might it mean for course development?

What can you do to include a reality check in your planning?

Dee Anne Bonebright

 

Diversity as a problem-solving strategy

In 2007, social scientist Scott E. Page generated what seemed like counter-intuitive findings about problem solving. When modeling outcomes for various kinds of groups, he found that random groups almost always did better than groups of the best individual performers.

What was going on?  In his book The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies, he explained that a group with a diverse range of viewpoints is typically able to generate the best solutions. These groups include:

  • Diverse perspectives
  • Diverse interpretations
  • Diverse ways of generating solutions
  • Diverse ways of understanding cause and effect

Within higher education, we can seek diverse viewpoints through a number of strategies. Admissions, hiring, and appointment policies need to promote a diverse environment for learning and working. Reaching outside of traditional disciplinary silos is essential for solving complex issues.

Page says that leadership in higher education needs to have a fundamental belief in the value of diversity. That belief needs to be acted out in the way we form committees, who we consult with about decisions, and who is at the table when we’re deciding what to do and how to do it.

Google wouldn’t want only freshly minted graduates from MIT and Caltech. People with different training and experiences often add more than people who score better on measuring sticks. . . . All else being equal, we should expect someone different – be their differences in training, experiences, or identity – to be more likely to have the unique experience that leads to the breakthrough.
Scott E. Page, The Difference

What have you done to generate diversity on your teams and work groups?

Dee Anne Bonebright

 

Who’s making the coffee?

We know that leaders play an important role in ensuring that everyone has an equal chance to perform at their best and achieve their career goals. A recent blog post from Harvard Business Review highlighted one key aspect of this responsibility.

The authors described two types of work: “office housework” and “glamour work.”  As you’d expect, the first consists of the backstage tasks necessary to keep things flowing – everything from making coffee and taking notes to sitting on routine administrative committees. It needs to get done, but it rarely happens in the spotlight. Glamour work, on the other hand, consists of chairing key committees or task forces, serving on innovative teams, and high-profile or stretch assignments.

The research found that minorities and women spend significantly more time on office housework than their white male counterparts. In some cases, certain people are perceived to be better at organizational or care-taking roles. Others may feel pressured to volunteer for these tasks or face negative consequences for not being a “team player.”

What can managers do?  The first step is to identify the main office housework tasks for your team, and then assess whether anyone is doing more than their fair share. Create a system for rotating the tasks and hold everyone accountable for completing them.

When glamour work is assigned, be intentional and strategic to be sure everyone is considered. If some team members are more prepared than others, use strategies such as job shadowing and development plans to ensure that everyone is able to showcase their strengths.

Creating a team where everyone pulls their weight on the routine tasks and has opportunities to grow professionally not only demonstrates inclusivity. It also builds high-performing teams and creates an environment where everyone can succeed.

Dee Anne Bonebright

https://hbr.org/2018/03/for-women-and-minorities-to-get-ahead-managers-must-assign-work-fairly

I just want to get the work done

Beginning this month we’ll be looking at the next set of Minnesota State leadership competencies. They are grouped under the category of Leader as Relationship Builder, and include:

  • Values diversity
  • Communicates effectively
  • Builds trust

I occasionally work with project leaders or team managers who consider these activities as “fluff” that takes time away from the “real work.”  For example, when I facilitate project team kick-off meetings we always spend a significant portion of the time getting to know each other, understanding communication preferences, and identifying the strengths each member brings to the table.  This can feel less important than digging into timelines, deliverables, and action plans.

However, I’ve learned over and over that if good working relationships are in place everything else flows quicker and smoother. Over the next few months we’ll dive into the many ways that building relationships is a key component of leadership work.

Dee Anne Bonebright

 

 

The over-promising trap

I was recently discussing a large-scale project with some of its leaders. As they looked back on the effort, they agreed that one of the key problems was promising too much, too quickly.

Without carefully talking to the people on the ground, institutional leadership made public statements about how much better the system was going to work, and how quickly it would happen. The system didn’t live up to expectations. We’ve all seen that same thing. For a variety of reasons, leaders often promise more than their staff can deliver.

When we think about the leadership competency of delivering on one’s promises, it’s easy to think about the personal side. As a leader, I try hard to do what I said I was going to do. But sometimes I am making promises for my unit or project team. With the best intentions, I can estimate timelines, costs, and outcomes that end up not being met.

Making the best guess when all the data isn’t available means that we will sometimes be wrong about our predictions. When that happens it’s important to own the mistake and review it to avoid the same thing in the future.

At the same time, we can try to be realistic about the expectations we set. Change is hard, and new systems rarely work perfectly the minute the switch is flipped. Helping people have a realistic picture of what to expect can make the effort more successful in the long run.

Dee Anne Bonebright

Acting with integrity

The second in our Minnesota State leadership competencies is Acts with Integrity. As I was reviewing it and the behaviors that describe it, I was struck by the fact that it’s included under “Leader of Self.” Does that mean that a leader can’t really act with integrity without demonstrating self-awareness and self-control?  I think it does.

Some of these behaviors, such as abiding by relevant laws, rules and regulations, might not appear linked to self-awareness. But as I read about some of the public leadership failures we’ve had recently, they seem at least partly driven by a failure to ask the question:  “This act seems like it will benefit me, but does it align with my core values?”

This month we’ll look at this competency and how it applies to us as leaders within higher ed.

  • Demonstrates honesty
  • Abides by all relevant laws, rules and regulations
  • Encourages others to do the same
  • Gives credit where credit is due
  • Delivers what is promised
  • Admits and learns from mistakes
  • Corrects mistakes to utmost ability

Dee Anne Bonebright

Communicating across preferences

Have you noticed that sometimes people don’t perceive your messages the way you intended? As leaders, we know that people have different communication styles and preferences. It can be challenging to adapt our own styles and help people understand what we want to say.

A Google search for “communication style differences” yielded about 3,650,000 results. Clearly many people recognize the challenge! Most of the resources I saw dealt with verbal and non-verbal communication preferences across cultures.

One resource that I particularly liked was a Cross-Cultural Communication 101 course from the U.S. Department of State. While it was written to assist U.S. citizens who are traveling and working abroad, it could also be useful for those of us who work with a multicultural audience. Some of the communication factors they cover include:

  • Different gestures, such as head nodding or finger pointing, mean different things across cultures.
  • Time has different meaning across cultures. For example, what is the appropriate time to show up for a party that starts at 8:30?
  • People from different cultures prefer different amounts of personal space.
  • Conversation norms, such as appropriate tone and volume levels, also vary across cultures. Are the two people in the photo above angry with each other or excited?

That last one is a challenge for me. As I was growing up with a mostly-female peer group, it was acceptable to talk over each other and finish each other’s sentences. In fact, the more engaged we were the more likely that was to happen. As an adult, that behavior doesn’t always express support and engagement. Sometimes, as my daughter would say, it’s “just rude.”

Even when working with a group of people who all grew up in Minnesota I’ve seen different preferences for verbal and nonverbal communication styles. Paying attention to my audience and adjusting my behavior accordingly has been a helpful leadership strategy.

Dee Anne Bonebright