Tag Archives: leadership development

Blind spots

Best of HigherEDge, first published on January 9, 2013.

We had our first snow and ice of the year and the news has been filled with reports of car accidents and spin-outs. It reminded me of this post. I hope those of you in the midwest scraped your windows so you could avoid a crash due to a blind spot.   Todd Thorsgaard

Has this happened to you? You are a good driver, you have the best intentions, and you are paying attention and following all the rules, yet when you signal your lane change and start to move – suddenly you hear a horn honking! Next comes screeching brakes or a crunching sound and an impact. What happened? There was a car in your blind spot.

As leaders, we also have blind spots. Have you ever been surprised by how people on your team react to something you have said or done? Are there times when the pep talk you gave to help motivate someone or the wise piece of advice that you knew was exactly what your team member needed didn’t have the effect you intended?

I still remember the reaction I got from teammates in one of my first jobs after graduate school. My boss called me into her office for my 30 day check-in. I was meeting all my initial goals and I was providing good consulting resources, but my colleagues had shared that they did not think I valued their experience and they didn’t like my “attitude.” I was crushed! I respected them and was so happy to be working on a high performing committed team. What was going on? It was a blind spot. I had just spent a period of time in graduate school where we were expected to always ask critical and probing questions, on every idea raised by anyone. I thought I was demonstrating respect and letting my colleagues know how much I valued their experience and insight by asking questions and seeking to better understand what they were sharing. What they were feeling was that I was challenging their ideas and didn’t trust their experience!

Leadership is a two-way street filled with people. As Anita described in her last post, successful leaders need to understand how their actions impact others.  The Johari Window, a tool created by Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham in 1955, highlights that we need feedback to better understand ourselves and to minimize our blind spots. (click on image to enlarge)

johari-window2

Increased self-understanding leads to greater effectiveness in leading others.  I needed to ask my boss in that new job what was happening, why were people reacting the way they were? I was unaware that when I immediately responded with a question to a colleague’s idea they felt like I didn’t value their expertise. It felt attacking. I was destroying trust while I blindly thought I was engaging in a spirited debate. Now, as a leader, my natural style is to focus on facts and reasons and I can be blind to how that feels to people on my team. I have learned that I need to continually seek feedback from others on the impact of my actions. Luckily I also have a trusted relationship with my current manager and I am able to ask about my blind spots and the impact they have on my leadership.

What leadership blind spots have you discovered in yourself? How can you invite feedback from others or gain more self-awareness?

Todd Thorsgaard


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Happy birthday to us!

HigherEDge has been around for 5 years! We started on November 26, 2012 and since then have generated over 630 posts to support leaders in higher education and beyond.

While a few of you have been with us since the beginning, many people have joined along the way. This month we’ll feature some of our favorite posts from past years that you might have missed.

To start with, here’s one of my early posts. It asks “what would you tell your younger self?”  I said that I would tell my younger self to be consistent with my core values, and at the same time learn to be more comfortable with taking risks. It’s still a work in progress, but I think that I’ve learned over the past five years about ways to give grace to myself and others when things aren’t perfect.

It was a fun exercise to look back through my early posts and reflect on how I’ve changed as a leader. If you’ve kept a leadership journal, take time to look through it. If not, consider starting one. Where do you want to be in five years, and what can you tell yourself now to help get there?

Dee Anne Bonebright

 

It’s all in your mind….. thank goodness

As Buddha said, we can use our minds to drive our behaviors. Developing a more strategic way of thinking leads to more strategic behaviors.

In fact, leadership development expert Melissa Karz highlights how having a “strategic mindset gives you a lens to think big in every moment.” In a recent article, she suggests practicing four specific habits to develop your own strategic mindset.

Align to Organizational Objectives. Asking yourself the following questions can help you stay aligned and take the actions necessary to help your team be aligned to the vision, values and goals of your organization.

  • Where are we today and where do we want to be in 12 months?
  • What skills am I missing, and is my team missing, to accomplish those goals?
  • What relationships do I need to build or nurture?
  • How are we defining success now, and in the future?

Identify Highest Value Activities.  Strategic thinking means scanning all the demands, options, requests, and opportunities and identifying the ones that will best support short-term and long-term success. Prioritization means saying no or delegating. High value activities include:

  • Coaching and developing your direct reports.
  • Building relationships and networks to facilitate collaboration and a broader perspective.
  • Creating a direct line of sight for your team so they can see how their work contributes to the big picture.

Seek Under-The-Radar Information. The reality is that leaders are shielded from much of the information they actually need. It is human nature to withhold bad news or to hesitate to “bother” leaders. To overcome this leaders need to actively seek out information and make it easier for people to share information, even bad news. Practice:

  • Asking questions.
  • Using mistakes as a learning opportunity.
  • Reinforcing open and transparent communication.
  • Taking time to meet with colleagues and peers.
  • Meeting with people outside your own industry.

Schedule Time for Reflection. Developing a strategic mindset requires action and reflection. Scheduling time to analyze and assess what you have learned, what you want to continue doing, and what you want to do differently is strategic. Just like you schedule important meetings, dedicating scheduled time daily, weekly, quarterly and annually is a challenging but necessary habit to develop.

Over time these habits reinforce a strategic mindset which leads to more strategic behaviors further establishing strategic habits making strategic leadership a part of who you are.

Todd Thorsgaard

 

Painting the closet

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.

Todd Thorsgaard

A strategic leader pop quiz – are you ready??

The dreaded pop quiz. I can still remember how I felt when hearing those words when I was in school. If I had done my homework, I didn’t flinch. But if I wasn’t prepared, my heart would start pounding!

Yes, I have a strategic leader pop quiz for you today, but first let’s study what will be on the test.

Research conducted by the Wharton School of Business and the consulting firm Decision Strategies International, Inc. (DSI) on over 20,000 leaders identified six “essential skills” that can be assessed and developed to become an adaptive strategic leader.

Anticipate – the ability to recognize subtle or ambiguous threats and opportunities before they affect your team or organization. Strategic leaders take action to “scan the horizon” by:

  • continually talking and listening to all stakeholders
  • gathering market research and utilizing scenario planning
  • interacting with people and organizations in other fields

Challenge – closely examining the current situation, assumptions being made and the popular point of view. Strategic leaders focus on reflection and examination from multiple points of view by:

  • searching for root causes and underlying issues not just the surface indicators
  • identifying and examining assumptions
  • actively seeking out alternative perspectives and encouraging debate

Interpret – the ability to accept and synthesize diverse and conflicting input and information. Strategic leaders seek new insights by:

  • identifying multiple explanations for observations, issues and results
  • actively seeking out and listening to diverse perspectives when analyzing information
  • using both observational and analytical analysis
  • taking a break and providing space for uncluttered analysis

Decide – use a disciplined process to make decisions, even when lacking information or time. Strategic leaders take responsibility for making decisions and using a robust process by:

  • rejecting either-or scenarios and asking “what other options do we have?”
  • identifying unexpected consequences
  • keeping stakeholders informed on the status of the decision
  • utilizing pilots and staged decisions

Align – discover common ground and buy-in among diverse perspectives and multiple stakeholders. Strategic leaders proactively build the trust needed to facilitate alignment between divergent points of view by:

  • over communicating (early, often, 8 ways, 8 times, etc.)
  • identifying and acknowledging concerns and issues in advance
  • reaching out to resisters and listening before explaining
  • recognizing when and where team members and stakeholders are willing to support the overall purpose or values of the organization

Learn – facilitate continuous organizational learning. Strategic leaders promote a culture of inquiry and learning lessons, both from success and failures, by:

  • conducting after-action reviews and lessons learned sessions
  • transparently sharing and communicating the information from the reviews and learning sessions
  • recognizing and rewarding people who take action and utilize lessons learned

Strategic leadership requires a mix of all six essential elements but the good news is that leaders can develop them.

Are you ready for a short pop quiz to help you identify where you shine and where you may want to take action to become a more strategic leader? Here is a link to a short assessment developed by the Wharton School and DSI on the six essential elements of strategic leadership.

Todd Thorsgaard

 

Walking the slackline

Nimble, agile, focused, adaptable, relying on others, willing to take a risk, moving forward, and getting up after you fall. That is how I describe my slackliner friends. It is also describes a leader who is strategic and works as a partner.

During November we will be sharing stories, ideas and resources focused on being a strategic leader and partner. In a recent HBR article, Paul Schoemaker, Steve Krupp and Samatha Howland say that leaders can make the biggest difference for their people and their organizations when the work environment is most uncertain–if they are adaptive, strategic leaders. In their words, this means “Someone who is both resolute and flexible, persistent in the face of setbacks but also able to react strategically to environmental shifts.”

Certainly the higher education work environment is uncertain. The national and global economy is going through rapid changes and most leaders I talk with point out that their industry is in the midst of epic transformations. So, we all have a great opportunity to make a difference as leaders now. But it takes work and skill development to be strategic leader and partner.

Are you ready to try walking the slackline?

Todd Thorsgaard

Nature or nurture?

Are transformational leaders born or developed? It’s a question that can be debated from multiple perspectives. If I didn’t firmly believe that leadership skills can be learned, I wouldn’t be in my current profession. However, I also believe that people’s natural dispositions can influence how they lead. Interestingly, there is quite a bit of research that supports how personality traits have clear links to leadership success.

To give an example, transformational leadership can be measured by how well an individual scores on the “Big Five,” a set of five major personality traits that contribute to the likelihood of a person displaying the behaviors of a transformational leader. These personality traits are universal across culture and have biological origins. Kendra Cherry, author and psychology educator describes the Big Five as:

Extraversion
Characterized by excitability, sociability, talkativeness, assertiveness, and high amounts of emotional expressiveness, people who are high in extraversion are outgoing and tend to gain energy in social situations. People who are low in extraversion (or introverted) tend to be more reserved and have to expend energy in social settings.

Agreeableness
Attributes of agreeableness include trust, altruism, kindness, and affection. People who are high in agreeableness tend to be more cooperative while those low in this trait tend to be more competitive and even manipulative.

Conscientiousness
Standard features of conscientiousness include high levels of thoughtfulness, with good impulse control and goal-directed behaviors. People high in conscientiousness tend to be organized and mindful of details. Those who are high on the conscientiousness continuum also tend to be organized, spend time preparing, mindful of details, and finish important tasks right away.

Neuroticism
Characterized by sadness, moodiness, and emotional instability, individuals who are high in neuroticism tend to experience mood swings, anxiety, irritability and sadness. Those low in this trait tend to be more stable and emotionally resilient. They deal well with stress, don’t worry much and are very relaxed.

Openness
Attributes of openness include imagination and insight. People high in this trait also tend to have a broad range of interests, and tend to be more adventurous and creative. They are open to trying new things, tackling new challenges, and thinking about abstract concepts. People low in this trait are often set in traditional ways of doing things and may struggle with abstract thinking.

Leadership assessments that measure the “Big Five” personality traits, find that those who score higher in extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness and lower in neuroticism, most often demonstrate behaviors that are described as transformational leadership. If you’re interested, you can take a free  assessment online to measure how you score in the five personality traits.

What do you think about the Big Five? Where in your experience have you seen leaders with these traits that you would describe as transformational? And would you say that transformational leadership is determined by nature? nurture? or both?

Anita Rios