Tag Archives: leadership journey

Are you losing air?

Best of 2015, first published on January, 2015
The holiday season can be exhilarating and fulfilling as we take time to connect with family and friends. On the other hand we can also end up feeling drained and overextended. This post reminds me of the importance of assessing where I am and where I want to be as we wrap up 2015. –Todd Thorsgaard

It is one of the most depressing feelings while biking. I can be riding along; happy, outdoors, feeling strong and having fun. Everything is in synch and flowing until I feel myself slowing down and I can tell I am riding on a flat tire. I may hear a loud pop and a fast “whoosh” as all the air escapes at once or a soft, almost evil, hiss as my tire gradually goes flat. Or I may hear nothing at all and just have a soft tire. Either way it means I need to stop what I am doing, assess the situation, and take the appropriate action to refill my tire so I can get back to riding.

Bike flat largeSometimes I have just gone too long without pumping up my tires and I  need to use my CO2 cartridge and add air, other times I have hit an unexpected bump in the road or run over a small sharp object and need to patch a hole before adding air. Occasionally my inner-tube has been neglected and ruptured in multiple places and I need to completely replace it with a new one before I can add air.

We go flat in our lives when we lose our work and life balance. How you refill yourself depends on the type of leak you are experiencing. Paul Blatz, founder and president of Good Leadership Enterprises, encourages leaders to utilize his 7Fs Wheel to understand where they may be leaking energy or if they have a major rupture to repair! The seven Fs that help us stay positive and moving forward as leaders are:

  • Future
  • Fun
  • Friends
  • Fitness
  • Finances
  • Family
  • Faith (spiritual)

Over time we can get distracted by the regular demands at work and lose track of our daily choices that keep us fulfilled in all seven areas. Then we may just need to take some small actions that “refill” all seven. Other times we hit a major bump and need to focus on one area that is losing air fast. When I travel for work I tend to ignore my extended family relationships and I need to remind myself to take the time to call my mom and check-in with her.

The Seven Fs Wheel (Seven Fs Tool) is an easy tool to carry with you and use to keep yourself “pumped up” and rolling along as a leader. TT and Ellie bike

Todd Thorsgaard

Shifting sands

time exposure of waves hitting shore

“Everything was working yesterday!”

The harsh reality is that often, as soon as you understand the culture you are in and are aligned with it, it shifts! Suddenly your leadership behaviors may not work as well as they did in the past. The on-going transitions that higher education, and all industries, are experiencing leads to continual shifts in culture. Your effectiveness as a leader depends on how quickly you recognize these shifts and how you adapt your leadership style and actions.

Peter Daly and Michael Watkins, authors of the First 90 Days books, have developed a framework that can help leaders understand the shifting cultures. Their transition assessment model identifies four common situations that exist in organizations, the related cultural implications, and potential leadership actions that are aligned with the culture.

  1. Start-ups: This occurs during times of new priorities, new programs or restructuring.
    • The culture is one of confusion.
    • Key leadership actions focus on providing clarity and direction.
  2. Turnarounds: This occurs when there has been a major set-back or shake-up.
    • The culture is one of despair.
    • Key leadership actions are to provide support and hope.
  3. Realignments: This occurs when priorities are shifting or there are predictable and expected changes happening.
    • The culture is one of denial or lack of awareness.
    • Key leadership actions are to expose reality and highlight the urgency of the situation.
  4. Sustaining Success: This occurs when “things are working” and results are strong.
    • The culture can slip into complacency.
    • Key leadership actions focus on continual development, reinforcing success and active searching for new opportunities.

The sands of culture are constantly shifting and require leaders to strategically assess and respond to leverage the best of their people.

Todd Thorsgaard

Leadership is not for the faint of heart

I am very excited to share a guest post today. I heard Dr. Christina Royal, Provost/VP of Academic Affairs at Inver Hills Community College, talk about a life changing practice she has adopted. Her heartfelt story impressed me and I am confident you will also find it valuable. Thank you Christina!

zen-stone-tower_Gkt0x1PdThere is Zen proverb that states: “You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day — unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.”

Leadership in today’s world is not for the faint of heart. The problems of today are more complex, we have fewer resources in which to address the challenges, and our public accountability to our students, our communities, the State, the Federal Government, and our accreditors is at an all-time high. We are all busy, but the problem is that busyness doesn’t necessarily lead to productivity; it can actually have the opposite effect.

Mindfulness and meditation are two tools that may help reduce the busyness and create an awareness that leads to increased performance.

According to a study highlighted in the Harvard Business Review, spending time on thinking and purposeful reflection, rather than solely working, led to greater productivity. Taking just 15 minutes at the end of your day to engage in mindful thought and reflection could lead to a more productive tomorrow.

Meditation may help with sustaining focus and attention to tasks. There was a study conducted in 2012 that studied how meditation training impacted the behaviors of individuals who were multi-tasking at work and found that “those trained in meditation stayed on tasks longer and made fewer task switches, as well as reporting less negative feedback after task performance” (Wobbrock, Kaszniak, & Ostergren, 2012).

While meditation may not solve all of your problems, there is research showing how meditation positively affects the brain. If you find that the stress of your job is overwhelming, you may want to consider experimenting with mindfulness or meditation to ease anxiety and improve focus.

Christina Royal

References and Additional Resources:

Di Stefano, G., Gino, F., Pisano, G, & Staats, B. (2014, April). Learning by thinking: How reflection improves performance. Retrieved from http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/7498.html.

Gina, F., & Staats, B. (2015, April). The remedy for unproductive busyness. Harvard Business Review [online]. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2015/04/the-remedy-for-unproductive-busyness.

Headspace. (2015). How can mindfulness meditation improve your focus? Retrieved from https://www.headspace.com/science/mindfulness-meditation-focus

Levy, D., Wobbrock, J., Kaszniak, A. & Ostergren, M. (2012). The Effects of Mindfulness Meditation Training on Multitasking in a High-Stress Information Environment. Proceedings of Graphics Interface. 45-52.

MacLean, K. A., Ferrer, E., Aichele, S. R., Bridwell, D. A., Zanesco, A. P., Jacobs, T. L., Saron, C. D. (2010). Intensive Meditation Training Improves Perceptual Discrimination and Sustained Attention. Psychological Science. 21, 6. 829-839.

Walton, A. (2015, February). 7 Ways Meditation Can Actually Change the Brain. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2015/02/09/7-ways-meditation-can-actually-change-the-brain/.

Too much authenticity?

ball_and_chain_stuck_commitment_responsibility_duty_obligation_stress_struggle_bound_determination_willpower_resolve_fotolia_23966013-100410019-primary.idgeHave you heard yourself, or other leaders, saying “I was just being me,” or “this is my style” at work? Sounds like authenticity, right? However, it can also be a warning sign of TMA, Too Much Authenticity.

Professor Herminia Ibarra, author of Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader  (Harvard Business Review Press, 2015), describes the Authenticity Paradox in the January-February 2015 issue of the Harvard Business Review.* She highlights two situations that all leaders face and how holding too firm to a self-image can derail success.

Moving into a new role.

Leaders face very different challenges as they move up the leadership pipeline. The scope of issues increase, the risks and rewards are greater and performance expectations change. What worked in the past may not work as well in the new situation. Leaders can stymie the growth and flexibility needed to succeed in their new roles if they don’t try out new responses and behaviors, even if they feel different than “who I am.”

Hearing and processing negative feedback.

Successful leaders often struggle to correctly interpret negative feedback. Not only is it hard to hear it can easily be misinterpreted as a style comment. Focusing on how well a style worked in the past can cause us to dismiss valid feedback or resist trying out new behaviors. New behaviors that may be different than “my view of myself” but important to success and growth.

What to do?

Authentic leadership and being true to yourself requires us to both know who we are and to be willing to revise who we are over time. Too much authenticity can be a code for an unwillingness to try out new behaviors. Ibarra suggests that we adopt a “playful frame of mind.” Actively try new ways of doing something, ask questions differently, work on new projects and explore what you learn about yourself. Stay true to your core values but purposely challenge your view of yourself with unfamiliar action and embrace what you learn.

Todd Thorsgaard

*Jan-Feb 2015 HBR article


Don’t lose control

“It is wisdom to know others. It is enlightenment to know one’s self.” 


Anita highlighted Kevin Cashman’s first touchstone of authentic leadership – Know Ourselves Authentically  – in her post last week.* We must understand what is important to ourselves and how that influences our behavior in order to become a truly authentic leader.

When I am at my best it is pretty easy to look inward, examine my values and priorities, and make choices that support them. It gets much harder to do that when my buttons are being pushed in a conflict or when I disagree with someone. Conflict often causes us to lose control and react  in a way that doesn’t support our values. I’m not even sure I want to know myself then! Yet, these are the times that we can truly demonstrate our ability to stay authentic and make choices aligned with our values.

The five “styles” of resolving conflict identified by Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Modes Instrument, TKI, can help leaders better understand their immediate reactions when in conflict and use that awareness to stay in control of their reactions. We use this instrument in our leadership development programs at MnSCU. No style is better; we need to be able to use all of them. Having the ability to flex between styles can help us express ourselves authentically.

The five styles represent the unique value each of us place on our own point of view in a conflict and the value we place on preserving the relationship with the other person. While taking the actual assessment is best, asking yourself which style describes your default reaction in conflict can help you better understand yourself.

TKImodelTKI Modes of Conflict**

  1. Competing – Attempt to win the conflict. High value on own point of view, low value on preserving the relationship.
  2. Collaborating – Attempt to work together during conflict. High value on own point of view, high value on preserving the relationship.
  3. Compromising – Attempt to negotiate the conflict. Mid value on own point of view, mid value on preserving the relationship.
  4. Avoiding – Attempt to deflect or sidestep the conflict. Low value on own point of view, low value on preserving the relationship.
  5. Accommodating – Attempt to yield or concur during conflict. Low value on own point of view, high value on preserving the relationship.

Pausing and reflecting on how we lead during conflict can be challenging but the insight will be a powerful part of your authentic leadership journey,

Todd Thorsgaard

* How do you show up in the world?

** Kilmann Diagnostics

Leading authentically

“No one can be authentic by trying to imitate someone else. You can learn from others’ experiences, but there is no way you can be successful when you are trying to be like them. People trust you when you are genuine and authentic, not a replica of someone else.” Discovering Your Authentic Leadership. Harvard Business Review, February 2007.

I am always heartened when I review the literature on authentic leadership. It is reaffirming to remind myself that successful leaders can “be themselves.” It is also daunting because it highlights the importance of clarifying and challenging my deeply held values and expectations of myself!

During the month of April we will be focusing on Authentic Leadership: what it means, why it is important in today’s ever-changing work environment and how to “discover your own authentic leadership.”

Striving to be an authentic leader requires work and constant attention, yet it is also energizing to clarify why we do what we do and how we can do it better. This month each of us will have the opportunity to focus on our own:

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Transparency in relationships
  3. Balanced and fair interactions
  4. Purpose for actions

Leading with authenticity allows us to bring out the best in ourselves and in the people we lead.

As Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself.  Everyone else is taken.”

Todd Thorsgaard

Sparks before collaboration

Perceived slights, divergent goals, misunderstandings, arguments, different roles, unique experiences and background. A recipe for collaboration? Or for sparks and conflict? sparksSounds like a description of many of our work sites. And also perhaps a group even more familiar.

I grew up with two brothers. Yes, three boys (and a dad!) growing up and now adults. There were a lot of sparks and very little collaboration. Yet we kept talking through our conflicts and now can count on each other to work together and focus on the common good. As leaders we also need to keep talking if we want to build a collaborative work environment, despite all the sparks!

Last week at our Luoma Leadership Academy Annual Professional Development Gathering we partnered with the Conflict Resolution Center  to explore why Conflict is a Beautiful Thing. In one of our breakout sessions we learned about the Four Agreements we need to make with ourselves to keep talking even when there is conflict. (Adapted from Glenn E. Singleton & Curtis Linton, Courageous Conversations about Race: A Field Guide for Achieving Equity in Schools. 2006. pp.58-65. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.)

  1. Stay engaged – don’t give up even when it feels hopeless.
  2. Speak your truth – say what needs to be said, respectfully!
  3. Experience discomfort – be prepared for and embrace the natural divisiveness and sparks that will arise from dialogue.
  4. Expect and accept non-closure – starting the conversation is only the beginning and you need to demonstrate persistence and comfort with the uncertainty.

Pushing through the sparks of conflict can forge stronger relationships. In fact the sparks usually are a clear indicator of the passion and energy available for working on the common good. That’s why it is worth the discomfort.

Yes, who can I count on to help me get my dock out just before the lake freezes? My brothers!  IMG_2522

Todd Thorsgaard