Tag Archives: leadership journey

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

Breathe – there’s an app for that!

I was having lunch with a leader last week. We were discussing the chaotic environment and demands that leaders in higher education face today and we agreed that finding more hours in the day would be a great solution. Great idea but not very realistic, sad to say. 24-Hours-Is-not-Enough---short-long-infinity-T-Shirts

I shared that I had found some studies focusing on applying mindfulness in the work setting as a way to help with work-life balance. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a scientist and writer, has stated that “meditation is an act of sanity” in today’s world. Since we can’t create more time, mindfulness can help us be more aware in the moment and find our own equilibrium. At this point my colleague started to laugh and said, “I just found an app for that.” He has started to use Headspace , a free app for android and iOS  devices that introduces mindfulness in short bursts that are easy to try and can be done anywhere. Perfect for busy leaders. The app guides you through a series of 10 minute learning events designed to help you establish a mindfulness practice that works for you.

There are many oMorningCoffee_webptions for learning more about mindfulness. Here is a link to a number of apps. I wanted to share one example that a leader I know is using to help manage the stress and demands of leading in chaotic times.

Todd Thorsgaard



What do (did) we face in 2014?

Best of 2014, first published on January 29, 2014.
Happy New Year’s Eve! Before you set your resolutions and goals for 2015 take time to look back, reflect and learn from what happened in 2014. How did you react to change, what worked well, what didn’t work as well? What do you want to continue to do in 2015? What do you want to do differently? Through reflection leaders can grow and not just repeat experiences — Todd Thorsgaard

Successful leaders are vigilant and pay attention to factors, large and small, that will have an impact on their people and themselves. It is almost impossible to not be awafuture signsre of the key issues that exist in higher education that will be driving change over the next year. Yet as leaders it is also important to be continually scanning the entire environment and using that information to help you lead your people during change.

In conjunction with leadership consultant Sarah Bridges, we have created a Situational Awareness Worksheet that can be used to help you conduct an “environmental scan” to identify external factors that will need to be a part of your overall change leadership strategy. One factor when leading change is an awareness of the workplace culture. Each institution and each work team has its own culture but a recent article from the Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychologists provides a Top 10 List Workplace Trends for 2014 that can be used as a starting point when you scan your environment.

Trend #6, Integrating Technology into the Workplace, is one that will be very important in my work leading change over the next year. I have discovered that new technology often feels like a threat and that reaction can derail change efforts. What I view as a tech enhancement and a positive change is viewed as a condemnation of past practice and stops collaboration and change! Including that knowledge into the change plan ensures that it is not overlooked and the concerns addresses.

What trends will be most important for you as you lead change in 2014?

Todd Thorsgaard

Summer reading and building talent?

summer readingYes, it is still blistering hot here in Minnesota and finding a shaded spot for some summer reading is compelling! However, the work of leaders building talent never stops, even your own professional development. You are a key piece of your organization’s talent, yet finding time for building your own talent can be a challenge. I have some good news for you. A recent podcast by Professor James Badaracco, a Harvard Business School professor, suggests that you can develop your leadership talent while enjoying that summer reading in the shade.

Badaracco encourages leaders to embrace reading fiction, fiction that engages you, to become a better leader. Classic novels, short stories and contemporary literature all offer compelling stories that are actually “case studies” of people making decisions, working with other people, solving problems, managing conflict, building relationships, and communicating with groups large and small. All aspects of leadership. A novel I read a decade ago, The Dive From Clausen’s Pier, showed me the role perceptions play when working with people. I have developed a better understanding that each person on my team will have a different perception of my behavior, and thus of my intent.

In his podcast, Badaracco lists the following questions to ask yourself while you are reading:

  • Did they get the decisions right? 
  • Did they think about them in the right way?
  • Would you have handled them differently?
  • Why did they do what they did?

·        Overall, think about the characters as people making decisions and taking action in an organization and what can I learn from them.

Grabbing a new novel or a classic piece of literature, a cool drink and your beach towel can give you a respite from the heat and some powerful professional development on a hot summer day.

Please share with us and our followers what you have read lately and what lessons you learned.

Todd Thorsgaard

“The cobbler’s children have no shoes”

As a leader ancobblers-children-have-no-shoes-viralexplosions-comd leadership development professional, I find it so much easier to focus my efforts on the performance of others. My preference is to help those on my team, those leaders I work with directly, and our higher education system overall improve and develop! Yet, as the quote above suggests, we need to focus on our own performance and our own development. An important piece of knowing oneself, the leadership competency we are focusing on this month, is to take action, even when it feels uncomfortable.

So far this month we have talked about asking questions, using assessments and self-reflection to better understand ourselves. Self-knowledge is great, but it is just a starting point! For knowledge to improve our leadership we need to take action. Wait, you say, I take action all day! I am a busy leader responsible for a team, a department, a function, an organization. That is certainly how I feel; yet, an important part of self-knowledge is challenging ourselves to take action in spite of barriers. Some barriers are logistical and can be tackled through time-management. I believe that the barriers that inspired the quote in the title are more challenging and require a deeper self-assessment. Even asking, “What makes me uncomfortable about taking action on myself?”

For me, the answer to that question reminded me how much I value competence. This value of mine can get in my way when I need to take actions that challenge my competence and require me to risk being successful. Each of us has our own unique barriers to taking action. Yet to continue strengthening our own leadership performance we need to take that action!

My action starts tonight –  I will be moving from the front of the room to a seat in the room. I am going back to school and my first class starts tonight. It is a risk, and I am not sure how successful I will be, but I know that it is the action I need to take to continue on my leadership journey. I am sure you will hear more about what I am learning and stories that my fellow learners are sharing.

What can you do to break through a barrier, take action and “make your own shoes”?

Todd Thorsgaard