Best of HigherEDge, first published on February 7, 2014
Ron Heifetz’s concept of viewing organizations “from the balcony” frequently comes up in our leadership development programs. It’s been helpful to me as a reminder to keep my eye on the big picture. Bonus: Todd Thorsgaard provided another view of this concept in this post from November 2015.
Dee Anne Bonebright
One of the first elements in leading change is to assess the current state. When we’re busy leading day-to-day efforts, it can be easy to lose the sense of the big picture. We can forget to take time to think about where we are now, and where we want to go.
Ron Heifetz is one of my favorite authors on change. His concept of “getting on the balcony” has been useful to me and to participants in our leadership development programs. Here’s how he describes it in his book Leadership Without Easy Answers.
Rather than maintain perspective on the events that surround and involve us, we often get swept up by them. Consider the experience of dancing on a dance floor in contrast with standing on a balcony and watching other people dance. Engaged in the dance, it is nearly impossible to get a sense of the patterns made by everyone on the floor. Motion makes observation difficult. Indeed, we often get carried away by the dance. Our attention is captured by the music, our partner, and the need to sense the dancing space of others nearby to stay off their toes. To discern the larger patterns on the dance floor – to see who is dancing with whom, in what groups, in what location, and who is sitting out which kind of dance – we have to stop and get to the balcony.
What helps you to step back occasionally and take a look from the balcony?
Dee Anne Bonebright
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)
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?
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
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.
Posted in build organizational talent, building teams, Developing Capacity, Leadership, Strategic leadership
Tagged asking questions, Leadership, leadership development, organizational culture, questions, self reflection, transparency, values, vision
A leader at one of our schools remarked that when done right, performance reviews can be energizing and uplifting but when done wrong they are demoralizing. It appears that the latter is what is happening in most organizations. David Ulrich, the Rensis Likert Professor of Business at the University of Michigan and the “Godfather of HR” just published an article in the latest issue of Talent Quarterly titled “Resolving the Performance Management Paradox.” He cites that 90% of HR professionals are unhappy with their review system, only 14% of CEOs believe that the review system is working and only 8% of HR executives believe that performance management makes a contribution to the success of the organization. Yet, he also cites a long history of studies that clearly indicate that accountability makes a difference. In fact one study identified that just the presence of a performance review system is the greatest predictor of success for hospitals. What can a leader do?
Ulrich recommends that regardless of the process or forms used, leaders embrace conversations: conversations focused on what he calls “positive accountability,” conversations emphasizing learning and improvement opportunities rather than evaluating what went wrong, and conversations primarily focused on the future rather than the past. He suggests that leaders look for opportunities to engage in “real time” conversations that are ongoing and revolve around work events (projects, semester start or finish, work cycle periods, annual milestones, etc.) Leaders should focus on asking questions to discover how employees can sustain success and prepare for the future and help their people look forward to apply what they have learned and address new opportunities or challenges that arise.
A simple conversational model for leaders to use with their performance review process includes the following three steps:
- Know Yourself – ask about and discuss each person’s strengths, weaknesses, passions and interests.
- Action for Growth – ideas and concrete action to leverage individual strengths and interests to support success and on-going development.
- My Value – dialogue focused on the value that each employee provides to the work unit, institution, students, stakeholders or overall organization.
By focusing less on the process and more on the conversation we can make performance reviews a more uplifting experience.
Posted in Accountability, build organizational talent, communication, higher education, Motivation, performance management, talent management
Tagged accountability, asking questions, assessments, career development, communication, engagement, evaluation, feedback, leadership development, paradox, self reflection, talent management
The harsh reality is that small actions can send leaders down the slippery slope that destroys personal and professional integrity! Barbara Killinger, in her book, Integrity:Doing the Right Thing for the Right Reason says, “Integrity is built one small step at a time, yet it can slip away seemingly overnight. The popular expression: “Don’t sweat the small stuff”….. is bad advice.”
Killinger highlights that the small stuff includes choices leaders personally make on a day-to-day basis, including:
- Choosing to use appropriate ways to express frustration or anger when perceiving an injustice
- Choosing to be reliable and predictable as a leader
- Choosing to be loyal to our people and their lives
- Choosing to listen carefully to all points of view, particularly dissenting ideas
- Choosing to be well informed
- Choosing to learn from mistakes, both their own and others
She reminds leaders that the intensity and pressure of performing at a high level and needing to respond to the enormous challenges in higher education can encourage or nudge small but consequential choices that actually destroy integrity.
To safeguard yourself , a deep breath is required and a purposeful choice, even in the small stuff.
My daughter and I enjoy skiing tricky terrain when we visit the upper peninsula in Michigan. We’ve found that black diamond trails can be exhilarating, but they can also be dangerous. As with the small choices leaders make every day, we make purposeful choices to avoid falling down a slippery slope!
Integrity matters, in biking and in leadership!
When carbon fiber bike frames were first introduced there were examples of “massive failures” as the frames shattered at high speed or when under pressure. That led to ugly crashes. The challenge was that the frames looked good from the outside yet they lacked internal structural integrity.
Same with leadership. Successful leaders must possess integrity along with their strong skills, competence and experience. In fact, it is their internal integrity, often hard to see at first, that keeps them successful during times of high demands and stress!
John Sporleder, Founder and President of Sporleder Human Capital, describes integrity as the unseen foundation that effective leadership is built upon. In an article titled “Leadership in the Workplace:The Importance of Integrity” he lists three crucial attributes that leaders with integrity possess:
- Stability: the ability to remain steadfast and true to your values despite the turmoil and volatility in the workplace or culture.
- Safety: a willingness to trust people and give them the benefit of the doubt when they try their own ideas. An expectation of openness and honesty.
- Reference: serving as a role model and example for others. Holding oneself to a standard of integrity for others to follow.
And yes, I now have a carbon fiber bike.
Internal integrity is not always flashy but it is powerful!