I spent most of this week at the Luoma Leadership Academy, a year-long program in which about 60 leaders at Minnesota State have been learning about leadership and putting it into practice with action learning projects.
At the graduation program, Senior Vice Chancellor Ron Anderson spoke about the importance of developing ourselves as leaders. I appreciated his thoughts about the importance of development, even when it’s hard.
First, he talked about becoming comfortable living in the “murky space” of continuous change. He challenged us to stand up, step out of our comfort zones, and engage in what we could do, not just what we are doing. Increasing our comfort with change, from a work and personal standpoint, enables us to better serve our students, institutions, and the system.
He also challenged us to become comfortable with failure. As we push ourselves and our institutions into new places, we will try some things that don’t work. He reminded us that failure isn’t bad, and it doesn’t mean we’re bad leaders. As long as we learn from it, failure is part of the development process.
As Vice Chancellor Anderson pointed out, we in higher ed are less likely than some other industries to support the idea of “fail early and often.” Developing ourselves as leaders for the future will mean moving into that space and trying new things, even if we aren’t sure whether it will work as planned.
Putting ourselves into places that may be uncomfortable, and stretching our boundaries, is a key component to our work as leaders. What uncomfortable challenge have you taken on recently?
Dee Anne Bonebright
I love that I know what to expect on the 4th of July. Fireworks on Sand Island (photo from 2007); sparklers; food that is red, white and blue; mosquitoes; family fun, and ooohs and ahhhs! Yup, I can count on it!
Research shows that we also need clear expectations at work. The authors of a recent study by Gallup stated, “Even if employees feel energized and motivated, those who lack clear expectations and spend too much time working on the wrong things can’t advance key initiatives to create value for an organization.”
Based on Gallup’s decades of research and information from over 31 million employees they recommend the following four best practices for leaders to set effective expectations:
- Develop them collaboratively. Effective expectations need to include both the leader’s strategic perspective and the employee’s awareness of the day-to-day realities of the work.
- Articulate them clearly. Minimize confusion and uncertainty and maximize focus with clear and understandable language.
- Focus on excellence. Work together to identify “best-in-class” opportunities and expectations that inspire.
- Individualize to strengths. Identify and leverage the unique talents, interests and skills of each person related to their specific role and expectations.
Help build your people and your talent by setting clear expectations.
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
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
Sorry. I just added that title so you’d open this post. Actually, the more experience I have as a leader and the more I hear other people’s stories, the less I think there are any easy answers for work-life balance.
A popular post from Inside Higher Ed, titled “It’s 4:30 in the morning, do you know where your work-life balance is?” recounts the daily experiences of a wife, mother, and tenure-track faculty member. She says that her life can be crazy, and while she hasn’t found balance, she has found fulfillment in both home and career.
On the other hand, this report in the Wall Street Journal, written about a year after the death of her husband, explains how “Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg rethinks part of ‘lean in’.” Raising two teens by herself, and dealing with grief in public, have given her a new view of work and life. As she says, it’s really hard. Sometimes things change and Option A is no longer available. So what will you do with Option B?
If you are a faculty member of color, or a female in a male-dominated field, things get even more challenging. An article from Inside Higher Ed describes the stress and frustration that may result from being the only minority in a predominantly white institution. The author gives some suggestions for dealing with this stress. While they won’t promote work-life balance in a few easy steps, they are good advice for anyone:
- Find some mentors
- Work efficiently and manage time well
- Find and use wellness resources
- Separate work time and personal time
- Build your professional brand and credentials
As leaders, there is no single policy or procedure we can enact that will ensure work-life balance for ourselves and our team members. Maybe that’s not even the right goal. The common theme to these stories is about figuring how to thrive wherever our live and career journeys take us.
Dee Anne Bonebright
William Bridges’ Managing Transitions is a leadership classic. Todd talked about the highlights in this post from a couple of years ago. As you may recall, Bridges proposed that every transition has three stages, each of which requires particular leadership actions.
- Ending, losing, and letting go
- Neutral zone
- New beginning
The Change Factory group created a useful set of checklists for leaders at each stage. It includes questions such as:
- Am I giving people accurate information, again and again?
- Have I said thank you to everyone who contributed in the past?
- Have I made sure that realistic feedback is flowing upward?
- Am I pushing for certainty where it would be more realistic to live a little longer with uncertainty?
- Am I being careful not to introduce extra, unrelated changes?
As you can see, these questions require some thought and reflection. When we’re in the middle of major change (which might feel like most of the time), it can be hard to take the time to reflect and plan. The checklists can provide useful reminders. For those who want extra discipline, they are a great starting point for writing in a leadership journal.
Think of a major transition you’re experiencing. Which stage do you think you’re in? Is there a question from the checklist that was particularly useful?
Dee Anne Bonebright
Since I work in the Wells Fargo Place building, I’ve been interested in their recent ethical problems. A business professor from Wharton recently published an article about the issue. He looked at similar violations in the finance industry, as well as the Volkswagen scandal, and concluded that actions by leadership can normalize what would otherwise be seen as dishonest.
For example, it appears that over 5,300 employees at Wells Fargo were involved in creating unauthorized accounts and charging unauthorized fees against them. Equally troubling, the HR unit had a plan for firing employees who reported the unethical behavior. And because of the widespread misbehavior, authorities are now having a hard time holding people accountable.
We in higher education are not responsible for people’s finances, but as leaders we make decisions that impact hiring, work roles, and many aspects of the campus climate. We can normalize decisions that are ethical, civil, and respectful to everyone. Over the past year I’ve been learning a lot about unconscious bias in hiring and employment, and how some things we consider “normal” are putting some people at a disadvantage without our realizing it. I need to examine my leadership decisions to be sure they support the climate we want to create.
What kind of decisions do you make in your leadership role? How can you be sure they are promoting ethical behavior in others?
Dee Anne Bonebright