Tag Archives: Tragedy at Work

Stewardship and tragedy

scsu-rallyOne leadership competency that is always important is the ability to respond in the moment. I am going to take a quick detour from stewardship and share a powerful set of stories and images from the past week. This photo by @NickLenz captures what it means to be a leader in higher education. Students, faculty, staff, administrators and interim president Ashish Vaiyda all joined together for a rally this week in response to the stabbing incident in St. Cloud, Minnesota.

I have been proud to read the stories of how one of our schools has demonstrated true compassion in response to a tragedy and unwavering support of students and community members who are threatened because of their ethnic background. They all stepped up in a public arena and led a rally for unity. Afterwards they also hosted small group discussions.

I will let their words and pictures speak for themselves.

#StCloudUnited twitter feed

MPR News story

Bring Me the News story

St. Cloud Times story

Stillwater Patch story

KNSI radio story

Have a peaceful weekend.

Todd Thorsgaard


What can I do?

cortana-what-can-i-do-now-100261361-primary.idgeTragedy in Paris and Beirut. What can I do? Refugees with no where to go. What can I do? Homeless in America. What can I do? Climate change. What can I do?

Events worldwide seem overwhelming. Events closer to home also seem overwhelming. Jobs eliminated, programs closed, leadership decisions, health concerns and family disruption all tear at us and our hearts. What can one person do?

That question came up several times during a leadership program I was facilitating recently, what can I do as a leader when I work in a culture that doesn’t support change? What can I do if my manager disagrees with me? What can I do if the budget gets cut?

What can I do?

Steven Covey first answered that question with Habit 1 of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People –  Be Proactive and choose to respond to the realities of the world by focusing our energy and attention on what we can influence. He created an image of our circle of concerns and our circle of influence.

circle of influenceOur circle of concern contains all the realities of the world that we care about. The important parts of our lives and the world that we pay attention to and react to. Our circle of influence includes all the elements of our lives that we can actually affect through our actions. What Covey reminds us is that if we take action on the elements within our circle of influence, instead of only worrying about our concerns, we will actually be able to make a difference and our circle of influence will grow larger.

Within our circle of influence are:

  • the people we work with
  • the work we do
  • how we vote
  • where we donate our time and money
  • the actions we take at work
  • how we communicate and who we communicate with
  • the decisions we make
  • where we spend our time

A co-worker and I were sharing our concern over the Syrian refugee crisis and she mentioned that she had contacted a neighborhood group that was working on sponsoring a refugee family. A small action but one that will make a difference!

In higher education we are quite concerned over how prepared new students are for post-secondary courses and on the decreasing economic support for public higher education. Recently Chancellor Steven Rosenstone challenged us to focus on our circle of influence and consider volunteering to be a tutor in a public K-12 school or to donate one hour of our salary to a scholarship fund at a foundation. Those are examples of taking action within our circle of influence!

As a leader, what is in your circle of concern and how can you take action within your circle of influence to make a difference?

Todd Thorsgaard


Leading when things are hard

This is the second time since we started this blog last November that I’ve been staring at a blank screen and trying to figure out what to say about leadership when the world is a hard place.  By the time you read this we’ll know more, but right now all I know is that someone in Boston, for whatever reason, decided to cause tragedy in the midst of a celebration.

I don’t even know what to think about it.  Frankly, my mind is just tired.  This could be because we in Minnesota are in the midst of the-spring-that-wouldn’t-come and were already feeling grumpy about life in general.  But it’s also because I’m just sad.  My college-age daughter asked me after hearing about the marathon bombings if the world was getting worse, or if she was just getting older and noticing more.  I didn’t have an answer.

Then I remembered a TED talk by Harvard’s Rosabeth Moss Kanter in which she talked about leadership skills for making the world a better place.  Listening to her advice helped.  She proposed six leadership actions that we can all take to keep things moving in a positive direction.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s Six Leadership Skills

Show up: be present and engaged
– How can you make a difference?

Speak up: use the power of voice
– What is the problem and how can you help shape the agenda?

Look up: focus on vision and values
– What bigger issues do you stand for?

Team up: create partnerships
– How can we align our mutual efforts?

Never give up: everything can look like a failure in the middle
– How can you create success, even if it wasn’t the one you were looking for?

Life others up: share success and give back
– How can you help other people feel elevated?

Instead of sitting around and being sad, I’m going to pick one of these actions and do something useful.  Maybe you can do the same.

Dee Anne Bonebright

When tragedy happens

I remember exactly where I was on September 11, 2001.  Like many of you, I was at home preparing for work.  The first phone call told me to turn on the TV to see what was happening.  The second phone call was from a trainer who was facilitating a session for a leadership development program I managed.  He wanted to know what to tell the participants.  Should he stop the program and make an announcement?  Should he continue with business as usual? How could he possibly explain what was going on?

Friday’s events in Connecticut made me think of that event.  As leaders, when national tragedies occur we face not only our own feelings but also those of our staff and colleagues.  Unlike 2011, news now arrives in bits and pieces over social media, and people want to share information, trying to make sense of events.

I found an interesting article at About.com that has several useful suggestions for leaders for dealing with national or local tragedies. The author, Susan Heathfield, included these tips:

  1. First, if the event is happening near you, make sure your people are safe.  It’s a hard conversation, but every workplace should have disaster plans in place. As a leader, it’s important that you help people know what to do before a dangerous event occurs.
  2. Don’t expect business as usual.  Recognize that people will need to talk and will be distracted. It is not the time to stress tasks and deadlines.
  3. Provide information.  If possible, allow people to check the internet or listen to the radio. During the September 11 attacks, we set up a TV in a conference room and allowed people to go in and out during the day to follow news events.
  4. This leads to another useful tip – provide ways for people to gather and talk. The article suggested calling a meeting or having a group lunch in the following days so people can encourage each other.

As leaders in higher education, tragic events in one school affect us all.  In addition, we may face local tragedies in our communities or workplaces. How we handle these events can influence the workplace well into the future. Considering how you might handle them and identifying resources to help you can help you be more prepared when the time comes.

Dee Anne Bonebright