I was recently discussing a large-scale project with some of its leaders. As they looked back on the effort, they agreed that one of the key problems was promising too much, too quickly.
Without carefully talking to the people on the ground, institutional leadership made public statements about how much better the system was going to work, and how quickly it would happen. The system didn’t live up to expectations. We’ve all seen that same thing. For a variety of reasons, leaders often promise more than their staff can deliver.
When we think about the leadership competency of delivering on one’s promises, it’s easy to think about the personal side. As a leader, I try hard to do what I said I was going to do. But sometimes I am making promises for my unit or project team. With the best intentions, I can estimate timelines, costs, and outcomes that end up not being met.
Making the best guess when all the data isn’t available means that we will sometimes be wrong about our predictions. When that happens it’s important to own the mistake and review it to avoid the same thing in the future.
At the same time, we can try to be realistic about the expectations we set. Change is hard, and new systems rarely work perfectly the minute the switch is flipped. Helping people have a realistic picture of what to expect can make the effort more successful in the long run.
You have gathered input, asked questions, mulled options and finally reached a tough decision and then you hear “How did you reach that decision!” And it is an accusation not a question. In fact it actually feels like a challenge to your integrity as a leader. Luckily a close examination will usually reveal not a lack of integrity but a lack of transparency on the decision-making process you used.
Writer John Cutler highlights this point in his article “Decision Making Transparency.” People on your team want to know how you are making the decision and how they will be involved. It is crucial that you communicate this information with your team before, during and after decisions. Cutler recommends that you ask yourself the following:
Who makes the actual decision?
Who will be impacted by the decision?
What criteria are being used to make the decision? Factors, budget, timing, scope, requirements, regulations, etc.?
What are we attempting to maximize, minimize, improve, reduce, develop, or achieve?
How will we involve others in the improvement of decision-making?
Answering these questions and sharing the information will help ensure that your decision-making actions are transparent and demonstrate integrity.
Last week when I was preparing to meet with one of our university leaders, I noticed that her email to me had an interesting tagline. At the end of her email signature and institution’s mission, she had added a postscript. It read:
PS: “Please forward this email to those I may have inadvertently missed. Anyone who needs this information is welcome to being in the loop. Let me know who I missed so I can add them to future correspondence. Radical transparency is a fundamental practice I choose to follow.”
Wow! After reading it, I began to think about how her message not only communicated that she was committed to transparency, but was a declaration of her values AND a demonstration of integrity. Many leaders say they practice transparency in their communications, but few go to lengths of demonstrating it in this way.
At the end of our meeting, I asked her about the postscript in her email and remarked on its uniqueness. She affirmed that this practice has built trust among her teams. (I have to add that it is just one of the many things she does to create a productive work environment on her campus.)
As we were talking, she remarked that anyone who doesn’t think that their emails are completely public is fooling themselves. Everything we communicate online is open to sharing and can circle the globe quickly.
The phrase radical transparency makes me smile, in that it communicates transparency to the extreme. Simply defined, radical transparency includes actions and approaches that radically increase the openness of organizational process and information.
In that one postscript, this leader clearly demonstrates her integrity with every email message. What practices do you employ that demonstrate integrity?
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:
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.
It takes more than saying the right things to be a transformational leader; you have to do the right things! And that takes work.
Through their work transformational leaders demonstrate Idealized Influence, the first of the 4 I’s that Anita described in her post on Monday. Just like the lead biker in a team time trial, they don’t just have a powerful message or good ideas. They lead by example. They are the type of leader who isn’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and work along side you.
In fact, through their actions they become such a positive role model that people are inspired to follow. The following actions or behaviors are often listed when people describe a transformational leader. They:
Walk the talk
Would never ask you to do something they wouldn’t do
Stay true to their values without worrying about outside opinions
Spread enthusiasm and integrity
Provide real-life examples through their actions
Take personal risks when it is the right thing to do
Inspire through action
Becoming a more transformational leader is a lot of work, but the trust and engagement you build can set the stage for success.
As a kid the start of a new school year was both exciting and a little unnerving. A chance to build on what you did last year and a chance to make a fresh start!
Similarly, when you are a new leader or an experienced leader each day is a new start. A chance to build on your experience and the opportunity to make a fresh leadership start.
Amy Jen Su, author and co-founder of the executive coaching and leadership development firm Paravis Partners, encourages leaders to “step back and think about your leadership presence and if you are thinking, saying, and showing up as you most hope to and intend.” In her Harvard Business review article she highlights four key fresh start actions for both new and experienced leaders.
Set or update a leadership values-based goal. Your people pay great attention to what you do and how you do it. Having an aspirational other-directed goal to guide your daily decisions and actions will directly impact the perceptions your team has of you and will strengthen your relationships at work.
Continue to develop and increase your emotional intelligence and situational awareness. Leaders get work done through others and everyone on your team is different and every situation is different. Different motivations, different perspectives, different backgrounds, different experiences, and on and on. You need to be agile and adaptive. A starting point is to ask yourself the following questions before important interactions:
Who is the other person or audience?
What might their (not yours) perspective on this topic be?
How are they best motivated or what is most important to them?
What is unique about this situation, what variables are important here and now?
What are the optimal outcomes in this situation, for these specific players, for our team, for our organization?
Be clear and direct, with respect. Leadership is build on two-way dialogue and trust. Leaders need to be clear and open to other perspectives – at the same time.
Know what you think and what is important to you – what are your convictions.
Ask, listen and acknowledge – provide space and acceptance of other points of view.
Share the WHY – include context, connection to personal and organizational priorities, and alignment.
Be a stable and grounded presence in the face of change, stress, or difficult news. People need to feel safe bringing you news, even bad news. Otherwise you will end up in a vacuum with no information and no ability to make a difference. In addition, your team will look to you and mimic how you react to stress and changes. It is important to be genuine but prepared to demonstrate your leadership presence, even in tough times.
Fresh starts are exciting and a little scary. They give us an opportunity to reflect, build on what has worked and try something new.
When you start a new job there are two transitions in play. As a new leader you have to fly your new plane and you have to rebuild the team of people you inherit. You are going through a major transition – and so are they! They have lost a leader and they need to figure out who you are. You also need to figure out how to work with them. And you don’t have time to land the plane while you both adjust.
Get to know each other – In our leadership programs at Minnesota State we highlight the importance of personal relationships and trust for effective leadership. Leaders lead through influence and relationship building, not power and control. You need to know who your people are and they need to know who you are.
Show what you stand for – Communicate and demonstrate your vision and values. Your people are not only listening to you, they are watching you. What you say and how you act clarifies what your priorities are and how you define success. Be intentional and clear with your words and actions.
Explain “how” you want the team to work – Don’t assume your norms are their norms. Work together to clarify expectations and processes. Make sure no one is surprised or confused about how to be successful.
Set or clarify goals – Based on what you learn from your boss, your assessment of the situation and what your team tells you take time to explicitly clarify what the goals are for the team. Goals change but you and your team need a common understanding of your current goals and how you will assess progress.
Communicate, communicate, communicate – While it is always true, as a new leader it is vital to interact with your people. Don’t rely on an open door, set up interactions. Schedule 1-1’s, don’t cancel staff meetings, manage by walking around, actually “job-shadow” your people, send emails, share progress reports and just say hi! You only get to be a new leader for a short time so take advantage of your opportunity to build strong relationships and open communication channels.
Solve a problem, remove a barrier, score an “early win” – Most teams have come to accept “the way things are” but as a new leader you can listen to their frustrations and take action to solve a problem and demonstrate that you are listening and able to make a difference.
The pressure to deliver results – fast – can backfire and end up looking like the proverbial bull in the china shop. Making a lot of noise, causing a lot of action but not demonstrating your ability to lead and succeed.
To avoid a crash, Daly and Watson describe five crucial subjects or themes that new leaders need to understand before they charge forward. This will require structured on-going dialogue with your boss that they call “the five conversations:”
The Situation Conversation – discover how your boss perceives the current standing or status of the overall organization and your unit. Your goal is to ensure a shared understanding of the challenges and opportunities you face.
The Expectations Conversation – define, clarify, and perhaps, negotiate what success looks like for you in your new job.
The Style Conversation – discuss and determine how the relationship with your new boss will work. How do you each prefer to communicate, what boundaries exist, how are decisions made, and how frequent do you need to interact to ensure trust and success.
The Resources Conversation – determine what resources are available, what you believe you need, confirm how resources are allocated and begin negotiating to ensure access to critical resources.
The Personal Development Conversation – mutually identify opportunities and expectations for continual development to ensure success in your current and future roles in the organization.
In reality these will not be distinct one-time conversations but they are a framework to help new leaders strategically approach the transition to a new role. This is a time that it is “all about you!”
“That’s crazy,” “I could never do it that way,” You’re wrong,” “No, listen to me!”
Are you hearing statements like these at work? When new ideas are introduced are you seeing battle lines drawn? How do you lead for the common good when it seems like your people have completely different goals in mind?
Well, not to ignore how hard it is but the place to start is with dialogue. Which means helping people actually listen to each other, even if they disagree with what the other person is saying. Your goal is to help people move from:
persuading or telling
focusing on differences
talking at each other
All of which lead to frustration, lack of trust and either/or thinking.
And move to:
talking with each other
looking at options
That requires finding some sort of common or shared interests as a starting point for dialogue. Instead of focusing on the dangers of the other point of view and highlighting the positive of their own point of view, help people work on specific issues by looking deeper and identifying underlying values, goals, and concerns that both sides share.
We encourage the leaders we work with to ask these two straightforward questions to build trust and identify shared interests.
What do we all want?
We do we all fear or want to avoid?
It will take work to keep people from focusing on their initial points of view and look at the bigger picture, but facilitating this conversation will help you and your people find a common good you can all agree on, and that is a great starting point!
Leading for the common good isn’t peaceful. Agreement isn’t the goal. Paraphrasing writer Walter Lippmann, “when we all think alike, no one thinks very much.” To work together for the common good a leader needs to be prepared for conflict and embrace conflict.
Liane Davey, author of You First: Inspire Your Team to Grow Up, Get Along, and get Stuff Done, reminds us that for teams to be effective and work together they need to experience tension and disagreement, wrestle with it, push back, open up, share, listen and only then move forward. It’s not a quiet process and not what we often think of as good leadership. But think about the best teams you have worked on. Was it acceptable to have a different opinion? To raise a concern? Or to even get a little worked up about the problem you were addressing? I bet it was!
If you are willing to dive into the messiness of collaboration and conflict as a necessary element of moving towards a common good, Davey recently shared three ideas that leaders can use to help their teams embrace “productive conflict.”
Define, discuss and understand the different roles and agendas of each person on the team. Take the time to ensure that everyone understands that each person has an agenda based on their role and that each agenda is different. Not better or worse but different. And that it is normal for the different agendas to lead to conflict that is not personal but necessary to reach the best solution in the end. Make it OK to disagree based on their unique roles and responsibilities.
Pay attention to style differences between team members. Use a tool or a facilitated discussion to clarify the different approaches team members use to learn, take in information, communicate, make decisions, or do tasks. Ensure that each style is described in a positive way and highlight the value that each style brings to the team. Finally, highlight how it is natural for conflict to arise due to style differences and that you expect people to leverage their styles to facilitate collaboration, even if it gets uncomfortable.
Set ground rules on acceptable dissension. Have an open conversation and identify what behaviors lead to conflict that improves how the team functions and what behaviors actually destroy trust and teamwork. Describe what is acceptable and what is not acceptable and the process the team will use to hold each other accountable.
As nice as peace and calm can be, leadership is a lot messier and noisier – and that’s OK!