Tag Archives: values

Communicate to accelerate!

Accelerate-455x687“Great communication – no matter the topic – always connects with people’s feelings and with what they find meaningful.”

John Kotter from his latest book, Accelerate: XLR8

Can you remember projects that you “got to” work on compared to projects that you “had to” work on. The feeling of energy and the opportunity to do work that made a difference. I recently listened to one of our state university presidents talk about the amazing and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity we have to contribute to transforming higher education. All of us felt the emotion in his message and it resonated with meaning for each of us.

In his latest book, XLR8, John Kotter shares ideas to help leaders communicate in a way that creates this type of “get-to” mindset. Communication that “captures people’s attention in a way that almost compels” them to engage in their work with messages that describe both the urgency and the opportunity to make a difference in a meaningful way.

A starting point for leaders is to focus and align people’s energy and enthusiasm using what Kotter calls “Big Opportunity” statements. These statements must include both emotion and reason. At Minnesota State Colleges and Universities we have an opportunity in front of us that is described in the following statement:

Charting the Future is a strategic effort to help change how we work and encourage collaboration among MnSCU institutions to better prepare our students for success and achieving a more prosperous Minnesota. We are imagining a better world for our students, our colleges and universities, and our communities across the state.

Creating “Big Opportunity” statements that are realistic, emotionally compelling and memorable can help you connect with both your people’s heads and hearts.  “Big opportunity” statements are:

  • Short:  Less than one page so they are easy to share and can reach more people.
  • Rational: They need to make sense in the current reality so they are not dismissed immediately.
  • Emotionally Compelling: Speak to the hearts of all relevant audiences.
  • Positive: Focus on the opportunity and what “burning desire” people have to make a difference.
  • Authentic: It feels real, is believed in by you and demonstrates your level of excitement.
  • Clear: Provide clarity and focus.
  • Aligned: Supports or is consistent with existing mission or vision statements.

Leaders who are able to communicate with their heart and heads can unlock the potential and passion of the people they lead.

Todd Thorsgaard

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A slippery slope!

Black-diamond-slope-300x210The 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:

  1. Choosing to use appropriate ways to express frustration or anger when perceiving an injustice
  2. Choosing to be reliable and predictable as a leader
  3. Choosing to be loyal to our people and their lives
  4. Choosing to listen carefully to all points of view, particularly dissenting ideas
  5. Choosing to be well informed
  6. 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.

LutsenMy 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!

Todd Thorsgaard

 

 

 

 

The intersection of integrity and pride

by guest blogger Leslie Bleskachek

cslewis700208The author C.S. Lewis is credited as saying “integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching.” This suggests we have an internal moral compass, a sense of purpose and pride in what we are doing. As educational professionals, we all take pride in what we do, and take pride in doing it well. But it’s important to remember that our pride can also have a dark side.

Pride can go too far. Sometimes, if we want to be in the spotlight, pride can keep us from giving public credit for a teammate’s great work. Or, perhaps we want to hide from scrutiny. As Marvin Williams said “there is no better test of a man’s integrity than his behavior when he is wrong.” Pride can get in the way if we are too proud to admit we’ve made a mistake. We might try and cover it up, or blame others to move the sense of shame from ourselves. Our Leadership Competencies remind us that to be a person of integrity, we must keep in mind where integrity and pride intersect. At our best, our integrity shows when we take pride in good work, are honest and law-abiding, delivering what we promised. But we also have to set aside our pride, admit when we make a mistake, correct it, and learn from it.

Perhaps it’s time to update that old saying, with apologies to C. S. Lewis. After all, integrity is doing the right thing when no one is watching. . . and also when everyone is watching.

Leslie Bleskachek

Leslie is the Vice President Academic Affairs at Minnesota State College – Southeast Technical which has campuses in Winona and Red Wing, Minnesota. She is currently participating in the yearlong MnSCU Executive Leader Development Program. During the last seminar leadership integrity was discussed and Leslie asked to share her insights with the readers of Higher EDge.

 

Carbon fiber and integrity

bike crashIntegrity 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 Integrityhe lists three crucial attributes that leaders with integrity possess:

  1. Stability: the ability to remain steadfast and true to your values despite the turmoil and volatility in the workplace or culture.
  2. 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.
  3. Reference: serving as a role model and example for others. Holding oneself to a standard of integrity for others to follow.

Felt bikeAnd yes, I now have a carbon fiber bike.

Internal integrity is not always flashy but it is powerful!

Todd Thorsgaard

Know your why!

golden circle“It all starts with clarity. You have to know WHY you do WHAT you do… people don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it, so it follows that if you don’t know WHY you do WHAT you do, how will anyone else?”  – Simon Sinek, Start With Why

Do you follow what Simon says in the quote above? It’s actually pretty powerful stuff! Knowing why we do what we do is critical to inspire others and have them willingly follow our leadership. Last week we held our second executive leader development seminar for aspiring presidents in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities. One of the assignments was for participants was to deliver a very brief 200-300 word inaugural speech that communicated the value of their institution and most importantly helped people understand their “why.”

Several of the participants delivered their speeches to the entire cohort and it was awe-inspiring to hear their “why.” They told personal stories about their own experiences and relayed how college had changed their lives in truly amazing ways. Their stories were from the heart and compelled the listeners to want to follow them as leaders.

Let me tell you about my “why.”

When I was about 6 years old, I remember sitting with my dad in the living room. We were watching Richard Nixon on a small, snowy, black and white TV screen. It was just before the 1968 presidential election and Nixon was holding a TV conference. While we were sitting there, my dad turned to me and said, “Wow, you’re growing up so fast!  Before you know it, you’ll be going to college.”

That one statement had a profound impact on my life. It became a matter of fact…an expectation that I would go to college. I’m not sure that I knew exactly what college was at 6 years old.  But I knew it was important! I knew it was something that my dad expected of me.

As I grew older, I learned that my parents faced barriers that prevented them from going to college. In fact, my mother had received a full scholarship to attend Hamline University, but couldn’t attend. She needed to work to support herself right out of high school. So as the oldest of 5 kids in our family, I felt very much a pioneer as I marched off to St. Olaf College after high school.

While my dad may not remember that comment he made in our small living room in 1968….I do.  It has laid the foundation for two core values I hold dear:

  1. Education has the power to transform our lives
  2. Seeing possibilities for growth in others and encouraging them is a gift we give to our children, to our students, to our colleagues, and to our employees.

My work in supporting the development of leaders in our colleges and universities springs directly from these values. It gives me the deepest satisfaction, because what I do every day supports my “why.”

Have you thought about your “why” recently? If not, I encourage you to do that. Why is it that you do what you do? If you have thought about it, have you told others about your “why?” If not, do that too! It will reconfirm your own commitment to the values that drive what you do each day. And, you might be surprised at how it inspires others.

Anita Rios

Who are you?

broken mirror“That’s not me!”

I recently spent a week in the hospital recovering from surgery and those were my words when I looked in the mirror and saw how others were seeing me. A sick person in a hospital gown and connected to an IV! Yet after a few days that is how I started to feel and act.

Steven Covey calls this the social mirror.  In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, he says,  “If the only vision we have of ourselves comes from the social mirror, our view of ourselves is like the reflection in the crazy mirror room at the carnival.”  As leaders we can lose track of who we really are when we rely on our social mirror. Instead of truly understanding ourselves we limit ourselves to an incomplete or inaccurate understanding.

To truly understand ourselves requires purposeful inner reflection along with listening to what others say. It starts by asking yourself the following questions:

  1. What do I truly believe about leadership?
  2. Where won’t I compromise as a leader?
  3. What is most important to me as a leader?
  4. How do I want others to describe me as a leader?
  5. What do I value most in myself?
  6. What concerns or fears do I need to acknowledge as a leader?
  7. How can I make the biggest difference as a leader?
  8. Where do I need to flex or adjust as a leader to help others succeed?

Taking the time to answer these types of questions is the first step to understanding who you are as a leader and becoming the leader you want to be!

I asked myself a few similar questions in the hospital and my answers reminded me that I am a healthy, active and competitive person – and I made sure that I got out of bed and moving around, even connected to my IV, each day!

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

 

Lash yourself to the mast!

storm at seaEmails hit you like waves, crises tear at your sails, institutions rise and fall with each swell and you are responsible for your crew! Leadership challenges are as powerful as a storm at sea. Luckily your leadership vision is a mast you can lash yourself to like Ulysses did when approaching the Sirens.

Stewart D. Friedman, professor at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, the founding director of the Wharton Leadership Program, author and creator of Total Leadership, describes personal leadership vision as “an essential means for focusing attention on what matters most; what you want to accomplish in your life and what kind of leader you wish to be.” A clear leadership vision is essential for success in today’s volatile, uncertain and chaotic sea of work.

Friedman describes four crucial elements of a leadership vision and encourages leaders to the work required to identify and develop:

  1. A compelling story of the future that will engage people. What in the future captures your heart and will encourage others to join?
  2. An image of the future. What do you see in the future? What will it actually look like and how will others see themselves in the future?
  3. An achievable but challenging view of the future. A realistic enough vision that it won’t be dismissed out of hand and will motivate people to work with you.
  4. A forward focus. A vision of the future that compels action today to get there.

To learn more about creating your vision you can read this article or watch this video.

Holding on to a powerful vision can help you survive the storms of leadership and stay focused on how to make a significant difference at your institution and with your people.

Todd Thorsgaard

The view from the balcony

overcome-fear-of-heightsThe changes that are required for our organizations to succeed and thrive will disturb our comfortable view of work. Successful leaders must not only manage that feeling of disequilibrium, but make it productive. Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow and Marty Linksy label this Adaptive Leadership.

Adaptive leaders tackle the real issues we all face, while pushing people to look at the world differently. I just experienced a powerful example of adaptive leadership when Steven Rosenstone, the chancellor of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, challenged a group of leaders to “…ask ourselves hard questions: Can we really succeed doing things the way we are now, and what do I need to do differently?” That was a scary question but it made me, and all of us, closely examine what is important to us and to our students! And what are we willing to do about it? Will we step into the disequilibrium of real change and make a difference?

Heifetz highlights that leaders must be able to manage their own reactions and those of their team during these unsettled times. A metaphor that he uses is to “get off the swirl of the dance floor and get onto the balcony.” Intentionally stepping back from the chaos of a situation and observing it from a distance can help leaders see patterns, underlying issues, connections, and unexpected opportunities. The view from the balcony also allows leaders to recognize their own fears and beliefs about the situation and not allow them to cloud their interpretation of the events.

Adaptive leadership is all about connecting first with your own values, beliefs and fears and then connecting with the values, beliefs and fears of your people while asking them to take on the tough challenges we face in making a real difference. That is deeply personal work.

Todd Thorsgaard

 

 

Inspiration and culture

By guest blogger John Kearns

Leaders in higher education lead by fiat at their own peril. So when they want to shape the culture of an organization such as a college or university or system, they need to do a lot of persuading. There’s an art to persuasion in the western tradition that goes back to Aristotle, who said there were three things you have to do if you want to persuade people to follow you. You have to prove you’re worthy of being followed. You have to convince people that your way is the right way. And you have to make people feel something.

I’ve written a lot of speeches over the past decade – for myself when I was a dean and provost, and more recently for higher education chief executives – at a time when we don’t have the luxury of ignoring the need to change. Leading today in an academic setting is all about shaping a new organizational culture. But our leaders – especially those who come from the academic ranks – tend to be more comfortable proving their worth (i.e., the verbal résumé) and stating the facts that prove they’re right (i.e., the verbal graph). That’s because bona fides and facts are the main things valued in academic research. Making people feel all the feels? Don’t be ridiculous!

I’m not saying proving your worth and establishing your facts aren’t important. They’re extremely important and a leader’s communication must include them. But organizational culture is ultimately something that’s experienced, that’s felt. Simon Sinek’s book Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action is all about reminding us that leaders are much more likely to succeed in shaping an organization culture when they can explain WHY. For Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, WHY means Why we do what we do and Why we care about providing access to all Minnesotans.

But WHY also explains WHAT we do. We prioritize access: That’s why we have 54 campuses in 47 communities across the state where students from every walk of life come to learn. We protect affordibility: That’s why we don’t set tuition according to what the market will bear. We’re growing the pipeline of future college students: That’s why we work with public schools to redesign the transition from high school to higher education. And we want Minnesota communities to prosper: That’s why we graduate people in every profession, from nurses to mechanics to teachers and more.

Once an audience understands why, they’re ready to hear about what needs to happen.

John Kearns is the Senior Writer, Executive & Strategic Communication for Minnesota State Colleges and Universities.

Todd Thorsgaard