What engages your people? At our colleges and universities we hope it is the success of our students both during college and after graduation! What would your people say?
In reality it is often challenging for people to see a direct connection between their day-to-day work and the ultimate difference it makes to your customers, be they students in higher education, patients in health care, or whomever. Focusing this line of sight for your people helps them directly see the value and importance of their work which has been shown to increase engagement and performance. A real win-win for leaders.
Management educator and author Russ Linden shares a few ideas on how leaders can do a better job to create a line of sight for their people.
Put a human face on your mission and vision. A health care organization I worked at for many years would always invite patients to join our work team meetings. It truly changed how we thought about our work.
Encourage and make it easy for people to take short-term assignments or projects in different departments/divisions/locations. Exposing people to the full range of work required to serve your customers and how the pieces fit together helps them understand the importance of each step.
Turn employees into customers. Actively look for ways to let your people experience your organization as a customer. Make it real for them.
Schedule and hold multi-unit and multi-location meetings and training events.Whenever possible have people working together as a “whole” rather than in separate “pieces” so they begin to see themselves as an integral element in the overall process.
Leaders have the responsibility and the opportunity to sharpen the line of sight for every person on their team. What examples can you share of a leader doing a great job or an idea you used successfully?
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.
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.
“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!
If the people on your team have to ask “Where is the meaning in my work?” something is wrong!
In his book Meaning, Inc. , Gurnek Bains ecourages leaders to bring the organization’s mission and vision to life through meaningful work. Between actual work time and digital connections people spend over half of their waking hours “at work.” Understanding how those work activities are making a contribution to customers (students at Minnesota State), the community or larger society will make work more meaningful.
While each person on your team has their own personal values and beliefs about what is important, there are actions that leaders can take to strengthen meaning at work. Bains identifies the following leadership activities that help create more meaningful work:
Discussing and supporting personal stretch goals that are related to the vision.
Focusing on the unique strengths and talents that each person brings to work.
Documenting, evaluating, providing feedback and highlighting each person’s work and contribution to group efforts.
Clearly linking individual and team work activities and accomplishments to wider issues.
Ensuring that short-term goals don’t conflict with the deeper organizational purpose.
Role modeling stated ideals.
Making sure your people know the difference their work makes in the lives of other people builds meaning. And meaning is powerful.
Last week at our New Administrator Orientation program Chancellor Steven Rosenstone shared his passion for why he comes to work each day and clearly articulated why the work we all do is important.
He spoke about the shared common core value that our colleges and universities are focused on: providing an opportunity for all Minnesotans to create a better future for themselves. He reminded us that our work as leaders is crucial to ensuring that our colleges and universities meet that challenge and that is why we do what we do. His passion was evident and it was infectious!
Author Dan Pontefract has released a new book that I found energizing and I encourage you to check it out. In The Purpose Effect (2016) he suggests that leaders can help their people recognize the “sweet spot” where the organizational mission overlaps with their role purpose and their own personal vision. You can read a summary of the book here – getAbstract
The sweet spot is the space where people feel engaged in their work, energized by how they can make a contribution and clearly understand the contributions their organization makes to their stakeholders. As leaders we rarely have the opportunity to be involved in the crafting of the organizational mission and vision but we can connect it to the day to day work being done and the unique aspirations of each person on your team.
Pontefract suggests that leaders focus on understanding and facilitating two-way dialogue in these three areas:
Individual and personal goals or purpose and how they relate to the day to day work.
what motivates the people on your team?
how do they want to develop themselves?
what most interests them in their job?
how can you and the organization support their success?
The organizational purpose, mission and vision.
what are your organization’s values?
how does the organization live out it’s purpose?
what are examples of the organizational purpose?
how do individual roles contribute to the success of the organization?
where do individual roles make a difference to stakeholders?
how can a leader recognize individual role contributions to the success of the department or organization?
Taking the time to understand each of these three areas is the first step. Then taking the time to consistently help your team members find their own personal sweet spot at work will help you bring your mission and vision to life.
The first notes of the song or the image of a lit fuse (or for the new crowd – the image of Tom Cruise) energizes me and literally compels me to action. My toe starts tapping, my heart beats a little faster and I feel a jolt of energy — and I am not a spy!!! That is the power of a strong mission that engages people.
During October we are going to be blogging about the leadership competency Articulates Vision and Mission. As Mission Impossible has shown us, having an engaging mission will unite people and facilitate working together to accomplish achievements previously believed impossible. In the world of work that requires leaders to understand the organizational mission and vision, to communicate it effectively, to act as role models to demonstrate it, and to seek input from all.
It may not be as glamorous as a TV show or a Hollywood movie but articulating your organization’s mission and vision in an engaging way can be a blockbuster achievement in your career!
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.
Emails 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:
A compelling story of the future that will engage people. What in the future captures your heart and will encourage others to join?
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?
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.
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.