Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Saving a Meeting that's Going Nowhere

As a leader, how do you save a meeting that's quickly sinking?

We've all been stuck in long meetings that bounce aimlessly from one topic to the next. Instead of rolling your eyes, take control. Without bulldozing others, be brave enough to propose a solution:
  • Play dumb. Ask someone in the room—preferably the strongest communicator—to help you understand what problem you're trying to solve and what needs to happen to resolve it.  This is helping the group get to the purpose.
  • Identify the decision-maker. Sometimes meetings stall because no one knows who is responsible for the decision or what the decision-making process is. Ask who that is and inquire about what the decision-making process will be.  This helps get process to the surface.
  • Get the right people in the room. Are there absentees who need to be there? Suggest rescheduling for a time when all the stakeholders can be present.  This ensures inclusion and that the best thinking will be available for the group.
Adapted from Guide to Making Every Meeting Matter (HBR OnPoint Collection).

Tuesday, 28 February 2012


As a leader, how do you manage your own assumptions and the assumptions of those you lead?

We make assumptions, and believe we are right about the assumptions; then
we defend our assumptions and try to make someone else wrong.

Don Miguel Ruiz

According to the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary, an assumption is "something that you may accept as true without question or proof."  It is amazing how many of us believe in our assumptions as truth.  Everyone has assumptions and sometimes assumptions are good.  For example, we assume that when we turn on a faucet, water will come out.  We trust that this will happen.  On the other hand, some assumptions are negative, stagnating, or incorrect.  Negative assumptions about things can block us from taking steps forward.  For example, if we assume that certain staff members will not respond well to changes in the workplace, we may hold ourselves back from moving forward in our work or we may move it forward too aggressively.  Assumptions are thoughts that cause us to predict outcomes and we take actions based on the assumptions we hold.  

Our role as leaders?  We need to challenge assumptions - our own and those of the people we lead.  How do we do it?  Here are a few questions to use in daily conversation that just might help:

  • Do we know that to be true or are we making an assumption?
  • Do we have data or evidence to support this?
  • Are we making an assumption about this?
  • Why might we believe this to be true?
  • How did we arrive at this belief?
  • What if our belief (assumption) is untrue?
  • How can we prove this to be true or untrue?

Adapted from: Be a ChangeMaster by Karla Reiss (Corwin Press)

Monday, 27 February 2012

Leading Effective Meetings

As a leader, how do you ensure purpose in your meetings?

As leaders, we generally have the positional authority to call meetings when we wish.  This has obvious advantages but it also has significant potential risks for you as a leader.  If your meetings are purposeful and engaging, you run the risk of dooming all meetings to events your staff members learn to dread.

Here are four simple ideas to ensure effective meetings:

  • Have a clear purpose.  Be sure that each meeting has a clear purpose and that everyone attending knows the purpose in advance.  People who attend can come prepared.  If your purpose is clear, your outcomes will be more readily accomplished.
  • Ensure everyone who needs to be there is present.  Be sure that everyone who needs to know - or wants to know - is included.  If the meeting is worth calling, it's worth having all valuable perspectives present in the room.  It's annoying and ineffective when you find you need someone there and they weren't even invited.
  • Operate by pre-determined norms.  Establish clear, easy-to-follow norms and stick by them.  People appreciate how norms focus meetings and get the work done in a timely manner.
  • Use facilitation strategies. A well-facilitated meeting engages the participants and it accomplishes the outcomes desired.  Without facilitation, the meeting can go on and on while its trying to find a focus.  What usually ends up happening is that one person takes over and it becomes their meeting and you lose the value of those who are present. 

Friday, 24 February 2012

With a Global Clientele, Learn to Master Cultural Norms

As a leader, how do you respond when working with people from a culture that is unfamiliar?

If you find you're working with people from a culture with which you are unfamiliar, as a leader, you have to modify your behavior to fit cultural norms. This can be tough, especially if it makes you feel inauthentic. If you face this discomfort, try these four things:
  • Identify the challenge. Pinpoint what's making you uneasy. For example, in a culture that values a top-down leadership style, are you struggling to provide clear directives?  If so, how might you manage that?
  • Adjust your behavior. Make small but meaningful adjustments that both reflect the culture you're working with while staying true to your values. You don't have to mimic behaviours, but could you adjust your own behaviours to be more reflective of those with whom you work?
  • Learn.  As the leader, you need to learn what the cultural norms are.  Do what you need to do to understand what the cultural norms are.  Understanding the differences helps to build bridges.
  • Recognize the value. While you may need to behave in counterintuitive ways, focus on the desired outcomes of your interactions.

Adapted from "Three Skills Every 21st-Century Manager Needs" by Andrew L. Molinsky, Thomas H. Davenport, Bala Iyer, and Cathy Davidson.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Is it Dr. Smith...or simply Chris?

As a leader, have you dropped by your formal title?

Forget what your parents taught you, it's not always prudent to use a formal salutation, especially in today's more informal education and business worlds. Addressing people by their first name is now the norm in corporate and educational circles. Use first names to address colleagues, clients, and bosses. If you are a junior employee, this will level the playing field so that you are perceived as more of an equal. Confidently addressing people by their first names establishes you as mature and self-assured. If you are a seasoned leader, it will convey accessibility. Today's workers see hierarchies as stiff and outdated. Demanding that subordinates or staff members use a formal title comes off as pompous. Note that this informality is not the global norm—learn what is most broadly acceptable both locally and before you travel.  This is also especially important in education when addressing parents.  Start with the Mr., Mrs., or Ms. until asked to use a first name.  Additional respect for parents is never out-of-date.

Adapted from "What's in a (First) Name" by Jodi Glickman.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Thinking Creatively

As a leader, how do you access the most creative thinking when dealing with issues?

Creativity is not genetically encoded. Anyone can learn to think creatively. The key is to use both the left and right hemispheres of the brain: logical and intuitive, respectively. Start by immersing yourself in a problem. Use the logical left side of your brain to understand what you know about the topic. Then switch to the right side by distancing yourself from the issue and mulling over the information. Exercise is a good way to access the visual nature of the right hemisphere. It often leads to an "ah-ha moment" where you see a new solution. Then switch back to the left hemisphere to challenge your creative breakthrough with rational thinking.

All this said, you can also access creative thinking by drawing on the wisdom of your staff.  If it's an issue that requires creative thinking in the workplace then it's an issue that others will care about.  Be sure to include them in the thinking around the issue. If you don't, the only creativity you'll access is your own.  That may be enough in some situations but strong schools/organizations are built on collaborative and collective wisdom, not the thinking of an individual.

Adapted from  "How to Think Creatively" by Tony Schwartz.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

WAIT - Why Am I Talking?

As a leader, do you ask yourself to WAIT?

Last week, I heard a great little acronym - WAIT - Why am I talking?  It struck me as a great message to use as a blog post.  As leaders, we need - often - to ask ourselves this question.  We need to think about why we are talking and when.  When we're speaking, we're not listening....and listening is likely a much more valuable skill for leaders than talking. 

Think about the five leadership competencies proposed by Ken Leithwood.  Leaders:

  • set direction and sustain vision
  • build purposeful relationships
  • develop people and the organization
  • manage core business
  • secure accountability
Think about these 5 competencies.  For leaders to enact them, which is more important, listening or speaking?  If you believe listening is more important you're likely more inclusively minded in your leadership.  If you believe speaking is more important, you're likely more directive in your work.  Each of us chooses our own styles.  Does your style align with what you say you believe in? 

Bottom line.....ask WAIT.  A bit more listening and a lot less talking can help you know your school/organization better.  Ultimately, that will help you as a leader.

Monday, 20 February 2012

How are You Unique as a Leader?

As a leader, what is it that makes your leadership unique?

To be successful as a leader, you need to know your strengths and what special skills and qualities you bring to your role. If you can't articulate them, you can't expect others to see them either. Here's a four-step process to identifying what makes your leadership great:
  • List your strengths. Include skills and knowledge you've acquired through experience and education as well as softer intrinsic strengths, such as insightfulness or empathy.
  • Ask for input. Ask colleagues for honest feedback - either directly or anonymously.  Just be sure to hear from those you lead.
  • Revisit past feedback. Reread old performance appraisals or think back on coaching experiences.  Have you grown in these areas?  How? 
  • Modify your list. Adjust your original list to reflect what you've learned. Make sure the strengths are specific so that they are credible and useful.

Adapted from "Five Steps to Assess Your Strengths" by Bill Barnett.

Friday, 17 February 2012

In Difficult Situations, Stop and Wait

As a leader, when meetings or projects get stuck, what strategies do you have to handle it?

When a project or meeting gets difficult, it can be tempting to use your positional authority to push things through to try to get it over with. But it's better to do the same as you might do for a slow-moving computer: shut it off and wait a minute. Give yourself the opportunity to regain your composure and collect your thoughts. In a meeting that's going nowhere? Take a break. Not making headway on a document you need to write? Take a walk. During the break, don't think of new strategies or ideas. By taking yourself out of the situation, you allow your brain to rest so that when you return—with a fresh perspective and a calm mind—you are more likely to find a new solution.

Adapted from "Restore Yourself to Your Factory Default Settings" by Peter Bregman.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Serving as a Mentor

As a leader, do you offer to mentor new or inexperienced leaders?

An important role for any leader is the mentoring of new or inexperienced leaders.  It provides a great service to someone who is in the exact same spot you were at one time.....but it also helps you.

Mentoring a new leader is simply the right thing to do.  Somewhere along the line, someone believed in you and supported your move into leadership.  One form of paying back this kindness is to mentor another.  New leaders need individuals whom they can trust so they can share their uncertainties in difficult times and gain some solid knowledge from someone like you who simply has more experience in the role.

More than being the right thing to do, mentoring a new leader can help you too.  Your mentee gives you insight into how people are feeling and thinking in the workplace.  You may have forgotten what it's like to be new in a role and a bit unsure of yourself.  Providing a safe and confidential forum for discussion helps you build your understanding of others.  Further, mentoring helps you learn how to build capacity in others.  A key role for a leader is building capacity in your staff.  Mentoring gives you a chance to practise and hone your skills. 

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Setting Direction for Your Staff

As a leader, how do you set direction for your staff?

Persuading people to believe in your ideas or the direction you set is a critical leadership skill. But too many leaders don't know how. Here are three things to try next time you need to gain consensus or set direction:
  • Don't make the hard sell. Setting out a strong position at the start gives potential opponents something to fight. It's better to present your position with reserve, so you can adjust it if needed.  You might find that input from others will actually improve your ideas.
  • Don't resist compromise. Compromise is not surrender. People want to see that you are flexible enough to respond to their concerns and incorporate their perspectives.  And they might well be introducing thinking that you hadn't even considered.
  • Don't assume it's a one-shot deal. Bringing people on board is a process. You'll rarely arrive at where you want to be on the first try. Listen, test your position, and then refine it based on both the group's input and initial efforts.

 Adapted from Guide to Managing Up and Across (HBR OnPoint Collection).

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Enough Complaining! Number 2

As a leader, how do you keep your own complaining in check?

As a leader, it is easy to slip into a habit of complaining publicly among your staff members.  You're the leader so your positional authority often makes staff members feel that they must listen to you.  However, are you aware of just what you're saying?  Do you tend to complain to them?  If so, what might they be taking away from hearing your complaints? 

Your complaints can be damaging to morale within the workplace.  The negativity you bring into conversations can chip away at the interest and enthusiasm your staff members feel for their work or the school/organization itself.  Staff members look to leaders to be optimistic and motivating.  Your complaining can be producing the opposite effect.

Next time you find yourself even thinking about complaining out loud among staff members, consider what impact this might have on your colleagues.  If it doesn't help them in their daily work, it's probably best to keep it to yourself.  If you really need to air your comments, find a confidante - outside the workplace - who understands your need and can support you. 

Monday, 13 February 2012

Enough Complaining! Number 1

As a leader, how do you reduce the complaining among staff members?

In the workplace, we hope that everyone behaves in an adult manner.  Right? Then why do individual staff members - or even teams - still whine sometimes?  It's part of the human condition to complain, but it doesn't have to derail your group. When people on your team get frustrated and need a sympathetic ear, do the following:
  • Insist on personal accountability. Don't allow people to present a problem without attempting to bring forward a solution or two. Advise them to do what they think is necessary to achieve results.
  • Encourage positivity. If the whining is about fellow members of staff, encourage the group to work with each other to better understand the nature of the problem, and then create a joint solution. Remind them that most people aren't intentionally difficult.
  • Support them in solving the issue.  Some members of staff may need help in how to approach a colleague with whom they have difficulty.  Support your staff member in building the skills to approach the troublesome colleague in a productive manner. 
Adapted from "The No Whining Rule for Managers" by Ron Ashkenas.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Need to Teach? Try Show & Tell

As a leader, how do you build capacity among your staff members?

How many times have you trained a colleague in a task, only to have that person come knocking on your door every five minutes with a question?   Building the capacity of your staff members is a key leadership role.  People learn and build their capacity by watching and engaging with others, so instead of telling people how to solve a problem, show them and tell them. Take them through each step, explaining your thinking and the reasons behind each. Then allow them to ask as many questions as needed. This will not only give them the foundation they need to do the task, but will prompt you to master the task more deeply as you provide a justification for each step.  And keep the office door open.  If there are further questions, you want to be there to lend a hand. 

Adapted from "The Best Approach to Training" by Richard Catrambone.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Giving Negative Feedback? Sleep on It First

As a leader, when you need to give negative feedback, do you do it immediately or do you sleep on it first?

Many people advise that you should give negative or difficult feedback immediately, preferably within 24 hours of an incident. But next time you have to provide constructive criticism, consider sleeping on it first. Your input will be far more effective, and better received, if you aren't feeling the emotions related to the situation. Put some distance between the offending action and the feedback to give yourself perspective. You may need to calm down over several days. This will give you time to prepare, consider the other's point of view and how the feedback might be received, and deliver the message in a calm and helpful way.  This demands the full range of emotional intelligence skills....but that's one of the reasons you're in a leadership position.  If you don't have the EI, you probably shouldn't be leading.

Adapted from Guide to Giving Effective Feedback (HBR OnPoint Collection).

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Never Miss a Chance to Pay a Compliment

As a leader, do you use every opportunity to compliment your staff?

Never miss a chance to pay a compliment.  As a leader, your word has significance for the members of your staff.  Paying compliments for work well done means a great deal to all of us - regardless of our roles.  However, as a leader, your staff likely look to you for feedback.  Performance appraisals can provide feedback - but they really serve a different purpose.  Complimenting your staff when they do good work can be motivating and inspiring.  Compliments also indicate that you view their work with a positive presupposition.  You're not looking for fault.  If you believe the work that your staff does is important, let them know by acknowledging it with the occasional compliment.  In the end, everyone wins - especially those your school/organization serves.

Just one caution....don't go overboard.  There's nothing more meaningless to staff members than excessive compliments.  They know when you're being honest and when it's just for show.  Keep it real - and keep your integrity intact.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Engaging Staff Members on a Daily Basis

As a leader, how do build staff engagement?

As a leader, dealing with staff members who lack enthusiasm for their jobs or don't feel connected to the school/organization is a big hurdle. Here are three things you can do daily to engage your people:
  • Facilitate progress. Staff members feel engaged when they make headway toward objectives. Provide clear goals and resources to support their progress.
  • Make work meaningful. Your school/organization doesn't need a lofty mission to make employees care. They simply need to see how their actions contribute to the value provided by the work of the school/organization.
  • Reward and recognize. Don't wait for milestones. Show appreciation every day for the work your staff members do.

Adapted from "What Your Boss Needs to Know About Engagement" by Teresa Amabile and Steve Kramer.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Workplace Politics - Engage or Avoid?

As a leader, do you avoid or engage in workplace politics?

Many leaders hate office politics....while others love them.  But avoiding them altogether may end up with you 'out of the loop'. If you've ever worked for a leader who lacked clout or credibility, you understand the risks. As a leader, you're responsible for building productive relationships throughout the workplace so you can influence and support people beyond your immediate sphere. But you can avoid "playing politics" while building the influence you need. Keep your efforts clearly focused on the ultimate good of the school/organization. Work with others for school/organizational advantage, not just your own. And always conduct yourself according to your personal values and beliefs, no matter what others do.

Adapted from "Stop Avoiding Office Politics" by Linda Hill & Kent Lineback.

Friday, 3 February 2012

How do you plan for unintended outcomes?

As a leader, how do you plan for unintended outcomes?

Unintended consequences are common in school/organizations. Well-meaning leaders often implement new policies or practices only to find that in addition to what they envisioned, they've also created problems. You can't predict the future, but you can help mitigate the negative with these two steps:
  • Plan ahead as much as you can. Gather the people the change will impact and plan to see what might happen, keeping in mind that there will always be something that surprises you later.
  • Test the waters. Conduct short, focused experiments to see how various parties will react, and use the results to adjust your plan. You can't eliminate all negative possibilities but you can get ready to deal with them.

Adapted from "Be Prepared for What You Don't See Coming" by Ron Ashkenas.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Avoiding or Reconnecting after Giving Tough Feedback?

As a leader, after giving tough feedback, do you avoid or reconnect with your staff member?

Hearing that your performance is lacking in some way or that you've made a mistake can be harsh, even alienating. That's why as a leader, you need be thoughtful when delivering difficult feedback to your staff. You probably know to do two things: first, articulate what your employee is doing well, and second, provide input on problematic behaviors or gaps in performance. But don't forget an important third step: reconnect. After hearing difficult input, a staff member may avoid you or feel s/he can't come to you for advice.  Equally, you may feel ill-at-ease and unintentionally avoid the person.  Reestablish your relationship and reiterate what you value most.  Highlight something you can compliment - the person's writing skills or thank him/her for asking tough questions during meetings. You can also check in on a personal matter: Ask, "How was your daughter's play?" or, "Did your wife hear back about that new job lead?" Do this at the end of the feedback session or wait until the next day. Just be sure to connect so s/he is comfortable continuing the relationship with you.  You can help a colleague improve their performance and maintain their dignity at the same time.

Adapted from Guide to Giving Effective Feedback (HBR OnPoint Collection).

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Admit what you don't know

As a leader, are you able to reveal your weaknesses in order to build a stronger workplace?

Leaders who insist on making all the decisions often find themselves with disengaged employees. If people aren't taking charge in your organization, your leadership style might be the problem. If you have an overly directive approach, take a step back. Acknowledge your failings (whether they be your knowledge base or a particular skill set) with your team. Share your personal and organizational goals. Then, admit that you don't have all the answers and you need your team's help in reaching those goals. This will give your people room to actively participate in the organization's success. This act of humility is often seen as courageous and inspires others to follow suit.

You can extend this idea to actually inviting some individuals to take on certain roles.  For example, if you're bad at remembering the social aspects of the workplace, ask for a couple of volunteers to take on this responsibility.  Another example might be asking for a volunteer or two to help identify what's missing from conversations at meetings.  Certain individuals could be asked to help the group identify perspectives that may be missed when your team gets together to work.  By engaging more staff with important workplace roles, you're sharing the responsibility of leading the school/organization.  You're building capacity, and you're ensuring the workplace is a healthy environment in which to work because responsibility is shared.

Adapted from "Fire, Snowball, Mask, Movie: How Leaders Spark and Sustain Change" by Peter Fuda and Richard Badham.