Moving Forward: Healing and Innovating Schools

Just the other day, I was sitting in a meeting with a team of teachers and administrators. The theme of our school year has been centered around courage, and we were discussing ways in which we can celebrate this at our end of the year faculty/staff convocation. As we discussed how we wanted to honor the staff after the immense challenge of teaching during this pandemic, it hit me. In all this time since the pandemic started, we had never truly taken the time to reflect on how these past two years affected our faculty and staff. Schools have much to process after dealing with the trauma of this disruption to everyday life and work. I have spent the past 8 months speaking with teachers and administrators from around the country from diverse schools and backgrounds to process the effects of the pandemic and political climate on schools. 

As I reflect on my own work as a teacher and leader and from the conversations with other professionals in education, I decided to attempt to answer the questions: How can we begin the process of healing and start the conversations needed to move our schools from a space of disruption to innovation?  Below are some considerations and a call to action for all superintendents, school boards, and those in school leadership positions. 

 

Pause and Process

Before we can move forward, we have to pause, check-in, and take inventory of our emotions, thoughts and feelings. Teachers, administrators, and staff have been in crisis mode since March 2020, and many haven’t left that space.  We immediately pivoted to teaching online, using new technology, and trying to also meet the social-emotional needs of our students, while taking care of our own families. Before we can move forward at all, I’d charge schools to create space for teachers, administrators, and staff to process everything we’ve been through. Bring in mental health professionals from outside the organization to guide these often difficult conversations. School leaders don’t need to have all the answers, but they can create space in team meetings to demonstrate deep listening and empathy. With the nationwide need for more social-emotional learning in schools for students, how might a social-emotional support program look for the adults in the building? No time is wasted when faculty and staff can pause and reflect on thoughts and feelings. Through the sharing of each others’ stories we can begin to see the commonality in our experiences and begin the process of healing and moving forward. 

 

Teachers and School Leaders Need Support

If you haven’t been paying attention, I have some troubling news. Teachers and administrators are leaving the profession in droves. Teacher burnout is worse than ever as evidenced by the teacher shortage that has been highlighted in the news. We need brave leaders and policy makers to advocate for our school systems that are quite literally under attack. We have officially come to a crossroads in which the passion for changing lives no longer balances out the poor policies and working conditions that are squeezing the joy and heart from a profession so near and dear to many. Many states and local school districts are still running schools in the same way that they have been for decades. We forge on advocating for fair teacher pay, reduced standardized-testing, fair and equitable access to education, and all other vitally important issues facing our field that deserve the forefront of our attention. While we work to advocate for these tough issues, we can still adjust our organizational practices and lead schools into a space of growth and innovation. 

 

Every Voice Matters

 Once we begin to process our past and current realities, it’s time to collaboratively build the future of our schools and districts and steer toward new possibilities. Take this crucial time to invite all stakeholders to the table to share their vision for the school or district moving forward. Organize your conversations with stakeholders around the following questions: 

  • What issues did the pandemic and our current social-political climate shine a light on in your district/school/organization? 
  • What new practices/lessons from teaching during the pandemic are we holding on to? 
  • What practices & policies are no longer serving us? 

It’s important that everyone has a voice in this process. This conversation can occur with the greater school community as whole, or it may happen at the department/team level. Streamlined communication and transparency in sharing the results of these conversations is a vital step in the process of moving forward towards change.

 

Real Change Takes Time

Once new opportunities and directions are revealed and identified through these discussions, it’s time to create actionable steps towards change. It’s helpful to bring in an outside organization to help facilitate the discussion and strategic planning so that school leaders can be fully present and part of these important conversations. Having a separate, unbiased set of ears to synthesize the discussions and support the steps forward is vital to the process. 

Change can make us uncomfortable at first. Showing up with honesty, openness, and good intention nurtures growth and makes way for new possibilities. As we learned in preschool from the story of the tortoise and the hare, slow and steady really does win the race. Any changes and decisions that are made must be approached through the lens of “why.” I’m always reminded by a colorful magnet on my classroom white board that, “Great things take time.” It’s so true – real, quality change, when done correctly, is slow, methodical, and purposeful. Be patient in the implementation stage of the process, remain open to feedback, and make adjustments accordingly.

 

Leadership at All Levels

Everyone has the ability to be a leader no matter what role they possess in the organization. The stakes are too high and the work is too great in education for administrators to call all the shots. To truly change the culture of a school and empower its community, the top down approach must be dismantled and a shared, collaborative approach to leadership must be embraced. Not all teachers and staff have formal leadership training, but by nurturing the skills of self-awareness, deep listening, empathy, curiosity, and decisiveness, a new and positive culture and climate can emerge. When we approach leadership as a shared practice, we can suddenly make time for the tasks, projects, and practices that are more impactful. All of a sudden, principals can be more visible, teachers can have meaningful collaboration, and all stakeholders can feel heard and involved. 

 

Moving Schools from Disruption to Innovation

After 12 impactful years of service in public and private schools as an educator and leader, I am answering the call to support schools in moving forward and achieving dynamic outcomes. I decided to leave my classroom position and team up with Thunderbird Leadership to support schools on their journey toward healing and innovation. The Disruption to Innovation in Schools program through Thunderbird puts relationships and teaming first. Founded in the principles of Caring Leadership, our programming builds a culture of self-awareness, deep listening skills, empathy, curiosity, and decisiveness in both administrators and staff. This is a time for districts to step back and refocus on the people and relationships that make learning happen. When we do, morale improves, teams are more efficient, and students have a more supportive environment to thrive. Thunderbird truly partners with schools to ignite teams and environments that excel through leadership coaching, teaming, community building, and various professional development topics to promote Caring Leadership in your school. Reach out by email (nbachofsky@thunderbirdleadership.com) to find out how we can help transform your school and join this movement!

Tip of the Month, December 2019 – Reflections II – TIPS from this year’s Summit

Jill began to highlight the events at this year’s Summit in her last post. I thought I’d format the second part of our Summit reflection as TIPS.  What did we learn, what can we take away?
I really appreciated the balance of evidence-based information as well as the exploration of personal renewal at this year’s Summit. Here are some highlights.

  • When dealing with multiple generations in the workplace, first and foremost, see your employees as individuals.

Dustin Fennell talked about managing multiple generations in the workplace and ultimately concluded that we are not that different after all.  He emphasized a wise, long-standing leadership practice: see your employees as individuals, learn about them – what excites them, motivates them and affirms them, and use that information to support and encourage them. His personal strategy is to:

  1. Value each employee’s perspectives, talents, experiences, ideas and uniqueness
  2. Make caring visible through your presence, your appreciation and your acknowledgement of their feelings
  3. Provide them with something to believe in – provide vision, purpose and their part in it
  4. Know what makes each employee tick
  5. Enable their success

I would also add that learning about general tendencies of different generations may help you understand why people approach things the way they do. When people behave contrary to our personal expectations and norms, it is easy to discount them as rude, uncaring, insensitive, unmotivated, unprofessional, etc.  When we understand different cultures, generations, DiSC styles, personality types, etc. we gain insights that can help us override our own personal preferences and assumptions.
So, absolutely yes, to learning about and valuing our employee’s unique needs, drives and perspectives as Dustin recommended…and when you get lost in your own assumptions, you might want to research how someone might see things another way.

  • Confidence and self-assurance are critical to success. How they present may be gender linked. There are strategies to strengthen one’s confidence and self-assurance.

Mara Windsor presented on issues of confidence and gender and brought compelling research that suggests that women may not be as confident as men because of differences in genetics. Check out The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman. Whether confidence is genetically or socially influenced (or both!), there are things we can do to strengthen our sense of confidence.  Her suggestions include:

  1. Know that you are not alone – find safe places to share your concerns about confidence.
  2. Stop attributing your success to luck.
  3. Take credit for your accomplishments.
  4. Don’t get caught up in perfectionism (over-preparing, over-rehearsing)
  5. Take action, take risks, fail fast and keep going!
  • We choose how we respond to situations and people’s actions.

Another theme emerged numerous times during the Summit recognizing that we have the ability to manage our emotions and reactions to things…nothing “makes us” angry. We interpret input and choose how we respond.  This message came through in our “café conversations,” (brief small group opportunities exploring different themes about leadership) as well as in Noushin Bayat’s presentation about Leading from Within.
I trained as a therapist in a former career life and relate these concepts to cognitive-behavioral therapy. We receive input, interpret it (in a nanosecond) and then respond with feelings.  Several of the groups in our café conversations wandered into that arena.  Colleen Hallberg’s topic stands out as it stated it the most clearly, “It is only information.”  Wow!
Think about meetings where things feel uncomfortable.  Rather than getting lost in the emotion, what can we ask ourselves? What is happening here? What can I learn from this?  I can step back and assess the data I am receiving.  What is it telling me?  When we recognize that we have a choice in our interpretation and response, we are empowered to take control of our role in the situation.
At a previous Summit, Noushin quoted Rumi, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”  Those words continue to resonate in her presentation – finding space outside of right or wrong, win or lose to breathe, reflect and reconnect with what and who is important. As leaders, finding this space and time is essential to our effectiveness.  Noushin’s gentle words belie a powerful way of being.

  • Use an Appreciative Leadership approach to respond effectively to complex work environments by identifying and building on what is working. 

Kathy Malloch provided a preview to her recent work with partner, Tim Porter-O’Grady, on their new approach to leadership.  (We are waiting for the book to come out.)    Some key learnings from Kathy’s presentation include five core strategies of Appreciative Leadership. Consider how you could shift your mindset to be a more appreciative leader and how these approaches could change your organizational culture and results.

  1. Inquiry rather than inquisition
  2. Illumination (strength finding rather than fault finding)
  3. Inclusion (intentional strategies rather than just an invitation to participate)
  4. Inspiration (envisioning a greater future)
  5. Integrity (setting personal boundaries)

Kathy asked a series of provocative questions that are beyond what we can list here.
We’ll continue to share what we learned in future posts.  There was enough to help us plan our 2020 topics!  So, count on us to revisit confidence, generations and appreciative leadership. We really appreciated all the inspiration we received from the day and are already looking forward to next year. Mark your calendars for Friday, November 13, 2020.
We also continue to appreciate the generosity of our participants who contributed over $2,500 in our Silent Auction. Proceeds will be split between the National Alliance to End Homelessness (https://endhomelessness.org) selected by the Summit planning team and the Yarnell Regional Community Center (https://yarnellcommunitycenter.org) selected by a drawing of organizations recommended by our participants.
And finally, I want to recognize the work of Carla Rotering and Kevin Monaco who provided an amazing time of meditation and reflection.  Kevin shared his music with us (https://kevinmonacomusic.com), and I want to conclude our reflections and the year with words from a magnificent poem Carla shared with us during the meditation.  At this time of year, may we all celebrate, reflect and appreciate our own gifts and the gifts of those around us.
From WINTER TREE
For my mother Rosemary
November 14, 1930 – November 14, 1965
Aruba, August 2002.
Carla J. Rotering, MD ©
Is there any way I’ll have enough time or enough courage or enough whatever I need enough of
To take the grace of the ordinary and recognize holiness?
To just come into agreement….
And allow one breath,
One single diastole
To solemnly be splendid?
To magnify the simplicity of my heart that moves and shifts everything into the world of sanctity?
If there is, I’m ready for it.
I’m ready to bring forth my heart, in its small, red roundness
To be pierced with utmost tenderness
And there stand open and revealed
Without the shield of my terrible fears to frighten away the gods.
To stand in the light of who I am
And to sit in the power of my own Presence
For one single moment
Even if everyone….or no one….ever notices.

Tip of the Month, August 2019 – Take it Apart to Rebuild Something Better: Tips for Deconstruction

This year’s Summit theme, Reconstructing Leadership: Owning Our Power, really appeals to me. I enjoy the challenge of putting things together, solving puzzles and making sense of the world. As I read through the description, beginning with deconstruction, I find myself wondering why the organizers used the term deconstruction instead of destruction. So I dug a little deeper.
Destruction has no hope associated with it, other than the hope of a clean slate. Consider the purchase of a run-down property for the value of its location instead of the old house sitting on it. You could scrape the parcel for some future use, and it could be positive or negative for you. In the Summit’s context, deconstruction has a purposeful, forward-thinking and positive intent associated with it. It is the intentional dissection of elements from the past, to challenge beliefs that no longer work for us and to see what has been good and useful and must be brought forward. . .
In the deconstruction part of the Summit we will look at beliefs we have held to be true in the past and courageously question them. We will challenge ideas we have held on to or clung to or fiercely protected by boldly testing them against our own integrity. We will seek to accept the wisdom of prior ages, and not throw out the baby with the bathwater.
In the following scenarios, let’s see how we can use deconstruction to help arrive at a place of growth instead of accepting the status quo.
Scenario 1:
In this example, let’s apply the tool of ‘the five whys’. Use ‘why’ questions until an answer appears. . . and remember, the number may not always be five.
I am not going to apply for that job because I’m not really manager material.
Why do you think you are not manager material?
I don’t like supervising and disciplining people.
Why don’t you like that?
I can’t give feedback effectively.
Why can’t you give feedback effectively?
I get nervous when someone starts to cry or worse yet, when they start to challenge me.
Why do those situations make you nervous?
I don’t know how to respond. 
Why don’t you know how to respond?
I guess I’ve never planned for how to handle those situations. . . maybe I could figure out responses in advance, just in case.
Aha! Actionable development idea.
Scenario 2:
In this scenario, we will use some ideas from the Johari Window. The Johari Window helps to organize personal characteristics into four quadrants; the open window (information known to everyone), the blind spot (known to others, not oneself), the hidden area (known to oneself but not others), and the dark (information known to no one). Using the Johari Window positively seeks to increase the amount of information in the open window, more known to oneself and others. This can apply in many situations, especially when you are trying to increase openness and transparency.
My staff aren’t responding to me because they need a leader who is charismatic and visionary, like my colleague Mark. I’m not that guy.
Here are some possible responses you could make:

  • So you hold the belief that an effective leader is charismatic and visionary. Just how true is that? (Hidden area)
  • Is it possible that you are using that idea to avoid dealing with ‘real’ manager issues you may have? (Dark spot)
  • What leadership skills do you think you have? (Open window)
  • What do others say about your leadership skills? Are they the same as your list, or different? (Blind spot)
  • What have you done to get a response that you wanted? (Open window and blind spot)
  • What does a coach, your manager, or a trusted colleague, like Mark, tell you about the effectiveness of your approach? (Blind spot)
  • What can you learn here? Are there things you can stop doing, and things to start doing?

Scenario 3:
In this situation, we apply the ideas from the Summit deconstruction description – courageously questioning beliefs, challenging ideas, holding on to elements of wisdom from the past.
There’s so much happening in my civic club right now. It is not the right time for me to step up as a leader amidst all the chaos.

  • Do you believe there needs to be a ‘right time’? Is there ever a right time? (Challenging a belief)
  • Are you committed to the organization, really committed? (This takes courage to ask yourself, and to face if you discover that you are not fully committed.)
  • Would you rather be a member of the organization during this trying time, or a leader trying to help the organization get stable? (This question is designed to seek a match with your integrity.)
  • Chaos may be your view of things. . . how do others see this? Perhaps this could be a ‘shake up and growth’ opportunity? (Another challenge to one way of looking at things.)
  • What can you bring as a leader to this situation? What help would you need? (Using wisdom from prior leadership experiences.)

Stepping into a leadership role of any nature can be daunting for all of us at one time or another. Automatically saying ‘no’ to an invitation can be very limiting. . . We miss the possibility of really making a difference in something we care about. We miss the potential of growth and the development of skills we never knew we could master, learning things that worked, and things that didn’t. We miss opportunities to use our talents. Saying ‘yes’ may have a price, but it is almost always worth it if the ‘yes’ is a thoughtful and considered one.
We hope you will say YES to joining us at this year’s Summit, a day where we explore how we deconstruct the messages that limit us and embrace new ways of being and doing, reconstructing leadership. We look forward to meeting you on November 15 in Phoenix!
Click here to register for this year’s Summit.
References:
Five Whys. https://leansixsigmabelgium.com/blog/5-whys-lean-root-cause-analysis/ Accessed via web on 7/27/19.
Johari Window. https://www.storyboardthat.com/articles/b/johari-window Accessed via web on 7/27/19.

Summer Professional Beach Read II – The Art of Gathering

What could be better for a Summer Professional Beach Read than The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why it Matters by Priya Parker?[1]  I was, in fact, on my way to the beach with my children, grandchildren and several other family and friends. We had carefully planned the type of house we needed to meet the needs of families and generations.  We assigned sleeping quarters based on waking and sleeping schedules as well as family needs. We had a spreadsheet for food, menu planning and activities. Plane tickets were purchased, vehicles and drivers allocated, luggage packed. I had even indicated that we needed to discuss expectations of each other to make the week a success, although that conversation slipped away from us in the hustle and bustle of getting ready. We had it all planned!
And then I began reading The Art of Gathering in which Priya Parker dissects what is really necessary for meaningful assemblies of all kinds, whether family, friends, colleagues, conferences or in fact total strangers.  She cautions us to rethink how we approach coming together and avoid getting so bogged down in the logistics that we forget to shape our gatherings around the people. And she counsels us to be clear on the purpose of our gatherings – that every time we plan to meet, we should know why and structure the meeting to address that purpose.
So, while madly dashing down the road to the beach[2], I told the people in my vehicle that we should have a clear purpose for coming together. (Note that this was the 11th time we had done this trip.)  Why were we coming together? What was our purpose? Did the structure of our time together, including the location and logistics, address the purpose?  Was it the best way to do this?
When we skip this step, we often let old or faulty assumptions about why we gather dictate the form of our gatherings. We end up gathering in ways that don’t serve us, or not connecting when we ought to.[3]
Parker cautions us not to confuse a category for a purpose…e.g. a category is a family vacation or a beach trip, or a staff meeting.  A purpose requires us to dig deeper – why are we going on vacation as a family? Why are we having this staff meeting?
Once we have identified our purpose, Parker has suggestions for how the event should unfold, from planning logistics (yes there is a place for that), invitations – the who, the how and the when, welcoming and setting the stage, hosting for purpose and closing the event.
I have been a facilitator for many years and some of her suggestions are strategies that I have implemented intuitively.  But Parker has provided a precise framework and rationale for how to create and manage the environment to accomplish our purpose.  She has made the implicit and intuitive explicit, to allow us to create meaning without missing necessary steps for success.
One of the most profound sections for me was chapter three entitled, “Don’t be a Chill Host.” Parker wants to empower us to host with “generous authority.”
In gatherings, once your guests have chosen to come into your kingdom, they want to be governed—gently, respectfully, and well.[4] 
The role of the host with generous authority begins by being clear on the purpose. It continues by:

  • Inviting those who should be there to meet the purpose of the gathering rather than for political ends or to avoid someone getting angry. As a host, it is my responsibility to manage the invitation list.
  • Sending an invitation that helps participants understand the purpose and expectations so they can choose wisely whether to attend.
  • Creating a powerful welcome that states the purpose clearly from the start. Parker emphasizes that our first few minutes together should not be given over to logistics or a word from our sponsors.
  • Developing a structure that meets the purpose – and adhering to it. This can be both about place, set-up and agenda.
  • Orchestrating closure so that it is both clear and compelling.

Parker provides wonderful examples of all the chronological steps in the process for both personal and professional gatherings from intimate dinner parties to international economic forums and gatherings of over a thousand strangers!
So here are my plans for our next beach trip. Wait! We may have to ask if a beach trip is the best way to do this – avoiding getting stuck in old rituals. So here are my plans for our next gathering.

  • We all need to be clear about our purpose, why are we getting together? We want to sustain and deepen our relationships as a family…and we want to relax.
  • I will have some welcoming activity the first night that gets us started in family-gathering mode. After a fun starting activity, we might want to co-create ground rules that our just for this trip.
  • I will take ownership of the host role – yes, I am the host – I will include some structured activities to allow people to connect across the extended family. This year, others put together a plan to share responsibility for menu planning and cooking.  It was a great idea! I want to try something like having people draw cards of people they have to do activities with during the week – a game, a walk, bowling. I’d also like to move people around at dinner time – table tents – so people talk with each other.
  • Discuss in person our expectations about the week and what we need from each other. I tried this through email – it was a major fail!!! (We all know the dangers of email – and yes, my communication was misunderstood.)
  • I will create official and sacrosanct check-in times to be sure everyone knows what is being planned. This will be one time during the day when all adults and interested children talk about what is working, clarify any misunderstandings, and talk about plans and needs for the next day.
  • We need to have a structured farewell before the wild and crazy clean-up morning. We need to close the week with a sense of appreciation for each other and for this important space in our lives.

Imagine what you could do for your next office retreat.  How could rethinking how you gather change your dreary staff meetings? What steps can you take to add meaning to your meetings? It has to be more than donuts!
Right now, I am working with our Thirteenth Annual Leadership Summit[5] Planning Team.  We describe it as “…not the usual offering of leadership skills and tools. We are devoted to expanding a deeper sense of self-honoring qualities that enhance our leadership.” 
Are we clear on our purpose?  Does it pique your interest? Do you expect to experience something different from lectures and panel discussions?
I can’t wait to apply Parker’s principles with the team to see how this year’s Summit can be even better than the twelve before.
__________________________
[1] Parker, P. (2018) The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why it Matters. Riverhead Books: New York.
[2] Please note that we were madly dashing within legal speed limits – it just felt frenzied.
[3] Parker, Priya. The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters (pp. 1-2). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
[4] Parker, Priya. The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters (p. 74). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
[5] Thunderbird Leadership Summit, November 15, 2019 from 8:30 – 4:30 at Phoenix Art Museum.    Registration information will follow in our next blog post! For more information about participating contact info@thunderbirdleadership.com.

Tip of the Month, June 2019 – Tips on Passing the Torch

In this month’s blog (click here), Jill discussed how we pass on information, knowledge and wisdom when we are leaving a position and/or a role.  She also discussed commitment to one’s profession, where passing the torch is also about advancing one’s profession to new members of one’s discipline.
In Tips, this month, we will explore strategies to pass the torch across generations, to new members of our field of study and in succession planning.
The most important tip in this article is to be clear about your values and your way of being.  If your goal is to win at all costs, this column is probably not for you.  If you have a desire to improve yourself, develop others, advance your profession and contribute to bettering your organization and its outcomes, then be courageous; share what you know and be open to learn from others.
In The Career Handoff[1], Steinbinder and Ganann (our very own Thunderbird people!) identify six strategies to pass on information.  All of these strategies are relevant throughout your career life cycle.  Thank you to Steinbinder, Ganann, Malloch and Porter-O’Grady for providing the framework for our tips this month.
I: Mentoring is mentioned throughout the book.  It is usually perceived as a more experienced professional/leader imparting knowledge, wisdom and opportunity to a newer/lower ranked individual in the organization.  Mentoring has always been done informally where mentor and mentee self-select and develop a supportive relationship.
One of the challenges with self-selection is that it tends to exclude people of difference from mentorship.  Senior male leaders may be afraid to mentor incoming women for fear that they would look predatory.  People of different race/ethnicities may not self-select or be selected because of cultural barriers or discomfort.  This can result in inequities in advancement for people of difference.  So more formal mentoring programs have been designed to facilitate inclusive growth opportunities.
Effective formal mentoring programs provide clear expectations and role definition for the mentoring relationship and also recognize that both mentor and mentee benefit.  The official mentor offers institutional knowledge, professional wisdom and development opportunities to the mentee.  In a healthy relationship, the mentee also offers important knowledge and wisdom – perspectives from areas of difference (generation, gender, race/ethnicity, technology knowledge, etc.) to expand the mentor’s world view.  This notion of cross-mentoring honors what each member of the relationship contributes and enriches the outcomes for the individuals, the organization and the profession.
Mentoring can still be informal and can start from anywhere.  A college student can mentor high school students interested in the same career path.  A senior in college can mentor freshmen.  A new professional can mentor those in training.  As you can see, passing the torch can start very early.
What do you share?  The Career Handoff differentiates information, knowledge, wisdom and insights. Information is the data, content, how-to’s; knowledge includes application and context; wisdom describes the why’s of application, and insights are those amazing “aha!” moments we celebrate.  In a mentoring relationship there may be times when information and knowledge are shared, but the power of mentoring comes from wisdom sharing and moments of insight (for both the mentor and the mentee).  This often happens through the second handoff strategy, storytelling.
II: Storytelling is a way of transferring knowledge at a deeper level, including context, emotion and humility in the delivery. It humanizes the storyteller and allows for empathy, access and connection even across differences in role, status or personal identity.  Through empathy, we build bonds of understanding that strengthen the learning experience.  We remember stories, we remember the lessons and we care about the story teller.
It is a powerful way to share difficult and uncomfortable lessons, to learn more about individual perspectives as well as organizational culture. It is a way to keep organizational history alive without stifling growth and change.
III: Powerful Questions can be used in both formal mentoring sessions and informal “mentoring moments.”  Rather than “telling” others what to think or what to do, the mentor, the wise or experienced person, invites the other person to teach themselves through open-ended exploratory questions.  Tell me how you came to this conclusion? What was your thought process?  What would happen if? In your mentor role, ask from a position of curiosity, not with a single answer in mind.  (Don’t lead the witness.) You may be surprised and learn something new from your mentee about a different approach to the issue.
IV: Career Planning is another aspect of passing the torch.  What does an individual need to know or do to advance and/or grow in their career? What opportunities are available to them? Once again formal or informal mentoring plays a significant role.  Remember that the old way of advancing may no longer apply.  Generationally, we have different expectations for how we advance.  Boomers believe in “paying one’s dues,” whereas subsequent generations believe in earning one’s place based on abilities and knowledge, not time in the trenches.
One of the most powerful aspects of career planning is helping an individual see possibilities they did not even consider.  Recently a senior administrator I work with was describing a conversation with a newer member of his profession.  He asked her if she had considered applying for an open first-level management position. She responded that she had not because she is not a leader-type.  He pointed out to her that she was indeed a leader-type as he observed the way her colleagues sought out her opinions and advice.  In that 90 second conversation, there was a mentor-moment (a possible “aha!” as well) and a chance for the newer professional to rethink her career trajectory.
V: Collaboration is a practical application of sharing knowledge and wisdom across generations, life experience and expertise.  In successful collaborations, all participants contribute to a successful outcome from their areas of strength in an environment of mutual respect.  If you are the wise elder of the group, be careful not to impose your opinions early on.  Allow your collaborative team to find its voice and direction. Observe their way of problem solving.  Insert your wisdom and perspective in a way that adds strength and context to the team.
VI: Recognitions and Celebrations are ways to honor contributions while ensuring that the torch is passed. Storytelling as a strategy in recognition and celebration offers context, history and emphasizes organizational and professional values.
We always have the opportunity to “pass the torch,” to share what we know and understand with others no matter where we are in our career.  It requires us to be generous with our knowledge rather than fearful that what we share will be used against us or to best us.  Consider “passing the torch” as a way of being and a way of thinking and as Brene Brown might describe it, a whole-hearted practice.
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[1] Malloch, K. And Porter O’Grady, T (eds). (2016). The career handoff: a healthcare leader’s guide to knowledge and wisdom transfer across generations. Sigma Theta Tau International.

Passing the Torch

As I write this it is May and there are congratulatory cards sitting, ready to mail, on my desk. I have a niece, a nephew-in-law, a grandson “step-in” and a friend’s granddaughter all poised to celebrate a graduation. I can imagine the strains of Pomp and Circumstance, packed auditoriums and phones at the video ready. Ah, transitions!
We have many kinds of transitions in life, some intended to happen just once, like marriage or high school graduation or a first job. And there are many transitions in our work lives; a new job, a new role, a reduction in hours, a job-related location move, a layoff, a firing, retirement. If we care about the work we do or the organizations we work for, it is likely that we also care about what happens with the work we did at the time we say goodbye to it. Will it live on somehow? What is our legacy?
Career handoff is the process of intentionally sharing the wisdom, “transferring the knowledge” described by Malloch and Porter-O’Grady [1] of one’s career with the next person in a role, in order to preserve what was learned, and continue the momentum of achievements from the past. Though they apply the notion of this handoff to a career’s worth of information, it works in many other situations as well . . . short-term jobs, role changes, new assignments, even layoffs.
So what is the difference between the intentional sharing of wisdom and the way things often occur in organizations today? There may be an overall lack of succession planning, or no awareness of what there is to be transferred. Sometimes there is limited time or processes provided for the transfer to happen. Perhaps there’s a lack of recognition that this sharing may be as important for a retiring employee as a retirement party and a memento. Maybe the organization doesn’t recognize the issues the new person may face as they try to figure out things on their own, without the information and support of the leaving person. Whatever the organizational reasons, there are things that individuals can do to make for smooth transitions.
Commitment to a profession
If you are a member of a practicing profession such as nursing, teaching, legal, or social work for example, there may be an imperative to advance the profession by making sure that important lessons learned in one’s career are preserved as the next layer of professional practice expectations develop.
Are you the one passing the torch?
The leaving person needs to reflect on the question, “What knowledge and wisdom do I have that is important to pass on?” It is probably easier to identify what is unnecessary to pass on, like negative past history, how functional structures work, or how to do something (because the new person will find their own way). What is shared also depends on the type of transition. If it is a short-term experience, or a change within the organization, less needs to be passed on. In these situations, a handoff tool/checklist can be really useful. Perhaps the organization uses one. If not, you could develop it. Useful checklists often include important people to know, process details, technology information, current expected and recent past results. [2]
In the case of retirement from a career, a focus on the big picture with some of these broader questions can also be useful.

  • What did I learn about myself in the roles I occupied?
  • How has the role I occupied changed, and how will it be different for the new person? What changes have I witnessed during the time I have worked?
  • How do I evaluate them . . .  are they helpful or not to what we are trying to achieve? What have I accomplished?
  • What do I think is critical to continue working on?
  • What is the most important piece of advice I can offer?
  • What would I do differently if I could do it over?

If the torch is being passed to you
If you have the opportunity to have face to face discussion with the incumbent, lucky you! Take advantage of all the time available for this knowledge transfer. The person who is leaving will likely have much to share about the job demands and the role, even though it could change once you are in it. There can be valuable knowledge to gain if the person leaving is willing to share and sincerely wants to leave a legacy by helping you. Remember, too, that what is being shared is information from one person’s point of view, and that you are expected to shape things from your perspective.
Beyond information from the incumbent and the guidance of a manager, what kind of ongoing support could be useful to you? Do you have the luxury of being able to shadow your predecessor for a time in the role? Can you ask for that? Maybe you are in an organization that offers succession development programs. For many, this is an ideal time to find a coach or a mentor.
What if there’s no one to pass the torch to?
If you are leaving a role or organization quickly without a named replacement, or if the role you occupied has been discontinued or morphed into something you don’t recognize, then the personal touch and transition is not possible. In these situations, record your thoughts . . . make a video, write them down in a journal, keep them somehow for posterity. . . you never know how useful they could be to you in the future. Leave them with the organization if the separation has been a positive one. And if you are someone with a long career, consider publishing your ideas in a professional publication.
How to let go
When leaving a satisfying role or career, much will depend on how you have prepared for this moment. There is no doubt that even in the very best of circumstances, this can be an emotional time. Whether you are leaving a shorter term position, been laid off or fired, or are retiring, you will have questions about the next phase of your life. If you need to work and are not clear about what to do next, anxiety is normal. If you are retiring, the awareness that there is less time in your life to make an impact cannot be denied.
In any case, do you have a vision for your time after leaving? Making the shift to a new role in retirement is much easier if you have a vision for what you have always wanted to do when you weren’t concerned about earning money. Spend time imagining how your days will feel, and if there are benefits of your working life that you want to continue.  Keep important personal connections, yet separate yourself from the inevitable organizational politics. Offering your time as a mentor is one way to keep your finger on the pulse of the work you valued, which will help to develop others. Networking with other retirees outside of your work area, looking for volunteer roles with a purpose that ignites your passion help make the transition graceful.
And if your work life continues, maybe this is an opportunity to let go of the old by considering a new type of role, a new location, or a career change. Identify what you enjoyed about the job you are leaving and remind yourself that new beginnings, though anxiety-producing, provide many opportunities to learn and master new things. Explore the idea that you could let go of the way you used to do some things in the past . . . how you conducted a department meeting, or communicated with your direct reports for example. . . and try a different approach. Even though you are no longer in an old role that you may have loved, the positive experiences you had are something that no one can take away. And as in retirement, it is important to nurture the meaningful personal connections of your past. Avoiding a focus on old organizational politics will help you let go.
And finally, a last recommendation. In any situation of job or career transition, be it positive or negative for you, resist the temptation to define yourself by the label of the old role. You are more complex than the work you did. There is much more to your life than a job, an organization or a career. Though a career can infuse large parts of your life with focus and meaning, your career is not you. It is one part of your total life experience.
_______________________________
[1] Malloch, K. And Porter O’Grady, T (eds). (2016). The career handoff: a healthcare leader’s guide to knowledge and wisdom transfer across generations. Sigma Theta Tau International. Malloch and Porter O’Grady’s book contains the writings of a variety of leaders in healthcare who address the need and processes for successful handoffs. The Career Handoff helps leaders “proactively preserve and pass on their valuable wisdom and knowledge to new generations. With an approach that emphasizes mentoring and sustainability of expertise, . . . book aims to facilitation smooth transitions and (the) continued viability. . .”  Book back cover
[2]  https://usaidlearninglab.org/sites/default/files/resource/files/Shell_KM_Job%20Handover%20Checklist.pdf (accessed via web 5/13/19)
 

Tip of the Month, May 2019 – Engagement Tips for the Individual

In our latest blog titled Engagement Survey, Oh My! read here, Rory (1) challenged the practice of ineffective annual engagement surveys (they are really disengagement surveys, often going nowhere) in favor of flexible and ongoing processes for creating an engaged workforce. Managers need to be really connected and involved with their people all the time in order to make the engaging workplace come alive. Since employee engagement from the organization’s perspective was addressed in the blog, let’s take a look at what fuels engagement from the individual’s perspective. Though these tips are written with the employee in mind, they apply equally to managers/leaders as employees themselves.
How do you show up daily as an engaged and engaging manager? Here are a few tips to consider.

  1. Take employees’ ideas seriously, having a conversation and giving feedback. It is not enough to simply listen and be a conduit. Or worse still, offer all the reasons their idea won’t work. If a staff member brings a suggestion to you, such as having an onsite daycare center, rather than pass it along channels, spend the time to find out more. How do they envision it working? What ideas do they have about location? How many staff members would use it? Are there other ways to provide a daycare benefit without a dedicated space and staff? This time spent in conversation with thoughtful questions shows your relationship with the employee; you have the perspective about some of the questions that need to be addressed in order for their idea to have a greater chance of success. And you are offering yourself as a thought partner, which is empowering.
  2. Ask employees about their goals, daily goals as well as longer term ones. “What are you hoping to accomplish today?” Having a goal for your time is one way for the individual to be more engaged at work. Model the way by having a plan for what you want to accomplish, and share those goals of yours. Help staff see the value of contingency planning for when your plans go awry, as they often do. What happens if you can’t get the new proposal finished today? Can you send just part of it? Does something else need to be taken off your task list?
  3. Collect stories about meaning and contribution at work to share with others, and ask your staff how they know they have made a difference in their work today. Or how would they like to make a difference? Share your personal stories to get the conversation started, but make the conversation about them. Find out what gives them a sense of value and purpose in the work they do with you. Then ask if there is something you can do to further their experience of meaning and purpose at work.
  4. Have regular conversations about their strengths, noting them when possible, and suggesting ways for them to apply and BUILD ON those strengths. Gallup research tells us that an important employee satisfier is the regular opportunity to use one’s strengths at work. Perhaps a staff member is naturally skilled in diffusing difficult customer situations . . . You could suggest they share their tips with newer staff members, and/or offer them the opportunity to to take a class on de-escalation techniques and bring back the information to share at a department meeting. If you have an employee who has a background in visual arts, and has won awards in local contests, you might invite them to submit (or take) photos for your department’s report, newsletter, or wall art.
  5. Surround yourself with engaged people at work and in your personal life, understanding that positive attitudes can rub off, creating an atmosphere of more positivity. Listen for their examples. Nothing succeeds like success, the old adage tells us. And having an environment where you interact with engaged people regularly can help spark your own enthusiasm for whatever you are doing.
  6. Understand the reality of what you can control. Nothing is more disengaging than viewing the “whole world’s problems” and being disheartened or discouraged about a lack of progress. Engaged people have the ability to reframe situations they have control over, even though it may be limited, and finding the lens that focuses on what they CAN influence.

We hope you find these tips useful, and that you are privileged to work every day with employees who say, “I want to work in this organization, for you!”
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References:

  1. Rory Gilbert is a Thunderbird Leadership consultant who is the primary author of TLC’s blog, and contributor, collaborator and partner in Blog and Tips posts.
  2. https://www.hr.com/portals/hrcom/events ShanklandHandout_Gallup%20Q12%20summary%20-%20what%20is%20engagement.pdf (accessed via web 5/2/19)
  3. https://blessingwhite.com/4-steps-to-improve-your/ (accessed via web 4/29/19)
  4. https://brain-smart.com/change-and-resilience/increase-personal-engagement-work/ (accessed via web 4/29/19)

Tip of the Month, April 2019 – Coming Unglued in a Good Way

Rory Gilbert addressed a common and frustrating problem in last month’s blog, Getting Unstuck (read here.) I’ve had lots of stuck moments in my personal life and in helping others with their moments. Whatever the situation, staying stuck is unpleasant at the least, and unproductive/unhealthy at its most. We can be stuck short term and long term, from a couple of weeks to years. What are your stuck examples?
Rory outlined a starting point and 4 strategies in her suggestions, and in this Tip of the Month, we will see how these points apply to two situations.
Start by acknowledging that you are stuck. Then

  1. Step back and reflect.
  2. Ask challenging questions.
  3. Separate fact from fiction.
  4. Enlist a thinking partner.

Michelle
Michelle had a long-standing job as a middle manager, and she felt she enjoyed good relationships with the people she supervised, her boss, Diana, and her peers. Diana was direct and clear, to the point. There were no doubts about what was needed, but Michelle was also free to do things her way. She was secure in her role, and imagined retiring from this position in another ten years. Nine months ago she had a change in bosses, and her new boss John doesn’t give her much direction at all. . . he’s pleasant enough to work with, but his management style is all over the place. John is a talker, and Michelle finds herself having to use a lot of energy to interpret what John is saying, and listen for the tiniest bit of direction. Because Michelle was so happy with her job before John came on board, she has decided to just do her own thing and ignore John. Consequently Michelle is less and less engaged in the business, basically just biding her time. You are Michelle’s friend at work in another department and it distresses you to see her so disengaged. You guess her direct reports are seeing it too.
Acknowledge that you are stuck. In talking with Michelle, the topic of John comes up easily. Michelle readily admits that she feels stuck. Just the relief of admitting that to you turned out to be a trigger for taking the next step.
Step back and reflect. You ask Michelle to reflect on the situation. Looking at things objectively, what does she think is going on? Is Michelle struggling with change, or style differences? Is this new for her? Has she ever felt stuck in a personal or business situation before? How uncomfortable is the situation for her?
Ask challenging questions. As you continue with your friend, you ask if it is possible that John’s differences have upset Michelle’s plan to take it easy until retirement? How long is Michelle willing to stay stuck? How much is she willing to do to change the situation? How would she know when it might be time to leave the position, before her retirement? Ask Michelle what she thinks she is contributing to keeping the situation going. Has she asked for clarification from John? Does John really understand how Michelle likes to receive direction? How about setting aside time with John for just socializing? What does Michelle think her employees are seeing in her lack of engagement? How does she think it is affecting them?
Separate fact from fiction. What does Michelle tell herself about a boss who is “just a talker”? Does John need to be exactly like her in order to do a good job? Can Michelle accept direction from a person with a style she finds difficult to connect with, or to respect? Is it really possible to “take it easy” until retirement in 10 years? That’s a long time. What could happen in that period to change things?
Enlist a thinking partner. Ask Michelle what she wants from you as a friend and colleague. Consider suggesting that she find a coach or a mentor to listen objectively and help her through this phase. Does she know anyone else outside of work who has faced a similar situation?
Imagine yourself in this situation.
You are worried about your weight. At a recent doctor’s appointment, you were warned about the likelihood of developing Type 2 Diabetes, and you are already taking medication to lower your blood pressure. You saw the word OBESE written on your encounter summary. What a blow! You have struggled with your weight for years, and tried every diet and program that showed promise, but just when you begin to lose a little weight, you let your guard down and slip off the path.
Acknowledge that you are stuck. That word on the chart did it for you, as well as the diabetes scare. When you came home from the appointment, your first call was to a good friend, who knows your weight loss journey. He has weight issues of his own. You tell him that you really are committed this time. You need help.
Step back and reflect. What do you think is going on? Why are you wanting to take steps now to lose weight? Besides your health, how is your weight affecting your relationships and quality of life? Why have your prior attempts not worked long term even when you were losing weight? Were you bored, tired of the regimen, anxious about whether you could really do it?
Ask challenging questions. What are you doing to keep the situation from improving? What is your weight a symbol of? How bad do things have to get before you take permanent action? What is your vision for your life at the weight you want to be?
Separate fact from fiction. You think losing the amount of weight you need to lose is too hard. There’s just too much. . . The number is so big. The reality is that it will take awhile, but it is a one-day-at-a-time experience. And you are capable of losing weight. You have done it before. You decide that you need a plan to keep the weight off, not simply to lose it. You admit that you feel like a failure at this and maybe deep down you wonder if you deserve to be happy. In discussion with your friend, you figure out that you are not your weight. . . nor an ideal body image either. You are much more than what you look like, or even, what you do for a living.
Enlist a thinking partner.  Sharing weight loss stories and plans with your friend hasn’t been very helpful. For support and ideas, you decide to join a group at work who is helping each other with healthy lifestyle choices. You also decide that seeing a therapist could be a good idea, and you start the process of finding someone to work with.
Admitting that you are stuck is the important first step on a journey to create momentum and change a situation that seems to be going nowhere. Being stuck can be a sign that says it’s time to take action, IF we pay attention, and follow through with reflection, great hard questions, separating fact from fiction, and having the support of a thought partner. Thunderbird Leadership Consulting offers executive and leadership coaching, and is available to assist you with situations in which you, or your workplace, feels “stuck”. For more information, contact us at info@thunderbirdleadership.com.

Getting Unstuck!

We all have issues in our lives, professional and personal, that seem to just persist on and on and never get resolved.  How do we manage the “no-solution” situations?  What do they look like?

  • An employee who you like, who tries really hard, is not succeeding in their role.
  • A staffing problem that just doesn’t seem to resolve – resulting in overtaxing valued employees who have to fill in.
  • A process that gets stuck over and over again in the same place delaying necessary action.
  • A position that was fulfilling that has changed because of new leadership.

You’ve tried so many interventions! But nothing seems to work.  You are dissatisfied, folks around you are dissatisfied and yet the problem just won’t go away.
How do we approach these sticking points? My partner-in-blog, Jill Bachman, reflected, “think of getting stuck in the physical world, like lost on a hike, and the first thing to do is stop, stop the struggle, breathe and take stock.”  So, the first thing to do is to step back from the situation and reflect on what is going on.  We tend to do this on our commute, in the shower, doing physical labor (sweeping the front porch, gardening) or when we are away from the office at a concert, on vacation, on a hike.
Reflect on what is really going on.

  • How would you describe the situation?
  • What values and beliefs are at play?
  • What role do you have in sustaining the current “stuck” place?
  • What influence or decision-making power do you have?

Noushin Bayat, one of Thunderbird’s coaches, suggests separating fact from fiction – identifying what we know (observable facts) from the story we are creating about the situation (fiction, beliefs that may or may not be true) and challenging ourselves to consider other possible stories (other possible beliefs?).
For example, with the employee we like who tries really hard but does not appear to be making progress, what do I know?

  • I like the employee.
  • I care about the person as an individual.
  • They are trying.
  • We’ve tried to help.
  • They are not succeeding.

What values are in play?

  • Loyalty
  • Commitment
  • Supervisory responsibility and accountability
  • Organizational success
  • Others?

What role do I have in sustaining the situation? (How do these ideas relate to the fact/fiction dichotomy? What other ways of seeing things are there?)

  • Taking responsibility for their lack of success.
  • If I provided better direction, guidance or coaching…
  • If I advocated for the employee better…
  • Valuing loyalty and caring over organizational success. I don’t want to be heartless!
  • Believing things will get better time after time after time…
  • Not wanting to hurt this person that I like…
  • I am accepting substandard performance and hoping it will get better.

What decision-making power or influence do I have?

  • I can help the individual assess their own ability to be successful.
  • I need to be clear about expectations and goals for success.
  • I have the power to terminate employment.

So how do I decide I have tried hard enough, and they have tried hard enough? How do I know when it is time to act?  How could the following questions help?

  • What will happen if I continue doing what I am doing?
  • How will I know when it is time to act? (Chip and Dan Heath[1] describe this as establishing a trip-wire.) It can be a particular event that would have to happen – e.g. a specific failed project, or it could be a lack of progress by a certain date.  If nothing changes in three more months, I have to act.
  • What would I tell my best friend if they had this problem?
  • If I were leaving tomorrow and someone was taking my place, what would I advise them about this situation?
  • Are there possible solutions outside of the binary: continuing the way things are or termination?

What do you think the answers would be in the above situations?  What will happen if action isn’t taken?  What would you advise someone else to do?  Are there more solutions than the simple binary?
Some of us can do this analysis on our own.  Many of us work better with a thinking partner.  Who do you have in your world that you can be vulnerable with? Who will listen to you? Who will ask you the hard questions? Who is far enough away from the situation not to be stuck inside it?
In Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without[2], Tom Rath describes how important it is to have people in our lives who support us, encourage and motivate us and help us navigate decisions.  He references Gallup research that stresses the importance of having “a best friend at work.”  Having someone we trust, can confide in and be vulnerable with at work increases our engagement, satisfaction and success enormously. Rath identifies various roles friends play in our lives and emphasizes that no one person can do it all.  Our vital friends can be at work and at home, colleagues, friends, family, coaches, mentors and sponsors.
When we get stuck, it is not uncommon to turn inward instead of reaching out.  By being aware of our vital friends (what I consider my “kitchen cabinet), we have the human resources to help us get unstuck.
So, how do we get unstuck?

  • Step back and reflect
  • Ask yourself challenging questions
    • About your role in the situation
    • About what you would tell someone else in the same situation
  • Separate fact from fiction
  • Use a thinking partner

And first and foremost, recognize that you are stuck and need to get unstuck.
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” – CG Jung
______________________________
[1] Heath, Dan and Chip. (2013) Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work. Currency, New York.
[2] Rath, Tom. (2006) Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without. Gallup Press.

Tip of the Month, March 2019 – More on Managing Up

In Jill Bachman’s February Blog Post (link here), she referenced Mary Abbajay’s definition of managing up. “Managing up is about consciously and deliberately developing and maintaining effective relationships with supervisors, bosses and other people above you in the chain of command.”[1]  Jill further clarified that managing up is the “how” of doing your work so that you can most successfully align with your boss(es).
For Tips this month, we’ll focus on her first general principle, “Communicate. Communicate some more.”  How do you know what to communicate, when to communicate and how to communicate?
Jill provided some ideas which we will revisit here – and then explore a really uncomfortable one: if your boss has been unhappy with an aspect of your work, how do you help him/her notice the changes you are making?
So, first the basics.

  1. Learn your style and your boss(es)’ style.
    1. Find out if your company uses a personality type inventory for training and development. If so, take advantage of the opportunity to take it, learn about it and find out more about the people you work with.
    2. If the company does not use a specific inventory, research and find one that is relevant to the work environment.[2]
  2. Big picture or detail? How do you know how much to share?
    1. Ask. How do you prefer to get information?
    2. Observe. What do you notice about his/her response to information you have shared?
      1. Have they read it? (And if not, take it as data not an insult.)
      2. Do they just ask you to give them an idea of what is in the detailed report you have prepared?
      3. Do they ask for bullet points?
    3. Cover all your bases.
      1. Send highlights and/or key points within the body of the email.
      2. Attach a more comprehensive report for further reference.
  3. How quickly do they expect you to respond?
    1. It would be really nice if your superior would tell you.
      1. It is confounding when you have a superior for whom everything is an emergency.
      2. It is also troubling when a request is not clear – is this a “nice to have” suggestion or a requirement.
    2. This is a great opportunity to “manage up” by taking the initiative to ask for the clarification you need.
      1. Is this a priority?
      2. When do you need it?
      3. Explain if something else will have to be delayed.
        Especially if you have been having some communication and expectation challenges, do not assume anything.  Your boss may not know or remember your work load, your other assignments, your planned family vacation, etc. if you do not share that information.You might try to find an agreed upon “default” expectation if no other date is given.  I acknowledged to my staff that I don’t always remember to give a due date (awareness of my own imperfections) and said that in the absence of another due date, the default expectation would be one week.  If I needed it sooner, it was up to me to convey that.  It would also have been nice if I could have said, when appropriate, “this is not a priority – can you get to it within the month?”
  4. How do they prefer to communicate? This is a major challenge if you and your boss have different needs/preferences and styles. In the best of worlds, you have a conversation to better accommodate both your needs because as much as you might adapt and manage up, if your communication needs are not met, you will struggle to succeed.
    1. Face to face v. electronic (text, email, etc.)
      1. If you need face time and your boss just wants electronic notifications, you will struggle.
        1. You may need to find a way to explain how much a face to face meeting will contribute to your effectiveness.
        2. And, you need to honor what information and updates can be sent electronically to ensure timely and time-efficient communication.
      2. If they prefer face to face meetings and you see them as a waste of time, propose a format or structure that will help meet your efficiency needs. What can be written up v. what needs to be discussed.
    2. Drop-in or scheduled — Every boss tries to say they have an open-door policy because it is the right thing to do. Some people do really well with interruptions. Others really get derailed from their focused work. As much as possible, know and honor their style.
      1. Try to clarify when “drop-ins” are appropriate – what is really time sensitive?
      2. Keep a list of questions, topics, discussion items for a scheduled meeting.
      3. Text first if something does seem time sensitive – and/or will stop you or your team from hitting your time lines – to see if you can drop in.
      4. Keep the conversation focused and brief.

So now, to the second question.  How do you manage a situation where your boss has expressed concern about your work, and you are making an effort to correct it?  This can be a major challenge where efforts to improve are not observed but any misstep is immediately noticed and reinforces the original concern.
If it is possible, create a written action plan for change with your boss. Describe what you will do, what change will look like and how you and your boss will know it is happening.  Frame this as development and accountability not correction or punishment.
For example, suppose your boss is concerned that you are not staying on top of your employee’s work assignments. He or she has asked you for updates on projects and you were not able to answer – saying you have to check with staff.
You see your boss looking annoyed or frustrated.  They may or may not say anything…but you know…  You can either address it right there or you wait until he/she finally brings it up to you. (Consider the benefits of addressing v. waiting.)
What does an action plan look like?
What is the issue?  Boss expects me to know the status of all projects for my direct reports.
(You may have been a more laid-back supervisor who just counts on things getting done.  Boss is not that way.)
What can you do? Propose a plan. Pick choices that make sense for you:

  1. Have more frequent 1:1 update meetings with staff.
  2. Have stand-up meetings daily or weekly as needed to be sure you have all updates.
  3. Use or create a reporting system that keeps you updated and sure that timelines are being met.
    1. Be sure your reports use it.
    2. Be sure you review it regularly.
  4. Make sure to notify your boss if anything is causing delays, problems, etc. before he/she hears it from anyone else.

Build in accountability. This is critical to your successful relationship with your boss and ensures changes and effort are noticed.

  1. Clarify how you and your boss will communicate about the implementation and impact of the new plan. What does he/she need to know?
  2. Clarify how you and your boss will assess the results and/or identify any other needed changes.

If you do not use a written plan, it still helps to bring it to the boss’s attention if it is a subtle thing, like a soft skill. “I heard what you asked, and this is what I did about it.” And you can help focus your boss’s attention on the requested change by asking them to give you feedback when they notice you meeting the new expectation.
We often assume that our work will speak for itself. We worry that these efforts at communication will be seen as self-serving or manipulative.  And yet, without effective communication, we are relying on other people seeing what we are seeing.
Jill concluded her article by saying, “The bottom line is that managing up involves straightforward approaches, based on assessment and intention, rather than subtle manipulation. Managing up helps you be more effective in your work. The question is, if your boss asked you what you are doing differently in your approach with her, could you comfortably tell her how you are managing up? If the answer is yes, you are good.”
Here’s to “good.”
___________________________________________
[1] Abbajay, M. 2018. Managing Up: how to move up, win at work, and succeed with any type of boss.1.Wiley.
[2] Options may include:

  1. Abbajay’design: see note above.
  2. DiSC (which Thunderbird uses quite a bit) – note that one of the features of Everything DiSC is a comparative report providing insight in how two people will work together. Contact us at Thunderbird for more information or go to: https://www.everythingdisc.com/Home.aspx
  3. Myers Briggs Personality Type Indicator (MBTI) https://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/home.htm?bhcp=1