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Leadership Decision Making: Courage and Popularity.

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Category: Academic Insights

Recently, a colleague and I were talking about leadership decision making. We exchanged thoughts about the continuum of decisions, the “easy” to the “difficult” ones.  Giving everyone a longer lunch hour on a sunny day is an easy decision to make for a leader. It is considerate and popular; who doesn’t like a little more personal time in the fresh air?

But then there are situations which demand a leader to show courage. The increasing importance of using social media in educational institutions for communicating with different audiences has meant that I decided to add social media usage as part of my staff’s performance plan in 2011. For a school that is largely successful because of its proactive marketing and on-the-ground relationship-building, social media is more of a necessity than an option.  Was my decision (to add social media usage to employees’ performance plans) a popular decision? I guess it depends on who you ask. Some individuals accept new technology more readily. Simply said, they are aficionados of tools such as LinkedIn, Facebook Twitter, Four-Square and so forth. Others, in spite of providing training and coaching, do not come on board so easily. As a leader, I encourage and consistently send the message that everyone must engage in some form of social media practice. But to some staff, this may seem like top-down legislation. However, I view it as the responsibility of a leader to make and stay with decisions that are important for the overall success of the school.

Perhaps the most challenging decisions I have made as a leader are ones that have involved establishing new business practices, confronting a direct report on their lack of professionalism and performance, or dismissing an individual. I prefer to make data-based decisions, ones that will stand up to scrutiny and second-guessing, although they may not be popular. These are situations when a leader needs to show courage and decisiveness.

Every decision can be viewed from multiple perspectives. But whenever I have had to make popular decisions or ones that required courage, I have always endeavored to exercise my values of integrity and transparency.

As a leader, where does courage enter your daily routine?

 

 

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Empowering People in the Workforce.

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Category: Academic Insights

So what exactly does it mean to empower people in the workplace? In Successful Diversity Management Initiatives (1996), I wrote that “Empowerment refers to a sense of personal power, confidence and positive self-esteem. Empowerment involves a process of change that can be achieved in relation to specific goals.” Make no mistake, empowerment of self or others involves thoughtful planning, having actionable alternatives and of course, following through. Did I make the changes or succeed as desired?

The term empowerment is not an all or nothing proposition; empowerment needs to be personalized and contextualized. It can mean giving a new employee support and guidance to meet their first six-month goals. For mid-career professionals, it may mean ensuring they have the appropriate professional development and workplace experiences and exposure to move to the next level in the organization.  For more senior employees an organization wants to retain, a sponsor may identify opportunities and lobby to develop the individual’s talent with new assignments and perhaps other perks.

Contemporary organizations are flatter than ever before making “upward” progress unlikely or very slow at best.  Employees at our school have discussed the limits in upward mobility and their desire to have new career challenges and opportunities.  How can I empower advancement in an educational system where career progression is narrowly defined by years of experience, assuming more responsibility and delivering on goals?

Participation in employee-led work groups like the Green Teams, Wellness Committees, Inclusion and Engagement Committees and reading circles, among other opportunities to continue learning, can get employees involved in leadership activities. I encourage individuals to attend conferences relevant to their work or invite them to attend with me. Finally, because of the flatness of our school, I assign projects that increase individuals’ responsibilities and scope of influence, and then help them be successful.

Organizations and managers must consider how they frame and apply the term empowerment in their organization. Indeed, disempowered employees can be a drag on business goals.  Remember, “Empowerment involves a process of change that can be achieved in relation to specific goals.”

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Flexing Your Emotional Intelligence.

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Have you ever wondered why some individuals always seem to keep their cool in the midst of a heated meeting? Why can Manager A deliver critical feedback with kindness and calmness and Manager B fumble through a similar conversation? The answer is emotional intelligence (EI), a skill associated with competent leadership and excellent communication.

Fundamentally, EI is a personal resource that is put into action in daily workplace encounters by all of us. Daniel Goleman discusses the domains of personal and social competence for self-management and relationship management.  Frankly, without well-developed EI, one is likely to have many frustrations.

Because the workplace involves varying interpersonal activity, we may find ourselves consciously assessing how to respond in a given situation. Do I listen to someone drone on about why they cannot complete an assignment or do I interrupt with “care” and redirect the conversation toward a solution?

On a daily basis I have my “buttons pushed,” but I learned a long time ago that responding versus reacting is the course to follow. This is an example of self-awareness and self-management, two of Goleman’s EI competencies.  In other words, I have to recognize why my emotions are rising. What did someone say or do that hit a chord? Second, in these circumstances, my awareness allows me to remain calm, pause, ask for clarification, walk away and so forth.

As a psychologist, I learned to be a good listener. In therapy, good listening is essential but in many other work situations simply listening is insufficient.  As a dean, I have to give constructive feedback, ask for information and make recommendations in a clear and succinct manner. Even though I believe I am communicating with clarity, I also have to remember about the power differential with others. This means, I must be aware of how others project on to me attributes of dominance and control just because of my role. With EI, we engage in role-taking strategies so that we can see more than our singular perspective — “communication is not what you say but what others understand.”

How well is your EI working? Share an example of when your EI was a resource at work.

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