Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Thinking Above

As a youngster growing up my father would always share his words of wisdom in the form of pity phrases. For example, he would frequently say to me, "Anything worth doing is worth doing right."  Certainly he was instilling in me his values and guiding me to be the adult he thought I should be.  Another thing my father would say to me is "think ahead".  He was trying to help me see the value of anticipating.  Similarly, a quote from Wayne Gretzky about his success is that he would "skate to where the puck is going not where it has been," also illustrates the power of anticipation. 

Playing off that theme is a leadership expectation I often share with my executive leadership team.  "Think at least one level above the level you manage."  This expectation is about anticipation, but it is even more about perspective.  As a leader it is important that one keep in mind the context in which they are leading.  Perspective is gained when one steps back, observes, reflects, and then upon drawing conclusions testing those conclusions to see if they are relevant and realistic.  

I find myself asking questions to help me "think at least one level above the level I manage".  I ask things like:

1. How might my supervisor see this?
2. How does this situation relate to similar situations across the campus?
3. How would I talk about this to outsiders?

While these are not hard and fast questions, they suggest a strategy for stepping back and reflecting. Questions often allow the opportunity to help one see a situation from another person's perspective.  Sometimes situations and circumstances push buttons that draw us in deeper to situations.  Often moving closer and closer to situation does not help us to be objective.  Moving closer can also trigger emotions that are not helpful.  Consequently, stepping back and asking questions allows for a more careful, objective examination of the situation leading to solutions that might not be obvious.  

Observation can be a helpful technique to "thinking at least one level above the level you manage." Take time to observe leaders at higher levels.  Ask yourself what you might do if you were in their situation.  Think about what strategies and characteristics you are observing that you might want to incorporate into your own leadership style.  My father always said that, "Wise men (and women) learn from others' mistakes; fools from their own."  His frequent quotation taught me to observe and learn from what I observed.  Learning from others has resulted in a quest for life-long learning with the goal of getting better at being a leader.  

One might ask, "How do you think one level above the level you manage when you are a president?" Perhaps it implies that a president has reached the "top".  Perhaps it implies that a level above a president is less easily defined.  Certainly as a president of a higher education institution I still have to answer to a governing board, a state government who allocates money, voters who allocate bonds and mill levy and a chancellor of a system.  Consequently, I find myself thinking about what these various stakeholders would expect of me and what they might expect when I have to address various situations.  

As you consider leadership at any level, reminder to "think one level above the level you manage."  

No comments:

Post a Comment