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Summer Vacation’s Over

| August 28, 2018

by Jim Bruce

… and School Will Soon Be Back in Session

I’m sure that it is as hard for you, as it is for me, to realize that summer vacations are over, Labor Day is upon us, and children of all ages are going back to school. My middle three grandchildren are either at college or will soon to be there, a freshman, a sophomore, and a junior.
And, for those who work on college and university campuses, this represents a large influx of new and recurring clients. Add to that faculty who were away for the summer, others returning from vacation, new employees and overall there is a lot of activity on every campus.
As I was thinking about the pressures and unknowns of “fall start up,” I remembered that it’s during such times that we each forget some of the leadership fundamentals that we have learned over the past years. For the last several years the MOR Leaders Programs have introduced some of these fundamentals in the form of practices, typically small positive habits to put to use as the situation gives us opportunity.
Brian McDonald introduced the concept of a practice in the January 16th Tuesday Reading, “Leveraging Practices,”1 as a “bridge to help individuals travel from having aspirations to become better, to actually developing the new skills and behaviors to enable her or him to be more effective. Practices are the means to the new level of competency we foresee for ourselves … A practice is a specific, conscious, action that helps an individual change their way of achieving a goal. Like in arenas other than leadership – for example, sports, music, dance, science, design, computer programming, etc. – consistent practice builds competence and confidence. Practices enable you to become conscious of your behaviors and choose a new action. Through this process, you change, grow and become your next self on life’s journey.”  
Four practices came to my mind as being particularly important at times of transition such as at the beginning of the school year. They are calendaring, “psychological safety,” building relationships, and asking questions. 
Face it, when the pace slackens and/or our “regular” schedule shifts, some of the practices we have worked hard to develop and put in place, well, don’t always continue to get done. I know that, for example, I’m not as rigorous in keeping the details in my calendar, and I may not be as careful and thorough in asking questions. And, lots of other things, too!
So, this Tuesday Reading is to remind me and you that the “game” is now on and that it’s time to put back in place some of the practices we’ve slacked on.
1.  The first is calendaring. Both in program workshops and in a February 2018 Tuesday Reading, “Your Daily Calendar,”2 we urged you to develop a practice of planning each day’s activities in sufficient detail that when you come to that time and activity, you know what it is you need to do. Specifically, we suggested you might take 30 minutes to an hour at the end of each Friday. During that time, you review what’s already on your calendar for the next week, add any items you know about but which haven’t yet made it to the calendar, allocate time for you to prepare and to travel to and from meetings you have, add time for you to do your work (the things no one else can do), and blocks of time for staff to “drop-in,” time for you to take short breaks during the day, etc. If you do this planning on Fridays, then you begin the week with a real “game-plan” that will be a very helpful guide for your work. And, if you take a short period of time, say 10 or 15 minutes, each morning during the week, to update that day’s plan, you’ll be all set to go for the day.
2.  I really see “psychological safety3 as a practice for your team. Around 2012, Google launched an initiative to identify skills needed for the best teams. It identified five “dynamics” – psychological safety, dependability, structure and clarity, meaning of work, and impact of work. The study showed clearly that psychological safety was far more important than the other four dynamics. And, in fact, it was a necessary condition for success in the other four. Simply stated, “psychological safety is the belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.”4 It describes a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves and speaking openly. If your team is not psychologically safe, it is worth the time and effort to develop these behaviors. The result will be a better functioning and more productive team.
3.  Building relationships,5 that is creating, developing, and maintaining them, is key to success in an organization. Relationships don’t just happen. They require intentional action by at least one party to get started and by both parties to maintain and develop the relationship. One approach to building and having strong relationships is a technique called the Four I’s: Initiate, Inquire, Invest, and Influence:
 Initiate – Relationships begin with communication. For communication to occur, someone has to take the initiative. So, walk over, introduce yourself, say something about why you’re “here” and then the conversation will take off on its own. (I urge you to begin to do this two or three times each day to build out your network.)
 Inquire – This involves expressing a genuine interest in learning about the other person. Make her or him the center of your attention and conversation as the two of you get to know each other.
– Invest – Once we have begun a relationship that we want to maintain and grow, we have to invest in it. What is it that we want the relationship to become? Most strong relationships have some element of doing in them? For example, you work together on a project or to advance an issue. When you figure this out, continue to nurture the relationship and communicate with each other.
 Influence – Influence is not a solo activity. It involves influencing others to work together with you to achieve some goal that is important to you and them. This is really the pinnacle of a relationship.
4.  Asking questions.6 We seem to be born curious but lose our curiosity by the time we leave high school. Researchers suggest that in our “always on” culture, we’re always rushing to the answer. They say we need to slow down and ask the questions that need to be asked so that we have a better understanding and make better decisions. Here are four types of questions you might ask: Clarifying questions to help us better understand what was said; adjoining questions to help us explore parts of the issue that have not yet been discussed in our conversation; funneling questions to help us take a deeper dive into the issue; and elevating questions to raise broader issues and address the big picture.
So, there they are. Four practices that you may have used in the past. If you did, consider using them again as you begin this new academic year. And, if any one of these is new to you, take the time to go to the longer original Tuesday Reading and develop the new practice and put it into play. I think that you’ll find it will strengthen your game.
 .  .  .  .  Jim
P.S. The Tuesday Reading is taking September 4th off.  So, the next essay will appear on September 11.  
Jim Bruce is a Senior Fellow and Executive Coach at MOR Associates.  He previously was Professor of Electrical Engineering, and Vice President for Information Systems and CIO at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA.

  1. Brian McDonald, Leveraging Practices, MOR Tuesday Reading, January 2018.
  2. Jim Bruce, Your Daily Calendar, MOR Tuesday Reading, February 2018.
  3. Jim Bruce, Psychological Safety, MOR Tuesday Reading, February 2018.
  4. Amy Edmondson, “Building a Psychologically Safe Workplace,” TEDxHGSE, May 4, 2014.
  5. Brian McDonald, Building Relationships, MOR Associates Leadership Lesson.
  6. Jim Bruce, Questions, MOR Tuesday Reading, February 2017.