Wednesday, April 30, 2014

BigBoxItis

I’ve been doing some reflecting of late on my buying habits.  I’ve developed real concerns about my inclination toward bargain hunting.  

To be sure, I can save money by buying in bulk from the folks who ship and stock it in mega-bulks.  I’ve noticed that, despite the fact that I got the products for a really cheap price, problems inevitably emerge if/when I need some kind of assistance in relation to the product(s).  

The Big Box Boys don’t seem nearly as interested in (or even capable of) helping me when the table saw they sold me has a malfunctioning on-off switch.  They cheerfully put me on hold, bounce me from department to department (if not country to country), and ultimately tell me that I can re-box and ship the hole darned thing back and they’ll replace it.  

The problem is: I wanted/needed the saw today. I don’t need a whole new saw. I just need a little troubleshooting help.

Because of scenarios like that, I am more and more frequently buying from the "little guy," who knows a lot about the products he sells and knows why he chose to sell those products in the first place.  It gives me comfort to feel confident that the seller can actually tell me things like where the on-off switch connects to the power, how the pump works when its down in the well, where and in what conditions those vegetables were grown, how one kind of tire will perform vs another, etc.

The Mom & Pop folks are increasingly getting more of my money (if I haven’t already driven them out of business, that is).  And, I'm okay with it.  The service they provide seems every bit as important to me as the product itself.

In that line of thinking, I think I need to hone my own skills at providing service in my areas of vocation as well.  I'm pretty sure that's what will keep the "customers" coming back (or not).

Monday, April 28, 2014

GoodReads

As most of you know, I generally post in this blog a brief review of the books I read.  Those reviews occur in onsies, instead of batches.

From time to time someone asks me for a list of books that I can recommend.  I received one of those requests a couple of weeks ago from students in a graduate class at the University of Texas at San Antonio, which was using my own book, Leadership Tools for School Principals, as one of their texts.    

Below is the short list of worthy books I recommended to that class.  All these works have significantly challenged my thinking and changed my behavior (in one way or another).  Enjoy.

Bolman, L. G., & Deal, T. E. (1991).  Reframing organizations: Artistry, choice, and leadership.  San Francisco:  Jossey-Bass.

Collins, J. C.  (2001).  Good to great:  why some companies make the leap…and other don’t.  New York:  HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Christensen, C.M., Allworth, J., & Dillon, K. (2012).  How will you measure your life?  New York: Harper Business. 

Goleman, D. (2008).  Social intelligence: The revolutionary new science of human relationships. New York: Bantam Books.

Palmer, P. J.  (1998).  The courage to teach:  Exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life.  San Francisco, CA:  Jossey-Bass Inc., Publishers.

Schwartz, T., Gomes, J., & McCarthy, C. (2010).  Be excellent at anything: The four keys to transforming the way we work and live. New York: Free Press.

Senge, P., Scharmer, C. O., Jaworski, J., & Flowers, B. S. (2005).  Presence: An exploration of profound change in people, organizations, and society.  New York: Currency Books.

Wheatley, M. J. (1999,2006).  Leadership and the new science: Discovering order in a chaotic world, 2ndEdition.  San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. 

Whitaker, T.  (2003).  What great principals do differently:  Fifteen things that matter most.  Larchmont, NY:  Eye on Education, Inc. 

Sunday, April 27, 2014

JB'sPassing

The circle/cycle of life has taken another of my mentors this week.  Jimmy Bickley, the school superintendent that both Moe (my lovely bride of 37 years) and I broke into the profession under, passed away the other day.  In fact, we had the great good fortune to have worked for/with Mr. Bickley on two different occasions.

Some of the powerful lessons of life and leadership I learned from Mr. Bickley:

  • Faith - Understanding God is a lifelong process that is never completed, but we should never presume to know the mind of God.
  • Unflappability - Steadiness under fire from leaders is a hallmark of the best ones.
  • Stewardship - Wanting resources and needing resources are two different things; leaders should be able to tell the difference and exhaustively try to provide for the latter.
  • Family - Devotion to family is a sure indicator of the depth of our character.
  • Affirmation - Support and recognition for those who are "doing the work" on the front lines of an organization is worth its weight in gold.
  • Kindness - Even in the heat of battle/argument/debate, civility and courtesy must prevail (warranted or not).
  • Humor - See, and help others see, the humor that underlies almost every human endeavor; life is too painful otherwise.
RIP, Jimmy Bickley.  A legion of educators (and the students they serve) are better for having known you and served with you. 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Seriously

One of the many things my lovely bride of 37 years (Moe) has taught me is the dichotomous power of seriousness.  

On one hand, it is extremely important that we approach our work and endeavors with serious attention and effort.  To do less is a direct challenge to our integrity.  And, less than serious investment of mental, physical, and psycho-emotional effort in this regard indicates to others a disconnect between what is spoken and what is enacted.  

We can try to fake it, but it just doesn’t work.

On the flip side, Moe has gently coached me over the years to understand the power of NOT taking ourselves too seriously.  Being able to laugh at ourselves and forgive ourselves is a necessary tool in keeping balance and sanity. 

Seriously.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

BarelyRight

One of the elements of leadership that I was a little too slow to learn was the nature of the processes by which we can come to final decisions:
     > Listen carefully
          > Gain multiple perspectives
               > Provide safety for dissent
                    > Consider consequences and implications as thoroughly as possible
                         > Make the call

I tell my students in the UT Austin Principalship Program that the “easy” decisions will never make it to their office.  Easy decisions get made at ground level in the organizational landscape. 

The gut-wrenching decisions usually get pushed along to the principal’s office.  (Translate that to mean the “boss’s” office in other types of organizations.) 

At this point the principal/boss faces this scenario: short menu, ugly options.

At the end of the day, a decision has to be made, and owned.  It is important to know that quite often, especially on the toughest of decisions, making the “right” decision means you may just be “barely right.”  Understand also that when those decisions get made, and they must, at least 50 percent of the clientele are not gonna like the decision made.  Goes with the turf.


This dynamic is one of the reasons that Dr. Steve Sample (author of Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership – 2002) rightly notes that there is a world of difference between having the title of leader and actually doing the difficult work attached to it.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Humbled

In a recent conversation with my lovely bride of 37 years (Moe), we were discussing the futility of waging war with nature.  Oddly, we humanoid types have historically tried to monkey around with nature by building dams, genetically modifying crops, killing vegetation with all kinds of weapons, clearing brush, creating bacteria-killing drugs, etc., etc., etc. 

While some of our efforts at “playing God” seem to bear fruit for a short period of time, what happens more often than not is that nature plays a trump card on us.  A tornado blows through, a drought sets in, bacteria morph into something different and more resilient, coyote populations explode, and so forth.  In effect, we get humbled.

The older I get the more convinced I am of the futility of waging war with Mother Nature (or whatever you want to call her/him).  Moe and I find ourselves rapidly evolving toward living/working practices that work with the rhythms of nature, rather than against.  

The end result is no different – Mother Nature still wins.  But at least the frustration and effort and resources on our side of the equation are greatly reduced.


Something to consider…

But...

If you want to stop a conversation dead in its tracks, use the word “but.”  

I read a number of years ago a suggestion that we use the word “and” in place of “but” when we are involved in substantive dialogues.  The idea behind using “and” instead of "but" is to keep the discourse open rather than trying to stop the idea or the expression of a position by another person.  

I’ve tried it, and it seems to work.  Another strategy I’ve tried using to train myself away from using the word “but” is to pause briefly after another has expressed their thinking/position/idea, then offer a question for consideration.  Instead of the using the word “but,” the question I offer generates more dialogue and freer exchange of ideas.  The questions I choose allow me to introduce a counter-perspective as a possibility for discussion, rather than a direct rebuttal to the other person's idea/thought.  

Reducing usage of the word "but" really has been beneficial for me.  It does seem to keep conversations going and the doors of possibility open.  

Try it.  See what you think. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Womens'Ways

From my 45-year study of leadership, one of the most informative books I’ve read on the topic is The Handbook ofLeadership by Bernard Bass (1990).  (Unless you’re a leadership junkie, you probably don’t want to tackle this voluminous monster.)

Here’s a thumbnail of Bass’s Model of Leadership, which he derived from the extensive research detailed in the book.  Leadership comes in two varieties: 
  1. Transactional – when the leader coaxes followers to do what he/she wants via rewards of some sort, or when the leader threatens (and/or applies) penalty/punishment when followers don’t behave and act as desired.
  2. Transformational – when the leader uses individualized attention, motivation, inspiration, intellectual stimulation, and modeling to entice the desired behaviors/actions from followers.
From my study of Bass and numerous other authors who have written about transformational leadership, I became convinced that I had some serious gaps in my own leadership skills.  I concluded that my effectiveness as a leader could be improved if I could grow myself in areas of leadership that Dr. Bass declared to be more naturally acquired and practiced by women.  Yep, Bass said that women leaders prove to be more dispositionally inclined to operate within those transformational leadership constructs than do men.

Thus, I set out about 15 years ago to learn more about women’s ways of leading.  I know it sounds strange to hear that from a southern country boy, but that journey has proven to be most gratifying for me.  Trying to learn and practice women’s ways of leading has made me a much stronger leader in the following ways:
  • I am much more inclined to operate from a collaborative worldview.
  • I listen more and talk less.
  • I better understand that there must be an emotional connection between leaders and followers.
  • I very rarely issue mandates, directives, or ultimatums.
To be sure, I’m nowhere near where I want to be as a leader.  There is much yet to be learned and mastered in the practice of that occult art.  But, I’m thankful to Dr. Bass and many others who were bold enough and giving enough to point me in the direction of improvement.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

MakingTheGrades

I recently read Making the Grades: My Misadventures in the Standardized Testing Industry by Todd Farley (2009).




What an eye-opener this book is!  Farley details experiences and observations from his 15 years of working in the standardized testing industry as a scorer and trainer.

Some of the highlights include:

  • The machinations of entities like testing giants NCS, ETS, and Pearson, which win state and national contracts to develop, administer, and score standardized tests, all with the fundamental motive of PROFIT.
  • The standard practice of hiring temporary workers to score high-stakes exams for low wages and low standards with respect to credentials required.
  • Persistent manipulation of score data to meet pre-determined parameters as prescribed by psychometricians.
  • The use of scorers who cannot speak English or have severe cognitive deficiencies to grade high-stakes tests.
  • Constant variation in interpretation of rubrics by which tests are scored.
  • Out and out cheating to make the numbers say what they need to say.
  • All sorts of short-cutting in order to meet tight deadlines with high volumes of tests to be graded.
My favorite sentence from the book: 
“The idea that standardized testing can make any sort of fine distinction about students – a very particular and specific commentary on their individual skills and abilities that a classroom teacher was unable to make – seems like folderol to me, absolute folderol.”


Two underlying points are woven through this book:
  1. The testing industry is about profit, not learning.
  2. No amount of standardized testing can assess the level of learning and proficiency of a student as well as a caring teacher who serves that student daily.
Amen!

IF I had any confidence left in standardized testing (which I don't), this book would have obliterated it.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Coaching'sSimplicity

From years of service as a head coach, an athletic director, a principal, and a superintendent, I’ve fielded my share of complaints from folks about those @%#& coaches.  The complaints fall along many lines: strategies deployed, during-the-game decisions, policies, treatment of players, organization, playing time, disciplinary actions (or lack thereof), practice habits, etc., etc.  Coaching is a complex undertaking, and in many ways it is similar to other leadership roles.  

Here are some of the fundamental challenges of coaching (AND leading):
  • Having a deep understanding of a complex, fluid, and dynamic competitive environment.
  • Winnowing such a complex environment down to simple, understandable deployment principles which can be taught to athletes/others.
  • Creating a developmental plan that effectively addresses both fundamentals and highly complex processes, which is understandable by and teachable to a broad range of team members.
  • Finding the right position(s) in which to play each team member, and knowing when to play them.
  • Teaching competitiveness to those who don’t naturally possess it, and coolness-under-pressure to those who are not so dispositioned.
  • Parceling out time in ways that effectively addresses detail vs big picture, part vs whole, offense vs defense, drill vs freelancing.
  • Keeping an eye on long-term outcomes, rather than making decisions in the interest of short-term dividends.
  • Knowing when talented team members are inhibiting/handicapping the team’s effort.
  • Developing a sense of contextual astuteness in relation to timing, responsiveness, application of force, etc.
  • Selling a philosophy of offense/defense/special teams (i.e., a vision) that all the players can rally around and support and pursue with zeal.
  • Weeding out the players, staff, equipment, distractors that get in the way of, rather than support, that vision.

 Sounds so simple, huh?

I have responded to many complainers of coaches over the years in this way:  You may not agree with the coach.  I may not agree with the coach.  But, he/she IS the coach.  Coaching cannot (EVER) be done by committee.  I don’t know of a single coach (from t-ball to professional sports) who does it exactly like I would do it.  And, at the end of the day, at least in athletics, about 90% of the time, the team with the best athletes wins (irrespective of who the coach is).

Leading organizations is similar in many respects.  Even when you have all those bulleted pieces noted above in place, at the end of the day, the team with the best players almost always wins.  

All the more reason to spend LOTS of time/effort/capital looking for and developing talented “players.”

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

ResumeVsEulogy

In this David Brooks TED Talk some powerful points are made about why we live and what we choose to live for. 

Some of my takeaways:
  • When life becomes a “game” for us, we lose ourselves.
  • Resume virtues = skills we bring to the marketplace.
  • Eulogy virtues = who we are in our depth (love, consistency, boldness, etc.) and the quality of our relationships.
  • Depth of character is constructed through fighting/wrestling with our “signature sin,” from which all the others emerge.
  • We can only “save” ourselves by hope, by faith, by love, and by forgiveness.
  • Resume virtues are focused on the short-term, self-centered rewards while eulogy virtues are focused on timeless, others-centric behaviors/thinking.

 As I look inward I see that there's still quite a lot of work to do…


Thanks to Dr. DH and MB for pushing this video my way.