Tuesday, September 30, 2014

ForceMultipliers

In his autobiography, My American Journey (2003), Colin Powell describes what he calls "force multipliers."  My paraphrase of that concept is that force multipliers are ways of thinking/behaving/acting that make powerful attributes even better.  Think of it as good stuff on steroids.  

As I think of some pretty powerful force multipliers for leaders, these come to mind:

  • Be relentless about getting better (personally and organizationally).
  • forgive, Forgive, FORGIVE!
  • Show compassion, but don't make a show of it.
  • Incentivize initiative.
  • Empower others with zeal.
  • communicate, Communicate, COMMUNICATE!
  • Notice everything.
  • Praise persistently.
Steroidal stuff.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Friend(s)

I am completely convinced that there is no person on the planet more blessed than nc.  
(And, no, I didn't win the lottery.)

Blessings come in many forms, both tangible and intangible.  
(And, no, I'm not gonna try to list all of them.)

At the forefront of my mind right now, however, is the huge volume of folks who have befriended me through 56+ years.  Providence, serendipity, fate(?) have occasioned my path-crossing with tons of folks who have enriched my life immensely.  They come from all walks of life, they're all different colors (and mixes of colors), they are of all age groups, have differing religious and political views,etc., etc., .................................  

You get it.  They're all different, in countless ways, but similar in this one: They have chosen to befriend nc.  
Sweet!

I spent three days this last weekend with four of them (pictured), riding our motorcycles through the Ozark and Ouachita Mountains.  



To quote another of my friends, "A large time was had by all."

Funny how much I LEARN every time I get around my friends.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

HonorableService

I was blessed to have been able to present Texas Senator Robert Duncan with a commemorative artifact this week, in a reception held in his honor.   Senator Duncan is retiring from the Texas Senate, after 21 years of service.  His new title is that of Chancellor of Texas Tech University.

Among the presenters who spoke at that event, four big ideas stuck in my mind as Senator Duncan's work as a public servant was recognized.  Here they are:

  1. He always brought civility to the table, even when dealing with contentious and partisan issues.  What a tribute!  I have written about Civility before, but it's a topic that gets short shrift in both text and deployment. 
  2. He always offered a solution, even when it was politically perilous. Rather than work and campaign on the "I'm agin' it" platform, he listened, sifted, synthesized, and forged workable solutions that could pass the this-is-good-for-us-all test.  Not seeing a lot of that kind of statesmanship these days.
  3. He constantly worked calmly and reasonably, with folks of both parties, to create consensus around important policy decisions.  Hmmmm...  Now I'm wishing he would run for national office.
  4. He leaves a "legacy of love" (to quote Charles Perry, the man who has won the seat Duncan vacated).  That is not a phrase often attached to those who have spent decades in political positions.  Wouldn't mind having that one tattooed on my own headstone.
Senator Duncan is genuinely a "good guy," and I'm betting he'll be missed by a LOT of folks in Austin (on both sides of the political aisle).   Texas Tech knocked it out of the park when they got him.

But the point of this blog is not so much to honor Senator/Chancellor Duncan as it is to point to the attributes he embodies that I believe we should look for in ALL our leaders (regardless of party, regardless of role).  

Perhaps the science of cloning offers some hope on this front.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

BullPastureAmerica

Four years ago I was visiting with a pre-kindergarten student in the school I serve here in Guthrie, Texas.  I was asking what this novice scholar was learning at school.  I love visiting with students, of all ages, about their perceptions of learning.

During that conversation I asked how she liked living in Guthrie.  She replied that she didn't live in Guthrie.  Ever the nimble one mentally, I realized that she was a bus rider so I redirected my question and asked how she liked living in Dumont (a community about 15 miles out, where she boarded the bus each day).  Again, she informed me that Dumont was not her home.  Now I was scrambling....  Aha!  Remembering that her dad was a cowboy on the Tongue River Ranch, I confidently said, "Oh, yeah, you live on the Tongue River Ranch, don't you?"  

With as much patience for ignorance as a five-year old can muster, she explained:  "No, we live in the bull pasture."

But, of course!  This informative exchange with a pre-kindergarten student continues to serve as a reminder to me that we all (whether age five, 35, 65, or 85) tend to see the world through our own particular lenses and from within our contexts.  

This little girl knew exactly where she lived (and, yes, her family did in fact live in the bull pasture).  However, she had not yet developed the ability to see the world from other levels or consider other contexts.  

Those of us who choose to live more richly and communicate more effectively would be wise, I think, to teach ourselves to consider (and be open to) many other perspectives and worldviews than our own.  

We might learn something from it - even from a five-year old.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Convoluted

Learning is a messy and convoluted undertaking.  It is a process, not an event.  Learning occurs in fits and starts, not in some linear trajectory.  The richest form of learning occurs within context, not isolated as a concept or set of facts dissociated from the life of the learner. 

Over the last three decades we (the general public) have gradually acquiesced to the notion that learning  (and thus school quality) can be discerned on easily graded, high-stakes, multiple-choice tests.  It makes for a nice, clean “score” by which to rank students, but it tells us precious little about students' ability to think critically and deeply, and to transfer learning.

The richest learning cannot be accurately assessed by standardized tests, which are, at best, oversimplified instruments used to measure oversimplified cognitive processes.

The best teachers I know, and the best schools I know, have purposefully de-emphasized those erroneous measures of learning and have, instead, embarked upon locally developed measures of learning.  Are they nice and clean?  Nope.  Are they easy to administer?  Nope.  Do they sort and sift students by age or grade level?  Nope.

So, why go to the trouble?  

Because the locally chosen standards, and the measures created to assess student progress toward them, are relevant and meaningful to the current lives of the students.  Moreover, they're relevant to the future success, happiness, and productivity of students once they become adults.  Now THAT is meaningful education. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

FoodSanity(8.0)

FAT!

Yep, FAT!


Another of my long-held beliefs (driven by mis-information, by the way) is being turned on it's head.  It seems that my persistent efforts over the last three decades to choose fat-free, low-fat, and skim kinds of products were, in fact, NOT enhancing my health.  More likely, those erroneous acts were compromising my health.

What?  

Now I'm learning that I need LOTS of healthy, clean fats, the Omega-3 kinds.  Turns out it was not those kinds of fats at all that turn into fat in my body.  On the contrary, the fat around my girth, under my arms, on my hips, etc., was generated from the high volumes of processed sugars and grains I consumed. 

So, how do I get all those good fats now?  Here's what I eat, and I eat a lot of it:

  • Butter (the real kind)
  • Avocados
  • Raw, organic nuts, by the boat load
  • Fats from real, grass-fed, grass-finished meats
  • Fresh, raw dairy products
  • Organic coconut oil and olive oil
See, I told ya.  Just backward from what we've been told by the "experts" for years.

I'm beginning to wonder if that food pyramid thing wasn't created more for the health of someone's bottom line than it was the health of the line of my bottom.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

MEANING(less)

Philosophers, thinkers, poets, and sages have for centuries attempted to define the meaning of life.

Most notably, Holocaust surviving psychiatrist Victor Frankl chronicled his experiences in German concentration camps in Man's Search for Meaning (1946).  It is a powerful and compelling work in which Frankl offers his conclusions on that topic.  

Thousands of other books, stories, and legends detail the lives of men and women who searched for life's meaning in their own way.

No, I don't have the ONE answer to what gives life meaning.  However, I'm pretty sure that we only realize meaning in our lives when we get beyond ourselves (spiritually speaking).  

As a seasoned observer of life and those who live it (both gracefully and not so), I think I can identify a very powerful attractor (to steal from the lexicon of physics) for providing meaning to life.  

It seems to me that those who engage zealously in service to others enjoy lives that are full of meaning.  Conversely, it seems to me that those who are most committed to themselves, their own fortunes, their own comforts, and their own needs are the best representatives of living lives that are meaningless.

Just a thought.....................for your consideration. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Boundaries

Boundaries are viewed in many ways.

Here are several of them:

  • A demarcation that designates ownership.
  • Imaginary borders that represent a difference in context.
  • Understood off-limits subjects of conversation.
  • Divisions, real or imagined, that separate groups of people.
  • Spoken or implied limits to which one's aggressiveness must stop (hated this when I was dating).
  • Partitions that "contain" different lines of authority.
  • An endpoint or "wall" at which one must stop, literally or figuratively.
  • The limit of our mental, physical, or emotional endurance.
The boldest thinkers and the most courageous leaders I know usually view boundaries as opportunities for new breakthroughs, for higher levels of achievement, as horizons of new innovation or creation, as potentialities for new alliances.  

Very often their dreams and aspirations simply begin at the boundaries. 

Few of those folks defeatedly stop at the boundary and shrug as if "that's it."  

Probably why I admire them so.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

SmilePower

Back in 1995 our country was mesmerized by the murder trial of O.J. Simpson.  During that trial, the news media seemed to pay attention to little else in the world.  They analyzed every word, every frown/smile, every point and counterpoint.  A prominent fixture of that constant analysis was the nightly talk show called Larry King Live on CNN.  

A frequent guest on King's show was an attorney from Wyoming named Gerry Spence.  He was the epitome of eccentric.  He wore a buckskin jacket with fringe hanging from the sleeves, he had long and flowing silver hair, and he had an absolutely magnetic presence.  Spence also had a wicked wit.

During one of those trial analysis sessions King asked Spence about the courtroom theatrics of one of the attorneys that day, to which Spence replied, "You can say damned near anything you want to as long as you say it with a smile on your face."

That concept resonated with me then, and resonates with me still (almost 20 years later).  In fact, I have even included improving my smile (and laughter) power on my personal growth plan for several years.  I believe it's that important to my becoming a more effective leader. 

I later read a book written by Spence titled How to Argue and Win Every Time (1996), and found it chock full of interesting and useful ideas about how to express myself in a convincing way. 

  

I think often of Spence's comment to Larry King about the power of a smile.

In fact, I'm smiling right now...

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

MitigateTheMadness

Nobody likes to work in a toxic work environment.  There are a lot of variables that can cause the workplace to feel de-energizing, frustrating, and/or downright oppressive.  

Unfortunately, "the boss" is somehow implicated in many of those possible toxifying possibilities.

So, how can leaders act and behave in ways that mitigate such madness?

A few of my thoughts:

  • Actually care for the people who work with you.  Get to know them, what their interests are, what they struggle with, what makes 'em tick.  It's okay to care. Really.
  • Neither be a jerk, nor tolerate them as team members (for any length of time).
  • In as many ways a possible, make the workplace as pleasant and enjoyable as you can.  Fun is like medicine (both personally and organizationally). 
  • Ask for the help and the thinking of team members as often as possible.  Few things energize us as much as when we feel valued and that our contributions count.
  • Treat everyone respectfully (whether they've earned your respect or not).  The collateral damage that accrues when leaders mistreat anyone (deserving or not) is incalculable.
  • Understand that attitudes are contagious, in direct proportion to the level of authority.
  • When problems arise, tackle them as opportunities first.  Once resolved, then reflect on the root causes.  Jumping to conclusions and laying blame as an initial reaction will cause others to head for the exits.
  • Be accessible and be responsive. 
  • Paint desired outcomes as clearly as possible, but resist prescribing the pathways toward achievement.  Allow as much autonomy as you can stand (and just a tad bit more).
  • Notice. Notice! NOTICE!  good work and acknowledge it relentlessly.
I want to follow leaders like that; I want to be a leader like that.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

BetterQuestions

For the last several years I've had as an item on my personal growth plan to improve my skills as a questioner.  

I am convinced that if I ask better questions, then I will become a better listener.  Moreover, if I become a better listener I stand a better chance to learn more, to understand more fully, and to assess more wisely.  

In the interest of that personal goal, let me share some of what I'm learning about asking better questions:

  • Using starter stems like "How would..." and "How can..." and "What might we..." and "Is there a way to..." are much better than "Should..." and "What is..." and "When will..."  In short, questions that open doors to broader dialogue from a wider range of possible participants enrich the dialogue.  Question stems that force folks to take a position or provide a concrete "solution" right off the bat tend to narrow the discourse and polarize responses.
  • Questions that invite/encourage first-person responses are best. Keeping conversations in the first person make them less likely to drift into pontifications in which speakers report on behalf of others (most of whom are not and never will be "in the room").
  • "Listen a hole in 'em."  In other words, pose questions that invite folks to deeper levels of reflection/thinking, THEN focus intently on their words, their facial expressions, their body language, their tone, their attention, etc., etc., etc.  In effect, listen with all our senses, seeking to understand the other as fully as possible.  It is not about debate, it's about learning what the other thinks, believes, wants, needs.
  • LET SILENCE PLAY ITS ROLE!  Learn to be okay with long moments without words, in which thoughts can be formulated and considered, in which articulations can be considered fully before new words fill the air (and our brains).
  • Convey openness and interest through the questions I ask and through my responses to the answers given.  This is both respectful and inclusive in nature.
I've still got quite a lot to learn about being a better questioner.  I figure it will remain on my personal growth plan for a while longer.

Monday, September 8, 2014

DeathMarch

One of the prominent features of bureaucratic inertia and disfunction is the slow, painful, excruciating process of having meetings that are not well-conceived, conducted without focus, and ambiguous in purpose.  

"Death by meeting" has become a fairly common phrase heard around the water cooler in organizations of all shapes and sizes.

A couple of historical analogies come to mind: the Bataan Death March in the Philippines in 1942 and the Trail of Tears  in America in the 1830s.  In the Bataan Death March the Japanese military force-marched 76,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war through a grueling 60 mile trek, subjecting them to exposure, lack of nutrition, disease, and brutal mistreatment.  In the Trail of Tears numerous Native American tribes were relocated from their historical homes all over the United States to designated reservations (almost always onto lands that were not nearly as fruitful or fertile as their homelands).

While I don't at all desire to suggest that dysfunctional meetings are anywhere near the level of degradation and/or depredation as those two historical forced marches, I would like to conjure the image as a relevant analogy.

As an organizational leader of many years I am guilty as the next "chair" of presiding over painful, non-fruitful, excruciating meetings.  I believe I/we can do better by crafting and managing meetings with some of these strategic features:

  • Make agendas available to all ahead of the meeting
  • Keep agendas tight, and relevant to the work at hand
  • Clearly indicate decisions to be made
  • Allow all players to participate, but not bird walk
  • Require opinion givers to defend/support their position in relation to the objectives
  • Honor all informed opinions/contributions (but quickly cut off the uninformed or unprepared ones)
  • Start and stop on time
  • Be clear and specific about action steps and follow-up benchmarks
It's a tricky business, be we can do this...

Thursday, September 4, 2014

PreciousStewardship

I spent the last two days meeting with school leaders from the Texas High Performance Schools Consortium (TxHPSC).  That group of schools has taken the initiative and made significant commitments toward re-shaping the way "school" is conducted in each of their respective communities.  

Beyond the local focus, the TxHPSC has been charged by the Texas Legislature with developing next generation learning standards, assessments, and accountability measures within the context of the digital environment.  This work will inform and shape the dialogue (and, thus, future policy) around the future of public education in Texas.

All schools and individuals represented at the meeting were there by CHOICE, not by mandate.  The representatives present are all invested in and enthusiastic about this idea:  Schools can and should transform the way they conduct the the business of learning.  Why?  Because the world our children will live and work and play in upon their graduation from high school will not look anything like the world they live and work and play in now, and it will certainly not be like the one we (the adults) grew up in.

We can do better. We should do better.  And this group of schools, in particular, are committed to doing better in the educational enterprise.  Our students/children simply deserve no less.

The fundamental responsibility for schools is that we must practice exemplary stewardship with and on behalf of the most precious resources each of our communities possess - our children.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Futures


“The future of organizations is in the growth of the people in them.” (Dan Rockwell). 

Leaders who view the future of their organizations in terms of profit/loss, market share, enrollment, brand recognition, test scores, deals closed, cars sold, etc., are simply deceiving themselves. 

Our people ARE our brand (see my previous post on this).

The wisest leaders invest fully and often in the growth of the members of the organization.  The organization (a collection of organisms) is simply a manifestation of the people in it.  When they learn and grow and prosper and succeed........so does the organization. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

I'veGotYourBack


Over the years I’ve heard the phrase "I've got your back" used may times.  As usual, I feel that I'm not in the main stream of thought, but that phrase just doesn't resonate much with me.

It makes me a little suspicious.  There seems to be an implication that I've done something that requires someone to cover my back, or vouch for my alibi, or attest to my actions. 

I know.  I know.  I'm probably overthinking this issue.  I am immensely grateful for the people who are my friends, my allies, my colleagues, my compatriots.  But all those folks know that I'm completely transparent.  I don't do things that need "back covering."  What you see/hear is exactly what you get; there for all the world to see.

And, really, those who truly “have our backs” don’t have to say it.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Distortion

One of my colleagues at the University of Texas at Austin, Dr. Gaylen Paulson, introduced me to an idea that has challenged and altered the way I think about the world.

GP notes that many of us use eye glasses and/or contact lenses daily to “distort” our vision.  He says that we use these devices to cause us to see stuff as we assume it should look, rather than the way it appears to us without the assistance of those devices.  In effect, we choose lenses that will cause our world to appear as we believe it should look.  We have deliberately distorted our vision, based on some assumptions.

GP then goes on to assert that we often do the same thing with regard to our worldview.  We view the world, its problems, it challenges, its politics, its religions through lenses of our own choosing.  These lenses through which we then view the world, and the complexities of its organizational/social interplay, distort our vision.  In effect, we make the world fit the assumptions and preconceptions we already have about it.  What we do is view the world through explanatory/definitive lenses that make that world appear as we believe it should look.

Thus, we should consider the possibility that we deceive (or worse, limit) ourselves…