Friday, October 31, 2014

Entitlement

Entitlement suggests that some right or privilege or benefit is inherently deserved.  Irrespective of merit.  We see entitlement operationalized in our society on two fronts, generally from diametrically opposed stations.

We frequently see those who have positions of power or prestige expect and receive entitlements of some sort as a fringe benefit of their position.  Those entitlements might be in the form of club memberships, VIP parking spaces, fatter expense accounts, free tickets to events, deferential treatment, etc.  The list gets rather lengthy.  

On the other end of the entitlement spectrum are those who claim or expect entitlement due to some disadvantaged or oppressed status (real or imagined).  This group of entitlees presume that society owes them something simply because of the hardship they have endured, or are enduring (real or imagined).

The first group does not win my respect.  I much prefer folks in positions of power or prestige who are willing to wash the dishes, to help with the babysitting, who prefer to sit with the "common" folks.  You wouldn't know them as possessors of power or position by just looking at them.  Those are the kinds of people I admire.  They seem to understand that they have been richly blessed in life, but are not owed special treatment because of those blessings.  In fact, they often seem quite committed to sharing the largess of their blessings with others, both through acts of generosity, and in displays of authentic humility.

As to the other set of entitlement recipients, I have grown to pity them.  Regardless of the circumstances that have caused their disadvantaged status, the act of being the beneficiary of "required altruism" from others lessens them in the eyes of those others.  Even more, the level of dependence on entitlements from others seems to me to be inversely proportional to the amount of dignity one experiences.  

It is through acts of self-sufficiency and self-actualization that we establish ourselves as persons worthy of respect, regardless of our station in life.  Both forms of entitlement claimers disqualify themselves (in my eyes) from that respect.  

Bottom line:  the word "entitlement" carries pretty negative connotations for me (from either vantage point).  

Thursday, October 30, 2014

GrandMentor

I have written about the impact of powerful mentors before. Here, in fact.

One of my dear friends and professional colleagues, Dr. Ann O'Doherty, adds another perspective to the view of mentoring.  Dr. O, who now professes for the University of Washington, believes that the impact of powerful mentorship transcends one generation.

 Here's the effect:  
I was/am mentored by a thoughtful and effective mentor, 
who was greatly influenced by his own thoughtful and effective mentor,
who was greatly influenced by her own thoughtful and effective mentor,
who was...

Thus, retrospectively, that makes me a grandmentee and great-grandmentee and a great-great-grandmentee of some extremely capable, wise, and influential mentors.  Some of whom will never even be known to me.

Conversely, as I mentor those within my sphere of influence, I do so with an awareness that I may beget grandmentees and great-grandmentees and great-great-grandmentees.  

Paying back, paying forward.  The circle of life, the circle of learning.

Thanks for your thinking, Dr. O (from one of your mentees).



Monday, October 27, 2014

GrainBrain

I continue to learn new and powerful things about how to live healthier, longer, and more vibrantly.  I recently finished the book titled Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth About Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar – Your Brain’s Silent Killers (Perlmutter, 2013).  Dr. Perlmutter is a neurologist, so it seems safe to say that he probably knows his business when it comes to the human brain.



Like so many other works I have read in the last couple of years, this book challenged my thinking and debunked a whole host of "truths" to which I had subscribed for the last three decades.

Here are some of my biggest takeaways from this book (though not an exhaustive list, by any means):

  • Modern grains are silently destroying our brains.
  • Our food actually regulates our genetic expression.
  • Alzheimers and dementia (as well as other diseases of the brain) are predominantly dietary in genesis.
  • High carbohydrate and high gluten diets set our brains "on fire" through inflammation, which causes oxidation (i.e. "rusting").
  • Gluten is the equivalent of tobacco for our generation.
  • Fat - not carbohydrates - is the preferred and fundamental fuel for the human brain (and always has been).
  • Fat is good.  Cholesterol is good. Statins are bad. Sugars are bad. Carbohydrates are bad. Gluten is bad.  For the brain.
  • The brain thrives and grows as an effect of physical exercise. 
  • The fatter the human, the smaller the brain.
  • A tremendous amount of neural activity occurs in our intestines (our "second brain").
  • Our brains do, in fact, behave like muscles - they grow, they strengthen, they become more nimble, they have better endurance, when challenged.
There's a ton more I learned from this book, but I'll stop here, in the interest of being relatively succinct.  If you read it, get ready to have many assumptions and myths about health/nutrition challenged and debunked.  

A very good read. 

Connected

The more I learn, the more convinced I am that there are "fibers" of connectedness between us that serve to aid and abet our spiritual, physical, intellectual, and emotional health.  (Yes, I know that sounds a little weird.)

Never in history has it been easier to "connect" with others, via the internet and its subsidiary tools.  And, of course, phone communications are more robust and varied than they have ever been.

As we learn and grow, we continually develop and add to a network of informed and inspiring "others," who contribute to our growth in myriad ways.  They are not always folks who think like us, nor do they always agree with us.  However, their thinking and ways of being "push" our own thinking and ways of being.  

Thus, we grow, we learn, we get better.

Since it is so easy to connect with others in our current world, we have opportunity like no generation before us to activate that learning network, to reach out to those interesting or influential others, to leverage their thinking, to study their habits.  All of which can be used to affect our own growth and development.

And, as is always the case with authentic learning, the impact on the learner and the learnee morphs into a relationship of reciprocal benefit (rather than a one-gives-and-the-other-gets sort of dynamic).

This era of hyper-connectedness and ultra-accessibility affords us the unique opportunity to advance our own learning in ways and at speeds that are simply mind-boggling.

One of my favorite songs (to reinforce this idea):  "Connected," by Eric Bibb.

Friday, October 24, 2014

CircularInfluence

One of my sons-in-law, Jodie, called me on a hot August day six years ago.  He was the principal of a school which had bused it's faculty to an off-site retreat to partake in the exceptional learning program called Capturing Kids' Hearts.  

Jodie called me during the noon hour that day and told me that he simply had to share with me an experience from his morning.  His voice was breaking already as he described the morning's events.  

The retreat facilitators had divided the participants (from many districts) into groups of 15-20.  The charge was to think of an educator who had had a profound impact on their lives and to share with the group the nature of that impact.  Not surprisingly, those testimonials were inspiring and laden with emotion.  

Jodie happened to be in the group with the kindergarten teacher he had hired just weeks earlier (I'll call her Kay).  As each member of the group related how a committed educator had touched their lives deeply, it came time for Kay to share her story.  

Kay related how a primary grade teacher in her life had had such a profound influence on her that she knew she wanted to become a teacher some day, even at that young age.  Jodie began to connect the dots and realized that Kay was talking about Moe (my lovely bride of 37 years).  Jodie began to see that the impact of Moe (now his mother-in-law) had spawned a next generation educator, whom he had deemed remarkable enough to hire for his own campus.

Furthermore, the reality that Kay would be teaching Jodie's own daughter (the granddaughter of Moe) began to sink in for Jodie.  Of course, Moe had no idea when she was teaching Kay some 20 years earlier that she might be laying the foundation for the education of her own grandchildren.  But, she was.  

As Jodie shared this story with me during that mid-day phone call, I broke down crying, right along with him.  The phenomenon of circular influence was being profoundly impressed upon us.  

I have often heard it said that "teachers touch the future" through the children they serve.  Rarely has that lesson been driven home for me in such a profound and emotional way.

I have been blessed to work with a multitude of Moe-like teachers over 35 years.  Indeed, they have, and are, and will continue, to touch the future.  Lucky kids, lucky parents, lucky world.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Discomfort

Growth, personal growth, is a function of learning.  Learning is a layered, interwoven mish-mash of experiences, reflection, acquisition, thought, and experimentation.

We can remain comfortable by doing the following:

  • Play the same scales in the same key on the same kind of instrument, over and over again.
  • Read the same books, by the same authors, in the same genre, over and over again.
  • Interface with the same people, in the same professions, about the same topics, over and over again.
  • Go about our work using the same methods, in the same chronology, desiring the same outcomes, over and over again.
  • Planting the same seeds, in the same seed bed, using the same nutrients, over and over again.
  • Engaging in the same hobby, day after day, over and over again.
  • Doing the same exercises, with the same intensity, in the same way, over and over again.
You get the idea.  

Growth, real growth, occurs when we push ourselves beyond the comfort zone.  Almost always, engaging with other people is the catalyst for real growth.

And what causes the discomfort in the growing process?  Fear of failure.  The angst of not already knowing the process or the outcome.  The prospect of looking or feeling foolish.  The likelihood of feeling strain, either cognitively, physically, or emotionally.  The apprehension of an unpredictable schedule.  The unease associated with talking to and learning from strangers (or at least, new acquaintances).  

"Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?"  
Only when you purposefully plant a little discomfort in the very first row.  

Ready to grow?  Come on in; the water's fine!  (Just not comfortable.) 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

OnPurpose

Speaking as one whose life has been disproportionately blessed, one of the richest of those blessings has been to be given the opportunity to serve on the Guthrie Common School District (GCSD) Team.  

Like most schools, we have a wide range of students, from those that struggle mightily to those who breeze through content with nary a hiccup.  Our goal is to optimize the learning for each, while they are in our charge.  

With the blessing of our GCSD school board and the support of our community, we have decided that WE, not the state, not the federal government, are the ones best positioned and best credentialed to decide what our children should learn.  We call those standards the Guthrie Graduate Profile (GGP).  Here are the five dimensions of the GGP:

  • Learners/Problem Solvers/Critical Thinkers
  • Effective Communicators
  • Persons of Strong Character
  • Valuable and Productive Team Members
  • Compassionate and Responsible Citizens
Our professional educators AND our support staff embark daily on a journey of continuous improvement, of getting better every day, ON PURPOSE, in the interest of creating the very best possible futures for our students.  We use that GGP to guide our work.

Want to see some of what that looks like?  Click here.

Today, we did better than yesterday.  Tomorrow, we intend to get better still.  
On purpose.

Focus

I heard an executive coach saliently capture one of our fundamental needs during one of my conversations with him.  He said, "We all just want to feel effective."

I'd never heard it phrased so pithily before, but I think the guy is spot on.

In family life, in spiritual life, in personal life, in professional life, we all just want to feel as if we're being effective.  I suspect the word "effective" has a wide range of meanings for us, dependent on our individual contexts.  

As I have reflected on what it means to me personally, I think it boils down to whether or not I believe I have been focusing my attention on the BIG and RIGHT things as opposed to focusing on the inconsequential things.  I feel most effective when I am engaged in work and tasks that are clearly connected to my big picture goals in life and work.  I feel least effective when I spend my time dealing with stuff that seems to have no eternal significance.

Do I still wash the dishes?  Yep.  
Do I continue to submit reports?  Alas, yes.  
Do I keep on reviewing policy?  Afraid so.  
Do I remain attentive to those dastardly spreadsheets and the bottom lines of black or red?  Sure.

Those are not the things that energize me, that keep me coming back.  The challenge is to do those tasks without letting those tasks become the BIG PICTURE.  

Maintaining focus is a matter of habit and prioritization.  And, oddly, it seems like the best time to re-focus is when we begin feeling ineffective.  

Friday, October 17, 2014

Certainty

Certainty implies no doubt, done deal, can't miss, guaranteed.

From a leadership perspective, certainty comes in two varieties:
  • Outcome-based certainty
  • Purpose-based certainty
Leaders who operate from an outcome-based certainty profess to know exactly the products and procedures they want delivered.  No questions asked, no deviations.  Bombast and dictate are two of their fundamental leadership tools.  Dubious metrics and nonsensical protocols are common characteristics of organizations with this kind of leader.  Folks working under leadership of this stripe find themselves in an environment in which standardization and homogeneity are the norm.  Standards are set, outcomes are demanded, deliverables are required.  Organizations under this kind of leadership manifest some interesting dynamics:  "hiding" is an asset, avoidance of responsibility is a life-extender, risk aversion likens advancement, and blame-throwing is an art.

On the other hand...

Leaders who operate from a purpose-based certainty deftly articulate a vision of organizational pursuit and achievement that is worthy.  Usually, this vision has been collectively crafted.  These leaders display intense passion around and invest great personal energy in that vision.  They create a permeating tapestry of relationships, resources, messages, and engagement around that vision, that are embedded into the day to day work of the organization.  Interconnectedness and interdependence are the valued hallmarks of the organizations led by this kind of leader.  Folks who work with these leaders find themselves in an environment in which mastery is incentivized, not standardization.  They prosper in a climate of autonomy, in which the pathway toward the vision is malleable, customizeable, and personalized.  The incentives are most certainly there, though more symbolic, affective, and self-actualizing than tangible.  It is a magical combination of both form and substance. 

I've worked for and observed both kinds of leaders.  MUCH prefer the latter.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

HotWire

Learning comes through a myriad of media, not the least of which is electric fence.  Will Rogers is famously quoted as saying, "There are three kinds of men.  The one that learns by reading.  The few who learn by observation.  The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves."  (I suppose the analogy holds for females also, though visualizing that third rail of learning seems a bit of a stretch to me).

To date, I have only one grandson and he has only one living grandfather.  My grandson, at the age of three, learned the hard lesson of the electric fence (we call it "hot wire" at the ranch), to which Will Rogers alluded.  As I and a son-in-law were busy putting a new floor in the cattle trailer, my grandson was playing around the barnyard in our vicinity.  He kept grabbing hold of the electric fence, despite our repeated admonitions to avoid it.  The reason he was not getting shocked by the fence was because he was wearing rubber-soled boots at the time.  Thus, the hard life-lesson we were trying to help him avoid was erroneous in his three-year old mind, as the "evidence" we were prophesying was not forthcoming.  

UNTIL...

My grandson managed to lean into a metal fence post with one arm while grasping the electrified hot wire with the other hand.  Then, most assuredly, the physics (and lesson) of electric current made its way through his short mass of protoplasm.  
My grandson then 
yelped, 
cried, 
limped, 
whimpered, and 
held his electrified arm, as if broken. 

No, there was/is no lasting physiological or psychological damage.  
But, in fact, there was/is a valuable lifelong lesson learned (several, actually).  

Hard lessons are like that - painfully "seared" into our consciousness.  And usually, if they don't kill you, it makes you stronger/smarter.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Hurdles

I was a hurdler, as a high school athlete.  (Not a great one, mind you; just average). The thing about hurdles is that they introduce an interesting dynamic to a foot race.  Hurdles present barriers that impede your progress, they "get in the way," they distract you from the business of running, they force you to be thinking about how to engage them just as much as you think about getting to the finish line.  And, they can cause you to crash and burn.  

In thinking about work in organizations, I've seen a lot of bosses (i.e., leaders) who seem to be "hurdles" for the team members.  

Here are some of the ways they do that:
  • They impede progress (often by making a mess of relationships).
  • They get in the way (usually by requiring meaningless compliance kinds of work).
  • They distract team members (by regularly calling insubstantial meetings and demanding inconsequential activities).
  • They impose themselves on the processes, procedures, systems, and meetings (as if the work is about them, instead of being about the organization's objectives).

  • I've been thinking about how I can better avoid being a "hurdle" to the teams I work with.  It's rather difficult to "let go" and get out of the way of the team.

    Saturday, October 11, 2014

    Resistance

    Resistance is the phenomena of holding something back. Ways it manifests itself are through non-compliance, through argument, through diversion, through lack of acceptance, or even through downright defiance or hostility.

    I have seen resistance to my efforts/thinking as a family member, as a church member, as a faculty member, as a teacher, as a coach, as a principal, as a professor, as a superintendent, and as a rancher (yep, even from animals).  I suspect you have encountered resistance, too, in one form or another.  Or, many.

    What might be some useful strategies in dealing with resistance?  Here are a few I think worth considering:

    • Consider the possibility that my goal/objective/directive is actually wrong or fool hardy.  It could happen.  And, it ought to be considered.
    • Consider the possibility that I have not communicated clearly.  Have I been as clear about the "why" as I have about the "what" and the "how"?  If others don't know or understand the "why," it's probably not happening.
    • Consider the possibility that I failed to invite others into the decision (when time and the nature of the situation allows).  Did I garner and/or consider many perspectives before moving ahead with my resistance-creating decision?
    • Consider the possibility that fear or discomfort or lack of confidence  or loss (of some kind) is the catalyst for the resistance I am experiencing.  Knowing that these phenomena are common resistance generators, have I painted a clear picture about the risks and benefits to be anticipated?  
    • Consider the possibility that the resistance comes from suspicions about my motives.  Have I articulated well the fact that pursuit of my goal is about US, not about me?  Either consciously or subconsciously, others are assessing my motives.  It is wise for me to thoroughly go through the same process.
    The effectiveness of leaders (in whatever role) and 
    the enthusiasm of followers (in whatever form) 
    depend greatly on the ability to anticipate and deal with resistance.

    Wednesday, October 8, 2014

    4HourWorkweek

    I recently read The 4-hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss (2009).



    The book was an interesting read, providing a whole litany of ideas that TF proposes (and, presumably, has tried), with this end in mind:  Make plenty of money, offloading as much of the work from yourself as possible.

    Yep, a whole book of strategies around doing as little work as possible while making as much income as possible.

    I was intrigued by several of the ideas, and not so attracted to others.

    Here are some of my big takeaways from the book:

    • We will be happier if we do less work that we don't find meaningful.
    • We don't have to make an "A" on every assignment.
    • Spend little time/effort with "customers" who will never be happy and who will never add value to you or your organization.
    • Free yourself from the need to read/know/consume everything.
    • Focus your effort and energy on the things that you really want to do or accomplish in life.
    • The accumulation of stuff never makes us happy (for long); it's the experiences that make for long-lasting satisfaction.
    • Delegate freely, set clear expectations, and put systems in place for effective (but not omniscient) monitoring.
    My two favorite quotes: 
    • "There is more to life than increasing its speed." —MOHANDAS GANDHI 
    • "If you don’t make mistakes, you’re not working on hard enough problems. And that’s a big mistake." —FRANK WILCZEK, 2004 Nobel Prize winner in physics  
    One fundamental element of the book that I'm not buying is the obsession with income generation and monetary wealth.  I don't find real meaning in that premise.

    But, I'm glad I read the book.  Thanks for the recommendation, DS.
     





    (T)Rust

    Rust is the oxidation of iron or steel that is manifested in the accumulation of brownish residue on the metal.  We've all seen and touched rust.  It has the effect of encumbering or inhibiting.  It takes the "shine" off of metal.  It causes hinges to squeak and eventually freeze up completely.  Rust is abrasive and unsightly.  It leaves the impression of lack of care and attention.  Rust implies a disregard for care and attention.  Left unaddressed, rust will eventually eat completely through metal, compromising it in all ways.  

    In organizational work, the lack of trust has the same "oxidizing" effect that rust has on metal.  Little by little, day by day, inch by inch, the look and feel and effectiveness of the organization is compromised by that lack of trust.  Without the "T," we are left with "rust." 

    Both in the care and maintenance of metal and in the care of maintenance of organizations, simple attention and a little preventive maintenance are all it takes to keep "rust" at bay.  It's really not that hard, and the benefits of that attentive/preventive maintenance are immense.

    When trust is absent, "rust" remains. 

    Tuesday, October 7, 2014

    TheProblem

    Problems happen.  They are a part of life.  They are most certainly a part of organizational life (probably because we assemble a lot of people together in organizations).

    So, how do we deal with problems?  

    Sometimes we pretend the problems don't exist and hope they magically disappear.  This approach almost always bites us on the bum.  Ignored problems have a fungal nature to them.  Ignoring is bad.

    Sometimes we are so distracted with our busyness that we fail to notice a problem.  By the time it imposes itself onto our radar screen it has moved from being a manageable issue to a downright dastardly event.  Not noticing and being distracted by inconsequential stuff is our downfall on this front.  Obliviousness is bad.

    Sometimes we are aware of the problem but feel that we are either incapable of interdicting it or that others can/will take care of it.  We watch the problem evolve, but remain silent, in hopes that it will get handled by others. Our failure to openly identify it as a problem from the outset almost always becomes a point of regret for us.  Avoidance is bad.

    Sometimes we notice problems arising and quickly and openly discuss it with those who are involved and/or who will be involved.  We ask important questions about the root causes of the problem (without issuing indictments).  We seek to clarify if and how the problem, if unresolved, will impact the health and well-being of the organization (and the team players, as individuals).  We ask for possible solutions from the team players in and around the center of the "storm."  We support, facilitate, cheer, resource the problem solvers.  Transparent and attentive engagement is good.

    You pick.


    Thursday, October 2, 2014

    SpearDodging

    One of the most challenging aspects of leadership is inviting and dissecting feedback.

    Many leaders abhor (and avoid) the act of inviting feedback from internal/external customers, to their own demise.  Collecting what Peter Senge calls the "soft data" is critical, and it occurs most often through person-to-person feedback loops.

    Leaders who expose themselves to feedback by actually venturing out of the office or extracting themselves from behind a computer screen will most assuredly receive it.  How we receive it is critical to the success of our organization.  When we invite feedback we should be prepared to hear more bad than good.  That is the natural order of things.  We should listen carefully to both.  Typically, customer engagement and feedback occurs at the extremes of the "happiness" continuum.  Folks who are raving fans and folks who are *&#%ed off puppies are the ones that will make the most noise.  Understand that going in.  Strategic care should be taken to hear the voices of those between those extremes as well.

    Engaging in the feedback loop is not and should not be only about hearing the plus/deltas in relation to our work.  Face-to-face or person-to-person engagement is as much about building or repairing or bolstering relationships as it is about hearing praise and/or complaints.

    Folks that are heard, really heard, generally are much more willing to join our team or remain on our team or market on behalf of our team.

    The ones that feel unheard will sharpen up the spears and begin heaving them our way, with amazing relentlessness.

    We can spend all our time dodging spears, or we can begin a conversation with the spear throwers.  Either way, they're gonna get our attention.