Thursday, January 29, 2015

BetterGetting

I know some absolutely fabulous...
Parents          Coaches          Bosses          Welders          Nurses          Leaders
           Referees         Administrators         Dancers          Physicians
Teachers          Cowboys          Speakers          Principals          Musicians

I also know some pretty good...
(repeat all the identifiers shown above).

The difference in fabulous and pretty good?
A relentless hunger to learn more, to get better, to sharpen their skills, to refine their craft.

Of the fabulous ones I know, none of them are driven by the dollars or notoriety that might come with getting better (though, in fact, those things often do come their way).  Nope.  They are intrinsically driven toward better getting.  It's almost as if the continuous improvement journey nourishes their souls.

One more thing I've noticed about that fabulous group:  They always seem more than willing to share their learning with others, somehow, some way.

Makes me wanna get better myself.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

ImprovQBs&StrategicPlans

Making plans is essential to getting started.  We've all heard the old saw about how it's impossible to reach your destination if you don't know where you're going.  Of course!  We most certainly need to know where we're going and what it is we are trying to accomplish.  

The problem I've experienced with detailed and long-range strategic plans is that they rarely take into account the almost certain eventuality that they will get derailed somehow - 
by a change in the economy, 
by missed projections, 
by the weather,
by the departure of key personnel, 
by... (you can fill in the blank __________).

Two genres of artisans can inform us in this regard:

1) Improvisational comedians are masters at taking the "stem" or the "prompt" (in our discussion that would be the goal we are trying to achieve), then accepting the environment and stimuli as it comes.  They skillfully accept whatever is pitched to them and "blend" that array of variables toward the end in mind.  By craft, they discipline themselves to act and respond with a "yes, and..." mentality rather than a "but, we can't/won't/shouldn't..." kind of mindset.

2) Great football quarterbacks are also masters at adaptation.  Clearly, the goal for them (almost without exception) is to score.  They understand that a plan (in this analogy, it's the play that is called) is nothing more than a starting point, and that there are a myriad of forces (11 vicious defensive players being the most obvious) bent on derailing the plan.  However, those great quarterbacks have not only disciplined themselves to execute the original plan (i.e., play) but they have also meticulously trained themselves to look for the emerging opportunities when the plan begins to unravel (as it so often does).  

A commonality I see in both of these archetypes is that they have prepared themselves mentally, physically, and emotionally for the possibility of initial failure.  And, they have disciplined themselves to consistently turn the initial setbacks/hurdles/opposition to their advantage in the most creative ways.  Worth noting also is the fact that the best of both are tenacious and disciplined in preparing themselves to think/speak/act in this adaptive way.  

Their adeptness at adaptation is no accident.  Making lemonade when presented with nothing but lemons is their modus operandi.  

Lemonade it is, then!



Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Energy+/-

Energy is required for:
  • The functioning of each cell, organ, and system in our body.
  • Getting the work of an organization done.
  • Fighting wars and negotiating peace.
  • Running the bases.
  • Thinking.
  • Plowing a field.
  • Engaging others authentically.
  • Reflecting on what works and what doesn't.
  • Putting man on the moon (or Mars, for that matter).
From your science classes you will remember that energy can be neither created nor destroyed (as far as we know currently).  It is transferred from one being/entity/state to another.  

Think of the way some folks seem to energize you, how they boost your energy, fire you up.  On the other hand, others manage to suck the energy right out of you (as if they were black holes).  

You/I/We are in a constant state of energy transfer.  We can "push" positive and powerful energy in the direction of others, or we can emanate negative energy.  

We don't get to decide how much energy there is; however, we do get to decide what kind of energy we transfer to others and how robustly we do so.

I know the kinds of energy transferers I prefer to be around.  I know the kind I prefer to be.


Monday, January 26, 2015

Pablum

By definition, "pablum" is:
  • bland intellectual fare
  • insipid writing or speech
  • trite conceptualizations
  • bogus and hollow acts and/or articulations
I and one of my colleagues have had numerous interesting discussions about the need for succinctness and precision in communications.  The more I work with words as a communications tool, the more suspicious I become of lengthy blatherings, put in legalistic terms, couched in myriad qualifiers, always preceded by disclaimers.

Using inconsequential words, tasks, and/or stuff to either obscure or inhibit progress toward clearly defined goals is a common malady in organizations.  Sometimes it is manifested through acts of omission, sometimes via acts of commission.  Either way, they're not productive and often prohibitive (sometimes, downright destructive).

Note to self: STOP THE PABLUM!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

LetTheGreatWorldSpin

In 1974, Philippe Petit and coconspirators managed to stretch a high wire between the two World Trade Center Towers in New York City, during the night.  On the next morning, August 7, Petit proceeded to walk that high wire from one tower to the other.  Colum McCann took this historical event and wrote an absolutely intriguing novel, Let the Great World Spin, around it (2009).  


CM weaves a marvelously written tale about the interwovenness of the lives of Petit and numerous New Yorkers who just happened to be among the thousands of observers of that historical anomaly.  In the tradition of great story tellers, CM gives us a glimpse of how the lives of humans in chronological proximity share connections unbeknownst to them (six degrees of separation? or possibly, just two degrees?). 

CM is not only a masterful story teller, he adds the element of some interesting and unconventional writing structure with a superb word-smithing ability.  

Those of you who love literature will want to stick your nose in this one, I think.  Certainly glad I read it, and thankful that TR recommended it to me. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

TheFibberati

In this 12-minute TedX video, Alan Lewis brings into sharp contrast what the international food industry tells us about our food versus what their production operations actually look like.

He highlights the dishonest and disingenuous efforts on the part of much of the commercial food industry, which are aimed primarily at bolstering the health of their profit margins (not the health of their customers).

At the small school I serve (Guthrie CSD in Guthrie, Texas), we have made significant commitments to feeding our children (and staff) the healthiest food we can find in the healthiest ways we can accomplish.  The process has been neither easy nor cheap.  However, we have concluded that we can, we MUST, combat the "fibberati" (as Lewis calls them) in the interest of the long-term health and well-being of our children.

We believe educating our children in this way is every bit as important as teaching them math, science, English, and social studies.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

TheBalance

Benjamin Franklin, in a letter to the governor of Pennsylvania in 1775, wrote,  "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."

The quote has been used over many years, interestingly, by a wide range of folks, all to support their particular ideological (dis)positions.

For a moment, though, please simply consider the sentence at its face value (as if it were an assertion made by any common wo/man, or perhaps, even yourself).

We all must find and strike a "balance" at which we are willing to sacrifice a bit of our personal liberty/freedom in exchange for a modicum of safety.  For instance:
  • Speeding up to beat the train at the railroad crossing?
  • Marrying this guy (with money) or that guy (who makes me laugh)?
  • Purchasing the sedan or the pick-up or the jeep?
  • Staying in this job (that dependably feeds my family and my creditors) or launching my own business (that would feed my passion)?
The list of these kinds of moral, ethical, and financial gambits goes on and on.  They almost always entail a degree of trade-off between freedom and safety.  We make those calculations daily, in both small matters and large.  

The real problem, in my view, surfaces when someone else usurps my freedom to make those choices.  It does not matter to me how noble or worthy their intentions.  If they presume to commandeer my liberty and make those choices on my behalf, they have robbed me of something just as important as liberty or safety - my dignity.  

That sends me into a state of imbalance, which I detest.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Empowerer

The most impressive leaders I know understand and employ the element of empowerment.  They do so by acknowledging the varied gifts that others bring to the endeavor.  They work diligently to craft work assignments that allow those others to "display" their gifts daily.  They persistently articulate the vision, the goals, the mission, and the successes to those ends - in many and authentic ways.  

Those leaders are empowerers.

Beyond that, they celebrate the growth and progress and success of others.  In fact, they revel in it. They go out of their way to help others be successful.  They craft meaningful growth opportunities for others. They say "thank you" in a million ways (with no strings attached).  They always give more than they take.  The centerpiece of their thinking is service to others.

That's what empowerers look like.  

We could use a few more.  No credentials required.  You can start anytime you're ready.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

TheProblem

Someone once asked Albert Einstein how he would spend the time if he had but one hour to save the world.  Einstein's response was, “I would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and then five minutes solving it.”

Understanding the problem was clearly critical, in Einstein's view, to being able to solve it.  The imminent American educator, John Dewey, believed that a problem well stated was half solved.  He even crafted a now famous problem-solving sequence that has been used for decades in tackling sticky problems.  Here is the Dewey problem-solving elixir:

  1. Define the problem. 
  2. Analyze the problem. 
  3. Propose solutions. 
  4. Evaluate the proposed solutions. 
  5. Select one solution.
Worth noting is the fact that the chosen solution may or may not work.  It simply represents a good possible course of action proposed through collective and deliberate inquiry.

What resonates with me about both Einstein's and Dewey's approach to problem solving was their bent for careful, thorough, analytical attention to discerning the completeness of the problem.  I infer that they cared as much about understanding the root causes of the problem as they did the manifested symptoms.  Neither, presumably, took the approach of throwing jello at the wall to see what sticks.  Nor were they inclined to the ready-fire-aim approach to problem solving.  

If our goal is to get better, every day, on purpose, intentional problem solving must be in our arsenal of skills.

Friday, January 16, 2015

NoSecrets

I heard that Ronald Reagan once said, "The walls have ears."  From a leadership perspective, his point is salient.

In our organizational lives (regardless of the size of the group), keeping secrets with one set of members and/or from another set of organizational members is a temptation that must be avoided.

When we act and interact from that mindset, then a culture of transparency, full disclosure, and open communications begins to emerge and sustain.  Trust is the healthy by-product of such an environment.

It is critical that leaders are saying, signaling, and perpetuating the same information/messages throughout the organizational structures - vertically, horizontally, and obliquely.  Thus, every member hears the same thing, in the same way, many times over.

Attempts at secret keeping are very much like metastasizing cancers.  They quickly gobble up the health, then life, of the organization.

Wise leaders know that the best operational paradigm to work from is one that presumes that There Are No Secrets.   

(The walls really do have ears.)  

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Watched

I heard it for years from my parents.
From my grandparents.
From my teachers.
From my coaches.
From my principals.
From my preachers.
From my bosses.

What did I hear?
"You are being watched.  All the time."

Mostly the watchers are friends, loved ones, adoring children...
But not always.  Our enemies and those who wish us ill watch us, too.

As I became a husband, a father, a grandfather, a teacher, a coach, a mentor, a principal, a superintendent, a boss, I found myself often and forever reminding the folks within my sphere of influence that they were being watched, too.

Mostly by their friends, loved ones, adoring students...
But not always.  Their enemies and those who wish them ill watch, too.

Since our actions really do speak FAR louder than our words ever do (or will), it is well worth the effort to spend a little time reflecting on what all those others are seeing when they watch us.

What are you seeing?

More importantly, what are they seeing?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Noticing

The late Stephen Covey said, 
"The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice. And because we fail to notice that we fail to notice, there is little we can do to change; until we notice how failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds."

When we get really busy "doing stuff," we fail to notice a LOT.  Most of what we fail to notice is in the psyche, the mood, the emotion of others within our sphere of influence.

Most of us realize that we are highly dependent on those others to help us accomplish our goals, to live happily and harmoniously, to be effective, to be productive.  (Those who don't realize it are either delusional or narcissistic). 

The folks who work with and around us need for us to notice.  Notice things like:  their pain, their struggles, their troubled relationships, their unfulfilled dreams, their successes, their difficult circumstances, their talents, their wayward children, their financial hardships,.........

They don't need for us to diagnose or to give advice or to "fix" or to prescribe.  They simply need for us to notice.

Our noticing is the first step in authentic connectivity between us and them.  Once we notice, new channels of communication open up between us and them.  

Noticing is not about manipulation.  It is not about optimizing performance.  It's about connecting authentically, deeply, caringly.  

The thing is, when we incline ourselves to noticing, the noticing gets returned.  We are all affirmed and supported when that happens.  We really need for others to notice back.

In case you hadn't noticed.


Monday, January 12, 2015

Parasitic


Oddly,  emotions and mental states have "life" to them.  Though not organisms by definition, they seem to live and breathe and grow and evolve.  They also have their own sources of nutrition, the antecedents upon which they feed.  And, to stretch the analogy, emotions and mental states seem also to have the ability to propagate, to beget similar offspring.  

Some emotions and mindsets even take on a parasitic nature.  Anger is like a parasite, if you think about it.  So is hate.  So is distrust.  They need a host, which they slowly but surely invade and permeate.  

Then they destroy their host.

Unless, of course, the host purges them first.

Friday, January 9, 2015

DistantNeighbors

I recently read Distant Neighbors: The Selected Letters ofWendell Berry and Gary Snyder (edited by Chad Wriglesworth, 2014).


The book is a collection of letters exchanged by these two kindred and influential souls over a 40-year span of time.  Both WB and GS are intellectual agrarians, teachers, activists, and poets.  One is a Christian, the other a Buddhist.   One lives near the west coast in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the other in the tobacco lands of Kentucky.  Both hold the earth in sacred regard, and actively promote policy and behavioral changes in our society that would cause each of us to come to a deeper understanding of just how dependent we are on the well-being of the planet we inhabit.

The letters exchanged by these two men over time give insight into their values, their fears for the future of our species and Earth, their passion for the written and spoken word, and their profound belief in participating in agricultural practices that attend to the health of the soil, the plants that grow therein, the animals that feed on those plants, and the humans who are dependent on all.

Some of my big takeaways:
  • Fight for what you love and believe in (and don’t spend too much time fighting against).
  • ”Technological despotism” emperils our health, the future of our species, the Earth itself.
  • Never exploit others, figuratively or literally.
  • The only place we are “urgently needed” is home.
  • We learn to work, then learn from the work we do.
  • Take a side, but always serve the truth.
  • No matter how long we agrarians work on a piece of land, we still are only just beginning to know it.
My favorite quote:
“The idea that truth is all on your side is the worst danger to your side.” 
-Wendell Berry, (p. 89)

Thanks for the recommendation, DM.  Very glad for the time I spent peeking into the minds of these two giants.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

WhatVsWho

Some of my earliest memories are those of answering this question from adults: "What do you want to be when you grow up?"

I went through the usual transitions that most young boys do.  I can remember being allured by the glamorous professions of policeman (my dad was one of those), fireman, etc. I even wanted at one point to be a trash man.  Yep, just think of it, getting to ride, standing up, on the back of those big trucks all day long.  Blissful work, indeed.

As I grew older, the list changed a bit.  I wanted to be a professional athlete, a famous musician, a preacher.  But, the skill, the talent, the discipline, the calling seemed somehow absent.

Then, the practical concerns began to set in.  What could I do to put food on the table and make the college tuition payment?  What could I be that would provide satisfaction as well as reasonable income for my family, for the the long haul?  

Eventually, the question of meaning crept into the calculus of "what I wanted to be when I grew up."  Whatever it was needed to be something that had meaning to it, some opportunity to make a difference in the world.  I learned over time that the "what" had very little to do with meaning making.  

So, the search continued.  To this day, I'm not sure I can tell you definitively what I want to be when I grow up.

In retrospect, however, those adults early on were asking me the wrong question. And, I took the bait, and continued the trend of asking myself the wrong question over five decades of living.  I (and they) shouldn't have been asking, "What do you want to be?"

The right question all along was/is  WHO do you want to be?  

That question can be answered from any circumstance or station in life, and irrespective of one's vocational or avocational pursuits.  The meaning is found in the Who, not the What.  We may not get to write every word or sentence or paragraph or chapter in our lives, but we absolutely get to do the editing.  And the editing makes all the difference in who we are now, and who we become along the way.

Who do you want to be?

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

BusinessWants?

When you ask business people what they are looking for in employees, here’s what you get:  
  • Critical thinking and analytical skills
  • Strong communications and interpersonal skills
  • Prowess as a team player and collaborator (with all kinds of others)
  • Ability to solve problems
  • Self-motivation
  • Positive attitudes
  • Honesty, trustworthiness, and dependability
  • Strong work ethic
  • Willingness to learn, unlearn, relearn, and adapt to change
  • Ability to plan, organize, and prioritize work
What worthy collection of folks wouldn't aspire to such attributes for their children? Parents...Communities...Churches...Schools...Businesses...Volunteer organizations...Nations?

Are those attributes shown above hard to measure?  You bet!  That is precisely the reason that business places such high value on them. 

I am perplexed as to why so many politicians and folks in the business community continue to overemphasize the production of high test scores only in limited academic content (e.g. math, science, social studies, and English) as the magic elixir for the development of our children.  And, that content is measured primarily by dubiously valid multiple-choice exams, at the expense of the skills shown in the business-wants-this list at the top of this post.  

There seems to be a real disconnect here, between what business folks say they want via numerous surveys and what they support through their political leveraging mechanisms.

Schools are ideally positioned incubators for the development of the "soft" skills business folks say they want in prospective employees.  Yet schools have been commandeered, for the most part, by a slavish obsession for the holy grail of high scores on exams that are purely academic-content driven.

In the small school in west Texas where I work (Guthrie Common School District), we have made some very thoughtful and deliberate decisions to deviate from that misguided testing pathology and focus a great deal of effort on the development of the whole child (not just the academician/technician).  We use the Guthrie Graduate Profile to guide our work with children on a day-to-day basis (and, no, we don't forsake the academic content).  (I invite you compare that graduate profile with the list of espoused business wants at the top of this page.)

They're OUR children, after all.  Nobody wants more for them, aspires more for them, nor loves them more than we do.  And, no one has a higher stake in their eventual happiness, success, and productivity as adults.  

We're right pleased with our decisions in regard.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

HumansDeconstructed

We like to believe, as intellectuals, that we can effectively categorize (i.e., pigeonhole) humans.

We conceive of clean lines of delineation by which we sort/rank our species: 
  • Tall...short...
  • Black...red...brown...yellow...white...
  • Dullard...genius...
  • Libertarian..Democrat..Republican..Socialist..
  • Christian...Muslim...Buddhist...Atheist...
  • Weak...strong...
Fact is, we don't slice and dice quite so easily.  Fact is, no matter how we try to categorize each other (or groups of each other), there is quite a lot of bleed over between and among those categories (both vertically and horizontally as you view the incomplete list above).  

Our humaneness defies being so easily deconstructed into so many grams of iron/potassium/magnesium, x amount of millivolts of electricity, y amount of kilos of water, z pounds of muscle, etc.

As with an orange, we can create descriptors that contort essence into tangibleness, but it can never capture 
> all the variances in color
> the differences in the texture of the peel
> the wide-ranging levels of vitamin C
> the degree of zing we feel/taste on the tip of the tongue when we bite into the first slice.

That stuff is not so cleanly sliced and diced, sorted and ranked.  Neither are humans.

How foolish to think we can "define" each other by such base categories of taxonomy?
What of the skinny guy who is insanely strong?
What of the girl who can outrun most men?
What of the man with poor eyesight but can see into the future?
What of the prodigy musician who finds spelling impossible?
What of the girl with no legs who is a marvelous gymnast?
What of the boy who has an amazing mathematical mind yet cannot speak?
What of the sinner who seems to have a direct line to God?

There are no tests that assess our wholeness.  There are no exams that quantify one's "blackness" or "whiteness" or "spirit" or "resilience" or "sensitivity."

We can't test those dubious categories or their variances, not dependably anyway.  Unless, of course, we deconstruct our humanness with oversimplified measures that fail to capture who we are.  

Prayer:  Give me the eyes to see their potential. Give me the ears to hear their depths. Sharpen my senses to feel their essence.  Give me the intuition to appreciate their wholeness. Give me the wisdom to shelve the categories.  Give me the inclination to be a constructor instead of a deconstructor.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

WhatToDoWhenIt'sYourTurn

Over the holidays I read What To Do When It’s Your Turn (and it’s always your turn) by Seth Godin (2014).  The book was a gift to me and was a delightful read. 


SG is one of my favorite bloggers (find him here) and this book was typical of his unconventional thinking.  Not only does he think "out of the box," he can't even see the box from his vantage point.

Some of my biggest learning pearls from the book:
  • Four steps to a fulfilling life – 
    • Notice stuff (pay attention), 
    • Dream big, 
    • Connect the dots, 
    • DO it (something, even if it’s wrong).
  • From Kierkegaard:  “To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. Not do dare is to lose oneself.”
  • There are four kinds of obligation: Social, Legal, Moral, Artistic.
  • Lucky people make their own good fortune through these basic principles (from research by Richard Wiseman): 
    • They create and/or notice chance opportunities, 
    • They listen to their intuition (not others) in making decisions, 
    • They create self-fulfilling prophesies by perpetuating positive expectations, and 
    • They adopt attitudes of resilience which often transforms bad luck into good.
  • Keys to attaining personal success in organizations: 
    • Give credit freely (of course!),  
    • Take blame when you can (ouch), 
    • Don’t listen to the naysayers or the downers (absolutely), 
    • Avoid perfectionism (whew), 
    • Steal ideas and build on them (already there),
    • Act/Produce/Ship often and soon (I'm in).

My favorite quote:
“In fact, we’re capable of creating work that matters only if we’re willing to be uncomfortable while we do it.” (p. 45)

A quick and provocative read.  Thanks for the gift and the challenge, DW.

Friday, January 2, 2015

PrincipleCentered

We see and abhor it all the time:  some who hold positions of leadership become "lost" (or, they may have never known "the way" in the first place).  These leaders (whether parents, bosses, generals, or politicians) seem committed to making decisions with two objectives in mind:

  1. Maintain and secure their position of leadership.
  2. Make their personal lives cheesier (no matter the impact on others).
This mindset and behavior is what I think of as principleless leadership.

The leaders I prefer to follow (and admire and support and emulate) operate from a completely different paradigm.  They communicate, make decisions, and commit acts consistent with their principles, regardless of trending sentiment, regardless of short-term advantage, regardless of poll data.

Those principles can come in a lot of packages and can be articulated in many ways, but here are just a few worthy examples:

  • WE are more important than I am.
  • The least of us is just as important as the greatest of us.
  • What we say/do/decide today should provide positive outcomes for future generations.
  • Truth must always trump dishonesty.
Each of us gets to choose how we operate our lives on a daily basis.  Oddly, principle-centered leadership not only serves others better, but it is far more self-actualizing for the leader himself/herself.

Leading from sound principles is very much like the root system of a mighty tree - it secures us, it feeds us, it grounds us, it bolsters us in the angriest of storms.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Prejudice

Prejudice exists in every culture and nation and community on the planet; it knows no boundaries.  Some individuals/groups hold other individuals/groups in disdain, for some, or many, reasons.

Those reasons include:

  • Past wrongs unresolved or unforgiven.
  • Feelings of superiority.
  • Jealousy.
  • Perceptions of inadequacy.
  • Perceived lack of intelligence, import, status, social prowess in the other.
  • Overt differences - in skin color, in gender, in language, in values, in education, in political views, in physical appearance,...
Seems to me that prejudice always springs from the self-centric viewpoint.  When it's all about me/I, then the only way to make me/I "feel" better is to take a lesser view of others.

We can do better, I think.  And we should, for the sake of our children.