Wednesday, September 30, 2015

ImperfectProgress

We often get frustrated, even dismayed, at the slow pace of progress.  Perhaps we shouldn't.  

When we have set lofty goals for ourselves or our organizations, it's really a bit naive to think we can quickly move the needle in that direction.  

Sure, we can buy new ad space, we can launch new software, we can introduce a new product, we can build new buildings, we can adopt a new curriculum.  At the end of the day, however, the fly-or-crash status of that structural stuff is fully dependent on the people pulling the levers, selling the product, responding to the customers, meeting the deadlines, sticking to the plan.  

A futures vision that is truly worthy must start with the influencing and developing of people.  That is called leadership.  And its manifestation is much more akin to the work of a pastor than that of an evangelist.  It's the day-in, day-out, persistent and consistent cultivating of the relationships that ultimately move us toward the vision.  And that is very messy, very slow, but very worthy work.

Imperfect progress is good progress.  Stay the course.


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Micromanagers

"Micromanagers" sounds like a dirty word, doesn't it?

Few of us that have worked for/with micromanagers have enjoyed the experience.

Here are some of the attributes of micromanagers:

  • They feel they have to control or be involved in every step of the process.
  • They tend to layer reporting requirements on top of already onerous production challenges.
  • They often perseverate on the wrong metrics, the micro (and less consequential) stuff, mostly because that's the stuff that's easiest to measure.
  • They regularly "burn up" way too much time in called meetings or ad hoc conversations in which they're drilling for information/data that is procurable without pulling the worker bees off task.
  • They believe permission trumps production (thus progress).
What kind of employees do micromanagers lose?
  • Those who prefer to create and innovate in pursuit of a noble cause.
  • Talented team players (who usually drift away quietly).
  • Those who care about and prefer to pursue the big picture stuff, not the minutiae.
Maybe it is a dirty word after all.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

LearningPlurality

For 36 years I have been in a career dedicated to causing learning to happen - in others.

Through that process, I have consistently been confronted with the reality that learning is a social construct.  Learning can happen in isolation, but it happens at a much greater speed when it's done with others.  When I somehow participate in the learning of others, my own learning is accelerated.  It's a push-pull sort of dynamic.  

Now, more than any other time in the history of our species, learning with others is at our fingertips (even if we are home alone).  And, more than any other time in the history of our species, we get to pick who we learn with.  

Pick the topic, pick the group, pick the time, pick the desired outcomes.  Others are awaiting your thinking, your questions, your ideas, your contribution, your pushback, your knowledge, your stimulus.

There is absolutely no limit to how much we can learn together...  

Saturday, September 26, 2015

LeadershipEffects

Are we being effective as leaders?  Good question.  

Here are some questions to discern our effectiveness in leading:

  • Have we made the mission crystal clear?
  • Do followers feel that pursuit is noble and worthy?
  • Are team members given the autonomy to optimize their talents/gifts in pursuit of the mission?
  • Do the folks we engage with everyday feel empowered by having interacted with us?
  • Do followers hear specific recognition/praise/affirmation from us regularly? 
  • Would others describe us a powerful listeners?
  • Is there a culture of caring in our organization?
  • Have we provided the resources folks need to pursue the mission?
Since those are all yes/no questions, it's not hard to "score" ourselves in leadership effectiveness.

Regardless of today's score, we can improve it by tomorrow.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

FindersKeepers

I recently read Finders Keepers by Stephen King (2015).  


Who would have thought of writing a novel about the murder of a novelist, with a prime motivation of the murderer being his dismay over the direction the writer had taken the main character?  Stephen King, that’s who.  

SK weaves a tale of murder and greed around the unpublished works of a reclusive (now dead) novelist that stretches 30+ years in its unwinding.  

In typical SK fashion, his keen eye for detail, his in-tuneness to cultural nuance and his fearless writing keeps this tale zipping along through unexpected and interesting turns.  

Another good read by SK.  (I love the way his mind works.)

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Speechless

When we hear someone use the word "speechless" we generally infer exasperation or astonishment at some absurdity.

However, "speechless" can be a really good thing for those in leadership positions.  

When we observe without judgmental or corrective commentary,
when we ask with intent to learn,
when we listen without rebutting,
when we seek feedback and safely, quietly allow it,

we have practiced a very enriching form of speechlessness.

Less talking and more authentic connecting from leaders is both an energizing and affirming practice.

It also happens to pay immeasurable dividends for all parties involved. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Pretending

Pretending is something we all do at one time or another.  

Sometimes we pretend in order to be someone/something we're not.  
Sometimes we pretend just to get through a difficult time.  
Sometimes we pretend in order to fool others.  
Sometimes we pretend in order to fool ourselves.  
Sometimes we pretend in order to escape from reality (even if briefly).

One way or the other, pretending amounts to suspending our authenticity, our real selves.


For amusement or entertainment, perhaps pretending is an acceptable diversion.

However, if we find ourselves pretending all the time, just to survive, it's time to take a careful assessment of the "why."

Our fullest lives, our optimum health, our maximum happiness, our peak performance flows from being authentically ourselves.  It springs from a tight alignment between our aspirations/dreams and our beliefs/enactments. 

If we are 
pretending to be engaged in our work, 
pretending in our relationships, 
pretending in our commitments, 
pretending to be happy, 
it's time for a reality check.  

And, a change in behavior.


Thursday, September 17, 2015

Purposeful

We don't always get what we want (The Rolling Stones were correct!).

But too often we've put far too little thought into what it is we want.

Being purposeful is not about being manipulative, it's not about domineering or dominating, it's not about trying to control.

Being purposeful is, however, about thinking about our BIG objectives in life and aligning our thinking, our words, and our behavior accordingly.   

Once we know what it is we want from life - peace? love? health? happiness? friendship? safety? - we can be very purposeful in those pursuits.

THEN, that purposefulness guides the thoughts that occupy our minds, the words that come out of our mouth, the interactions we have with others, the way we spend our precious but limited minutes/hours/days.

We may not always get what we want, but we can get of lot more of what we want if we live purposefully.  

It's not wishful thinking; it's making the desires of our heart become reality.....
on purpose.

Monday, September 14, 2015

PleasantScore

Moe (my lovely bride of 38 years) and I have had many conversations over the years about the power of being pleasant.  She has a mantra on that topic that I adopted and used as I assessed employees and candidates for employment over the last 20 years as a school administrator.  Here 'tis:

Pleasant is way underrated!

It's one of those things most of us intuitively understand, though we rarely think about it.  We know those members of our families, our churches, our service clubs, and our workplaces who are consistently pleasant. 

They're the ones we really like to be around, the ones who make us feel better for having been in their presence, the ones who make the environment they're in richer by just being there.  We also know which ones don't make us feel that way; they're the ones we dread and avoid if at all possible. 

There's not a pleasantness score or scale or barometer or measurement tool (that I know of), but who needs one.  Like beauty, we know it when we see it (but have a darned difficult time trying to define/measure it).

And, being pleasant requires no special skills, no degrees, no credentials, no titles.  Any of us can be pleasant.  Any of us can make being pleasant a habit.  No cost involved.  It's simply a choice.

Now it's time for that mirror...

LearningPaths

Wanna learn something that you didn't already know, or know how to do?

Here are several proven paths to getting you there:

  • READ about it.  Books, articles, blogs, and posts.  Take your pick.  (The internet only contains the sum of all human knowledge to date; what you want to learn is there somewhere - usually in many versions.)
  • Find someone who has the knowledge/skill you desire and watch them or listen to them.  Experienced others are a gold mine, and most are more than willing to share.
  • Teach someone else what you've learned about the topic so far.  No worry if you don't know it all already.  You'll never know it all.  Teachers know that teachers learn more about subjects as a result of teaching it.  Share your learning somehow.
  • Try it!  Make a run at it.  Failing and boo-booing is the fertile ground of new growth.
  • Find a partner to learn with, then share in the learning journey with vigor.
Carpe diem!  Go for it!  Git-r-done!

When we stop learning, we start dying.  

Friday, September 11, 2015

TheBestWe'veGot

Many years ago (when I was pretending to be an athletic coach), I heard a NCAA Division I football coach talking about the problem of negativism among his assistant coaches.  This coach, who had won several national titles and whose teams were always highly ranked, described an environment in which the assistant coaches persistently criticized the players, both in their presence and out.

Remember, this is a top tier Division I NCAA program that recruits and gets pretty much whatever players they want.  As I heard the coach speaking I was wondering how in the world there could be such negativity toward what was unquestionably one of the best stable of players in the nation.  Huh?

The coach described one of his responses to this problem.  He placed a sign above the coaches office door which stated the following:  
Don't bitch about the players; they're the best ones we've got!

We see that same dynamic of negativity exist in many organizational settings - from parents toward their children, from principals toward their teachers, from foremen toward their work crews, from executives toward their leadership team.  Complaining, demeaning, diminishing, debasing, disparaging - whether publicly or privately - never pays dividends.  Why would those in leadership roles insult the very people upon whom their futures depend?

A better way...

  • Assess the root causes of poor performance rather than attacking team members on a personal level.
  • Collaboratively set very clear goals and pursue them relentlessly, together.
  • Strive diligently to craft a culture of continuous improvement, in which every "player" is encouraged and expected to get better everyday, and to help others get better everyday.
  • Recognize and celebrate the "wins" ritually, and talk honestly (not meanly) about the next steps needed to rectify the "losses."
  • Frame all conversations in the we-us context, not the me-you or us-them context.

When the team fails, the leader/coach/boss/teacher fails.  One of our primary jobs as leaders is to build others up, so that we all experience success. 

Don't bitch about the players (or the boss); they're the best ones we've got.  

Getting better is a team sport.  

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

FoodSanity(16.0)

You've heard it all your life:  You are what you eat.

That, however, is only a part of the story.  

We are what we eat, and what we eat eats.  That includes all the stuff consumed by the plants and the animals (unless you're vegetarian) we include in our diets.

Would we rather eat chickens raised like this...


or this?


Would we rather eat plant-based food that is raised like this...


or this?


The nutritional value of all our food is directly proportional to the quality of the environment in which it is/was raised.   

We get to decide, 
                             with each purchase, 
                                                              with each mouthful.


Monday, September 7, 2015

AccountabilityConundrum

As an observer of accountability systems over many years, I note some common aspects:

  • The more detailed and expansive the accountability measures, the greater the likelihood of failure (often by design).
  • Those who seem most endeared to strident accountability standards are usually the ones least likely to be involved in the dirty and difficult work required on the front lines of compliance.
  • The creators and proponents of high stakes accountability are typically inclined to exempt themselves from the same sort of expectations, scrutiny, oversight and consequences (the political ruling class fits well in this category).
  • Externally imposed accountability never works as efficiently or effectively as that that is locally developed, monitored, and/or enforced.
Accountability is, in concept and deployment, an attempt to impose the wishes of one group/individual upon another group/individual, regarding behavior or performance.  And, it is usually most effective when there is means to punish or penalize those who fail to meet the expectations of said others.  

The purest and most authentic accountability is intrinsically driven.  It's a mindset that is taught, not imposed; modeled, not demanded.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Schooling

Schooling, quality schooling, has always been about more than delivering academic content.  I have been blessed to have worked with many wonderful educators in numerous excellent schools over the years who understood this concept implicitly and leveraged it to guide their work on a daily basis.

When we allowed schools to primarily become the laboratories of delivering academic content in some measurable way (and, for some reason, only some academic disciplines seemed to count), we made less of schools than what they should be and less of the people who serve students and families.

Schools can and should teach...

  • Social and emotional skills needed to effectively navigate life's rough waters.
  • Fundamental tenets of ethical behavior and responsibility, in preparation for civic service/participation.
  • Technical skills necessary to gain and maintain gainful employment in life.
  • Academic prowess that is used to continue to learn and achieve self-chosen goals throughout life.
  • Skills to think critically and discern thoughtfully the nuances between fact and fiction, in order to make seasoned judgements about how best to live one's life.
It is probably obvious that most of those things listed above cannot be easily measured, and they certainly cannot be measured by a multiple-choice test.  Even the things listed above that can be measured are not best done so once a year, but rather, everyday.  And, those measures should be used as guides to next steps in the learning process, not to label or stigmatize a child, a teacher, a school, or a community.

A marvelous example of this approach to schooling is Guthrie Common School District in Guthrie, Texas.  The framework for schooling used there is the Guthrie Graduate Profile

I am MOST thankful that all my grandchildren attend that school.  Every child should be so lucky.