Tuesday, October 27, 2015

ChangeImpediments

Change ain't easy, but it's one of the surest constants in life.

Our bodies change, our thinking changes, the weather changes, economic conditions change, relationships change, cultures change.

Here are just some of the reasons many of us resist change:

  • We're comfortable and happy right where/how are, thank you!
  • We're afraid of what lies on the other side of change.
  • It just takes too much energy to change.
  • If we're being successful in the current state, why change?
  • We tried change once (or 50 times) before, and it just didn't work out.
These impediments to change often spring from the fact that we misperceive the constancy of change.  It's sort of like the misperception of stillness.  We may feel like we're being still, when in fact we're on a planet that it spinning at approximately 1,000 miles per hour.  And, Earth is hurtling around the sun at a speed of almost 19 miles per second.  Finally, the Solar System (of which Earth is a part) is screaming along through space at a speed of 514,000 miles per hour.  Stillness is a gross misperception.  The same sort of psychological misperception is at play regarding change.

When we come to think of change as a constant to which we must adapt (preferably gracefully) we take a completely different view of it.  

Change happens to us (and our organizations) whether we like or not.  The only question is how adept we are at adapting to it.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Jesus-AStoryOfEnlightenment

I recently read Jesus: A Story of Enlightenment by Deepak Chopra (2008).  


I’ve been a fan of DC’s thinking and writing for years, but this is the first of his fictional works I’ve read.  In this book, DC attempts to fill in some of the blanks of the life of Jesus that are left out of the New Testament of the Bible.  

He weaves a very interesting and believable fictional tale of Jesus seeking to understand himself and his mission on the planet, of the personal relationships between Jesus and Judas and Mary, of Jesus learning to adapt to his chosenness status, and of Jesus ultimate resignation to a greater calling.  As with all historical fiction, I learned a great deal about the peoples and contexts of the times of Jesus earthly life.

DP always makes me think at a very deep level about what it is I believe, why I believe it, and how I am manifesting those beliefs.  I particularly enjoyed his conversation in the Reader’s Guide (non-fiction) at the end of the book, in which he provides some keen insight into what it was/is that Jesus wanted/wants from his followers.  

A very good read.  

Friday, October 23, 2015

Interconnected

(Below is the post I made as guest blogger to the Advancing Educational Leadership website - http://ael.education/blog/2015/interconnectedness)

For those who choose the demanding but rewarding path of servant leadership, one of the most challenging tasks we face is to understand the concept of interconnectedness.  The most effective and influential leaders have developed the ability to see, and to operate in, both the macro and the micro, simultaneously.  This mastery is usually manifested in direct proportion to their understanding of the complex web of interdependency and interconnectedness of the myriad structures, processes, and people that compose the working parts of the organizations they lead. 

Organizations resemble greatly the wholeness of a tree (image below).



The natural tendency is to think of a tree simply – as a noun, made up of nouns, such as the trunk, branches, leaves, and roots.  In reality, however, a tree is a verb, a complex set of structures, processes, and elements (both living and non-living) that are enmeshed in a dynamic, beautiful, and magical dance.  When all the leaves, the branches, the trunk, the xylem, the phloem, the minerals, the photosynthesis, the water, the fungal net, the microbial communities… (this list goes on and on) are in sync and rhythm, the result is a beautiful and self-sustaining organism, with each “player” acting its part in perfect harmony. 

Organizations should be thought of in the same light.  Rich, healthy, and vibrant organizations are the product of that same kind of interconnected harmony that exists in a healthy tree.  As servant-leaders, we are charged with the caretaking and wellness of the organization.  Consequently, a deep understanding of the structures, the processes, and the elements is critical.  More important even than understanding the “parts” is the need to understand the symbiotic relationships between and among those parts. 

In viewing organizations in this way, we can see patterns and coherent webs as they emerge, extend, and grow.  What we don’t see is the kind of hierarchical, linear, and contrived structures we do in organizational charts and chains of command.  To be strong servant-leaders we must see, and attend to, the whole and the parts, concurrently.  And, we must become relationship experts as part and parcel of our work.    

The crafters of Advanced Educational Leadership (AEL) recognized and implemented this understanding of interconnectedness and interdependence into the AEL tools that will be used to train school leaders in Texas for years to come.  The five themes of AEL (Creating Positive School Culture; Establishing and Sustaining Vision, Mission, and Goals; Developing Self and Others; Improving Instruction; Managing Data and Processes) and the seven strands of AEL (Curriculum and Instruction; Data Gathering and Analysis; Goal Setting; Effective Conferencing Skills; Conflict Resolution Skills; Team Building Skills; Teacher Coaching and Mentoring) have been masterfully interwoven into a tapestry of necessary knowledge, skills, and ways of thinking.  Even the AEL conceptual graphic representation depicts the underlying premise of interconnectedness and non-linearity.



Finally, to extend the tree analogy just once more.  We cannot understand a tree through the lens of only one academic discipline.  To understand trees deeply we must understand dendrology, ecology, hydrology, biology, biochemistry, entomology, geology, pedology, and a host of other –ologies.  Likewise, to be the most effective servant-leaders, we must be on a constant path of personal and professional learning across a broad range of disciplines in order to better understand the very organizations in whose health and wellbeing we have been entrusted. 


What a learning journey it is!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

OriginsOfLife

I recently read Origins of Life by Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross (2014).  Both authors are research scientists - Rana a biochemist, Ross an astrophysicist.  In this book, FR and HR undertake a comprehensive review of the research dedicated to uncovering the beginnings of life on Earth. 


Both authors belong to Reasons to Believe (RTB), a Christian interdenominational organization dedicated to providing research and instruction on how the words of the Bible harmonize with the current findings of scientific research.  As expected, the authors arrive at the conclusion that life on Earth began as the handiwork of a Creator.  What makes their work different from others I’ve read along these lines is the detailed explanations, in scientific terms, of the most current research.  They dissect the many competing theories of a naturalistic beginning of life on Earth, and provide analysis of the conclusions of each of the theories.

If you’re a believer in Creationism or intelligent design, you might want to read this book to see how the “other side” thinks.  If you’re a believer in naturalistic beginnings for life on Earth, you might want to read this book to see how the “other side” thinks.  If you’re undecided about what you believe about the beginnings of life on Earth, you might want to read this book to see how both sides think.  If you’re ambivalent about the subject of the origins of life, don’t read this book.


I’m glad I did.

Monday, October 19, 2015

ComplaintsAndPushback

Leaders regularly deal with a duo of negative feedback loops.

One comes in the form of complaints (usually, but not always, originating from external stakeholders).  Complaints generally come from the end-users of your products or services. 

The other comes in the form of pushback (usually, but not always, originating from internal stakeholders).  Pushback generally comes from those within the organization charged with producing/delivering your products or services.  

While dealing with both is discouraging and de-energizing, leaders should view both as gifts.  What?  Yep, I said GIFTS.

In both instances, the people we serve (both those external to the organization and those internal to the organization) have taken the time to provide us feedback on stuff that "ain't workin' for them," for one reason or another.  

Here's how to unwrap those precious gifts:

  • Thank the complainer/pushbacker for taking the time to share their insight or opinion.
  • Ask them, gently, what alternatives/corrections might better serve their needs.
  • LISTEN carefully to those responses and thank them again for the input.
  • Bounce the suggestions off of the leadership team to determine whether they have merit, and whether they fit comfortably within your cost-benefit parameters.
  • Do what's best for the organization - either stick with the current plan, or alter it according to the suggestions offered by the complainers/pushbackers.  
Here's what NOT to do:  Ignore the complaints and/or pushback.  

The cost of ignore(ance) is quite high.  


Sunday, October 18, 2015

CrowdedInTheMiddleOfNowhere

I recently read Crowded in the Middle of Nowhere by Bo Brock (2014).  


BB is a veterinarian who practiced for decades in the small west Texas town of Lamesa.  In this book he tells stories of his many years of service to the animal raisers and animal lovers of most of the western half of Texas and parts of New Mexico.  His tales speak to the powerful relationships that develop between animals and their owners.  

BB interweaves humor, insight, sadness, wisdom, and melancholy in this book, giving readers a bird's eye view of the animals and the people who passed through his “clinic” for decades.  It’ll make you laugh; it’ll make you cry.  

Well worth the read.  Thanks for the rec, MW.  

Saturday, October 17, 2015

HabitsBehaviorsBeliefs

There's a strong relationship between habits, behaviors, and beliefs.

Beliefs are the foundational values we espouse to be the drivers of our lives.  "Espouse" is the stuff we say we believe, not necessarily the stuff we act upon.  For instance, it is quite common for people to declare themselves followers of one religious faith or another, but their actions belie such conviction.

Behaviors are the truest manifestations of our commitments.  They are the "proof in the pudding," so to speak.  If we are persnickety about our clothes, then it is evident in the polish of our shoes, the fit of our shirts, the coordination of our ensembles.  If we are passionate about serving others, then it shows in the way we treat them, the effort we invest in assisting them, the dependability they find in us when they seek our help.

Even though our behaviors are the most reliable indicators of our beliefs, it's our HABITS that drive our behaviors.  The little habits we build into our lives - our manners or lack thereof, the way we spend our daily time, the act of suspending other tasks to focus on the person we are engaged with, the choice of foods we consume each day, the kinds of blogs/books/articles we read - are the drivers of our behaviors, and thus, the enforcers and reinforcers of our beliefs.

Our beliefs are evidenced in our behaviors, our behaviors are evidenced in our habits.

Habits are hard to initiate, and harder to change.  But if we want to truly affect some kind of serious change in our behaviors, then the place to start is with altering the habits that drive those behaviors.

It's a choice, you know.    

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Subversives

Almost all organizations, no matter how small or how large, have some members who are subversives.  These characters generally operate at levels a little more egregious than simply being resistors or recalcitrants.  Subversives are the folks who actively and intentionally attempt to undermine and derail processes and/or other people in the organization.  

Motivations for subversive behavior vary, but among them are jealousy, fear, ambition, laziness, and disdain.  Whatever the motivations, subversives usually rely on organizational secrecy, miscommunication, and privilege as the transmission vehicles of their toxins.

While dealing with subversives is one of the most challenging (and discouraging) tasks of leaders, here are a few simple modes of operation we can use to make the work of subversives very difficult:   

  • Model and insist upon transparent communications within the organization, both vertically and horizontally.  No secrets!
  • Have conversations about organizational challenges in open forums, where all members are invited to listen and all members have a voice.
  • Confront subversives directly with the evidence of their duplicity, as often as that evidence emerges. 
When we keep the work of the organization fully in the light of day, the subversives have a much more difficult time enacting their dastardly deeds. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Enslaved

Slavery is the condition in which:
  • One is completely subservient to the whims and wishes of another person, a social/political group, or a government.
  • One's thinking is dictated by another person, a social/political group, or a government.
  • One's time is controlled by another person, a social/political group, or a government.
  • Resources are rationed to one by another person, a social/political group, or a government.
  • One's opportunities and potentials are limited/squelched/denied, by another person, a social/political group, or a government. 
  • One's personal liberty is tightly restricted by another person, a social/political group, or a government.
  • One is perpetually indebted to another person, a social/political group, or a government.
Slavery can happen in a marriage, a personal relationship, a group membership, or a citizenship.

Being enslaved is the result of either the commandeering of or the abdicating of one's liberty.  If commandeered by others, they should be resisted, shamed and/or duly punished.  If abdicated by ourselves, we deserve what we get.

Loss of dignity is the price for slavery - whether self-imposed or others-mandated.

Break the chains...

Monday, October 12, 2015

Authority'sParadox

A paradox of authority is this: the more we have, the greater the temptation to insulate ourselves from feedback.

To be sure, with authority comes responsibility.  Usually, a LOT of responsibility.  Time begins to feel like a constraint rather than an opportunity.  So, we begin shielding ourselves from the very people and information and feedback we most need.

To resist the Authority Paradox, here are some habits to build into our lives/work:
  • Ask questions directly of the customers/students/front-line employees frequently, then LISTEN.
  • Walk the buildings.  Make regular, on-site visits to see how the work is going, and how it is being conducted.
  • Admit when we "don't know."  Then, find out what we "don't know."  Then, follow up by getting back to the person(s) who prompted our don't-know-moment in the first place.
  • Make it safe for others to dissent, to debate, to disagree, to dialogue.  Otherwise, we'll always and only get sugarcoated versions of truth.
  • Stay focused on the individual development of each team member.  Organizational improvement will follow.
  • ALWAYS thank others - for their time, for their effort, for their thinking, for their feedback.
Creating a protective shield from critical feedback is like decorating our own prison cell, and getting comfortable in those trappings.  

Sunday, October 11, 2015

StumpNavigation

There's an old saying among those who farm:  "Usually, it's best to just plow around the stump."

When plowing the land one sometimes encounters a stump in the ground.  There is the strong temptation to just plow over the stump, to keep the progress going, to keep the rows straight and true.  STOP!  Not a good idea.  The stump usually wins.


I suspect that is where the phrase "I'm stumped" comes from - when we encounter something/someone that stops us, that is insurmountably obstinate, that keeps us from progressing.

Like stumps, some issues and some people are simply intractable.  It's far better to work around them than it is to plow over them.  We can surely decide to plow over the "stump," but there's a high price to be paid - in damaged machinery, in time lost, in relationships impaired, in halted progress.

It is indeed best to "plow around" most "stumps."


Thursday, October 8, 2015

DeadWake

I recently read Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson (2015).  



Though non-fiction, EL did an amazing job of researching primary sources to weave a remarkable telling of the sinking of the British cruise liner RMS Lusitania in 1915.  

The work reads like a novel in that EL interweaves the personal stories of passengers on the ship (down to the clothes they were wearing), the communications and communications failures that contributed to the tragedy, the political calculations on the part of all countries involved in World War I at the time and the U.S. which was desperately trying to remain neutral, the executive determinations made by Cunard Lines (the ship’s owner), the decisions of the German submarine commander that gave the command to fire the fatal torpedo, the happenstances of the weather on that fateful day, and the actions and reactions of Captain Turner of the Lusitania.  

World War I was raging in Europe at the time, and had pretty much become a stalemate, with enormous loss of life on both sides.  The decision by the Germans to use their submarines to begin sinking all ships, neutral or foe, was intended to swing the momentum in the war decidedly their way.  Ultimately, the sinking of the Lusitania (with the loss of 1,198 lives) was a critical element that helped draw the U.S. into World War I, providing the Allies with a much needed infusion of troops and material.  This proved to be pivotal in the eventual victory of the Allies. 

Lots of political intrigue interwoven in this telling of one of the most tragic events in human history.  EL simply did a remarkable job of researching and telling this story.  I’ll read anything he writes.  

Thanks for the rec, jc.