Monday, November 30, 2015

BridgesOrWalls

We encounter folks all the time.  Some we know, some we don't.

With each encounter one of two things occurs, we either build a bridge between us and the other person, or we build a wall.

We make this choice, whether we realize it or not.  That bridge or wall building is enacted through our words, our facial expressions, our level of attentiveness, our degree of listening, our disposition, our emotional state, and our body language.

To be happy, successful, and productive in life, we need to build a LOT more bridges than walls.

In fact, walls are rarely beneficial.




Saturday, November 28, 2015

PermacultureS's

Permaculture is a worldwide movement dedicated to teaching the principles of agricultural, environmental, and social self-sufficiency.  In effect, it is a pedagogy of regenerative sustainability in the production of food and in the provision of environmental/social security.

I have become a disciple of the movement, for a number of reasons: 
  • I no longer trust government to provide for the best interests of me, my family, and my community.
  • I no longer trust corporations (e.g., big ag, big pharma, etc.) to provide for the best interests of me, my family, and my community.
  • I no longer want to be enslaved to those whom I do not know to provide for the best interests of me, my family, and my community.
Rooted in the philosophy of permaculture is the tenet that abundance is achievable, even at the micro level.  Individuals and communities can liberate themselves from dependency on costly and self-serving governmental structures, and in doing so, can experience greater levels of productivity, happiness, wellbeing, and health.

A number of "S" words align well with the precepts of permaculture:
  • Sustainability - long-term health for Earth and all its inhabits (human and otherwise)
  • Self-sufficiency - for individuals, for families, for communities
  • Symbiotic - relationships with/in nature 
  • Seditious - in that it frees us from dependency on government
  • Subversive - in that it authentically advances social equity
  • Self-reliance - in providing for ourselves and our families
  • Self-actualizing - in fostering a healthy sense of confidence, competency, community
  • Spiritual - in heightening our awareness of the magnificent systems in and Source of our existence
I find myself increasingly drawn to all those "S" words. 

Friday, November 27, 2015

AChainOfThunder

I recently read A Chain of Thunder by Jeff Shaara (2014).  The book is an historical novel, detailing the siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi, in 1863, by the Union Army under the command of General Ulysses S. Grant.  


A Chain of Thunder provides insight into the thinking, the tactical strategies, the key players, and the politics at play in 1863 as the Union Army struggled to control the vital shipping route of the Mississippi River, on which Vicksburg served as a critical Confederate stronghold.  

It is good for me to read novels of this nature as they remind me of the sacrifices made and hardships endured in the evolution of the United States.  As in all points in the history of mankind, leaders with flaws were/are called upon to act in extraordinary ways in the interest of the greater good.  Not always have such leaders met with success;  and, those efforts are often accompanied by egregious loss of life (innocent and otherwise) and property.  

To be sure, war is an ugly affair, its atrocities eclipsed only by the ugliness of capitulation to the forces of evil.  

I have read numerous books by JS (and his father, Michael Shaara) over the years.  All are compelling and well-written accounts of pivotal military campaigns in the history of the United States.  I’ll continue reading their works.  They inform me and cause me to reflect on the important things in life, both at the micro- and the macro-level.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

SparkChampions

In the video titled "Spark: How We Thrive," Peter Bensen describes the power of recognizing, igniting, and feeding the "spark" of children.  The video is just over 20 minutes long, but well worth the time.  Click here to view it.  

In a graduate class I teach, I recently asked students to recollect a teacher/adult who recognized and nurtured their "spark."  My students easily called forth the names and impact of powerful spark champions in their lives.  The testimonials moved me to tears.

Each of us has the opportunity to influence the children in our lives through this relatively simple process.  We can notice what interests them, feed that interest freely and zealously, and relentlessly show that they and their success are important to us.

As the stories of my graduate students indicate, spark champions come in many varieties:  parents, teachers, mentors, coaches, professors, bosses.  

It costs us virtually nothing to be a spark champion.  The gift is freely given, the fruit of the efforts intangible and timeless.

On this day of thanks, I am intensely aware and grateful for the spark champions in my life. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

MarkLeaving

I am an educator by profession.

In my 35 years of service in the profession I have seen many extraordinary teachers.  All left/leave a positive and long-lasting mark on their students.  In fact, I'm the beneficiary of numerous teachers/coaches/counselors/principals/superintendents/professors of that ilk.

It's not enough, however, to only leave a mark on our students.  While leaving a mark on our students is extremely important, we also have the responsibility of leaving a mark on our profession.  

How might we do that?  Through mentoring the next generation of professional educators, through pushing the boundaries of our craft in order to broaden its scope and effectiveness, in sharing what we have learned about the teaching-learning process with others, by engaging in substantive discourse about getting better at our work (both as teams and as individuals).

I suspect that that kind of mark leaving applies to all professions.  While serving the "customers" is a laudable thing, advancing the profession is equally important.

If the profession matters to us, that is.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Anomalies

"Anomaly" is an interesting word that means that something/someone is different from what is normal or expected.  Some words that have similar meaning are irregular, rare, abnormal.

It's unfortunate that leaders 
who speak plainly, 
who model integrity, 
who exemplify honesty, 
who are service-oriented, 
who consistently adhere to principle, 
who willingly own their decisions (and mistakes), 
are often viewed as anomalies.

Wouldn't it be nice if those leadership anomalies............weren't?

Sunday, November 22, 2015

JustFishin'

Trace Adkins recorded a song in 2011 titled "Just Fishin'."  

The song describes a father taking his young daughter fishing.  While she believes the experience is all about fishing, the father understands the experience to be intentionally multidimensional.

My younger years were filled with those experiences that I thought were simply "fishing trips."  Perhaps you also have benefited from the wisdom, the guidance, the mentoring, the relationship building, the solace, the teaching of a beloved parent/grandparent/great grandparent, embedded in the simple activity of fishing (or sewing or cooking or gardening or building stuff).

As time has passed, the shoe has increasingly been on the other foot.  More and more I find myself sharing important nuggets of life-wisdom through the profound acts of fishing or playing cards or gathering eggs or walking in the pasture.  Little do they suspect.  They think we're just fishin'.

Here's the song.  

Enjoy.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Matter

1) Matter is physical stuff that occupies space - a noun.

2) Matter is an incident, an experience, a situation - another noun.

3) Matter is a condition of being significant, to be consequential - a verb.

We can just be matter (#1), or we participate in a matter (#2), or we can actually matter (#3).

#1 requires little of us, #2 requires a bit more, #3 requires a LOT.

We can matter little or we can matter a lot.  It's our choice.  

And, it matters.

"In fact, we're capable of creating work that matters only if we're willing to be uncomfortable while we do it." - Seth Godin (2014)


Thursday, November 19, 2015

DefenseShieldSyndrome

We all have our defense shields.  It's when our instincts tell us to BEWARE, danger or offense may be imminent.  For the most part, this psychological mechanism protects us from harm, either physical or emotional.  That's generally a good thing.

What is NOT a good thing is when our defense shields have to be constantly deployed in our workplaces.  In order to do our best work, we should be able to spend all our energy focused on the intentional pursuit of our goals.  Being constantly in defensive mode drains our energy, our time, our creativity, and our productivity.  It's sort of like a slow bleed.

Leaders can create and empower workplaces free of the Defense Shield Syndrome by:

  • Being persistently transparent in our actions and discussions.
  • Practicing and encouraging vulnerable behaviors, by which we signal it's okay to make mistakes and to talk about them openly and to learn from them.
  • Noticing and praising the effort of others consistently.
  • Censuring hateful and disrespectful behavior, at any level of the organization.
  • Promoting an environment of caring.
  • Celebrating the good stuff, often and in many ways.
  • Encouraging creativity and innovation (i.e., risk taking), in all quarters.
  • Modeling honesty and trustworthiness, all the time.
It really boils down to creating an atmosphere of trust - trust that runs vertically, horizontally, obliquely, and multi-directionally throughout the organization.

We can start NOW...

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Robotic

Moe (my lovely bride of 38 years) and I made a rare foray into the big city recently.  On one of our stops we did some shopping in a multinational retail chain store.  

Upon checking out, I was struck by the disconnect between what the cashier was saying versus my mental reading of his authenticity.  Per the script, he said things like, "How're you folks doing today?" and "Having a good day?" and "Did you find everything you were looking for?"  

Between these well-scripted exchanges meant to forge a positive relationship with us his eyes were wandering past us, in disinterested observation of other things going on.  I'm not sure he even heard our responses.  He even yawned at one point during the exchange.

Perfect, but not pitch perfect.  Right stuff, wrong way.

In effect, he was robotic.  I'm sure the management folks of that company are proud of the money, time, and effort they put into their training systems.  However, the critical link in meaningful human interactions is and always has been authentic engagement.  Some do it quite well naturally, some do it quite well by faking it, some don't even pretend to care, and the equally egregious kind (like the fellow mentioned above) do it robotically.  

Back to the training modules...

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Fundamentals

In our personal and professional lives we default to our fundamentals.  Wise coaches/mentors ingrained in me that understanding early in my life as an athlete and later in my professional career.  When things turn a bit chaotic or when the pressure becomes really intense, we automatically default to the fundamentals of our training.  

What are those "fundamentals?"  They're our basic behavioral responses.  Things like courtesy, respectfulness, thoughtfulness, reflectiveness, kindness, fairness.  More could be added to this list, but you get the point.

Just like in athletics, we can embed certain fundamental response behaviors into our pysche.  How?  By making them habits, by practicing them every day, by building them into our daily routines.

Then, when the world gets a little crazy on us (and it always will), we automatically default to those fundamentals.

And, just as in athletics, if we neglect purposefully practicing those fundamentals, we'll default to much uglier kinds of responses.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Heartless

Leading requires heart.

There are those who think they can lead without it, that they can insulate themselves from caring while leading others.  But, any evidence of effectiveness in this regard is chimeral.  

Trying to express care through memos or public address announcements doesn't really work.  We have to show up, in person.  Some ways we can manifest caring:

  • Notice - others, what they're doing, how they contribute, when they hurt.
  • Help - by lending a hand, by offering support, by rolling up our sleeves and contributing.
  • Defend - the good work and noble effort of those around us who are diligently pursuing our collective goals.
  • Remember - names, past efforts, former campaigns together, interests.
  • Touch - through hand shakes, hugs, fist bumps (but don't get weird).
  • Listen - a hole right through 'em.  Always listen, too much.  

Caring takes work, but the dividends are plentiful.

Being heartless is just another way to dodge our own responsibilities as leaders. 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

PersonalizedLearning

Real learning has always been personalized.

IF the learning stuck, it became personal to us somehow.  Whether it's figuring out how to say the alphabet, how to multiply two-digit numbers, how to solve chemical equations, or how to interpret poetry.

Same goes for learning non-academic stuff like how to cook biscuits, how to keep books, how to plow a field, or how to raise children.  The more important the stuff we're learning, the more likely that that learning can never end.  

Real learning is lasting learning, and it only occurs when it becomes personal to us.  There comes a point when we actually get curious about it, when we decide its worth learning in the first place, where we desire to know more of what's there, when we see its relevance for today and beyond.

A lot of variables are at play in the ignition of real learning, but the most prominent is a magical teacher to light the spark.  Those magical teachers come in all shapes, sizes, colors, religions, and levels of education.  So thankful to have had so many of them in my past.  

Blessedly, I have many of them still.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

FoodSanity(17.0)

Dog lovers know that when we feed our dog crappy, nutritionally sparse food (usually quite cheap), we see worsened physical condition, lower energy, and behavioral deficits emerge.  When we feed our dog high quality, nutritionally dense food, we see the positive effects in their physical condition, in their level of energy, and in their performance (usually expressed behaviorally).  In cats, we see the same manifestations occur in proportion to the nutritional quality of the food we provide them.

Moe and I see the same scenarios play out with our dairy cows.  High quality, nutritionally dense feed yields improved physical condition, improved energy, and improved quality of the milk they produce.  Same thing happens with our chickens.

When we feed ourselves low quality, nutritionally sparse food our physical condition also diminishes, our energy levels decline, and our behavioral/performance markers wane.  When we feed ourselves high quality, nutritionally dense food, we see rapid and significant improvement in our body condition, our energy levels, and our performance/behavioral markers.  

Imagine the impact on our bodies if we consume poor quality, nutritionally scant food for years, or even decades!  Been there, done that, and my body/mind/emotions showed it.  For at least forty years I was extremely well-fed by volume (too much so), but nutritionally malnourished.  And, I was paying a price for it.

REAL FOOD is what our bodies crave and need.  And, with a wee bit of work, we can find it (or produce it ourselves).  The benefits are priceless.  

Thursday, November 12, 2015

BoldaciousLeaders

We've all followed leaders, lots of them.  Some, however, stand out as exceptional in our minds.

I like to think of those extra special kinds of leaders as boldacious (yep, I made that word up).

Here are some of the things about boldacious leaders that make them so extraordinary:

  • They help us see better futures for ourselves, both individually and collectively.
  • They invite us to come along on their journey (they don't demand compliant followership).
  • They are passionate about the journey they're on, and it's contagious.
  • They accept us just as we are, then invest in us like crazy to move us toward our best possibilities.
  • They communicate consistently and persistently about where they think we oughta go and why they think it's important to go there.
  • They genuinely care about us, and it shows.
Sign me up, Captain.  I'll gladly play on Team Boldacious.

Significance

Our significance in life is directly proportional to the service we provide to others.

When we are focused on serving others we make their lives better, often without their even knowing it.  These acts of service can be small or large, they can be ongoing or ad hoc.  Those served by us can be loved and well-known, or complete strangers.  Service has no limits or boundaries. 

No credentials or specialized training is required to serve.  We can all provide service to others regardless of our age, our level of education, or our station in life.

When serving ourselves we become less; when serving others we become more ... significant.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

TheOppositeOfWinning

The opposite of winning is learning.  Or, at least, it should be.  

Winning is great fun, but none of us get to win all the time.

Losing can be, and often is, quite painful.  But, it's rarely fatal.

Each time we win, we should be thankful (graciously so).  Each time we lose, we should think deeply about what we've learned from the experience that will help us get back into the win column the next time around.  

Oh, and one more thing:  The opposite of learning ....... is losing.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Bobbleheads

Most of us have worked on a team or in an organization that had some bobbleheads.  These are the folks that smile, nod, and pretend to agree (whether they do or not).  

Some classic "symptoms" of bobblehead-itis are:
  1. The disinclination to participate fully in crafting solutions.
  2. The incipient insertion of the question stem of "Yeah, but how ... ?" into almost all discussions.
  3. The unwillingness to energetically engage in the deployment of an agreed upon strategy.
  4. Hiding from or outright fearing responsibility.
Organizational leaders can, by the environments we create, encourage or discourage the number and impact of the bobbleheads.

Here are some strategies that will reduce their number and their deleterious impact:
  • Ensure full and open disclosure of information relevant to the organization.
  • Make sure all members of the team/organization have voice.
  • NEVER punish members for using the voice we have given them.  Make it safe for dissent.
  • Praise the team for the "wins," and own the "losses" personally.
  • Constantly review, revisit, revise (i.e., continuous improvement mode).  
The more complex the problems we face, the more unclear the "right" solutions will be.  All voices need to be heard, all minds are needed in the crafting of solutions.  Once decisions are made, all shoulders are needed at the wheel. 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

DoOvers

In both our personal and professional lives one of the most powerful questions we can ask of ourselves (or those on our team) is this:

What would we do differently if we were starting this project/task anew?

WITHOUT implied critique and 
WITH         invitation for reflection, 
that question puts us in the zone of the continuous improvement mindset.

That, by the way, is a great zone to live and work in.

Do overs should not only be allowed, but encouraged.  It's how we get better.

Friday, November 6, 2015

CommunicationsGold

More than any other time in history, we have available to us a plethora of communications tools with which to connect with our audience(s).

Those include blogs, podcasts, email, videos, newsletters, Tweets, Instagram posts, direct marketing, Pinterest, paid advertising, Facebook, microbursts (such as Pandora ads and pop-ups).  Each day seems to bring a new way to communicate with our customers, associates, friends, and family.

However, the most powerful tool we have in our communications tool chest is and always has been...

LISTENING!

It cost so little, and always pays huge dividends.  It is simply the communications gold standard. 

We can start (or continue) now...

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

BarbedPraise

One of the techniques of supervision is to soften the blow of critical feedback by sandwiching it between elements of praise.

Most of us have probably been a victim of such disingenuous connivery.  As soon as the first lines of positive feedback come our way we begin to feel the tension, to expect the barb, to steel ourselves against the expected negative critique (often called "constructive criticism").  The defense shields go up.

To complete the loop, the person offering the negative feedback (often the boss) then tries to soothe the pain by applying the balm of more positive feedback.

Most of us also remember only the negative ("constructive") criticism that came to us through the exchange.

Since none of us receive negative criticism all that well (a fact grounded in research), why not simply offers lots of positive feedback to others?  The kind that is real, legitimate, authentic, and springs from our actually noticing the good stuff they've done.  

Leaders would do well to skip the negative critiques unless/until we're asked for "constructive criticism."  When it is requested, deliver it gently and in the form of opening a dialogue about how we get better, on purpose, everyday.

Monday, November 2, 2015

WhichPeak?

We all need a mountain to climb, a big-picture goal around which we can build our plans and focus our efforts.  Knowing where it is we want to go is critical, in both our personal and professional lives.


It's not like there's a right or a wrong peak to challenge.  Pick one.

For any chosen peak/goal we get to select the path(s) by which we traverse it.  Pick one.

Challenging the peak/goal is always more fun and more self-actualizing when we do it with another person or a team of others.  Pick one.

When pursuing lofty goals we can expect setbacks.  The only question is which path we choose to overcome/circumvent the barriers.  Pick one.

Our cheerleaders are usually those who are at, or busy pursuing, their own pinnacle.  They are legion.  Pick one.  
(Our detractors, by the way, are typically those who are still "stuck" at the base or who have given up on their own aspirations.  Don't pick one.) 

Godspeed if you're already climbing your chosen mountain.  If not, pick one.  

GO!




Sunday, November 1, 2015

Customers

We all have customers.  

Customers are those who want or need something we can provide.  Those provisions take the form of goods or services or expertise or support.  Our customers may pay for those provisions with money, or with currency of some other kind (such as bartered goods or services or expertise or support).

We all have customers.  

They may be complete strangers whom we encounter in a business exchange.  They may be close acquaintances who need/want something we can deliver.  They may be family members.  They may even be our bosses (yep!).  

We all have customers.

No matter what our age, our occupation, our interests, or our avocations, we are in the daily business of providing something to others that they need/want from us. 

We all have customers.

If we deal with our customers from a mindset of service, they will dependably reciprocate and return their "business" to us gladly in the future.  If we deal with our customers from a mindset of obligation and entitlement on our part (assuming they have no other options), we'll lose their business.  We'll also lose the many blessings that would otherwise be ours.

How we treat our customers is an excellent predictor of what we can expect out of life.

The choice is ours. (As usual.)