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Friday, December 25, 2020


The Christmas season is associated with the act of giving gifts. Most of us (in the Christian faith) have memories of especially meaningful gifts received over the years at Christmas time.

Those special gifts take the form of toys, tools, clothes, jewelry, gadgetry, cool experiences, ..... The list is unending.

So, which is best?  

Consider this:  There is none greater than the gift of attention.

Having the attention of those I love and respect means the most. I see it in their eyes, I hear it in their words, I feel it in their touch, I sense it in their vibes.

Think I'll learn better how to give that gift.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, November 26, 2020


 About half of my professional life has been spent serving as a high school principal. One of the duties of that role is to plan and deploy the annual commencement ceremony for the graduating class. 

I made it a habit to remind the graduates each year that they did not arrive at that important day all on their own. Each one had someone, or a bunch of someones, who supported them in achieving that milestone. Thus, I admonished the graduates to not let that special day pass without expressing their appreciation, thankfulness, love to those who meant so much to their success.

Oddly, the simplest expressions of gratitude and love often feel the weightiest. In fact, a simple hug, a heartfelt "Thanks," a sincere "I love you" seem supreme. 

Graduation day is a great time for voicing such gratitude and love.

Thanksgiving is another excellent day for same.

Saturday, November 21, 2020


Any leader, good or bad, can tell you how important communication is. In fact, I've heard some leaders assert that leadership actually IS communication. An interesting thought...

The best leaders I know communicate often, communicate clearly, communicate through all kinds of media.

The wisest leaders I know consistently attempt to minimize their use of monologue, while at the same time maximizing the amount of time spent in dialogue.  

I've much to learn from those wizards.

Monday, November 9, 2020


Leadership is tricky business. Doesn't matter if we're talking parenting, coaching, preachering, teaching, bossing, generaling, or....

Effective leaders spend far more of their time, effort, thinking, and energy on building followership.  Autocratic leaders depend on compliance, through legalism and force, to achieve desired outcomes.

Armies that won't march...  Employees that slow roll work... Children that won't mind... Teams that won't commit... All are tells of uninvested followers. 

Autocrats respond by executing, firing, beating, dismissing the non-compliant.

Authentic leaders, on the other hand, respond by making a clearer, better case for followership toward noble and worthy goals. 

By the way, TRUST (not force) is the precursor to followership.  In case you were wondering.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020


Desertification is a word used to describe the depletion of fertile land through abusive practices, such as deforestation or monocultural agricultural applications. Sustainability is sacrificed in the interest of short-term yields. The result is that rich, fertile, living soil becomes degraded and desertlike. 

When nature is treated like a finite resource rather than a living co-entity, desertification is reliably the result.  

I often see parallel desertifying dynamics playing out in human social environments, for the same kinds of reasons. 

When we humans choose to treat the Earth -- or Each Other -- in abusive and controlling ways, we are quite often successful.  We get the desired result of a whole lot of sameness, lack of diversity, monoculturalism.  That pervasive sameness looks, feels, and smells much like a desert - lifeless, infertile, depleted, de-energized,.........dead.

Is that really what we want, for the Earth or for Our existence?

Friday, October 16, 2020


As a student athlete I was a member of the 4x400 relay team.  I remember coming off that last turn and heading into the home stretch.

OUR team success depended on MY performance.  And MY performance depended on how well I had conditioned myself to perform optimally.  Running well is as much a function of what goes on in our mind as it is a function of physical condition.

The best leaders I know understand this dynamic and build it into the daily disciplines of the organization.  Here are some of those daily disciplines wise leaders embed, promote, and celebrate:

> They talk about shared values ALL. THE. TIME.

> They identify habits that support the organization's vision and support, praise, and enable them, relentlessly.

> They deliberately prune organizational habits that do not highly align to (in some cases, even run counter to) the vision.

> They understand that it's the PEOPLE in the organization that determine its success (or failure), not the org chart or handbooks.

> They afford team members great autonomy in pursuing the vision of the organization.

> They persistently notice, persistently recognize, and persistently praise effort invested in the pursuit of the organization's vision (even when those efforts fall  a bit short).

Just like my relay-running days, performing well depends on disciplined conditioning - along ALL dimensions (and certainly not just around the physical components).

Friday, October 9, 2020


I view schools as sanctuaries of learning.  Sacred places where ways of thinking, ways of knowing, and ways of behaving are transmitted generationally forward.  

As the core function of schools is LEARNING, the compelling need for increased learning applies just as much to the adults in those schools as it does to the children.  

Further, if the learning of the adults in schools is not occurring at a richer and brisker clip than the learning of the children, a problem exists.  

Further still, if the learning of the leaders in those schools is not occurring at a richer and brisker clip than the learning of ALL the other stakeholders (young and old alike), an even bigger problem exists.

Come to think of it, those same three assertion apply to ALL organizations.  At least they do for those that intend to survive.  When the learning stops, the circling of the drain accelerates.

LEARN forward, every day, on purpose.  Leaders show the way, please.

Monday, October 5, 2020


A desire for consistency in behaviors across organizational membership often results in an abundance (or, overabundance) of rules, regulations, protocols, levels of permission, ......  The effect is that members begin to feel that their purpose in the organization is to be compliant to the "rules" rather than to pursue the Vision of the organization.  

Organizational Vision (which in most cases is noble and worthy) begins increasingly to take on secondary status to the need for adherence to bureaucratic structures.  In effect, the tail begins to wag the dog.   

The best leaders I know fight relentlessly to ensure that the pursuit of the organization's Vision remains the premise for the daily decisions made and actions taken.  Metaphorically, they insist that the dog keep wagging the tail, and not the other way around.  

Beating back the DogWagging tendency is a never-ending battle for right-minded leaders.  

But, if the leadership doesn't resist it.....  

Monday, September 21, 2020


Dependency implies that one person/group/entity relies disproportionately on another person/group/entity for the elements of sustaining life -- whether physical, intellectual, emotional-spiritual in nature.  This is not a healthy state.

Codependency is an elevated relational state of dependency, one in which the dependent party depends wholly and absolutely on the provider party for perceived wellbeing, and for life.  This is not a healthy state.

Independence is the state in which one party can exist and sustain themselves completely without the support (or even existence) of the other party.  This is a healthier relational state of existence, but quite tenuous in times/environments of limited resources.  

Interdependence is a relational state of mutual sustainability.  Both parties in this relationship bring something to the table.  It's an I-need-you-and-you-need-me arrangement, one in which both entities see the value and prospects afforded by the mutually supportive (and life-sustaining) relationship.  It is by far the healthiest form of "-pendence."

IF we outsource our wellbeing to Another, we are acting in faith that the Other has our best interest at heart.  History would advise us otherwise.

Saturday, September 12, 2020


 Bold vs Bodacious.  I've been pondering of late the distinction between those two words.

By definition, Bold implies confidence, courageousness, even fearlessness.

Bodacious connotes an uptick in degree - excellence.

It's as if Bold is the verb and Bodacious is the noun, an outcome.

Why not both, then?  BOLDACIOUS seems about right.  

Dream big.  Be fearless.  (Wimpy seems the alternative; count me out.)

Sunday, September 6, 2020


Optimal LEARNING (aka growth) occurs under conditions of challenge.  By definition, atrophy - the decline in effectiveness or vigor - occurs in conditions of underuse or neglect.

World class musicians know this.  Thus, they practice their craft daily, always pushing the limits upward. 

World class athletes know this.  Thus, they practice their craft daily, always pushing the limits upward

World class researchers know this.  Thus, they practice their craft daily, always pushing the limits upward.

A bit of discomforting stress is required for us to sharpen our skills, to push our performance upward, to clarify our thinking..........to get better - everyday, on purpose.  This truth holds across human domains - physical, cognitive, emotional-spiritual.  

World class LEARNERS know this.  Thus, they practice their craft daily, always pushing the limits upward.

Aiming for comfort yields disappointment.  Aiming for adequate yields average.  Aiming for World Class yields exceptional. 

Consequential results require consequential decisions, practices, and effort.

We get to decide, for ourselves AND for our children.  And, we can start anew each day. 

Sunday, August 30, 2020


Back when I was pretending to be an athletic coach, I carefully studied the practices of numerous outstanding coaches (in various sports).  I came to understand a commonality in them:  they were all fundamentalists. 

 No, not the religious kind. 

Fundamentalists in the sense that they knew that when athletes are put into the crucible of competition, they will physically, cognitively, and emotionally default to their HABITS.

Thus, those coaches built into each and every practice session certain fundamental skills routines, to ingrain deeply the auto-responses desired under duress.  Dribble drills in basketball and form tackling in football are examples.  Do them right, every time, without having to think about it.

The best Servant Leaders I know engage in the same type of daily disciplines - the habituation of the fundamentals.  They know full well that under the pressures of organizational crises, disruptive events, tight schedules, difficult negotiations, etc., we default to deeply ingrained schemas - physically, cognitively, emotionally, and spiritually. 

Both sets of consequential leaders I've studied - the athletic coaches and the Servant Leaders - were fundamentalists.  They deliberately chose and practiced daily the default responses they deemed necessary for success. 

I'm still thankfully learning from some of those exemplars.

Thursday, August 27, 2020


 Learning is the result of thinking.  

Learning is directly proportional to the amount of time/effort we put into thinking.  The more and more deeply we think, the more we learn.

Our thinking, and the subsequent learning we take from it, cannot be outsourced.  It's work we gotta do for ourselves.  Having teachers/guides/mentors/leaders can facilitate that process.

Pseudo teachers/guides/mentors/leaders presume to think for us and/or to tell us what to think.

Good teachers/guides/mentors/leaders actually cause us to think.

Extraordinary teachers/guides/mentors/leaders create the conditions that entice us into thinking deeply and critically.

World class teachers/guides/mentors/leaders craft environments in which we think collectively, synergistically accelerating our thinking.

More than ever, we have the power to pick our own teachers/guides/mentors/leaders.

Pick wisely.  LEARN much.

Friday, August 21, 2020


Wisdom is often assumed to be a function of age. 

Clearly, that is not always the case.  Examples abound of folks who've managed to keep living, but somehow missed important lessons contributing to wiseness.

On a recent morning walk, Moe (my lovely bride of 43 years) noted that age simply slows the rate at which we "go the wrong way," make crappy decisions, do stupid stuff.  To be sure, youth confers on us a degree of nimbleness, agility, and speed with which we miss, or misinterpret, a lot of important details/lessons.  

Wisdom implies we've actually LEARNED something from our myriad experiences over time. 

I think Moe's onto something.  

I still head off in the wrong direction far too frequently these days.  Age has simply served to limit the range of my lostness before discovering the need to redirect.  

Maybe we should call that phenomenon Agedom (instead of wisdom).

Saturday, August 15, 2020


 For some reason the lyrics to Paul Overstreet’s song titled “Heroes” has been playing in my mind: 

“Cause you know heroes come in every shape and size
Making special sacrifices for others in her lives
No one gives them medals, the world don't know their names
But in someone's eyes, they're heroes just the same.”


Here are a few commonalities of some of my personal heroes:


> Love – somehow, they seemed to love me despite knowing me.

> Vision – they remained relentlessly focused on the big picture.

> Learning – they insisted that I LEARN, both the easy and hard lessons.

> Reflection – they modeled and required of me reflective practice.

> Kindness – kindness was the constant, even when unwarranted. 

> Steadiness – they were emotional rocks during storms of chaos. 

> Faith – they lived out their belief in a higher Being, but in myriad ways.


Some of my heroes have passed, but many of them are still walking around.  


It’s been a comforting exercise thinking about them. 


Makes me wanna be like them.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020


Leaders are influencers.  

I learned a lot about leadership during the years I was charading as an athletic coach.  It became clear to me that the best coaches and leaders continually hone their skills in influencing others to become better versions of themselves (individually AND collectively).  Moreover, those leaders affect transformations toward betterment at paces far quicker than the team members would achieve if left to their dispositions.

Leader-influencers have a choice to make.  We can take a negative view and try to push the team forward through a deficit mindset and fear.  Or, we can choose to assume a WE CAN AND WE WILL perspective both in our vision of the future and in deploying the disciplines necessary to create that desired future.

I came to believe fully that the latter approach is the most worthy one.  I also came to be very suspicious and distrustful of leaders who chose to lead through negativity.  The motivations underlying the mindset of the leader matters.  A lot.

Choose who you follow wisely.  

Your future depends on it.

*If you'd like to read more of nc's blatherings, go to www.nelsonwcoulter.com.

Thursday, July 30, 2020


I have been blessed with a LOT of friends. They lie along a continuum that looks thus:

< - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - >
Some         Most         Others

Some of my friends very religious (fundamentalists, actually).  Others are atheists.  Most fall somewhere in between those two extremes.

Some of my friends are loud, opinionated, and bombastic.  Others are demur to the point of near invisibility.  Most fall somewhere in between those two extremes.

Some of my friends are liberals (politically). Others are conservatives.  Most fall somewhere in between.

Some of my friends are polite and courteous to a fault.  Others persistently run roughshod over the feelings of others (mine included).  Most fall somewhere in between.

Some of my friends are truly genius (intellectually speaking).  Others seem unexplainably incurious.  Most fall somewhere in between.

Some of my friends are rocks of emotional stability. Others are an ongoing emotional train wreck.  Most fall somewhere in between.

Some of my friends make me laugh – always. Others seem incapable of seeing the humor in anything.  Most fall somewhere in between.

My friends make me better.  All of them.  They push my thinking, they express concern, they argue with me, they cry with me, they challenge me, they joke with me, they force me to consider and re-consider.

I am thankful that my friends are all so different.  

I’m afraid of what I might become if my friends were all alike.

If you’re one of my friends, THANKS.  I forget to say that sometimes.  (And, please be patient with me.)

Tuesday, July 28, 2020


Several years ago I heard the administrative head of public health for Chicago (can't remember his name) discussing the plight of poor children.  He made a comment along these lines:  

"Poor kids are poor in almost every way."

Having served poor kids/families in rural, urban, and suburban settings (for over 40 years), I am convinced of the accuracy of that health official's assertion.  There is clearly a multi-dimensional insidiousness to poverty. 

I fiercely believe that quality public schools are the best chance that poor kids have of breaking the cycle of poverty that so persistently limits their prospects for happy, productive, and self-actualizing futures.

When public schools shifted away from face-to-face service last March, I immediately told my lovely bride of 43 years (Moe) that poor kids would suffer disproportionately.  That the learning gaps we had been so focused on closing would only widen.  I believe the evidence is bearing that out.

I worry mightily for the wellbeing of those poor kids.  The longer public schools remain closed to face-to-face service, the higher price poor kids will pay.

Monday, July 20, 2020


As testimony to God's sense of humor I suppose, I have found myself in recent years an instructor of courses in Graduate Research.

One of the primary things I try to teach to my students in Graduate Research is to be skeptical.  Question everything.  Discern studies critically.  

Ask these probing questions:
-Are the research questions that drive the study consequential (i.e., non-trivial)?
-Has the researcher declared to us publicly her/his bias?
-Has the researcher articulated for us the gaps/limitations of her/his study?
-Was the study conducted in accordance to the most rigorous research methodologies?
-Did the researcher carefully select a fair and representative sample set to study? 
-Did the researcher tell us who funded the study?
-Was the researcher predisposed toward a particular conclusion/outcome, from which she/he would benefit (either financially, reputationally, or politically)?
-Did the researcher provide important follow-up questions for future study?
-Did the researcher "invite" rigorous discourse/debate around her/his study?

Every time the answer to one of those questions is NO our "Danger-Mr. Robinson-Danger" alarm should start pinging.

Approaching new information with a skeptical eye/ear/brain is critical.  It refines our thinking.  It mitigates chicanery.  It generates rigorous discourse.  It promotes transparency.  It advances knowledge.  

When we stop being skeptical, we slip into one of two other mindsets:  Naivety (cluelessly uncaring) or Cynicism (arrogantly incurious).  Both diminishing; both dangerous.

Research is really just the reporting of new information.  Consider how useful it might be for us to apply the same sort of critical Skepticism to reports related to politics, medicine, weather, nutrition, religion, agriculture........

Those who resist rigorous discourse and debate are usually trying to hide something.

Skepticism = good.  Cynicism and Naivety = bad (perhaps even fatal).

Tuesday, July 14, 2020


I recently read Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work…and What Does: The New Science of Leading, Energizing, and Engaging by Susan Fowler (2014).  

In this book SF makes a compelling case for organizational leaders to abandon traditional approaches to “motivate” people. Rather, she advises us to focus our attention on creating the kinds of collaborative, reflective cultures that support productive, positive, and self-actualizing work environments. 

My top takeaways include:
> Use of rewards and punishments ONLY accomplish temporary compliance.
> There are six motivational outlooks: Disinterested (sub-optimal), External (sub-optimal), Imposed (sub-optimal), Aligned (optimal), Integrated (optimal), Inherent (optimal). 
> Motivation relies on three psychological needs – autonomy (a sense of self-direction), relatedness (our need to be cared for, to be cared about, and to contribute to a greater good), and competence (our need to feel effective, growing, and flourishing).
> We promote high-quality self-regulation by fostering cultures that accentuate mindfulness, focus on values, and stay grounded in noble purpose.
 Leaders should be focused on motivating themselves, not others.
> Well-being is at the very heart of one’s motivational outlook.
> Quality appraisal processes are centered on reflection, not grading or being graded.
> Five beliefs that erode workplace motivation:  1. It’s not personal; it’s just business.  2. The purpose of business is to make money.  3. Leaders are in a position of power.  4. The only thing that really matters is results. 5. If you cannot measure it, it doesn’t matter. 

Fowler asserts that lack of motivation is not really the problem.  People are always motivated.  Whythey are motivated is the real issue to be explored and understood.

My favorite quotes:

“The real story of motivation is that people are learners who long to grow, enjoy their work, be productive, make positive contributions, and build lasting relationships.” (p. 50)

“A space exists between what is happening to you and the way you react to it. Mindfulness is that space.” (p. 62)

“If you cannot measure it, it is probably really, really important.” (p. 148)

This book reminded me of this Daniel Pink TED Talk regarding The Puzzle of Motivation.  Both are worth your time if you want a better understanding of what motivates us.

Sunday, July 12, 2020


One of the great blessings in my life was having had the opportunity to study for one year under Dr. Mike Moses.  Dr. Moses has had a rather amazing career as an educator in Texas, including stints as the superintendent of schools in the Lubbock and Dallas ISDs, as well as serving as the Commissioner of Education of Texas from 1995-1999.

One of the many impactful things Mike taught me/us is that you can tell what’s important to someone by watching two things: how they spend their time and how they spend their money.

Through careful observation I became increasingly convinced of the correctness of that assertion.  With respectful deference to Dr. Moses I’d like to add a third telling indicator: watching how people invest their effort.

Investments along those dimensions are quite telling, for all of us. 

Before choosing who we’ll follow it is wise guidance indeed to assess carefully…
1)   How those leaders spend their time.
2)   How those leaders spend their money.
3)   How those leaders spend their effort.

Taking a look at ourselves through the same lenses is helpful practice, as well.

Choose wisely for best results.

Friday, July 10, 2020


I recently read Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economicsby Richard
 Thaler (2015). 

Thaler is winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences; he teaches in the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. In this book RT details his decades-long journey of attempting to influence the field of economics by better understanding human motivation as opposed to the more traditional approach of viewing economic behavior through the lens of rigidly rational decision-making.

My top takeaways include:
·       A core premise of classic economic theory is that people make their decisions about the use of money via rational reasoning.  Thaler believes that to be a flawed assertion.
·       Thaler divides the world into two types of people, Econs (the automatons of economic theory who make their decisions based purely on rational thought processes) and Humans (the rest of us).
·       “Loss” hurts us more than twice as much as “gain” gives us pleasure. This concept is known as loss aversion.
·       Winners at auctions are often the bidder who most overvalues the object being sold.
·       If you want people to do something, make it easy for them to do it.

Thaler proposes three ideas he believes useful toward impacting positive change:  
1) Observe. See the world as it is, not as others wish it to be.  
2) Collect data and learn from it. Humans and organizations have an urgent need to learn how to learn.  
3) Speak up. Someone must be willing to tell the boss that something is going wrong.

My favorite quotes:
“If there is a number, people will use it.” (p. 275).  

“Economists are really good at inventing rational explanations for behavior, no matter how dumb that behavior appears to be.” (p. 295)

Because people are Humans, not Econs (terms we coined for Nudge), they make predictable errors. If we can anticipate those errors, we can devise policies that will reduce the error rate.” (p. 325)

“Good leaders must create environments in which employees feel that making evidence-based decisions will always be rewarded, no matter what outcome occurs.” (p. 357)

This book is a very interesting examination of human behavior, in general.  It’s not just a book about economics.  Well worth the time for anyone in a position of influencing others. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2020


I recently read Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (2017).  I rarely report on my fictional reads, but this one deserves note.

Ng does a magnificent job of character development (several of them, actually) while weaving a tapestry tale that touches on the messiness of family, of culture, of heritage, of values, of morality.  The contradictions that most of us struggle with along all those dimensions are laid bare in this work.

I love it when authors cause me to think about their book while I'm NOT READING their book.  Ng did just that.

This one is getting dangerously close to cracking my Top 10 Fiction readings.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020


Leadership comes in all kinds of iterations and manifestations.  

Leaders at all levels (in our families, in our houses of faith, in our social networks, in our communities, in our world) can learn much from the fails of leaders past.

Here's what failing leaders DON'T do:

  • LISTEN - they fail to stop talking long enough to actually hear the voices, perspectives, insights of others.
  • ADMIT - they fail to acknowledge that problems exist, much less the prospect that they themselves could have contributed to the problems.
  • FORGIVE - they fail to understand that forgiveness is the first step in healing, the only path toward community.
  • HONOR - they fail to respect the dignity of others.
  • BRIDGE - they fail to build bridges, concentrating, rather, on magnifying the chasms.
  • SEE - they fail to envision and craft better futures, preferring to highlight the problems.

History is littered with examples of failed leadership.  

It is also ripe with examples of leaders who chose the paths of 
Listening, Admitting, Forgiving, Honoring, Bridging, and Seeing.  
None perfectly so, but always and persistently with betterness in mind.

We can learn quite a lot from both.