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Wednesday, September 29, 2021


Criticism hurts, almost always. It offends us. And uninvited criticism offends us even more. Research from the field of psychology suggests strongly that virtually none of us receive criticism well.

The best leaders I know have exceptional depths of patience when dealing with critics and criticism. They work diligently (not always successfully) to NOT be offended when they feel the sting of criticism.

A fundamental premise of feeling the need to learn more (about ourselves, about the world) is the assumption that we don't know it all -- yet. 

The surest path to new learning is critical thought. Critical thought means challenging assumptions, pushing boundaries, asking hard questions, testing "out there" hypotheses, and being willing to eventually conclude "I was wrong."

Wise leaders invite all those uncomfortable forays and discern quite intentionally what they learn from the data those edgy pursuits teach them. 

Chorus: Leadership ain't for sissies.

*Worth noting is the sage advice of one of my lifelong mentors: "Everyone has an opinion. Everyone! I value most the informed opinions."


Sunday, September 26, 2021


One of the most profound lessons of leadership I learned while quite young (thankfully) is that selling people short is a mindset that will absolutely NOT move our organization toward better performance.

By assuming that some on the team were incapable - of the work assigned, of the effort required, of the learning needed - I accomplished several very unhelpful outcomes:

-It gave the low performers a free pass to stand down in their investment of effort.

-It added more work to the others on the team.

-It generated debilitating frustration for everyone involved.

-It fostered resentment among and between members of the team.

Organizational performance suffered. Surprise!

What did I learn from the experience? First, I looked in the mirror. Then, I began to take a coaching approach in working with those around me. It's a pretty simple set of strategies:

-View everyone as a bundle of exceptional potential.

-Assume and communicate the expectation that everyone on the team will grow, learn, and perform in a continuous improvement mindset.

-Provide clear guidance about where we're going and what we're trying to achieve, but afford reasonable autonomy to all in pursuing those goals.

-Monitor constantly, engage relentlessly, inquire with persistent intentionality.

-Assess steadily for Willingness and Ability: Quickly separate from the Unwilling and intensify the coaching/support for those who appear Unable to currently perform as needed.

Yes, such individualized coaching and constant monitoring are time sucks for the leadership. The alternative is de-energizing for everyone and results dependably in circling the drain organizationally. 

Sunday, September 19, 2021


Trying to force others to change is a fool's game. (Ask me how I know.)

I've worked for control freaks. They made me, and all the others they were trying to control, freak out. More importantly, those control freaks generated highly committed resisters.

So, if change toward betterment is a desired goal, what is the alternative to control freak-ism for those of us in leadership roles?

From both my observations and experience, some helpful strategies that invite others into the continuous improvement (aka "change") process:

-Build bridges, not walls. Resist mightily the temptation to diminish, devalue, demonize, and alienate those whom you are trying to influence. Much tongue-biting is required.

-Invite, don't incite. Pulling is always a better leadership strategy than pushing. The amount of resistance is directly proportional to the amount of push.

-Manipulate not. TRUST is the precursor to followership. Transparency, full disclosure, and willingness to consider all relevant data is a must. Once trust is lost, it's a very long slog toward the elusive re-establishment thereof.

-Inquire ad nauseam.  Ask strong and interesting questions that pull others into meaningful dialogue around the areas desired improvement - personal and organizational. Just as we know with those dealing with addictions, until and unless they themselves begin to see and understand that there is an addressable problem, solutions (however efficacious) are irrelevant.

If anybody told you leadership is easy, they're delusional.

Sunday, September 12, 2021


As a quick examination of many professional sports teams will attest, simply having a stable full of talented folks does not guarantee a winning team. The chemistry of the team is EVERYTHING, and achieving high-performing chemistry with a team full of talented folks is especially challenging for those of us in leadership roles. 

For your consideration, some strategies for managing teams of talented folks:

-Religiously keep the focus on the BIG PICTURE, the vision of the organization.

-Provide wide latitude in process by the various team members in moving themselves and their teams in the direction of the vision. But, keep a very close eye and ear on the work being done.

-Insist on (and model) respectfulness in all interactions. Strong players usually come with strong personalities, exceptional intellects, and stridently held opinions. Discussion, debate, and dissent make us stronger, but only when done in an environment of respectfulness. 

-Create the conditions in which all team members have opportunity to leverage and showcase their particular strengths. 

-Relentlessly pursue and demand continuous improvement. Complacency is a disease.

-Be prepared to replace any toxic talent that poisons the chemistry of the team. Dignified and expeditious separation is sometimes the best solution for the team's success.

Phil Jackson's books are excellent case studies on managing talented teams.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021


Experience ONLY matters if we learn something from it.

Wisdom is the direct, downstream (possible) effect of experience. The best chance we have of gaining wisdom is to reflect (look back and think back) on the stuff we've lived through.

That wisdom-producing reflection is best focused on our being able to take an objective look at the events, decisions, performance, and relationships that make up our personal history.

As we look back, our attention need not be on regret and commiseration and self-pity, but rather on how best to use the experiences of our past to make ourselves better today...and tomorrow...and next year.

And, it's always nice if we have some trusted others with which we can safely talk through what we have learned from those experiences. 

Our past need not make us tense. We can use it as a springboard to betterness. 

Experience ONLY matters if we learn something from it.

Sunday, September 5, 2021


Quality education is a gateway -- THE gateway -- to better futures for children. There is no societal commitment more noble than that of guaranteeing a high quality education to ALL its children.

What makes for a high quality education?

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO, 2004), a quality education is premised in five dimensions:

Learner Characteristics: The learner's aptitude, readiness for learning, and life experiences are key.

Context: The commitment to high quality learning for ALL by the public, familial, and socio-cultural environments is critical.

Enabling Inputs: The significant investment of both tangible and intangible resources makes all the difference in the quality of the learning experiences. 

Teaching and Learning: What is taught, how it is taught, and how it is measured all have direct bearing on the quality of the learning.

Outcomes: The end results reflect the quality of the learning - proficiency in literacy and numeracy, empowering life skills, and values respectful of life and diversity. 

All are important components, but NONE more than the persons who craft and manage those five dimensions for the learner. And of those persons, NONE is more important than the teacher. 

High quality teachers produce high quality learning. Moreover, they can get it done more effectively when all five of those dimensions are robustly in place. 

Wednesday, September 1, 2021


Tough times call for strong leadership. The very best leaders I know personally (and have studied) have not only survived tough times, they have emerged on the other side of them even stronger.

Here are some commonalities in the way those impactful folks led (and lead) through adversity:

-They use the adverse conditions to re-focus themselves and their followers on the BIG PICTURE vision they are pursuing.

-They acknowledge the difficulties/sadness briefly, but pivot quickly to expressions of support, comfort, and appreciation to/for those who are navigating those treacherous waters along with them.

-They purposefully and overtly avoid the sky-is-falling crowd, that tends to perseverate only on all that is going wrong.

-They speak with persistent clarity about what we do next, then next, then next, keeping the team centered on doing those things they CAN control.

-They understand that facing and overcoming adversity is a function of personal grit and determination, and that waiting on someone else to fix the problem(s) is a victim's mindset.

Leadership in tough times ain't for sissies.