Strike A Chord…

“Societies can be sunk by the weight of buried ugliness.”  -Daniel Goleman

Music is one of life’s great gifts.  It provides special joy that we each relate to in our own way.  We would be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t have love for some form of music.  Music has the ability to touch your heart, spark your spirit, and move your soul.  It intertwines with and dashes in and out of our daily life, providing a soundtrack that creates the moods and emotions of the day.  Yet, neither does it take a talented musician to appreciate and acknowledge what we consider to be great music.  We know it when we hear it.  Yes, we know when a musician hits that right note, that single note that moves our whole being.

And neither does it take world-class musician to acknowledge a wrong note.  We just know it when we hear it.  The note that grates on our ears like fingernails on a chalkboard.  And just like the right note, the wrong note has the knack to add friction upon our mood and emotions, and not usually for the positive.  It can cause disharmony and outright annoyance.

Leadership moves in our lives in much the same way as music.  Leaders have the capability to touch your spirit and move your emotions, as much as they have the aptitude to reek havoc, disharmony and discord within those same lives and organizations.

Think of it like this; a leader is like a reed in a saxophone, serving as the mouthpiece for the organization.  The manner in which the pressure and velocity of air is blown through that reed determines the harmony of sound issued from the instrument.  In comparison, how a leader deals with the pressure and velocity of issues that confront them on a daily basis is like that same reed, it affects the emotions and runs through the whole of the organization.  And like the reed “resonates throughout the player and the instrument” as well.  A leaders actions and words “resonate” for better or worse throughout the organization.

Daniel Goleman refers to this as “resonant leadership.”  The capability and capacity of leaders and leadership to acquire and utilize sufficient emotional intelligence to attune themselves to the “feelings” of those they lead to “move them in a positive emotional  direction.”  And it is critical, critical for determining a leader’s ability to engage and influence.  Or disengage.  Which is especially important to our current times, which indicate record numbers of employees that report feeling disengaged with their work, their leaders, and their organizations.

Goleman provides further emphasis to this in his work Primal Leadership“When a leader triggers resonance, you can read it in people’s eyes: They’re engaged and they light up.”  Much like the saxophone, the reed, and the player; when they are in sync they create a beautiful and harmonious sound, as opposed to the grating, harsh “dissonance” when that harmony does not exist.

More and more we see the necessity of leaders having emotional and social intelligence in their toolbox.  If your leadership is incapable of touching those you lead at an emotional level, how can you hope to have any real sense of influence.  And yet, very few leaders take stock of the importance of emotional intelligence for equipping and increasing their capacity and effectiveness.

Goleman pushes further adds, “resonance amplifies and prolongs the emotional impact of leadership.  The more resonant people are with each other, the less static are their interactions; resonance minimizes the noise in the system.”  He continues, “The glue that holds people together in a team, and that commits people to an organization, is the emotions that they feel.”

Just as a world-class musician has the ability to speak to the individual listener, an emotionally intelligent leader has the ability to make those in the organization feel “understood and cared for.”  Leaders who are strong in emotional intelligence have the ability to not only reflect upon their own emotions, but to perceive and decipher the emotions of others, allowing empathy and understanding to build and sustain stronger and better relationships.

“resonant leader” has the ability for their message and their leadership to cut through the noise of the organization.  To strike a chord with those they lead on an emotional level.  And as Goleman points out, “Perhaps most important, connecting with others at an emotional level makes work more meaningful.”  For which, “These feelings drive people to do things together that no individual could or would do.  And it is the EI leader who knows how to bring about that kind of bonding.”

As in the opening quote, Goleman purports that our “societies can be sunk by the weight of buried ugliness” and the same could be said for our organizations and institutions.  It requires “resonant leadership” to cut through the noise and “ugliness” or as Goleman so eloquently puts forth, we need “more signal, less noise.”

Endurance of Will

“Endurance is not just the ability to bear a hard thing, but to turn it into glory.”  -William Barclay

Leading and sustaining high-performing and successful organizations is not an easy venture or one that is oft rewarded.  Type “successful organizations” into Google and you will discover mounds of research, strategies, and “essential” or “proven” practices for creating and leading just that type of organization (154 million results to be exact).  Yet, we have more stories of failed organizations than we do of high-performing, successful ones.  And for those that do reach the pinnacle, their ability to sustain their efforts is often short-lived at best.

When we drill down to what is found in the DNA of high-performing and successful organizations, we find many commonalities in their essential make-up, terms such as…alignment, commitment to excellence, focused, inspired, systematic, execution, accountability, effective processes, clearly-stated and defined purpose, results-oriented, effective communication, and culture of learning.

However, those structures, protocols and processes…alignmentcommitment to excellencefocusedinspiredsystematicexecutionaccountabilityeffective processesclearly-stated and defined purposeresults-orientedeffective communication, and culture of learning…fail to endure or even exist without strong and dedicated leadership.  Very seldom do we see high-performing and successful organizations that are lacking depth in the leadership department.

As many of us have learned from the popularity of the research on successful organizations in Good to Great, Jim Collins reminds us that it is not just about any leadership…“But the comparison companies also had leaders, even some great leaders.  So what’s different?”  And for Jim Collins and his research team, their data on organizations brought to the forefront that…“The good-to-great executives were all cut from the same cloth.  It didn’t matter whether the company was consumer or industrial, in crisis or steady state, offered services or products.  It didn’t matter when the transition took place or how big the company.  All the good-to-great companies had Level 5 leadership at the time of transition.  Furthermore, the absence of Level 5 leadership showed up as a consistent pattern in the comparison companies.”

What Collins and his research team provided with data was proof that went “against the grain of conventional wisdom, especially the belief that we need larger-than-life saviors with big personalities to transform companies.”

Rather, the good to great organizations from his study had what Collins called Level 5 leadership.  As Collins further explains in Good to Great, Level 5 leadership can be seen as an equation, it requires…

“HUMILITY + WILL = LEVEL 5”

Collins highlights the importance of both sides of this equation in determining Level 5 leaders and leadership.  Yet, the importance of “will” and “unwavering resolve” is such a key characteristic of Level 5 leaders.  Collins explains that “it is very important to grasp that Level 5 leadership is not just about humility and modesty.  It is equally about ferocious resolve, an almost stoic determination to do whatever needs to be done to make the company great.”

What Collins and his team brought to light is an incredibly vital and often forgotten aspect of leadership…endurance.  Leadership endurance.  Just like great athletes…great leaders need endurance if they are going to achieve great things with and within their organizations.  We must acknowledge that many a great leader has energetically unleashed an initiative and/or program…jumped out of the gate with great resolve, vigor and determination…only to see that determination and resolve worn down and ground to a halt over time.  Often, after expelling great amounts of energy and time, they are left with nothing to show for their work and the work of those they lead.

Level 5 leaders understand the importance of endurance in their leadership.  They understand that it is not just about starting well…it is about finishing well.  The path of leadership is endlessly littered with those that started well and lacked the endurance to take it all the way across the finish line.

Time and time again, great organizations and great leadership models understand it, they understand the importance of leadership endurance.  Great enduring organizations like the U.S. Marine Corps.  The Marine Corps consider endurance one of their fourteen traits of great leadership.  And it is no coincidence that it is stationed last, as the anchor of the fourteen traits, defined by them as…

“Endurance is the mental and physical stamina that is measured by your ability to withstand pain, fatigue, stress, and hardship.  For example, enduring pain during a conditioning march in order to improve stamina is crucial in the development of leadership.”

The U.S. Marine Corps are a mission focused, or should I say mission “accomplished” organization.  They understand the importance of finishing, and finishing well.  The Marine Corp acknowledges and gives credence to the importance of endurance in leadership, especially if mission “accomplished” is the overarching goal.

And yet, as we look around our organizations, we see how few leaders know how to truly endure…when the energy from the inspirational speeches has worn off and the hard work is left to do…very few stay committed to finishing well.  Many lack the zeal or gusto necessary to endure.  They lack the commitment, fortitude, and grit to take their people across the finish line.  They lack the endurance necessary to finish well.  Remember, the path of leadership is littered with those that have started well…those that had great potential…those that were charismatic and charming…yet lacked the endurance of a true Level 5 leader.  Leadership is not as much a sprint as it is a marathon.  And a marathon takes takes endurance.  It takes overcoming pain, facing difficulties and struggles, if they are to carry it to the end, to finish well.  Anyone can start well, yet very few know how to finish well.

Remember, endurance is found at the end, not at the beginning.  End well, that is what people will remember…very few remember how great someone started.

“Getting The Whole System In The Room”

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”  -George Bernard Shaw

Communication has always served as a leadership imperative and at times an Achilles heel.  As leaders, we can over-confidently assume on the wrong-side of the effectiveness and efficiency of our communication.  We often operate under the belief that our lines of communication are sufficient and proficient, only to discover, often by surprise, that our channels of communication were more than lacking in both clarity and coverage.  Unfortunately, when the lines of communication are strained and ineffective in an organization, silos, stress, dysfunction and confusion take root and their heavy chains strain and bind the organization.

Leaders must take a broken record approach to their communications.  Over and over and over again is the message.  Consistent and constant, vision and goal focused, unwavering.  Never missing an opportunity to reinforce and reiterate.  The message can never be over-communicated, whereas in most cases it tends to be under-communicated.  The mission, vision, goals and even next steps must be shared, revisited, reemphasized, and monitored, constantly.  As they say…rinse and repeat.  It is critical if your organization is to operate in a high-functioning and aligned manner.

Visualize and imagine it as if it is about “getting the whole system in the room”…if you want alignment across your organization, top to bottom, east to west.  For communication to be effective, conceptualize what must occur for the message to spread across the institution as if the whole of the organization was congregated in the same room, at the same time, taking in the same message.  Your organizational communications must flow from that intention…and with that level of calibration.  When we fail to “get the whole system in the room”, the message dissipates and the mission, vision and goals are often miscommunicated and misaligned.

And neither underestimate the amount of work effective communication takes, as it is no easy task, especially in large and complex organizations.  It is never an event…rather, it is an ongoing, dedicated process that requires tireless effort and diligence by leadership…at all levels of the organization.

Communication has the ability to tear down or ratchet-up an organization…usually falling into one of these two camps, which I will refer to as an organization’s “wheels of communication”

1. The Driver (Wheel of Fortune):  When leadership is accessing the “driver” wheel…communication is being driven throughout all levels of the organization.  The “driver” creates momentum and forward movement.  And like tires on your car, you might not always be able to see them, yet you know what keeps your vehicle moving forward.  You understand the importance of maintenance, keeping them in top condition, inflated properly, and with the right level of tread.  And on the flip-side…the dangers and perils of not maintaining them.  Placing your vehicle and your passengers at risk knowing that road-side debris and potholes could possibly cause a flat or blow out.  Putting your vehicle out of commission and stalling your ability to reach your destination.  And yet, the very same situations occur in our institutions and organizations.  Communication must be maintained, monitored, and altered.  It is a necessity if the organization is to function at a high level.  Inability to communicate effectively will most likely stall the momentum of your people, your organization, their work, the goals, and the vision.

2. The Spinner (Wheel of Misfortune):  This second wheel runs in a completely different manner and is most often a result of miscommunication, if any communication exists at all.  The “spinner” is caused from breakdowns and disjointed communication spinning throughout the organization.  It is best visualized as the hamster in the cage.  When the “spinner” is in effect, silos spring up in similar fashion to the cage of the hamster.  And just like a hamster, we find ourselves running on that wheel in the cage…working hard, giving it our all, only to discover that we are just spinning our wheel.  Neither gaining ground nor moving forward, just spinning.  Everyone looks busy, everyone appears to be working hard, and yet most are fraying at the edges as the silos and communication breakdowns keep them spinning in place.  When the “spinner” is in effect, people end up tired and frustrated from the lack of direction and progress.  And like the hamster, many will eventually give up the wheel…choosing to lie down and wait to be fed ‘next steps’…disengaged and frustrated with the process and the organization.  When your people no longer look to add ideas, when they wait to be told what to do next…they are most likely spinning on the wheel of miscommunication.

When we invest the time necessary to create vital channels of communication in our organizations, we are strapping on the “wheels” of momentum that will drive our people and organizations forward.  It requires the leadership and our leaders to take a “getting the whole system in the room” approach to communication.

If we want to hit our targets, then everyone needs to know what is most important and where to set their sights and place their focus.  That is, if we want our organizations to gain momentum to move forward effectively.  When you realize that those you serve have stepped off the wheel, tired, frustrated, and waiting to be fed “next steps”…it may serve as a prime time to revisit your “wheels” of communication.

“Getting the Whole System in the Room” is a phrase borrowed from Patricia Shaw’s book, Changing Conversations in Organization: A Complexity Approach to Change.

Echoes…

“Everyone in a complex system has a slightly different interpretation.  The more interpretations we gather, the easier it becomes to gain a sense of the whole.”  -Margaret Wheatley

I have heard many voices of concern over time…voices that view social media channels as ‘echo chambers’ for the platform of the partakers.  Channels serving society only as another media source to amplify, reinforce and grandstand the popular and personal ideas and thoughts of the day.

And yet, my experiences have been in conflict with that concept…the hollowness of the term ‘echo chamber’ is not a fitting ‘interpretation’ of what could be considered ‘complex systems’.

Rather, your engagement of and engaging with these social media systems determines the depth and breadth of the experience.  But in all actuality, it has little to do with the social media system itself and everything to do with the network of people within.  A network of individuals willing to engage, share, and even pushback on ideas and thoughts…serving as a forum for improvement, for creating change.

The more I engage, the less and less I see an ‘echo chamber’…

The term that resonates with my experiences recently…‘making of mavericks’.  The creating of frontrunners…explorers…innovators…those willing to lead the way forward.

Which is why Margaret Wheatley’s quotes are so fitting.  We are constantly adding our own interpretations…putting our own voice to ideas that resonate with our spirit as educators and professionals.  Educators who are willing to share their successes and failures as practitioners…to engage the conversation for the sake of their passion and their profession.  To selflessly serve our students, our parents, our schools, and our communities.

And that is why my Personal Learning Network (PLN) serves less as an ‘echo chamber’ and more for the ‘making of mavericks’.  More and more I have witnessed practitioners sharing freely of ideas…ideas that are offered up for others to interpret…to interpret and run with in a variety of manners and directions.  Ideas that spur completely new and different ideas.  Blogs, chats, and tweets that serve as simple forums for sharing morph unexpectedly.  A thought here…turns into a movement there.

As Wheatley expounds upon below…we have these places and processes at our fingertips.  Open access to ongoing and continued learning and sharing.  Access in ways previously considered unimaginable…and with people thought beyond our reach.

“I think a major act of leadership right now, call it a radical act, is to create the places and processes so people can actually learn together, using our experiences.”  -Margaret Wheatley

How will you engage?

Increase Influence; Innovate the Environment

“Rarely does the average person conceive of changing the physical world as a way of changing human behavior.  We see that others are misbehaving, and we look to change them, not their environment.  Caught up in the human side of things, we completely miss the impact of subtle yet powerful sources such as the size of a room or the impact of a chair.  Consequently, one of our most powerful sources of influence (the physical environment) is often the least used because it’s the least noticeable.”  -Kerry Patterson The Influencer

Over the last year there have been just snippets, a few articles and videos here and there dedicated to the physical environments of our schools and classrooms.  As we question whether our instructional methods are fitting to our changing times, we also have to determine if our physical environments are conducive to supporting learning in the 21st century.  Environment is not about whether we are using rows or group seating in our classrooms; it is about taking a deep and reflective look at the environment of our entire organization.  And being able to decipher what message our organization’s physical environment is sending…

Physical environment is a vital, important and often forgotten influencer on our people and the work in our organizations.  Responsible leaders must begin to take notice of our environment.  It is necessity of modern leadership.  Successful organizations such as Starbucks and Google have long understood the importance of physical environment and have put emphasis into its creation within their organizations.  They see the critical value of placing time and effort into designing a physical environment that supports behaviors aligned with and towards their vision as an organization.

As educational institutions and organizations, we have gained many valuable leadership lessons from our business counterparts, yet we lag behind in our ability to create physical environments that are changing and morphing towards a vision of a 21st century learning organization.

However, before we move towards our vision of what a 21st century learning organization should look like, we have to determine what physical factors in our current environment are inhibiting our people and our work throughout our organizations.

It begins by understanding that our physical work environment is an integral part of our lives.  Yet, many times we don’t recognize it, we don’t take notice of it, and when we do, most often we feel that we have no control over changing and/or recreating it.  And we need to rethink that approach in our organizations…

We often forget that our environment has impact and influence over us.  We need to leverage our ability to control our physical environment and use it as an influencer, if we are to improve our ability to function at high levels within our organizations.

In the Influencer, Kerry Patterson and fellow authors pinpoint our environment as a vital factor of influence we often fail to consider or recognize in our organizations.  We view our physical environment as something that just is, rather than a changeable and influential force that we can mold, recreate, and utilize for our benefit.  As Patterson puts it, we can and need to “move away from human influence altogether and examine how nonhuman forces – the world of buildings, space, sound, sight, and so forth – can be brought to bear in an influence strategy.”

As leaders, we rather place our emphasis and attention on the work we do and the people we serve.  Which, don’t get me wrong, is of the highest importance for our leadership.  However, if we fail to understand that the physical environment that we place our people in holds influence over the work and interactions, then we may very well fail to get the best out of our people and their work.

We must understand and recognize the impact of our physical environment on our choices and how it affects how we do the things we do.  Whether it is our classroom arrangements, where we place the principals office in the main building, how we partition off the front office staff from parents and students, it all sends a message to those in our organization and those who interact within our organization’s community.  It sends a message out and affects how we operate within.  And, if we want those interactions to be positive, we have to make sure that the physical environment we place others in when interacting with our organization are supportive of those behaviors.  Whether that be students, parents, staff or community members.

When we take stock of our environment, when we start to look deeply at the messages our physical environment may be sending out, we start to ask questions that create a better organization.  What messages do our classrooms send to our students and teachers?  What message does our front office send to our learning community?  Is it inviting?  Or, is it closed-off and stand-offish.  Whether we see it, whether we want to recognize it, our physical environment sends a very clear message to others on what we are about and how we will interact.

Awareness that the message and expectations from leadership are either supported or inhibited by the physical environment of our organization.  For example, proponents of Professional Learning Communities know the importance of collaboration, and must create a physical environment conducive to supporting this process.  When leadership touts the benefits of collaboration and scatter the teachers of grade level teams across the campus, they have just sent the message to those that are affected most that collaboration is not as important as we propose.  When we don’t take the physical environment into account, we often inhibit the very things we are working so diligently to accomplish.

And, as we reflect on this example for creating collaboration within our PLCs, of when it doesn’t work, our frustrations turn towards the human side and we wonder why our teams are fighting such a great strategy for improving teaching and learning.  When in fact, we set up a physical environment that inhibits collaboration.  We just don’t see or recognize it.  We fail to acknowledge that our leadership decisions have made it physically difficult for the process to take hold and flourish.  We fail to see the physical environment we created as the roadblock.

As educational leaders, it may behoove us to strap on a new lens.  A new perspective.  To take a new and fresh look at our organization from a student, a parent, a community member view, to see it from their lens or perspective.  What messages are being sent?  What is the overall look of your campus, is it clean, the grass mowed, the bushes trimmed, or does it look run-down and unkept?

What message do you feel when you take a stroll down your hallways?  What message reaches out to you when you enter your classrooms?

Our environment doesn’t often register with us, at least on a deep level.  We have a superficial view of our physical environment.  It is more than current work on the walls of our classrooms and hallways, it is about the message our physical environment sends out to each and every student, parent, and staff member that walks our hallways and sit in our classrooms each and every day.

We are best reminded of this example from Patterson’s Influencer

“Kelling, a criminologist and originator of the ‘broken window theory’ of crime, argued that disordered surroundings send out an unspoken but powerful message that encourages antisocial behavior.”  Kelling is making a powerful argument that physical environments can have a tremendous influence on the behavior of people.  Both positive and negative.  It requires us to determine if our physical environment is in alignment with our vision, with our expectations, of what we are trying to accomplish, and it starts in our parking lot, in our front office, on our playground, in our hallways, our cafeteria’s, and most definitely, our classrooms and staff lounge.  We must determine if our physical environment is in alignment with our human message, and do the two align?

I would like to leave you with a few quotes from Patterson’s Influencer to reflect upon as you determine how your physical environment affects your organization…

“Festinger discovered that the frequency and quality of human interaction is largely a function of physical environment.”

“At the corporate level, when employees don’t meet and chat (getting to know one another and jointly working on problems), bad things happen.  Silos form and in-fighting reigns.  Employees start labeling others with ugly terms such as ‘them’ and ‘they’ – meaning the bad people ‘out there’ whom they rarely see and who are surely the cause of most of the problems they experience.”

“If you want to predict who doesn’t trust or get along with whom in a company, take out a tape measure.”

“Propinquity is used to foster relationships.  When you assign people interdependent roles and then put them in close proximity, you increase the chance that relationships that had once been the bane of their existence are now a big part of their personal transformation.”

“Most people don’t lament this loss, but they should.  When people casually bump into each other at work, they ask questions, share ideas, and surprisingly often come up with solutions to problems.”

Starbucks gets it.  Google gets it.  And Apple got it.  And with that last quote it is very clear that Steve Jobs understood the importance of physical environment.  Is it any wonder that he only allowed one bathroom to be built in the Apple headquarters?  He knew that it would cause people to ‘bump’ into each other, resulting in better ideas and better solutions.  Great organizations get it.  Great leaders get it.

Maybe it is worth a second look…

The Next Step…

“An innovation is one of those things that society looks at and says, if we make this part of the way we live and work, it will change the way we live and work.” -Dean Kamen

I have been monitoring the whole ‘flipped‘ movement for awhile. Listening to the variety of conversations…everyone providing their own version of what it is and what it isn’t. Some arguing that it’s just a fad, while others emphatically praise its value for upending our teaching and engagement models for students.

In July of this year, Bill Ferriter on his Tempered Radical blog stepped the movement up another level. He posed the question, What If You Flipped Your Faculty Meetings? Mr. Ferriter not only posed the question…he pushed it out there as a challenge. A challenge for principals. For principals to model as an instructional strategy for their classroom teachers. Which Mr. Ferriter expounds upon in this excerpt from his article…

“And faculty meetings as their currently structured – 30-45 minutes once a month where information is delivered instead of created – do little to make those kinds of cross-conversations possible even when everyone is sitting in the same room with each other.

But if they’re flipped – if the information that needs to be delivered is consumed before the meeting even begins – there’s PLENTY of time for teachers to learn from – and to build relationships with – peers who work in different departments or on different hallways.”

And before the dust had a chance to settle from the first post, the Tempered Radical followed up in August of this year with an expanded emphasis, Still MORE On Flipping The Faculty Meeting.An opportunity to expound upon his reasoning and support for this strategy…“Teachers won’t be convinced that flipping the classroom carries benefits FOR learners until they experience those benefits first-hand AS learners.” And for the amount of views the posts received, it was obvious that it touched a chord with people.

Yet, for me, what struck the chord…was that Bill Ferriter was posing the right question. It wasn’t about how cool ‘flipping‘ was and how everybody was doing it. It wasn’t about being a technological maverick. Rather, it was about what was most important. It was about the learning.

It was about what is most important when people come together in our meetings. Do we put the right emphasis on the right things? It was really about what people should be doing. To put our emphasis on learning and collaborating and away from the sit and get format. He was breaking down the aging lecture as the emphasis…as the model.

And that hooked me…that lit up the light bulb. It made me wonder and consider if this model would be effective at even another level? And eventually served as my why for taking it a step beyond the faculty meeting…

As a previous principal I miss the ability to collaborate, interact, share, and communicate continuously with those in my building. I miss being able to walk down our hallways during passing periods, recess, lunch and engage ideas and possibilities with teachers and staff. To engage in conversations that helped to drive the learning in the building. It was about an ongoing rapport and loop of sharing, feedback, and next steps. And it was all there within the building. Which makes flipping the faculty meeting the icing on the cake…

However, that all changes at the district level. The hallways are gone. And the distance between those conversations is much wider.

The focus has now turned towards engaging principals. Very busy principals who work not only in different buildings, but are spread out across a large and expansive district. Principals who are not right down the hall, but a fifteen minute drive across town. So our limited interactions and busy schedules serve as an added hindrance to the process. And for that reason, every department scrambles for their time and turf at each meeting knowing that their information is most important.

The problem is that everyone thinks their information is most important. And for that reason, our meetings are very similar to…a middle school student who has six teachers, with each one oblivious to the other, only finding their homework to be of importance…so at the end of the day our student goes home with six hours of homework that not only frustrates endlessly, but has no real chance of being completed. We affectionately refer to those meetings as the “Parade of Good News Announcements”.

So, unfortunately announcements and ‘vital’ information grab front seat to long and laborious agendas that relegate collaboration and learning to an afterthought at the backend of most meetings. And this served as the impetus for knowing it was time to ‘flip‘ the principal meeting…time to take the next step in the ‘flip‘ model and bump it up to the district level.

First, it’s new…we know we will hit some bumps in the road…however, we believe those will be outweighed by the benefits of our ‘flipped‘ district model, such as:

  • Provide precious collaboration and learning time for our principals when they are gathered as a group
  • Incorporate a variety of technology tools within the ‘flip‘ model that will require our principals to access, utilize and learn; providing them valuable information for implementing technology at their school
  • Provide a variety of collaborative mediums that can be accessed to increase networking, sharing and collaborating between district meetings
  • The district serving as a model for implementing the ‘flipped‘ construct for principals to take back and model/share with their own staff

While we are very early in the process…we’ve started. And it looks very promising as a strategy and/or tool to increase our ability to serve our principals better and utilize our precious time together focused on what’s most important…learning.

And not another year of the “Parade of Good News Announcements”

Mining for the Gold (Standard)

“In every difficult situation is potential value.  Believe this, then begin looking for it.”  -Norman Vincent Peale

In today’s society, I believe that leaders have become adverse to adversity, conflict and failure.  Leaders grasp every opportunity to avoid it, bury it, push it under the carpet.  So we let issues simmer, overflow and seep out and into the organization, rather than face them head on.  We avoid it when conflict rears its ugly head in our meetings, congratulating ourselves for avoiding that one as we creep back to our office.  Feeling good that we squashed any conflict before it took control of and ruined our meeting.  Happy that our leadership kept everything on track and running smoothly.  The one problem…that same conflict has already raised its ugly head in the parking lot.  And in all actuality, avoidance has allowed it to grow meaner and uglier.  You might even be able to put your head to the ground and hear it growling in the staff parking lot.

This is not to say that a leader’s avoidance of conflict, adversity and/or any form of failure should fall squarely on their shoulders.  We have created the environment for avoidance behaviors in our organizations.  On one side we love to roll out cliches like…you learn your greatest lessons out of conflict and adversity as a leader…and then we criticize their leadership for those very same situations.  We love to say that…failure teaches us great lessons and resiliency…and never allow people to rebound from their struggles.  There is very often no second chances for failure.

We put all of the right leadership quotes on the walls of our organizations…Leadership is forged in the fires of adversityLeadership resiliency is shown during the most difficult of times….Adversity is a great determiner of leadership strengthGreat leaders are at their best when the chips are down.

Until the chips are really down…and then those leaders are looking around trying to figure out where everyone went.  The problem is that we like to spout cliches in the best of times.  We don’t see them rolled out as often during the difficult times.

So, even though the best leadership thinkers acknowledge that we learn our greatest lessons from the depths of adversity and failure…our ‘real’ organizational environments push our leaders towards a tendency to avoid these situations and conflict at all costs.  It is hard to be resilient when failure is not so much a learning experience as something that you don’t get a chance to rebound from.  And when that message is sent, in any organization, people learn to become adverse to adversity.  Why engage in conflict and face problems head on?  Much better for professional longevity to avoid rocking the boat.  Serves the career better to keep the ship moving along smoothly.  And that is often an expectation that rolls down from the ‘higher-ups‘.  A smooth running ship.

So it is very difficult to blame leaders for being adverse to conflict in their organization…

Unfortunately in these situations, leaders becomes less about leading and more about position.  Innovation slowly creeps out of the equation.  Maintaining soon overwhelms any proposition of innovating.  And the approach of those serving in the organization becomes more about ‘just tell me what you want me to do‘ than what Daniel Pink describes in Drive as ‘motivation, autonomy and mastery‘.  It is no longer needed and/or required.  And we wonder why engagement of those in our organizations is slipping away at astronomical rates.

And if leaders are going to reengage the disengaged, we can no longer approach our leadership being adverse to adversity.  We can no longer cancel the conflict in our organizations.  We actually have to take an upside-down approach to leadership.  We actually have to search it out.  We have to make conflict a part of our leadership toolbox,  if we really want to engage the disengaged.  However, with the disclaimer that we engage around the right ‘kind’ of conflict.  Conflict that brings out the best in our people and the best in ideas and answers to our difficult problems.

And that takes leadership…strong leadership.  And it requires two vital requirements.  First, all actions must be based in and on a foundation of trust.  Without it…without trust…the ‘right’ kind of conflict cannot exist.  It won’t occur.  It can’t occur.  No matter how hard leadership tries, the ‘right’ kind of conflict will not and can not exist in an environment that is not based on a foundation of trust.  Second, the leadership must be savvy enough to know when they have a created a strong enough foundation of trust that will allow them to, as Peter Lencioni says, ‘mine for conflict‘.  Conflict that brings out the best in our people, their best ideas.  And to get those ideas out on the table requires work…it just doesn’t happen.  Leadership has to ‘mine the conflict‘…to push people to better levels of collaborating as an organization.  Which cannot occur without a deep and strong foundation of trust.

Which is why it can be referred to as upside-down leadership.  We have to create the right environment of trust before we can ‘mine for conflict‘.  We build trust in order to push people out of their comfort zone.  Both trust and conflict pushing and pulling at each other to bring out the excellence of those in the organization.

And the best place to start…

Where people are engaged the least and where you need them to be engaged the most…

Start with your meetings.

Where do we need people to engage their best ideas and their best efforts at problem solving…meetings.  And yet, most people are disengaged the most in the very place we need them deeply engaged.  A reason for this is we avoid conflict…we don’t want to rock the boat…we want nice, smooth, efficient running meetings.  Which translates into boring and disengaged.  Meetings are the very place that we need to pull out our leadership toolbox and ‘mine for conflict‘.

It goes back to upside-down leadership.  While most leaders look to run efficient, smooth meetings, they would be best served to ‘mine those meetings for conflict‘.  If you want the best from your people…if you want the best ideas on the table…it will never occur in smooth, efficiently run meetings.  Sometimes you have to go against the grain.  You have to push back for people to put their best on the table.  You have ensure that those in attendance have something to lose if they don’t engage in the process…  It takes skill, it takes work, it takes leadership.  It is all about rocking the boat, but rocking the boat in a positive way.  And until you do, you won’t get the best out of your people.  The best will never make it to the table.

Sometimes the best leadership requires taking an upside-down approach.  As complicated as it sounds, you have to build trust to create conflict…positive conflict.  And when you have created that type of environment…then you have the best opportunity for getting the best out of your people.  The best ideas, the best thinking are out on the table…for all to provoke, twist, recreate, rework, and take to a higher level…and that is how excellence is achieved.  And when you have created that type of environment, your organization, your teams, and your people will be hitting on all cylinders.

If you want to achieve the gold standard…then you have to mine for the gold.

Why Not Here…

“The future belongs to those who understand that doing more with less is compassionate, prosperous, and enduring, and thus more intelligent, even competitive.”  -Paul Hawken

The last few years could be considered difficult and stressful times in education.  A fiscal crisis at both the State and National levels have hit our schools and districts with extreme force.  A force that has led to sweeping loss of personnel and programs.  While some schools and districts have weathered the storm more successfully than others, all have felt the wrath of the times.  And yet, the requirements, pressures, and expectations to do more and better with less, have risen at exponential rates throughout all levels of the profession.

As a previous principal, I was blessed to work at an incredible school with wonderful students, parents and staff.  It was also a school that had to accomplish its goals and work on an extremely limited budget.  An experience I still treasure to this day.  We learned to overcome the difficulties associated with having to do more with less.  And when all was said and done, there is a certain pride in being able to accomplish our goals, objectives, and expectations next to schools that were handed funds that dwarfed our minimal yearly budgets.  There is a certain pride when creative and out of the box thinking leads to success.  And yet, it seems more and more we learn that throwing money at a problem never leads to the answers we are looking for or need.

Which may be a reason why creativity, vision, trust, relationships, teamwork, and emotional intelligence are a few of the vital necessities of today’s leaders…

However, what does concern me, more than the financial concerns that have been levied down upon our districts, are the conversations that are rising out of the depths of these difficulties.

It is not the conversations themselves…they are really creative, positive, and enlightening to the possibilities that surround us.  The concern lies at the foot of where  we stop those conversations.  Where we end the thought…

Many of those conversations surround themselves around the financial woes of our times.  Concerns about how they can no longer offer the programs previously offered, or collaborate in the same manner or method as before, or hire the needed or necessary support staff to implement their intervention program.  Which are valid concerns.

The interesting turning point in the conversations is when it moves to what is happening in their own child’s school.  The discussions around the creative and innovative ways that their own child’s school is making that program or intervention work.  How their child’s school PTA is providing support to keep the program?  How their child’s teacher’s are using creative and innovative methods to keep that program or intervention going?  How their child’s school is working with the local community and businesses to keep those programs and interventions funded and supported?  Great conversations and great ideas…

And yet, the conversations seems to fade and wane at this point…

At a point when the conversation really needs to grow and flourish.  A conversation about next steps.  About how we need to become “that school”.  How we need to start being a little more like my child’s school.

Why should the great and innovative things only be happening at my child’s school.  We need a conversation changer, we need to turn it towards…“why not here”…why not at our school.  Those are the conversations that need to start occurring on a  regular basis in our schools.  We need to be that school.

Maybe at your next leadership meeting…ask everyone to bring in a list of all the creative and innovative things that are happening at their child’s school.  Let’s throw all of those ideas out on the table for everyone to see.  Let’s start the conversation there.  And I bet you would pull together some really great ideas for your own school.  Isn’t it time…don’t your want to be that school.  The school that everyone says “you know what they do at my child’s school”…instead of the other way around.  Might be a great leadership meeting.

Just a thought…

“What saves a man is to take a step.  It is always the same step, but you have to take it.”  -Antoine de Saint-Exupery

A Deeper Diagnosis

It has been a little bit of a rough month.  I knew something wasn’t right, but I couldn’t quite place my finger on it.  Everything was just a little bit off.  Early in the month I had caught a cold on vacation in Cancun, but that had eventually gone away.  And yet, I still did not have my usual energy.  I wasn’t a hundred percent.  A little lethargic…a little tired…a little off.  Just not right.

I definitely wasn’t prepared for a difficult night of deep, painful chest pains that took me by surprise and also took me to urgent care the following day.  A place that I avoid whenever possible.  I joke that I would have to be hit by a bus before I will go in to see a doctor.  However, the severity of the chest pains were definitely concerning and unnerving.  So urgent care was my morning destination.

After arriving, I checked in, took a seat, and waited my turn.  After a short wait, I was called in by the nurse for a quick run over of my vitals.  While checking my blood pressure and a quick review of my paperwork, the nurse off-handedly asked if I was having chest pains?  Not thinking it was a big deal I let the nurse know that I had and was still having some chest pain.  With that, she quickly wrapped up and excused herself.  Before I could fully comprehend the level of concern that answer had caused, the head nurse was standing in front of me asking some very direct questions… Was I having chest pain now?  Did the front desk ask if I was having chest pain?  How long and how strong were the pains?  How long did I sit in the waiting room?

And topped it off with please come with me…

I was whisked down a hallway to an emergency area of urgent care.  Told to lie down  as two medical technicians hooked up an EKG monitor to my heart.  They were definitely concerned.  It was obvious that the words ‘heart pain’ set off alarms and a very concerted and systematic response.  It was obvious that they were more than slightly annoyed that protocols and procedures were not followed at the front desk level.  That any patient was allowed to remain sitting in the waiting room with chest pains.  It was very clear that the protocols and systematic procedures were to be followed and taken seriously.

Fortunately, the EKG readings came back normal and I was allowed to return to urgent care to meet with my regular doctor…who happened to be running late.  I was actually starting to feel much better, and maybe a little bit foolish.  Perhaps I overreacted to the pain.  Except about ten minutes before my doctor came in, the pain come back so quick and strong that I actually had a difficult time explaining the concerns with my doctor.

Still concerned, even with the EKG reading,  I was provided a painkiller and sent for an x-ray and blood sample.  An hour later, the reviews were in and it was definitely not heart related.  Nor did it seem to be lung related.  The best he could determine was that it was muscle related, possibly deep muscle spasms.  So, Ibruprofin was the remedy of the day and I was off for home.

However, a following day call from the doctor pinpointed the real issue.  The x-ray determined that I had pneumonia.  Most likely, it was from the cold that I had caught at the beginning of the month on vacation.  A cold that I believed gone, actually turned into something a lot worse left unattended.

And yet, pinpointing the pneumonia and a remedy of antibiotics was not the end of the story.  A CT Scan was prepared to place any doubts of other concerns off the table.  While I thought that it might be a bit much, I was informed that they wanted to be precise in their assessment or diagnosis of the problem so that they could treat it effectively and efficiently.

Still considering it a bit much…I also found it reassuring that they wanted to be completely accurate with their diagnosis and method of treatment.  Instead of taking a wide sweep at solving the first problem encountered, my doctor continued to drill down.  Drill down to pinpoint the exact issues.  He was after a deeper diagnosis…

And how often does that happen for the students in our classrooms and schools.  We take a wide, sweeping approach to their academic concerns, hoping that a general remedy will resolve the issue.  Whereas, what we really need is a deeper diagnosis.  A deeper diagnosis if we are going to have a better probability of directly providing the correct and necessary support.

Yet, very much like the attention to my vacation cold, we often wait too long before we recognize and attend to academic concerns.  As it would have been appropriate for me to visit my doctor upon my return from vacation…it too is appropriate to enact measures in our schools, such as universal screeners that serve as a check-ups.  Academic check-up that keep our struggling students from falling farther behind.  Many students often require deeper levels or intensity of interventions as their learning struggles are left unattended or unnoticed for long periods of time.  Interventions that would not have been as necessary with early detection, with immediate support and ongoing monitoring.

In their first book, Pyramid Response to Intervention, authors Buffum, Mattos and Weber refer to this as “Learning CPR”.  While I may have felt a bit foolish, I was very impressed by the intensity of action when the nurse heard ‘heart pain’.  A systematic level of protocols and procedures were enacted immediately.  Everyone had clarity in responsibilities and measures to put into place.  The question is…do we approach our students, those who are having academic ‘heart pain’ in the same systematic manner?  Do we have the same sense of urgency?  Do we raise our level of intensity immediately?  And most often, the answer is not reassuring…

Buffum, Mattos and Weber discuss it in their book as the “Appropriate Response to Learning Emergencies” and/or “Learning CPR”.  And if we are to be effective, our “Learning CPR” must be:

  • Urgent
  • Directive
  • Timely
  • Targeted
  • Administered by Trained Professionals
  • Systematic

The hospital served as a model for “Learning CPR”…their response was systematic with obvious preparation.  Their response was united.  They acted quickly and precisely.  Their response was urgent, to the point of embarrassment.  Their response  was directive…I was not invited to an EKG, it was necessary, so it was required.  Their response was timely…there wasn’t any hesitation.  ‘Chest pain’ led to immediate action.  Action taken by the appropriate personnel.  Personnel that knew how to administer and read an EKG.  All of which was done systematically.

This provides great ‘food for thought‘ for the coming year, both in our classrooms and our schools.  Are we responding appropriately and urgently for our students with academic warning signs in our classrooms?  Do we know what our protocols and actions will be?  Are those actions systematic?  Do they extend to all students?  If not, what needs to change to make that a reality?  Our PRTI authors, Buffum, Mattos and Weber remind us that our reactions must be “urgent, directive, timely, targeted, systematic, and administered by trained professionals”

Don’t wait for minor concerns to turn into major issues and then try to attend to them with wide-sweeping, non-targeted interventions and hope to remedy the problem.  We must diagnose and assess often and attend quickly to our struggling students.  Let’s take a deeper approach to diagnosing our students for their academic health and academic success.  When students struggle…everything seems a little off…everything seems a little more tiring…a little more stressful.  Just not right.

Leaders: What Is Your Family Footprint?

Over the past year I have spent a lot of time thinking about and creating what is referred to as my “digital footprint” and or “digital tattoo.”

Yet, this work has pushed my thinking in another direction, towards the other footprints that we leave as both educators and leaders.  And much like our “digital footprint,” we have to be even more cognizant and reflective of the footprint that we leave on those we lead and serve.  It is a vital and necessary process we need to invest in if we are going to increase our capacity to serve at the highest levels.

The footprint that intrigues me the most is the footprint that we leave on those we lead on a daily basis.  How our leadership actions affect them on so many different levels in and out of the workplace?  And as self-reflective leaders, we have to understand the impact of those actions, and make sure those interactions and footprints are positive.  Positive because they reverberate throughout the organization and the lives of everyone within each and every day.

One of the most important footprints is the one that falls on the families of those we lead.  Each and every day those in our organizations go home to their families and they take with them many remnants from their day.  Mental pieces of our workplace walk in the front door of their homes every afternoon and evening.  And we need to truly consider the implications of that statement, as our actions as leaders accompany each person home every day!  Like a backpack or a briefcase, they accompany them home and through their front door.

Just as our actions on the internet and through social media create and leave our “digital footprint” for others to see, our leadership choices and actions leave a family footprint on those that we have been entrusted to serve and lead.  As our leadership decisions and actions are actively discussed by many through social media, those same decisions and actions are discussed at many a dinner table of those who work and serve in our organizations.  And it is our leadership that will determine whether those social media conversations and dinner table discussions are positive or fraught with frustration.

As you reflect on your leadership in the year to come, picture your leadership decisions and actions accompanying those you lead through the front door of their home.

Do they enter their home happy and enthused from a engaging and positive work environment?  

Or do they walk in that door with a frown from the frustrations of a dysfunctional organization?

When we create difficult and dysfunctional work environments, our people often take those same issues home to their own families, often creating the same cycle in their home.  And eventually creating a cycle of dysfunction from the workplace to the home and back again.  While we as leaders can’t make everyone happy, we can make decisions that create the best possible footprints in our workplaces and homes.

Something to reflect upon for our future actions, interactions and daily decisions…