Two Sides To The Coin

We as educators often fail to recognize the true size and complexity of our organizations.  Organizations that are responsible for multi-million dollar budgets.  Organizations that are often placed under microscopes of scrutiny from variety of sources.  Organizations responsible for employing extensive numbers of individuals in a variety of positions.  Organizations that serve as the social and fiscal hub of the communities in which they reside.  Yet, our educator lens remains focused on our own classrooms or schools in a way that we don’t notice the overall size and effect of our organization.  We have a tendency to not fully grasp the full depth and scope of our organization and the sheer number of students, parents, personnel, and stakeholders they touch.  And with that reality, also comes a deep level of responsibility to those we serve to maintain and improve.

And yet, under that reality, many districts don’t implement and maintain the structures and strategies necessary of great organizations to create and maintain high levels of excellence.  And even worse, they fail to incorporate a systematic way for building up and supporting not only the current, but the future cadre of leaders necessary to maintain and lead their organization into the future.  So not only do our school districts as organizations fail to provide any type of systematic platform, they often rely on a disjointed, word of mouth method for rolling their current personnel upwards.

And as a result…

Instead of a leadership pipeline preparing current staff to take on the leadership roles necessary to deal with the complex and difficult tasks associated with being an educational leader…most districts drop into frantic search mode to replace high level positions that are vacated.

Very often we see superintendents jumping from district to district, rather than districts incubating their own leaders from within with the capabilities and capacities to move forward and fill those vital roles.  Strong, high-functioning organizations emphasize mentoring and preparation programs for those in their ranks.  They put the necessary energy and resources into their own people and into preparing their organization to meet the demands necessary to thrive and succeed in the future.

Educational organizations must make the effort to implement systematic methods for building up leaders throughout our organizations.  We must be prepared for the onrush of leadership voids over the next ten years.  We must to be prepared to fill those voids with quality leadership.  Education has taken its hits over the last few years and can very well not afford to approach our coming leadership voids in a disjointed, and ineffective manner.  We have to create effective and supportive leadership pipelines in our districts.

We can no longer rely on the two sides of the coin approach to educational leadership…

On one side of the coin, like many organizations without a systematic plan for preparing new leaders, we use the ‘currently great‘ approach to determining upward movement.  Meaning, if a person is ‘doing great‘ in their current position, then it shows that they would be great in a new, administrative level position.  And that process has become our mantra for leadership building in our organizations.  We recognize the strength of a teacher…great classroom management skills, strong instructionally, engaged and involved in all meetings, gets along well with students, parents, and colleagues, with an overall positive attitude and enthusiasm…and automatically assume they would make a great administrator.  If they are a great teacher, then they would definitely be a great principal.  The problem with that logic, is that oftentimes it doesn’t work out.  Great teaching skills does not necessarily translate into great leadership skills.  Yet we push those teachers to move upward, whether it is a passion or pursuit of theirs as a professional.  Often to the detriment of that individual.  We assume that they want to move up…and often, move up they do.

Which then gives us the flip side of the coin…we not only push these teachers into leadership roles, we do it with the assumption that they will automatically excel.  We assume that a great teacher will automatically flourish as a principal.  And that assumption leave most of them in a sink or swim environment.  Not that it is done maliciously, rather lack of support structures and ongoing training impedes their chances to be successful in their new role.

And to make the situation even worse, when they struggle or falter in their new role, very little is done to correct the situation other than to determine they must not be administrator material.  Obviously they were not made out to be a principal.  And the underlying problem remains, we did not provide the sufficient supports to provide this new leader the proper chance to be successful…rather, we set them in a sink or swim atmosphere and then wondered why they failed when they were such a great classroom teacher.

We must continually remember that our schools and districts are large and complex organizations.  And they must be led as such.  And we must also remember that teachers entered the profession to teach.  Most did not plan on or train to lead a school or a district.  They spent their years of training focused on teaching, not leading…focused on strategies for student learners, rather than strategies for leading organizational change efforts.  Leading adults and organizations is a similar, yet very different venture than leading the students in the classroom.  It takes different skill-sets and abilities.  And an entirely different set of obstacles.

We cannot put our hope in our universities and colleges to send educational leaders to our schools and districts with the necessary training to successfully traverse the complexities required to lead modern day educational institutions.  It calls upon us, within our educational organizations, to provide our own leadership pipeline to meet the rigors and requirements necessary to make our schools and districts move forward as beacons of excellence.

Rethinking Your Dent

“We’re here to put a dent in the universe. Otherwise why else even be here?” -Steve Jobs

What an incredibly inspirational quote.  It drips with visuals that require each of us to conjure up images in our mind of what that actually would look like and what would that truly mean.  What would you need to do or create to put a dent in the universe?  The words truly stretch the bounds of your imagination and of what we can envision.

However, I would like us to ‘rethink our dent‘ or the impact that we leave on the world around us.  If each of us were truly honest with ourselves, we would admit that we have a tendency to put ‘I’ at the very center of the dent’ equation.  When we think of what is needed to put a ‘dent in the universe’…we think about what would ‘I’ have to do to make that a reality.

What we need to realize, especially in leadership, is that making a ‘dent in the universe’ should be seen as a team sport, rather than an individual activity.  That requires a mind shift.  A shift in our thinking and in our actions.  Especially in our modern times.  While it is true that we have gained many incredible tools and resources in the 21st century, we must also admit that we have lost our service orientation and replaced it with an individual orientation.

Those leaders who have truly made a permanent impact on our world are those who have given themselves in service to others.  The true servant leaders.  They are the difference makers in our lives and in our world.

Great leaders bring others together to accomplish great things.  To accomplish things that they never thought possible and would not have been possible to achieve as an individual.  How much more fulfilling to take others to a greater place.  How much more fulfilling to see the joy and sparkle in everyone’s eyes when they have accomplished great things together.  What an unforgettable experience.  One in which you will be bonded with those you served with from that time forward.  And that is true leadership.

So…while Jobs urged each of us to ‘put a dent in the universe’

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us that “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve.  You don’t have to have a college degree to serve.  You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve.  You only need a heart full of grace.  A soul generated by love.”

Live a life of impact…make your ‘dent’ by choosing to serve others…by choosing to change lives.  That is a life that truly makes a ‘dent in the universe’…as its impact is reverberated for generations and generations forward.

What Is At Your Core (Values)?

“Values are best described in terms of behavior: If we operate as we should, what would an observer see us doing?”  –Peter Senge

In the 70’s and 80’s Tootsie “rolled” out a very popular cartoon commercial for their Tootsie Roll Pop.  A slogan, or question that not only provoked inquiry, but dared each of us to determine, “how many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop?”  A question that many a kid took to heart.  A question that each of us wanted to discover and answer for ourselves.  You might even say Tootsie Roll set off an explosion of collective inquiry between many a child.

In this commercial, a young boy takes his question on a quest for an answer…first stop, Mr. Turtle, who curtly responds with “he can never make it to the end without biting”.  And with that, Mr. Turtle urges our young explorer to take his question to Mr. Owl.  Upon offering the question up to Mr. Owl…Mr. Owl snatches the Tootsie Roll Pop from his hand and replies “let’s find out”…and counts “one, two, and three” and whumpf, he bites off the Tootsie Roll pop… and proudly responds to the boy the answer of “three”.  Leaving the young man to slunk away in frustration.

And so often, when we don’t do the things necessary as leaders to create the right conditions and environments in our organizations, our own people are left feeling as frustrated as the young boy in the commercial.  That is why this Tootsie Roll commercial serves as a powerful visual reminder for those leading their organizations as a Professional Learning Community (PLC).

Very often “Mr. Owl” and his actions serve as the prototype for how we lead our teams and organizations as a PLC.  We have a tendency to view the center of the “Tootsie Roll Pop” as the real work, the work that we need to urgently attend to if we are going to get results and real change.  So as our Mr. Owl, we often give only lip service to the processes that lead towards the ‘real work’. Processes such as determining our norms, protocols and shared or core values.  In other words, our impatience takes us to the center long before we appropriately address and determine the “licks” that provide the parameters for us to effectively do the ‘real work’.

And that serves as a culprit or cause for why many teams and organizations go off the rails in implementing and operating as a Professional Learning Community.  We gloss over the “licks” to get to the center or the ‘real work’.  We fail to realize the “licks” are vital to the current and ongoing success of the processes within our PLC.

Unfortunately, when we fail to invest our time and efforts in creating clarity around our norms, protocols and core values we are creating the ‘perfect storm’ for our teams to face future dysfunction and often outright failure.  Our leadership or lack thereof can create the conditions that eventually lead to failure.  The very same leadership will often blame the players and teams when the process fails, even though this leadership gap is reason for the dysfunctional behaviors and demise of the work.

When leaders understand that it is vital to put the necessary time and energy up front to determine the shared or core values that will guide their work, they increase their effectiveness and raise the level of results exponentially .  Yet, PLC leaders inevitably have a tendency to assume that since we are all educators and we share the same building that we also share the same values.  And that would be a costly and misguided assumption.

When we haven’t determined the shared or core values that drive our actions and behaviors as a learning organization, then how can we as leaders, colleagues, and teammates hold each other accountable?  How can we say which behaviors and actions are in line with our core values if those values haven’t even been determined by and for the people within the organization?

In fact, very often leadership will try to hold people accountable for ‘assumed values’ rather than shared or core values of the organization.  And when that happens, we are holding others accountable to our own. personal set of core values.  Which may or may not be aligned.  But time and time again we see leaders and colleagues holding PLC team members accountable for behaviors and actions they consider outside of the core values, even though those core values have never been thrown on the table for all to discuss and determine.

And that is why great organizations understand the importance of having a ‘shared or core set of values’.  A great example of an organization that makes their ‘core values’ a prominent feature of their business model is Zappos.  Their ‘core values’ are prominently placed for all to see and serve as the foundation of all that they do…

“As we grow as a company, it has become more and more important to explicitly define the core values from which we develop our culture, our brand, and our business strategies.  These are the ten core values that we live by:

“Zappos Family Core Values”

Deliver WOW through service

Embrace and drive change

Create fun and a little weirdness

Be adventurous, creative, and open-minded

Pursue growth and learning

Build open and honest relationships with communication

Build a positive team and family spirit

Do more with less

Be passionate and determined

Be humble

Zappos does not just post and frame these ‘core values’ as a finished, yet forgotten piece on their leadership checklist.  Rather, they make their core values prominent for all to see.  They push them right to the front and say, ‘this is who we are’.  And as an employee or customer, you are given a true sense of who Zappos is and what you can expect when you interact with their organization.  There is true clarity for the behaviors and actions for which they hold themselves accountable.  

Zappos is an example of the power of determining and clarifying your shared or core values.  And those same shared or core values drive the behaviors and actions of the entire organization…they provide an expectation for which all leaders, teammates, and colleagues can be held accountable.  An accountability that really serves as a support to creating a safe and trusting work environment for the entire organization.

Let’s be honest…it is easier to skip or gloss over the process of determining your shared or core values.  The ‘real work’ is too important to waste time in this arena.  Why is it so important to make ourselves accountable to a determined set of expectations?  So, let’s explore the ‘why’ or necessity for creating a ‘shared or core set of values’ to guide our behaviors and actions as a professional learning organization…

An organization is very similar to a family and within a family we know the importance of shared values…values that determine how we act, interact, and behave within our family unit.  Those values are vital for creating a trusting and nurturing  atmosphere for each of us to grow within.  Families that lack shared values can often be dysfunctional.  It is hard to feel safe and build trust in an atmosphere where we don’t know how people will react and behave…where we are unsure of their actions.  It creates and causes tension.

Well, the same is true in our teams and organizations.  When you are always unsure of how others are going to behave or act, you fail to build a trusting and safe environment.  Failing to determine your shared or core values is a ticket to dysfunction.  Many struggling or failed organizations have failed to determine these core values.  Whereas, it serves as an expectation in successful organizations.  Organizations like Zappos get it…

In Professional Learning Communities at Work…shared or core values are one of the four building blocks of a successful learning community.  The authors understand their importance and necessity.  As the DuFours and Eaker put forth…”it challenges the people within that organization to identify the specific attitudes, behaviors, and commitments they must demonstrate in order to advance toward their vision.”  And furthermore,  “The message is consistent and clear.  Learning organizations are not content merely to describe the future they seek; they also articulate and promote the attitudes, behaviors, and commitments that must exist to create that future.”

We make sure to bring everyone together to determine our mission…we spend a lot of time looking at building our vision of the future…and yet, we often gloss over our shared or core values.  And like a chair… our Professional Learning Communities stand on four legs…mission, vision, values, and goals.  Without one, the others are weakened and the chair falls over.  Make sure that your Professional Learning Community is standing strongly on all four legs.