Give Leadership The Eagle ‘Eye’

“The future belongs to those who see possibilities before they become obvious.”  -John Scully Former CEO of Pepsi and Apple Computers

The very act of leading and leadership requires a pioneer mindset.   One that allows you to exist, maneuver, and motivate in separate planes at simultaneous times.  Leaders must apply consideration and thought to the parallels of the present and of the future…acknowledging the present as you cast vision for the future.   It requires a ‘foveae’ of focus for leadership…the same ‘foveae’ or center of focus that allows an eagle to see both forward and to the side synchronously.

In much the same way that the ‘eye’ of the eagle has the ability to see forward and to the side simultaneously, a leader must be out front providing the path and direction for those they lead…while serving and supporting side by side at the same time.  The push and pull of leading.  Ahead and alongside.  Much like the eagle that matches itself so closely in size and shape to the human eye, yet has the sharpness and strength of vision four times that of our very own.

We have a tendency to think of leaders as charismatic, bigger than life figures.  Most often, authentic leaders of influence are just like everyone else…they just don’t see things in the same way.  They have a sharper picture of and for the future.  A vision that most others haven’t considered or even contemplated.  Much like the eagle that can spot a small animal moving a mile away…they have the ability to deploy their eagle ‘eye’ across the horizon of the organization and pinpoint direction and next steps.

They have an uncanny ability to create a vision of the future that ignites the hearts and minds of the organization and all within it.  They can turn a spark of an idea into a scorching forest fire of innovation and change.  They know how to kindle and fan the flames of motivation in an intrinsic manner.  They provide us with a view of future far better than the one we have imagined…and provide the path to make it real in our minds.  They are the fire-starters and vision casters.  They are the leaders with the eagle ‘eye’.

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Winners, Losers…Learners

“The most powerful single influence enhancing achievement is feedback.”  -John Hattie

From our kindergarten years through our professional lives, assessments and evaluations stand as focal guideposts for determining our growth, as students and as employees.  Serving as an integral player in establishing our level of success from the earliest of ages through to retirement.  Unfortunately, those same assessment and evaluation processes marked for enhancing our learning and growth, often serve little more than to create winners and losers.  In the classroom…and in the workplace.  To overcome this requires a new mindset, one that moves us away from the casting of winners and losers…to creating learners.  And it hinges on one of the strongest influencers of learning…feedback.

From the Board room to the classroom, feedback is a resource that we don’t dispense very effectively or receive very warmly.  Unfortunately, the thought of receiving dollops of feedback from any teacher or supervisor often makes us cringe…the word resonates towards the critical.  Our inability to administer it effectively has clouded its effectiveness to influence, even though its very essence should be focused on learning, towards growth.  So often we hear feedback served up as…”I say this with the best of intentions” or “that was really great, but”…causing the listener to recoil with apprehension of what is to come next.

Both children and adults understand that quality feedback is a necessity for ongoing learning.  Most of us yearn for authentic feedback to validate what we are doing or to provide direction to lead us down a more successful path.  When provided correctly, feedback can provide a continuum for growth…for creating personal goals to increase one’s learning and capacity.  According to John Hattie…“setting personal bests had high positive relationships to educational aspirations, enjoyment of school, participation in class and persistence in task.”

So as we consider the variety of assessments and evaluations that we utilize and incorporate in our classrooms and our workplaces…we need to be cognizant of the power of feedback.  The power of feedback to serve in the development of growth mindsets and ongoing learning…or to serve as the catalyst for sorting out the winners from the losers.

And it starts the first day we step foot in a school…

The Uncommon Denominator

We truly live in an age where worth and value are driven and determined by a new order of measurement and accountability.  Status is maintained and enhanced by how many likes, friends, and followers fill our social media spaces.  Business or industry success is predicated on a bottom-line of profit and sales over the level of customer service provided.  The effectiveness of our schools graded on one-time high stakes assessments, foregoing more authentic indicators.  In our modern times, speed and efficiency often eat climate and culture for lunch.  Milton Chen’s piece in Edutopia addresses this obsession, sharing the comment of one educator from India…“Here, when we want the elephant to grow, we feed the elephant.  We don’t weigh the elephant.”  You might say we have gotten real good at weighing the elephant.

Yet, not all have jumped head first into this pool.  Some of our greatest institutions and organizations still realize that not everything important is quantifiable.  Or, as Einstein states above…“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

Business and education are two institutions that have delved deeply in current times around the need to provide increased levels of accountability.  Vigorous assessments and measurements have enveloped the landscape to assuage the growing assemblage of stakeholders.  And yet, there are some who still emphasize the non-measurables and their significance in this new age of accountability.  Two influential leaders that come to mind in the arenas of business and education are Walt Disney and John Hattie.  Each provide examples that defy what we would commonly refer to as viable and “measurable” strategies for our modern times and institutions.

Walt Disney was an entrepeneur and innovator extraordinaire as we have ever had in America.  The Walt Disney Company has grown into a world-renowned organization and one of the greatest business institutions in America.  The Disney Company highlights in their leadership work, Be Our Guest“Walt Disney World employs 55,000 people in the Orlando area.  They are working under 10 collective bargaining agreements with 32 separate unions and in 1,500 different job classifications.  All are called upon to work hard.”  They continue that…“Walt Disney World is the largest single-site employer in the United States and it operates every day of the week, year round.”  And with that powerful statement, a business strategy that continues to drive The Disney Company…“And the energy that powers this city?  Magic.”  Yes…“magic” and “pixie dust” are two real and viable drivers that provide the strategy for the Disney experience for all that visit.  Not the usual terms or strategies that we often hear discussed in most business settings or board rooms.

For the Walt Disney Company, “magic” and “pixie dust” are tangible…they consider “magic” as “the quality, the innovation, the beauty, the coming together of families, the magic of their cast members.  The magic is all of these things bundled up.”  According to the Walt Disney Company…“You cannot assign a numeric number to this magic, but it plays a powerful role.”

Turning from business to education, we can view the work of John Hattie, best known for…Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement and his second follow-up volume Visible Learning For Teachers.  It is through these two volumes of work that he urges educators to focus on making “learning visible” and being able to “know thy impact” on each learner in your the classroom.

As I dive back into Hattie’s work, i reflect on the meta-analysis’ he provides to verify those strategies that show an ability to effectively increase student learning.  And yet, even with the deluge of data from his meta-analysis’…Hattie puts a distinct finger on the importance of “passion” as being an essential component of an effective educator’s practice.  As Hattie shares in Visible Learning for Teachers…”We rarely talk about passion in education, as if doing so makes the work of teachers seem less serious, more emotional than cognitive, somewhat biased or of lesser impact.”  He goes on to say that “Passion reflects the thrill, as well as the frustrations of learning, the most prized outcomes of schooling.”

So as we march forward into this age of accountability, one littered with high-stakes assessments and measurements of every variety…we have to remember that “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”  Many of our greatest institutions and our greatest work is based less on quantifiable, measurable data than they are on the “magic” and “passion” infused into the work and the organization.  The “magic” and the “passion” are often the uncommon denominators that define the experience…between the memorable and the not so memorable.  The difference between good and great.  They serve as the great differentiators that push our organizations, ourselves, and our work to the highest level.

Choose to let a little “magic” and “passion” serve as the difference makers in your life and your work.

Rows and Circles

“In times like these, circles are way better than rows.”  -Andy Stanley

Rows convey a feeling of forward momentum.  They create a sense of structure, of neatness, and of efficiency.  Rows conjure up thoughts of desks in a classroom or conveyor belts in a factory.  Rows create a sense of efficiency and order for society.  We line up in rows to purchase goods, to attend events, even to drive our cars.  Rows are neat and efficient.  They keep us moving forward.  They keep everything in order.  Rows provide control.

Whereas, circles serve as the antithesis of rows.  They lack both a beginning and an end.  They are not about moving us to the next point.  If we chose to continuously move in circles we would never gain any ground.  Circles do not convey a sense of control or efficiency.  Very much the opposite.  We often have to circle or spiral back around if we don’t get something the first time around.  And yet, circles serve as the wheels and hubs that drive us forward.

It is this visual of rows and circles that my imagination conjures up as I consider our current educational system…one serving as a representation of the past and the other as our future.

For so long we have identified education with rows.  We sit in rows.  We line up in rows.  We dismiss by rows.  We turn in our assignments by rows.  Rows are synonymous with education.  Row allow us to be neat, orderly and efficient.  They provide the system and those who work within it a sense of control and order.  Rows identify our past.

Circles provide us with a vision of the future.  Of our next steps.  The circle represents a shift…a shift towards interaction, communication, and collaboration.  A circle turns us towards each other, towards communication and collaboration, in a way rows can’t.  The circle is less about efficiency and forward movement, than it is about patience, depth, and reinforcement.  It represents the journey of the lifelong learner.  The circle is inclusive.  It represents the future.

To move from rows to circles is not a natural progression.  It requires a bridge…a bridge of support and understanding to cross the divide between the two.  It will require deep changes and the process will be difficult…especially since any change effort is identified with loss.  A process that will require loss of control and efficiency in exchange for interaction, communication and collaboration.  A necessary shift if we are to move from the past, as of conveyors of knowledge…to the future, as facilitators of learning.

From Contention To Connection

“You just don’t understand.” 

“You just don’t get it.”

How often did we unleash these phrases in our younger years on the adults in our life?  And if we weren’t unfurling them on those same unsuspecting adults, we were definitely thinking about it.  For many of us, it was a battle cry of frustration.  We seldom believed our parents, our teachers, or the many other adults in our life understood us and what we were all about.  Whether that was the interests or the passions that engaged our time and thoughts.  We considered it a waste of time and effort, a foray into frustration, since they wouldn’t ‘get it’ anyways.  For many of us, that was our mindset growing up.

And the same rang true in my own life.  From my early years through my teens, the battle cry of “You just don’t understand” and “You don’t get it” were never far from my lips.  If I wasn’t saying it, I was definitely thinking it.  And that held true towards most of the adults in my life…from my parents, to my teachers, and beyond.  I just didn’t think they would get it.  And it wasn’t worth the frustration, anyways.

Even as a child, from the tender age of six, I had a strong sense of what I wanted to do, what I wanted to be.  I did not know exactly what to call it (academic vocabulary)…yet, I knew it when I saw and heard it.  I wanted a guitar..I wanted to play in the band.  I never looked at a bass, the drums, or even singing…nary was any other instrument considered.  My eyes were on the prize…I ate, drank, and slept guitar and music.  It was what I wanted to learn, it was what I wanted to do, it was what I wanted to be.

The funny thing was that even at the immature age of six, my friends got it, they understood it, even though we were only in the first grade.  At my sixth birthday party, every gift resonated with my passion for music.  Each unwrapping provided an album, a poster, or some other memorabilia for that passion…a passion to play in the band, and the band I wanted to play in was KISS.

Unfortunately, the support for that interest and passion did not ring the same bell for the adults in my life.  That is not to say they did not support me, rather, this interest and passion was not one they either understood or even agreed with.  I don’t think they ever realized, at that early of an age, music had such an impact and hold on me.  They definitely did not believe that it provided the impetus, aspiration, and passion for what I wanted to do with my life.  Even if they would have recognized this, it would definitely not have been on their list of areas to reinforce in my life.  The same resistance was found at school with teachers.  The idea of playing in a band as a future profession was usually met with a snide or sarcastic comment.

So from my early years on…music became more of a source of contention than one of connection.  And unfortunately, this contention often drove a wedge and caused friction in our family relationships, which often spilled over into the school setting.  The more the adults in my life clamored against this direction, the stronger the passion became, often playing a major factor in decisions made during my high school years.

Unfortunately, things never really changed in regards to my passion for music serving as a point of contention, rather than a point of connection.  Eventually, I chose a different path to follow for my life and the issue became a moot point.  However, it does provide a lesson for us as adults, parents, and educators.

We often hear discussions these days focused on the importance of staying relevant as educators…staying current with technology, instructional strategies, changing paradigms and mindsets, just for starters.  And yet, we are often at a total loss to what is relevant and important in the lives of our children and the students we teach and lead.  It is a completely different form of relevance, but just as vital and important.

A relevance in what interests our children and students…what they are passionate about learning, doing, and even one day becoming.  What drives them and piques their interest.  An attentiveness to what makes them who they are and acknowledging the significant drivers in their life.  Unfortunately, the preoccupied life of many adults keep us distanced from truly investing in an understanding our young people…what they are passionate about, what they want to do or be, and what engages and kindles their fire for learning.

When we take the time to observe, to listen, to engage, to just understand…we often move from contention to connection.  We learn to place ourselves in their shoes and approach them with empathy and understanding, We create a connection of influence.  Which is what we all strive for as parents, and as educators.  Learning to loosen our need for control, to approach situations from a new place…and a new level of listening and understanding.  It is from this place, this connection, that our own children and students learn that we are for them.  For their success.  That we truly have their best interests in mind.  It takes us to a place of influence.

Moving from contention to connection is not easy.  It requires time, effort, and work…it requires reflection, and most importantly it requires listening and understanding.  It is intentional.  It requires us to intentionally dial in to those within our influence, which allows our children and students to feel valued.  To realize that they matter.  As do their thoughts.  Their ideas.  Their passions.  Their interests.  It is at this place that we truly make a difference.

Stay current.  Stay relevant.  Listen.  Understand.  Invest.  Believe.

Where’s Your Team? A Tale Of Two Leaders

There are no ifs, ands, or buts in today’s world…leaders have to be learners.  And not just learners, but the lead learners in their organization.  They have to model the way.  It is their duty to not only set the vision, but to chart the course and illuminate the path.  To be alert and tuned-in, constantly seeking and sifting out the nuggets of knowledge that are floating through a variety of media streams.  Keying in on those pieces that are valuable for moving their learning and the learning of the organization forward.

To be capacity-builders, leaders must be readers.  Always questioning…always searching.  Willing to take a stand against the status quo…knowing that current circumstances are never enough, never as good as it could be.  Always considering the possibilities.  Determined to lead others to places they have not only not traveled, but haven’t even considered.

Yet, they are still grounded and not easily fooled.  They understand that It that it doesn’t just happen by unfurling a grand vision, rather it takes a whole lot of grit, persistence, and determination.  It can and will be difficult work.  It will often be fraught with more frustration than with storied tales of success.  Today’s victory is very often tomorrow’s flop.  And yet, it is how we handle each of these situations that determines and builds our character and integrity as leaders.

As modern day leaders remain vigilant to current learnings to face tomorrow’s challenges…they must also remain conscious of the past.  Leadership lessons from history provide prevalent insights to the concerns and crisis we face in our current situations.  Engaging in the study of leadership serves as a bridge to increased understanding and wisdom.  A strong grasp of the history of leadership can provide tremendous enlightenment…enlightenment that serves our own leadership in the current and for the future.

Many of the leadership problems we face today are no different than what many leaders faced a hundred or even a thousand years ago.  The issues remain the same, only the times and the circumstances change.  Which makes a study of the past that much more important to today…

As an example…reflecting on the Battle of Gettysburg provides us with a plethora of leadership lessons that affect our current organizations.  Gettysburg overflows with these lessons.  Such as the lessons that revolve around a tale of two leaders.  One to the North and one to the South.  A tale of leadership decisions that affected thousands of lives over three horrific days in the summer of 1863.  And how those fateful decisions provide leadership learning 125 years later…

In July of 1863, Major General Meade and General Lee stood as opposing forces on the fields at Gettysburg.  General Lee arrived at the scene with a strong sense of confidence, he was moving effectively and swiftly through the Northern forces that opposed him and his troops.  On the other side, General Meade, newly appointed to his position by President Lincoln with marching orders to defeat Lee and his forces which had been rolling through current attempts from the North to quell and conquer the South.  While many decisions made during those three fateful days affected the overall outcome of the battle…a focus on their decision-making mindsets of those two leaders weighs as a factor for improving current organizational leadership.

As stated previously, Lee arrived in Gettysburg with an abundance of confidence.  You might even say an overconfidence.  However, matters were different in Gettysburg, Lee was missing his Calvary Chief leaving him without crucial and accurate intelligence necessary for making well-informed decisions.  Lee was also unwilling to rely on the feedback of his subordinates.  So, while there was a long list of mistakes that eventually led to his defeat at Gettysburg, a lack of information, coupled with overconfidence and unwillingness to listen to and use his subordinates effectively led to his downfall.  Lee had taken on a ‘go it alone’ leadership mindset.

To the North, we have the newly appointed General Meade.  Meade had an entirely different leadership approach and mindset.  Meade enlisted a collaborative approach, pulling together a ‘council of war’ to garner the feedback of his subordinates.  It was here that Meade built consensus and gave those he led the voice and authority necessary to be successful at Gettysburg.  Meade, with his ‘council of war’ and collaborative mindset showed he understood the importance and necessity for forming a ‘guiding coalition’ if they were to be successful.

While Meade took on a collaborative mindset and refrained from allowing ego and pride to interfere with the decision-making process…Lee’s overconfidence, impatience, and unwillingness to include others, coupled with a ‘lone ranger’ mindset effectively led to his demise and eventual retreat at Gettysburg.

Meade had been thrust into a difficult position and was facing overwhelming odds.  Yet, he understood the necessity for a strong guiding coalition if they were to survive and overcome at Gettysburg.  According to John Kotter in his book Leading Change“a strong guiding coalition is always needed – one with the right composition, level of trust, and shared objective.  Building such a team is always an essential part of the early stages of any effort…”

So how do the lessons of Lee and Meade affect us in today’s world of leadership?  As we reference Kotter, we learn that…“today’s environment clearly demands a new process of decision making.  In a rapidly moving world, individuals and weak committees rarely have all the information needed to make good non routine decisions.  Nor do they seem to have the credibility or the time required to convince others to make the personal sacrifices called for in implementing changes.  Only teams with the right composition and sufficient trust among members can be highly effective under these new circumstances.”  Kotter goes on to say that…“a guiding coalition that operates as an effective team can process more information, more quickly.  It can also speed the implementation of new approaches because powerful people are truly informed and committed to key decisions.” 

In Revisiting Professional Learning Communities at Work, DuFour, DuFour and Eaker highlight the importance of building consensus…“Mistake #1: Leaders Attempt to Go It Alone.”  The authors note Jim Collins work “the leaders who ignited transformation from good to great, first got the right people on the bus…they built a superior leadership team.”

Eventually when a leader tries to ‘go it alone’ they will finally hit a brick wall.  No one leader can do it all.  Putting together the right people, building dispersed leadership, creating a ‘guiding coalition’ will allow a leader to build trust, communicate better, and eventually be more effective and influential.  It requires the leader to let go of ego and do what’s best for the organization and those they lead.  Real, authentic leaders create other leaders and understand the importance of team.  The importance of a ‘guiding coalition’.

Red Lights and Warning Signs

“A man’s conscience, like a warning line on the highway, tells him what he shouldn’t do – but it does not keep him from doing it.” -Frank Howard Clark

Our daily world is filled with warning signs and traffic lights that guide our every direction and momentum to a plethora of destinations. Signposts erected as symbols to the progress of our roadway system serve to enlighten us as to when to stop, when to yield, when to merge, and even to guide and direct us to our next destination. A spiderweb of routes controlled and managed with lights of red, yellow, green…each designed to move us along safely and efficiently. It is only when we fail to take heed of these warning signs and array of lights that progress falters and ultimately breaks down…often in a collision of those destinations.

Understanding these guideposts allows us all to traverse this intricate spiderweb of roadways effectively, and en masse. Warning and destination signs, traffic lights, roadway maps, and GPS systems serve as travel aids to connect us to our route to reach our destination in a timely manner. A complex system, that for the most part, works efficiently for us as we travel through our rural, suburban, and urban sprawl.

As leaders, we face the same intricate and complex web of ‘roadways’ as we set our course to lead our organizations effectively. Especially, in light of the challenging, changing, and constantly evolving times. Times that affect our organizations and leadership with much more immediacy than what we faced in the past. It requires that our organizations and our leadership be much more agile in response.

Unfortunately, the incredibly vital and varied task of leading our modern institutions and organizations does not provide us with the necessary signs and maps that allow us to navigate the roadway as safely and effectively as we would like…in other words, there is no modern leadership GPS system. And there are definitely no warning signs that spring up to let us know when to yield, when to stop, or even when to be careful of falling rocks and debris on the roadway. Most often, our warning signs are constructed along the way in response to our experiences…and very often our leadership foibles.

Not being equipped with a leadership GPS to guide our efforts is why modern leaders must equip themselves with their own warning signs. Warning signs that are constructed from high levels of emotional intelligence…also known as EI or EQ. For modern leaders, the five domains of emotional intelligence very well serve as the signposts on the leadership highway that allow us to better navigate our route and destination. These signposts allow modern day leaders to traverse the leadership highway in a much more effective manner…

Signpost #1: Know Your Emotions – command and control, rant and rave leadership is fading from our modern organizational leadership map. Leaders have to consciously acknowledge and understand their emotions and how they affect their ability to influence and lead effectively. Reflecting on how their own emotions affect their leadership, from decision-making to building and maintaining relationships.

Signpost #2: Manage Your Emotions – leaders must move beyond conscious acknowledgement of their emotions, to an understanding of how those emotions react under the variety of situations and crisis that are faced on a daily basis. When you are able to manage and control your own emotions, it relieves not only your own stress and anxiety, but the stress and anxiety levels of those you lead. They need to know that there is a certain stability in your reaction to situations. When you are unable to provide this stability, it puts the entire organization on alert as those situations crop up…everyone sits on pins and needles guessing the reaction of the leader. Managing your emotions provides stability and makes for a healthier organizational environment.

Signpost #3: Motivate Yourself – leaders need to be resilient. Leaders have the responsibility for setting the tone and tenor for the organization. People react to the body language and words of the leader. Leaders need to be aware of this. Their words and actions affect the entire organization…which can be either uplifting or toxic to the culture. When leaders understand their ‘why’ they are much more motivated and bounce back from difficulties and failures quicker and easier. Leaders with a growth mindset understand that difficulties and failures do not define them and their leadership, rather how they react and learn from those situations is what is most important. Leaders must model the way and provide the bright spots…often when others can’t see or find them.

Signpost #4: Recognize and Understand the Emotions of Others – requires empathy, bottomline. Leaders who have empathy can place themselves in the shoes of those they lead. Which is not as common a skill as we would think. Yet, we know that leadership requires influence. However, leaders who lack empathy very often lack influence. Empathy provides the route and road to lead you to greater influence. A leader who can’t put themselves in the shoes of others, lacks the empathy and understanding necessary for leading in our modern culture.

Signpost #5: Manage Relationships – modern leadership is all about relationships. It is the cornerstone of successful leadership. Those who are unable to build and maintain relationships very often shorten their season of service. It requires not only the ability to communicate…but more importantly, great listening skills. Modern leaders have to constantly enhance their listening ability and capacity if they are to be effective and successful. And most importantly, it means serving, serving others…yes, placing the needs and concerns of those you lead and serve above your own personal needs and concerns. Modern leaders must replace any self-serving attitudes with a mantra that focuses on the serving of others.

While there is much more that encompasses the complex and intricate route to effective leadership in the 21st century. The five domains of emotional intelligence serve as much needed signposts on our GPS of leadership. And the more we traverse and travel with the aid and support of these signposts…the better they serve us in reaching our destination.