Snow-Plow Leadership

“Teamwork begins by building trust.  And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability.”  -Peter Lencioni

I am definitely what you would call a native Californian.  Born and bred as they say.  A childhood and teenage spent in the Bay Area portion of Northern California, just outside of San Francisco.  Evolving to a transition for my college and professional years landing me Southern California, just east of Los Angeles.

As a native Californian, for all intents and purposes, winter has never been a difficult or harsh reality I’ve had to face in my life.  Our winters are usually mild and meek experiences.  It is not surprising to take the kids trick-or-treating or to participate in a Thanksgiving Day football game in shorts and a t-shirt.  Nor is it unusual to hear a cacophony of whining voices anytime the temperature gauge dips into the low fifties.  You might say we are a “little” pampered in the weather department.

And for these reasons…things like “White Christmas”, “Snow Day”, “Snow Shovels”, “Snow Sleds”, “Snow Chains”, and even “Snow Plows” are much more synonymous with a holiday movie than any aspect of our daily life.  For many of us, the artificial snow falling on Main Street Disney during the holidays is as close as we get to the actual experience.

Which is not to say that California does not get its fair share of snow.  After landing my first teaching position, I relocated towards the Big Bear Lake area to allow more time and access to playing ice hockey.  It is here that I learned of the pleasures and of the difficulties associated with snow living.  And the importance of the almighty snow plow for keeping the roads open and maneuverable.

Looking back on those days…there are several leadership lessons that can be taken from that same snow plow and its integral necessity to living life in the snow…

A process that mirrors the very leadership we often experience and hold witness to in our own institutions and organizations…which we could aptly refer to as “Snow-Plow Leadership”.

Leaders understand the necessity to…

  • Clear A Path: The snow plow is necessary to clear the road of the obstacles and snow that keep people from moving forward towards their destination.  Much like a leader must clear the path of obstacles that hinder those they lead from doing their work effectively.  
  • (Drawback): In clearing the path, the snow plow builds up walls alongside the road that serve as obstacles for many as they try to move towards their destination.  Often requiring extra work and energy to dig through the wall built up by the plow.  In much the same way, leaders that are not reflective and observant of the path they create can create more obstacles and work.  Often depleting the energy of their people and teams.

Leaders understand the need for a…

  • Vision: Most snow plow vehicles sit the drivers on raised platforms to give them an enhanced view to the path and all that needs to be cleared.  Thus, providing the driver with a birds-eye view to any and all obstacles that might interfere in creating and clearing the path.
  • (Drawback): While the snow plow driver sits on a raised platform, it is also a solitary position.  The driver determines the path and all obstacles alone, often not realizing how the path they are clearing is affecting those at the ground level.  For many leaders, the path, the vision, is determined through a solitary process.  They see it as a an individual endeavor.  Providing a vision that is entirely theirs and theirs alone.  Lacking collaborative processes not only fails to create and build commitment, it leaves those it affects most out of the process.

Leaders understand the importance of…

  • Team/Collaborative Input: While many snow plow drivers may engage in radio banter with dispatch and/or other drivers, it is mainly a solitary job.  The drivers are removed and cut-off from the world around them.  The driver clears the path in isolation, insulated from their environment, accompanied by the sheer volume of the plow.
  • (Drawback): In much the same manner as the snow plow driver, many a leader insulates and isolates themselves from their environment and those they lead.  They set up processes and protocols that insulate them.  Insulating them from the necessary input and authentic feedback that allow them to lead effectively.  When leaders cut themselves off from those they lead, they no longer have their finger on the pulse of their organization or institution.

Snow-Plow Leadership can stand as an obstacle to the very collaborative processes that allow leaders to effectively lead organizations in an authentic and positive manner.  Leaders who insulate themselves from those they serve lack the necessary input and authentic feedback that allow those they lead, their organizations, and their very leadership to flourish.  Diminishing their leadership and influence…and unfortunately, often cutting short their season of leadership.

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“How Did It Get So Late So Soon?

“How did it get so late so soon?”  -Dr. Seuss

If we listen closely we can pick up the faint crunch of footsteps in the gravel.  Winding their way up the walkway.  Closing the gap with each step.  Gradually gaining momentum.  Knowing if we peel back the front-room drapes we will be able to catch a glimpse…  “Father-Time” looming as he casts his ominous shadow upon our door.  Reaching out to knock.  What was once “all the time in the world” has transformed to an urgent tick-tock tapping at the back door of our thoughts.

Tick-tock.  Tick-tock.  Counting down the days and minutes till we usher in a new year, while wistfully letting go of the worn-out year that lays strewn behind us.  Carefully wrapping up the joys, sorrows, regrets, and accomplishments of the year gone by for safe storage…or, until those days that we feel like rummaging through our reminiscence chest.

The seemingly never ending days of our reckless youth are now cherished lingeringly as the speed and velocity of time push us forward.  Being older always seemed so far away.  And yet, one day you look up and things have changed.  You are no longer attending the recitals and awards of your relatives children…now those children up there are yours.  Finding yourself sitting in the crowd awed and astonished at how quickly it all changed.  How different it has all become.

Sometimes it seems like a blink of an eye.  Like time slipped through your fingers.  Funny to look back on all of the dreams of what you were going to do…how you were going to take the world by storm.  Seemed like you had all of the time in the world…

And now you find yourself stretching your neck trying to peer back and find where all of that time went.  Taking stock of all the things you were going to do.  So much time…now seems so fleeting.

Nowadays it is difficult to plan a day ahead, let alone a week, a month, or a year.  A moment of solitude has to be scheduled a week in advance…and most times is squeezed out under the surplus of mounting activities.  Busy has set up shop.  It has slowly wormed its way to the forefront of our lives.  Most assuredly edging out any visions of grandeur and taking the world by storm.  Anyways, it can be quite difficult to take ourselves seriously as radical agents of change and crashers at the gates of the status quo when we arrive in a minivan and safety seats.

The creep has settled in…often spend more time looking back than looking forward.  Finding it easier to reminisce than to strategize and plan.

And yet, we will most likely approach this new year the same as many others, with a few half-hearted resolutions and goals that sound good…but lack any conviction or real spirit.  Most of which will be lucky to make it out of the first month unscathed and/or even discarded.

Which gives impetus to why this year has to be different…needs to be different.  Needs to be more.  Much more.  A year that doesn’t wait for tomorrow.

Today…

The day we step into the unknown.  We step out into the abyss.  We loose that grip on the safe and stretch ourselves beyond.  Today we determine to take on something that is bigger than what we imagined we could do…but, deep down knew we always wanted to do.  To accomplish.  Today is the day we determine to take it on.

Today is the day that we decide “why not me”?  Minivan or no minivan, knowing that I am and can be that change agent.  The one willing to crash the gates of status quo.  No longer waiting on others to be that change…accepting the challenge to be that change in the world we want to see.  The change you always wanted to be.

And if not you, who?

Let’s not waste another day.  Determine that one thing deep down that you want to accomplish, to do, to be, to overcome.  Take hold of it.  Embrace it.  One piece at a time.  Be the one.  Be the change.

Let this new year ring with remembrance…of the beginning of a new end.

“Yesterday is gone.  Tomorrow has not yet come.  We have only today.  Let us begin.”  -Mother Teresa

Special Thanks to Skillet and their song “One Day Too Late” that gave inspiration for this post.

A Forgotten Factor Of Influence

“Life be not so short but that there is always time for courtesy.”  -Ralph Waldo Emerson

For most of us, our daily lives are filled with a variety of interactions.  We connect with others in a multitude of ways and through a variety of avenues.  Face to face, phone, text, email, internet.  Connections that create perceptions, which inevitably become our reality.  For the most part, the majority of these interactions serve as representations greater than the individual.  As reflections of the very organizations and agencies that those same individuals represent.

Which is evidence to their incredible power.  A single individual can create one’s entire perception of an organization, be it positive or negative.  And very often it occurs in a matter of minutes.  Perceptions are formed and ingrained in the blink of an eye as we go about our daily routines.  From the schools our children attend to the places where we shop and do business.  Each and every day we are forming perceptions which guide our internal map…of where we go and who we choose to interact with.

However, we as a society have to take responsibility and ownership for the current direction of many of those very interactions.  We have made it loud and clear that we appreciate value and savings over service and workmanship.  We have become bottom-line driven.  Which is why we are not often surprised when service and support are poor or even negative in nature.  It is almost expected.  As if we have intentionally come to expect less of those we interact and do business with each day.

And it can be difficult to fault leadership for this direction.  The focus has been increasingly aimed at doing more with less.  Less staff, less support, less resources…and better results.  Training and mentorship have become luxuries, rather than necessities to support growth.  Each year accountability increases, expectations escalate, and the bottom-line rises.  To compensate, we take on more duties, increase our hours, work more days, continually pushing ourselves to do and be more.  For these reasons, many of our organizations have become cauldrons brimming over with stressed-out, pressure-filled, worn out workers.

Some would say its the nature of the times…the nature of the beast.

And while we might say it is difficult to lay the fault at the feet of leadership, it will inevitably land squarely on their shoulders.  For better or worse, negative or positive, with or without resources and support, the culture of the organization is a leadership responsibility and obligation.  A leadership requisite.

While it might not be fair or easy, leaders have the obligation to create and mold the reality of their organization’s culture.  According to the authors of the Oz Principle…“Managing your culture so that it produces the results you are looking for has become an essential role of leadership and a core management competency.  Neglect it at your peril.”

Let’s highlight that last sentence.  “Neglect it at your peril.”  How often have we seen an organization’s culture “neglected”?

Very often it isn’t until we run head-on into an organization that gets it, do we realize what we are missing from the many other “neglected” cultures that we interact with.  An organizational culture that views the interaction and the relationship as the imperative.  Not as the by-product.  The value is in the connection, the people they serve, not in the bottom-line.  Well-tended organizational cultures understand this, it is bound up in their DNA, it is a vital part of their value-system.  A value-system reinforced daily by their leaders, in word and deed.  It serves as an expectation, not an exception.

It has been well-chronicled in organizations such as Starbuck’s, Zappos, and Chick-Fil-A.  Organizations that work to create a sense of community.  A sense of relationship.  Organization’s that have well-tended cultures.  A sense of decorum and courtesy is obvious in all of their interactions and connections.

In a world where social graces, etiquette, manners, pleasantries, politeness, decency and civilities are diminishing rapidly, organizations with well-tended cultures leave an interaction imprint.  An imprint of influence not found or created in “neglected” cultures.

In this day in age where data and knowledge run rampant and best practices are no longer hidden or kept close to the chest – factors such as tone, climate, and atmosphere often serve as the great divide – between well-tended and “neglected” cultures.  They serve as today’s influence factors.  Organizations such as Starbucks, Zappos, and Chick-Fil-A understand that the experience and the environment is their advantage.  They focus first on the relationship.  Not only for those that they serve, but for those within the organization as well.

Courtesy, manners, politeness, etiquette seem to be fading quickly from the framework of our society and our organizations.  “Excuse me”, “Thank you”,  “Pardon me”, and/or “May I help you” serve more as reminders of this than as the norm.  Manners, courtesy and etiquette have become an organizational outlier.

So as we head into the new year, it may be worth our time to take an honest look at our organization and determine if we have allowed “neglect” to creep in?

And if so, determine the steps necessary to getting the organization back to having a well-tended culture.  One created through interaction, connection, and relationship.

Leadership: Come Home For The Holidays

“As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.”  -Pope John Paul II

Leadership is demanding.  Complex in its simplicity.  Stressful in its formidable challenges.  It often conspires to reward and frustrate simultaneously.  It can feel like you are pushing a two-ton boulder up a hill.  More often than not, it is two steps forward and one back.  It is just the nature of the work.

Especially deep down, gritty, authentic, servant leadership.  Real leadership.  The kind that makes you believe.  Believe you can do more than you ever imagined.  The kind that makes you feel like you are part of something significant, even life-changing.  Leadership that makes you want to be ‘all in’.

True servant leaders live for those fleeting moments…moments when others rise up with passion and say…”we did it!”  Giving from the core of their being to raise others up.  No agendas.  No secret motives.  Just the betterment of others at the forefront of all decisions and actions.

Yet, truly authentic leadership at its highest level exacts a price…it takes a toll.  It can be all-encompassing.  Never off the clock.  Twenty-four seven, three-hundred and sixty-five days a year.

And for this reason, it requires a balance.  Especially if we are to serve others at the highest level.  Otherwise, when we are out of balance, tilted…we lose our equilibrium.  We lose our grounding.  Our foundation shifts.

Unfortunately, this is more par for the course than we like to admit…

The stories are too numerous to count – leaders who have done phenomenal things for their organizations – yet, have left a scattered path of failed families, failed marriages, and troubled children in the wake of their organizational triumphs.  A parallel of life and leadership that evokes  determination, triumph, success, dysfunction, detachment, and disappointment.

Which gives even more credence for the necessity and need of leadership to come home for the holidays.

As we enter the holidays and make our plans and goals for the year to come…we need to put home at the top of our priority list.  Home is where real leadership starts.  It requires the deepest of emotional investment.  It is where it will matter the most in the long run.  And it will be the most difficult and most important leadership job we will ever tackle.  And the most rewarding.  Family.

We need to be resolute for the year to come to dedicate our leadership, first and foremost, to those who need it the most.  Our family.  Family is ground zero…the foundation of our leadership.  And they deserve our best.  Not what we have left-over from long days of serving others.  Our very best.  And from here, our leadership will flourish and grow to the betterment of the organizations and people that we serve outside of our family.

So this season…

Let’s allow our leadership to come home for the Holidays.

“What can you do to promote world peace?  Go home and love your family.”  -Mother Teresa

Leadership In Repair…

“Why is patience so important?  Because it makes us pay attention.”  -Paulo Coelho

In the midst of the fray our perspective has a tendency to taper and narrow as our focus tightens and compresses.  It might be said that when get too close…we can lose sight of the big picture.  Effectively allowing us to erect blinders that constrain our leadership vision.  Viewing our organization and those we lead through a limited lens.  Binding our perspective.

It is here that we can get caught up in the hear and now…giving in to the immediate at the expense of the long-term.   Cursing ourselves to decisions made in the heat of the moment.  Comments issued, remarks made, emails blasted out, and a reeling-off of rash resolutions – a deluge of decisions handed-down through limited scope and forethought.

Many a leader has stood at this crossroad.  Facing the fork that leads to the quick fix.  Beckoning.  The allure of the smooth and easy transcends the trials of the rough and rocky.  The road to instant gratification.  The path of least resistance.  Unfortunately, the irony of this path is that it extolls the biggest price on our leadership.  A toll that invariably leads to a variety of leadership repairs

Impetuous and rash leadership is regularly in need of repair.  Backtracking.  Retracting.  Backpedaling.  Rethinking.  All framed in poor judgment.  Deprived of perspective and patience.  Organizationally disturbing and personally frustrating.  Tiresome and laborious.  Void of depth.  Lacking resolve.  Bereft of timing.  Thin and shallow.

For when leadership lacks perspective, patience, timing – it takes on a surface-level existence.

Whereas, patience and timing amplify a leaders influence.  It is within these traits that strength and persistence grow.  For patience and timing demand resolve and steadfastness in a leader.  It is no simple task to hold off and refrain from hasty decisions when the crowds clamor for action.  It takes dollops of courage and a resoluteness of will to stand tall and firm in the face of the masses.  Especially when the right decision is not the popular decision.  It requires unwavering willpower.

For, often it is through patience that perspective is granted.  Perspective that provides clarity.  And where perspective and clarity exist, timing can make its grand entrance.  Overcoming those issues that leave our leadership in a state of disrepair – backtracking, retracting, backpedaling, rethinking.

It may be best to remember that from a distance far away all mountains look the same…it isn’t until we get a little closer, until we have gained some perspective, that we can determine the valley’s from the peaks.  That we can determine what will be necessary and needed to scale those very heights.  When we fire away too early, too quickly, we often lack the perspective necessary to truly understand what we are facing.  Very often, it is our ability to exert patience that provides the very perspective that allows persistence to exist, even flourish.

We sometimes need to struggle – with our questions, with our concerns, with our problems.  Our push and need for immediacy and quick fixes can often be our leadership undoing.  Jumping to and fro onto every new thing places the very foundation of our leadership on sinking sand.  A recipe for fatigue and for frustration.

Taking the rough and rocky road tends to hone our leadership.  It is not the easy road or route.  It will require patience and persistence to persevere the obstacles and difficulties associated with this path.  And yet, it is the very thing that gives depth and endurance to our leadership.

Impatience hurts.  It hurts us and those we lead.

“Patience is power.  Patience is not an absence of action; rather it is ‘timing’.  It waits on the right time to act, the right principles in the right way.”  -Fulton J. Sheen

The Other Side Of Why

“The dew of compassion is a tear.”  -Lord Byron

As leaders we spend a great deal of time determining the why

For our organizations, for those we lead, and for ourselves.  It might be considered one of the most important things we do as leaders.  Our why serves at the core of all that we do.  It solidifies our commitments.  It is often the sole motivator that provides momentum to keep us ambling towards the finish line.

When have clarity around our why, we create a different level of commitment.  One that taps into our heart and motivates us intrinsically to do and be better.  And while it seems such a simple concept, it can be quite elusive.  So elusive that some never quite find their why

Which is why leadership matters…matters deeply.

For there is another side to why.  A darker side.  A why that we will never understand.  The why that stands behind all of the pain, tragedy, suffering, and devastation of this world.  A why that shakes us to our very core.  A why that taps into that core in a much different way.

why that never provides answers, only questions.  A why that is often unimaginable and difficult to fathom.  A why that often etches itself in the very depths of our soul – racking us to our very core – often in anguish and empathy.

It is in the very midst of the dark side of why that clarity arises.  Clarity that speaks to the very foundation of either side of why.  And it is found in love.

And it is out of love – on either side of why – that leaders must arise as pillars of strength and support.

To lead us through those things that don’t make sense, that we will never understand.  To carry us forward when we can’t go any further.  It is here that love exists.  The kind of love that changes the world.

When love exists…for what we do, for those in our life, our community, our society, our world, and those we lead and serve – we create an environment that allows for compassion, empathy, caring, and grace to flourish.

A world that makes much better sense.

A world where love, compassion, and empathy fill a void where answers do not exist.

A world where love is not such a difficult word to utter.

Enthralled; Shiny And New

“Technology is not technology if it happened before you were born.  I was not very excited about electricity – it wasn’t some major breakthrough for me – however, it was for my grandparents.  And our kids aren’t really that excited about a lot of technologies now that excite adults, they simply take them for granted.”  -Sir Ken Robinson

A very poignant statement to overlay upon our current circumstances.  You can almost feel the crookedly pointed finger of our conscience reach out and jab you right in the middle of the forehead.  Tap, tap, tap…incessantly.  Prodding.  Leaving you teetering on the precipice of this technology tipping point.  Asking…

Is this a valid reflection of our current reality?  Is our technological reality that far removed from that of our students?  And if so, where do we go from here?

Worth reflection and consideration.  Is Sir Kenneth Robinson correct?  Did he hit the proverbial nail on the head?  If so, we may as well be serving as the uninformed used car salesman trying to sell our students on the technology equivalent of an old Chevy Nova disguised as a Maserati.  Very often what we find to be shiny and new can appear to them as old and clunky.  It is a matter of perspective…

A perspective we as the adults in the system need to take into account.

Otherwise and unwittingly, we find it hard to conceal our frustration when our student’s breath isn’t whisked away when we unveil that shiny, new piece of technology.  We find ourselves asking where is their zeal and excitement?

And maybe at one time it was a technological Maserati…

Unfortunately, by the time it finally has gotten into the very hands of our students it may have decayed to the equivalent of that Chevy Nova.  Outdated and inefficient.

Very often what excites and even scares some of us…is just taken for granted by our students.  And for them, it is very often neither new, shiny, or exciting.  And it is best we take that as a neutral, neither negative nor positive, just a reality we face in educating our students.  Serving as a point of next steps rather than one of frustration in our uphill battle towards catching up our technology to that which envelops the lives of our students outside of the school setting.

I leave you with another quote from…along with the short video that spurred this post.  As the adults in the system, we need to take a very long and critical look at the technology that enthralls and excites us – and determine if that very same technology is the best or right digital tools we need to be placing in the hands of our students.

“Our students have a facility with digital technology and it is right and proper we build them into education.  The tools themselves are creating cultural changes and possibilities which are really quite new our students are connected not only with the people in the room around them but literally anybody on the planet that they want to be connected, too.”

“And that is an entirely new cultural proposition I think and it changes the game.”  -Sir Kenneth Robinson