The Up Side Of Change

“People underestimate their capacity for change.  There is never a right time to do a difficult thing.”  -John Porter

I have been blessed with an incredible wife and the opportunity to be a father to two amazing young boys.  It has been an inspiration and blessing to watch them grow and experience each stage of change…except for the fact that it goes entirely too fast.  We have an entire refrigerator photo collage filled with examples that attest to the inevitability that change will happen…each and every day, whether we notice or accept it…it will come.

Change is unavoidable.  Physically.  Mentally.  Emotionally.  It can be subtle as much as it can be turbulent.  Sometimes it quietly works behind the scenes…and other times, it is a commanding, front stage presence in our life.

As our two boys have grown, so have the level and intricacy of our conversations…as well as the variety of topics for discussion.  Which is awesome, since I truly believe that opportunities for our children to learn and discover the importance of serving and leadership are vital for their own personal growth as they move forward in that journey towards manhood.  And it is in those conversations that the basis for those learnings can occur.

Which is why I have come to appreciate their love of movies…especially the many new and  incredible animated releases from such powerhouses as Disney, Pixar, and Dreamworks.  While I will admit, at first it served as a great opportunity to catch a few z’s in my sleep deprived world…I have found these movies to be filled with a plethora of leadership learnings to share with our children…if we choose to see and reveal it.  Each with their own lessons…from the importance of working with others, to seeing the greatness within yourself, how hard work and effort can overcome the odds, to being able to to reach out and take hold of the opportunities that life presents us.  There are great lessons to be mined from these animated classics.

Looking back over those many movies, one that stands out would be the 2009 Pixar release of the animated hit, Up…a funny and touching movie that delves into the life of an elderly widower, Carl Fredericksen, a “78-year old who sets out to fulfill his lifelong dream to see the wilds of South America and to complete a promise made to his lifelong love.”  A heartwarming story of a man, who in the face of change, finally decide to take action and realize a childhood promise.

And while the movie sends the message that it is never too late to change…it also provides a glimpse into the lessons learned from a life spent waiting too long.  Often, life offers us a slim window of opportunity to grab hold of change…and if we miss it, the opportunity does not often come back around.

For Carl Fredericksen, while he was finally able to tackle the difficulty of change, it came at a price.  And only after the world had changed so entirely around him that he was left with little to no other option.  We learn from Carl that we can dig in our heels and hide in our own world for so long before change finally becomes too big for us to avoid.  It will finally overtake us and often leave us reminiscing over opportunities missed and lost.

As leaders, it is easy to be frustrated with those who dig their heels in to the changes we are facing in our organizations.  To be discouraged with those who always see obstacles where we see possibilities.  However, instead of putting our time and energy into frustration…we would be better served investing a bit of our time into determining the real reasons why the change is being avoided.  Is it fear?  Or is it unwillingness?  Part of leading is being able to help people through the process, difficulty, and loss associated with change.

When we understand a person’s reasons for avoidance…we are better equipped to support them…and help them see over the obstacles to the possibilities awaiting them on the other side.

As leaders, do you know who the Carl’s are in your organization?  If so, how are you helping them through the many changes that they may be avoiding?

“To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.”  -Henri Berson

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A Quote Worth Considering…

I ran across this quote in preparing the opening address for our District’s Annual Art Fair Show.  As I looked around the room at the hundreds of beautiful pieces of art that showcased the talented and creative students throughout our District…I found this quote very fitting…and worth our consideration.

“Each second we live is a new and unique moment of the universe, a moment that will never be again.  And what do we teach our children?  We teach them that two and two make four…and that Paris is the capital of France.

When will we also teach them what they are?  We should say to each of them:  Do you know what you are?

You are a marvel.  You are unique.  In all the years that have passed, there has never been another child like you.  Your legs, your arms, your clever fingers, the way you move.

You may become a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo, a Beethoven.  You have the capacity for anything.  Yes, you are a marvel.

And when you grow up, can you then harm another who is, like you, a marvel?  You must work, we must all work, to make the world worthy of its children.”

– Pablo Picasso

Knowledge Has A New Rival

“Inability to create relationship and connection will eventually bankrupt a wealth of knowledge and wisdom.” 

Knowledge is king.

For as long as we can remember what you knew trumped who you were in our organizations and institutions.  Knowledge was power.  It was your ticket to the top.  The more you knew, the higher up the ladder you would climb.  Content provided control.  And while that still rings true…

In the 21st century, knowledge has a new rival…

Relationship.

Relationship has taken its place as a new ruler in town.  In the age of Google, it is no longer just about how much knowledge and content we can hoard and retain. Rather, it is about creating connection and our ability to impart that knowledge.  Our ability to create access…and connection.

Why is this important for modern day leaders?

As we consider and approach professional development for our people in the future…knowledge and strategy, without relationship and connection…can often serve as a recipe for failure.  It doesn’t matter how much we know if we are unable to create the relationships and connections that allow us to impart that knowledge.

For so long we spent our professional development time and efforts on acquiring knowledge, content, and strategies.  Unfortunately, we never looked at whether we were giving people the necessary skills to impart this learning.  We spent little, if any, of our professional development efforts on the soft skills and emotional intelligences that enhance relationship building and connection.

Often our most brilliant people, the experts in their field, lack the emotional intelligence and soft skills necessary to create the connections and relationships that give others access to that knowledge and wisdom.  As leaders we would often look past this disconnect because of their level of expertise…unfortunately, modern day leaders can no longer keep a blind eye to this disconnect.

A leaders, we have to look at the process of learning from a more wholistic view…

We still must remain well-versed and knowledgeable, however, that is no longer the bottom line.  Especially, now that knowledge, learning, and content surround us constantly.  The ability to create connections and build relationships is a vital and necessary part of the learning process.

For we must remember…without connection and without relationship…very often the one thing we are after, the learning, is the one thing that is lost.

Perspective And Our Mental Lens

“The lens that we put on will create the world that we see.”

Each day our experiences and interactions serve as layers that shape and create our perspective of and towards the world around us.  We are constantly in a state of creating and recreating our reality…mentally disrupting our vision of the world around us.

It is this perspective, this frame of mind that we create, that eventually serves as a form of ‘mental glasses‘ from which we see and view the world.  A lens that shades and colors our attitude and disposition towards our circumstances.

As a young man, I spent my summer vacations from high school and college working at a variety of jobs.  Many of which were basic, manual labor positions…and very often in the extreme heat of the summer.  Each of which provided the necessary funds to pull me through the school year to the next summer.

And while these positions payed well for a young man of my age…they were neither mentally stimulating or engaging…rather, they were very often mind-numbing, back-breaking work.  Often providing too much time to ponder better ways of spending my summer vacations.

Too get through the drudgery of daily ditch digging…I had to create a different perspective, a new lens on how I viewed the work.  I had to make the work more personally meaningful.

For that reason, I mentally chose to approach the job as a work out.  A chance to improve myself physically…to increase my strength and stamina.  Instead of digging a trench being a laborious task…it became a chance to strengthen my body.  This mental mind-shift changed my entire demeanor towards the job and the work itself.

I found myself looking for opportunities to improve myself…jogging to the next task, volunteering for the difficult work…and I found myself feeling happier about my situation.  And it showed.  It just took a shift in my perspective and in my mental lens.

As leaders, we have to look for opportunities to pull back from our day to day work and examine our perspective, our mental lens…reflecting on our outlook and how we view what we are tasked to do or what we are facing in our lives.

We can use these opportunities to hone and refine ourselves and our leadership.  To extract the opportunity in the task…to discover the diamond hiding in the coal.

To lead effectively, struggles and hardships will be faced…it is just a constant upon the leadership landscape.  And while we don’t have to openly embrace our struggles, we can change our perspective, our mental lens, towards these trials and tribulations.

It requires a learner mindset.

Instead of approaching these trials and tribulations with a sense of dread…we can look to learn from these struggles.  Instead of asking “Why me?”  We learn to ask, “What can I learn from this experience?”  “What do I need to take forward from this?”  It is here that we forge leadership wisdom and strength…not in our successes, but in those struggles.  It is in our struggles that we hone and refine ourselves and our leadership.

The learning is all but lost when we lack the right perspective or mental lens.

We have to be able to see the diamond in the coal.  To see the opportunity in the task.  To find the learning hidden within the struggle.

And when we do…

It brightens our outlook, lifts our spirit…and models for those you lead that the trials and tribulations we face, those difficult times, do not have to drag us down and destroy our spirit.  Rather, they can serve to hone and improve us.

When we change our perspective, our mental lens.  We can emerge on the other side of our struggles stronger than before…giving our leadership a sense of grit, resiliency, stamina, and strength of spirit.

In Light Of…

In light of the issues that have come forth in a few high profile districts regarding high-stakes assessments and tests…

The following quote is one worth heeding for educational leaders and leaders alike…and how the cultures we create affect the entirety of our organizations…

“People who fear their bosses do more than hide bad news to avoid guilt by association.  They have considerable incentive to lie about how things are going.  Fear, created by managers who demand results no matter what, leads to falsification of information and the inability to learn, let alone apply that knowledge to improving the organization’s operations.” 

Jeffrey Pfeffer The Knowing-Doing Gap

As leaders we cannot control all of the actions within our organizations…however, we are responsible for the culture of the organization and how that culture influences the decisions and actions of those within.

“Fear causes a focus on the short term.”

“Fear drives out consideration of the longer run.”

“Consequently, efforts to implement knowledge that might actually reduce the threat in the long term flounder on short-term fears of the consequences of their implementation.” 

Jeffrey Pfeffer The Knowing Doing Gap

Which is why we can never underestimate its influence…leadership matters.

The Fear Of Failure

“Prescription for success: Drive out fear.”  -W.E. Deming

Fear is a driver.  

It can be used to stretch and push people out of their comfort zone.

Fear is a tool.  

It can be used to hold people down and control them.

When fear exists…it causes anxiety, worry, hesitation, suspicion, and despair throughout an organization.  When fear exists…innovation and change processes are replaced with self-serving mechanisms that support safety and survival.

In a culture of fear…

We are afraid to ask for help.  We are scared to ask questions.  We are fearful of appearing as if we don’t know…if we don’t have the answer.

In a culture of fear…

We don’t step outside.  We learn to manage the same rather than pushing for different.  We keep the walls tight and closed.  We silo ourselves off.

And while we understand that failure is often the great teacher…we avoid it at all costs.

In a culture of fear…

Failure is not tolerated.

Beyond Attentive: A Leadership Skillset

“The ear of the leader must ring with the voices of the people.”  -Woodrow Wilson

Leaders create strong lines of communication not only through their ability to talk…but through their ability to listen.

Communication.

It is an infinitely vital leadership ability and necessity.

The capacity to articulate clarity out of the complex and overwhelming is a fundamental leadership skillset.  It is also where most leaders place their emphasis…often overlooking the crucial backside to the equation.

Listening.

Listening that transfers into hearing and deeper understanding.

As leaders, it is very often one of the most difficult and necessary things we do.  Yet, so rarely do we hear really hear what is really being said.  The underlying story that lies beneath…we so often miss.

Attentive.

Unfortunately, many leaders struggle to move past being merely attentive.  The demands, pace, and multi-tasking mindset often keep us pushed down into the attentive realm of listening.

As leaders we are so used to talking and persuading, explaining, cajoling, expressing, extrapolating…

That it becomes very hard to hear.

There is real power and influence in listening.  Listening deepens the lines of communication.  The way we listen speaks to those we lead.  It often communicates more than what we say.

Listening is a both a physical and a mental activity.  It requires us to lay aside what we are doing and immerse ourselves…

When we listen in a mindful and attuned manner…it is truly an all encompassing activity.  Requiring us to attend, tune in, and engage to not only what is being said and conveyed…but that which is not being said.  The hidden and underlying messages that often exist.

In our busyness and the noise of our everyday world, we can often miss the nuances…the tone, inflection, posture, body language…which convey that underlying, unspoken form of communication.

Very often we spend so much of our mental energy in crafting our own responses and talking points we miss much.

As leaders, we have to create opportunities that force us to listen…listen without expectation of response.  Allowing others to speak freely and to share their feelings, thoughts, ideas, and feedback without response.  To capture the full essence of what everyone is thinking, feeling, considering, and even holding back.  To let it all come out…to put it all out on the table.  Laid bare for all to see.  No explanation.  No clarification.  Just listening…and hearing.

One way to do this is to incorporate processes that allow for divergent thinking and production.  Create opportunities that allow for the free-flow of ideas and thoughts…without any response.

As leaders, no matter how difficult, we have to create the opportunities that require us to listen.  Allowing ourselves a chance to consider…consider all that is being said without any energy placed into a rebuttal or reaction.  Allowing others to be heard…

Otherwise…

All that will be left for us to hear will eventually be the hollow sound of our own voice…