Creating a Movement: Architect Of Opportunity

“We are…consciously, or not…the architects of a dramatically different world…an everyone a change-maker world.”  -Bill Drayton

The game has changed.

As has our world…

We no longer have to wait to create the change we envision.

We now have the tools…and access to recreate and re-imagine our world…almost instantaneously.  For so long, the majority of us were relegated to consumers…waiting to consume what was being provided, often from a very few.

We live in a world that no longer requires us to wait.  To no longer remain the consumer.  We can be the creators…the “architects” of change.  We have the tools and access to create what we envision.  Invoking dynamic change is very often just a voice and platform away.

Each of us is capable of creating a movement…of global proportions.

Our world used to be a ladder.  One that each of us climbed…rung by rung.  Climbing to achieve that title or position that we were after.  Each title worn like a tiara…a badge of honor for the hard work and dedication that had taken us to that rung on the ladder.

Today’s world is a little less like that ladder and a little more like a game of hopscotch.  No longer rung by rung.  We can skip spaces.  Have our feet in different spaces.  Or skip spaces altogether.  Moving at a pace and speed that we set.  No longer based in title and position.

What we are coming to understand is that we no longer have to wait to consume what we are being offered…what is being given.

We have the opportunity to be creators…”architects” of our own opportunities.

Like no other time on earth…we can create a platform, a voice…far beyond what each of us thought as possible.

Each of us…

Tinkerers.  Creators.  Architects.  Each of these moving less from opportunities and more towards necessities of our modern world.  Our ideas, our skills, our frameworks, our systems…no longer have the shelf-life they once had.  According to the work of  John Seely Brown, “We now expect the half life of a skill…most skills we pick up…to have about five years.”

Our world is less like a box of twinkles and more like a piece of fruit.  Change is eminent.  Change is constant.  Change is rapid.

The shelf-life of our ideas, skills, frameworks, and systems now deteriorate at a much more advanced rate.

Life…and our world is less stagnant and more dynamic.  We have to become the tinkerers, the creators, the architects…constantly being able to recreate and re-imagine the world around us.

The only question we will have to ask ourselves…

Are you game?

The Age Of The Learner And A (Disruptive Mindset)

The constant influx of data, information, and ever-evolving knowledge has shifted our world from that of the expert…to that of the learner.

For centuries we have relied on Experts (sustaining mindset) to provide us with the necessary wisdom and knowledge to lead our organizations and institutions effectively.  Not to say it hasn’t worked.  Knowledge requested, knowledge imparted, knowledge implemented…allowing us to better run efficient organizations and institutions.

Until now…

Very subtly and swiftly we have watched that world yanked out from under our feet.  For some, the disequilibrium is alarming…and for others it is seen as an exhilarating time of change.  Either way, it is disruptive.  We are stretching into new and unknown frontiers.  Stepping into the era of the Learner and a (disruptive mindset).

For years we have relied on the luxury of turning to the experts to give us the answers…for time permitted, and our world moved at a much slower pace of change.  A world that no longer exists.

The cycle of information, processing, decision-making, with application necessitating change is crashing through at an exponential rate.  The amount of data today’s leaders are required to grapple with on a daily basis would be seen as unfathomable looking back as recently as even five years ago.

A cycle that is demanding today’s leaders to push through into the unknown more and more often…causing deeper levels of stress and anxiety than in any previous time or age.

The world is moving too fast to always rely on the current, sustaining knowledge of the expert.  The pace is too intense.  Known knowledge is being challenged at an ever increasing rate.  What existed today, has morphed and changed for tomorrow.

As leaders…we are going to have to embrace a learner mindset…to disrupt our current notions of what is…to what could be.  Working in an ever-evolving state of creating, recreating, recasting and re-imagining the world around us.  As individuals, as teams, as organizations.  Mentally disrupting our current processes, models and frameworks.

The era of the learner requires agile leaders and organizations…processing and responding quickly to a rapidly changing world.  It is not just a necessity…it is imperative to the survival and success of our organizations…and our leadership.

However, we have to realize that the change begins with each of us mentally.  Disruption begins in our own mind…in our own thinking.  It takes root in the ideas of what we consider possible.  Stretching that beyond what we considered.  And then spreading those seeds of possibility.  It begins within us.

We cannot begin to disrupt our institutions and organizations until we determine to disrupt our own thinking.

To move forward…we must be able to push through the stress, anxiety, chaos and turbulence created from the velocity of change and disruption we are facing.

We must not only ask deeper, more thought provoking questions of those we lead…we must ask those questions of ourselves.  We must be willing to provoke and disrupt our own mindset of what we think is, should be, and can be.

We must have the mindset of a learner.

The Impact Of Language

“Language is the blood of the soul into which thoughts run and out of which they grow.”  -Oliver Wendell Holmes

Language has impact.  It affects us…leaves an imprint.  The words we read, the words we hear, the words we use…all influence us.  Our thoughts.  Our perspectives.  Our ideas.  Our culture.

Language and the words we use affect us…from stimulating intellectual thought to evoking the angriest of emotions.  Language is powerful.  It is how we communicate.  It is what makes us human.

And for those reasons…we have long understood that language has a powerfully defining effect on the culture and behavior of our organizations.  One of the simplest ways to determine the overall culture of an organization is to listen to the words and language those within use in their day to day interactions, operations and communications.

The stories we tell and the words we use to describe our organizations provides deep insight.  Our organizational language is an internal spotlight to our real feelings and views…our attitudes and assumptions.

If we grasp the powerful influence and impact of language in our lives…as educators we would have to be both deeply concerned and fully energized…simultaneously.  

We have a real “inside out” problem in the world of education.  If we pay close attention to the language that is being used and applied…we will gain deep understandings to the many attitudes and assumptions we are currently facing.

From the education “inside” we discover a language of creativity and  innovation.  More and more we find educators utilizing and collaborating through social media to innovate and exponentially change the current face of education.  A focus on learning…at all levels.  From technology, to strategies, and even design…we see the education “inside” engaged in dynamic conversations that are uprooting the very foundations of education.

From the education “outside” we discover a language of reform.  A conversation focused more on pointing fingers at…than pointing the way forward.  LInes blurred and smeared as we struggle with the language of test scores and learning…evaluation and professional practice.  Conversations that often spend more time pushing down upon than pushing education forward.

In a time where we are facing exponential changes that are tearing apart the very fabric of how we have previously viewed the institution of education…we still struggle with one of the earliest forms of human expression…the language in which we approach the educational conversation.

Until we bridge our language divide…we will continue to struggle to determine a unifying vision for education.

“Language is the road map of a culture.  It tells you where its people come from and where they are going.”  -Rita Mae Brown

Thank you to Peter Senge for providing inspiration for this post…

Got Mandates?

Invoking mandates as a leader…means relying on position and title to effectively lead what should come from influence and skill-set.

True, authentic leaders are seldom born…they are created.  Their abilities and skills forged and honed in grit and determination.  It is a blood, sweat and tears proposition.  Framed and propelled through perseverance and will.  There are no days off.  And definitely no free rides.  Accountability and responsibility are self-imposed…and never taken lightly.  Position and title are less about what they can give you and more about the doors they can open to support and serve others.

And yet, not all leaders are cut from this same piece of cloth…

For some, it is very much about the title, the position…the big office.  Perks and privilege are the name of the game.  Service is for those suckers who never made it to the big show.  It is the glitzy side of leadership…fueled by fanfare and pageantry.  A spectacle of fireworks and disorder created to hide the holes in their leadership tool-belt.

As you will often find, the glitzy side of leadership is often founded in mandates and edicts…

When leaders lack the authenticity and skill-set to lead effectively, they turn to mandates…to a command and control style of leadership.  They see mandates as a short-cut to success.  A way to circumvent the system.  Which will work for a time…

What authentic leaders understand is that there are no short-cuts to success.  No way to avoid the trials, tribulations…the hard work necessary to lead others and organizations effectively.  When leadership lacks authenticity…it usually lacks endurance.  Which eventually, in one way or another, comes out in the wash…

Authentic leaders understand the perplexity that real leadership presents…

  • Great leadership is founded in serving others.
  • Great leaders are great followers.
  • Great leaders give credit and accept blame.
  • Great leaders provide autonomy to gain influence.

And great leaders understand that any manager can invoke mandates and edicts across an organization.  

Whereas, it takes real, authentic leadership to garner the trust and commitment necessary to collectively push forward a vision or initiative.  For trust and commitment are never acquired through a short-cut…rather, it is in the trenches, in the day in and day out.  And every time you allow your leadership to turn to a mandate…you lose a little bit of that trust, commitment and influence.  A little bit of that authenticity.

Which is why, as a leader, it is always worth remembering…

“There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.”  -Publilius Syrus

From The Middle

The range of a leader’s influence, when authentic, is determined less by title and more by actions and service… 

We live by a romantic misnomer that leadership always places us at the pinnacle of the organizational pyramid.  A falsehood, if found to be true…would require a whole lot less leaders in our institutions and organizations.  In fact, very seldom do leaders reach the organizational apex…rather, in most instances, most will be required to lead from the middle.

One of the most difficult positions in leadership…

The middle requires a leader to be effective and influential in support of another’s vision and decisions…while lacking title and position.  Leader and follower, simultaneously.  Not a simple or easy position to be placed in.

Which is why, in all actuality, leading from the middle requires expanded leadership skills and strategies to be effective and influential.  It takes deep understanding to know when to lead and when to follow…when to make a decision and when to implement.  A delicate balance at best.

In the middle, a leader’s influence must be spherical…flowing out in all directions, simultaneously.

In today’s rapidly advancing society, leading from the middle requires moving beyond implementing…and/or deferring difficult decisions.  Deferrers and implementers forfeit the productive possibilities offered to their leadership.  Valuable opportunities often lost, mired in frustration and complaints…left behind while lamenting decisions handed-down from above.

Whereas, leading from the middle necessitates modern day movers and shakers.  The pace of change requires mid-level leaders to have greater initiative, ability to pull the trigger on difficult decisions, and capacity to work more creatively and implement more innovatively.

Leading from the middle entails employing a varied lens…creating different pictures and understandings within the organization.  Leaders at this level are conscious of the view looking up from the valley…as well as comprehend the panorama from the peaks…and the necessity to unite the two.  It is in the middle that the vision is connected…from above and below.  Mid-level leaders are connectors…the bridge that serves to connect the vision.

Once we comprehend the importance of mid-level leaders to the organization…we will invest more deeply in their growth.

We are entering a time when the capacity of mid-level leadership will determine the effectiveness of an organization to move forward.  We are closing the chapter on the days of the lone leader who can be and do all…if it ever really existed at all.

Great leaders understand their strength comes from the middle…from the core.  

The connectors.

The Theater Of Dreams

“Only true champions come out and show their worth after defeat…and I expect us to do that.” –Sir Alex Ferguson

In our modern world, those distinct individuals that have risen above the fray to become the stuff of legend seem to be fewer and farther between. Leaders and players have become a commodity…trading loyalty to the highest bidder. It is just a sign of the times. And for that reason, very seldom do we see those individuals who have become synonymous with their team, the staple of their organization.

However, today we give witness to one of those historical moments. One of the greatest coaches in professional sports took the helm at Old Trafford for one last time. After twenty-six years, thirty-eight trophies, and thirteen premier league championships…Sir Alex Ferguson, the legendary manager of Manchester United says good-bye. For one last time, the fans pay homage to Sir Alex at the Theatre of Dreams. For one last time, the heart and soul of the mighty Manchester United will take the helm and leave in the fanfare of another Barclay’s Premier League championship.

“I’ve never played for a draw in my life.” -Sir Alex Ferguson

The best thing about legendary leaders and coaches… is the myriad of lessons and wisdom that they have left in the wake of their reign. As Sir Alex says a heartfelt good-bye at Old Trafford…here are a few of the lessons that we can take away from his years leading Manchester United;

Service – Sir Alex Ferguson never made it about himself. He understood that leadership in not self-serving, rather it is service to the good of the organization…the team. He did not create a Sir Alex way of doing things…he created a Manchester United way of doing things.

Trust – After twenty-six years at the helm of Manchester United and with all of the wisdom and knowledge he had accumulated…he made it clear that he trusted his players…he trusted his team. And as a teammate, that is all you can ask from your leader…that they believe in you to do the job you have been entrusted to do. And for that reason, he got the very best from his players.

Relevant – Over twenty-six years of service and leadership as a coach…Sir Alex never became stagnant. He understood that the game was constantly changing and he made sure that his leadership and coaching stayed relevant to those changes. Sir Alex was constantly revamping and recasting his coaching and leadership skills for a changing game and world.

Expectations – For Sir Alex…it was about doing the work. If you wanted to be the best then you need to put in the work that will take you to the top of your game. He had those expectations for himself…and he held those same expectations for his players.

Humble – Even though Sir Alex Ferguson had tremendous aura and star quality as one of the greatest coaches of one of the greatest teams in history…he never made it about himself. He never overextended himself or his personality in a way that got in the way of the players, the team, the organization, or the game.

Passion – Sir Alex Ferguson approached the game with passion. And he brought out the passion in his players and the fans alike. He never lost his love for the game. He never lost passion to be the best…he always strove to improve and get better.

“I like to tell different stories and use my imagination. But generally, it is about our expectations, their belief in themselves, and their trust in each other.” -Sir Alex Ferguson

Over the last twenty-six years, Sir Alex Ferguson set the benchmark in coaching as a leader of one of the greatest teams in the world of sports. He led some of the greatest players in the game and always found ways to get the best out of them.

“There is no room for criticism on the training field. For a player…and for any human being…there is nothing better than hearing ‘well done’. Those are the two best words ever invented in sports. You don’t need to use superlatives.” -Sir Alex Ferguson

Of Machine and Men (And Disruptive Blips)

Very seldom do we interrupt ourselves.  We cling unconsciously to our habits, our routines…susceptible to the powerful draw of the patterns we etch into our daily lives.  Indignant and resentful of any disruptors that chaperone in change to this daily dance, this ebb and flow of our life.

And as much as we embrace change…

It is when these disruptive blips impede upon our routines and habits that we feel their squeeze…often pushing out bitter responses.  For which we come to understand that the strong embrace of disruption and change does not always evoke positive platitudes.

In much the same manner that we find ourselves entrenched in our habits and routines, we tend to procure a place in mindlessly serving the system, or more affectionately known as…

…the machine.

Vast and often cumbersome, the machine does not do well when slowed or derailed from its course.  While not necessarily wrapped in agenda or motive…it will find ways to take care of and support itself.  For when the machine is disrupted, when it is squeezed…much like ourselves, it often emotes a bitter response.

Unfortunately, much of our service is in making sure that the machine is operating and proceeding with adequate progress…than it is about creating and sustaining dynamic growth and change.  And in order for us to activate this dynamic growth and change, we will need…

…to serve as disruptive blips.

Which requires awareness and recognition.  Understanding that our job is not to serve the machine…rather, our responsibility is to ensure that the machine is serving the people and their best interests.

In order for this to happen…leaders must not only create disruptive blips, but accept their role as system adjuster.  Pulling and pushing against the machine.  Providing checks and balances.  Constantly redirecting the route.  Creating the path.

For we don’t truly understand the power and momentum of the machine until we remove ourselves from or try to stand against it.

Which is the difficult and lonely road of leadership.  For in the end, it will be less in our implementation and more in our questions that leaders will serve as the disruptive blips of change.

For when we choose not to take on these roles…we find that the machine rolls over us.  Effectively allowing the machine to end up as a self-serving entity…ultimately losing focus on what it was created and designed for…serving the best interests and needs of its people.