Terms Of Endurement

School wasn’t something I enjoyed…it was something I endured.

School was never a place of joy growing up.  I spend little time reflecting on those years, let alone reminiscing over any fond memories.  The frustrations began in elementary school and escalated up and through high school.  The highlights seem limited…while the recollections that I do sustain revolve more around the time spent in the office than joyful learning in the classroom.

There were no awards, no honor rolls, no accolades…I was more of a survivor, than a winner in the system.

And for how few of those fond memories I have taken from those many years in the classroom…there are a few that are seared and etched in my memory.  And they were neither awards, honor rolls, or accolades…

Rather, they were the off-handed comments, the cutting remarks.

Very few, if any teachers saw my inner potential as an opportunity to tap into…as much as they saw my difficult veneer as something to be rid of.  And their comments reflected that disposition.  From elementary through high school…I allowed those off-handed comments and cutting remarks to feed and shape my future…my destiny.

Fortunately, my mother set a strong foundation in and for me.  A  foundation that steadied me when things would come terrifyingly close to coming off the rails.  Unfortunately, not all children are given that foundation…

My parents never gave up on me…they endured when it must have been agonizingly difficult and frustrating.  They found a way to get me to the next step, the next level.  With the help of a long time family friend they stretched their resources and found a way to get me to college.

Though the first year was incredibly difficult, overcoming so many gaps in my education…that foundation my mom set allowed me to eventually flourish and excel in college.  And yet, I still had no idea of what I wanted to do…

Which takes us back to the power of our words and how an off-handed comment or remark can change the trajectory of one’s life…for better or worse.

Walking the hallway after class one day, a college friend casually said to me, “You make difficult things seem simple, you should become a teacher.”

That off-handed comment changed the trajectory of my life forever.  While, I did not think much of it then…it never left me.  It stayed with me…lingering and tugging at me until I eventually went into a profession that I spent so many years fighting against.  Back to a place where I was considered “difficult” and “stupid”.  Back to a place that held few, if any fond memories.

And while I would never recommend my path to anyone…it has shaped me as the educator that I am today.  My difficulties and problems have provided me a depth of empathy and compassion that the winners of the system often have difficulty understanding.

As well as a deep consideration for the power of words…

Our words affect those around us deeply…they have incredible power.  Power to change the trajectory of one’s life.  For that reason, they must always be considered, reflected upon…and used wisely.

For we never know whose life they will change…

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The Main Thing

“Emotional connection…it is the ethos of our culture.  Our most original and irreplaceable asset.”  -Howard Schultz Onward

One of the greatest struggles of any organization is where its emphasis is placed…what’s the main thing of their main thing?  Are they focused on the right thing?  The main thing?  Or do they find themselves caught up in the bottom-line?

Unfortunately, what we find is that most organizations have misplaced that main thing…their main thing is often the wrong thing.

Which is why they find that their success is often short-lived and fleeting.  Organizations that are bottom-line focused cannot sustain lasting success…

Why?

When any organization is “me” and “inward” focused they miss the entire point of their existence…connection.  The goal of any organization should not be to only “gain” but to “add”.

It is only when an organization understands that adding value to the lives of others is their main thing…that they begin to create real connection.  People don’t remain loyal and connected to a bottom-line…they remain  loyal and connected to those organizations that “give” and add “value”.  From education to selling coffee…there is no difference.

Howard Schultz gives a great example of this in his book Onward

“I always believe Starbucks is at its best when we are creating enduring relationships and personal connections.  It’s the essence of our brand, but not simple to achieve.  Many layers go into eliciting such an emotional response.  Starbucks is intensely personal.”

Whether Howard Schultz or Simon Sinek…each understand that organizations that stand the test of time have moved past the “what” they provide to the “why” they exist.  Organizations that flourish have been able to understand this dynamic and move from a bottom-line “inward” focus to a more connected, relationship-based way of existing.  They understand that real “gain”, long-lasting “gain” is in their humanness.

And that’s the real bottom-line…

“Starbucks coffee is exceptional, but emotional connection is our true value connection.”  -Howard Schultz Onward

The Cult Of Personality

When leadership becomes a cult of personality…the culture finds itself revolving around a leader…rather than around a greater goal, mission, a greater good.

There has been a long history in our world of chasing after charismatic leaders…those bigger than life figures that command our presence.  Leaders that exude confidence and strength wherever they go and in whatever they do.  They are special lot…few and far between.  Which is why they often catch our fancy.

We are drawn to them…even more than we want to be.  They have a certain magnetism or allure that we find ourselves captivated by…be that their charm, wit, intelligence…or even physical appeal.  We want to be near them.  We want to bask in their glow.  We find ourselves fascinated and enchanted by them.

Which becomes a problem…as we find ourselves drawn more to the leader and who they are, than by any purpose or vision they are trying to attain.  Their leadership ultimately becomes an organizational cult of personality…as they become the center, the core of the community.  Which is why some organizations plummet and fall into disarray when these leaders leave…for the core of the organization has placed its value on a personality over a vision.  And unfortunately, many charismatic leaders revel in this…believing it shows just how vital and important they are to the ongoing success of the organization.

Which is why history has shown us is that the most charismatic leaders are not always the best leaders…

Very often, in the same way we are drawn to these charismatic leaders…they are often drawn us, to the attention and accolades that we drape upon them.  They become addicted to the spotlight and all of the plaudits, acclaim and acclamation that comes with center stage.

And the more this cycle continues…the more these leaders will ingrain the belief that it is their leadership that is the cause of success.  And people will continue to follow them and be attracted to their leadership…even though they often leave their people and the organizations they lead diminished… languishing in the aftermath of their exit.

And yet, we will hire them again…we will continue to be lured in by their charisma, their appeal…only to find that they have subtly wreaked the same havoc across another organization.  Which is why…

Great leaders, whether charismatic or not, understand that the goals and vision of the organization are bigger than them…bigger than their leadership.  They don’t look for approval and accolades…they look to create more leaders and a culture that is self-sustaining. A culture that is so focused on the vision that it will survive just as well without them…as it does with them.

For great leaders understand that great leadership is truly grounded in the serving others selflessly…and much less about the serving of your self.

It is much less about a cult of personality…

Big Top Leadership

When your leadership is just a show…don’t be surprised when the circus breaks out under your organizational big top.

A sublime home-cooked meal, a beautifully hand-crafted piece of furniture, an exquisite work of art, or even a deeply moving piece of writing…

Each connects to us…in its own wonderful way.  Authentic and real.  

One of the things that we notice in life is when we come in contact with something…or someone that is truly authentic.  We can’t always put our finger on it, why we know it, but we know it.  We sense it, we feel it…we connect to that authenticity, we find ourselves drawn to it.

Not only are we drawn to it…we look for ways to be around it, connect to it, engage with it.  We are attracted to its “realness”…the raw sense of genuineness that flows from it, like a mighty gravitational pull drawing us into its orbit.

And in the same manner, we are very attuned when something…or someone lacks that same authenticity.

When that sense of “real” genuine honesty is missing…its noticeable.

Especially in leaders…

That same “gnawing, deep down” sense of authenticity that we recognize in the world around us…moves easily to the leaders we connect and interact with in our daily life.  We can’t see it necessarily, as much as we can sense it in them.  As if it emanates from the very depths of their soul.  You sense and feel that genuine sense of honesty…of authenticity.  And it draws you to them…

To their vision…to the work they are doing, to the goals they are trying to accomplish.  You want to be part of it because you know it is honest and real…it has value and depth.

Unfortunately there are just as many things in this world that lack authenticity…including leaders.

And when leaders lack authenticity, when they lack honesty and sincerity in what they do and what they say…their leadership becomes an act.  A show…

Leaders who lack authenticity are like the ringleader of their own organizational circus…constantly putting on a show for their constituents and their people.  Allowing their very leadership to serve as the stage to act out the role…and the better the act becomes the less “real” and authentic we find their leadership to be…

For lack of belief…the inauthentic leader often spends more time acting at getting others to believe in the work, than actually creating a vision that they believe in themselves. 

And while others in the organization will play along for awhile…most can see through the front and the facade…they see it for the smoke and mirrors that it really is.  Trust erodes and eventually dissipates across the organization.

When a leader lacks authenticity in what they are doing, in what they are saying, in the vision they are emoting…then the organization and those within lose faith.  They fail to invest…and much like the leader, begin to act at the vision.

Eventually the organization as a whole becomes a show…an organizational circus.  Everyone a performer under the big top.  Pomp and circumstance become top billing over any real goals to be accomplished.

And like any circus, we become it’s company of performers…waiting for our leadership ringmaster to give us the cue.  Leadership erodes into management…inherently void of any real depth.  Which eventually turns into chaos under the big top…as the lack of authenticity, in the leadership, in the vision, in what is trying to be accomplished deteriorates and all signs of trust are finally vanquished.

Which is why no circus or ringleader stays in any one town or city for more than a short while…

For once everyone has seen the show, there is not much else to see.

The Regifting Of Leadership

“From what we get, we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life.”  -Arthur Ashe

At one time or another, we have all been on one end or the other…either as the giver or the receiver.  The time when we choose to put that unwanted or unneeded present back into gift circulation.

The dreaded and embarrassing regifting…the present that cycles around and around, making the gifting rounds.  The gift that keeps on, and on, and on, giving…or getting.  Keeping your fingers crossed you can pass it on without being called out.

Whether a wedding, a birthday, or an even an anniversary party…regifting is the dirty underbelly of the present world.  And while we all have done it at one time or another…it is still a frowned upon in the world of good present etiquette.

And while regifting may find that it has settled itself into the lower echelons of the present world…it does have a place where it is encouraged, even exalted.

Leadership…

In all actuality, regifting is what all great leaders do.  For we all stand on the shoulders of giants…those who have gone before us.  Those who have blazed new trails, mentored, supported…and raised us up as leaders.  As there were those that went before them who did the same…raising up the leaders that raised us up.

Real, authentic leadership is founded in the idea of regifting…

In passing on to others what was passed on to you.  To regift the lessons that you were taught, as well as the lessons you have learned.  To pass on the gift of leadership to those coming behind you…as those that went before you passed on to you.

Regifting is the act of building leaders…of giving what you have for the benefit of others…for their growth and success.

Regifting is what great and giving leaders do…

For great and giving leaders not only ignite the flame…they prepare those around them to take hold and carry the torch.

Leadership isn’t just about pushing through closed doors…it’s about holding those same doors open for those coming through behind you…

The Social Media Learning Tree

It is not enough to have a strong trunk and roots…if we prune away the very branches that provide us the blossoms of growth and renewal…

Welcome one and all…for the doorway to the age of the learner has been unlocked and thrown wide open.   We’ve been given an all access pass, as well as keys to the store and all it has to offer.  And boy, is it busy and bustling…gaining more and more customers and offerings each and every day.  The only problem…many of us still fail to notice the open sign hanging from the front-door window.

In fact, many of us are so inundated under the weight of the information already bearing down us that we would hard pressed to see around the corner for the learning curve lying in front of us.  In fact, many leaders are working so hard to survive the deluge of information and initiatives standing before them, that they have neither the time, will nor energy to even entertain access…let alone invest in ongoing learning and growth.

Unfortunately, many of today’s leaders are being buried under this ever fluctuating and erratic information storm that is raining down upon them.

So much so, that many fail to ever engage in the necessary time, effort and steps required to increase their capacity and ongoing development as a leader.  In fact, much of our leadership learning ends up being a rickety fly-by in order to keep up with the increasing and current demands that already exist in our organization.  For many, it is all that they can do to keep from drowning in the data…

It is this limited time and energy that will requires today’s leaders to search out other options for keeping their learning and leadership relevant.  Leaders can no longer stay squarely focused on the initiatives and programs they have been tasked to implement…they must also be prepared to lead their organizations with forward-focused around the corner thinking.

With the advent of social media tools and platforms such as Twitter…leaders now have an open opportunity for access.  A twenty-four seven never ending scroll of learning…a digital plethora of professional development that sits at their fingertips, or often in their back pocket.  A learning and professional development platform and tool that can not only be accessed when time permits…but tailored to meet your own various learning needs.  Which I consider to be a social media learning tree…

This Social Media Learning Tree allows leaders to branch out beyond their current knowing-level to exponentially increase their capacity of and for learning…

In most organizations, leaders spend any available learning time focused on improving their craft as a professional…which I consider the roots and trunk of their professional learning tree.  Which is incredibly important and vital to improving their professional practice in leading their organization.  However, no tree has reached its full capacity, when it remains only as a trunk and roots.

For a tree to reach its full capacity…it needs to branch out and bloom and blossom…

Which is where social media and tools such as Twitter can provide expanded access that allows leaders to grow beyond just roots and trunk…to create the branches of our professional learning and development.  For leadership to grow and bloom…it needs to branch out, to constantly search out new ideas, practices and perspectives.

We now have the tools, the platform and the opportunity to differentiate our learning anywhere and at any time…to add those branches to the trunk and roots we have established.  We can actually create our own social media learning tree.

We can ultimately fashion and fine-tune our PLN to meet our individual learning needs…allowing us to engage in thinking and conversations that drive us beyond our current capacity and circumstances.  To engage in that “around the corner thinking” that not only enhances, but keeps our leadership relevant and fresh.

As an educator, I can not only learn from the top thought leaders in my own profession…such as consultants, principals, administrators, teachers… or even librarians.  Which I consider the trunk and roots of the learning tree.  However, the learning does not have to stop there…I can move beyond that learning to engage, collaborate and glean learnings from practitioners and thought leaders in a variety of other professions.  From design thinkers, to systems and organizational leadership gurus, to technology wizards and beyond.  The list is endless.  It becomes the branches to the trunk and roots of your learning tree.  It is where you expand your thinking.  It is where growth flourishes and blooms.

It is your Social Media Learning Tree…

The Culture Farmer

As leaders, we must plant the seeds of change long before the harvest…

Not too many years back, farming was a staple of the American way of life.  For some it served as an economic source of support…and for others it was an outright necessity for survival and their very existence.

Fast-forward to our current world and many would be hard pressed to remember the last time they saw or even passed by a farm.  Just as we would not be surprised to know that many of today’s children probably think that their food comes from a McDonald’s or a local supermarket.

And while farming does not hold it’s same indispensable position in our modern way of life that it once had…it does provide great lessons on how leaders can continue to grow and nourish the culture, ideas and creative thinking deemed necessary to keep their organizations moving forward.

In fact, today’s leaders can be seen as the idea and culture farmers that drive their organizations.  And as idea and culture farmers, those leaders must…

  • Till the land – Good farmers know that a good crops requires good soil…just as great leaders understand that if they are going to grow a strong culture, they need to create the right environment for that to occur.  The right soil does not just happen, it has to prepped, tilled, fertilized and made ready.  Especially, if the seeds they plant are going to have an adequate opportunity to grow and flourish.  And just like any good farmer, leaders have to roll up their sleeves and invest themselves in the prep work necessary to create that environment.
  • Plant the seeds – Good farmers understand that it is not just the soil, that it takes seeds to grow a crop.  And not all seeds will take or grow.  Just as great leaders realize that a readied environment is not enough…they have to continually plant the seeds of change.  And just like the farmer that knows all seeds won’t grow…great leaders acknowledge that not all ideas will take hold…or even survive.  Great leaders  understand the necessity of planting idea seeds throughout the organization and monitoring…to see where they take root, where they sprout, where they begin to grow.
  • Timing, finding the right cycle – It is not enough to have great soil if a farmer plants and harvests at the wrong time.  Either mistake will hurt any chance of having a strong crop.  In much the same way, a great leader understands when it is the right time to move forward with any change, initiative, idea, or project.  Lack of  timing will undercut the chances that those seeds of change will take hold and reach fruition.  Timing is of the essence for any initiative, innovation or idea take root and grow.
  • Nurture and nourish – It is never enough for any farmer to just plant seeds…they must tend to, nourish and protect those seeds.  In much the same way, a leader has to provide, nourish and protect their environment.  Creating a trusting and safe place where those they lead can learn and grow.  And just like the farmer, the leader has to pull any weeds and remove rocks that could eventually choke out and wither the growth of those seeds.  Farmers and leaders have to constantly tend their fields.
  • The harvest – Good farmers know when it is time to harvest their crops…too early and the harvest isn’t ripe…too late and they are overripe and ruined.  In much the same manner, a great leader knows when an idea or initiative is ripe and ready.  Too early and the people and culture are not accepting and ready to move forward…too late and the idea or initiative has passed it’s time and has lost it’s value.
  • To the table – Once a crop has harvested, it can serve as the food and life source for those that choose to partake in it’s nourishment.  In much the same way, when a leader harvests an idea or initiative at the right time…it gives life to the organization and the people within.  It provides the energy source to spur the organization forward.  It fuels growth and moementum.

In leadership, as in farming…some years will be better than others and some crops will reap bigger harvests than others.  It is an ongoing process…and a lot of work.  Just remember, whether planting a crop, sprouting an idea, or growing a culture…it takes time, hard work…and a wealth of nurturing, caring and love.