Whether you are the president of a company or the janitor, the moment you step from independence into interdependence in any capacity, you step into a leadership role. You are in a position of influencing other people. And the habit of effective interpersonal leadership is to develop a win-win mindset. Creating a community where win-win attitudes and behaviors is important work of leaders. So we need to focus on producing personal and organizational excellence by developing information and reward systems which reinforce the value of cooperation. We can develop this community by asking the question “What can we create together?” Remember, I now call the organizations, schools, or businesses we lead, the places we live, or even our families communities.
Unfortunately, most of us have been deeply scripted in the win-lose mentality since birth. Certainly there is a place for win-lose thinking in truly competitive and low-trust situations. But most of life is not a competition. We don’t have to live each day competing with our spouse, our children, our co-workers, our neighbors, and our friends. In Lesson #38, “Only One Winner,” in 52 Leadership Lessons: Timeless Stories For The Modern Leader, author John Parker Stewart points out we should “Replace internal competition with mutually beneficial and encouraging cooperation.” Most of life is an interdependent, not an independent, reality. Most results you want depend on cooperation between you and others. And the win-lose mentality is dysfunctional and detrimental to that cooperation and development of community. Community offers the promise of belonging and calls for us to acknowledge our interdependence.
The challenge for building a win-win community is this: While visions, plans, and committed top leadership are important, even essential, no clear vision, nor detailed plan, nor committed group leaders have the power to bring this image of the future into existence without the continued engagement and involvement of citizens. To do this I challenge you to as a leader help your community answer the question “What do we want to create together?”
When creating the ideal school community for meaningful teacher evaluation we must clearly define the expectations for effective teaching at our schools. We must also effectively communicate the criteria that will be used to evaluate teacher performance. Personally, I believe the most important aspect of teacher evaluation is to ensure professional growth for our teachers in order to move them toward being highly effective. Our school has become a part of the Indiana Teacher Appraisal and Support System (INTASS) and I love how Dr. Sandi Cole, Director of Center on Education and Lifelong Learning puts it: “Teacher evaluation must be something done for teachers, not to them.” This statement has become a core value of our work of overhauling our entire teacher evaluation process. The INTASS process rests on four basic elements of a quality evaluation plan: a) Clear, frequent, and transparent communication among a wide base of stakeholders; b) Professional practice measures that are mutually agreed upon by stakeholders; c) Multiple measures of student learning outcomes, and d) Fully aligned post-evaluation processes, including job-embedded professional growth and support for all educators.
Another crucial part of this process is the norming of evaluators. We have chosen to have a monthly retreat of our evaluation team to ensure that evaluators have an accurate and aligned perception of classroom practice and student growth. This norming process also guarantees assigned evaluation ratings that are accurate reflections of teacher effectiveness. During norming, evaluators align or “calibrate” their scoring so that every member of the team applies the rubric consistently across teachers, and of the team of evaluators scores consistently with one another (inter-rater reliability). Having similar scoring and uniform expectations of teacher effectiveness is critical if you want to make meaningful comparisons among teachers.
I have also found the norming to be a good time for our administrative staff to engage in professional development for the purpose supporting effective leading of learning. A healthy team culture—and ultimately the school’s performance—rely on the team’s ability to encourage individual improvement in constructive ways. Through our norming process, administrative team members are learning and practicing the skills and dispositions necessary to mentor, coach, and evaluate colleagues. Our norming process has enabled the team to practice a model of shared leadership. By having regular norming retreats, team members are able to refine their collaboration skills and dispositions to ensure the team’s ability to act according to its shared purpose of enabling and empowering all of our teachers to be highly effective.
At this past week’s norming retreat I was struck by the amount of learning and professional growth that also went on with the administrative team of evaluators. There were discussions of how to more effectively use technology, sharing of best practices witnessed such as for checking for mastery, and new ways of engaging students; just to name a few. We even discussed the use of Emojis for engaging students. I couldn’t help but draw my own Emoji (shared in the picture above) as I graphically facilitated the norming retreat. We also were able to identify areas where we need to provide professional development learning opportunities for our teachers. I believe my role as a leader is not necessarily to always be a better role model or to drive change; my role is to create structures and experiences that bring our community of staff members together to identify and solve their own issues and drive improvement. Holding these norming retreats has enabled this structure of experiences for our administrative staff.
This norming process has become an important piece of being able for our school community to answer the question of “What can we create together?” I believe we are creating a community of continual improvement and one where our teachers are valued as professionals and given the feedback and resources to be the very best. I am attaching images of our notes from our latest norming retreat so you can see what went on:
This past week I had the opportunity with Mike Fleisch to do a design sprint (what others would call a workshop) on our school’s Focused Leader Academy. During our design sprint we built models together of what a community would look like where there is a serious commitment to developing leaders. I told the design sprint participants that I now described what we were doing as community building, not culture building. Culture emerges from the past values we develop together. I would rather us live in the context of the world we live in now and, more importantly, how do we want the world to be. With this worldview in mind, we wanted the group think about what a community of people in a school could create together.
Daniel Goleman said “Executives who can effectively focus on others emerge as natural leaders regardless of organizational or social rank.” These leaders are the ones who find common ground, whose opinions carry the most weight, and with whom other people want to work.They emerge as natural leaders regardless of organizational or social rank. As leaders we need focus on others, which is the foundation of empathy and of an ability to build social relationships.
As a leader I believe it is important for me to be available to stakeholders so that I have the opportunity to meet others, engage in conversation, and share thoughts, ideas and concerns, and to build community and a sense of belonging. It has been my experience that those I serve have lots of wisdom, the ability to make connections, and to help come up with solutions.
Peter Block said “We will never eliminate our need for great leaders and people on the stage; we just cannot afford to put all our experience and future in their hands.” To be a transformative leader we must create communities (a community can be our organization, school, or business too) that produce deeper relatedness across boundaries. Additionally we need to create new conversations that focus on the gifts and capacities of others.
“Leaders are held to three tasks: to shift the context within which people gather, name the debate through powerful questions, and listen rather than advocate, defend, or provide answers.” ~ Peter Block
I have now begun to talk in terms of community instead of culture. We need to begin to think of all the contexts we operate within are communities. Community then grows out of the possibilities of those in our communities. It is those citizens that build our communities. I have learned that the culture is the set of shared values that emerges from the history of experience and the story that is produced out of that. It is the past that gives us our identity and corrals our behavior in order to preserve that identity. Context is the way we see the world. Peter Block taught us to see the world, not remember the world.
So, as we continue to improve the communities in which we live, work, and lead we need to continually ask the question “What can we create together?” This emerges from the social space we create when we are together.
By now, most of you know that the great rock band, Alter Bridge, has changed my life in the last year. The release of “Show Me A Leader” has rocked my world and the way I think about leadership. Click here to watch the video I made of “Show Me A Leader.” Here are some verses/phrases from the song that have really resonated with me:
- “Well they’re selling another messiah here tonight; But we’re all way too numb and divided; To buy it” – we should never put our leaders in a position of needing to be a messiah, or the chosen one. Nor, should we ever consider ourselves, as leaders, above others and in messiah status. According to my faith, there is only one of those and there will not be another.
- “Show me a leader that won’t compromise” – we cannot as leaders compromise our values.
- “Disillusioned and tired of waiting; For the one; Whose intentions are pure unpersuaded; We can trust” – we need to earn trust and make sure our intentions are always pure and unpersuaded by self interest and are for the good of the whole.
- “‘Cause a promise is never enough” – pretty self explanatory; don’t promise what you cannot deliver, period.
- “It’s getting harder to fight out here on our own” – Sun Tzu taught us the skillful leader subdues the enemy without any fighting. This means we need a leader that will help us have the conversations of what we can do to create the future. The communal possibility rotates on the question “What can we create together?” This emerges from the social space we create when we are together.
- “Show me a leader that knows what is right” – To do “the right thing” means to make a choice among possibilities in favor of something the collective wisdom of humanity knows to be the way to act. Great leaders must call upon a broad band of intuitive knowledge and use it to give guidance and direction. If a person comes to a position of power as a leader in an organization or in society without knowing how to do the right thing, then the people under his or her influence are in for a bad time. At worst they will find themselves plunged into brutal conflict with outside forces, or at best they will spend a lot of time and energy struggling with internal disharmony and damage control.
- “Show me a leader so hope can survive” – Great leaders often earn their credentials before they become successful. Often, it’s during the times of darkness and hardship that the greatest leaders are born. Hope is the ingredient to which failure knows no answer. And great leaders instill this belief to help the others around them. Hopes and dreams can become real. But often to do so they need life consistently breathed into them. To keep them alive until they are transmuted into reality. Great leaders do this by consistently communicating their beliefs to their followers in the form of visions. They take every opportunity they can – through being a role model, meetings, presentations and writing to describe their visions as crystal clear as possible.
- “We need a hero this time” – There are leaders, there are great leaders, and then there are heroic leaders. The best of the best put others before themselves. They sprint into danger. They pay dearly for their courage, and they often go years, if ever, without the recognition they deserve.
These bullets have become guides for me and benchmarks for some of my personal core values. Particularly this thought of not compromising. Click here to read my thoughts on compromise in “There Can Be No Compromise!”
Furthermore, the music video for “Show Me A Leader” is amazing. Click here to watch the video. In fact, I have now used it three times to lead discussions on leadership. Throughout, and at the beginning of this post are graphics done by Mike Fleisch of the sessions we have facilitated on this great song and video.
Great leaders know that leading change sometimes means they will have to fight for their vision and values. They can sometimes face strong resistance and criticism. At these moments they are fully aware that it is about being able to connect, and to convince others why this change is important. This means they invest energy and time in communication, in increasing mutual understanding, and in strengthening alignment. But they will not compromise their values and vision.
Two songs by Alter Bridge constantly cause me to think about compromise. In “Show Me A Leader” songwriters: Myles Kennedy, Brian Marshall, Mark Tremonti, Scott Phillips want a leader that won’t compromise. Additionally, in the song “Last of Our Kind” we hear the words: “There can be no compromise when you know it’s wrong ’cause in the end the sacrifice was worthless all along.” When compromising you give something up on both sides, you don’t create something together! A compromise is by definition leading to a suboptimal solution. Great leaders understand this, and are therefore reluctant to compromise.
I believe that compromise can easily blur our vision and core values, can create confusion, and therefore undermines the motivation of people. I realize, however, as leaders there are times when compromise is necessary. It is important to understand that no one knows everything. Great leaders listen to all sides, think about their own experience and then make decisions. Those decisions must based on a balance of knowledge and not compromise the leader’s core values. Sometimes the decisions don’t sound or look exactly like what the leader wanted. but they are the best for the organization as long as no core values have been compromised. So, when I hear, “Show me a leader that won’t compromise” I am reminded to never compromise my values.
Today is Thanksgiving – a joyous and festive kickoff to the holiday season. Many of us have a lot to be thankful for, including family and friends, and I’m especially thankful that I’m able to serve as a leader making significant strides in education. I also very thankful for all those I work with, serve, or have associations with. I am particularly thankful for all teachers who put in on the line every day for our sons and daughters. Please know that when I count my blessings I count you twice!
During this holiday season, take time to reflect on what you are thankful for. While we have many improvements to make in our educational community, and always will, we have many things to be thankful for.
Education options are more flexible than ever. Not too many years ago, proximity and zip code was a crucial part of education. If you didn’t live near a school, you were unlikely to have any access to it. The ability to have choices had made all the difference for huge numbers of our children and adults.
Today, we are more connected to k-12 and postsecondary education than ever before. There are evening classes, online options for both secondary and traditional college programs, and certificate programs for people who want to learn a specific set of skills or continue their professional growth.
As I reflect this morning on my education, both past and present, I am thankful that I was taught to think critically, solve problems creatively, analyze and be open to the world around us, and most importantly how to learn. I believe it is important for us to remember that it is during our education we learn our sense of community. Within a school setting, a child quickly learns the importance of teamwork and cooperation. A school requires a joint effort to be safe and clean. That’s when our children learn first-hand that everyone can make a difference and everyone’s efforts are important.
I am also thankful schools don’t just teach our children academic curriculum. Schools are also helping our children develop into respectful global citizens. It is at school that our children are presented with life lessons they may not have learned at home.providing our children with lessons in acceptance. Our children are learning that not everyone speaks the same language, wears the same types of clothes, or eats the same types of foods at lunches. And that’s all okay. Our children are learning to take time to truly understand others and embrace who they are.
While our education system certainly has room for improvement across multiple factors, I believe we need to be thankful for all the great things happening in education.
Lesson #21 entitled “It’s Only Two Degrees” in 52 Leadership Lessons: Timeless Stories For The Modern Leader by John Parker Stewart really drove home the fact that small errors can have big consequences. On the 28th of November 1979, Air New Zealand flight 901, crashed into Mt Erebus on Ross Island, Antarctica, instantly killing all 257 people on board. Antarctic overflights were a new and exciting breakthrough in airborne tourism. Interest in the Antarctic had been particularly strong in the scientific community since the late 1950s, but only a small number of privileged people had experienced the wonders of the icy south. At the heart of much of the eventual controversy surrounding the causes of the accident were changes made to the flight plan of TE901. The plan loaded into the aircraft’s flight management computer was not that on which the flight crew had been briefed 19 days earlier, but no one had told them. The flight plan was only two degrees different, but this two degrees made all the difference between crashing and not crashing. Because of the white snow covering all of the area, the 12,000 foot rise of the volcano was not noticed because of what is now called “sector whiteout.”
As leaders, we should foster environments adopting a strategy that is able to take on the challenge of avoiding negative error consequences and learning by fostering positive error consequences simultaneously or in alignment. Error prevention aims at avoiding negative error consequences by avoiding the error altogether, the error management approach focuses on error consequences directly. It aims at avoidance of negative error consequences and the promotion of positive error consequences by means of early error detection, quick and effective correction, error analysis, and long term learning from errors.
Edmondson (1996) posited that the open climate characterized by a willingness to report and discuss errors, allows learning from errors, and thereby can affect team performance positively. Edmondson (1996) further asserted that these teams had a better error climate, which allowed them to talk about errors, which in turn increased detection and correction. Generally, errors are discussed only when the consequences are high or even disastrous, I believe that errors with small consequences should also be taken as chances to learn. We must create an environment where our teams are encouraged to take responsibility for their errors. What kind of culture for dealing with errors are you developing in your organization?
Mark Twain once said that the secret of getting ahead is getting started. But it’s often hard to get started. Why? Because we know we could fail, and many times that fear hinders us from even starting. We don’t have to get things right the first time, however. We can allow ourself multiple iterations to succeed. It could take many iterations to succeed, so the sooner we start the better. Don’t wait until everything is perfect before you start. Iteration works because it gives you the permission to fail. You don’t have to succeed right away, so you won’t be afraid to start.
Iteration is also different than change. To me, change means a reset and starting over. Iteration means you are changing and creating in real-time as we go. Iteration gives an organization agility. This agility is valuable and an agile organization will not only suffer less when hit by unpredictable external shocks, but will also be able to exploit unforeseen opportunities. True iteration should also include teams working together to channel their creative genius.
In education we are immersed in a world that is constantly trying to create and recreate. I am such a believer in the power of iteration. It adds layers of meaning to what it really means to be an educational leader. It is becoming clear to me that the power of iteration transcends the concrete and physical: The power of iteration is a driving force of creating a culture of excellence.
Iteration is really somewhat of a repetition with tweeks as we create and recreate. Computers are often used to automate repetitive tasks. Repeating identical or similar tasks without making errors is something that computers do well and people do poorly. Repeated execution of a set of statements is called iteration. iteration, useful in slightly different circumstances. After an iteration, we should always ask: how can we make improvements next time? Find the lessons and apply them to your next iteration.
I strive to create an environment where innovation is welcome, mistakes are appreciated, and all are accepted and actively included. The power of iteration allows us to make something out of nothing, it allows us to make greatness out of challenge, and it allows us to build something we never thought we could build.
It means that instead of trying to be perfect the first time you do something, you simply aim to get better over time. You want your second try to be better than your first one, your third try to be better than your second one, and so on. We need to iterate quickly. The faster you iterate, the better. If it takes too much time between iterations, your progress will be too slow. So, do your next iteration as soon as possible.
The power of iteration can help you and your organization achieve your goals. Keep learning. Keep improving through iteration. You will eventually succeed.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book takes you on a journey of deep listening, trust building, and truly meaningful dialogue. The reader can’t help but reflect and develop improvement goals while learning to build a clear intention, plan when possible, and build rapport using OASIS conversations:
O = Observation
A = Awareness (of assumptions, emotions, and background)
S = Shift (to being open)
I = Importance
S = Solution
Every leader would do well to learn and use this framework. As an educational leader, the lessons of this book are instantly transferable to the context of working with principals, teachers, students, and families.
The learning from this book fits so well with some of my Harvard University learning on the Ladder of Inference. I have included a picture of the visual I have been using when discussing the ladder. You will note the similarities. Most importantly, from Chris Argyris’ model, are making sure we question our own assumptions and conclusions and seek contrary data in order to stay low on the ladder. Combine this with the model for OASIS Conversations and you have the makings of deep listening, meaningful conversations, and dialogue that can bring about incredible change.
I use the term, “Break the boulder up to move it” all the time when referring to big opportunities (what I also call challenges). We look at opportunities as one big boulder that just can’t be moved. Therefore I always remind everyone that if we can break it down into manageable sized rocks we can overcome the challenge or make the opportunity a success. As a farm kid I have moved my share of rocks and still do on our farm today. I know that if you do not get the rocks out of the way they can tear up farm machinery in seconds. Therefore it is always better to move rocks when they become obstacles than to go around them.
Continuing with the original metaphor, when we come across a rock blocking our path, there are two possible solutions to the problem. You can try to move the rock, which if small enough is the best solution. But, if the rock is massive (boulder sized), you can be clever and start breaking the rock into smaller, easier to move pieces. Our challenges as leaders are similar to this metaphor. It is smart to break these opportunities down into smaller pieces. This is done by using a varied set of view angles. The ideal process would be to break the challenge into six to twelve different questions or parts. These parts will help to tickle the imagination and trigger thoughts and ideas of those on your team for solving the larger issue. These smaller fragments are not meant to solve the whole issues that will in turn lead to a “boulder sized” solution.
“The best way out of a problem is through it.” ~ John Parker Stewart
My thoughts above were inspired while reading Lesson #20, “The Farmer and the Rock” in 52 Leadership Lessons: Timeless Stories For The Modern Leader by John Parker Stewart. This was the story of a farm family that for generations had been farming around a rock they thought was to big to move. Finally, one day the younger farmer got mad and hook the tractor and chain to the rock and it broke up and was easily moved. Do you as a leader plow around obstacles, or do you confront it and get it out of the way for good?