Yesterday (September 29, 2012) I had the honor of addressing the graduates of the Northwest Indiana Campus of the University of Phoenix on the beautiful campus of Valparaiso University in Valparaiso, Indiana as their keynote speaker. Earlier in the summer I addressed the University of Phoenix graduates of the Indianapolis campus with a speech I titled “It’s Not All About You!” When asked to serve as the keynote speaker again for another campus I asked what they wanted me to focus on. They told me to give the same speech I had in Indianapolis. I featured that speech in my blog on July 4th. To read the speech click here.
The University of Phoenix has an incredible graduation ceremony which features graduates reflecting on their experience with the university. I was moved by the student speakers yesterday. One, Sherri Green, told about how she had gotten tired of training individuals with degrees to take her jobs. She then told how she started her degree and then was in an accident and had to fight through a long rehabilitation to finish her associates degree. Throughout her speech she kept referring back to a question – “Am I Done?” Then she would say, “No!” She finished her speech with “Am I Done?” “No,” she continued, “I have now started my Bachelor’s Degree!” I was so moved because my speech of “It’s Not All About You!” could easily be retitled “Am I Done? No!” because I spent a great deal of time talking about a very important point – YOU MUST BE READY FOR WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW YOU NEED TO BE READY FOR!
This also goes right along with my new definition of a Lifelong Learner: Education continues an unfinished past into the future. Think about it; this applies to all of us. We all have an unfinished past. As James P. Carse put it in the tremendous book Finite and Infinite Games: A Vision of Life As Play and Possibility (Carse, 1986) one never reaches a horizon. It is not a line; it has no place; it encloses no field; its location is always relative to the view. One can therefore never be close to one’s horizon, though one may certainly have a short range of vision, a narrow horizon.
Those of us who live life as an infinite game see life as theatrical and never ending. We see our death happening while we are living. The finite see it happening at the end of life. “We are never somewhere in relation to the horizon since the horizon moves with our vision” (Carse, 1986). In other words, every move I make is toward the horizon not toward a boundary. As Carse (1986) put it: “Who lives horizontally is never somewhere, but always in passage.” I am hoping you are like me and what to live horizontally, because; I AM NOT DONE!
Carse, J. P. (1986). Finite and infinite games: A vision of life as play and possibility. New York, NY: The Free Press.
I just finished reading Walter Isaacson’s Einstein. Besides being a great read, I learned so much from reading this book. From an educator’s perspective I found it amazing that Einstein always believed that he had no special talent – he was just as he said, “passionately curious.” This points to the important fact that we have a tremendous obligation to help our students develop and find their curiosity. Einstein posited that the brain was wired and set up as it was, but we all have the ability to develop the mind.
It is important for us to develop and create minds that question. Individuals with intuition and imagination are crucial to our future. The locksmith of the atom and universe also realized that power without wisdom is deadly. The events of the time that Einstein lived was proof of this. Along with developing the free mind and curiosity we must have tolerance and humility. Einstein was a very humble man and we can all learn a lot from his example!
As most of you know I live on a farm. My son raises Jersey dairy cows so one of the jobs that periodically has to happen is fence maintenance. I got to thinking how true this is in leadership of organizations as well. There are basically four jobs my son and I were doing:
#1. Checking for areas that needed maintenance or repair.
#2. Tightening up loose wires (we have high tensile fence).
#3. Replacing fence staples that had popped out (the fence staples hold the high tensile wire to the posts).
#4. Cleaning out and spraying weeds around the fence.
If these four maintenance items are taken care of regularly a fence will remain strong and do it’s job. Let’s look at each of these actions individually and compare them to leadership in an organization.
Checking of Areas of Needed Maintenance/Repair
Marzano (2005) calls this situational awareness and has it as #2o on his list of 21 Responsibilities of a Leader. Situational awareness is knowledge of what is going on in the school (or organization), feelings and emotions, day to day activities. This will allow the leader to anticipate any issues, or be better prepared should a situation arise (Marzano, 2005). It is very important that we, as leaders, know what is going on in our organizations. We must be out checking the fences, so to speak, knowing what is going on. As I always say, “People by day, paperwork at night.”
Tightening Up Loose Wires
Our high Tensile fence makes use of eight wires (heavy gauge) that are tightened to give them strength. Loose wires encourage the animal to try to go through. Because I believe in the flattened hierarchy of the learning organization (Garvin, 2000) I really believe in a tight-loose approach to leadership. Successful organizations ensure every person, regardless of position, has a clear understanding of what the vision and mission is and the ability and the opportunity to achieve the goals and drive results. Movement toward a tight-loose culture, which is high on clarity and empowerment, enables all employees to lead from where they are and be effective ambassadors for their organization.
Replacing Fence Staples That Have Popped Out
This may mean at times we may need to bring new people in to replace employees that just aren’t getting it done or provide professional development to get individuals back on track. This goes back to my first point of being situationally aware of what is going on.
Removing the Weeds
This point is so important to leading an organization. Weed removal is analagous to leading in a complex organization. Just as the fence needs a clear pathway to realize it’s full potential, so do our team members. An ideal environment contains the correct mixture of diversity, climate, capability, and potential. The key is to cultivate them and diligently remove the competition (weeds) and through really understanding (situational awareness) their different needs, build lasting relationships.
Hopefully, these four points of fence mending and maintenance can help you do a better job of maintaining your organization!
Garvin, D. A. (2000). Learning in action: A guide to putting the learning organization to work. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.
Marzano, R. J. (2005). School leadership that works: From research to results. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.