This is the final post of a four post series reflection on this past weekend’s retreat of our Focused Leader Academy (FLA). The first in the series was Feeding Leadership. Click here to read the second in the series, Leadership Breakfast Story. Yesterday, I posted the third in the series, Telling Your Leadership Story. If you read those posts you will realize what and incredible journey this past weekend was. To give a quick recap; we started Friday night by learning fro an Executive Chef how to tell a story with a meal. Then Saturday morning Mike Fleisch and I modeled this by cooking breakfast for the group and telling the story of our journey together. The highlight of the weekend, though, was when our FLA members were turned loose to plan, organize, and execute a breakfast to tell of their journey as teacher leaders and about the school. This was a total success and this post is about the reflection session of the FLA members afterward.
For this reflection we used a technique call the “Fish Bowl.” To do this, a circle of chairs is made in the number of participants minus the number of groups used to complete the activity. In this case here were three groups, so three chairs were placed in the middle (see picture in this post of setup). One person from each group then sits in the middle and are the only ones that can talk. If you have something to say after the original three have had a chance to speak, then you can get up and tap the person from your group and take their seat in the middle. This can go on for as long as someone has something to say. It is also a best practice to have prompts to help get the discussion going. Here are the prompts we used:The graphic recording of this session, included below, from Mike Fleisch does a great job of reflecting the richness of the discussion, but I wanted to point out a few of the highlights. One of the comments that really struck me and that I had not thought about was that the planning, organizing, and executing of the story through a meal was a great 360° evaluation. 360° feedback has been around for some time now. In case you haven’t gone through the process, here’s how it works. Your boss, your direct reports, and your peers give you feedback on what are your strengths and weaknesses (or “developmental needs” or “opportunities”). Therefore, you get feedback from everyone around you who knows you well — hence, you’re hearing it from 360° around you. When it’s done well, 360° programs allow all your team members to improve in key areas that might be limiting their upward career path or actually causing major conflict within a team.
This discussion was around the fact that they were all able to see their own personalities come out and the personalities of those on their team. Additionally, the ways in which each individual changed in conditions of shared urgency. One participant said, “I feel like I left out the organization step and rushed too much.” Another participant admitted to thinking, “If you all would just shut up, I will lead you!” There was a great deal of self reflection going on during this part of the discussion. I realized just how effective this activity was as a 360° tool – much better than a survey done by someone else in my opinion.
Another point that came out was when someone said, “Sometimes it is hard to think about giving up another Saturday, but I for sure do not want to miss these retreats.” Obviously, that was music to my ears, but it is an important concept that is worth mentioning. We should always have at the forefront of anything we plan the idea that we want to design it in such a way that no one will want to miss it. In other words a participant should feel as if there is too much great stuff going on and content being learned to miss. Here is the graphic recording of the rest of the discussion:As you can see this was a tremendous experience for all of our teacher leaders. I come away from each of these weekends inspired and rejuvenated. There is so much energy in these young leaders and we must continue to take the time to give them the development experiences they deserve. What experiences are you providing for your up and coming leaders?
After breakfast and the sharing session on the learning from our meal at Ulen Country Club it was time to explain why in addition to the normal fresh flowers, crayons, markers, fresh fruit, and butcher paper there was a $100 bill taped to the tables. I explained it was now their, FLA participants, turn to plan a meal in order to tell a story. My instructions were to prepare a meal that had an appetizer, main course, and dessert that told the story of their journey as a teacher leader and of our school. I gave these instructions at 9:30 am and told them the meal would be at 12 noon. I also told them to plan as if they would have some type of government official present to tell the story to. A few questions ensued, but for the most part they got started.
It was amazing to watch the process unfold. Different leadership styles emerged. Some went straight to doing, others to planning. Others began developing the story. Then about 30 minutes in they all began to check on each other. The appetizer and main course groups realized they were developing along the same story lines of “selling the steak and not the sizzle” and “under fire.” Quickly, they all all came to the conclusion to use a Mexican food theme and serve fajitas.
In normal form for me, I then added two last pieces to the design sprint. I told them they could get another $100 through a non competitive automatic grant (I called it the LWFS Grant – Leading With Food Stories Grant) if they wanted it. One group applied and received the grant, but in the end did not use it. This caused a great discussion about budgeting, having too much money, and being able to move the money where it was needed. My philosophy is to have as few buckets in a budget as possible. This way money can be used where it is needed the most to make strategy reality. Also, we talked about that with less buckets we eliminate the trap of people/departments spending money just because they have it. This was a great philosophical discussion and real world budget lesson for our teacher leaders and future school leaders.
The other new wrinkle I added was that there really would be a government official in attendance. I had arranged for our Indiana State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Dr. Jennifer McCormick, to be in attendance to have lunch with our teacher leaders and hear there journey told through food and a meal. My only regret was not having a camera ready or a video going when I told them, because it was truly an “Oh Shit!” moment. The look on their faces said, “Oh Shit, this is really happening. We have an hour and a half!” I laughed because their theme of “under fire” was coming true and very appropriate. We all know that leaders grow leaders. This why I have taken it as my personal charge to develop, grow, and improve our Focused Leader Academy. Remember my rules for learning: For accelerated leadership growth we must create an environment where our developing leaders experience fear, excitement, anxiety, and experimentation. This design sprint of preparing a meal to tell a story really did this. For rapid growth we must create real time, real work experiences of:
Additionally, I watched in amazement as one group proceeded to clean and make sure the convening space was just right. They went and got table clothes, bulletin board materials, and everything else needed to make our commons area perfect for the event. I was so impressed because I really hadn’t thought anything about that.
When asked why I was so calm, I told them I had total faith in them and the only piece I had to worry about was whether Dr. McCormick would show up on time, call in sick, or forget. I was not expecting any of those, but you never know. As I expected, Dr. McCormick showed up about 10 minutes prior to the start time for lunch. My part was done!
As for lunch…It was perfect! I am so proud of our FLA members. They planned the perfect lunch menu in buffet style. They had set up and decorated three tables for eating and visiting. The appetizer group went with Dr. McCormick first through the buffet line for appetizers and then had her sit with them and they explained the story they were telling with the appetizers. They then ate the appetizers and visited. Then it was the main course team’s turn to go through the buffet line with her for fajitas, tell their food story, and visit while eating at their table. Then, last but certainly not least, since they were serving Gigi’s Cupcakes and ice cream, the dessert team used the same format as the other teams. Again, and I know I am biased and sort of like the proud papa here, it was PERFECT!
For more details, a picture really is worth a thousand words. I am going to let the graphic recordings that Mike Fleisch did during the three courses of the meal fill in the details of the discussion. Here they are:
After the meal and great discussion we gave Dr. McCormick the opportunity to say a few words or reflect. She spoke of how great it was to learn about our school and our development program for teacher leaders. She spoke of how education goes both ways – in other words, is all about learning from each other. Dr. McCormick also invited our FLA members to get involved on her advisory committees. Finally, she left the group with three very important and inspiring points:
- Be nice!
- Work hard!
- Be amazing!
Here is Mike Fleisch’s graphic recording of her comments:
As you can see, this was quite the event. In my next blog post entitled Leadership Story Reflections, I will capture the group’s thoughts and emotions after the meal.
This is the second post in a series of four that tells the journey of our Focused Leader Academy (FLA) learning to tell a story with food. Click here to read the first post entitled Feeding Leadership.
We started the day yesterday with my good friend and Graphic Recorder, Mike Fleisch, and I telling a story of our six year journey working with teachers together by cooking breakfast. We had so much fun planning for this and wanted to model storytelling, like we had learned from … the night before. This was so much fun and really caused a lot of reflection on the part of Mike and I.
Most importantly, we noted the fact that we practiced our normal “Jazz Improvisation” when putting this breakfast together. I would say, let’s have this and Mike would say yes and I can bring this to top it off and make it really cool. Honestly, that’s how it works with us. We have become such great friends and convening partners that we can visualize what each other is doing and improvise the next part of the music, so to speak. That was an important part of this story for us to tell. What sets Mike and I apart from others who bring groups together for professional development is what sets jazz apart from other music – this cool thing called improvisation.
Jazz is certainly an art of the moment, but it is also an art in and of a particular history, and history flows out of every note played. Mike and I practice adaptive leadership, what I’ll call Jazz, of the moment and become artful in differentiating for the moment. Our form of leadership jazz is also rooted in life, it takes all that life has to offer and makes a rich amalgam with the history and context of the teacher leaders we serve in our Focused Leader Academy.
Here was our breakfast:
- Starbucks Coffee – coffee from a socially responsible company was important to Mike and I because we both want to be a part of social change and making the world a better place.
- Titus® Donuts – These are the official donut of FLA. We felt it was important to go ahead and make the staple and constant product available. An important thing for leaders to do, even when introducing new and exciting things.
- Mixed fruit cups – When Mike and I first met and started facilitating together, we both came with different talents, beliefs, and skills. Just like when you put different fruits together with different tastes, textures, and colors it makes something really amazing. And, Mike did his usually of adding the artistic touches of shaved lime and real whipped cream on top. Improve at its best!
- Then came an awesome cheese dish with toast that Mike made with Wisconsin Cheddar cheese since he is from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
- Eggs – We wanted to serve eggs because we wanted this to represent how great leaders differentiate and meet those they serve where they are. We represented this by preparing the eggs to order – over easy, over hard, sunny side up, scrambled, or the most complex order of the morning: one whole egg and three egg whites scrambled together.
- Goetta – First let me explain what Goetta is. Pronounced “get-uh”, the sausage-type patty is pretty synonymous with Cincinnati (where Mike lives), though its roots are steeped in the “Queen City’s” German heritage. Goetta employs steel-cut or pinhead oats to extend the amount of pork and beef scraps that are then blended with spices, formed into a log, sliced, and fried. We chose Goetta because each month I go spend a day with Mike and plan out our weekend retreats. He always has some new cultural thing for me to learn and we go to his favorite places. One time he took me to a great restaurant where I had Goetta for the first time. This is one of the discoveries that has remained closest to my heart. It proves how relationships and trying new things can change our lives and cause us to grow.
- Non-alcoholic Mimosa – Bottom-line it’s elegant and can be made with so many combinations. Think about it, you can really add in any of your favorite fruits – peaches, blueberries, kiwi – the possibilities are endless. Mike and I like trying new things, putting new models into play, and iterating. It was the perfect drink to top off our breakfast storytelling.
So, let me finish by talking about the very important leadership skill of storytelling again. Everybody talks about ‘storytelling’. It’s a leadership buzzword – I hate buzzwords. That’s why we are used ‘food stories’ as our through line this weekend. Storytelling is something we’re all meant to be doing (or think we do already) as leaders. But, do we actually know how to tell a story? How are stories structured? And what makes a story impactful? It is very important to learn storytelling skills that move those you lead to action, whoever they may be.
Here are three things Mike and I expected our teacher leaders to take away from our Leadership Breakfast Story:
1. Learn how to use stories to communicate complicated messages and data without jargon and without the dreaded ‘death by PowerPoint’. If you want me to become un-engaged, just pull up the PowerPoint. Note: technology is not allowed, except for Tweeting, at any of our FLA retreats.
2. Learn how to use stories to influence others, and persuade them in a human and authentic way.
3. Learn how stories make your messages more memorable and more likely to be passed on.
Just like I said in Leading With “Food Stories”, “Subconsciously, when you eat something, your brain is always comparing it to what you’ve had previously, the place you were eating it, and the people you were eating with. Think about it – our brain tries to find connections and similarity. Just like being able to tell stories is a very important leadership trait, the more powerful story behind the food, the more it evokes the memory, which in turn enhances the flavor. There is no doubt that flavor is inextricably linked with memory and emotion. They’re all processed by the same part of the brain,’ planning the food for a meal is an excellent way to learn and model storytelling.
What foods would you use to tell the story of your leadership journey?
Really this comes down to personal influence. What is the power of personal influence? Paul Hershey and Kenneth Blanchard, in their book Management of Organizational Behavior, describe it this way: “To the extent that followers respect, feel good about, and are committed to their leader, they will see their goals satisfied through the goals of their leader.” When there is internal motivation, close supervision is not required, and the leader is effective. This is the kind of leadership that makes teachers effective in their work. It also reduces tension and stress.
Unfortunately, we leaders can tend to be more concerned about tasks than people. We have board meetings to prepare for, committees to attend, agendas to develop, phone calls to make, paperwork to do, and a gazillion other things that are, just that – things to check off mob a checklist. I would argue we communicate a lack of trust when we refuse to delegate tasks and then give people the freedom to pursue the task in their own style. By encumbering ourselves with paper shuffling, we lose contact with people. By staying in direct personal contact with the development of those we lead, we are able to develop the technical and leadership skills of those we serve.
The cure to this is spending more time with your leaders, in my case: teacher leaders. Make no mistake, this takes time and some rearrangement of your ordinary schedule. But more than that, it requires an adjustment in thinking. Here are two ways to care for and feed your leaders:
- Committing to Leadership Development
- Make it a priority to give professional growth time to developing leaders
Two avenues I have found to do this effectively are task forces and our Focused Leader Academy (FLA). The goal for both is to have teacher leaders developing while actually serving in leadership roles and working on real leadership issues. I just received a message from a teacher leader, Cassidy Thomas, that I was deeply touched by and one sentence in the note really drove home the importance of this idea of training leaders while under fire and working on real school issues: “I truly feel that I have grown so much just as a person from the opportunities that you have provided me in just a little over a year. First experience toward the end of last school year where I got the phone call, will you be a BA… I felt…anxious, nervous, flattered, several emotions.” I have always said that for real professional learning to be happening there must be both excitement and some fear.
So, let’s talk a little about what we did this weekend at our FLA retreat (design sprint). By using the through line of telling leadership stories through food, our FLA participants first learned from Chef Nicholas Townsand and Bar Manager Patrick at Ulen Country Club Friday night on how to prepare a meal to tell a story. Nick and Patrick took us from a journey starting in the north and ending in the south. Stories were told between each course and a long discussion of the meal preparation with Nick and Patrick took place after the meal. Our participants learned so much from the experience. We did a debrief Saturday morning using the prompts from the evening before of:
- Know your team!
- Where are we going to put the money, where are we not going to put the money?
- If it was just price, I’d run an Applebee’s®
- Plan, Organize, Execute
- Other Thoughts
Here are pictures of the prompts with our FLA participants’ responses:
Then a great discussion ensued about lessons learned from Nick and Patrick. Here are the Mike Fleisch graphic recordings from this design sprint:
Then we started the day Saturday with my good friend and Graphic Recorder, Mike Fleisch, telling a story of our six year journey working with teachers together by cooking breakfast. I am going to do separate consecutive blog posts from the other parts of Saturday. Here are the titles and graphic (so you don’t think Mike’s skills are leaving him, you need to know I did the agenda graphic) of our agenda from Saturday:
Stories have always been shared over a good meal, but more and more chefs and artists alike are using the food itself to tell the story. I have become so immersed with this concept that I have planned a leadership retreat for this weekend starting tonight with food telling the story as the through line. Our Focused Leader Academy (FLA) participants will be learning from Chef Nicholas Townsand at Ulen Country Club tonight on how to prepare a meal to tell a story. I am super excited about this!
Then we will start the day tomorrow with my good friend and Graphic Recorder, Mike Fleisch, telling a story of our six year journey working with teachers together by cooking breakfast. I am not going to give the story away yet. You will have to wait for tomorrow’s post. Needless to say, we have quite the plan.
The narrative side of food really intrigues me. Subconsciously, when you eat something, your brain is always comparing it to what you’ve had previously, the place you were eating it, and the people you were eating with. Think about it – our brain tries to find connections and similarity. Just like being able to tell stories is a very important leadership trait, the more powerful story behind the food, the more it evokes the memory, which in turn enhances the flavor. There is no doubt that flavor is inextricably linked with memory and emotion. They’re all processed by the same part of the brain.
As a concept, “story food” is happy to pick and choose from any of these former trends, but with the intention of offering a non-verbal narrative through taste sensations. The challenge for the chef is to create tastes that manage to convey the message, while at the same time being pleasurable to consume. The best thing about “story food” is how accommodating it can be. Just as chefs tell a story with food, we as leaders need to be able to tell stories using our experience that inspire and guide those we lead.
On this President’s Day, 2017, I am reminded that there are those who believe people are now judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. I want to believe this too, but know that the question of race runs much deeper than this. Others would contest that racial identity still strongly influences many aspects of their lives in American society. The question that is still causing me pause is “How do we reconcile such opposing opinions?” Furthermore, I need to make sure that I constantly remember to consider that all students have tremendous potential and most, regardless of race, are school dependent, and underachievers. Additionally, I really believe that many of the staff I serve, again regardless of race, have huge potential and many times are underachievers. I have a strong belief that race does not cause achievement differences, but how we structure the education and the pedagogy we use for teaching.
The real problem is low quality instruction for classes of lower skilled, underachieving students. Differentiated teaching is very difficult and presents a challenge to mixed ability groupings. Equity for me means that we are making sure that every student has the same high quality instruction. It also means that I continue to learn and remove my own and the school’s as a system implicit biases to make sure we are not grouping students incorrectly and making sure we are meeting the student where he/she is. As a school leader I must remember the school as a workplace is the most important place for teacher training/learning/and induction.
When discussing equity in education I believe we must first address the difference between equality and equity. I believe the definitions set forth by the Center for Public Education (2016) do an adequate job of capturing what I believe and read: Equality in education is achieved when students are all treated the same and have access to similar resources. Equity is achieved when all students receive the resources they need so they graduate prepared for success after high school. It is very important to recognize that equality and equity are not the same thing. When dealing with issues of equity we need to use data driven decision making and transparency as keys to success. I also believe we need to shift school and district level foci to external benchmarks as points of comparison, instead of inter-group comparisons in the home community. One of the pieces of the Every Student Succeeds Act that I really value is the breaking out and analyzation of more sub-groups.
“One fundamental aim of our democracy is to provide an adequate education for every person. Our educational systems face a financial crisis. It is deplorable that in a Nation as rich as ours there are millions of children who do not have adequate schoolhouses or enough teachers for a good elementary or secondary education. If there are educational inadequacies in any State, the whole Nation suffers. The Federal Government has a responsibility for providing financial aid to meet this crisis.
In addition, we must make possible greater equality of opportunity to all our citizens for education. Only by so doing can we insure that our citizens will be capable of understanding and sharing the responsibilities of democracy.
The Government’s programs for health, education, and security are of such great importance to our democracy that we should now establish an executive department for their administration.” ~ President Harry S. Truman in his 1948 State of the Union message to Congress , Jan 7, 1948.
I do not believe we have gotten to where President Truman wanted us to be in terms of education. It is interesting to me we have researched, written and debated about for years the problems of race, poverty, and public education. These issues have been studied by academics and fueled by talk radio, television, and politicians which serves as a place for us as citizens to argue, debate, and complain about who is right or wrong and who needs to change. All of this has caused me think about the questions of race as related to education and see that what we now call problems are simply symptoms of something deeper.
What I believe we need to be asking is about a breakdown in our communities and education, not viewing as a problem. If we think of race as a problem then we will only be looking for symptoms. Instead we need to be thinking about what is possible and what can we create together. If we continue to look at education in the context of a set of problems to be solved, we may actually limit any chance of the future being different from the past. We need to be having the courageous conversations as a community to develop ways in which all school dependent children are provided the opportunities needed in a great education.
I believe that community health, educational achievement, local economic strength, and other measures of community well-being are dependent on the level of social capital that exists in a community. We need to create communities where citizens have the experience of being connected to those around them and knows that their safety and success are dependent on the success of all others. I believe as Peter Block does that “A shift in the thinking and actions of citizens is more vital than a shift in the thinking and action of institutions and formal leaders” (Block, 2009, p. 31). We need to continue to find ways to bring communities of people together to work for continuous improvement of our schools and the systems with which we evaluate those schools.
Block, Peter (2009-09-01). Community: The Structure of Belonging (p. 31). Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.
I really believe that the kind of man a young boy becomes, is dependent on what his father taught him during moments spent together. Keep in mind here, my post is only about the father/son relationship and time spent together. Time spent bonding with our children teaches him positive principles, instills honest values and virtues, and presents countless life lessons, or learned knowledge, along the way.
To do this, we must simply help our sons cultivate their own interests and encourage their wandering spirit. My son, Heath, and I had just such an outing yesterday. We attended the National Farm Machinery Show in Louisville, Kentucky. It’s the largest of its kind. 850 exhibitors covered 1.2 million square feet of floor space in the Kentucky Exposition Center as the National Farm Machinery show continues to be the largest indoor farm show in America.
For 52 years, the National Farm Machinery Show has offered the most complete selection of cutting-edge agricultural products, equipment and services available in the farming industry. I have been to the show for most of those 52 years of shows because my dad went to them all and always took me. Business professionals from around the world gain knowledge and hands-on access to various technological advancements needed for the upcoming farming season during the four-day show.We spent time looking at the newest precision equipment and discussed how that was responsible and important for being good stewards of our planet. We were amazed at the milking robots and barn cleaning robots. Heath wants one, by the way, but it ain’t happening because we are still teaching work ethic on our farm, too. We literally went through all 850 exhibits and it seems, had a conversation about each. I love the international aspect of the show. It gives Heath and I the opportunity to interact with agriculturalists from around the world. The ripples of this coming together will bring about positive social change in agriculture.
Above all, this father-son activity works well as a platform for instilling values and teaching lessons with my son. Sometimes, the message is subtle, but that’s often how a lasting impression is made.
What lasting impressions are you making?
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
By using the metaphor of the working end of a Kaleidoscope, this book teaches us about the core characters of value-unique service: enchantment, mercy, grace, trust, generosity, ease, truth, alliance, and passion. Just like the colorful glass pieces in the end of a Kaleidoscope, the core characters don’t change, but can be moved around to fit the needs and personal development of team members in order to deliver great service experience.
~Dr. Byron L. Ernest
We checked into the Lake Lure Inn. Built in 1927, the antique North Carolina hotel served as command central for the making of the movie Dirty Dancing. You now can stay in the Patrick Swayze Suite or the Jennifer Grey Suite. Furnished with exquisite period furniture and meticulous attention to detail, the surroundings make guests feel elevated, enchanted, and enriched. If the experience were an object it would be a kaleidoscope!
We had dinner in their Veranda Restaurant overlooking the lake, only a stone’s throw away from our table. The staff was all locals from the small mountain town. They reached way beyond their plain heritage in a noticeable effort to create a sense of elegance and worth. After seating us at our reserved table, the maitre d’ presented the menus and wine list, and then graciously said, “Hope ya’ll enjoy”––not a phrase you’d hear at a five-star restaurant in Boston or San Francisco. There was an earnest effort to take the experience much, much higher than you would get at Nettie’s Diner down the street where the wait staff simply performs their tasks.
The difference between the Lake Lure Inn and Nettie’s Diner came primarily from a deliberate attempt to not take the customer for granted. Someone decided that this classy hotel setting should come with an equally classy guest experience. Knowing they could not afford to import a Ritz-Carlton Hotel–trained wait staff, they entrusted their valuable reputation to young people recruited from the local Burgers and More. Then they trained them to not take the guest for granted but make their experience consistently and perpetually as elegant as the old hotel.
The next morning we were in too much of a hurry to wait for the hotel’s Sunday brunch, featuring eggs Florentine and fresh mountain trout. So, we stopped at Nettie’s for scrambled eggs, bacon, grits, and biscuits. The food was just as we expected—completely routine, plain vanilla, nothing out of the ordinary. As we looked at the Lake Lure Inn in the distance, we suddenly realized that, had we stopped at Nettie’s first when we came to town, the diner might not have seemed so plain vanilla. The Lake Lure Inn had altered our service expectations and Nettie’s would never be the same again—nor, would any other service provider for that matter.
Do all customers want every service experience be a Lake Lure Inn moment? Maybe not, but most customer definitely want something special. Give your customers a Lake Lure experience and watch them “check-in” with you again!
Chip R. Bell is a renowned keynote speaker and the author of several national best-selling books. His newest book is the just-released Kaleidoscope: Delivering Innovative Service That Sparkles. He can be reached at chipbell.com.