Byron's Babbles

“Innovation Happens Between The Ears”

I heard a great phrase from a retired U.S. Air Force General today. He said, “Innovation happens between the ears.” This quote was in reference to the story of the young Lieutenant George S. Patton developing a plan for making newly invented tanks into an effective tools for war in World War I in 1917. Tanks had not been effective yet because no one had taken the time, nor had the creative genius to figure out how to use the big, slow, machines that got stuck easily. Thus, innovation is not about the gizmo (in this case a tank); innovation is about how the gizmo is used to change the world.

I believe that the tanks mentioned above were just inventions, or worthless gizmos, until Patton got ahold of them and used them to innovate. In doing a little studying I came across the work of Canadian historian Benoit Godin. Godin attributes the differentiation between inventions/creations and innovation to a 1939 definition offered by Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter. He defined invention as an act of intellectual creativity undertaken without any thought given to its possible economic import, while innovation happens when individuals figure out how to craft inventions into constructive changes in their organizations, personal lives, or to change the world. This is why some believe, while use of the word innovation is at an all time high, actual innovation is on the decline.

It has taken innovation to take many creations, inventions, and failures into complete successes. There is a very thin line between brilliant innovation and absolute failure, and there are many famous examples. Examples that include: penicillin, slinky, Wheaties, plastic, pacemakers, and my favorite, Post-It Notes. The creation of a weak glue when Spencer Silver of 3M was trying create a super strong glue in 1968 was revolutionary. It took till 1980, however for the first Post-Its to be distributed. It took a little while and another 3M employee, Art Fry, for Spencer’s mistake creation to become an innovation that has certainly changed our world. Let’s face it, Post-It notes are everywhere.

In the context of change, innovation does not happen for innovation’s sake, but to find more effective ways of doing things. How about you? Are you creating gizmos and procedures, or innovating to create social change and break the status quo?

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When Leaders Go Bad

This guest post originally appeared on the Giant Leap Consulting Blog.

When Leaders Go Bad

By Bill Treasurer

 

 

 

When you think of the word “leadership,” what comes up?

 

Most people view leadership as connoting the best of the best, the demonstration of high ideals, and living and acting with high integrity.

 

But as long as there have been leaders, there have been leaders who compromised their integrity.

 

In fact, the very first story ever put to the written word, The Epic of Gilgamesh, centers on immoral leadership. Gilgamesh, the king of Uruk, brings us the idea of droit de seigneur, or “lord’s right”, which is the right of the leader to exercise jus primae noctis – the king gets to deflower the community’s virgins on their wedding nights. Why? Because he could, that’s why.

 

It’s the behavioral latitude, the “because I can” freedom, that necessitates the joining of morality to leadership. Just because you can do things that non-leader’s can’t, doesn’t mean you should. But it is also the “because I can” freedom that cause some leaders to lead in a compromised and self-serving way. The unwritten understanding that leaders and followers share is that when you’re the one who set the rules, judge others’ performance, and doles out the rewards, you have more power and freedom than those who don’t get to do these things. Others serve at your pleasure and are accountable to you, not the other way around.

 

Leadership is massively important, particularly during times of intense challenge and change. But leadership is also massively seductive. Leaders are constantly being told how special they are. Think, for example, of the privileges that leaders are afforded that non-leaders don’t get. Leaders get bigger office spaces, more agenda airtime, better perks, more deference, and fatter salaries. They also get less flak when they show up late for meetings, interrupt people, or skirt around policies or processes that everyone else has to follow. Even the simple fact that there are far fewer leaders than followers illustrates their comparative specialness. The fact that not everyone gets to be a leader suggests that they are born of a different cloth, a cut above the rest of us mere mortals.

 

Followers, too, as the hands who build the pedestals that leaders sit on, contribute to, and often enable, the embellishment of the specialness of leadership. Every time followers bite their tongues, say “yes” when thinking “no”, mimic their leaders’ style, or capitulate to unethical directives, the specialness of leadership is reinforced. Very often, the more special followers treat leaders, the more leaders start to believe in their own specialness. It feels good to have one’s ego stroked by eager-to-please followers, and, before long, some leaders start surrounding themselves with suck-ups and sycophants just to keep the pampering going.

 

Given how special leaders are told they are, is it really surprising that some would be seduced into thinking that they are “better” than everyone else, that they deserve more of the spoils, or that they should be free to act with impunity?

 

Should it really catch our attention that some leaders are more concerned with the privileges that they can get by being a leader, instead of being grateful for the deep privilege it is to make a positive and lasting impact on people’s lives when you’re entrusted with leading them? Is it really shocking that some would succumb to thinking that they are the focal point of leadership and not the people that they’re charged with leading? There really isn’t anything surprising or shocking about it. Hubris is what you get when a leader becomes spoiled.

 

While all of the real-time costs of hubris are high, perhaps none is as costly as the sheer loss of potential for all the good that could have been done–and all the lives the leader could have positively impacted–had he not become so enamored with his own power. The most damaging impact these “leadership killers” have is on a leader’s potential legacy.

 

The primary job of a leader is to develop other leaders.

 

Above all, leadership is a tradition that is carried and passed from generation to generation. A leader’s legacy is built by nurturing and developing the talent and skills of the people who are doing the work on the leader’s behalf during his tenure.

 

At the core, a leader’s most important job is not to acquire more power, but to help empower others so they, too, can find their leadership and do some good in this world, thus extending the tradition of leadership. The potential to inspire new generations of leaders gets snuffed out when the “leadership killers,” including hubris, are calling all the shots.

 

THINK ABOUT: How are your actions today going to affect your legacy tomorrow? What will those whom you’ve led in the past will say about you long after you are gone?

 

About Bill Treasurer: 

Bill Treasurer is the founder of Giant Leap Consulting and author of five books on courage and leadership, including the international bestseller, Courage Goes to Work. His latest book The Leadership Killer is co-authored with CAPT John “Coach” Havlik, U.S. Navy SEAL (Retired).

 

Giant Leap has led over 1,000 leadership programs across the world for clients that include NASA, Saks Fifth Avenue, UBS Bank, and eBay. More at: CourageBuilding.com. 

We Must Listen For What Is Not Being Said

img_4774One of the things I love most about facilitating our Noble Education Initiative 3D Leadership gatherings is when participants say things that really make the group dig in and think. This is heuristic learning at its best. Last night one of our central Florida participants made the comment that as a leader she needs to “listen for what is not being said.” This caused a good discussion around the idea of why was something not being said or were the things not being said even known about to be said. That’s quite a mouthful, don’t you think?

So, how does one get better at paying attention to what is not being said? Good question, right?

Sometimes the challenge is on the end of the person or group communicating with us. If you think about it, we’ve all been in this situation, or at least I have. There are times when we just don’t have the knowledge, words, or correct vocabulary to express what we are thinking. Additionally, the other person does not have the emotional self awareness to convey what they are feeling to get their needs on the table for discussion. Furthermore, there are times when people are just afraid or uncomfortable to intimate their honest thoughts, opinions, and feelings.

We must, as leaders, listen for avoidance of topics, vague communication, or lack of knowledge. These are all cues that something may not be being said that should be. We can combat this by doing more listening than talking. Also, we need to listen to understand, not listen to respond with an answer. We should think more in terms of what is the right next question. Word clues are great to listen for. Finally, we need to pay attention to body language and other non-verbal cues that tell us the person or group we are convening with has more information that is not being told.

In our discussion, we decided there is to perfect equation for listening for what is not being said, but that we must be curious and listen for underlying issues or topics. We need to ask clarifying questions to make sure we we understand before moving on from a topic. Listen and clarify!

Get Some Sleep

The following is an excerpt from The 9 Dimensions of Conscious Success.

Get Some Sleep

By David Nielson

One time I was working with a company with change-management issues. I thought I was doing a solid job for the company until one of the senior executives approached me in the hall and said, “Listen, David, I only have a minute, but I needed to ask you a favor. I need your help convincing the senior leaders about the value of the work you are doing, the value of change management for the company, and why we are investing in it. I’m sorry I don’t have more time to discuss it, but I’m rushing off to a meeting right now. We can talk about it more later.”

She rushed off to her meeting before I could really respond, and I didn’t see her the rest of the day. A deadly seed of doubt had been planted within me. I went back to my hotel room that night deflated. I thought, They don’t think I’m doing a good job…that what I’m offering the company doesn’t have value. I knew better, but I took it personally. I was afraid my time with them was coming to an abrupt end.

The doubt triggered my insecurities, and because I had low self-awareness, I was not in touch with what was happening and what the potential impact was going to be. I tossed and turned all night, extremely stressed about what was going to happen— and what I could do about it.

The next morning, I had a presentation to give to a group. I knew the material backward and forward, and all of my materials were prepared. I was tired, stressed, and insecure and did not have the awareness to predict what would happen next.

I gave the presentation and received a lukewarm response. I was asked questions that I did not answer very well. I was totally off my game. In fact, one of my colleagues noticed and asked me what was wrong after the meeting. My low self-awareness had a negative impact, not only on my presentation but also on my purpose of delivering excellent material, content, and support to the company.

I had to clear the air, so I found the senior executive who had approached me. 

Listen, I need more clarification on what you need from me to help you relay the value of what I’m doing.”

“David, we all think you’re doing a fantastic job. We all can see the changes within the organization. The trouble I’m having is clearly articulating those changes to the rest of the team. I just need your help in the proper language and examples of your work.”

Oh! I had gone straight to the dark side. As my wife puts it, I had a “disaster fantasy.” Sometimes parents have these dark thoughts if they don’t see their child for a period of time and immediately go to thinking something terrible has happened to the child.

Having a strong self-awareness will filter out these disaster fantasies because we are more aware of our feelings, thoughts, and triggers. When we begin to feel something is amiss, with self-awareness we can begin to ask questions, seek clarification, and assume the best based on our skill sets and abilities.

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About David Nielson

David Nielson brings over four decades of corporate, Fortune 500, and private consulting experience in organizational change management, leadership development, and training. David has helped guide large-scale change initiatives and business strategy driven by ERP, mergers, restructuring, and the need for cultural change. He’s been a featured and frequent speaker at PMI, Project World, Chief Executive Network, Management Resources Association, TEC, IABC, Training Director’s Forum, and the Alliance of Organizational Systems Designers.


David has worked around the world delivering training and consulting Services. In all those years, those countries, those clients; David has observed, learned and collected great experiences and teaching points. David decided to work on a way to “give back.”  His latest book, The 9 Dimensions of Conscious Success helps readers identify their definition of purpose professionally and personally to achieve conscious success.

Reflections From My Son On Martin Luther King, Jr.

Quotations From Martin Luther King, Jr.

Last weekend my son was doing homework and asked if he could discuss his answers to an assignment with me. Of course I was a willing participant. It turned out to be a great discussion and chance for me to learn just how values driven and principled my son had become.

It was a great English class assignment where the students were given nine quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr. and asked to react with what he/she believed the meaning of the quote was or how to use the quote to make the world a better place. I thought it was a great assignment for reflection. I was so blown away by our discussion that I asked my son if I could share his answers on my blog. He said yes! So, on this day that we honor Martin Luther King, Jr., here are some quotes and some reaction from my son, Heath:

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

This shows how a person should stick to his or her core values and principles when in a time of challenge. This quote is as good today as back in his time.

“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

This explains how we need to get along and not fight within. We need to be united and not be separate.Because if we don’t, we will all go down as fools. This is also a good quote to relate to today in our current political environment.

“A man who won’t die for something is not fit to live.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

This just shows that we need to be willing to go all in on our thoughts and beliefs. As Patrick Henry said, “Give me liberty or give me death. The quote is saying they you need to be committed to what you believe in and be ready to die for it.

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

This shows that you have to be comfortable even when you aren’t comfortable. You have to be able to take a chance even though you don’t know how the end result will be.  

“Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man’s sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false, and the false with the true.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

We need to practice civilized disdain, where we understand each other’s differences and respect the different opinions of each other. This will allow us to work together and reach consensus.

“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Do your research to know what all sides believe in and knowing the details of the issue.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Even if we see an injustice of someone or something that doesn’t affect us personally we still need to be concerned and help those who are being hurt.

“I have a dream that one day…the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

He wanted all cultures and races to come together and understand each other and respect each other. 

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

It doesn’t matter where you come from or what zip code you live in we all are fellow human beings. He wanted people to not judged by the race or color but by how good of a person you are and their skills and talents.

Hopefully you’ll take some time to reflect like we did. Today, we honor Martin Luther King, Jr., the de facto spokesman of the Civil Rights Movement, for his key role in directing our nation closer to its goal of equality for all.

Unintended Consequences: Minimizing  the ‘Oops Factor’ in Decision Making

This guest post originally appeared on Forbes. 

Unintended Consequences: Minimizing 
the ‘Oops Factor’ in Decision Making

By Rodger Dean Duncan

“Unintended consequences” is the term for outcomes that are not the ones foreseen by a purposeful act.

When a manager consistently gives tough assignments to a worker who’s proven himself to be reliable, the go-to employee may begin to feel “penalized” by the additional load while the less reliable workers get a free ride. What was intended as a compliment and vote of confidence turns out to be an unwelcome burden.

In medicine, unintended consequences are called “side effects.” Have you listened carefully to television commercials for drugs? The list of side effects is often longer than the narrative promoting the medicine. Why would we be warned that a product purported to relieve a simple ailment may also produce paralysis, high blood pressure, thinning hair, skin rash, weight gain, blurred vision or even thoughts of suicide? Because the lawyers said so.

The old caution of “don’t operate heavy equipment while taking this medicine” seems to have morphed into “this pill will help your headache, but it also might kill you.” Caveat emptor indeed.

The fine print on an over-the-counter pain remedy I bought said it caused “irritability” in one in 10,000 users. It turns out that the first day I took one of those pills I was “irritable.” (I’m relying here on the assessment of an independent observer: my wife.) Irritable or not, I felt special. At that ratio there are fewer than 32,000 of us in the entire United States. We could rent Madison Square Garden and throw a party. The capacity of Madison Square Garden is only 18,200. But I’m confident a lot of us (at least those still taking the pain remedy) would be too grouchy to attend anyway.

I should be embarrassed to admit it, but sometimes I don’t bother reading the list of possible side effects. This behavior is risky, much the same as failing to read the terms and conditions on a contract before checking the box claiming to have read the terms and conditions. 

As Isaac Newton observed, “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” In business, as in the rest of life, most every action we take has the potential for consequences we didn’t anticipate. Some of those consequences may be serendipitous, like the “accidental” invention of the Post-It® Note by the guy at 3M Company who brewed up a batch of sticky-but-not-too-sticky adhesive. And some consequences are unpleasant, like a profit-based bonus system that inadvertently motivates people to trim spending on maintenance and safety issues.

Is there an absolutely foolproof way to make decisions? No. But there are some common sense guidelines that can help:

1. Decide what to decide. Many decisions can and should be delegated to others. Not only does that give them the practice, but it enables you to devote attention to those decisions that legitimately require your laser focus.
2. Be collaboratively independent. Confer with subject-matter experts, but avoid getting mired in decision-by-committee. Solicit the views of credible sources, but be prepared to own your own decision.
3. Avoid information bloat. Tom Hanks’ character in “You’ve Got Mail” said it well: “The whole purpose of places like Starbucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee. Short, tall, light, dark, caf, decaf, low-fat, non-fat, etc.” Information overload can lead to analysis paralysis, which can lead to fuzzy thinking, which can lead to faulty decisions. Keep it simple.
4. Define your desired outcome. As we learned in Alice in Wonderland, “if you don’t know where you’re going, any road’ll get you there.” To the extent possible, clarify what your desired result would “look like.” Establish a handful ofSMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound).
5. Beware getting stuck in the thick of thin things. Most of the hundreds of decisions and choices we make each day are relatively inconsequential—which dental floss to buy, or which salad dressing to order. Save your decision-making energy for the issues that really matter.
6. Don’t expect perfection. Gather the best information available. Weigh the pros and cons of your options. Then decide. You’re unlikely to have all the answers, or even all the questions. And you can’t anticipate every possible consequence. Just be ready to build your wings on the way down.

Again, most decisions come with no guarantees. But remember this uncomfortable reality: failing to make a decision is, in itself, a decision. With consequences.

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Rodger Dean Duncan is bestselling author of LeaderSHOP: Workplace, Career, and Life Advice From Today’s Top Thought Leaders. Early in his career he served as advisor to cabinet officers in two White House administrations and headed global communications at Campbell Soup Company. He has coached senior leaders in dozens of Fortune 500 companies.

 

Doing More With Less: Avoid Fake Work

Hey This guest post originally appeared on Forbes.

Doing More With Less: Avoid Fake Work

By Rodger Dean Duncan

In a question-and-answer session following a recent speech, I was asked the following question: “How should we respond when we’re constantly asked to do more with less?”

My answer might not have been particularly comforting, but it was honest: “The challenge to do more with less is industry agnostic,” I said. “Virtually everyone everywhere is being given that challenge. And I expect that will be an ongoing mantra far into the future.”

Judging by the expression on the questioner’s face, I suspect that wasn’t what he wanted to hear.

But I wasn’t finished. The good news, I told him, is that the “do more with less” challenge presents a golden opportunity for smart, proactive people.

Most anyone can do less with more. That’s a no-brainer. Doing more with less requires strategic sorting of priorities. It’s fairly common for business people to tell me that in their organizations “everything is a priority so, therefore, nothing is a real priority.” That’s the equivalent of saying you’re too busy driving to stop and get gas.

One of the most useful ways to sort priorities is to launch a relentless search for fake work.

Fake work is work that’s not explicitly aligned with the strategies and goals of the organization.

Now let’s be clear. Most fake work is not deliberate. Most fake work is perfectly well intended. People who engage in fake work—and that’s most of us at least some of the time, and some of us most of the time—just don’t notice that what they’re doing is not producing intended outcomes.

It’s not that people doing fake work aren’t busy. They’re often very busy. But they mistake activity for results. And working hard is not a barometer, because you can work very hard and still be building a road to nowhere.

You might be doing fake work because you were told to do it. You might be doing fake work because you’re rewarded for doing it.

Fake work thrives when needed results are not clearly and thoughtfully articulated. Fake work thrives when people don’t honestly challenge the value of their activity.

Companies often set expectations, write job descriptions, and review performance in ways that actually promote fake work. This means you can follow directions, complete your assignments, and even get promotions—while spending most of your time on fake work.

Here are some warning signs that people in your organization may be building a road to nowhere:

 People are unclear about company strategy and the things that are most important to accomplish
 The connection between strategy and work is fuzzy
 Hard work is failing to produce results that measurably matter
 Meetings lack clear purpose and seem to waste time
 Despite long distribution lists on emails, it’s unclear who really needs or uses the information
 Offsite meetings often provide distraction, not value
 Some projects suck up a lot of time and other resources, then die a slow death or are killed outright for lack of interest
 People do a lot of paperwork because, well, everyone does paperwork

Of course there are lots of other signs on the road to nowhere. You could make a list of your own.

Most people don’t want to do fake work. Most people want to feel that they’re making positive contributions to meaningful accomplishments.

Remember: Fake work can be invisible because it often masquerades as real work. (Real work is critical activity that explicitly aligns with key goals and strategies.) In this age of everyone trying to do more with less, it’s more important than ever to identify fake work, eliminate as much of it as we can, and replace it with real work.

Here are five quick tips for focusing on real work:

1. Be clear about strategy. Don’t mistake mission for strategy. Mission is about purpose. Strategy is the plan to accomplish the purpose. Make sure job descriptions explicitly focus on work that matters most.
2. Use meaningful metrics. A common cause of fake work is not knowing what results are required and when they should be achieved.
3. Beware the activity trap. Fake work prospers when people are uncertain about priorities. Don’t let busyness overwhelm emphasis. Again, focus on the work that matters most. For example, if a regularly-scheduled meeting fails to produce valuable results, remove it from the calendar.
4. Treat communication as a communal task. Check and double check to ensure that your message was received and understood. Seek feedback. Listen to it. Communication about work issues needs to be simple, clear, compelling, and often repetitive.
5. Understand the people around you. Some people have a knack for handing off projects just when the work gets hard and accountability is on the line. Others invent new projects to prop up their reputation. The key is to recognize how other people’s behavior can cause fake work, hen figure out how to avoid falling into the fake work traps they’re setting. Equally important—and possibly even more difficult—is assessing whether you are the one who’s creating fake work for others.

When you’re asked to do more with less, regard the challenge as an opportunity. Your strategic approach to priorities will set you apart from the complainers and establish a positive example.

That should come in really handy at promotion time.

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Rodger Dean Duncan is bestselling author of LeaderSHOP: Workplace, Career, and Life Advice FromToday’s Top Thought Leaders. Early in his career he served as advisor to cabinet officers in two White House administrations and headed global communications at Campbell Soup Company. He has coached senior leaders in dozens of Fortune 500 companies.

Leading Like Theodore Roosevelt

Yesterday day I had the opportunity of a lifetime while visiting the offices of our Vice President, Mike Pence. Our Vice President has offices in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (EEOB), which is located next to the West Wing of the White House. In addition the Vice President has an office in the West Wing, on the Senate side of the Capitol Building, and Vice President Pence has one on the House Of Representatives side in honor of his service in Congress.

When we were taken into the Vice President’s Ceremonial Office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building I was struck by an extra large desk at one end. Then we were told it was Theodore Roosevelt’s desk when he was Secretary Of The Navy and President Of The United States. The desk was no longer extra large, it was larger than life! I was standing next to the desk of one of my heroes, Teddy Roosevelt! You know, one of the guys on Mount Rushmore!

Of course, and this will be no surprise, I asked “Can I please sit at the desk?” The answer was, “Yes.” So, now I am sitting at the desk of Teddy Roosevelt and the many Vice Presidents who have signed the inside of the top drawer (see picture). Again, I am sitting at the desk of President Teddy Roosevelt! Then I look in the drawer and see the signature of Vice President Joe Biden, who also used this desk, and a leader who I greatly respect and had the opportunity to spend time with. What an experience! Thank you Vice President Pence for the opportunity!

This experience was yesterday and I still can’t get it out of my mind. I have been reflecting on why Theodore Roosevelt is such a hero. Theodore Roosevelt is recognized as a transformational leader. He defined numerous aspects of leadership that we now take for granted in the presidency as well as in private life. His inspirational vision about the economy, industry, environmental protection, and the National Parks system is still influencing our great country to this day. He had a remarkable ability to communicate his vision, not only through his well-crafted words, but even more through his indelible example. Roosevelt’s well-publicized, courageous exploits in Cuba in the brief but deadly Spanish-American War of 1898—the fateful days he viewed as the linchpin of his life—are perhaps the most apt symbol of his leadership. Roosevelt, mounted on horseback in front of his troops, showed the way—asking others to “come” rather than saying “go” in the words of his friend Henry Cabot Lodge—putting himself at risk, making himself accountable, giving more of himself than he would ask of others. I have always said that we must walk arm in arm with others, even pulling them along at times, instead of pushing!

“Reading is a disease with me.” ~ Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt was very curious and was continually learning. He was a voracious reader, but the book, the classroom, formal education, were far from the only venues for learning in his opinion. These forms of learning had produced many of what he called the “educated ineffectives.” Roosevelt believed in combining the life of ideas and the life of action. This was central to his project of self-creation as a leader. He was practicing project based, interdisciplinary learning.

As soon as any man has ceased to be able to learn, his usefulness as a teacher is at an end. When he himself can’t learn, he has reached the stage where other people can’t learn from him. ~ Theodore Roosevelt

Interesting this had been brought up in the great session at the ExcelinEd National Summit on Education Reform by Andreas Schleicher with what he described as “some things are caught not taught.” This is what work based learning and project based learning is all about. We must be immersed in a relevant learning environment.

Theodore Roosevelt believed that learning is an ongoing project of self-creation – personal professional growth. He offered his life as a template for anyone who would seek to re-create themselves.

It’s amazing what effect sitting at a desk can have. Who’s desk would you like to be sitting at?

A Focus on What Is Working

The following is an excerpt from Building Resilience with Appreciative Inquiry by Dr. Jeanie Cockell and Dr. Joan McArthur-Blair

A Focus on What Is Working

By Dr. Jeanie Cockell and Dr. Joan McArthur-Blair

In a problem-based world, it is very challenging to keep a leadership focus on what is working. We believe that focusing on what is working matters as a practice that builds appreciative resilience. Leaders are bombarded by problems every day. A focus on what is working pulls them out of that mindset of problem- and deficit-based thinking to begin to see what is right and what is good inside a team or an organization. Joan worked for a president who made this a practiced part of her leadership. She started every meeting with the question “What do we have to celebrate?” As Joan and other leaders in the room shifted their mind-set to uplift the stories worth celebrating, the entire feeling in the room shifted. The thinking shifted from “We have problems” to “Yes, we have problems needing to be solved, but we also are doing some things right.” 

This particular leader had several catastrophic events occur within the organization in a short period of time. Joan always noted that she started every conversation during those very difficult times with some version of celebrating the skills of the people handling those events.

Focusing on what is working inside a team or organization builds resilience for the individuals and the group by constantly reinforcing a drive to be excellent, not because of fear, but because their successes are celebrated. Celebrating what is working is like depositing resilience into an emotional bank account for later use. This bank account helps leaders deal with uncertainty, fear, and stress. In a crisis, a leader can tell others, verbally or through action, that their jobs, livelihood, and reputation are on the line, or they can share what is working well and uplift the drive of people to repair and rebuild.

It takes a conscious and mindful effort to focus on what is working. It takes the practice of pausing and thinking through the situation from multiple perspectives and asking powerful questions. This practice is easier in hopeful times, and we suggest that these are the times to begin the practice. If leaders practice a focus on what is working in hopeful times, they will find it much easier to do when a crisis arises. It is difficult to focus on what is working in times of despair, yet it is possible if one has practiced in times of hope. As leaders move through the element or state of despair, it is very difficult not to assign blame, seek justice, dole out retribution, or withdraw. In forgiveness, one must hold what is working close to one’s leadership heart, because a focus on what is working and forgiveness are linked together. Without leaders focusing on what is working or on what is possible, forgiveness cannot happen. 

Focusing on what is working well is a practice that trains leaders to seek out the appreciative stance and, in doing so, discover what can be built on and taken into the future.

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About the authors 

Dr. Jeanie Cockell and Dr. Joan McArthur-Blair, co-presidents of leadership consulting firm Cockell McArthur-Blair Consulting, are the co-authors of Building Resilience with Appreciative Inquiry. The veteran consultants’ latest book explores how leaders can use the practice of Appreciative Inquiry to weather the storms they’ll inevitably encounter and be resilient.

Forgiveness: Rising Again

The following is an excerpt from Building Resilience with Appreciative Inquiry by Dr. Jeanie Cockell and Dr. Joan McArthur-Blair

Forgiveness: Rising Again

By Dr. Jeanie Cockell and Dr. Joan McArthur-Blair

How do we put down the burden of nonforgiveness when carrying it seems so justified? There are so many experiences in organizations that seem unforgivable. People who are otherwise good betray others, become in one’s eyes untrustworthy or incompetent. In the larger world, there are acts that are perpetrated in hate and anger that seem undeserving of forgiveness.

When we first began the journey of exploring building resilience with appreciative inquiry, we wondered about what it is that opens the door to the possibility of returning to a state of hope, however transient that might be. We deeply understood that the practice of hope and a hopeful view offered the ability to find hope in the tiniest of places. In finding that hope and a hopeful view greater resilience could be created. We also recognized that tapping into strengths and capabilities in times of despair was a powerful sustaining force. 

As we read, thought, and worked with leaders, we began to recognize another element at play in resilience: forgiveness. It wasn’t something that just happened along the way. Leaders decided to enter into the state of forgiveness with grace and power so that they could move themselves and their organizations forward. In the appreciative resilience model, forgiveness is the most difficult element to practice, because in organizations, the thinking often is that people should be punished, removed, or banished. In forgiving self and others, a leader chooses to be in a state of acceptance of what is and begins to move forward from that place.

Forgiveness offers a place where dialogue can begin and change can take place. Practicing forgiveness is very challenging because of the sheer will it takes to enact. Forgiveness is a conscious act that requires one to examine one’s leadership and deeply forgive failures—others’ and one’s own. As one interviewee stated:

Forgiveness is one of the fundamental necessary things we need to have happen in our lives. I wish I had more. I wish forgiveness came easier to me. Forgiveness is very important. In any human system, you are going to have a problem with someone else. Somebody’s going to do something that offends you, or you misperceive and it is offensive to you; whatever it is, you see it as a slight or an attack, and if you hold on to that, you really can’t move forward in a human system together.

It is only through forgiveness that we literally have our minds changed and can see the possibilities before us. Forgiveness is a means of moving toward hope and sometimes of just living with what is unchangeable in our leadership lives. Forgiveness creates a space for leaders to let go of anger and hurt and look forward with realistic expectations.

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About the authors 

Dr. Jeanie Cockell and Dr. Joan McArthur-Blair, co-presidents of leadership consulting firm Cockell McArthur-Blair Consulting, are the co-authors of Building Resilience with Appreciative Inquiry. The veteran consultants’ latest book explores how leaders can use the practice of Appreciative Inquiry to weather the storms they’ll inevitably encounter and be resilient.