Let me tell you, I was mezmarrized by her comments. In her many meaningful phrases she made one that hit me like a ton of bricks. She said, “If you want others to tell you the truth, you need to tell them the truth.” Think about that. What wold the world be like if we all put this in practice.
Powerful leadership is needed in America today and the world to deal effectively with a broad range of challenges. History, however, is full of examples of leaders that lacked character to sustain trust and credibility with the public. Good character and integrity, basically telling the truth, are the solid foundation of great leadership. Failure of leadership today is not the absence of competence or skills, but simply sustaining credibility and integrity with people. Character is a rare commodity now adays. Our culture has produced few enduring leaders, few people with leadership integrity.
Great leaders must demonstrate the right virtues to lead effectively. Nicolle said, “we must all take responsibility for our power.” We must demonstrate honesty, humility, authenticity, credibility, courage and accountability. Thanks Nicolle for reminding me that the most important leadership virtue is integrity.
It all started a couple of weeks ago with a comment made during the Friday night dinner of our Focused Leader Academy (FLA) when Executive Chef Nick Townsend of Ulen Country Club made the comment that we must lead like Mr Potato Head® in that we have to change and adapt just like the pieces of a Mr. Potato Head® toy. This really resonated with me and made me think about the difference between this adaptation and compromising core values. There is a difference – adaptive leadership is not about compromising core values, but about adapting to circumstances, thus enabling your core values.
Of course all FLA members knew the instant they heard the Mr. Potato Head® reference that it would become a through line for a future FLA leadership retreat – and, it did! Little did I know just how powerful this toy would be to our journey of leadership journey. I decided to use a toy through line for our retreat this weekend. We used Mr. Potato Head®, Play-Doh®, and Legos®. These were incredible examples to use for leadership reflection, training, and professional growth. As you know, I use a non-traditional form of agendas for the weekend and have attached the agenda that reflects the learning arc for the weekend as the featured image for this post.
- Legos – Relationships
- Slinky Dog – Vision
- Play Doh – Mentoring
- Yo-Yo – Creativity
- Mr. Potato Head – Communication
- Rubik’s Cube – Ethics
- Rocking Horse – Efficiency
- Lite Brite – Illuminate to Communicate
- Weebles – Endurance
- Green Army Men – Strategy
You will find in my next two posts that the leadership lessons are not limited to what are listed above. In fact there will be a list of graphically recorded lessons about Legos® and Mr. Potato Head® in my next two posts. People love following leaders whose hearts are fueled by passion. Interestingly, I believe that passion in leaders can be fueled by toys. Just think of the feelings and memories that are spurred when thinking of toys that you had in your toy box as a child. So, here is my challenge question: What was your favorite toy growing up and what leadership skills did you learn from it?
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:
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.
Drawing with pencil, pen, or brush on paper isn’t just for artists. For anyone who actively exercises the brain, doodling and drawing are ideal for making ideas tangible. In order to encourage doodling in meetings, retreats, and professional development events I put white butcher paper sheets on the tables, a box of crayons, and a small container of colored markers to use for doodling. Then there other details, like getting small flower vases and the flowers. These may seem like little things, but you have to understand that creating the perfect environment is crucial to convening great conversations.
Recall a time when you had a great conversation where real learning or new insight occurred—what enabled that to happen? In this way, participants have the opportunity to participate in an environment where the emotional context and framework support innovative thinking. If you can design the physical space, the social space, and the information space together to enhance collaborative learning, then that whole system turns into a learning system.
As a side note, many of our presidents, like the rest of us, doodle. Dwight Eisenhower drew images of tables, pencils, and nuclear weapons. A Herbert Hoover doodle provided the pattern for a line of rompers. Ronald Reagan dispensed cheery cartoons to aides. John F. Kennedy reportedly doodled the word poverty at the last cabinet meeting before his assassanation.
Are you encouraging your team to doodle?
When planning big events, retreats, or task force meetings flowers should always be on the table. Flowers are every table conversation’s must-have accessory. Flowers have a place as the focal point in the middle of the table. According to a study conducted by Harvard Medical School, the right blooms may offer the perfect pick-me-up for attendees who don’t consider themselves morning people. So when you’re putting together your plans for the workshop, professional development, task force setting, be sure to include bright blooms front and center — it could have a big impact on the outcome of your meeting.
Now when you think of putting flowers on tables you may think that it is a crazy idea and no one will really pay attention to the flowers in the meeting, but it has been proven that flowers can help the mood of the meeting and add a cheerful tone to any type of meeting. Just by adding flowers to your meeting tables can help you to make a long lasting impression on your clients and anyone else that might come to a conversation hosted by you.
For a team meeting, a floral arrangement put in the middle of the table can make the atmosphere more friendly and welcoming. Choose bright colors for the flowers and types of flowers that are cheerful, such as tulips. If the arrangement is to be placed in the middle of a meeting table, keep the height of the arrangement low enough that the participants can easily see each other around the table and conversation is not hindered by the flowers.
Conversational leadership is an art, not a science. Use your own creativity when setting up the room. In addition to flowers, I like to put butcher paper on the tables and provide crayons and markers for doodling, taking notes, and graphic recording. Be sure to encourage people to write, draw, or doodle on the tablecloths in the midst of their conversations. Often these tablecloth drawings will contain remarkable notes, and they help visual learners link ideas.
The flowers on the tables creates a special ambiance. They provide a focal point. Rigid positions seem to drop away as people listen together in order to discover creative connections. The flowers give everyone at the table something in common. At a task force meeting I hosted yesterday, I asked participants to comment during our +/^ session on the flowers. Everyone had actually thought about the flowers. Thoughts like, “I wonder when the Lilly’s will bloom,” to “I’m going to match my crayon color to the flowers,” to “Im glad the flowers are not blocking my view to the person on the other side.” Bottom line is they noticed and likened the flowers and they had served as a focal point. Flowers help us focus when you’re not talking and are listening together with others focused on the ideas in the middle of the table.
I believe flowers help us focus on opportunity and fuel energy. What do your tables look like?