Byron's Babbles

Leadership Lessons From Super Bowl LII

IMG_1931How about this? Last night the underdog Philadelphia Eagles upset the defending champion New England Patriots, 41-33, to win their first Super Bowl ever. As is our family tradition, we went to our good friend’s home to watch and enjoy the Super Bowl. For this game I really did not have any dog in the fight, but found three things very interesting to reflect on during the game. First, it is such a credit to the Patriots to have been in the position of going for a record 6th Super Bowl title. Think about it, we say all the time it is tougher to stay at the top than to get there. So, kudos to the New England Patriots for that – staying at the top of the game. Secondly, the Philadelphia Eagles had to work from being the underdog. In fact they were the underdog in all post-season games. Not an easy thing to do. Finally, my third area for reflection, and maybe the most important story, is the bench-building work of the Philadelphia Eagles. In other words, to lose a franchise quarterback and have one ready to take over like, Nick Foles, is amazing.

Nick Foles is quite the story when you think about the fact that he was considering walking away from professional football as recently as this past off-season. Then he won the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player award after leading the Eagles past the New England Patriots, 41-33, in Super Bowl LII. There is no doubt that Carson Wentz was in control of the quarterback room prior to his injury, but it is also clear that the backup quarterbacks Nick Foles and Nate Sudfeld were paying attention and learning. Credit Carson Wentz with leading by example in the quarterback room so that when it became Foles’ responsibility to hold the clicker, run the video, dissect the plays and report his insights, Foles was ready.

Additionally, I saw it reported somewhere that John DeFilippo, the Eagles’ quarterback coach, asked Foles to study the offensive plays he liked and choose 25 he thought worked best for him. DeFilippo wanted Foles’ input on plays and the concepts, too. Think about this leadership move by DeFilippo to create an effective package of run-pass option plays that suited Foles’ strengths. Since getting the starting nod in the game at Los Angeles, the Eagles offense has continually morphed into one for Foles rather than for Wentz. I would argue you cannot do this having some intentionality about bench building as an organization. In fact, we see other NFL teams that have done this well; the Dallas Cowboys come to mind. We have also teams not do this well, our Indianapolis Colts this past season when losing Andrew Luck. I am amazed how some teams are able to lose a paramount player and just keep going without missing a beat and others really struggle.

Could it be that it starts in the team room with how the bench is being modeled to, how the bench is being interacted with, and ultimately how the game plan was tweaked, adjusted, and iterated to meet the strengths of the backup? I would argue that it does. Certainly some lessons to be learned here from some reflection on the Super Bowl. What have you been reflecting on since Super Bowl LII?

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“No, That’s Not The Problem” ~ Peter Drucker

IMG_1921Gem #5 entitled, “A Problem Well Defined Is A Problem Half Solved” (quote from Peter Drucker), in 52 Leadership Gems: Practical and Quick Insights For Leading Others by John Parker Stewart was about Peter Drucker’s insistence that problems be define by root causes, not symptoms. This really got me to thinking about how much we really do this. The point here is we spend a great deal of time dealing with symptoms of the problem as opposed to the actual problem. It is why I am such a believer in looking at outcomes. Sometimes our biggest problem is, we don’t know what the problems are.

img_1749Dr. Drucker also recommended against picking “Elephant Problems.” Elephant problems are ones that are just to big to address. In other words they would just cover too much to really get down to root cause problems. Therefore, elephant problems need to be broken down into smaller parts. I also like the discussion of not just using convenient data. Sometimes we just look at the data that either reinforces our own theories or hypothesis.

To really solve problems we need to first define the problem well and then get to the root cause. Only then can we begin to develop solutions that will be effective. What I have learned is that nearly everyone is usually clear on the task, but not clear on outcomes. Dr. Drucker was tough on those he worked with to continue to search for the real problem. He would continually say, “No, that’s not the problem.”

Failure To Communicate

IMG_1858We spent a lot of time today discussing communication in our Noble Education Initiative 3D Leadership Program kickoff for our South Carolina and North Carolina schools today. IMG_1857Then when I was reading Gem #4 entitled, “The Biggest Hurdle To Effective Communication Is The Assumption That It Has Taken Place” in, 52 Leadership Gems: Practical and Quick Insights For Leading Others by John Parker Stewart. The main point of this gem was to not assume that everyone in the loop has received and understood the message. I really believe it even goes further than this. We also must make sure we understand the Vantage Point of the person we are communicating to.

“Leaders must accept as a constant that when two or more minds attempt to communicate, they are coming from at least two different perspectives.” ~ John Parker Stewart

One of the models I like to teach about to leaders is the Vantage Point Model developed by MG Taylor. Basically, the model looks like a topographical map that takes you from task to philosophy or philosophy to task depending on how you look at it. The lesson here is, though, that it depends on your role as to which Vantage Point you are working from. If we can find a way to communicate and look at all change from all seven Vantage Points we are in a better place to have communicated effectively to all. Here are the Vantage Points:

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In reality we can never understand the philosophy of an organization or school, in my case, until you are immersed in the tasks that comprise its daily functions. Moreover, our daily tasks can blind people to culture and philosophy, or cause them to accept it too casually. I have found that if organizations can find commonality by using the Vantage Points as a guide it can be become a powerful pathway to effective communication. This model also serves as a guide to answering the “why?”.

Think about all the Vantage Points of those you serve in your next communications.

 

Reluctant Leader

IMG_1855Today when doing one of our newly developed Noble Education Initiative 3D Leadership Program trainings, I had a teacher say, “You know, I would call myself a reluctant leader.” This was in response to me saying that “Everyone is a leader.” And…I really believe it. Interestingly as I dug deeper into the teacher’s comment we realized it was not what you might think. It had nothing to do with being passionless or not wanting to step up to fully embrace his leadership role. Taking on a leadership role does not always come naturally. Lack of confidence, self-doubt, apprehension and fear of failure all hold many gifted people back. Or just simply having a leader who does not embrace developing others as leaders or empowering others in an intent-based leadership environment.

IMG_1857Many times individuals, maybe including this wonderful teacher, might have no pressing desire to be the one that directs and guides others (and would prefer to stay in the background) yet responsibility regularly falls in his lap. If so, he may be what is often called a reluctant leader. The reluctance does not reflect the individual’s desire or ability to be a leader. More than likely, this might be the very type of leader that would fit best into a situation because the reluctant leader is not seeking the opportunity for status or recognition.This type of leader simply wants to serve. I think this describes many teachers.

I really believe we often find this reluctance in teachers. I was that teacher for a long time, too. I just wanted to be a great teacher, period. Then I began to realize I could have a leadership influence in the school and had a principal at the time that embraced that. Out of this added responsibility came my passion as a teacher leader. We must leverage our teachers as leaders if we want to have our schools operating at maximum potential performance for our students. Teacher leaders assume a wide range of roles to support school and student success. Whether these roles are assigned formally or shared informally, they build the entire school’s capacity to improve. Because teachers can lead in a variety of ways, many teachers can serve as leaders among their peers. Teacher leaders are the most important untapped resource in many of our schools today.

Teachers have front-line knowledge of classroom issues and the culture of schools, and they understand the support needed to do their jobs well. Teachers’ contributions are critical to making education reform efforts succeed. When teachers participate in improving education, the changes are more likely to work. Without teacher leaders’ contributions, teachers often pretend to comply with the new expectations, but conduct business as usual once the classroom door is closed.

I loved the fact that at the end of our retreat today the same teacher that had called himself a reluctant leader was now saying, “I must embrace the role and opportunities that I have.” In fact, click here for this teacher’s reflection using his Mr. Potato Head model at the end of the day. It’s pretty powerful. If we can train and help all teachers to be all the teacher leader they can be, think of the great schools we will have.  It is our role, as leaders, in whatever the organization, to help our team members be ready to embrace their roles and responsibilities and give them the opportunities for professional and personal growth.

Creating Places of Innocence

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My Son, Heath, And I On a Dad and Lad Adventure

Yesterday in a meeting of North & South Carolina principals, the comment was made that we need to create places where innocence is fostered for our children. This really got me thinking about how we do this both with our own children and the students we serve in our schools. The notion of innocence refers to children’s simplicity, their lack of knowledge, and their purity not yet spoiled by mundane affairs. Such innocence is taken as the promise of a renewal of the world by the children. One of the most delightful things about children is their sense of innocence and wonder, yet helping them maintain that sense of wonder can be challenging in our sophisticated, hurried society.

This rapid and early gain of knowledge by our children is quite the paradox. We all know that knowledge is powerful, but when children learn the wrong things too early it can really be detrimental. Vast amounts of knowledge and information is readily available to our children, and we, as parents, want our children to have this knowledge because we believe it will help them grow and compete. However, this same knowledge can ruin their innocence.

Here are a few things I believe can help us in the creation of places of innocence:

Have fun. Build time into your schedule to allow for silliness, downtime, and play.

Leverage nature and the scenery around us. Children are instinctively attuned to the wonders of nature. We do not have to prompt students to enjoy playing in the mud, seeing the beauty of flowers, watching kittens play. I love the idea I heard one time of planting a family tree and then having family time at each season change to note changes in the tree. My family has a Pin Oak tree that my son brought home from school when he was in the 4th grade that we use for this. In fact, I blogged about this tree in Lesson Of A Pin Oak.

Reading together. This is so important and can even be done with high-school age students. For example, I have chosen to read the same books my son has to read for school. For example, I just read Tough As They Come by Travis Mills because my son was reading it for a class. Wow, what great conversations this spurred for he and I. All I can say is, “try it.”

Use technology wisely and discreetly. Children should not be burdened with information that is too adult in nature. They have neither the cognitive nor social-emotional skills to process this information.

Family events. Or, family events where the children bring a friend. We do a lot of family activities and my son and I do Dad and Lad events/trips. The beauty of these is that we control our own content.

This is way too complex an issue to solve with a blog post, but I believe we all need to be reflecting on creating places of innocence. Most importantly we need to be mindful of what our children are being exposed to and give them more age appropriate choices. If you have thoughts on this important and complicated issue, please comment/respond to this post.

Action Instead of Intention

photoGem #3 was titled “We Judge Ourselves By Our Intentions. Others Judge Us By Our Actions” in the great book I’m reading this year, 52 Leadership Gems: Practical and Quick Insights For Leading Others by John Parker Stewart. Interestingly, Harry S. Truman talked about this in his book, Where The Buck Stops: The Personal and Private Writings Of Harry S. Truman. He called some of our former Presidents “minor” because these Presidents had very good intentions, but no results. Amazingly, many of these Presidents would have considered their own legacy solid based on intentions. This really speaks to the idea of us, Ias leaders, judging ourselves on intentions and not actions. We all (or at least I do) judge our Presidents by what they did, not what they wanted to do.

Lets talk about this. Intentions are wishes or ideas that we mean to carry out. Conversely, an action is something that is done, completed, or performed. Unfortunately, or fortunately, there is a wide gap between thinking the thing and doing the thing. Commitment is what closes the gap between intention and action.

The challenge is that good intentions most generally get verbalized, or voiced publicly. Once intentions are voiced public, they become commitments. Then, if the intention does not turn into action/implementation, credibility is lost. Follow through must happen to increase leadership credibility. If we want to improve our leadership skills, we need to translate more intentions into actions. That’s why doing what we say we will do is especially critical for leaders.

Are your intentions outnumbering your actions?

The Tension Of Spinning The Plates

Gem #2 was titled “An Action Deferred Is A Tension Retained” in the great book, 52 Leadership Gems: Practical and Quick Insights For Leading Others by John Parker Stewart. I loved the metaphor he used for this gem of the circus act of spinning plates. In fact I used this same metaphor in my blog post My New Leadership Talent: Spinning Plates! The question really becomes paradoxical as to whether we should be spinning plates, or at the very least how many we should be spinning. The point of Stewart’s gem was that all of the tasks we have cause anxiety (tension) and we need to make sure and prioritize and not procrastinate.

“You are the willing and unwilling recipient of countless actions from work, home, school, and community. It can be overwhelming to process and complete all of these tasks, especially when you procrastinate or don’t prioritize. ~ John Parker Stewart

We all know how the plate spinning act works, right? The performer starts with one plate and once she gets it spinning, adds another, then another. At some point the performer has to back to the first plate and give it a spin to keep it going. Doesn’t this sound familiar in our day to day lives as leaders? The performance typically ends when one of two things happens – the performer runs out of plates, or he takes too much time adding a new plate to the rotation, and another plate slows down enough to wobble out of control and fall off the rod, crashing to the ground in a thousand pieces. Doesn’t this even sound more familiar?

A few things we need to remember. It’s much easier to start something than it is to keep it going. Therefore we need to think about what we start and can we and our team handle it. We have to achieve balance by spreading time across all the spinning plates. This means we need to think strategically about what we should be taking on. Then once started complete the task/project so that it does not become a wobbling plate and fall off the stick.

As a leader we must also keep our eye on all of the plates to avoid catastrophe. We don’t always need to be, and shouldn’t be, the one keeping all the plates spinning, but we do need to be watching to make sure the plates are still spinning. This is where I like to think about what do I have my hands “on” versus what do I have my hands “in”.

It’s a delicate balance, and I must tell you; I’m not very good at it at times. Each plate must spin fast enough but not too fast, and you have to pay enough attention to all but not too much to any particular one. So therefore we must continue to improve our ability to prioritize, enable others, and not procrastinate. How are you at spinning plates?

Share The Success

I hope we all realize the way to get things done is not to mind who gets the credit for doing them. In fact, I recently blogged about this in Learning To Appreciate All Who Contribute To The Success while writing about one of my heroes, President Harry S. Truman. This again came up during a Principals training this past week and then again today when I started reading the great book, 52 Leadership Gems: Practical and Quick Insights For Leading Others by John Parker Stewart. I love his books and love the fact it is written with 52 lessons. I am reading one per week and most times these will prompt blog posts like this one. Last year I read, 52 Leadership Lessons: Timeless Stories For The Modern Leader another great book by John Parker Stewart. This book was truly 52 lessons that made me think about my own leadership and how to practice continuous improvement and honing of those skills. This is a book that prompted reflection and thought on my own leadership style and that style’s impact on those I lead.

The first lesson in the book was entitled: “It’s amazing what can be accomplished if you don’t care who gets the credit.” In this chapter, Stewart talked about how the need for personal recognition can become a stumbling block for a team’s success. Let’s face it, we are most fulfilled when we forget ourselves and focus on others.

“Victory is much more meaningful when it comes not from one person, but from the joint achievements of many. The euphoria is lasting when all participants lead with their hearts, winning not just for themselves but for one another.” ~ Howard Schultz

Here are some steps to sharing success:

  1. Listen
  2. Establish a clear and shared vision
  3. Lose your ego
  4. Share the workload (who is doing what?)
  5. Show appreciation to your colleagues
  6. Trust your teammates
  7. Strategize together
  8. Mentor your team
  9. Nurture your team
  10. Champion and cheerlead your team

Great leaders are able to lead from the back, empowering and motivating their team, which in turn leads to outstanding individual performances, loyalty and hard work. Are you sharing the success?

Drumming Up Relationships

As a teacher my personal mission statement was, “I strive to use rigor, relevance and relationships to be a steward of high student achievement.” This past weekend I was reminded just how important this really is. My son, Heath, and I took a Dad & Lad trip to New Orleans to watch Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints beat the Carolina Panthers in the first round of the NFL Playoffs.

During our exploring in the French Quarter we came across some boys playing the drums (five gallon buckets) for tips. For those who know me, it won’t surprise you that I decided to ask them if I could sit down and play the drums with them and get to know them. During my reading of The World That Made New Orleans: From Spanish Silver To Congo Square by Ned Sublette I learned that drum playing is a major part of New Orleans history and culture. In fact a drum according to New Orleans culture is anything that can create sound that carries. Well, as a farm kid I have been using five gallon buckets all my life.

The boys and I negotiated an appropriate tip to let me join in for a few minutes. It was awesome! We had a great time and I learned a lot from visiting with them. Click here to watch a video of my experience: https://youtu.be/5ly3v3YvuE4

I learned each one of the boys is his own independent contractor, so I needed to tip each one individually. They came together, however to make better music together as a trio than each could make alone. Additionally, I learned that part of the money earned was used for family needs (food, et cetera) and part for a savings account. Wow, I was impressed – these boys were contributing to caring for family and learning entrepreneurial skills.

“A child’s play is not simply a reproduction of what he has experienced, but a CREATIVE REWORKING of the impressions he has acquired.”~Vygotsky

We also talked about the fact that I had been a teacher. One of the boys said, “You’re pretty cool, I’ve never had a teacher like you that would come out and sit down and drum with me.” This statement really had a huge impact on me. In reflection, I thought about just how important it is that every student deserves having someone pull up a bucket and get shoulder to shoulder with him and learn about him. In fact, I tweeted the following: “Hey @drewbrees! I understand why you love @VisitNewOrleans! I love these kids. As a former principal of an urban turnaround school I understand you have to sit shoulder to shoulder w/the kids and love them and participate with them building relationships. Go @Saints #WhoDatNation.” Bottom line: We need to be right alongside children playing and reworking with them!

As we were walking away my son commented, “Dad, that is why your students love you, because you want to get to know them and know what makes them tick.” So glad I was able to model that for him. No matter what we do, teaching or leadership – Relationships Matter!

Truly pulling up next to students and building relationships posits that teachers who have knowledge about their students will be better able to teach them. Teaching through relationships is more than that, however. Ultimately, it describes the complex social environment in which students and teachers converse, share experiences, and participate in activities that, together, make for engaged learning. Relationship building means getting to know our students’ learning styles and each students’ knowledge, abilities, and potential. Most importantly, it also means getting to know their interests, personality, and background. For me, just like sitting shoulder to shoulder with the boys playing the drums, this body of knowledge opens up the possibilities of growth and dramatic learning opportunities.

The framework for the research that led to the writing of my book, The Hand In The Back Of The Room came from Vygotski. Vygotsky’s theory promoted a learning environment consisting of contexts where the student plays an active role in the learning. Vygotsky believed there were cognitive connections between students and the sociocultural context in which they live through shared experiences. According to Vygotsky, there should be collaboration between the teacher and student, which in turn would facilitate the construction of meaning for the students. According to Vygotsky, the roles of teacher and student need to be shifted, as teacher collaborates more with his or her students, meaning construction is facilitated for the student. Learning therefore becomes a reciprocal experience for the students and teacher.

Relationships are the cornerstone for student learning.

Educator Reflections On This NCLB Anniversary Day

It all started in 1965 when President Lyndon B. Johnson, as part of The Great Society program, created The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). ESEA created a clear role for the federal government in K-12 policy, offering more than $1 billion a year in aid under its first statutory section, known as Title I, to districts to help cover the cost of educating disadvantaged students. At the bill signing in Johnson City Texas, President Johnson said, “As a son of a tenant farmer, I know that education is the only valid passport from poverty.” Then on January 8, 2002 President George W. Bush signed into law No Child Left Behind (NCLB). This bill was born out of concern that the American education system was not competitive­­ in a global economy.

NCLB increased the federal role in holding schools responsible for the academic progress of all students. Even though over the years there has been controversy over the effects of NCLB, I believe it is important to note the desire of progress for all students. As a believer that all students can learn and all students deserve a great school regardless of zip code, I would argue that NCLB helped us make strides in the right direction. It put a special focus on ensuring that states and schools improved the performance of certain groups of students, such as English-language learners, students in special education, and poor and minority children, whose achievement, on average, trailed their peers. NCLB really creates the environment for focusing on eliminating the achievement gap. NCLB put us on the trajectory to begin to focus on student outcomes instead of inputs or outputs. These outcomes enable us to tell the stories about our students, about who they are, what they want, and what they are achieving.

As a teacher during the passage and majority of the tenure of NCLB I appreciated the critical view of teaching and requirement of “highly qualified” teachers. I believe this was a precursor to teaching being a more highly regarded profession and teachers being treated like professionals. We still have a long way to go, but with ESSA we now have the opportunity to further the development of teacher leaders to build more capacity for distributed leadership. On this anniversary of NCLB we need to celebrate advancement of disaggregating data and recognizing areas for improvement and our continued commitment, as a country, to address long-standing gaps and ensure students are well-prepared for their post-secondary endeavors.