Friday, December 28, 2012

Make your Leadership Resolution Succeed

Happy New Year!!! Did you make a New Year's resolution for your leadership? Did you know that after one month into 2013, 80% of New Year's resolutions will be abandoned. People will get caught up in battling the change within their new goal and will lose the resolve to succeed. If making promises to change ourselves has such a pitiful success rate, why even bother making them? 

Take weight loss, the most preferred resolution.  There is little doutbt on what it takes to succeed.  Eat less and exercise more.  If this recipe is so simple, why is it riddled with failure?  The answer is simple yet complex.  It requires a change within the psyche, but within the psyche, the person must scaffold his behavior with concrete thinking so that a return to previous behaviors is averted.

The same goes for leadership.  Leaders always want improvement for their organization, but many declarations for change fail.  Little by little, the work of the day erodes the hope for change until the leader completely forgets what he wanted to change in the first place.  If leaders hope to make their resolution stick, there has to be more to it than a wish.

A New Year's resolution needs 4 things to help it become permanent.

Why - The compelling reason that holds you accountable for reaching your goal.

Resolutions fail because the reason to make a change it is not very powerful.  Looking good is not a very compelling reason for a resolution to lose weight, primarily because the reason lacks depth and is superficial in nature.  A nobler reason to lose weight or become healthy is about saving and extending your life.  People will commit to making a change when it is a matter life or death long before before they will worry about the way they look.

If you want to be a better leader, then you must identify why change is imperative.  The most noble reason I can think of is because each school year, we affect 1/13 of a child's life.  Not their education, but their life.  What we do with each child's 1/13 is life or death for that child, and what we do or don't do this year for a child will affect the subsequent 1/13's of their life in the following years.  To make our resolution even more compelling, it is safe to say that what we do will affect their quality of life, their ability to have a stable or successful career, and ultimately the quality of their health. 

Is this a compelling reason to change?  Once you have a compelling reason to make change, you are ready to define the change that you want to make.

What - The Change to be Made

It takes very little effort to define the change that one would like to make.  It is little more than a declaration, but there is one caveat to this.  Once people announce the change that they plan to make, they stand a stronger likelihood of failure.  By simply making a declaration,  they have subconsciously convinced themselves that they have already achieved the goal.  If you plan to make a goal, you should have an accountability partner to help you reach the goal. 

In leadership, it is no different.  A change in your leadership requires you to be vulnerable.  You will have to be willing to take risks if you want success, and this is where communication can be your best ally.  Once you have identified your leadership resolution, communicate it to your staff and ask for their support and suggestions in reaching the goal.  You will be surprised how people will be willing to help you reach your new leadership resolution.

How - The detailed plan that will make the change happen.

Once the Why and the What of your resolution have been established, you are 25% there.  Now, you need a plan to help you reach your goal.  When I made a goal to lose weight, I purchased P90X.  It was a detailed plan of workouts and stringent diet plans to help me reach my goal.  It was a great plan, but without my commitment to action, my resolution was dead in the water.

To be a better leader, you must commit to studying, planning and acting on your new leadership change.  Select a book that is aligned with your change and study it closely.  Follow unique leaders on Twitter and converse with them.  Watch leadership videos on YouTube and TED.  Write a blog, and share it, or keep it private.  Whatever your plan is to study your change,  make a plan to implement what you have learned.  The best way to learn is to learn by doing.

When & Where - The time, frequency and place that you will work on making the change.

Resolutions, particularly weight loss, fail when the person fails to allocate time and a location to work on the goal.  If you want to lose weight, you must workout 3-4 times per week for an hour, and you must have a place to go.  In addition, you must commit to a regular frequency to workout.  Without this commitment to time, failure is imminent.

In your leadership change, find a time and place of quiet study each week.  Once you find the time, keep a regular schedule to study so you won't forget.  Set an alarm on your phone and don't allow anything to interfere.  Resolutions crumble because day to day interruptions lessen the frequency of your efforts to make change.

Here is the Reality. 

Whether or not we make a leadership resolution, kids and teachers will continue to show up.  They will continue to struggle or succeed, and they will need the most supportive learning environment to achieve.  What will their leaders do differently in 2013?  Einstein defines insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.  If we want to make a change in the lives of kids, we must make a change within ourselves first. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Breaking the Learning Limit

Speed limit signs are designed to keep us safe. They suggest an appropriate speed that keeps the flow of traffic efficient in an order fashion, and why not?  Maintaining order minimizes the risk for accidents and that's a good thing.

Driving is to a car like learning is to education, but there is a vast difference. Drivers and their speed must be regulated in a uniform manner to maintain order and keep everyone safe.  Traditional schools operate in a uniform fashion by regulating the amount of instruction that everyone receives and setting aside the same amount of time to learn each subject.  Some view education as the structure of one size fits all, but real learning doesn't work that way. Some learn at a rapid pace, while others are slower, more methodical learners. Then, there are the erratic learners.  

If students learn too slow, go too fast or run completely off the road in their learning, do we view that as a violation or as a great thing?  Learning doesn't have the risks of injury like driving does, but in education there are lots of learning limit signs in place.

Learning limit signs keep learners under control. They tell students the required conditions for learning content. Learning limit signs tell students the pace or amount of time that they have to learn. If you are a fast learner, slow down. If you are a slow learner, speed up. The flow of learning traffic must keep moving so organization is regulated. If your vehicle for learning has a flat tire (inability to learn a concept), you will need to get off of the road because learning traffic cannot be impeded.   Does this philosophy of learning guarantee learning?  Of course not!

Learning cannot be something that is controlled or uniform. Learning must be limitless and fluid. Students must have personalized learning opportunities that cater to their optimal speed of learning. Teachers must know in advance which students learn best at a slower pace while creating opportunities for students to learn at a faster pace.

Some students don't like to drive their learning on the traditional road of learning and need encouragement and opportunities to take their learning off-road.  Off-road learners like to explore unchartered territory because getting off the beaten path empowers authentic engagement.  Off-road learning doesn't necessarily fit into the traditional education model, but it must be acknowledged and embraced.

Learning is a limitless activity. It works best when the driver has freedom from  regulation for how best to reach their learning destination and at which speed is the best for the learner to get there.  

So what learning limit signs are in place in your school?  If you don't know, you haven't looked for them yet.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

3 Benefits of Disciplined Leadership

There are 2 schools of thought on disciplined leadership. The first has to do with the tradition of correction through punishment and consequences. Bosses and managers see this as their only method to generate results, and it usually generates fear, toxicity and hierarchical dependence. That is not the purpose of this post.

Transformational leaders believe in discipline but not for the same reason as bosses. These leaders believe that the discipline of transformation is a regimen of targeted activity, precise procedures and appropriate rigor that guides beliefs and actions to a deeper level of focus and productivity.  One may think that transformational discipline revolves around motivation, inspiration and communication, but it is so much more.  Providing structures for others to develop, to be effective and to be ultimately self-sufficient means that leaders must also prevent outside influences and issues from making their way into the classroom.

In order to be a Disciplined Leader, one must believe in:

1. Buffering

Marzano defines buffering as creating structures and procedures around the technical core of teaching. Leadership success is capitalized by the ability to construct a proverbial iron dome that limits outside interference from creeping into the classroom. By watching the instructional clock and allowing nothing to hold progress hostage, leaders stimulate academic improvement.

2. Protection

There are too many distractions that lead teachers away from the core of teaching. Leaders know this and take detailed steps to define structures that shield teachers from any interruption that would detract their focus from all kids. Identifying negative influences and eliminating or containing them improves instructional productivity.

An analogy to the discipline of protection is being a guard on watch at a military base, making patrols and preventing outside issues from making an attack on progress.  Conversely, leaders also protect like an oncologist that watches inside the body for cancerous cells to metastasize and spread to other organs in the body.  Leaders are aware of the undercurrents and attitudes that potentially affect the organization and are prepared to protect the organization when the time comes.

3. Cogent Confrontation

Buffering and protection requires confrontation. Communicating to others that their acts interfere with instruction is difficult, but transformational leaders confront by using their relational capital to gain support or at a minimum, understanding. In addition, leaders invest time in explaining why they must confront the issue, not the person, so outsiders understand why the leader is preventing them from affecting teachers and more importantly instruction.

Final Thoughts

When the leader is disciplined to a high level of effectiveness, effective protocols emerge.  Effective protocols are vital to improve achievement. By going deeper into the heart of discipline, the leader's expectations and directives morph from protecting instruction to developing adherents, better known as disciples. Disciples within a disciplined organization are not blind followers of the leader, but rather believers in something nobler.  They are followers of an effective system rich in  protocols and a common vision that promotes learning and prevents issues that detract from it...

Keeping your Leadership Sharp

A frustrating point in a chef's life is when he doesn't have a knife sharp enough to cut the food before him. The dullness of the blade frustrates because the utensil has been over-used and has lost it's edge of effectiveness. The chef has 2 choices. Sharpen the old familiar blade or discard it for a sharper, newer blade.

How often does this happen in schools across America? A leader, the proverbial knife, has become dull and ineffective so what typically happens to him? He is replaced with a newer, younger, or more innovative leader. Sometimes the leader is sharp enough to cut through the meat of the campus culture that is inherited, and other times he is just as dull as the leader he replaced. The problem is that leaders, like knives, must be sharpened regularly or they will lose their effectiveness. If the dull blade is replaced with a newer blade but is not provided systems to keep the new blade sharp, the school will eventually have to replace that leader too. Systems of sustainability are critical to help leaders maintain their edge of effectiveness.

So how can school districts help leaders stay sharp and effective? I find there are 3 things that all leaders must do to keep their edge.

1. Keep your Knife to the Grindstone

Sharpening the blade requires friction against an abrasive rock. This rock is conflict. Leaders will never stay sharp unless they identify, embrace and learn from conflict with parents, teachers, students and central office. Districts must recognize that in order for progress to be constant, confronting tough issues is required. In the absence of conflict, the knife becomes dull and the food will take longer to cut.  Leaders need support from district leaders when conflict arises so the organization can benefit.  Progress is the result of processing discomfort in a productive manner.

2. Knowledge means Intellectual Stimulation

Asking difficult questions and entertaining difficult questions helps new synapses form. Failure to address challenges causes the leader's wits to fade little by little. Staying current and constantly learning builds mental sharpness.  The leader that is constantly searching for a new way of thinking and learning sets the tone for learning throughout the organization; for, the search for knowledge is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

3. Keep Focused

Leaders on the cutting edge stay focused on no more than 3 things, and they go to great lengths to communicate their focus to the organization. They do whatever it takes to prevent interruptions and distractions from turning them away from their focus. In short, they focus on their focus, and by keeping their focus secure, they stay sharp.

Staying sharp is holy grail of leadership. 

 Leaders have their moments when everything is clicking and other times when nothing seems to go their way.  What separates effective from ineffective leaders is not their ability to acknowledge their short-comings, but their efforts to do something about it.  After all, chefs know when they have a dull knife, and they know what it takes to return the blade to its original edge of effectiveness.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

9 Christmas Gifts Every Leader Needs

Thanksgiving is over and Christmas is around the corner.  Last year, I shared a bit called "The 12 Days of Christmas for Teachers" (Click Here), and I outlined 12 ideas that leaders could use to show their staff how they appreciate them for the great things that they do for kids.  This year, I'd like to challenge us to thank our leaders for all that they do for kids and adults.  Before you start to think about what you should buy for your leader, I want to you to read a little further.

The first thought that will come to mind is this.  "Is this another post to thank our bosses or buy them some neat gift?"  Well, let's get this straight.  This post is for leaders, not bosses.  Bosses need things.  Leaders need growth.  Leaders don't mandate and dictate.  They guide and facilitate.  They serve and support. The best leaders lead us to places we don't necessarily want to go but ought to be for the betterment of the entire organization.  In other words, leaders help followers grow, but without growth of their own, leaders can't possibly facilitate growth in followers.

So what do leaders need for Christmas?  

Here are a few non-tangible suggestions that every leader must have to be a better leader.

Candid Conversations
Engaging leaders in real conversation helps leaders grow.  Asking clarifying questions about the leader's vision, goals and action steps helps leaders solidify their own thought process and helps leaders become clearer in their communication and more concrete in defining what it is that they are actually trying to do.

The worst thing you can do for a leader is tell them that things are great when they are anything but that.  Giving leaders honest opinions and perceptions helps leaders strengthen the organization.  Telling a leader what you think he wants to hear actually weakens the organization.

'Real' Reality
Leaders always hear the best representation or a filtered representation of the current reality of the organization.  Whether they want to hear it or not, leaders need to know the realness of your perception of the organization's reality.  Anything other than that weakens leaders and does them a disservice.

Some people think that leaders come to work everyday fired up and ready to lead.  That just isn't humanly possible.  Leaders need to be filled with a positive spirit and nothing is more encouraging than inspiration from those that they serve.

Success Stories
Leaders need to hear the success happening in the organization. With the pressures of day to day responsibilities, leaders rarely hear about the small victories. Small victories need to be shared so the leader knows the team is winning the war. 

As much as leaders don't want to hear that things are going bad, they have to know the truth. The truth hurts in the short term but helps leaders in the long run.  

Leaders can come to work lacking pep in their step. If you see your leader, motivate them and encourage them that what they're doing is helping the organization get better. 

This one is hard, but leaders need accountability more than anyone. If the leader said he was going to do something but never got around to it, ask them about it. Leaders need reminders and accountability from followers to get the job done. No accountability, no growth.

Leaders don't have all the answers and can't always know the best pathway.  To strengthen your leader, stimulate his intellect with questions and suggestions. By engaging your leader in challenging dialogue, you are also strengthening his leadership capacity. Yes, leaders need to get better at leading.

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

Sure, getting a Christmas gift makes leaders feel valued, but few gifts propel leaders forward.  We have to be honest with ourselves and acknowledge that things don't make a lasting impression.  Relationships do. Leaders become better when they get the best gift of Christmas, more critical friends.  I hope this season you will give your leader the gift of becoming a critical friend to him or her.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The 12 Days of Christmas for Teachers

This Christmas what will your staff get from you? Will you scoot through these next 3 weeks doing very little or will you maximize every day leading up to the break to build, repair and strengthen your campus culture?  At every campus that I have ever had the privilege to lead, I have done my best to show appreciation for the staff by having little treats, gifts that don't cost a dime, and novel presents to show how much they are appreciated for the daily sacrifice they make to save and serve kids.

Here is a list of Christmas gifts that would be very appreciated by your staff.  This list is mostly comprised of  things that cost you little more than effort to get it organized.

1. Time  

Every teacher needs more time to get their job done so give them an extra conference. Make a schedule where the kids can be covered by a movie reward during their PE or fine art time plus the block of time after or before. Pulling all kids to the same venue and reward gives you lots of flexibility to let teachers have 2 planning periods.  You may have to deviate from your traditional schedule and use every personnel unit to cover kids, but this gift is worth it.

2. Relaxation 

Lots of massage therapy or cosmetology schools require students to practice their craft FREE OF CHARGE. Why not let them practice on your staff for free? Set up your teacher workroom with these people and have a schedule to let your staff sign up to come through for a free massage, manicure, or pedicure.

3. Vendors

Lots of vendors push their products by having parties that are free. The vendors make their money by what they sell at the party. Again, allowing teachers to come by throughout the day is no charge to you and helps them with their Christmas shopping.  You can also include your staff who sell products as a part time job.

4. Christmas Wrapping

Schools have volunteers that want to help out. Create a schedule for teachers to bring their Christmas presents to school.  They will need to provide the following:  wrapping paper, tape, and labels filled out on each present. The volunteers can do the rest. That is a huge time saver for teachers, and they will be very thankful for this gift.

5. Jeans for the Last Week

Need I say more.

6. Chili Cook-Off

This is a great competition where grades or departments can compete to have the best chili, most creative theme, or whatever award you want to give. You can provide all the fixins, and the staff can celebrate the fellowship of getting together over a warm bowl of chili. This is a great culture-builder.

7. Personalized Card from You

Who doesn't appreciate a card from the principal? There are lots of way to make a card with MS Word. With a large staff, you can make a spreadsheet of personalized items and messages and do a mail merge to make your cards. Be sure to fold your cards using a spoon to make to folds sharp. People notice that.

8. Affirmation

Teachers are often unsure what you think of their work. When the opportunity presents itself, affirm teachers individually, and let them know specifically what they are doing great. It will pay you back ten-fold.

9. Pinterest

10,000 gift ideas to let your teachers know they are great!!!

10. Hot Chocolate

On a cold Monday morning, a warm cup of hot chocolate starts the week off on a positive note.

11. Let the Kids Cook for the Teachers

For high school campuses, have your culinary arts class cook for the staff.  The kids love to get involved thanking the teachers.  This is a great gift that fills the belly and warms the heart.  Of course, follow your board policy to make sure you are in compliance financially.

12.  Campus Party

Nothing builds culture better than a campus Christmas party.  Whether it is on campus or off, after school or at night, this is a great time to celebrate the successful end to 2012.

January will be here before we know it.  The stress will be back, and uncertainty and fear of failure will settle in on every campus in America.  How will you be prepared to address it? The best way to address a problem is to be preventive rather than reactive.  Use your Christmas time to build your staff confidence, and let them know they are appreciated.  They will leave 2012 knowing that their leader values them, and they will return in January ready for a positive and productive 2013.