Archive for the 'Leaders Change First' Category

Being our best selves

Dennis

We have a choice about where to aim the lens of our attention. We can relive past injustices, settle old grudges and nurse festering sores. We can imagine failure, build up its potential for destruction, calculate its odds. Or, we can imagine the generous outcomes we’re working on, feel gratitude for those that got us here and revel in the possibilities of what’s next. – Seth Godin

Feelings and attitudes are contagious and can quickly spread throughout a group or community.

Leaders’ feelings and attitudes are particularly infectious and are determined, in large part, by where they focus their attention.

For instance, school and classroom leaders who spread positive emotions and attitudes focus on:

• problem solving and growth instead of complaints,

• talking with people (integrity) instead of about them (gossip),

• efficacy instead of resignation to the status quo,

• gratitude and appreciation instead of negativity,

• strengths instead of deficits, and

• creating a desired future instead of lamenting and acquiescing to a future being created by others.

The list could go on…

To put it simply, leaders who spread positive energy consistently focus on being their best selves, both for their own benefit and for the benefit of those with whom they interact in their personal and professional lives.

What is missing from my list?

I will be taking a sabbatical over the next few months to refresh and renew. Best wishes for an enjoyable summer (or winter if you happen to be Down Under)!

The high cost of resignation

Dennis

Some people confuse current reality with how they want things to be. They not only don’t see the forest for the trees, but they fail to see the forest because they don’t think it should be there.

Other people are so overwhelmed by current reality that they become resigned to the status quo, believing nothing can be done to alter it.

I am reminded of that whenever I hear people talk about climate change.

Some people say that there is no climate change because science can’t be trusted. Deny.

Others say that there may be climate change, but humans have not caused it. Deny. Minimize.

Still others say that, yes, there is climate change, and, yes, it may be caused by humans, but it is too late to do anything about it. Resignation.

That’s a common pattern: Deny —> Minimize —> Resignation to the status quo.

There is another way, however, an approach that can be applied in our personal lives and work settings:

  • Conduct an honest and thorough assessment of current reality. (You can’t design a roadmap to a better future if you don’t know where the trip is beginning.)
  • Then create a vision of an alternative, desired future—the new reality you wish to create.
  • Engage in planning and in persistent, focused action to create that new reality.

How have denial, minimizing, and/or resignation manifested themselves in your work or personal life, and how have you countered those tendencies?

What’s wrong with advice?

Dennis

Wise men don’t need advice. Fools won’t take it. —Ben Franklin

While advice giving is widely practiced and can take many forms, it often has adverse effects for both the giver and receiver.

What could be wrong with advice giving? People often ask for it, and it’s clear that some people need it. And when we give it, we often feel helpful and even appreciated.

Advice giving can simply mean sharing a point of view. The advice giver explains how he or she thinks about a situation and the possible consequences of various courses of action. They then leave it up to recipients to make their own decisions.

But sometimes advice giving is a form of control that is expressed as a demand.

If you are not certain about the motives of the advice giver, try an experiment: Thank the advice giver and explain that you will take their advice under advisement. If they “should” you (“You should do that” or “You need to do that”) or get upset or angry, you are on the receiving end of a demand.

Both requesting and giving advice have their downsides:

Sometimes people ask for advice because doing what others advise is easier than figuring out what they want to do and accepting responsibility for the outcome.

Similarly, advice giving often generates dependency and passivity in the face of problems. The default response becomes, ”I will simply wait for others to tell me what to do.”

Advice giving is often one directional – from those with more power and status to those with less.

What to do instead of offering advice?

Support people in solving their own problems by helping them better understand the problem through “exquisite listening” and by assisting them in generating alternative solutions, setting goals, creating action plans, and monitoring progress.

If asked, offer your point of view, but let go of the outcome.

What is your experience with giving and receiving advice?

The gift of exquisite listening

Dennis

“One social habit that I used to be quite bad at was to truly listen when other people spoke. I sometimes zoned out. I got distracted or my attention started to wander before they were done talking. Or I just waited for my turn to talk again (while thinking about what I should say next). Not very helpful. So things had to change.” —Henrik Edberg

There is no greater gift that one person can give another than sustained, attentive, and nonjudgmental listening.

Being fully heard and deeply understood by another human being is rare and can be life changing.

Because such committed listening also enriches the experience of the listener, it can transform relationships.

In addition, it is an essential ingredient of “deep work” (see previous post).

Henrik Edberg describes the attributes of such listening this way:

“When you listen, just listen.

” Don’t interrupt. Don’t jump in with solutions (this one can be a hard one in my experience).

“Just be present in the moment and listen fully to what the other person has to say and let him or her speak until the entire message is said.

“Sometimes that is also all that’s needed. For someone to truly listen as we vent for a few minutes and figure things out for ourselves.”

“Just listening” requires practice and discipline, however.

Sophia Dembling offers a tool that can help us master this demanding habit:

“Imagine that there is a big arrow hovering over the space between two people engaged in a conversation…. As the listener in this conversation, your goal is to keep the arrow pointing at the other person for as long as possible.

“A devoted listener knows that there is always more to learn about another person, no matter how long you’ve known them.”

What have you learned about the benefits of such listening, and what helps you more consistently offer it to others?

6 ways to ensure that things don’t change

Dennis

Over the years I’ve written countless articles and posts on how administrators and teacher leaders can affect positive change through school culture, professional development, and the application of emotional intelligence, just to mention a few possible sources of influence.

But I have never approached that challenge from the flip side—what school leaders must stop doing if they want to create a ceaseless flow of positive energy that improves teaching and learning for all students.

So here are 6 ways to ensure low staff motivation:

1. Tell people what to do. Make demands: “I am the boss. Your job is to do what I tell you to do or else.”

2. Explain that what you’re telling others to do is a mandate (a variation of #1): “I don’t like this either, but we have to do it.”

3. Cite research combined with a demand: “Research says, so do it.”

4. Use guilt: “If you are really a professional (or care about your students), you will do this.”

5. Emphasize that you are smarter and/or have better intentions than they do: “If you would just read the research (or analyze the data), you’d see that this is the right thing to do.”

6. Explain that you have their best interests at heart: “Do this for your own good,” or “Trust me because I know what’s good for you.”

What would you add to my list?

“Done is better than perfect”

Dennis

“Done is better than perfect.” – Guiding principle of Facebook

Similarly, sometimes the best is the enemy of the good.

Delaying action until something is perfect (for example, perfectly understood or perfectly expressed) can slow momentum and squander energy and goodwill.

Knowing when something is “good enough,” subject to future iterations of improvement, is a hallmark of skillful leadership.

What is your experience with applying the idea that “done is better than perfect”?

Thinking with the best

Dennis

“Did you do the reading…? The reading is what we call it when you do the difficult work of learning to think with the best, to stay caught up, to understand. The reading exposes you to the state of the art. The reading helps you follow a thought-through line of reasoning and agree, or even better, challenge it. The reading takes effort.” – Seth Godin

Sometimes the most important things are the most fundamental. Reading, writing, and learning-oriented conversations are the fundamental processes that enable school leaders, as Godin puts it, “to do the difficult work of learning to think with the best….”

To that end, I recommend that leaders:

Read widely in education and beyond. Make certain that at least some of the things we read stretch our thinking through the effort they require.

Write about those things we read that have the greatest professional and personal implications to deepen our understanding.

Have extended conversations about what we read with colleagues who will help us think more deeply about the subject matter.

Write about it again.

Apply our deepened understanding to new behaviors and habits, when appropriate.

Reflect on the results of the new behaviors and habits, perhaps by writing and/or conversations with colleagues.

Repeat all of the above as necessary…

Of course, many leaders would say that their professional lives are too full for such time-consuming “difficult work.”

What do you think?


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