Archive for the 'Leaders’ Clarity' Category

Resilience requires being our best selves more consistently

Everyone is better than you are… (at something). Which makes it imperative that you connect and ask for help. At the same time that we encounter this humbling idea, we also need to acknowledge that you are better at something than anyone you meet. Everyone you meet needs something you can do better than they can. —Seth Godin

Each of us is a bundle of strengths and “weaknesses,” which means there are two ways of thinking about personal improvement—remedy our flaws or more consistently use our strengths.

While each of us has a few “flaws” that may deserve prompt attention, we are far more likely to achieve our individual goals and collective goals when we and others hone and persistently use our strengths.

That’s what resilient people do, I think.

Rather than spending an inordinate amount of time focusing on or lamenting their deficits, or trying to correct those of others, they identify their strengths and apply them at every opportunity consistent with their values and goals.

Put another way, resilient people more consistently offer their “best selves” to the world—that is, the part of them that is most influential and creates well-being and energy among those with whom they interact.

As an example, I have learned that I am my “best self” when I use my talents for planning, writing, innovating, and advocating for things that are important to me.

Over time I have learned that I am far happier, productive, and effective when I more consistently use my strengths and the synergy generated among them to serve purposes greater than myself.

Some things to consider:

What are the attributes of relationships and/or environments that elicit your best self?

What does your best self look like at work? With family and friends? In addressing issues that concern your community and nation?

Are there common strengths among those best selves? What can you do to develop and use those strengths more consistently?

What do you do when your leader is a dem•a•gogue?

dem·a·gogue\ˈde-mə-ˌgäg\noun: a political leader who tries to get support by making false claims and promises and using arguments based on emotion rather than reason

What do you do when your leader deliberately provokes the worst instincts in his followers?

What do you do when most people don’t want that person to be the leader, but nonetheless he or she is?

What do you do when you are anxious and fearful for the future of your “organization” and what it stands for?

What do you do to preserve your emotional well-being and even physical health when it is challenged by the consequences of such leadership?

The answer to these and related questions are obviously not simple ones.

And while I don’t have “the answer,” I offer the “6 Cs of resilience” to stimulate your thinking and perhaps guide your actions:

Clarity about values, ideas, goals, and strategies to accomplish those goals;

Commitment to persist through difficult times;

Communication that seeks first to understand and that is both respectful and assertive;

Community to gain clarity, support, guidance, inspiration, and the power of collective action;

Courage to do what is uncomfortable and even frightening; and

Care, beginning with self care. (If we don’t take care of ourselves the other Cs will be difficult if not impossible to achieve.)

Taken together, the “6Cs” enable us to take well-considered stands about things that are important to us and to join with others to achieve together what we cannot accomplish alone.

Should you find yourself with a leader who is a demagogue, what will you do to promote your own well-being and the resilience of the “organization”?

Does God have a plan for public schools?

At a 2001 gathering of conservative Christian philanthropists, [Betsy DeVos] singled out education reform as a way to “advance God’s kingdom.” In an interview, she and her husband, Richard DeVos Jr., said that school choice would lead to “greater kingdom gain.” —Katherine Stewart, “Betsy DeVos and God’s Plan for Schools”

While I am not a Biblical scholar I am sure that the word “love” appears in its text more often than “free market,” vouchers,” or “charter schools.”

Although I am deeply distrustful of anyone who seems to have direct access to God’s thinking about public education, like, say Betsy DeVos, I think it likely that God would:

• Be outraged in the style of the Old Testament about the poverty in which far too many children and their families live.

• See great merit in teaching young people the skills of social and emotional intelligence, given the Biblical emphasis on love and forgiveness, although I may be going out on a religious and curricular limb here.

• Be deeply concerned about children being sent to schools whose only merit is that they satisfy the ideology of their rich and therefore politically influential patrons.

If God has a political ideology, it probably is “love thy neighbor.”

To verify the accuracy of what I just wrote, I had a brief and long overdue conversation with God about all of this, and although His voice was soft and sometimes indistinct, I am confident I heard Him (or maybe Her) say that Betsy DeVos should not be confirmed as United States Secretary of Education.

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?

“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?

Setting limits

Dennis

Work will happen 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year, if you let it. We are all in that place where we are all letting it…, and I don’t know why. – Shonda Rhimes

To be the best teacher or leader we can be requires that we pay attention to all aspects of our life, not just to the hours that we are at work.

One important aspect of taking care of ourselves is setting boundaries about what we will and will not do at home.

The beginning of a new year provides an opportunity to think more deeply about and establish goals for limits that we will set in our work lives.

Cal Newport’s blog post, from which the quote above is drawn, provides a broader perspective on this problem as it relates to the ceaseless email that can eat up personal and family time.

Newport notes that Rhimes has the following signature appended to all her e-mails:

“I don’t read work e-mails after 7 pm or on weekends, and if you work for me, may I suggest you put down your phone?”

Like most important things in organizations, leaders set the tone and establish the rules through their own example and the work culture they help create.

What do you think? Can we set limits to the work we will do at home, and, if we are leaders, help others in our organizations do the same?


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