Archive for the 'Leaders’ Clarity' Category

The challenge of changing ourselves and influencing others

A quality shared by most resilient people is the ability to see the world as it is rather than as they wish it to be.

As a result, they understand that:

• Changing ourselves is hard, even when our health and lives may depend on it.

• Changing others is harder.

• Changing organizational culture and practices is even harder because it combines the difficulties of changing ourselves and others with the challenge of overcoming institutional inertia and active resistance.

In addition, most of us significantly underestimate what’s required to alter long-standing habits of mind and behavior in ourselves and others and to create organizational cultures of continuous improvement.

And, at the same time, we significantly overestimate the extent to which humans are rational and motivated to change because of evidence and logic.

That’s why reading a book, listening to an inspiring speaker, or attending a “research-based” workshop are almost always insufficient to produce long-term, meaningful change.

The essential elements of change

The most compelling explanations of what’s required to produce significant change are offered  by Alan Deutschman in Change or Die: The Three Keys to Change at Work and in Life and by Chip Heath and Dan Heath in Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard.

Deutschman explains that people make significant and lasting changes by “relating,” “repeating,” and “reframing.”

Relate underscores the importance of sustained relationships with individuals and groups to inspire hope and provide support.

Repeat involves learning, practicing, and mastering new skills until they become habits.

And reframe means finding others ways to think about a situation. Because established frames resist facts and reasoned arguments, deep-rooted beliefs and conceptual frameworks must be identified and altered to support desired changes.

A problem, Deutschman says, is that leaders too often rely on relatively ineffective change strategies—facts (human beings are not as rational as we think we are), fear (at best it’s a short-term motivator), and force (there are many ways it can be resisted) to promote change.

Instead, successful change efforts offer a sense of hopefulness that problems can be solved through a genuine sense of community that enables the acquisition of new habits.

In Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard Chip Heath and Dan Heath explain that our behavior is shaped by three forces—our intellect, our emotions, and the situations in which we find ourselves.

To explain their ideas the Heaths offer the metaphor of an elephant with a rider:

The rider is our intellect. Although modest in size compared to the elephant, it plans and directs.

The elephant is emotion. It provides the energy that creates and sustains movement.

The path is the situation or environment in which the rider and elephant find themselves. that either supports improved performance or hinders it. (For example, strong teamwork requires a “path” that includes regularly-scheduled meeting time, relevant data to make decisions and assess progress, and training in group skills.)

We promote change, the Heaths say, when we:

• create clarity of purpose and direction (influence the rider),

• engage people’s emotions (motivate the elephant), and

• create environments (shape the path) that enable rather than hinder the desired performance.

What, in your experience, are the essential elements of change in individuals and organizations?

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

3 primary threats to public education

We are not in an education crisis. We are in a crisis of poverty that is being exacerbated by the school accountability movement and the testing industry. At best, this movement has been misguided. At worst, it is an intentional set up to bring about the demise of the public education system – mandatory testing designed to produce poor results which leads to greater investment made in test preparation programs provided by the same companies who produce the tests, coupled with a related push for privatization of the educational system. All touted as a means to save us from this false crisis. Politics, not education, got us into this mess, and it is politics that must get us out of it. —Kristina L. Taylor

A robust system of public education is essential for a thriving democracy and a growing economy.

Historically, Americans have invested in public institutions.

Nikole Hannah-Jones describes that history in a piece titled, “Have We Lost Sight of the Promise of Public Schools?”:

“Early on, it was this investment in public institutions that set America apart from other countries. Public hospitals ensured that even the indigent received good medical care — health problems for some could turn into epidemics for us all. Public parks gave access to the great outdoors not just to the wealthy who could retreat to their country estates but to the masses in the nation’s cities. Every state invested in public universities. Public schools became widespread in the 1800s, not to provide an advantage for particular individuals but with the understanding that shuffling the wealthy and working class together (though not black Americans and other racial minorities) would create a common sense of citizenship and national identity, that it would tie together the fates of the haves and the have-nots and that doing so benefited the nation. A sense of the public good was a unifying force because it meant that the rich and the poor, the powerful and the meek, shared the spoils — as well as the burdens — of this messy democracy….”

Public schools today are being profoundly affected by strong social and political forces that those invested in the future of this country cannot ignore.

Those forces are part of a larger anti-public institution agenda that has been gaining momentum for several decades.

Public education as we know it has, in my view, three primary threats:

1. Radical capitalists who believe that maximum profit should be extracted from every revenue source, including those provided by taxpayers to support the public good.  A primary strategy to divert funds intended for public education is to denigrate and create distrust regarding teachers, teacher unions, and, most of all, public education in general.

2. Poverty and low-quality healthcare that has a particularly profound affect in impoverished neighborhoods and communities on the ability of young people to learn and on their overall well-being. (You can read more about the effects of poverty on children here and here.)

3. The possibility that unrelenting attacks on teachers and the consequences of high-stakes testing and other “reforms” will demoralize teachers and create a sense of resignation about the chances for meaningful improvement. That, in turn, would provide a further opportunity for radical capitalists to exert their will over public education.

Nonetheless, Hannah-Jones continues to place her faith in public schools:

“If there is hope for a renewal of our belief in public institutions and a common good, it may reside in the public schools. Nine of 10 children attend one, a rate of participation that few, if any, other public bodies can claim, and schools, as segregated as many are, remain one of the few institutions where Americans of different classes and races mix. The vast multiracial, socioeconomically diverse defense of public schools that DeVos set off may show that we have not yet given up on the ideals of the public — and on ourselves.”   

Although public education has been an important force for the common good over many generations of students, there is no guarantee that it will continue to play its historic role in American life.

It remains to be seen if the public good provided by public education is sufficiently resilient to withstand these threats as they are intensified over the next several years.

What would you add to or subtract from my list?

6 Cs of Resilience

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. Such clarity will come in and out of focus and require fresh thinking when circumstances change within and around us.

Commitment to persist through difficult times. Resilience sometimes requires doing the thing we don’t want to do but that we know is important.

Communication that seeks first to understand and that is both respectful and assertive. Such communication is particularly challenging when people vigorously disagree with us by asserting values and positions that we believe are irrational and even immoral.

Community to gain clarity, support, guidance, inspiration, and the power of collective action when we are addressing powerful social and economic forces. Dialogue created in community can also help us find and maintain clarity.

Courage to do what is uncomfortable and even frightening. Courage is not the absence of fear, but instead acting in its presence. As someone once said, “Feel the fear and do it anyways.”

Care, beginning with self-care. Self-care means making our physical, emotional, and spiritual health a priority, because if we don’t care for ourselves the other Cs will be difficult if not impossible to achieve. Care also includes, of course, respect for others, especially those with whom we most strongly disagree.

No matter our starting place, the “6Cs” enable us to take well-considered stands about things that are significant to us and to join with others to achieve what we cannot accomplish alone.

Which of the Cs is most important for you at this particular moment in time?

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?


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