Archive for the 'Leadership' 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).

There is no substitute for resilient leadership

Resilient people are often called upon to be leaders, a responsibility that both draws upon their resilience and cultivates it for future use.

Early in my career I did not understand the importance of leadership. Schools, I thought, would improve if teachers were simply given the tools to do their work and the freedom to use them.

But then I had an opportunity to closely observe a school whose teachers and parents were frustrated and dispirited. Students performed poorly, and everyone felt hopeless about the future.

Eventually a new principal came to the school. Over the next 3 years things got better. Staff and parent morale improved, as did teaching and student learning.

That principal eventually went on to another assignment, and the school’s new principal was more like the first one. Things spiraled downwards into a hopelessness that felt more profound because of the school’s rollercoaster journey.

Later on in my professional development work I spent a great deal of time talking with teachers about teaching and learning.

I enjoyed those conversations immensely except when teachers were angry and cynical.

Without exception, I observed that those teachers were poorly led by principals or system administrators or union leaders. Or all three.

My work came to focus on principals and teacher leaders because without their skillful leadership teacher professional learning and teamwork were unlikely to occur in ways that would benefit all students in all classrooms.

School leaders to a very large degree determine:

What is your experience—is it possible to continuously improve teaching and learning without skillful leadership?

Starting off on the right foot

Most of us have been encouraged throughout our lives to stand up for ourselves, for others, and for the things we believe in.

But most of us have failed at one time or another to do so because of fear or other compelling reasons.

Consulting-expert Peter Block describes such people as “walking bent over,” adding, “If you walk bent over at the beginning of a consulting relationship, you will find it very difficult to stand up straight again.”

The importance of starting off on the right foot by standing up for what they believe and by defining the boundaries of relationships is a life lesson that resilient people have learned, often the hard way.

In addition to consultants beginning a relationship with clients, Block’s admonition applies, for example, to:

• Parents with their children,

• Teachers with their students, and

• Supervisors with those they supervise.

And so on.

Resilience requires standing up straight at the beginning. It also requires that when we find ourselves compromised we do whatever is necessary to stand up straight again. “Better late than never” is advice that applies here.

That usually means confronting problems head on without judgment and blame, having difficult conversations, and seeking win-win solutions.

So, while resilient people have learned the importance of establishing “ground rules” at the beginning of important relationships, they have also learned that it is never too late to start again.

What has your experience taught you about the challenges of starting off on the right foot and, if necessary, of starting again?

Can emotional intelligence be developed?

The ability to “read” other people, vividly imagining their unique psychological experience, is the compass by which we navigate our social world. —Hunter Gehlbach (March 2017 Kappan)

More often than not, resilient people possess the kind of people skills that we now associate with emotional intelligence, skills that are too often in short supply in many organizations, particularly at the highest levels.

Over the decades I’ve observed that people who are successful in a particular job sometimes run into difficulty when they are “promoted” into positions that require more sophisticated interpersonal skills, such as leading teams, supervising other adults, or resolving conflict in satisfying ways.

While they have the technical skills to do their jobs, they often lack the “soft skills” to be successful in their work.

These skills include the ability to listen deeply, have empathy, identify and manage their emotions and respond appropriately to the emotions of others, display authentic positive emotions, and so on.

The problem is compounded because their low emotional intelligence means that these otherwise competent people are likely to lack the introspection required to identify the problem and the skills to do something about it.

And the situation is further compounded because many people mistakenly believe that emotional intelligence is something you are born with, not something that can be intentionally developed over time. (A useful resource on this subject is Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead With Emotional Intelligence.)

What do you think:

Do resilience and emotional intelligence go hand in hand? Can someone be resilient without those skills?

Is diminished emotional intelligence a barrier to effectiveness for otherwise competent people? 

Does a lack of introspection and a belief that emotional intelligence can’t be developed mean that those people are unlikely to change?

Resilience can be fostered by…

“Be a good steward of your gifts. Protect your time. Feed your inner life. Avoid too much noise. Read good books, have good sentences in your ears. Be by yourself as often as you can. Walk. Take the phone off the hook. Work regular hours.” —Jane Kenyon

Resilience can be fostered by:

Reflecting on our life experiences, extracting important lessons from those experiences, and acting in ways that are consistent with those lessons

Using our strengths to achieve important goals

• Doing the “difficult thing to maintain momentum in important areas of our lives

Recognizing that courage does not mean the absence of fear but rather acting in the presence of it

Being part of an ongoing community that offers clarity of purpose, interpersonal support, and exemplars of the people we hope to become

Reading biographies and autobiographies to deepen our understanding of how others have been tested and strengthened through adversity

Being a “good steward of your gifts” in the ways Jane Kenyon recommends.

What would you add to my list?

Together we can achieve what none of us can accomplish alone

Without a community, it is nearly impossible to achieve voice: it takes a village to raise a Rosa Parks. Without a community, it is nearly impossible to exercise the “power of one” in a manner that multiplies: it took a village to translate Park’s act of personal integrity into social change. In a mass society like ours, community rarely comes ready-made. But creating community in the places where we live and work does not mean abandoning other parts of our lives to become full-time organizers. The steady companionship of two or three kindred spirits can kindle the courage we need to speak and act as citizens. —Parker Palmer

Resilient people understand that sustaining a commitment to significant change requires the support, guidance, and inspiration of a community.

But not all groups are created equal in their resilience and effectiveness.

Groups that make a difference:

• have skillful, committed leaders who maintain focus and momentum over time,

• ensure that group time is used productively to achieve the group’s goals,

• have a stable core membership,

• engage in high-impact activities,

• follow through on plans with accountability for results, and

• train group members to successfully complete agreed upon activities.

In schools such collective work requires strong teamwork which can take a variety of forms.

In the area of social justice and political change the group RESULTS sets the standard for grass roots advocacy. Its purpose is to end poverty by “improving access to education, health, and economic opportunity” through advocacy and education of policy makers.

More recently “Indivisible” groups are forming and beginning to take action in many communities throughout the United States. Their purpose is to create local pressure on members of Congress to counter the most destructive policies and actions of the new administration, and even at this early date it appears that they are beginning to have some success.

Indivisible’s advocacy is based “…on a simple idea: Donald Trump’s agenda doesn’t depend on Donald Trump. It depends on your elected members of Congress and whether they go along with him—or whether they fight back.”

If any or all of these approaches are appealing, I encourage you to get involved.

Remember:

• that demagogues win when citizens feel overwhelmed and become resigned to the status quo, and

• that together we can achieve what none of us can accomplish alone.

Remembering Rick DuFour

Like hundreds of others, I have been following the hopes and disappointments Rick expressed over many months in his Caring Bridge updates.

And although recently the end appeared inevitable and merciful, I was deeply saddened when it occurred last week.

Three attributes come to mind when I think of Rick.

Tenacity. Against the illness that eventually took his life. In promoting ideas and practices that would benefit tens if not hundreds of thousands of teachers, administrators, and students around the world.

Engagement. In study and writing. In pursuit of excellence in all parts of his life. With Professional Learning Community colleagues and “students.” With Adlai Stevenson High School District 125. With Learning Forward (which was known as the National Staff Development Council when I first came to know Rick more than 25 years ago). With those with whom he shared the travails of his illness and treatment as he proved a steadfast and honest correspondent from a land he had not hoped to visit.

Love. For Becky and for his family and friends. For his work in all its manifestations.

I have heard it said that each of us dies three times—when our bodies lose their life force, when our physical manifestation is interred, and when our names are no longer spoken.

While Rick’s physical presence is no longer with us, his name will be passed down among generations of educators as an idea or practice is explained or his spirit is evoked as an exemplar of what we individually and collectively hope to become.


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