Archive for the 'Motivation/creating energy' 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?

Do the best that you can…

Do the best that you can with what you have where you are right now. — poster in a high school science teacher’s classroom

That’s wonderful advice for all of us that applies in many situations.

And it’s likely an approach to life used by many resilient people.

But because resilient people are resourceful, consider these additions to it:

Do the best that you can by expanding what you know and can do through lifelong learning

With what you have, and with what you can acquire by using your learning and resourcefulness to provide additional tools to more effectively accomplish your goals

Where you are right now, and, when appropriate, by changing your physical location or your mental perspective about the place where you are.

What do you do to continuously expand the boundaries of your best self?

Some of my favorite questions

question: [kwes-chuh n]/noun

1. a sentence in an interrogative form, addressed to someone in order to get information in reply.

2. a problem for discussion or under discussion; a matter for investigation.

3. a matter of some uncertainty or difficulty; problem (usually followed by of).

4. a subject of dispute or controversy.

Resilient people are resourceful, which means they enjoy the challenges presented by intriguing questions and the ambiguous situations or problems they may pose.

Such questions cause people to think more deeply about important things and to think thoughts that they otherwise would not have thought.

Here are two of my favorite questions:

• What would you do if you had more than enough money to support yourself and your family for a lifetime? What goals would you pursue and how would you spend your time?

• What significant challenge would you take on if you knew you could not fail? Or, put another way, what important things would you do if you were not afraid?

And here are a few questions that specifically address resilience:

• What core beliefs or principles would you not compromise?

• When will you stand firm, when will you bend, and how will you decide?

• What strengths do you bring to situations that require resilience?

• What people, groups, or other resources do you draw upon during challenging times for inspiration, clarity, and guidance?

• What lessons has your life taught you about surviving and even thriving during difficult times?

What are your favorite questions?

Inviting “big talk”

Make a life in which you are having the conversations you want to have.” — Laura Mott

Resilient people are proactive, and one of the ways they demonstrate that quality is by creating conversations that matter to them with their families and friends and in their work settings.

Think of those conversations as “big” rather than “small.”

While small talk has important purposes, large talk matters because it is far more likely to produce meaningful learning and to strengthen relationships.

During these conversations participants come to understand important things about themselves, each other, and the subject under discussion.

The world would be a better place, I believe, if such conversations were more frequently cultivated in families and the workplace.

In an earlier post I wrote that conversations for learning require:

• intentionality, 

• deep and mindful listening, 

• slowness that provides opportunities for thinking and elaboration, 

• an openness to learning based on a deep respect for the experiences and perspectives of others, and

an invitation, which may be as simple and straight forward as “please tell me more.” (Australian educator Edna Sackson explains how even difficult conversations can be improved when they begin with such invitations.)

What “requirements” would you add to my list?

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?

Sustaining resilience

I am not a physicist nor biologist, but two words come to mind when I think of the challenges we all face in sustaining resilience over time: entropy and atrophy.

en·tro·py: ˈentrəpē/noun: lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder: synonyms: deterioration, degeneration, crumbling, decline, degradation, decomposition, breaking down, collapse

at·ro·phy: ˈatrəfē/verb: gradual decline in effectiveness or vigor due to underuse or neglect

Because of entropy and atrophy, resilience, like other human capacities, inevitably declines without attention, intention, and persistence.

That means that resilient people push back against entropy and atrophy by:

Developing routines and habits consistent with their values and goals. Resilient people understand that if too many demands are placed on their willpower it will fatigue and become overwhelmed.

Maintaining the discipline of doing difficult things, the things they would prefer not to do but know are important.

What do you do to remain resilient during challenging times?

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