Sunday, January 22, 2012

Leadership Essential: I'm Not Making Excuses

"Excuses Change Nothing, But Make Everyone Feel Better." 
- Mason Cooley

Have you ever been in a conversation with someone and they say, 
"I'm not making excuses but ....."? 

Perhaps you are even guilty of using this phrase yourself.  What typically follows this phrase?  If you listen closely you will indeed hear a long list of excuses about why the organization is not moving forward.  

  • What would happen if this phrase was banned from your organization?  
  • What if you were only allowed to focus on your initiatives instead of all of the obstacles?  
  • What if we weren't really making excuses?

I believe the results will be far more impressive than the reasons why we couldn't do it in the first place.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Leadership Lessons from Martin Luther King, Jr.

I have always been inspired by the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr.  This began at an early age when my mom showed me a napkin that he signed for her during a chance meeting.  It has continued through my professional career as I often quote Dr. King in speeches and presentations.  There are numerous lessons that one can learn from in studying the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.  The following are leadership lessons taken from quotes attributed to Dr. King.

“We must use time creatively. “
We are all given the same number of minutes each day.  Furthermore, we get the same number of minutes a day that Dr. King had when he was alive.  How are you using your time?  A leader’s calendar will always show his or her true priorities.   How does your calendar match up with your stated beliefs, priorities, and initiatives?

“A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.
Leaders often search for consensus when beginning new initiatives or reaching critical decisions.  The idea of searching is quite passive.  Think about when you search for something on the internet.  Sometimes you are able to find it easily while other times you get distracted with different things you found.  The best leaders take control in critical situations and actively mold consensus.  

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.
Leaders know where they want the organization to head before many of the other stakeholders.  There are many similarities between innovation and leadership.  One of the key ideas that both concepts have is that if everyone is happy and content then neither is taking place.  A leader is responsible for continually moving an organization forward.  This will likely be in direct conflict to people who really like the way things currently run.  A leader has to be okay with people not agreeing and directly opposing initiatives.  Many people cannot see the staircase and therefore refuse to budge.

“I submit to you that if a man hasn't discovered something that he will die for, he isn't fit to live.
Leadership is about passion.  The best leaders in history were passionate about the initiatives they were leading.  Dr. King is the perfect example of this belief.  What are you passionate about? 

Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions.
People often look for the quick fix as it pertains to all areas of life.  This is no different when it comes to leadership.  The best leaders engage themselves and others in hard, solid thinking around critical initiatives.  The easy way is also the route that most other people are currently taking.  The path to excellence is never easy but always worth the work.

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education.
Nowhere in this quote is the mention of bubble sheets, minimum standard assessments, and a deluge of data.  Leaders often set the bar too low in an effort to ensure success.  True leadership is about taking some risks in order to achieve greatness.  Greatness begins with an education system that teaches students to think both intensively and critically. 

Whatever your life's work is, do it well. A man should do his job so well that the living, the dead, and the unborn could do it no better.
My father believed that if you weren’t going to do your best at a task (any task), then you shouldn’t even attempt it.  This also holds true for leadership.  The people whom you lead will both notice and emulate your relentless approach.  Similarly, they will also notice and emulate your approach if you are putting forth less than your best.  

These are just a few of the leadership lessons from a man who made a tremendous impact in the face of overwhelming adversity.  How will you employ these lessons into your leadership practices?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Leadership Essentials

ALWAYS Make Sure That 

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user charlottel 

Making the Most of Mistakes

"Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new."
- Albert Einstein

Earlier this week I began writing about the second new year for leaders. You can read the introductory post for more background information here.  We have already admitted that the beginning of the school year has not been exactly perfect and mistakes have been made.  That brings me to the following question:

What do the best leaders do when they make a mistake?

  • Run in a different direction
  • Blame somebody else 
  • Hide from anyone who knows the truth
  • Ignore the mistake and it will go away
Unfortunately, none of these would be the correct answer.  Even worse, these are strategies employed by many leaders when they are facing their mistakes.  The best advice I ever received around making mistakes involves the quote that began this post.  As a leader you are striving to make your organization a better place.  This will invariably mean making quite a few mistakes along the way.  

If you aren't making mistakes along your path; you really aren't doing anything new or innovative.

What should a leader do with his or her mistakes?

1. Own the Mistake - The most important thing you can do is to own the error.  People want to follow someone who not only makes mistakes but is brave enough to own it.  This also encourages others to take risks and push the envelope without fear of repercussions or blame.

2.  Decide the Lessons Learned -  Failure is only beneficial if you learn something as a result of it.  Think about the following questions once you have owned the mistake.  Make sure you talk to other people and get their insights as well.
  • Did you learn anything from your mistake?  
  • Will it get you closer to the desired outcome?  
  • What would you do differently the next time?  
  • How will you use this information to propel your organization forward?
Failure is the key ingredient to success and innovation.  Your second new year will bring many more failures.  The power will be in how you handle each failure as a leader.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A Second New Year

"Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any one thing."
 -Abraham Lincoln

January 1st brings about a unique opportunity for school leaders that often goes unnoticed.  School leaders actually have the benefit of celebrating two "New Years".  The initial New Year arrives on the first day that the staff assembles in the summer before students start back.  Everyone is excited about the possibilities that the new school year can bring.  Time is spent analyzing data, discussing new initiatives, and spending time in professional development opportunities.  The second New Year begins today (or whenever you return to school in January).  Each day this week I will write about how school leaders can make the most of their second “New Year” 

I am quite certain that the beginning part of your year has not been perfect.  I believe that failure is a great teacher and the lessons learned in failure are invaluable.  Failure has been a big part of the beginning of the school year for me.  Most of this failure is the result of spending far too much time "Managing the Present" instead of the work that I love which revolves around "Creating the Future".  This type of failure can be seen in an iPad2 administrator pilot, in various coaching roles, and even in a lack of writing (Full Disclosure: Last Post from me was on August 22nd).  

This type of failure is directly related to allowing my days to run away with me. I am quite sure that the business of "Managing the Present" has resulted in some of your meaningful work yielding less than stellar results.  Here are a few of the things that I am planning to do to make the most of the New Year, take back my day and create the future our students desperately need.

  • Focus – Other people will typically have other plans for your day.  You could spend every day extremely busy without ever planning a thing.  Someone who needs something sometime always show up at your door sometime throughout the day.  That’s why my “Creating the Future” projects will be in front of me at all times.  I begin my day with my project list and the tasks that are assigned.  This is very different from a traditional "to do list". It is much more of a map that will get you to your desired outcome.  
  • Short Term Goals - Many of these initiatives get lost in the fact that the timelines are so far off or there is no timeline at all.  What can you do this week that will make a difference in your project or initiative?
  • Reflection - I end my day the same way it starts.  I focus on the project list/map and the progress that has been made.  This allows me the opportunity to get a jumpstart on tomorrow's "Creating the Future" work. 

The beauty of a 2nd new year is the opportunity to refocus the majority of my energy on "Creating the Future".   How will you begin to make the most of your 2nd new year?