Friday, 23 December 2011

See you on January 9, 2012

See you on January 9, 2012

As a leader, are you taking time in the next couple of weeks to take a break and to attend to the other important aspects of your life?

As leaders, we get caught up in the hectic demands of our day-to-day work.  We quickly get into high gear and sometimes it's tough to slow the pace.  Now is the time to slow that pace.  As a leader, you aren't a lot of value to those you lead if you are exhausted and drained of the energy, enthusiasm, and optimism necessary to lead others.  In order to refresh and rejuvenate, you need to take some time for yourself.  You'll know best how to use this time.  It may be with family, friends, interests that are completely outside of your daily work, travel,.....or something else.  Whatever it is that nourishes your body, spirit, and soul, it's time to attend to them now.

Enjoy some very well-deserved time when you can slow the pace of doing for others and attend to what you need.

Peace, health, and happiness to all in 2012!

Thursday, 22 December 2011

What did you learn this year?

As a leader, what did you learn this year?

Michael Fullan (2008) reminds us that "Learning is the work."  As leaders, we aren't effective if we aren't learning - just as we want our staff members to be learning.  So....what did you learn this year?  What were your learnings as a leader this year?  You'll likely need to take a bit of time to think about it.  You'll probably have to reflect on what went well and what didn't go so well. 

In order to identify what your leader learning was this year, you might want to use some of these questions to prompt your thinking:

  • What went well this year?
  • What didn't go so well this year?
  • If I were to do things over again, what might I do differently?
  • If I were to do things over again, what would I not change?  Why?
  • Of my leader practices, which do I feel are really solid?
  • Of my leader practices, which need some attention?
  • As a leader, am I accomplishing the things I want to accomplish?  If yes, why?  If no, why not?
  • As a leader, what knowledge do I still wish to gain? 
  • As a leader, what skills do I still wish to gain?

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

What people are saying on Twitter

  Eleanor Biddulph
My coach would often say, You can't fix the past. It's done, over. You can, however, create a new future. What will it be?

When 'It All Becomes Too Much'

As a leader, do you know what to do when 'it all becomes too much'?

As leaders, we are subject to many demands, responsibilities and stresses in our roles.  From time to time, things can start to feel overwhelming and it feels as if the demands on us are 'too much'.  At times like this, it's too late to figure out what your response will be.  It's when you're feeling good about yourself and your work that you need to figure out your plan for how to respond when the demands and the stresses become overwhelming. 

Here are a few questions to guide your thinking about developing a response to challenging times:
  • With whom can I safely share my worries/concerns/frustrations?
  • Who might I call on to lend a hand with the work that needs to get done?
  • Can I delegate some of my work to trusted others?
  • Do I alert people now that I may need to call on them from time to time to lend a hand?
  • What is urgent and must be attended to now?
  • What is less urgent and can reasonably be put aside for a few hours, days, or even weeks?
  • How will I communicate - and to whom - that some work was not completed as first hoped?
  • Do I have a supervisor who needs to know?
  • Do I need to share - or hide - this state from those I lead?

Equally important to developing a response to times when work seems overwhelming is the need to reflect on the situation.  If you don't reflect, you run the risk of allowing times like this to become cyclically repeating.  Some questions to guide your reflections:
  • Is there anything I might have done differently that would have prevented this overwhelming state to develop?
  • How do I manage 'work flow' - for myself and for those I lead?
  • Do I need to bring others into a discussion about 'work flow' at our site?
  • What have I learned about myself and how I react to stressful times?
  • What do I need to learn in order to be ready for stressful times?
  • What did I learn from my last experience with stressful times?  Was there something actionable?

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Meetings - Cutting the time in half

As a leader, how do you regulate the amount of time for meetings in order to be efficient?
People often set meetings for an hour because their calendars default to that time period. But you may need far less time to accomplish your work. Try these three measures to shorten your meeting:
  • Stand up. Most people won't linger on an issue if their feet hurt. Remove chairs from the room. When standing, people are often more attentive and engaged.
  • Use a timer. Designate an allotted time for each agenda item and set a stopwatch or the timer on your phone. Or make it more personal and have one of the members of your group do the timing. When time is up, determine next steps and move on.
  • Show the cost of the meeting. At the top of the agenda, show the calculated hourly cost of having the group together. When people realize how much a meeting costs the school/organization, they are more apt to be efficient.

Adapted from: Guide to Making Every Meeting Matter

Monday, 19 December 2011

Is Your 'To Do' List Out of Control?

As a leader, how do you manage your 'to do' list? 

Having an unruly to-do list can be overwhelming. If you find yourself rushing around, but not actually getting much done, try the following process:
  • Write it all down. Put everything on one list. Determine which tasks are easy and which are more difficult.
  • Do some easy things. Spend 15 minutes doing the easy tasks. Focus on speed: make the quick phone calls, shoot off the brief emails. Cross as many tasks off the list as you can.
  • Turn to a bigger task. Turn off your phone, close all the open windows on your computer, and focus on one of the more challenging tasks. Do this for 35 minutes without distraction.
  • Take a break. After 35 minutes, take a 10-minute break. Then return to step two.

Adapted from Guide to Managing Stress by by Gill Corkindale, Judith Ross, Tony Schwartz, Catherine McCarthy, Stewart D. Friedman, Peter Bregman, Amy Gallo, Alexandra Samuel, John Baldoni, Linda Steinberg, Ron Ashkenas, Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Vickie Elmer

Friday, 16 December 2011

What's Wrong?...or...What's possible?

As a leader, do you ask 'What's wrong and how can we fix it?'... or 'What's possible?'

In most organizations, we are trained to ask, "What's wrong?" and "How can we fix it?" This is a demoralizing process, and a typical one. Instead, Dr. Wheatley said, she has learned to ask two very different questions: "What's possible here?" and "Who cares?" When we ask "Who cares?", we invite in others who are also passionate about an issue. And when we ask "What's possible?", it opens us up to unprecedented creativity.

Excerpt from: Turning to One Another
Keynote Address: Kansas Health Foundation 2000 Leadership Institute, Spring 2000

Dr. Margaret Wheatley

Thursday, 15 December 2011

What people are saying on Twitter

KevinEikenberry KevinEikenberry
Remarkable leaders view failure, properly reflected on, as a precursor to success. #leadership


As a leader, are you able to deliver compassion and to support others in doing so?

"Does the agency, organization, or system you are in allow you to deliver as much compassion as you want?" Dr. Wheatley asked. "I would bet the answer is no." Indeed, she said, people in all types of work tend to enter their field with some type of dream - a sense of hope that by their labor, they will contribute to the benefit of some group in society. Citing examples as diverse as workers in dog food manufacturing plants and high technology research labs, Dr. Wheatley suggested that most of us really do want to work for each other. "It's in us, in everybody," she said. "It may be buried, but it is in us."

Dr. Wheatley asked the Leadership Institute participants to call out their dreams of what they might accomplish, at the time they took on their current professional positions. Responses included making a difference on behalf of the business community, improving child care quality, energizing good teachers, and integrating young people back into the community. Dr. Wheatley pointed out that no one mentioned fame or fortune. Instead, she said, "what brings you together is your compassion -- your dream of how to make a difference for good.

Excerpt from: Turning to One Another
Keynote Address: Kansas Health Foundation 2000 Leadership Institute, Spring 2000

Dr. Margaret Wheatley

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

What people are saying on Twitter

Vision comes alive when everyone sees where his or her contribution makes a difference. ~ Ken Blanchard

Delegating Tasks to Build Staff Capacity

As a leader, do you delegate tasks to staff in the hope to build their capacity?

In a desire to share / distribute leadership, have you ever delegated a task to a staff member,....and somehow it ended up back on your plate?  Beware of this "reverse delegation."  Staff members who are unsure how to do something may enlist you in doing it for them.  Don't automatically solve problems or make decisions for hesitant colleagues.  Focus on generating alternative solutions together, making sure your colleague maintains responsibility for carrying through with the task.  Don't fall for it when others make statements like, "You'll do a better job with this."  While flattering, and possibly even true, they are often a way to get you involved when you needn't be....and how do you build capacity among your staff...if people feel they can - or should - default to you?

Support your staff members with tasks that 'stretch' them.  Many will discover that they have much more capacity than they realized.  They'll discover that their talents are greater than they realized.  But just in case.....don't be too far away.  They may need some coaching or mentoring along the way.  They'll feel reassured and more willing to take on challenges in the future if they know that you believe they can do it AND you're close by 'just in case'. 

Adaped from: Guide to Project Management (Harvard Business Review)

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

What people are saying on Twitter

If you're not failing every now and again, it's a sign your not doing anything very innovative. Woody Allan.

Improve your Strengths, Not your Weaknesses

As a leader, are you focusing energies on improving your strengths or your weaknesses?

It's annoying to work on our weaknesses: Who wants to spend energy trying to move from slightly below average to slightly above on a particular skill?  Consider focusing on your strengths instead. Make what you're already good at an even greater asset. After all, if you really want to make a difference in your school/organization, it's your strengths that will lead the way.  Of course, it's more challenging to move from well above average to even more above average, but you'll enjoy it more since your strengths are things you likely already take pleasure in doing. And don't worry about having too much of a good thing. Have you ever worked with a leader who possessed too much character or was too strategic? Probably not.  And when it comes to your areas of weakness.  Are you anxious about not having the necessary skill set in the school/organization?  If so, look around.  There is always someone on staff who has the very skills you lack.  Draw on their expertise....and watch them blossom.

Adapted from "Become an Extraordinary Leader" by Scott Edinger.

Monday, 12 December 2011

What people are saying on Twitter

Steve Keating CSE
Leaders: it's plain silly to assume anyone will follow you cause of your position. People follow people, not positions.

Do as I Say, Not as I do

As a leader, do your words match your actions?

As leaders, one of our roles is to set direction for those we lead.  We articulate the vision and mission of our schools/organizations and then sustain the focus of the work that flows from the vision and mission.  On a day-to-day basis, our role is to ensure that everyone in the school/organization sustains their commitment to the work, engages in learning to support the work, and demonstrates continuous improvement in doing the work and delivering results. 

This is all well and good for our staff.  But what about us as leaders?  Do we actually do what we say we believe in?  Do our words align with our actions. It's very easy to inform others of their work responsibilities, their need to commit to ongoing learning, and to demonstrate ever-improving results.  But do we do the same?  Are we willing to do what we ask of our staff members?  If not, our words ring hollow - and people see through them. 

Remind yourself every once in a while - especially when you are providing direction to your staff - to ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I willing to do this work too?
  • How do I demonstrate in tangible ways the commitment that I wish to see in all staff members?
  • Do my words align with my actions?
  • Do I model what I profess to believe in?
  • If I pause at any moment in time, could I honestly say that what I am doing aligns with the direction I've set and the mission and vision I espouse? 

Saturday, 10 December 2011

What people are saying on Twitter
Dan Rockwell
Your weakness is the opportunity for others to shine. "The Hidden Power of Weakness"

Friday, 9 December 2011

Too busy? Help someone else.

As a leader, do you sometimes feel too busy?  If so, help someone else.

It can be irritating to hear someone else complain about being busy, especially if you're busy too. But instead of competing with your own story of how busy you are, offer to help. Start by empathizing. Tell your colleague that you understand, and paraphrase the complaint back to them. Then offer to help in a specific way: Tell them you'll grab lunch, look over work that needs tending to, or...something else tangible. Chances are your colleague will take you up on the offer and feel appreciative. This act of generosity will make you feel better and more productive. You'll likely see that if you have time to help someone else, you have enough bandwidth to complete your own work.

Adapted from Guide to Managing Stress by by Gill Corkindale, Judith Ross, Tony Schwartz, Catherine McCarthy, Stewart D. Friedman, Peter Bregman, Amy Gallo, Alexandra Samuel, John Baldoni, Linda Steinberg, Ron Ashkenas, Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Vickie Elmer

Thursday, 8 December 2011

The Right People in the Right Seats

As a leader, how do you get the right people in the right seats?

Performance reviews tell you how well someone is doing their job, but they fail to reveal whether people are in the right jobs. This is especially problematic for average performers—those not yet skilled and knowledgeable enough to be high potentials, but not poor enough to need focused supports or even to be let go. Don't let these 'middle of the roadl' folks limp along in roles that are not right for them. Instead, consider "fit tests" at regular intervals that compare people's strengths and interests with their current job descriptions. For example, is someone in your school teaching a regular grade 5 class, but better suited for a special education role?  Is someone teaching older students who would be more effective with younger students because their talents could really help young children?  Trust your instinct if you sense there's a mismatch, and be honest.  Discuss it with them and get their perspective. You might help average employees become stars.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Take the Work Seriously, not Yourself

As a leader, are you taking the work seriously...or yourself?

If you are serving as a leader, you probably got to where you are because you sought out a leadership position.  Fortunately, many leaders are highly committed to the work they do.  They are motivated by the work, it aligns with their values, and they believe that the work is important.  Unfortunately, we occasionally find leaders who take themselves a bit too seriously.  These are the folks who like the title, the nice office, or sadly, the positional power.  These are the folks we follow not because they motivate or inspire us but because we must.  They are our bosses, not our leaders.

What kind of leader are you?  If a random sampling of your staff members were asked, would they identify you as someone who is highly committed to the important work of your school/organization?  Would they describe you as someone whose actions are driven by commitment to the work?  Or would they see you as someone more interested in themselves and their career? 

As you think about your own leadership.  Pause every once in a while and ask yourself if your words and actions - at any moment of any day - are motivated by a strong belief in the importance of the work you are doing or are motivated by some personal benefit that you may gain.  You will know the answers to these questions and you'll need to respond accordingly.  However, keep in mind the old saying: Don't worry whether they are listening to you or not.  Worry that they are watching.  If you have difficulty answering the question above, don't worry.  Those you lead can always answer it accurately. 

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Conscious or Unconscious?

As a leader, do you lead consciously or unconsciously?

Many of us have the good fortune to work with leaders who are exemplary and make leadership appear effortless.  We wonder what it is that makes them such great leaders.  It may be that they lead consciously.

As leaders, we can lead consciously or unconsciously.  Unconscious leadership is when we behave in ways that just seem like the right thing to do or are behaviours we've used in the past that have helped us get by.  Conscious leadership is when we select from a personal toolkit of leader behaviours that we know - not by 'gut feeling' - are the right choices for any particular situation. 

Unconscious leadership can get us into difficulty.  Sometimes our decisions or actions simply don't work well.  We end up paying the price by having to struggle with situations that don't go well with the added burden of the stress that accompanies these struggles.  Conscious leadership, on the other hand, is when we have a broad repertoire of leader behaviours that we consciously choose in order to respond to whatever situation we are facing.  Conscious leadership means we act in an informed way based on a set of personal skills that can help us through many of the situations we may find ourselves in. 

One of the ways to know if we are conscious or unconscious leaders is by asking this question: Do I know why I lead in the way that I lead and make the leadership choices that I make?  If you can answer yes and provide a sound rationale for your actions, you're likely a highly conscious leader.  If you have difficulty answering this question and you tend to lead spontaneously or rely more on 'gut feeling', then you're likely an unconscious leader. 

How do you build conscious leadership?  It's not that difficult.  It just requires some reflection on your leader behaviours.  On a regular basis, look back on situations you've dealt with.  Ask yourself some reflective questions like these:

  • Why did I choose to respond in that way? 
  • What worked?  What didn't work?  Why?
  • How would I handle that differently if I were to do it again?
  • What might I say differently next time?
  • What was the impact on those I was dealing with?  Was this the impact I hoped for?
  • What have I learned about myself as a leader? 
  • Do my actions align with my values and beliefs?
  • How might a leader I really admire have handled this?
  • What do I need to learn that would help me be more successful another time?
Reflecting on your own actions as a leader, leads you to a state of greater consciousness about your leadership and why you lead in the way that you do.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Staff Meetings

As a leader, are all your meetings purposeful?  If not, why do you have them?

Recurring meetings are a drag. These regular updates exist for a reason, but they are often boring and even unproductive. Here are three ways you can freshen up your staff meetings:
  • Review the meeting's purpose. People may show up just because it's on their calendar. Remind them why the meeting exists and ask if it still serves a purpose.
  • Solicit agenda items in advance. Give attendees the chance to bring up issues that are of interest to them.
  • Cancel if there is no reason to meet. No agenda items? Cancel. People will respect that you aren't wasting their time and will show up engaged when there is work to be done and value in meeting.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Too Much Information

As a leader, how do you know how much information to share with staff?

When leading a staff, it's always important to keep people informed about what's going on - especially when it may affect them and their work.  This means providing them with the information they need.  Yet not all information is necessary for them.  In fact, some might be just too much.  It can become mental clutter and serve as a distracter. 

How do you know when to share and when to be the gatekeeper and protect your staff from an overabundance of information?  As a leader, you need to know how to determine how much information your staff really wants or needs.  What is important for them to know?  What is less important and might well be best if not shared?  Sometimes in our zeal to be effective with communications, we share too much.  At other times, we may be overly-protective of staff and not share with them information that they may appreciate having. 

How do you achieve the balance?  One effective - but embarrassingly obvious - strategy is simply to ask them.  Ask who might like to serve on a small committee to help determine what's important for everyone to know and what's not essential.  By doing this, you demonstrate a desire to share anything that may be important for your staff while recognizing the need to gatekeep the flow.  Your job on such a committee is always to ask: But if someone wants to know more, how do we still ensure that they have access to it? And then ensure that there are structures in place for those who want more.  Virtually every school/organization has at least a small group of people who enjoy serving as the gatekeepers of information.  As leader, you can benefit from the talents on your staff while ensuring that everyone knows just what they need. 

Thursday, 1 December 2011

The Big Picture

As a leader, how much of 'the big picture' do you share with your staff?

As a leader, it's essential to have 'the big picture' of where your school/organization fits within the larger purposes of the system in which it is situated.  More importantly, as a leader, it's essential for you to have 'the big picture' of where your work and the work of your staff fits.  The question that arises for us as leaders is, How do we support staff in building their understanding of where their work fits within a larger, purposeful context?

None of us likes to work in a situation where we don’t see how our work connects to things that we believe to be of value or to be important.  As leaders, we need to provide opportunities for our staff to engage in conversations where connections are made to what is important outside the walls of the workplace.  If our work feels out of context or disconnected, it becomes meaningless.  Where is our motivation if we don’t see that our work adds value to any thing or any one?  As a leader, do the people you lead have the big picture of where their work fits both within the larger organization and within a greater purpose?  If not, this is an important opportunity for you as the leader to provide opportunities for staff to reconnect with why they chose to work in your school/organization.  Reconnecting to purpose can breathe new life into each of us.  The big picture can help each of locate ourselves within our work and within an important purpose.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Your Staff's Work = Your Leadership

What does your staff's work tell you about your leadership?

At a recent conference, one of the speakers posed this question: What does your staff's work tell you about your leadership?  It's a great question and needs to be shared.

As leaders, it is easy to look at the work of others - our staff - and feel any of a number of things.  These could easily include pride, anger, admiration, frustration, respect, ...and the list goes on.  However, when we feel these things, do we link the feelings back to our own leadership?  If we feel pride, admiration, or respect, do we think about what our leadership practices are that would support a member of staff to be successful?  Equally, if we feel anger, frustration, or other negative emotions, do we look in the mirror for answers?  If a member of staff is not doing a great job, what is our role as leader in supporting that person to improve? 

As you wander through your school/organization and you feel different things, take a moment to consider what your role is in each individual's success or struggle.  As leader, you have responsibility for the well-being of the the organization, the individuals in it, and the results.  Shift some of your thinking to yourself and your own practice and see what you come up with. 

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Shared and Distributed Leadership

As a leader, do you share and distribute leadership...and why?

If you do an online search of terms like shared leadership or distributed leadership, you will literally uncover hundreds of thousands of links.  There are likely as many understandings of these terms as there are people who use them.  But what do they mean to you? 

As leaders, we are exposed to a great deal of leadership terminology and we often bring it into our daily vocabulary.  However, do we have an understanding of what these terms mean for us and our practice?  Shared and distributed leadership are great examples to work with.  What do they mean to you - the same thing or different things?  What do they look like in your practice?  Do you use them in your work?  Do you use them intentionally for a particular purpose?  The questions go on....

The issue here for leaders is this: When it comes to shared and distributed leadership, can you explain your understanding of these terms, how you display them in your practice, and for what purposes?  Too often, leaders may be tempted to hand unappealing tasks over to colleagues under the guise of sharing and distributing leadership. This is simply dumping jobs the leader doesn't want to do into the laps of others.  Staff members can see through this type of behaviour.  The impact of this is that leaders can appear to be in power positions to unload work they don't like onto others. 

The next time you think about passing a task along to a colleague, or to share and/or distribute your leadership, ask yourself if you are doing this in the best interest of the person and the organization.  If you have solid and purposeful reasons for sharing/distributing leadership with others then you're probably setting up a valuable learning experience for this person.....and your integrity as a leader stays intact.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Recognizing and Celebrating Successes

As a leader, how do you recognize and celebrate the successes of your staff?

In the end, people will forget what you said, forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
Maya Angelou

As a leader, recognizing and celebrating the successes of your staff can be very motivating.  Kouzes and Posner (2002) speak about encouraging the heart and its significance for people.  As leaders, we often focus on the front-end deliverables related to planning, implementing, resourcing, and managing.  It can be easy to forget about the power and energy that comes from sincere recognition and celebration of actual accomplishments.  Emphasis here is on the word 'sincere'.  If it's not coming from your heart to their hearts, it's meaningless.  People see through insincerity very easily.

In his book Drive (2009), Daniel Pink cautions us that an excess of recognition and celebration can actually de-motivate people.  Staff learn quickly that if there is no 'reward' on the way, the work is either not important or it's not worth doing because recognition won't come on the heels of completion.  When recognition becomes routine, isn't sincere, and doesn't recognize truly worthwhile work, it means nothing.  

For you as a leader, it's a case of knowing your staff and how much recognition and celebration are appropriate.  Here are a few questions to guide your thinking about when and when not to praise.

  • How often will it be given?  In what forum?
  • Does it always come from you?  Can it also come from colleagues?
  • Is it done publicly or privately?
  • Is everyone recognized at some point?  Is anyone left out?
  • Do people know what merits recognition or does it appear to be arbitrary?  Does recognition come when school/organizational goals are met?
  • Are people praised for results, effort, or other reasons?  Why?
  • What have your staff told you about what they'd like in terms of praise, recognition, and celebration?
  • Is it sincere and honest?

From:  Leading Every Day by Joyce Kaser, Susan Mundry, Katherine E. Stiles, & Susan Loucks-Horsley
Published by: Corwin Press

Friday, 25 November 2011

Stop Complaining

As a leader, do you have a tendency to complain?

As leaders, we face daily challenges.  These challenges can be difficult for us because they draw on our skills, our knowledge, our beliefs, our values about the work we do, and in some cases, our patience.  We can handle challenges that demand skills, knowledge, beliefs, and values.  We can learn the skills and knowledge we need.  Beliefs and values may be tested but if we hold them dear, they won't weaken.  Patience, though, can be tough.  At times, our patience is tried by the range of challenges we face.  When patience is tried, we can slip into complaining.  When patience is often tried, we can slip into complaining often.  In fact, complaining can become a habit. 

Is complaining just blowing off steam?  That might be a convenient excuse to use to justify our complaining.  However, we need to consider those whom we serve (students, parents, communities) and those who follow us (our staff).  What is the impact of our complaining on them? 

As leaders, we hope to inspire both those whom we serve and those we lead but if we slip into the habit of complaining, the impact on staff can be far-reaching.  When leaders complain, staff can become demoralized, unmotivated, cynical, even fearful.  Worse, staff may not want to bring forward important issues for fear of the impact on you as leader.  The potential for a downward spiral in the culture of the workplace is evident. 

Next time you feel like voicing your complaints, consider who's listening.  What impact might your complaints have on them?

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Too Much Listening or Too Much Talking?

As a leader, have you found the balance between listening and speaking up?

Listening is a critical, often underutilized skill.  Sometimes for leaders there is a temptation to do a lot of the talking.  In recent years, there has been a growing awareness of how important it is for leaders to be effective listeners.   But if listening is already your forte, you may need to do more talking. Speaking up is a good way to demonstrate your expertise and gain the confidence of those around you.  As a leader, too much listening can come across as a lack of confidence or knowledge.  Staff need to hear from you - in measured amounts.  If you're hesitant as a speaker, find a safe place to try it out first. Talk shop with your friends or colleagues to test your ideas. Then, refine them to share in a meeting or with your colleagues. Try to say something early on in a meeting, even if it's something small, to establish yourself as part of the conversation. The challenge here is to support your staff by speaking up enough to set the stage for the conversation without creating an environment where your staff will feel they need to echo your ideas.  It's a fine balancing act.  Listening is important, but so is speaking. Success depends on doing both.  Finding the right balance - to ensure you bring out the best in your staff - is the place you are aiming for.  It will take some time but the rewards of building the capacity of your staff are worth the effort.

Adapted from "Keep Listening, but Start Talking" by Whitney Johnson.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

The Elephants in the Room

As a leader, do you name the elephants in the room and ensure they are dealt with?

Every school/organization has its own 'elephants in the room'.  There are always issues that hover beneath the surface that impede improvement efforts.  In a school, these may be issues related to why certain groups of students are not being successful, whether we truly believe that all students can learn given sufficient time and the right supports, whether consequences are punishments or are designed to restore relationships, why certain staff members appear to be privileged, and....the list goes on. 

The job of the leader is to summon up the courage to name these 'elephants' and then to provide a forum for these to be worked through.  Sound easy?  It may be if it's done superficially or if it's done from the stance of 'the boss'.  It's not so easy if you - as leader - truly want to address the issue at hand.  It's tough because it demands courage.  It demands comfort with uncertainty about how discussions will unfold.  And in particular, it demands skills in being able to facilitate a discussion so that all voices are heard and differing perspectives can be surfaced in a respectful manner.  This is the toughest part of all.  In fact, it is often seen as so difficult, leaders will sometimes let the 'elephants' remain in the room and not address them at all because the challenge of dealing with them is just too great.  However, as a leader, can you ethically let this happen?  You have been entrusted with the leading of a school/organization with confidence in your knowledge and skills to lead.  Dealing with challenging issues like the 'elephants' demands a lot of you but avoidance of issues sustains the status quo when improvement is possible if the challenges are faced. 

What can you - as a leader - do about this?  Dealing with difficult and complex issues requires confidence on your part as well as the skills of facilitation.  The confidence needs to be summoned up from inner strength.  The facilitation skills can be learned. 

If you don't face these 'elephants', true and important change can't happen.  The critical conversations won't take place.  Most significantly, those who rely on you - students, parents, staff - are being let down because they aren't being provided with the leadership that's needed.  It won't be easy the first time.  You might even fail.  However, choosing not to act should not be an option because it's a guarantee that nothing will change.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

As a leader, are you thinking strategically?

As a leader, are you thinking strategically?

Leaders need to think.  We need to think all the time.  It’s one of the reasons we need to be engaged in continuous learning.  But for what purpose do we need to do all of this thinking? 

Leaders need to think strategically.  If you are leading a school/organization, you have a significant level of responsibility to ensure that you are leading for continuous improvement.  People are placed in roles as leaders not to maintain the status quo but to bring about improvement.  But improvement doesn’t happen simply because we want it to.  It happens because we have thought strategically about all of the factors that influence a school/organization.  One by one, we analyze these factors in terms of how they contribute or distract from the important work that needs to be done.  Furthermore, we analyze how these factors relate to each other.  Factor X is important.  Factor Y is important.  But what is the relationship between these two factors.  Are they mutually supportive or mutually exclusive? 

As a leader, you need to think strategically so that your thinking serves the best interest of your school/organization.  But how do you know if your thinking is strategic or not?  Think of it this way.  Strategic thinking leads to decisions that bring about improvement.  Ask yourself, Will my decision make a positive difference to our work?  Will my decision make a change in what we are hoping to accomplish?  Will my decision maintain the status  quo – and is that a good thing?  

Truly skilled leaders engage others in discussions that benefit from strategic thinking.  Engaging others in strategic thinking is an indication of your strength as a leader.  You call on the best thinking available to help guide decisions.  There is always wisdom in the building if you allow it to surface in a safe conversation.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Leaders as Gatekeepers

As a leader, do you protect your staff from distracters by serving as a gatekeeper?

As a leader, one of the important roles you play is that of gatekeeper.  Every school/organization has an endless number of distracters that can take your staff off course from the core work.  When you serve as a gatekeeper, you keep these distracters at bay so that your staff can focus on the important work they do.  Some distracters are things that come from outside your school/organization.  Others come from higher up in your organization.  Others are brought into your organization by members of staff when they get an idea for something that is of interest to them personally.  Most disturbing is when the leader himself/herself is the one who brings in the distracters. 

As the leader/gatekeeper, it is vital for you to maintain the focus on the work of your school/organization.  You need to filter all distracters to determine if they will support the focus of your work or if they will funnel the energy of your staff into busywork that does not contribute to the fundamental purpose of the work. 

You need to be able to determine just how important that special field trip is to the learning of your students.  You need to be able to sort out which special event  - that uses up instructional time – really serves the learning needs of your students.  Most importantly, you need to be able to engage in dialogue those who bring forward the distracters to find out how the ‘special event’ serves the core business of your school/organization.  Staff may get tired of hearing you ask, “How does this support student learning?” but you need to do it.  If you don’t, you aren’t leading.  Leaders know how to engage people in conversation to sort through what supports the core work of your school/organization and what doesn’t. 

Friday, 18 November 2011

Espoused Theory vs. Theory of Action

As a leader, how do your espoused theory and your theory of action align?

As leaders, we each have some essential beliefs and messages that we deem to be important.  Part of our work is to ensure consistent messaging of what is important in the work we do in our schools/organizations.  This consistency helps staff to know what the focus of the work is and that it is not changing frequently.  No one works well when they are aiming at a moving target.  The essential beliefs and messages that you speak about are your espoused theory.

The problem with espoused theories is that they don't always align with our theories of action.  For example, in schools, we may claim that we believe deeply in student learning and ensuring that every student is successful.  However, does our theory of action align?  In other words, do our actions align with what we claim we believe in and what we stand for?  This is tough to answer for ourselves.  We may believe we can but how accurate are we?  In truth, only those we serve (students, parents, clients, customers) and those we lead can truly shed light on how well our actions align with our words.  Do our espoused theories align with our theories of action?  Does it matter to you?  If so, you'll want to determine some ways to find out.  Anonymous surveys are very helpful.  Nothing breeds cynicism more quickly than leaders who say one thing and act in a different way. 

As a guide, remember the old saying: Don't worry whether they are listening to you or not.  Worry that they are watching you.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Learning Stance or Performance Stance

As a leader, what is your stance?  Learning? Performance? Boss?

As leaders, we can take any of a number of stances.  Historically, leaders assumed more of a 'boss' stance.  That is, they assumed the role of the person in charge and then gave direction to staff in accordance with what they - and more senior levels of their organizations - believed staff needed to do in order to meet the goals of the school/organization.  Thank goodness the days of leaders assuming the boss stance are rapidly becoming memory.  It's a paradigm of leadership that may have worked at one time but it certainly doesn't address the reality's of today's workplace or the needs of the broader community.

Increasingly, we see leaders assuming one of two other stances.  These are the learning stance or the performance stance.  It's pretty evident by the term used that a performance stance is more about how a leader performs.  It's a lot about appearances and being seen to be doing things.  Leaders in a performance stance are always busy and always doing things.  Are they getting things done?  Likely, in some cases.  But it's more by luck than by design. 

As the nature of the workplace changes and the nature of how the public wishes to interact with schools and organizations, we see a different leader stance emerging.  This is the learning stance.  Leaders in a learning stance position themselves less in a hierarchical position and more along a continuum of responsibility where they - along with all members of staff - are engaged in learning while conducting their daily work.  Think about Peter Senge's 'learning organization' or Michael Fullan's statement that "Learning is the work".  Leaders who flatten the hierarchy, position themselves with staff along a continuum of responsibility, and actively co-learn with all colleagues are the new leaders in the current workplace paradigm.  Shared ownership and responsibility for school/organizational outcomes are the order of the day.  Gone are the egos, the performances, the bluff exteriors, and the hierarchy.

What's your stance?  Think about your own leadership.  Does it speak more to being the boss? Performing? Or learning along with colleagues?  Beginning to shift your stance just might help bring about some of the elusive results you are seeking.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Improving or Declining?

Are you leading an improving or declining school/organization?

As a leader, you are responsible for setting the direction of your school/organization and then mobilizing efforts to bring about improvement.  Many years ago, Larry Lezotte offered a very thought provoking comment about this.  He said, “There is no status quo…you are an
improving school or a declining school."

Lezotte tells us that our schools/organizations are either improving or declining and that there is no middle ground because the middle ground is the status quo - and status quo means declining.  Could you, at this point in time, identify whether you are leading an improving or declining school/organization? 

If you're declining, what is your plan to turn things around?  If you're improving, to what do you attribute your improvement?  Can you - and your staff - articulate specifically what is it that brings about this continuous improvement?  And very significantly, how are you sharing your improvement strategies with others so they too can improve? 

This is urgent work!  If you're improving, you need to share your learning with others.  If you're declining, you need to identify quickly what you're going to do about it.  As a leader, this means it starts with you.  Do you have the skills to bring about continuous improvement?  If not, you have some serious thinking to do about your valued added to your school/organization.  Harsh words?  Perhaps.  But consider the alternative.  The future of young people is in your hands.  They don't have time to wait for the adults to figure things out.  This is urgent work.  No child should lose a high-quality education because the adults are not yet well enough equipped to provide them with what they need.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Leading Meetings

As a leader, how do you lead open, honest, productive meetings?

Meetings without outcomes are a waste of time. Yet, many meetings fail to produce results because the conversation circles around the issues rather than focusing on them. To make sure decisions happen and people take action, you need to have a productive dialogue. Here are five things every meeting
should be:
  1. Open. The outcomes of your meeting should not be predetermined. Questions like, "What are we missing?", "Who else needs to be here?", "What voices are not represented at this table?" signal honest searching for a range of perspectives and more broad-based thinking.
  2. Candid. Encourage people to air conflicts. When people express their real opinions, productivity increases.  A quick 'go round' of the table to ask "What;s working for you and what isn't?" can help surface issues that need to be tabled. 
  3. Informal. Keep it loose. Conversations should be unscripted with honest questions and spontaneity...yet with meeting processes in place so that it's not unending.  This in itself takes lots of practice as the leader of meetings.
  4. Conclusive. Everyone should leave knowing exactly what they are expected to do.  A quick check-in helps.  Again, a quick 'go round' of the table to ask, "What's your action coming out of our meeting?" helps solidify the actions and confirms that the meeting had purpose. 
  5. Reflective - a few days after the meeting, check in with a few people to ask how it went.  Are meetings helping us accomplish what we want to accomplish?  Being sincere in seeking this input helps staff know that you're serious about their opinions and that you value both their opinions and their work.  

Adapted from Harvard Business Review on Making Smart Decisions.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Where are you spending your time?

As a leader, where are you spending your time?

As leaders, it matters a great deal where we spend our time.  Why?  It matters because where we spend our time indicates to our staff members - and others - what we believe to be important.  For example, if a school principal spends the majority of the day in the office - face glued to a computer screen - it's a clear message that 'office work' is job number one.  Alternatively, if a school principal spends a good portion of the day inside classes seeing what is happening and how students are learning, it's again a strong message.  This time the message is that what happens in the classroom, with students, is at the heart of the work to be done.  Keeping with the same idea of a school principal, consider the students and their families.  If they see the principal in the office most of the time, this conveys a message that the managerial aspects of the role take precedence.  Conversely, if the principal is in classes, or even out and about the school property, there is far greater opportunity to get to know the students and their families, who they are, and what's important to them.  Thus, this becomes seen as important. 

Where you spend your time tells people what is important to you.  As a leader, what's important to you needs to be important to them.  Otherwise, why would you be doing it?

Think about your day today - or any day for that matter.  Consider where you spent your time.  If you can accept the idea that where you spend your time conveys a message to people, what might people think is important to you based on where you are spending your time?

Friday, 11 November 2011

The Questions Every Leader Should Ask

As a leader, are you asking questions that can bring about improvement?

Asking the right questions is an essential skill of any leader. Yet many fail to inquire enough. Here are three types of questions you should be asking:
  • Questions about yourself. Good leaders ask themselves and others about what they could do better. Ask in a way that invites constructive, candid responses and allows those to respond to feel safe about responding.
  • Questions about plans and projects. These should both advance the work and develop the people. Tough and direct questions are OK, as long as they are in the interest of progress.  Better yet, ask questions that inquire and stimulate thinking.  For example, 'What was it about this approach that seemed the best approach?' ......or......'What might be some ways we could measure our results?'  When you ask a 'What might....' or 'How might...' question, you are opening up thinking.  Try it and see what happens.
  • Questions about the organization. Look for ways that the organization can function more effectively by questioning practices, processes, and structures. Ask: Why do we do things this way? Is there a better approach?  You need to ask yourself these questions first.  In the right setting, these are great questions to ask your staff....but ask them when people can respond as groups...until the culture exists where staff understand that you really want to know what works best and you're not testing them.

Adapted from "The Art of Asking Questions" by Ron Ashkenas.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Alignment of Your Beliefs and Your Actions

As a leader, do your actions align with your professed beliefs?

Many people feel that any decision is better than no decision. After all, you can always change direction at a later date. But, in an attempt to appear decisive, leaders may prematurely push for an answer. And if there isn't a clear conclusion, they'll provide one. This undermines a team's ability to make a collective decision. Pretty soon people stop participating because they assume you've made up your mind in advance. If you can't agree, don't impose an answer. Instead, end the discussion by putting a process in place that yields decisions—even slowly-made ones—that everyone can accept. That way you won't lose your staff's goodwill next time around.

Many of us profess to seek and honour collaborative decision-making.  However, if your espoused beliefs don't align with your actions, your staff will soon figure this out and may begin to disengage.  Remember, as a leader, people are watching you.  And they are often watching for the alignment between what you say you believe in and what you actually do. 

Adapted from "How to Cultivate Engaged Employees" by Charalambos A. Vlachoutsicos.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

As a leader, how do you engage your staff?

Engaged employees are essential to a leader's - and organization's - success. Without staff who care about, participate in, and take ownership over the work, even the best leader will flounder. Here are three ways to win your staff's engagement:

  • Be modest. Share both your mistakes and your successes. Staff will see that you're both human and don't have anything to prove.
  • Show that you're listening. People tune in to body language. Manage where you look and what you do with your hands so that staff know you're paying attention.
  • Don't have all the answers. Leaders should catalyze problem solving. Be willing to admit that you don't know what the answer is and invite your team to toss around ideas.

Adapted from: How to Cultivate Engaged Employees by Charalambos A. Vlachoutsicos

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Confucius and School Leadership

As a leader, how do you demonstrate Confucian leadership?  

Guest post by: Benjamin Law

School leaders demonstrate leadership and leadership capacity in many dimensions. What relationship do you see between the moral standard and the leadership of the school leader?

There were five classics of the Confucian canon in ancient Chinese. “Book of Rites” was one of the Five Classics.   It described the social forms, governmental system, and ancient/ceremonial rites of the Zhou Dynasty (c. 1050–256 BCE). The original text is believed to have been compiled by Confucius himself, whilst the edition usually referred to today was edited and re-worked by various scholars during the Han Dynasty (202 BCE – 220 CE). (Wikipedia)

In one of the chapters of the “Book of Rites”, called “Great Learning”, it has been mentioned that:

The ancients who wished to illustrate illustrious virtue throughout the world, first ordered well their own States.
Wishing to order well their States, they first regulated their families.
Wishing to regulate their families, they first cultivated their persons.
Wishing to cultivate their persons, they first rectified their hearts.”
                                                                                             (Great Learning, Book of Rites)

“Rectifying the hearts” can be interpreted as having a high moral standard. If a person would like to lead a country or state, the person’s heart should be rectified at the beginning.

This philosophy is significant because it ties into many themes of Chinese philosophy and political thinking and it has been influential in both classical and modern Chinese thought. It correlates individual action and higher goals such as ultimate world peace.