Friday, 29 April 2011

Learning for Leaders

As a leader, do you continue to learn?  If so, are you learning 'in context'?

Learning in Context

...learning in context over time is essential.  Let us be precise here  because aspects of this lesson are counterintuitive.  Attempting to recruit and reward good people is helpful to organizational performance, but it is not the main point.  Providing a good deal of training is useful, but that too is a limited strategy.  ...  Learning in the setting where you work, or learning in context, is the learning with the greatest payoff because it is more specific (customized to the situation) and because it is social (involves the group).  Learning in context is developing leadership and improving the organization as you go. Such learning changes the individual and the context simultaneously. ... Opportunities to learn through study groups, action research, and the sharing of experiences in support groups create real supports for principals so that the complicated and difficult problems of instructional leadership can be addressed. 

From:  Leading in a Culture of Change by Michael Fullan
Published by: Jossey-Bass

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Mindful or Mindless - continued...

As a leader, have you overlearned some of the basics of your role to the point where you do your work 'mindlessly'?

When Practice Makes Imperfect
(...thoughts from Ellen Langer...)

- One of the most cherished myths in education or any kind of training is that in order to learn a skill one must practice it to the point of doing it without thinking. 

- When we drill ourselves in a certain skill so that it becomes second nature, does this lead to performing the skill mindlessly?

- Does it make sense to freeze our understanding of the skill before we try it out in different contexts and, at various stages, adjust it to our own strengths and experiences? 

- If we learn the basics but do not overlearn them, we can vary them as we change or as the situation changes.

- Perhaps one could say that for everyone there are certain basics, but that there is no such thing as the basics.

- ...experts at anything become expert in part by varying those same basics.   

From: The Power of Mindful Learning by Ellen J. Langer
Published by: Da Capo Press

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Challenging Conversations - more

As a leader, what principles guide your thinking when you face challenging conversations? 

Engaging in Challenging Conversations....

Most challenging conversations are in fact negotiations.  We are negotiating the terms of a relationship, how it will unfold, and which expectations each party brings to the relationship.  We are also often negotiating about who gets what or who will do what in the future.  Following are the key principles that inform a safe process for having challenging conversations:

  • solution focused, not blame focused
  • problem focused, not people focused
  • nonadversarial approach, not adversarial approach
  • dialogue, not diatribe - inclusive, not exclusive
  • interest and needs focused, not position focused
  • win-win orientation, not win-lose orientation
From:  The Principal as Leader of Challenging Conversations (Leading Student Achievement Series)
Published by: Corwin Press, OPC - The Ontario Principals' Council

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Setting Goals

As a leader, do you set goals for and/or with your staff?  Do you find that setting goals accomplishes what is needed and wanted? 

Goals work. ... The academic literature shows that by helping us tune out distractions, goals can get us to try harder, work longer, and achieve more.  ... Like all extrinisic motivators, goals narrow our focus. ... But...a narrowed focus exacts a cost.  For complex or conceptual tasks, offering a reward can blinker the wide-ranging thinking necessary to come up with an innovative solution. ... Substantial evidence demonstrates that in addition to motivating constructive effort, goal setting can induce unethical behavior.  ... The problem with making an extrinisic reward the only destination that matters is that some people will choose the quickest route there, even if it means taking the low road. ... Contrast that approach with behavior sparked by intrinsic motivation.  When the reward is the activity's impossible to act unethically because the person who's disadvantaged isn't a competitor but yourself.

From:  Drive by Daniel H. Pink
Published by:  Riverhead Books

Monday, 25 April 2011

First Principalship

As a leader, how 'authentic' are you?

The staff's reaction to me and to my way of leading was largely negative, and my newness contributed to my own uncertainty.  I began to believe I would need traits other than the ones I had, in addition to all the competencies I needed to master as a principal.  To veil my uncertainty, I thought I needed to present myself as having an assurance that I frankly didn't yet have.  I thought I needed to act "as if" until I got there.  I sought to become a principal they would respect and value, yet I wasn't sure how to do this.  I mistakenly had confused being nonauthoritarian with being authentic, but authenticity does not mean abdicating authority.  In addition, being authentic was even more of a challenge when so many people had their own, different expectations about what I should do and be.

I knew who I was as a person, but I needed to learn what it meant to be authentic as a principal.  It would not work to define my leadership by the traits other people had used to define their leadership.  I would be an authentic leader only if I used the attributes I already had to become the principal I aspired to be.  With the help of mentors and other allies, I found the support I needed to once again feel and display the self-confidence I had had before becoming a principal.  I was moving closer to true authenticity as a leader, which required claiming the authority of my own experience, claiming my own thoughts and feelings, and sharing them.

From:  Are you Sure you're the Principal by Susan Villani
Published by: Corwin Press

Friday, 22 April 2011


As a leader, are you taking the time to refuel? 

For many of us, today is a holiday from work.  Each of us will the use the day in a unique way.  My hope is that you're using the time to refuel.  By this, I mean, are you using the time to spend time with those who are most important to you?  Are you using the time to do the things that you love?  Are you using the time to do something that matters for someone else? 

When your tank runs dry, you're not much of a leader for others. 

To each of you reading this, I wish you a day that provides those essential opportunities for refueling.  My guess is that some of the urgent issues, emails, or phone calls can wait a bit. 

See you Monday,


Thursday, 21 April 2011

Crucial Conversations

As a leader, do you sometimes need to engage in crucial conversations?  Do you avoid them or handle them? 

What's a Crucial Conversation?

The crucial conversation we are referring to....are interactions that happen to everyone.  They're the day-to-day conversations that affect your life. 

Now what makes one of your conversations crucial as opposed to plain vanilla? 
First, opinions vary.....
Second, stakes are high...
Third, emotions run strong...

What makes...these conversations crucial - and not simply challenging, frustrating, frightening, or annoying - is that the results could have a huge impact on the quality of your life. 

By definition, crucial conversations are about tough issues.  Unfortunately, it's human nature to back away from discussions we fear will hurt us or make things worse.  We're masters at avoiding these tough conversations. 

But it doesn't have to be this way.  If you know how to handle (even master) crucial conversations, you can step up to and effectively hold tough conversations about virtually any topic. 

From: Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzer
Published by: McGraw-Hill

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Motivation 3.0

As a leader, is your staff working at the level of Motivation 2.0?  If so, how might they achieve flow?

Two main drives powered behaviour.  The first was the biological drive. (i.e. Motivation 1.0)

[The] second drive came from without - the rewards and punishments the environment provided for behaving in certain ways.  (i.e. Motivation 2.0)

Motivation 3.0
[The] newly discovered drive - 'intrinsic motivation'.........the state of optimal challenge called 'flow'.  What drives participants is "a set of predominantly intrinsic motives" - in particular - "the fun...of mastering the challenge of a given...problem"...

...we need to move beyond the idea of Homo Oeconomicus (Economic Man, that fictional wealth-maximizing android).  But his extension goes in a slightly different direction - to what he [Bruno Frey] calls Homo Oeconomicus Maturus (or Mature Economic Man).  This figure, he says, "is more 'mature' in the sense that he is endowed with a more refined motivational structure." 

From:  Drive by Daniel H. Pink
Published by:  Riverhead Books

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Motivation 1.0 and 2.0

As a leader, do you motivate your staff by rewarding the good and punishing the bad?

Motivation 1.0 - trying to survive.  From roaming the savannah to gather food to scrambling for the bushes when a saber-toothed tiger approached, that drive guided most of our behaviour.

Motivation 2.0 - to seek reward and avoid punishment.  Harnessing this second drive has been essential to economic progress around the world, especially during the last two centuries.  The Motivation 2.0 operating system has endured for a very long time.  Indeed, it is so deeply embedded in our lives that most of us scarcely recognize that it exists.  For as long as any of us can remember, we've configured our organizations and constructed our lives around its bedrock assumptions.  The way to improve performance, increase productivity, and encourage excellence is to reward the good and punish the bad. 

From:  Drive by Daniel H. Pink
Published by:  Riverhead Books

Check tomorrow for..........Motivation 3.0

Monday, 18 April 2011

Defining Trust

As a leader, do you trust others and are you trustworthy? 

Most people rely on an intuitive feel of what is meant when we say that we trust someone.  Trust is difficult to define because it is so complex.  It is a multifaceted construct, meaning that there are many elements or drivers of an overall level of trust.  Trust may vary somewhat depending on the context of the trust relationship.  It is also dynamic in that it can change over the course of a relationship, as expectations are either fulfilled or disappointed and as the nature of the interdependence between two people changes.  Reoccuring themes emerged as I examined various definitions of trust in the literature, which led me to the following definition:  Trust is one's willingness to be vulnerable to another based on the confidence that the other is benevolent, honest, open, reliable, and competent (Mishra, 1996; Tschannen-Moran & Hoy, 1998, 2000)

From:  Trust Matters by Megan Tschannen-Moran
Published by: Jossey-Bass

Friday, 15 April 2011

Trust Matters

How is your leadership informed by trust?

Key Points About Why Trust Matters

  • School leaders that have the trust of their communities are more likely to be successful in creating productive learning environments.

  • Trust is a challenge for schools at this point in history, when all of our institutions are under unprecedented scrutiny.

  • Much of the responsibility for realizing our society's vision of greater equity is vested in our schools.  Consequently, higher expectations are especially brought to bear on those who educate our children.

  • Without trust, schools are likely to flounder in their attempts to provide constructive educational environments and meet the lofty goals that our society has set for them because energy needed to solve the complex problem of educating a diverse group of students is diverted into self-protection.

  • Trustworthy leadership is the heart of productive schools.

From:  Trust Matters by Megan Tschannen-Moran
Published by: Jossey-Bass

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Visionary Leadership

As a leader, do you know where you are going, why, and with whom?

Change is Constant

Positive action: Know where you are going; Know why you are going there; and Know who is going with you.

There are a great many books  on visionary leadership.  They each present their own philosophical perspective, often accompanied by wonderfully quotable quotes.  Yet, visionary leadership really boils down to a few specifics for leaders: vision, values, and visibility.

Vision: Know where you are going

Values: Know why you are going there

Visibility: Know who is going with you

From: Ten Principles for New Principals by Mark Joel
Published by: Robin Fogarty & Associates

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Mindful or Mindless?

As a leader, are you mindful or mindless?

A mindful approach to any activity has three characteristics: the continuous creation of new categories; openness to new information; and an implicit awareness of more than one perspective.  Mindlessness, in contrast, is characterized by an entrapment in old categories; by automatic behaviour that precludes attending to new signals; and by action that operates from a single perspective.  Being mindless, colloquially speaking, is like being on automatic pilot.

From: The Power of Mindful Learning by Ellen J. Langer
Published by: Da Capo Press

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Work Consists of Mainly Uninteresting Tasks

As a leader, do you manage people who are doing mainly uninteresting tasks?  If so, what might you do about it?

If you manage other people, take a quick glance over your shoulder.  There's a ghost hovering there.  His name is Frederick Winslow Taylor...and he's whispering in your ear.  "Work," Taylor is murmuring, "consists of mainly simple, not particularly interesting tasks.  The only way to get people to do them is to incentivize them properly and monitor them carefully."  In the early 1900s, Taylor had a point.  Today, in much of the world, that's less true.  Yes, for some people work remains routine, unchallenging, and directed by others.  But for a surprisingly large number of people, jobs have become more complex, more interesting, and more self-directed. 

From: Drive by Daniel H. Pink
Published by: Riverhead Books

Monday, 11 April 2011

Looking in the Mirror

As a leader, when things go well, who gets the credit?  And when things go badly, who gets the blame?

Level 5 leaders look out the window to apportion credit to factors outside themselves when things go well (and if they cannot find a specific person or event to give credit to, they credit good luck).  At the same time, they look in the mirror to apportion responsibility, never blaming bad luck when things go poorly.

From: Good to Great by Jim Collins
Published by: Harper Business

Friday, 8 April 2011

Leader or Manager?

As a leader, do you characterize yourself as a leader, a manager, or a combination of the two?

Over time, the concept of 'leadership' vs. 'management' has somehow evolved into a pejorative view of management skills as a set of low-level, mundane and inferior set of skills when compared to the loftier instructional leadership skills.  The intention here is not to enter into a qualitative debate, but rather to demonstrate that an effective instructional leader needs to have well-developed management skills in order to lead effectively.  A poor manager will be hampered by broken relationships, mounds of unfinished paperwork, unmet deadlines and missing or unspent school funds. 

What follows is a synopsis of the key management skills whose absence have caused difficulty for some school leaders.

The article goes on to describe:
  • communication skills
  • time management
  • delegation
  • dispute resolution
  • fiscal responsibility
  • self-management
From:  Instructional Leadeship vs. Instructional Management by the OPC Professional Services Team
Published in: OPC Register - Spring 2011, Vol 13, No. 1

Thursday, 7 April 2011


As a leader, how well do you listen?

I believe we can change the world if we start listening to one another again.  Simple, honest, human conversation.  Not mediation, negotiation, problem-solving, debate, or public meetings.  Simple, truthful conversation where we each have a chance to speak, we each feel heard, and we each listen well.

What would it feel like to be listening to each other again about what disturbs or troubles us?  About what gives us energy and hope?  About our yearnings, our fears, our prayers, our children?

From:  Turning to One Another by Margaret Wheatley
Published by: Berrett-Koehler

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The Three R's of Leadership

As a leader, how well would you say you have mastered the 'Three R's'? 
  • RESILIENCY - the ability to recover quickly from a change or misfortune or to resume original shape after being bent, stretched, or compressed
  • RENEWAL - the act of becoming new again, of replenishing, restoring, or regaining physical or mental vigor
  • REFLECTION - the act of taking time for careful consideration, contemplation, and meditation
From: Survival Skills for the Principalship by John Blaydes
Published by: Corwin

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Sustainable Leadership

As a leader, in what ways are you building sustainable leadership in your organization?

Beyond the revolving doors of leadership that plague many systems today, sustainable leadership builds capacity and develops leadership succession in a dynamic and integrated strategy of change.  The seven principles of sustainable leadership are a fundamental part of the Fourth Way.

  1. Depth - of purpose in developing student learning
  2. Breadth - so this purpose and its achievement are a shared and distributed responsibility
  3. Endurance - over time
  4. Justice - in attending to all students' learning and achievement
  5. Resourcefulness - in using financial resources and human energy
  6. Conservation - in connecting future visions to past traditions
  7. Diversity - of curriculum, pedagogy, and team contributions
From: The Fourth Way by Andy Hargreaves and Dennis Shirley
Published by: Corwin, OPC - Ontario Principals' Council, and NSDC - National Staff Development Council

Monday, 4 April 2011

Understanding the Change Process

As a leader, do you need to manage change?  If so, how do you approach it?

Understanding the change process is less about innovation and more about innovativeness.  It is less about strategy and more about strategizing.  And it is rocket science, not least because we are inundated with complex, unclear, and often contradictory advice. ... The goal is to develop a greater feel for leading complex change, to develop a mind-set and action that are constantly cultivated and refined.  There are no shortcuts.

Understanding the Change Process
  • The goal is not to innovate the most.
  • It is not enough to have the best ideas.
  • Appreciate the implementation dip.
  • Redefine resistance.
  • Reculturing is the name of the game.
  • Never a checklist, always complexity.
To find out more.........

From: Leading in a Culture of Change by Michael Fullan
Published by: Jossey-Bass

Friday, 1 April 2011

Reflective Leadership - Part 2 of 2

Yesterday, I posed the question: How reflective are you as a leader?  

Today, we'll look at how reflective leaders think.  Here are some of the questions reflective leaders as of themselves:
  • What did I learn today?
  • Whom did I nurture today?
  • What difficult issue did I confront today?
  • What is my most important challenge right now?
  • What did I do today to make progress on my most important challenge?
  • ......and......If I were to do it again, how would I do it differently?
Adapted from:  The Learning Leader by Douglas Reeves
Published by: ASCD - the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development