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.