Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Blind Spots in Your School/Organization?

As a leader, how do you ensure you keep an eye on 'blind spots'?

When our brains concentrate intensely on one task, we miss what is happening around us. This means that when your team diligently focuses on a task, it's likely they're missing something. Here are two ways to identify those blind spots:
  • Assign the task of speaking up. Every time your team meets, include an agenda item that reads: "What are we missing?" Rotate responsibility for answering that question so everyone eventually contributes.
  • Get an outsider's perspective. Bring people in from other parts of the organization to analyze your observe and comment on your work. They might not know about the progress, methods, or solutions being worked on already, but they may see something your team doesn't.  They too can ask the question: "What are we missing?"

Adapted from "Why You May Be Blind to a Good Idea (and What to Do About It)" by Cathy N. Davidson.

Monday, 30 January 2012

What is it about your leadership?

As a leader, what is it about your leadership that makes a difference?

Each of us is an individual.  We have unique knowledge, experience, stories, and skills.  The same can be said of us as leaders.  We each lead in different ways based on our knowledge, experience,and skills.  The important question each leader needs to ask himself or herself then is: What is it about your personal leadership that makes a difference in your workplace?

This question causes you to reflect on yourself as a person and as a leader.  What is unique about you and your leadership that makes your school/organization successful?  It's more than bringing together a great team of people.  Leaders add value.  What is your value added to your school/organization?  If this isn't an easy question to answer, it probably calls for some thinking/reflecting on your part. 

Here are just a few questions that might help guide your thinking:

  • What are my unique knowledge, experiences, and skills?
  • How do I use these as a leader in my workplace?
  • Do I make conscious decisions to enact certain leader behaviours?
  • Do I rely on 'gut reaction' (unconscious decision-making) in order to lead? 
  • Is my school/organization doing well, at least in part, thanks to my leadership?  How do I know?
  • Could I be replaced by another person and the school/organization would do just about as well?
  • What value do I add as leader? 

Friday, 27 January 2012

Listening without Reacting

As a leader, do you know and use the skills of listening - without reacting?

Listening is harder than speaking. Even the best listeners sometimes have to bite their tongues to stop from reacting, interrupting, or trying to deal with the person talking. Here are four ways you can truly listen:
  • Avoid distractions. This doesn't just mean putting down the Blackberry or closing your web browser. Try not to think about what you're going to say next. Simply focus on what the other person says.
  • Listen for content and emotion.  When people are concerned about something and are speaking with you, there is both content (the issue) and emotion (how they're feeling).  Listen for both.  You'll need them in the next step.
  • Repeat back by paraphrasing concisely. This sometimes feels silly, but repeating back what you heard - in the form of a clear, concise paraphrase - shows the other person that you're listening and you're getting it.
  • Ask thoughtful questions. Ask open-ended questions that help you see the issue more clearly and allow your conversation partner to go deeper into what s/he cares about.

Adapted from "How to Really Listen" by Peter Bregman.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Engage your Staff as if they were Customers

As a leader, how do you engage your staff?

The same techniques for earning stakeholder loyalty also work when engaging members of your staff. After all, both efforts depend on treating people with respect. Here are two ways to use 'customer service' approaches to improve relationships with all of your staff.
  • Get real-time feedback. Don't wait for the annual staff member survey - or whatever other tool you use to gather feedback - to ask people what they think. Conduct regular and anonymous surveys that respect the time of your staff members and only ask the few questions that yield the most important insights. This will generate a steady stream of ideas for improvement.
  • Make staff engagement a priority. If 'customer service' is a top priority in your school/organization, employee loyalty should be as well. Don't delegate the effort to HR - or worse yet, ignore it. Instead, ask those who closely interact with staff members to make sure they're engaged.  Ultimately, it's the school/organization and those it serves that win.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

When you need to apologize

As a leader, when you need to apologize, how do you do it?

When your school/organization messes up, avoid the half-hearted, half-baked apology. Instead craft a clear, strategic message that explains what went wrong and how you're rectifying the situation. Here are three tips for doing that:
  • Keep it simple. Get to the point and don't deviate. Don't include any veiled attempts to shirk responsibility or appease people. You'll just upset stakeholders (those you serve as well as your own staff) and muddle the message.
  • Mean what you say, and say what you mean. If you're truly sorry for your school's/organization's actions, say so and leave it at that. Avoid clarifying phrases and long, self-lauding explanations.
  • Reaffirm your school's / organization's core values. Reaffirm what you stand for and communicate how you intend to bring the school/organization back to the values that guided it to success in the first place.

Adapted from "Smart Apologies Should Be Strategic" by Rosanna M. Fiske.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Prioritize before you begin

As a leader, do you prioritize your work before jumping into it?

Launching a project before you have a good sense of all its components will likely slow down your work and its successful completion. Make sure you get your priorities right - including input from colleagues - before setting your project in motion:
  • Clarify the assignment. Don't start until stakeholders and colleagues agree on the goals and the general timetable.
  • Organize your staff. Get team members involved at the get-go so they feel ownership. Agree on a way of working – how often you'll meet, how you'll communicate, etc.
  • Create a project plan. Ask your team to help you identify project activities and how long they will take. Put them in sequence and identify which are interdependent and which can run at the same time.
  • Determine check-in points. Set some specific dates to do check-ins on progress.  Catching gaps and mistakes early can them corrected quickly.

Adapted from Guide to Project Management from Harvard Business Review

Monday, 23 January 2012

Stop Emailing! Pick up the Phone!

As a leader, do you build strong working relationships by using personal communication?

Email has dramatically changed the way we interact. But, it cannot replace live, person-to-person conversation. This especially applies when resolving a conflict or communicating an important decision.  Too many people try to do important or sensitive business through email. This is problematic because tone and context are easy to misread. In a live conversation, how one says something is as important as what they are saying. Without inflections and intonations, it's hard to understand the feelings behind the words. In fact, email-based conflict often escalates because you aren't required to be as thoughtful as you would be in a one-on-one conversation.  Indeed, even apparently benign emails can turn ugly if they are misunderstood.  Next time you have a delicate or complex issue to discuss, take your hands off the keyboard and pick up the phone.

Keep your communications emotionally intelligent.

Adapted from "Don't Send That Email. Pick up the Phone!" by Anthony Tjan.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

What people are saying on Twitter

  Eric Jonas Swensson
Words to Live By: People are lonely because they build walls instead of bridges.
For leaders......how do we build more bridges to those we serve?

Friday, 20 January 2012

Reflections on Leadership as it relates to being a new Parent

How is being the parent of new-born twin boys like leadership?

My twin boys came on Dec 15th and today is the first month after they were born. These boys are behaving so differently compared to my daughter who just turned two a few weeks ago.

I reflected upon leadership in terms of the need for establishing a strong partnership between my partner and me. Throughout the entire last month, it was really a challenging time as my wife and I are mainly the only people looking after the 3 young kids in our household. Non-stop feeding, burping and diaper changing are already programmed in my brain. I am glad that we have a strong partnership in dealing with challenges around the clock.

How do I apply this to school leadership? Once a good partnership is established among staff at school, challenges will be met and shared.

A good partnership is key for successful leadership at school. School leader partnerships involve other stakeholders including school staff, board staff, parents, students and other community members.

To have a good partnership, I thought about the following six key directions:

1) Keeping up good communication skills (listening, expressing, verbal and non-verbal).

2) Respecting all stakeholders.

3) Willing to trust and bring trusted.

4) Keeping up a sense of humor.

5) Sharing the work.

6) Sharing the responsibility for outcomes.

Guest Post from: Benjamin Law (York Region District School Board)

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Go Slow to Go Fast

As a leader, are you able to 'go slow to go fast' when bringing about change?

When bringing about change in your school/organization, it's essential to know the staff you work with and how they manage change.  If your staff is typical, you'll have early adopters, the reluctant/resistant, and everything in between.  This can seem incredibly challenging when you want to move things along and it seems that everyone is all over the place in terms of their ability and willingness to change.  Keep the old phrase - Go Slow to Go Fast - in mind.  You want to be sure that the pace of change is manageable and that as change occurs, you have helped to create depth of understanding of the new practices and not just superficial adoption of what appears to be updated practice.

Going slow to go fast ensures that you respond to the willingness and ability of your staff to build understanding of the new practices as well as giving them time to try out the new practices.  Here's what's likely going to happen...and what you need to do to support it....

  • Early Adopters - they'll be all over the change.  They'll want to learn all about it, try it out, and chat it up.  Support these folks because they'll potentially become your resident experts.
  • The reluctant/resistant - they'll hold back, watch others, possibly speak negatively about the change.  Keep these folks close to you.  Listen, watch, listen more, and build strong working relationships with them.  They may be resistant/reluctant for reasons you don't even know.  Get to know them.  You might just uncover some gems.  If not, at least you'll be well-positioned to help them along when the new practices become mandated practice.
  • Everyone else in between - these are the trickiest ones.  Some will appear willing to adopt new practices but they're just muddling about or engaging superficially.  Others may adopt some aspects of the new practices - enough to get you to believe they're doing it - but secretly hoping it all goes away.  These are the staff members for whom you need to build structures for learning, practice, and reflection on the new work.  These folks will come around but they need lots of support and lots of reflecting.  If you manage the support/reflection piece well, you've got them well on their way.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Don't Stay Late - Go Home!

As a leader, how are you looking after your own well-being?

Do you control your work hours or are they starting to control you? More people are staying late at work and suffering because of it.  Are you one of them?  Before you have dinner at your desk (Yet again!), try these three things:
  • Know your priorities. When deciding whether to stay and finish a task or put it aside until the next day, remember what your priorities are. If the task furthers your professional and personal goals, then it may be worth putting in the extra time.  And be honest.  Not all tasks further your goals.
  • Agree on expectations at home. Discuss your work hours with the people closest to you—your partner, spouse, or friends—to be sure your expectations are aligned.  Disappointments and resentments can be growing at home and you're not there to 'nip them in the bud'.
  • Talk about it at work. Make it clear that you are willing to stay late if there is a legitimate reason, such as a specific deadline. But emphasize that this should be the exception, not the rule.  The same is true of your staff.  You need to attend to their well-being as much as your own.

Adapted from "Should You Stay Late or Go Home?" by Ron Ashkenas.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Lead with Emotions in Mind

As a leader, do you consider the emotional impact of your words and actions?

People resist direction or change that they don't understand, don't value, or whose demands they don't feel they can measure up to.  The impact on individuals can be significant....and not necessarily in a good way.  Positive emotional impact - recognition of a person's work or their personal life - can be inspiring.  On the other hand, negative emotional impact - not noticing work well done, negative comments, neglecting the personal lives of staff members - can cause people to resist, shut down, or, at worst, sabotage organizational efforts. 

Staff members feel more confident about taking direction and tackling new ideas when leaders set a positive tone by recognizing work that is well done, thanking people for their work, and by exuding awareness and appreciation of the complexities of the work they are being asked to do. 

Remember the great quotation:

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

Don't miss a chance to recognize a staff member for work well done or to thank someone for their efforts.  They'll remember how you made them feel!

Monday, 16 January 2012

Sometimes They Need to Know

As a leader, how much do you share with your staff?  How do you share it?

As leaders, we have many conversations in our offices with many different people or groups.  In some cases, significant discussions take place.  Some of these discussions end up in important decisions.  However, just because the conversation happened in your office and it was held with a group of key stakeholders, it doesn't mean that your staff knows what's going on.  How do you share important discussions, decisions, or information with all staff? 

Here are a few questions to ask yourself about how you share - or not! - the conversations you have:

  • Who needs to know?
  • Does everyone need to know?  If so, why?
  • Who would like to know?  And just because they'd like to know, does it mean you share with them?
  • Who might be affected by the discussions or decisions?  How will they find out what was discussed?
  • Might you be missing additional thinking if some people are left out of discussions?
  • How do you share discussions / decisions / information? 
  • Do people have a variety of ways to access information from you?
  • What might be the impact if some people don't know about the discussions or decisions?

Communication is a critical aspect of any school/organization.  People can feel included - or excluded - based on their access to information.  Exclusion from information can have a negative affect on both performance and morale.  In 2012, communication has never been easier.  Multiple methods of sharing information (bulletin boards, memoes, Twitter, email, etc.) have made it possible for everyone to have virtually immediate access to information. 

Don't risk damaging staff morale or their performance because you - as the leader - neglected to share information. 

Sunday, 15 January 2012

What people are saying on Twitter

A great sentiment for all educators...

  Brad Lomenick
Don't be obsessed w/getting ur own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough 2 lend a helping hand. - Philippians 2:4

Friday, 13 January 2012


As a leader, do you sometimes find yourself procrastinating?

To procrastinate may be human but it's not very rewarding. If putting off tasks is hindering your performance, making you unhappy, or preventing you from doing what needs to be done, try these three things:
  • Identify what you put off. When you find yourself ignoring or delaying a task, ask yourself why. Knowing what you tend to put off can help break the cycle and prevent future procrastination.
  • Set deadlines. Break up tasks into smaller chunks - when possible - and then create a schedule with clear due dates for each part.
  • Increase the rewards. Tasks with rewards far in the future are easy to put off. To make a task feel more immediate, focus on the short-term rewards. If there aren't any, insert your own. Treat yourself to a coffee break or a quick chat with a co-worker once you've finished a task.
Adapted from "Stop Procrastinating...Now" by Amy Gallo.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

How do you use Social Media to learn?

As a leader, how do you use social media to learn?

It only takes a passing glance at social media to see that people use them for learning.  It may be something as simple as someone seeking suggestions.  It could be a link to a valuable website or a great article to read.  It can also be an opportunity to engage in longer-term discussions about issues or ideas that really matter to you and your work.  So...how are you using social media to learn?  Or are you?  If you're not, you may be missing something really valuable - not to mention that without connection to social media, you're less and less connected both to issues that are current for people and the methods they use to engage with these issues. 

Does participating in social media demand some new learning on your part?  Sure.  It might take a half hour of your time and the knowledge of a friend who is familiar with any particular medium.  Is it worth it?  Absolutely!  In an age when change occurs quickly, information is essential, and connection is critical, you're being left behind if you opt out.  Ignore social media at your peril as a leader.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Drop Your Mask and Be Authentic

As a leader, are you authentic with your staff?

Are you hiding from your staff? Too many leaders try to conceal their flaws and present a polished fa├žade - the 'bluff exterior'. Or they try to behave like they think "great" leaders do. When you try to be someone else, it erodes trust and effectiveness and causes people to question your true identity.  Your staff can see through this behaviour.  So drop the mask and be who you really are. This can enhance your relationships, foster trust, and create better outcomes at work. Be honest about your imperfections and ask others to help you determine how to bring more of your authentic self to work.  By not being 'perfect', you're able to build capacity in your organization/school by cultivating the knowledge and skills of your colleagues. 

Adapted from "Fire, Snowball, Mask, Movie: How Leaders Spark and Sustain Change" by Peter Fuda and Richard Badham.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Want to Change? Choose Just One Thing

As a leader, are you thinking of starting the new year with some new commitments?

New Year's resolutions can be overwhelming and often overly-ambitious. Instead of tackling all of them at once, list all the things you would change if you had the time. Take a good look at the list and think about the one thing that would impact several things on your list. Make it short and simple. Perhaps you need to be more assertive, or maybe you need to slow down, or speak up more often for yourself or your work. If you're not sure, try something for a few weeks and see if it's working. Then, each morning, remind yourself of your one thing. Soon it will become second nature as the results reinforce your commitment to change.

Adapted from "What's Your One Big Theme?" by Peter Bregman.

Monday, 9 January 2012

What are you planning to learn this year?

This post is a revised version of the Dec 22/11 post - with a view to the future....

As a leader, what are you planning to 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 are you planning to learn this year?  What will be 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 you might want to change. 

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

  • What went well last year?
  • What didn't go so well last year?
  • If I were to do something from last year over again, what might I do differently?
  • What would I not change in my leader practices for this year?  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?

Monday, 2 January 2012

What People are Saying on Twitter

  Women in Leadership
Women make up over 50% of workforce. The Economist reports on the mancession, child care, and women's economic empowerment: