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Archive for December, 2014

Since 1967, I have had the privilege and opportunity to be directly and indirectly involved in school improvement efforts. I have had the privilege and opportunity to serve schools at the Primary/Elementary levels, at the High School/Junior College levels, at the College/University levels and at the Post-Graduate level. I have had the privilege and opportunity to serve public, private, faith-based, large, medium and small educational institutions within 22 of our 50 states and within seven different countries. I cannot begin to count the number of hours I have spent with Administrators, Faculty, Staff, Students, Parents and Board Members. In addition, I cannot begin to count or enumerate the number and variety of school improvement efforts attempted.

In our country ‘school improvement’ continues to be a ‘hot topic.’ It is ‘hot’ because it is believed to be not only important but urgent. It is also ‘hot’ because good people pass it around as they would the proverbial ‘hot potato.’ In addition to being ‘hot’ school improvement is also complicated (another understatement). In one sense it becomes ‘complicated’ because there are so many people who view themselves as ‘experts.’ Consider that this ‘many expert’ phenomena occurs for at least two major reasons: First, in our country all adults have had direct experience with at least one educational institution and, given this direct experience, the adults believe they then ‘know what it takes to make a good school.’ Second, unlike many other countries, educators in our country are still not ‘seen’ as being ‘truly professional’ – the old adage, ‘if you cannot do, then teach’ is still running amok in our country. A third reason is that within each of the institutions I mentioned earlier there is a dearth of great teachers – my sense is that each of us know more than one school that continues to employee more than a few instructors that are at best mediocre.

This combination continues to ensure that school improvement is more than a daunting challenge; it becomes nearly impossible to achieve. It’s not that so many folks want to put their finger in the pie; it’s that so many folks want to name the ingredients, then have a say in who is to create the pie, then who is to bake the pie (and which oven to use), and then to determine when the pie is done and then to how the pie is to be divided and then to decide who gets a slice, a piece or a nibble or none of the pie. No wonder so many school improvement efforts fail or fall short of their potential.

When it comes to school improvement, and thus the quality of education we offer our students, our country continues to fall behind. Each year – or is it each semester – we send folks to Finland, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, and Denmark (to name but a few) in order to ‘study’ their educational systems and to bring back the ‘best’ of what they do so we can implement it. I don’t know how many folks have taken such a trip and I don’t know how many such trips have been taken; from conversations it seems like thousands. No matter, what seems to be clear, however, is that for the most part our desire for school improvement has not been realized. Two days ago I was having a conversation about school improvement with the Head of a high school. He mentioned the other countries that consistently rank in the top 10 in the world when it comes to education (the ones I listed above, for example).

Although these countries have developed educational systems that are, in some instances, radically different from one another their results continue to be ‘over the top.’ Yet, there are some crucial similarities among the top group – those countries I noted earlier. First, each country is ‘small’ – especially in relationship to the United States. ‘Size’ is a crucial ingredient. Second, each country has a powerful national culture; we do not have a ‘national culture’ – we have many powerful sub-cultures. These sub-cultures exist regionally, by state and within each state (especially within our larger states). Culture matters! Third, because of their ‘size’ and ‘culture’ each country is then able to commit the country’s resources necessary to develop school improvement initiatives. Fourth, a commitment to education is paramount (even though our Founding Fathers knew and often stated that our survival and our ability to thrive was deeply rooted in an educated citizenry we have chosen – as a nation – not to fully embrace their view). Fifth, for many of these countries teachers are government employees (again, because of their size they can do this); this frees up money to be used for school improvement. Sixth, educators are deeply valued as key professionals entrusted with the future of their country via the education of their citizens. There are other ingredients but these will suffice for now.

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This is the final ‘Inner Dimension’ that I will be inviting us to explore at this time. At first I thought that a crucial ‘Inner Dimension’ for a Leader is ‘Trust;’ after noodling this for some time what emerged was that the ‘Inner Dimension’ is ‘Trusting;’ after some more noodling what emerged for me was that the ‘Inner Dimension’ is ‘Being Trust-Worthy.’ It seems to me that ‘Being Trust-Worthy’ requires both ‘Trust’ and ‘Trusting.’ The number of books, essays and articles written about these three concepts is, to say the least, overwhelming and continues to grow; given this phenomena alone, the topic must be an important one. Well, it is.

Consider, gentle reader that thousands of years ago a great Chinese sage noted that if a Leader wanted those who followed to be ‘trust-worthy’ then he must demonstrate ‘being trust-worthy’ by trusting them – by the by, he also noted, that if he wanted them to steal from others he could accomplish this by stealing from them. The Leader models the behavior and attitude and those who freely choose to Follow then seek to emulate the Leader. This continues to be so today.

Does the Leader want to be, seek to be, need to be ‘Trust-Worthy’? Well, it depends. For the short run a Leader might be able to rely upon Coercion and Manipulation (Note: the ‘short-run’ could be years). In addition, ‘Being Trust-Worthy’ is not inherently rooted in virtues (i.e. in beauty, truth or goodness); a Leader can be deeply rooted in certain vices (think ‘greed’) and still be ‘Trust-Worthy.’

‘Being Trust-Worthy’ seems to be rooted in consistency, congruency and commitment. The Leader who is ‘consistent’ might well be ‘worthy of the Followers’ trust.’ The Leader who is ‘congruent’ – that is, his or her words-emotions-attitudes-actions are in alignment – might well be viewed as ‘Being Trust-Worthy.’ The Leader who demonstrates ‘commitment’ – the Purpose, the Vison, the Mission, the Outcomes, the Goals, etc. – are often viewed as ‘Being Trust-Worthy.’ All of this fits one definition of ‘trust.’ Trust = confident expectation of something. This something might be life-nurturing or life-depleting; it might be virtuous or vicious; it might be health-full or disease-full.

There is another definition of ‘Trust’ however that shifts the focus: Trust = reliance on the integrity of a person. Integrity = adherence to moral and ethical principles. If the Leader is deeply rooted in this definition of ‘Trust’ then ‘Trusting’ and ‘Being Trust-Worthy’ shift from a ‘neutral’ position (or a harm-full position) to a moral and ethical position.

The ‘Inner Dimension’ of ‘Being Trust-Worthy’ is now directly determined by how moral and ethical the Leader is (or seeks to be). If a Leader is not being moral or is not being ethical (and these are not the same even though we often interchange the terms) he or she is not worthy of being trusted. Now the ante is upped! The Leader models being moral and being ethical and trusts that those who freely choose to Follow will also choose to be moral and ethical (of course, some will not choose to be either moral or ethical – not all choose integrity).

The English philosopher, Francis Bacon, offers us the following to ponder: Leaders ought to be more learned than witty, more reverent than plausible, and more advised than confident. Above all things, integrity is their portion and proper virtue.

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Whole = undivided, complete, healed. As human beings ‘our nature’ is to be whole. We are imperfect beings, therefore, we are always in process; we are either moving toward ‘being whole’ or we are moving toward ‘being divided’ (or fragmented); we are always ‘in process.’

First, the Leader is entrusted with his/her own ‘Being Whole.’ The Leader, as a human being- first, is called to seek to be ‘undivided,’ ‘complete,’ and ‘healed.’ Being ‘undivided’ and ‘complete’ are similar; some use the terms interchangeably. For an in-depth exploration gentle reader you might explore Parker J. Palmer’s book ‘A Hidden Wholeness.’ If the Leader is ‘undivided-complete’ he/she will be in balance. The balance will occur in several areas. One is the balance among the Leader’s P.I.E.S. P.I.E.S. are the Physical, Intellectual, Emotional and Spirit(ual) dimensions that help make us human. In addition to seeking to keep these in balance the Leader will also seek to nurture each dimension more than deplete it. It seems that if one of these dimensions is significantly depleted it will contribute to the depletion in the other three dimensions.

Another area the Leader is entrusted with involves congruency. The Leader as a human being is called to be congruent. That is, the Leader consciously (i.e. being awake and aware and intentional and purpose-full) seeks to align his/her words-emotions-actions so they are ‘in harmony.’ When this occurs the Led will say that the Leader is ‘Being Authentic.’ Again, since we are imperfect beings there will always exist a gap between/among our words-emotions-actions. When there exists a large gap the Led will learn not to trust the Leader. They will also experience inner confusion as to which to believe (the words, the emotions, the actions) and this confusion feeds not only questioning, but negative skepticism or worse, cynicism.

As if this is not enough and in order to complicate things for the Leader, he/she is also entrusted with helping to ensure that his/her Relationships are also ‘Whole.’ And as if this were not challenging enough, the Leader is also entrusted with helping to ensure that the Organization is ‘Whole.’

Because the Leader is imperfect, because Relationships are imperfect, and because the Organization is imperfect (remember that the Organization is composed of Individuals and Relationships writ large), division and incompleteness will occur. Often these show up as ‘wounds delivered’ – trust will be broken, promises will not be kept, agreements will be ignored, intentional and unintentional harm will happen.

These ‘wounds’ call for a third aspect of ‘Being Whole’ – ‘Healing.’ First the Leader needs to attend to his/her own healing. The Leader will be ‘wounded’ – intentionally and unintentionally. One charge of the Leader is then to ‘Be Vulnerable’ – that is ‘to carry the wound gracefully.’ This idea of ‘Being Vulnerable’ comes from the Latin root for ‘vulnerable’ – ‘vulnus.’ ‘Vulnus’ means ‘to carry the wound with grace.’ The other charge of the Leader is to seek ‘healing.’ This involves forgiveness and reconciliation. The Leader is also charged with helping wounded Relationships heal and the Leader is also charged with helping the wounded Organization to heal.

How might you, gentle reader, nurture this Inner Dimension of ‘Being Whole’ so that you are less divided, more complete, and more healed? How might you help others nurture this Inner Dimension?

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Just as the Leader cannot ask often enough: ‘What is my/the/our Purpose?’ the Leader cannot say ‘Thank You’ enough. A Leader needs to be ‘full of thanks’ and he/she needs to demonstrate ‘being thank-full.’ Perhaps the most powerful way is to stand in front of another – in the presence of others – and being as specific as possible thank the person. Saying ‘thank you’ can take the form of ‘gratitude’ or ‘recognition’ yet the verbal, specific ‘thank you’ continues to appear to be the most impactful. Next to the ‘in-person’ in front of others ‘specific thank you’ the written thank you is the most impactful (for some it is the most impactful).

I met a retired CEO who had for more than twenty years begun each day by writing specific thank you notes to 3-5 employees each day. During one of his many retirement celebrations (there were a number of celebrations as this was an organization that employed thousands of folks) an employee came up to him and said: ‘Many years ago you wrote me this note…’ (the employee then opened a wrinkled, well-read, very worn note and read the simple ‘thank you’ message) – the employee then continued: ‘I was about to leave this company because I did not feel appreciated. Your simple thank you has continued to support me all of these years.’ Ah, gentle reader, the power of ‘thank you.’

Gentle Reader, consider: Who do you need to say ‘thank you’ to? Why? Specifically, what are you thankful for? When was the last time you stood in the presence of others and thanked one of them (being very specific with your ‘thanks’)? When is the last time you wrote a thank you note to someone (again being specific with your thanks)? For thousands of years many faith and wisdom traditions have emphasized – and continue to emphasize – the importance and the ‘power’ of ‘thank you.’ Many faith traditions suggest that the first prayer (before rushing to the common ‘begging prayer’ most of us know so well) be a prayer of thanksgiving or a prayer of gratitude.

Consider that ‘Being Thank-full’ enables the Leader to look for and help the Led develop their strengths (i.e., values, principles, virtues, skills, natural abilities, capacities, etc.). These Leaders are rooted in an ‘encouraging model’ not a ‘discouraging model’ (e.g. the Leader who motivates by appreciating rather than by criticizing or the Leader who employs a ‘strength-based’ approach rather than a ‘weakness-based’ approach – the Leader builds upon and helps develop a person’s strengths so that the person’s weaknesses become irrelevant).

The Leader who is rooted in ‘Being Thank-full’ is more likely to also be rooted in caring, compassion, forgiveness (including reconciliation and healing), and empathy. These tap roots help nurture and sustain the Leader’s ‘Being’ – in this case his/her ‘Being Thank-full.’

In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by a thank-full encounter with another human being. –Albert Schweitzer

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For the Leader a major need is to have the Led embrace and enact the Purpose. This need can be communicated via verbal and written words, via symbols/pictures, and via ‘energy.’ I am not sure how this ‘via energy’ works; what I do know and what you might well have experienced is that does work. If the Leader puts out doubt he/she will get doubt back. If the Leader puts out mistrust he/she will experience mistrust manifested by the Led. If the Leader puts out hostility or fear these will be mirrored back to the Leader by the Led. This is no new idea: Thousands of years ago a great Chinese sage noted: If you want the followers to be trustworthy then trust them. Many years later psychologists called this ‘projection.’ We all ‘project’ on to others and what we project we get back.

The Leader must be awake and aware and intentional and purposeful about what he/she ‘puts out’ – what he/she ‘projects’ on to the other(s). The emotional climate of an organization will be rooted in the designated leaders and in those who are leaders by ‘situation;’ these leaders project their emotions, beliefs, attitudes, prejudices, etc. and these are then manifested in/by the Led. At times the ‘projection’ is modeled by the Leader; there is congruency between what the Leader says, does and emotes (thus the Leader is labeled ‘authentic’). At other times the Leader will espouse something and his/her behavior or emotions will not match (be congruent with) what is espoused. It continues to be confirmed that what the Led pay attention to is (1) the emotions then (2) the behavior and then (3) the words (there is some research that the Led pay scant attention to the words).

For example, if the Leader is highly anxious no words will soothe the Led; they too will exhibit high anxiety. Many years ago I was invited by a Leader to help because ‘fear was running amok’ within the organization. The Leader didn’t understand this as he reported that: ‘I am not afraid of anything!’ For years the Leader had projected his fear onto and into the Led and in doing so he did not have to feel his own fear; the Led ‘carried his fear’ for him. They carried the ‘symptom’ and he was then relieved of it. No matter. The organization was fear-full and it hindered the organization from experiencing the level of success that was possible for it to achieve.

The Leader was able to ‘see outward’ – the ‘fear as manifested by others.’ He was not able to ‘see inward’ – the fear that resided within himself. Only gradually, over time, was the Leader able to ‘see the fear’ residing within himself. Because he was fear-full himself he was not able to clearly and powerfully communicate Purpose and Focus. The Led became ‘focused’ on the fear they were feeling. The Purpose became ‘managing the fear.’

A very successful business man, W. Clement Stone noted: Definiteness of purpose is the starting point of all achievement.

In closing this brief exploration of ‘Purpose’ I invite us to consider that: As a Leader, all achievement is rooted in your mind. The first step is to know exactly what your/the Purpose is.

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