Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Great Teachers Are Great Leaders

Do you remember your favorite teacher? What was it about that teacher that made class better, more effective, and more productive?

Was learning interesting, even fun? Did you realize at the time that your teacher was demonstrating great learning skill AND great leadership? Where else could high performance leadership be more important than in our schools?

There's a great article here about a great leader and teacher from Alabama, April Kennamer and her approach to teaching. Her keys to teaching including:
  • Encouraging students to learn thru self-discovery
  • Creating curiosity in her students to compel them forward
  • Promoting respect for all things
We could certainly benefit from more leaders who include those three components.  We tend to remember more when we discover the answers on our own, most team members are more inclined to stay motivated if there is an element of curiosity in their work, and we all benefit from both giving and receiving more respect. You could even make a case for saying that respect is the primary key to all team success.

What do you think?


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Celebrating A Change In Leadership

It's an exciting time in the United States. Historical in proportions, we welcome the inauguration of Barack Obama. Whatever your political leanings are, I hope that you can enjoy the exhilaration that so many of us are feeling at this change in leadership. At last, the future seems brighter.

It's not so much that we expect one person to change everything. That would be a mistake. Instead, it's a feeling that we can at last come together and make meaningful change with a new sense of purpose, a new direction of unity.

It's also because in a very large way as a nation we have set aside some dangerous divisions that so long splintered our great nation. We haven't eliminated prejudice, but we have let it be known that it can no longer rule. We haven't eliminated racism, but we have overcome it's ugly hold. We haven't perfected progress, but we have shouted loud our willingness to get back on board.

Let's progress together. Let's help build a better world. Let's celebrate a change in leadership and learn what it takes to be great, compassionate and courageous leaders of our own.


Saturday, January 17, 2009

Reading "Influencer"

Influencer: The Power To Change Anything 

Some books belong in every leader's library. This is one. Get a copy right away and read it carefully if: 

* you want to change a habit
* you want to change an organization
* you want to the world
* you want to change anything

A leader's primary job is change, to move people from one place to another. In a world that is constantly changing, the paradox is that people usually resist change. Why bother? What's in it for me? What can I do about? These are questions your constituents ask, whether you know it or not. 

The high powered stable of authors (Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler) have presented a masterful guide to leading change. Let's be honest -- there are dozens of books on change and change mangement out there, many of them with compelling content. In my work to get my masters degree I had to read a lot of them. While all useful, I wouldn't call any of them a cook book for change, except this one. 

The problem with most change efforts, the authors explain, is that most people simply try to influence their constituents by talking in a persuasive manner. "If I just had enough charisma and enough of a compelling message I could convince people to change" seems to be the line of thinking. Unfortunately, usually the more persuasive you try to be, the more defensive people get about your deal. You probably can relate -- how do you react when people try to sell you something? How do you respond when someone tries verbally to convince you that they are right and as a result you must change? Most people dig in or turn the other way. That's what makes change so hard for so many. 

But what if you have a critical situation that requires change? What if people will die if behaviors are not changed? What if people are dying right now as the result of ineffective behaviors that could be stopped and changed? 

These are not hypothetical situations. The book details real life case studies involving problems as diverse as water supplies, prisoner reform, and medical cleanliness. The problems and need for change are very real, and the change efforts were so successful that thousands, perhaps millions of lives were saved. And we can all learn to implement the steps needed to bring about successful, meaningful, needed change. 

At the heart of the book is the concept that change is brought about by playing two critical levers, Motivation and Ability, in three critical fields: Personal, Social, and Structural. The book does a great job of explaining this, and I encourage you to check it out. If you're not sure, you can read a sample chapter and watch some stories told thru video at the author's site at: Go ahead, it's that important to try it out. 

I read this book with pen in hand, a great way to identify passages that you may want to return to. While the concepts are easy to understand, execution of them will require patience and dedication. It's not cafeteria style strategic thinking. You can't pick one from column A and one from column B and then hope that everything turns out OK for your change. That's what happens so often, but an effective change strategy must do two things: 

* Focus on a few vital behaviors that bring about meaningful change, and
* Use many strategies to help people experience and over-learn how to do those vital behaviors

To get people on board you must answer two questions:

* Why should I bother to do this?
* Am I able to do this?

These are questions of motivation and ability and must not be overlooked. Everything in the book is designed to help you answer those two questions and therefore succeed at your change effort. 

Here are some quick nuggets that I underlined as I was reading: 

* The great persuader is personal experience. With persistent problems, it's best to give verbal persuasion a rest and try to help people experience the world as you experience it. (p. 51) 

* People will attempt to change their behavior if (1) they believe it will be worth it, and (2) they can do what is required. (p. 71) 

* It takes a combination of strategies aimed at a handful of vital behaviors to solve profound and persistent problems. (p. 76) 

* The most powerful incentive known to humankind is our own evaluation of our behavior and accomplishments. (p. 94) 

* Here is the challenge influencers must master. They must help individuals see their choices as moral quests or as personally defining moments, and they must keep this perspective despite distractions and emotional stress. (p. 96) 

* You can influence even a resistant group of people if you're willing to surrender control. (p. 107) 

* Since opinion leaders are employees who are most admiered and connected to others in the organization, simply ask people to make a list of the employees who they believe are the most influential and respected Then gather the lists and identify those who are named most frequently (typically ten or more times). These are the opinion leaders. Once you know who they are, enlist them and partner with them in your efforts to institute change. (p. 152) 

* Create an environment where formal and informal leaders relentlessly encourage vital behaviors and skillfully confront negative behaviors. When this happens, people make personal transformations that are hard to believe. (p. 163) 

There is so much more to this book, but don't take my word for it, check it out here: . I won't gain anything from it if you decide to buy and read (and use) the book, but you probably will... 

Influencer, The Power To Change Anything, 2008, Patterson, K., Grenny, J., Maxfield, D., McMillan, R., Switzler, A., McGraw-Hill: NY 

Doug Smith

Further Up The Hill

Today I was reminded of this quote: 

"You can't help someone get up a hill without getting closer to the top yourself."
-- H. Norman Schwarzkopf 

Isn't that worth remembering as a leader? Effective leaders keep ambition in perspective. Are they helping others? Are they making a difference? Are they guiding people to a better place or situation?

In doing so, the benefits absolutely return. With a focus on service and helping, we all make it further up the hill. Who are you helping to make the climb? 

Doug Smith