LeaderVine: Leading tied to God

Staying connected to lead in education, family, and life. "I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." John 15:5

Summer Reflections: Shark Week, Jaws and Learning in Infested Waters #saismsheads #saisusheads #sharkweek #Jaws — July 27, 2016

Summer Reflections: Shark Week, Jaws and Learning in Infested Waters #saismsheads #saisusheads #sharkweek #Jaws

Last evening one of the quintessential summer movies aired on television. JAWS stirs people perhaps more than any movie of its generation or since. Just the subtle hint of the frightful chords of the famous theme music still gives folks my age chills up the spine. The folks at the Discovery Channel have made a sweeps week of the last week of June with its Shark week largely based on destroying the myths about sharks perpetuated by this summer classic.  Shark Week notwithstanding, JAWS has consistently delivered an irrational fear within many people of sharks.

In retrospect, JAWS has several underlying messages for leaders and educators.  They relate to how irrational fears creep into and distract our decision making processes.   Here are a few reflections:

  1. Setting Course Expectations and starting our Courses: Some teachers were trained that one is not supposed to smile until Thanksgiving. Certain advanced level at the secondary and post-secondary levels purposely ratchet up expectations of their courses to get uncertain students to drop and their courses and thereby reduce class size. Like the palpable sounds of the approaching shark ….danta, danta…..danta, danta, danta (imagine Jaws theme here), students hear the whispers of how difficult the course will be and flood out like beachgoers during the false alarms July 4th  in Amity.

Perhaps a better tack is to suggest the workload is undeniable, but the learning will be substantial and beneficial. Like my esteemed colleague Donna Lamberti  writes in her excellent blog            Wiser Today, perhaps it is better to go slow in the beginning like a marathon runner. After all, if education were a race, it certainly should be a marathon and one should start a marathon with the   first mile of training slow and steady.

  1. 02-jaws
    Quint, Brody, and Hooper (appearing from left to right) are examples of vastly different learners. Their styles create natural tensions that hinder their hunt for the great white.

    The interplay between the Oceanography Scientist Hooper played by Richard Dreyfus and the Ahab-esque Captain Quint played by Robert Shaw represents a significant tension found in educational circles today.   Dreyfus has every new gadget and offers innovation to kill the Great White. He is like the new teacher fresh out of graduate school who comes with energy and enthusiasm but lacks experience. Alternatively Quint relies on his guile. The captain underestimates the Great White because he believes there is nothing new coming down the pike. He mocks the “college boy” Dreyfus and his new fangled means. The result of these two forces manning the same vessel is an atmosphere of distrust.. The tensions on the boat create a caustic atmosphere until a drunken spree one night seems to ease things. The somewhat contemporary homage to Moby Dick predictably climaxes with Ahab’s, -err-Quint’s demise, torn in half and eaten whole. Dreyfus fares better, but in preserving his life cowers under rocks. Only Roy Schneider as Brody stands in the gap to kill the shark. Brody’s essential trait is that he investigates all angles and withholds judgment in most instances. He is a humble hero. As school leaders, it is important to suspend judgment and decisions until all the proper research can be conducted and deeper relationships can be built. Brody is an admirable example, though early on in the film he appears to be a hapless mensch for Mayor Vaughn played by Murray Hamilton.

  2. This aforementioned tension between Brody and the Mayor also offered some perceptive insights into the kind of decision-making we sometimes find ourselves making at schools. The Mayor’s desires to have a profitable tourist season clash with the safety concerns of Brody and Hooper. Money, expediency, best practices and personalities collide to in a cocktail infused with fear of the unknown. While we learn later the shark is real (at least in the movie), the early scenes depict confusion and false alarms. Initially, a large but non-man eating shark was caught, temporally allaying fears. Vaughn’s false confidence and desire to will the town’s way to a lucrative 4th of July leads many to throw caution to the wind, leaving boaters susceptible to a blind-side attack by the Great White. In some schools, leaders utilize reactionary leadership. An incident leads to a crackdown and heavy-handed rule enforcement-An open position and unfilled courses result in a hasty hire that is not mission appropriate.   Like the pressure Vaughn and Brody experience on July 4th, time pressures in our school decisions can cause us to act irrationally or to act with limited information.   Emphasis on strategic planning, unemotional emergency
    Mayor Vaughn (left) demonstrates the frustration we face when we make decisions without all the information on a tight deadline. Brody (center) and Hooper (right) implore for more time to make the wisest decision.planning and reliance on mentors with cooler heads detached from situation help  alleviate the potential for circuses like Amityville from breaking out at our schools.planning and reliance on mentors with cooler heads detached from situation help  alleviate the potential for circuses like Amityville from breaking out at our schools.

    planning and reliance on mentors with cooler heads detached from situation help  alleviate the potential for circuses like Amityville from breaking out at our schools.

  3. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the film speaks to knowing one’s enemy. Quint, Dreyfus, Brody, Vaughn and the people of Amity are caught up in a struggle against an enemy. Unfortunately, for all but our protagonist Brody, and to some extent Hooper, folks were fighting the wrong enemy. The enemy was the shark and he was a powerful force not to be taken lightly. That is where Quint erred. Vaughn was fighting the enemy of embarrassment and the enemy found in irrational “what if’s?” What if the shark ruins tourism? What if the people lose faith in the local government? He lost focus on the shark as the enemy. In schools, the enemy should be ignorance and fixed mindsets. Sometimes we create enemies out of such factors as those who question policy, wayward students, disenchanted parents, or the “testing monster.” A school’s mission and vision should lay out its aspirations and thereby also spell out the enemy. Doing so, will help us to be like Brody and ultimately defeat the beast.

Until next time…. Happy swimming; go into the DEEP if you dare (danta, danta, danta, danta)


The Hunt for Authenticity: a Comparison of our 8th Graders and Presidential Politics — March 16, 2016

The Hunt for Authenticity: a Comparison of our 8th Graders and Presidential Politics

Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 9.13.02 PM
Image taken from Gary Varvel via Indy Star

A few weeks ago, I returned by bus from our nation’s capital to my home in Montgomery, Alabama after a five day journey with seventy-five eager eighth graders and eight dedicated faculty chaperones.  The trip witnessed its share of joys and there were a few pitfalls along the way.  The continuing Presidential Primary conversations added considerably to the intrigue of the trip.  After all, we were headed to the White House as well!  Accordingly,  a friendly disagreement ensued about which of the candidates would most likely win.  Super Tuesday was looming  and the primary cavalcade was headed toward our city.  As an educator, closet sociologist, and former AP Government teacher, I could not help myself as I made comparisons between the interactions of our eighth graders and the campaign trail.  Ultimately, they are alike in at least three ways:

  • both are on hunts (often meandering) for authenticity.
  • both are tethered to ideology they haven’t really unpacked but from which they have trouble escaping .
  • both have the opportunity to grow and mature to full fruition before our eyes in just a few months.

The hunt for authentic interactions among our eighth graders is the point for the annual DC trip.  Putting seventy-five students on two buses for fourteen hours is a little like putting living organisms in a peitri dish.  Add in ubiquitious amounts of smart phone use with social media and the resulting cocktail can be as worrisome as Middle Eastern politics.  I began to wonder if Donald Trump is a better candidate because he would never has use for a insidious app like Snapchat.  He certainly is a lot like our some of our 8th graders in that he sometimes would be wise if he used a filter.  Other times, I subtly wish they would be more like him and stand behind their words publicly.

During the trip, the chaperones often took the opportunity to dislodge the aforementioned cell phones from claws of the students.  One such night was the night of the dinner cruise on the Potomac.  Each year we offer the 8th graders on the trip the opportunity to dine and dance with their peers on this vessel during the last night of their trip.  It is often the most memorable social event of the 8th grade year.  This year we thought we would do it a little differently.  We decided we would collect their phones on the bus before boarding the vessel.  What a difference it made!  It was apparently a wise decision. Shockingly, streams of anxiety lines were removed from our students’ faces.  The tethers were cut and a new world of authenticity opened.  Every member of the class danced for extended periods. Nearly 90% of the students danced the entire time the music was playing.  Our DJ received the highest approval rating since FDR helped America out of the Great Depression and put US troops in position to win World War II.  Left without the opportunity to sit at their tables and commence the spinal curvature natural to an adolescent on a device, they stretched their legs and their minds with interactions to last a lifetime.  Best of all, it did not matter if they received 7 or 77 likes on their page for their dance moves.  Instead, they received authentic applause and high fives.

The winnowing Republican field (down to five candidates heading into Super Tuesday) will hopefully offer the opportunity for similar authenticity.  Credibility will be less about artificial polling numbers (how many “likes” a candidate gets) amongst crowds of JV and Varsity candidates on stages of soundbite debates.  It will be developed and grown by each candidate building planks to his platform.  Now that we are down to two or three candidates we will really get to know them like one gets to know another by sitting and talking over a fourteen hour bus ride.  Mr. Trump has all the popularity now like the star of the Middle School football team, but will the shine of his daring become blemished by an “off the field incident?” Maybe someone of a bit more substance might rise to the occasion against the real estate mogul who has conducted his campaign a bit like the bully in the bathroom.  Former governor Bush was ultimately unable to stand up to the bully in a manner that warmed the hearts and minds of the body politic, but maybe another will seize the opportunity.  Perhaps Senator Marco Rubio can coalesce the Florida demographic (as I write this the Florida Primary precincts are closing) now that Governor Bush is gone like the middle schooler who gathers as new friends the friends of the boy who moved away in the middle of the school year.  Perhaps Senator Cruz can validate that he is truly the anti-establishment candidate in a manner that makes the populace relate with him. Or will his campaign simply resonate with the fringes like the leader of the Goths or the Punk movements in some middle schools during prior decades.  At this point, it looks as if he has not been able to anti-establish better than Mr. Trump who upped the anti and claims no established principles other than purer capitalism and closed borders and in doing so carries none of the baggage.  Maybe Governor Kasich can rise above the fray like the polite young man that the teachers always knew had a pure heart but rarely had his chance to shine

While some of the assaults will be the same, there will be less room to hide.  No longer will the stage of 13 hide the candidate who has not fully developed their philosophies.  Thankfully, in the Middle School, we are blessed to have the opportunity everyday to watch as our students are developing theirs.

Until next time, happy hunting (for authenticity)








1 Fish, 2 Fish, Redfish, Bluefish: 5 Ways the Great Leader is Like a Fishing Guide — January 1, 2016

1 Fish, 2 Fish, Redfish, Bluefish: 5 Ways the Great Leader is Like a Fishing Guide

During the past week, I had the distinct pleasure of unplugging in the Florida Panhandle for a week of family and fishing.  For 5 straight days, I went fishing with my nephew Hayden through the bays and bayous near Panama City, Florida hunting for redfish and trout with shrimp.  At a certain point in time, it became all encompassing.   At first I had scouted out a spot on a salt marsh in bayou nearby and had great success (read luck) catching a 20 inch redfish.   That effort fueled a passion upon which my nephew and I fed for the past week.  Each day we hit a new spot for several hours.  We  even took out an inflatable boat to enhance our chances.  When we weren’t fishing, we were watching the sport fishing channel and reading free rags like the Coastal Angler (coastalanglermag.com) to pick up tips from local and regional guides

My First RedFish
My First RedFish

expert at redfishing and trout this time of year.  I began to marvel at the way the guides on television and in the Coastal Angler led their clients and readers. All of this made me think long and hard about my job leading as principal and how it is like being a fishing guide.  Though I enjoyed the week, I know I am not quite ready to quit my day job.  However, it has been fun to compare the two roles and the skills involved.  Like my Turkey Hunting post awhile back, I think we do well to get outside ourselves into creation to gain perspective about our lives and our vocations.  Here is what I came up with regard to the leader as fishing guide:

  1.  The leader/guide should be incredibly knowledgeable and be a passionate lifelong learner.  Anyone who thinks a fishing guide trolls around and lucks onto some fish for his/her clients is mistaken.  Great guides understand safety regulations, catch limits, equipment, bait and lures, fish species, tides, water temps, topography, chemistry, among a myriad of other strategic thinking.  Those who do it a long time are also competent businessmen.  Often the guide is the chief marketer, is accounts payable/receivable department and networks for clients.  Likewise, the leader (or in my case as principal) must be equally well-versed in a diverse group of skills and continuously growing these skills.  This past semester I did the following: taught an Economics class, interviewed prospective students and families, recruited faculty members, mentored students, developed strategic plans, observed and coached teachers, moderated disputes, communicated with vendors, and modeled new teaching practices and technology.  Moreover, I  hopefully built some great relationships with my colleagues, the students I serve, and the parents who have entrusted me in my role.  All of this takes an insatiable desire to learn which most teacher-leaders have, but there are days when it feels like the fish just aren’t biting.
  2. The fishing guide puts people in the best situation to succeed based on the goals his clients have.  A great leader casts a vision and shares how others may benefit from the vision.He/she gets buy-in from the people in the boat and is cognizant of their goals, but ultimately the guide doesn’t do the fishing for the people in the boat.  If he did, he would not be helping his people achieve.   In leadership at Trinity, we have a saying that comes from our wise Head of School.  He says “Do the things that only you can do; leave others to do the things only they can do.”  The guide usually drives the boat, does the scouting, maybe purchases the bait and gets his clients in place.  When there is a strike, the guide might help land the fish with the net.  He may coach his client about how best to land the fish, but if he takes over the reel, he automatically has relinquished the purpose of his client and the mission becomes bankrupt.  Leaders fail similarly when we disabuse our power and command in away that takes our people out of what they are called to do.  As principal, if I step into the classroom and take over a class from a teacher (in behavior situations, assessment practices, or specific curriculum decisions), I have violated the connection between the teacher and his students.  Likewise, if a teacher teaches his class in such a way that the students don’t have the opportunity to engage the coursework with some independence and responsibility for learning, the teacher has failed as guide.  Once the guide takes over the rod and reel, he violates the connection between the fisherman and his fish.
    Photo taken from bumpy water.com credit to Jake Ricks
    Photo taken from bumpy water.com credit to Jake Ricks

  3. The fishing guide and the client should have a collaborative goal setting process, but once the goals are set, the guide supports.  In any organization, there is a mission and vision for what is to be accomplished and the approach the organization will take.  This is a simple process and transaction when the fishing guide and the client meet.  “What do you want to catch?, the guide would say to the client.  If the client wants to catch redfish during mild December in the Florida panhandle and the guide can help make that happen, they enter into that collaboration.  Once they do, the guide instructs, supports and mentors.  The client may bounce ideas or ask questions of the guide.  At the end, however, the client casts the rod, hooks the fish, and reels the fish into the boat, otherwise it is not fishing.   Ultimately, a good guide’s aim is to make the client more independent and engaged in the work/fun of fishing while the guide takes care of the boat and the safety of the passengers.  Leaders make sure everyone on the boat is safe and following the rules, but excelling in their individual quests that were agreed upon from the outset.  In the principal’s case, he collaborates with his faculty on the goals, mission and vision.  He assigns the classes to be taught and lets his teachers cast out their lines coming around regularly to ensure they have what they need to be successful in the goals they set.
  4. The best fishing guides build relationships built upon Truth. The best fishing guide that ever lived fished the tributaries of the Mediterranean Sea in Israel.  While he did not come from fishing stock, one might say he had intimate knowledge of how fish were created and how the seas, lakes, and rivers operated.  Of course, I am speaking of Christ.  Among my favorite stories in the Bible are Jesus’ encounters with the first apostles as they were fishing.  Luke 5 paints a vivd scene of Jesus as fishing guide “Put into deeper water and let the nets down for a catch” (Luke 5:4 NIV).  For  wonderful satirical posts about evangelism and fishing see Jeremy Myers’ “Redeeming God” site.  Some of his commentary regarding Luke 5 helped shape this part of my post. Of course, Christ is the quintessential relationships and truth leader.  He has us cast out hope when ours is faltering like Luke 5:5-10.  He leads us to places we could not get to ourselves like the guide who takes fishing in unimaginable locations.  He sets us straight in truth like when we want to do our own thing that will not work such as trying to catch swordfish in freshwater.  He protects us from our ignorance such as when we think we can conquer the temptations of world without his help.  Leaders who emulate Christ do this by building relationships in truth.
  5. The fishing guide is gratified when the client’s goals are satisfied.  When the much sought-after fish are hauled into the boat the guide’s work is done.  In the same way, the principal leader achieves when his teachers and students succeed.  Like a coach who knows the satisfaction of a team that executes on the court in the big game, the leader cannot play in the game.  He cannot take a shot, but the joy is nearly the same when the play works and the shot goes in the hoop.  The fishing guide draws up the plan of location, bait, line test, and time of day.  Then when the strike hits, he watches with joy at the work well done.
4 Ways to Handle Stress Heading into Exams — November 30, 2015

4 Ways to Handle Stress Heading into Exams

After a wonderful Thanksgiving break, it is now time to get focused on the end of the semester.  With Christmas parties, performances, athletic tournaments and, of course, exams, it can easily be a stressful time if we allow it to be.  As we approach the end, it is important that we partner with our students and encourage these four key approaches to this stressful time:
1.  Exercise, sleep, and nutrition are not to be taken for granted as we prepare to handle stress.  The break presented great opportunities to either balance  these or let them be completely out of balance.  For the next three weeks it will be important to rebalance these.  While it is easy for one to say, “I have no time to sleep” when tests and exams are on the horizon, research tells us that lack of sleep and exercise are counterproductive to brain function, so lets prioritize that.  Please also note that devices that are perpetually attached to one’s hand and stimulating one’s brain are often counter-productive to this balance and should be sacrificed during this short window.
2.  Studying hard is not nearly as important as studying smart.  Inefficient students often suggest that they are studying a lot, but they may not have studied appropriately. This is especially true for exams when a larger portion of material must be applied.  Short term memory tactics like reading the notes over and over again do not do much good.  A student should be able to teach the material effectively to another to have mastery.  This means the student has processed material in such a way that they can understand, analyze, apply, evaluate and even create something new from the material (We call this Bloom’s Taxonomy).   Working in pairs (when the pairs are of relative equal academic focus) often helps in this process.  Siblings can be helpful as ears to a student rehearsing what she has learned as well.
3.  Effective study starts global and then zeros in on key material.  Many courses with exams will come with review sheets, but regardless of this help, students should be asking critical questions of the material they have learned: what were we trying to establish this semester?  How is the material from the different units interrelated? What critical areas did the teacher emphasize?  During our review process, do I have a clear understanding of the fundamentals and can I apply them to any situation? If not have I asked the instructor or a peer for help?
4.  (Last listed, but most important) Just like #1, balance in one’s perspective is critical during a stressful period.  There is no better way to stay in balance than to stay in the Word.  A daily devotional before studying can help balance one’s soul and can help one call out stress for what it is — “a momentary forgetfulness that God is in control.”  Most devotionals take no more than 5-10 minutes and can be valuable alternative to the 10 minutes many students spend Snapchating or texting prior to getting down to studying.  One I might recommend can be found on the YouVersion Bible App.  It is entitled FCA Endurance: Why Do You Race? Even if the student is not an athlete they will find inspiration and meaning in this study that starts in 1 Corinthians 10 including 1 Cor 10:13 “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind.  And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.”  What a great verse to read when one is tempted to quit studying.
We have two full weeks of school left before exams start on Tuesday, December 15th.  Now is a great time to help our sons and daughters plan ahead and remind them about these key suggestions.  As they get into the upper grades they should need less help studying, but may need more help in the ways of friendly reminders about balance and sacrifice.
They also could really use reminders of God’s love for them and their value in his eyes.  I love Ephesians 3:17-19 as a reminder for them “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge –that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

What Good Goals do for Us: 4 Thoughts — September 28, 2015

What Good Goals do for Us: 4 Thoughts

My day began here on my way to my goal
My day began here on my way to my goal

Some of you may know that I have been training to run a half marathon for the first time.  On the morning of November 14th, I’ll run the streets of my old home in Huntsville, Alabama and leg out 13.1 miles.  I have been looking forward to that day and having it out on the horizon has given me something substantial to do outside my parenting and principal duties.  Since setting the goal, I have found it has had a remarkable effect on my life.  First off, I have enjoyed conversations about it with a few of you and really enjoyed the conversations.  It has led to several good ones with our students.  The Cross Country Team in particular has gotten a kick out of it and they have been great about inviting me to train with them.  Anyhow, as I was training this morning in the rain I started to think of the ways setting and training for a goal relates to our students. Here are the four profound areas I found:

  • Having a solid immovable goal in front of you really improves performance.  Prior to having the half to train for, I would randomly run 2-3 miles without much of a plan for pace or distance.  Since moving to this goal, it is not unusual for me to run 10 miles on a Saturday and 20-25 miles in a week.  The only switch I made was this goal.  Students need immovable goals to discipline themselves.  College acceptance and admission to scholarships and or specific majors sometimes suit this end.  Often times students set testing goals for themselves and this is also a good practice.
  • Having the goal helps one get rid of the junk in one’s life.  The race is a priority for me and so I have eschewed a few things that could be detrimental to it.  When our students have lofty goals they are also more inclined to eschew some of the things that get in the way of being successful.
  • Having a peer group of folks who understand the goal really helps.  Since I started the process of training and shared my goal, several folks shared their stories with me and inspired me.  I have a plan from a coaching app on my phone that guides me along and several folks in my church and here at Trinity have done half marathons.  They have helped keep me focused.  In the same way, peers and older students help our students get ready to jump the hurdles they encounter on the way to college success from taking the ACT, to choosing classes, to learning for the long term in their courses.  Even the simple process of how to take effective notes is a topic for discussion among peers and teachers in Trinity’s academic atmosphere (for an article related to this topic see What You Miss When You Take Notes…
  • Time management and body management become really important when you are training.  Our students find this as well.  When we do not plan ahead with our time and the care of our bodies with rest and hydration, we do not prepare well for our big goals.  I find it so disappointing when I have a big training run and my body is not ready because I did not sleep well or did not hydrate.  When our students approach their goals like achieving well on a college entrance exam, it is important that they have prepared with academic practice, hydration and sleep.

In my preparation for this half marathon, I have come to understand the meaning behind Jesus’ parable found in Matthew 13:44.  Matthew writes “the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field.  When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.”  He sacrificed much of his normal day to day to go all in for something much more worthy of his attention.  Certainly, for us the kingdom of heaven is our eternal treasure.  These large goals through life serve as guideposts for us to shoot for and help us discipline ourselves.  Ultimately by doing so, we are able to obtain things so much more valuable than when we do not.

Why “Yet” just Might be the Most Important Word in Education — August 29, 2015

Why “Yet” just Might be the Most Important Word in Education

Some years back, before we cut the cable cord, I was an avid watcher of James Lipton’s Actors Studio on Bravo.  I’m not sure why.  I didn’t exactly get Lipton and his politics are considerably left of mine, but I did like his questions. Lipton famously used his rendition of Proust’s Questionnaire. The very first question Lipton asks celebrities is “What is your favorite word?”  Each episode, I put myself in the shoes of the celebrity and tried to answer each of the ten reflection questions (I did the curse word under my breath).  Coming upon the first, my answers generally changed until I thought again about this recently.

Now my favorite word is “yet.”  The adverb version, not the conjunction version; the tiny word packs so much potential.  Moreover, in my role as a Middle and Upper School Head, I am first and foremost a purveyor of the potential of youth.  I am charged with putting my students in a position to develop the best in themselves.  I am charged with weighing whether a student would be well served by what we do at our school.  I am charged with figuring out why a student is not nearing his perceived potential.  All of these duties make yet a very important word in my life.  In fact, it is like I work with a bunch of “Yeti’s” (youth experiencing transitions individually) every day and I love it.

Photo taken courtesy of yeticoolers.com
Photo taken courtesy of yeticoolers.com

Mindset author and psychologist Carol Dweck also loves the word.  One of her most often quoted sections is that a good habit to get into is to regularly use the word “yet.”  For example, “I am not good at Math yet.” ” I do not have what it takes to make the varsity yet.” “I don’t understand how the stock market works yet.”  When one thinks about it, there is great wisdom in Dweck’s commentary especially with our youth.  However, a society that seeks instant gratification hardly has patience for the word yet.  The waiting is intolerable.  The uncertainty is undeniable.  Yet (conjunction), the reward could be invaluable.

Here is a shoutout to “yet.” You keep getting better and better.

Until next time… How would you answer Lipton’s last question: “What would you like to hear God say when you reach the pearly gates (of Heaven)?”

For Further Reading: A great scripture verse to reflect on to go along with this post is Ephesians 2:10.  Paul writes “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

The Process is Happening Now: 4 Ways to Ensure You Don’t Interrupt it — August 13, 2015

The Process is Happening Now: 4 Ways to Ensure You Don’t Interrupt it

University of Alabama Football Coach Nick Saban has a famous mantra: we must stick to the process.  A lot of times he gets ridiculed for it when reporters do not like his soundbites because he constantly refers back to the process.  I imagine his players also get a bit fatigued from hearing about the good ‘ole process.  When his teams were uncharacteristically lacking success at the end of the season a few years ago, Saban suggested that his players did not buy into the process.  The coach’s

Photo taken from chant rant.com
Photo taken from chant rant.com

success probably suggests that he is right and that the process is paramount.

Nevertheless, I think it is human nature that we subvert the process.  Moreover, it may be Satan, in opposition to Saban, that leads us to subvert the process.  I think this is particularly true in our educational process.  Here are the 5 ways I notice our processes being interrupted:

  1.  The moment we see any pain or slight anguish, we as parents, teachers or administrators have a tendency to intervene and take a student out of the process.  We must refrain from doing this at almost all cost.  Usually the “ordeal” or trial a student has to go through is exactly what is called for at that moment.  If we “rescue” them we have stolen an opportunity for them to grow and we have subverted the process.
  2. When we see a hard but traversable barrier we go around.  So many times there is an opportunity to find true success by hiking up and over an obstacle.  In fact, the view from the top is often spectacular, but we never get there because we subvert the process of climbing and walk around.  I think we find this a lot with technology and with creative teaching.  We are afraid to mount the hurdle for fear of falling/failing so we find a more convenient, but less dramatic work around, sadly.
  3. We don’t always hold students accountable thinking that we don’t want to hurt their spirits.  This subvert the process because every process requires accountability.  If you have little or no accountability, you generally have no true success. It is unconscionable when parents, teachers, or administrators bail out a student from accountability because we fear the anguish mentioned in #1.  Yet, the greater injustice is the bailout.  We have stolen an opportunity for one to take on the responsibility of true accountability which is a process step critical to each right of passage.  Sadly, this right of passage will eventually come.  It cannot be denied. However, it will likely come later in life when the stakes are even higher and the fall is greater.
  4. We steal God’s glory when we subvert the process.  If we protect kids from accountability, if we subvert them from the process, if we distract them from God’s purpose then we are an agent of Satan.  We must take seriously this mantle rather than making a deal with the Devil.

This year Saban’s team will be ranked in the top 5 nationally to start the season and the pundits will likely have them win the SEC title and play in the Final Four Playoff as they did last year.  Saban isn’t buying it, though.  His central thought each morning after he has his coffee, his Little Debbie’s, and watching the Weather Channel, will be what small things he can do this day to make his football team better today.

In the same mindset, weshould not be thinking to AP tests, manipulating schedules, or schemes to make our athletes look better.  Weshould be mentoring, teaching, refining in such a way that helps them learn just a bit more today, that pushes them to get a bit stronger, to execute with a bit more precision.  Then, at the end, we will really have something.

How to Know you if you Should Sell your Apple Stock in 1976: The Emotional Intelligence Quotient of Leadership — June 17, 2015

How to Know you if you Should Sell your Apple Stock in 1976: The Emotional Intelligence Quotient of Leadership

Many people are familiar with the story of Ronald Wayne.  Wayne, now 81 years old, is infamous for having sold his ten percent stake in Apple in 1976 for $800.  Last week, friends and I were discussing his story on the golf course.  One quipped after a double bogie, “Well, at least I didn’t pull a Ronald Wayne.” In many respects, this is unfair criticism especially since the company was formally incorporated only two weeks prior to the time Wayne sold the shares. Wayne reasoned he had much more to lose in the partnership agreement with lightning rods Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.  In an interview last year on the blog site Cult of Mac, Wayne explained his thought process about the sale and other seemingly regrettable aspects of his life.  Wayne’s story represents a critical account through which one can discern and decipher emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is a leadership trait that is widely accepted as the most critical component of a sound leadership style.  Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatwzis and Annie McKee collectively wrote the international best seller on emotional intelligence in the field with Primal Leadership in 2013.  In that work, they analyze a study done by the a trade association of insurance companies on their CEO’s published in 1995.  They found that emotional intelligence turned out to be the singular talent of that set of the most successful CEOs in comparison to those less successful (82).  Goleman further defined emotional intelligence in his exceptional article featured in the Harvard Business Review’s 10 Must Reads: On Leadership.  Goleman’s article is titled “What Makes a Leader” and is the first article featured HBR’s 10 best.  Goleman outlined the five components of emotional intelligence at work adroitly offering both definitions and examples in clear, concise tables from which any leader can gain much.

Table taken from HBR's 10 Must Reads On Leadership via the FSA Leadership Resource Center.
Table taken from HBR’s 10 Must Reads On Leadership via the FSA Leadership Resource Center.

Which leads us back to Wayne and his reflections to the situation many have purported to the equivalent of misplacing an 80 billion dollar lottery ticket.  I think two quotes of his from the Cult of Mac article are excellent examples of the self-awareness and self-regulation components Goleman illustrates.  The first quote about Wayne’s time at Apple is the most widely published and demonstrates Wayne’s self-awareness.  “Aside from the fact that I was in 40s and these kids were in their 20s. And they were whirlwinds. It was like having a tiger by the tail. And I said this many times before and I meant it; if I had stayed with Apple I probably would have wound up the richest man in the cemetery.” Wayne realized that his role in the company was unsustainable even though he had the proven skills to be successful.  He is 81 today and by most accounts content living in Nevada, but he speculated that life with the hard drivers Wozniak and Jobs would have killed him.  This particularly demonstrates a realistic self-assessment that leaders need.

Nevertheless, I think most leaders would be unsatisfied with Wayne’s overall performance.  Perhaps this is because the contrast between Wayne and Jobs is startling and Jobs is widely revered by the modern culture.  Jobs was probably on the low end of the self-awareness and empathy scales, but high on the third: motivation.  Goleman writes that motivation with respect to emotional intelligence is both “a passion to work for reasons that go beyond money or status” and “a propensity to pursue goals with energy and persistence” (Goleman, “What Makes a Leader,” 6).  Check out how Wayne characterizes Jobs: “He was a very focused fellow. You never wanted to be between him and where he wanted to go, or you’d find footprints on your forehead. To put it simply, if you had your choice between Steve Jobs and an ice cube, you’d nuzzle up to the ice cube for warmth. But that’s what it took for him to turn Apple into what it became.” (Cult of Mac). 

It doesn’t sound like most folks would want Jobs as their leader but his level of success is really amazing and Apple shareholders certainly loved Jobs 2.0  Which brings us to a critical question leaders have been asking since at least the Renaissance era: “Is it better to be feared or loved?”  The 21st Century leader should be asking a more nuanced question, though.  “When and where should I push this organization forward and how might I do it in such a way that both gratifies and intrinsically motivates my people?”  School leaders, in particular,should know that there is an ebb and flow to a school year.  They can also rely on the fact that most school people consider their life work at schools a calling.  This fills each with a tank of good intention and extraordinary effort.  Their hearts are in the right place.

In future posts, we will continue to explore the importance of EI in school leadership.  In the meantime you might reference the following resources mentioned in this post:

HBR’s 10 Must Reads On Leadership.  Daniel Goleman.  “What Makes a Leader?” Harvard Business School Publishing, 2011. 

Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee.  Primal Leadership. Harvard Business School Publishing, 2013. 

The Work of the Leader — June 9, 2015

The Work of the Leader

After reading Harvard Business Review’s “10 Must Reads on Leadership,” I came away with a treasure HBRtrove of wisdom on how great leaders move from mere managers to leaders of significance.  Perhaps no other entity values  and needs leadership more than our schools.  Not only are schools ripe with people to be led, they are also filled with would-be leaders, students who will form the future of leadership.  Within this HBR anthology on leadership, the combined work of Ronald Heifetz and Donald Laurie entitled “The Work of Leadership” presented critical considerations about how leaders are really adaptive change agents.  I highly recommend the article, as well as the other nine in the compilation.  However, the title of Heifetz and Laurie’s work made me think about the work of the school leader.  For the purposes of this blog, I specifically thought about the work of the Christian school leader and its complexities.  I have come up with five areas the Christian school leader must cultivate to effectively lead.  They, along with their biblical rationale are highlighted below.

The Christian school leader must:

  1. Cast a vision with forethought. Jesus wasn’t a contractor, but he was a trained carpenter.  He took that experience and wrote in Luke 14:28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower.  Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?” The leader starts with the vision of what needs to be done and outlines how the group will carry out the plan.  I especially love the book of Nehemiah as a biblical example of how a vision is cast and fulfilled.
  2. Set necessary goals that will fulfill the vision.  The Christian walk inherently carries two goals.  The first is salvation.  Would there be Christianity without our need for salvation.  Would there be a need for Christ if we were not broken and estranged from the Father? Our first goal is salvation.  Our second goal is the Great Commission found in Matthew 28:16-20 directly from the lips of Christ.  He had three goals for His disciples: make disciples of all the nations, baptize them in the Trinity, and teach My commands. That was the blueprint.  It has been exceedingly successful.  The Christian school leader should strive to set goals in a similar fashion.
  3. Inspire others.  Have you ever stopped to think what would have happened if the disciples were not inspirational leaders?  The Gospel, the greatest story ever told, would have fallen flat on its face in the first century AD.  Thankfully, the disciples were both divinely inspired and divinely inspiring.  When one thinks of inspirational leadership one thinks about Paul writing Philippians 4:12-13 from a jail cell: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation…I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”  Paul could get folks in his churches and his protege Timothy to run through a proverbial brick wall like the most inspirational football coach.  There is a similar need in our schools.  Our schools have faced challenging economic climates the last several years.  Many schools are coming to grips with a new normal.  We are growing to know what it is like to have to be content with less.  Getting constituents to strive for the best with less takes the kind of motivational power a man like Paul.  In future writings, we will unpack how Scripture and prayer can fuel us as we work to inspire others.
  4. Trusts the power of the Holy Spirit in the process.  This may be the most difficult step in the work of the leader.  When things do not go immediately to plan, when there is discontent among the led, when Satan casts that perturbing doubt in one’s mind, it is easy to go off the script.  However, I can count back to precious many instances when the Holy Spirit was at the helm steering me from trouble despite my fallibility.  In John 14:17, Jesus promises that he would send the Spirit of Truth to “help you and be with you forever.” As Christian leaders wrapped in the Word and in prayer, we can count on the power of the Holy Spirit in our process of leadership.  The rest of the passage in John gives us powerful reassurance as “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send…will teach you all things and will remind you of everything.”  Powerful stuff the leader may call upon.
  5. Execute for the Glory of God.  Step five becomes the natural progression of leadership after the first four steps.  If one needs reassurance that each can be done, one need only go to my favorite verse in all of Scripture. In Ephesians 2:10, Paul writes that we are God’s masterworks, created in the image of Christ to do great things, which He planned from the beginning of time.  Our schools, our teachers, our students and our school leaders were meant to be successful.  God has prepared these great works for us to do.  Following these steps drenched in prayer and Scripture will help us get there.

Thanks for taking the time to read the initial post here on Leadervine.  Forthcoming will be posts unpacking these 5 principles of leadership, ways to encourage professional growth in your team, and a school leadership model based on Bloom’s taxonomy.  Until next time, may the Lord bless your efforts to fight the good fight and to lead in His direction…

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