Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Humility has Been one of my Keys to Success

It was validating to learn that one of Dwight Eisenhower's key character traits was his perceived humility. Michael Korda, in his biography IKE: An American Hero points out:
It was part of Dwight Eisenhower's genius that he never wanted to appear 'to know more than the other fellow,' or embarrass anyone if it could be avoided.
My wife used to chide me for talking too much about myself, what I knew, what I did...I took my cues from her early on and internalized the notion that most people appreciate those who don't "show off" and who apply themselves to helping others when necessary. I've gained more respect over time by applying my knowledge and skills only when needed and only when called upon.

This post is part of my "Leadership Lessons From American Presidents" series.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Use Talking Points to Keep the Complicated Simple

I've been struggling to make sense of all the state and federal mandates thrown my district's way. I help lead a small system of three schools and 1,400 students so accountability is left to a small team of principals, supervisors, and central office administrators.

Early failures as an inexperienced leader taught me that complicating already complicated issues didn't help anyone. In fact, I did more harm than good and wasted others' time and energy. I've taken to simplifying matters now. It should not be seen as coincidence that some of our greatest leaders in business (Steve Jobs comes to mind) and the military (Eisenhower) rose to success by whittling down the complex to the simple.

Michael Korda recognizes Dwight Eisenhower's rise to Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe in his work IKE: An American Hero:
One of IKE's greatest strengths as a senior officer [was] his ability to produce a simpler solution than anybody else's to a difficult problem.
I help my leadership team communicate simple solutions by having them repeat a mantra each year (what I refer to as no more than three "talking points"). I fashion the mantra out of what I know will be our core needs for a given school year. The talking points keep the mishmash of mandates and new initiatives simple so the problems with which the whole school community must confront are tackled slowly, surely, and simply.

This post is part of my "Leadership Lessons From American Presidents" series.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Be Neither Dreamer or Dictator: Influence Others to Believe in Your Vision


Thomas Jefferson, despite any of his faults, was considered in a recent biography by Pulitzer Prize winning author Jon Meacham (Thomas Jefferson, The art of Power), a leader able to "articulate national aspirations yet master the mechanics of influence and know when to depart from dogma." He was able to "move men, to balance the inspirational and the pragmatic [as he] realized his vision [through] compromise and improvisation."

I don't profess to have all the answers when I share my vision with stakeholders in my learning community, and I do not present absolutes, pretending to have the solutions to everyone's challenges. The themes of my messages are clear and forthright- I recognize my community's needs and lay out processes by which everyone can collaboratively engage to come up with solutions together. In doing this, I have had success engendering sincere ownership among the faculty/staff, parents, and students in moving the community forward, rather than trying to convince them I can fix the problems with which we're faced.

This post is part of my "Leadership Lessons From American Presidents" series.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Test of Leadership: Leaving Your World in a Better Place

I've come to grips with my weaknesses and took solace in Pulitzer Prize winning author Jon Meacham's assessment of Thomas Jefferson (Thomas Jefferson: The art of Power). He says:
We sense his greatness because we know that perfection in politics is not possible but that Jefferson passed the fundamental test of leadership: despite all his shortcomings and all the inevitable disappointments and mistakes and dreams deferred, he left America, and the world, in a better place than it had been when he first entered the arena of public life.
Don't obsess over your foibles. Can you say you changed your world?

This post is part of my "Leadership Lessons From American Presidents" series.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Harness Your Presentation Strengths to Sway the Crowd

I'm not a very charismatic speaker when I get in front of large audiences. I can articulate my points, move around the room, and make eye contact with my audience, but I don't hold sway over people like many powerful speakers (I'm thinking of people like Harry Wong and Sir Ken Robinson).

Instead, I've come to rely on the two strengths that after 22 years of speaking in front of crowds (and that includes kids) I've finally recognized: 1. I am passionate about the things about which I speak. 2. I have a knack for being able to use striking media that resonantly illustrates my ideas.

I am expressive in different ways when I speak to teachers, parents, or kids. I'll use hand gestures, drastic intonation, and movement around a room to show my sincerity and excitement about my points. No one can deny my passion, but I follow-up my talk (and it's usually brief talk) with a short video or series of pictures and images that "speak" to my points. I like using movie clips or inspirational videos that resonate the theme of my talk. 

Find your presentation strengths. Don't try to be the speaker you're not. Hold sway over the crowd however you can, and you'll get your point across just as well.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Confrontation Hardly Helps a Leader

Confrontation hardly helps a leader.
Here are the words of Thomas Jefferson who determined that direct conflict was unproductive and ineffective:
I never yet saw an instance of one of two disputants convincing the other by argument. Conviction is the effect of our dispassionate reasoning, either in solitude, or weighing within ourselves dispassionately what we hear from others standing uncommitted in argument ourselves. 
I expend a lot of energy trying to convince other people to see things my way. Instead, I acknowledge the other person's points and recognize their validity (everyone is entitled to opinions). Then, I move on and consider both sides of the argument. To my subordinates I make known my decision. To my colleagues I declare my final stance and work hard to compromise so I can see my vision realized.

This post is part of my "Leadership Lessons From American Presidents" series.