Reinventing Authenticity

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You’ve thought through 21st century tools and 21st century skills, but how are you set for 21st century virtue? What do you mean “virtue” is a Victorian notion? Don’t you need a stance, a perspective, a context in which to make sense of these quickly-changing times? Think of virtue not as an unblemished character trait, but as a vantage point which gives you the ability to take action and make a difference. There may be a number of such virtues, but there is one that that comes before all others. Authenticity: the ability to impact your world as your genuine self.

The next great frontier turns out not to be the oceans or outer space, but human potential. Think about it. When you look at all the skills and tools touted as the hallmark of this century, what is the common denominator? Real-time, authentic, in-the-moment, interaction. No confinement by physical space and time. No limits to creativity, collaboration, productivity and building new understandings. Our minds are the ultimate frontier.

The irony of the 21st century is that, because of its immediacy, people have become that much more cynical, and it limits our thinking. We just accept that media are not objective. We don’t expect advertising to make sense. We create avatars that serve as caricatures of ourselves. Operating in a virtual world can be all at once very self-affirming and very artificial. Lines are blurred, anything goes and reality checks become optional.

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Authenticity cuts through all of the superficiality and makes you well-grounded in reality.

People who operate with authenticity:

  • Know their values – they are clear on what is important to them
  • Are self-aware – they are conscious of who they are and what they are doing
  • Have internal focus – they have a strong sense of how they can make a difference
  • Are results oriented – they keep their eyes on the outcomes they want to achieve
  • Have affective intelligence – they combine thinking and intuition in their knowing
  • Seek deeper understanding – they are driven to go beyond initial answers
  • Generate real connections – they seek out and attract people and ideas of substance
  • Communicate with clarity – they speak and listen clearly, openly and receptively
  • Resist distractions – they operate in the moment regardless of multiple demands for their attention
  • See infinite possibilities – they view the world as more than one pie with only so many slices

Hey, if it were easy, everyone would already be doing it. What’s the incentive to develop your own authenticity? In a world of noisy, disruptive, quickly-changing reality, those who are well-grounded in themselves emerge as the thought leaders and achievers of this new age…the standard-bearers for where we are headed…as educators…as people…as members of a global society.

You know people who personify authenticity; you have already met some of them along the way. They immediately get your attention with their ideas and energy. Authenticity cuts through all that is unnecessary and gets to the point. And at the end of the day, we all respond to anyone and anything that gets to the point. No posturing. No style without substance. No smoke and mirrors. Just true, bona fide, indisputable, unadulterated gravitas.

People who are not in touch with their authentic selves resort to defensive posturing: making excuses for themselves, blaming others and seeing people conspire against them. These behaviors consume their energy giving them a false sense of purpose. You have met people like this too, making a lot of noise wanting your attention…but they don’t resonate with reality. It’s important to see them for who they are…and that’s hard to do until you are in touch with who you are.

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When you operate with authenticity, you take charge of tools and skills and circumstances and generate new ideas, new possibilities, and new solutions. Doors open and opportunities make themselves available to you simply because you are no longer limiting yourself in your thinking. You don’t point to situations or people and blame them for your circumstances; you work to create the circumstances in which you want to live.

Yes, authenticity requires effort up front, to know your genuine self and get in the habit of being true to who you are. But the longterm pay-off is incredible…because you don’t have to be a big-name mover-and-shaker to make a difference in this world…you just have to be your genuine self…and all your potential to impact the future will emerge. It’s a journey…not a destination…and it happens by degrees.

So why not begin today…here and now…reinventing authenticity…first by peeling off the thinking and habits that hold you back…and then replacing your old ways with genuine 21st century virtue?

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Can I Buy Your Magic Bus?

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A little over a month ago, Stephanie Giese shared a blog post, “What I want People to Understand about Why Teachers are Frustrated,” As a former teacher, she shared, “There are few professions where you are required to obtain a college degree, take multiple certification tests, and prove yourself through a residency program only to not be allowed to perform your job as you know best once you are in it. We trust our doctors to treat our ailments and our lawyers to try our cases. Our teachers are professionals, and it is time we started treating them as such.”

I don’t want to cause no fuss, but can I buy your Magic Bus? Nooooooooo!

Frustration is an understandable human reaction when you feel powerless to make things better. But education’s decision-makers aren’t opponents of energy and idealism; they have reasons for making the decisions they do. By definition, a new innovation is an unanticipated, unplanned-for, unbudgeted initiative…which translates as a lot of extra work for an administrator. If they don’t see a direct connection between their goals and your ideas, where’s the incentive to buy in? Successful change agents learn from every failure, every letdown, every setback:

  • Why don’t they see/hear/understand what I am trying to accomplish?
  • Why didn’t I get the support I needed to get this done?
  • What can I learn from this to be more successful?
  • What can I do differently next time?

I want the Magic Bus, I want the Magic Bus, I want the Magic Bus…

When I read sentiments like Giese’s my mind goes back over my own trials, setbacks and successes. What have I learned? Innovation is not magic. It is not, in and of itself, a reason to change. I may have interesting, exciting ideas, but that won’t get me buy-in. Even when I can see exactly where I want to take people and the incredible outcomes they’ll experience once they arrive at that destination, it doesn’t mean they are ready to climb aboard my bus. I’ve learned that in order to implement and sustain successful programs, it’s important to build capacity before starting the journey…to make sure I have everyone on board who needs to be on board.

I want it, I want it, I want it, I want it…

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How is capacity built? Identify a role model or mentor and work to learn to:

Establish relationships
Cultivate a rapport with key stakeholders before the time comes you need to ask for their support.

Work within a framework
Use federal and state plans, professional standards, and local strategic plans, goals and objectives.

Have an implementation plan
It can be an internal document that isn’t shared publicly, but have a plan with achievable objectives on a timeline to keep you moving.

Get buy-in from higher up
Show a direct connection of how your plan of action will help achieve the desired outcomes of your organization.

Build consensus
Work with all groups of key-stakeholders to create a network of support: your school board, administrators, teachers, students, parents, community members without school-aged children, and businesses and professional associations.

Connect allies
Introduce these different groups of stakeholders to one another so that they can find common ground upon which to support you.

Communicate. Communicate. Communicate
Positive promotion and good public relations are your best tools in building and sustaining capacity.

Find, implement and celebrate easy wins
Find the low-hanging fruit that you can easily pick, share and hold up as examples of success.

Build momentum from little victories
Be sure that all stakeholder groups know of your early easy wins; also make sure they understand the significance of easy wins in your larger plan.

Document and distribute
Compile measured and anecdotal evidence of your plan’s progress and regularly get it into the hands of all stakeholder groups.

These are the steps successful innovators use to successfully create change within existing organizations.

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In 1968 Tom Wolfe published his Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, showcasing Ken Kesey and his followers riding a psychedelically-painted school bus across the United States. The story is now considered romantic folly. What difference did that bus trip make? Was there any impact on people outside the bus, or was it simply Kesey and company tripping? More importantly and to the point, when you think of your own journey, are you willing to accept Kesey’s folly? If you’re disappointed by setbacks, probably not…

Every day you’ll see the dust as I drive my baby in my Magic Bus…

The image of a psychedelic ride has been used by the Beatles, the Who, the Partridge Family, even Miss Frizzle. It’s a great symbol of breaking out of our current constraints! But if you’re not willing to settle for joy riding on your own, then you need to do the kind of capacity-building that will fill your bus with passengers and give you a greater potential to drive change. Learn to think more strategically, with conviction to learn from your setbacks. Reassess, regroup and build capacity for future success.

These are hard lessons…and it’s hard work. Sure driving your own bus can be an exhilarating trip, but when you take a hit, you need to stop and assess the impact of the collision. When you run low on gas, you need to have a dependable place to pull in and refuel. It may not seem as spontaneous and unfettered as Kesey’s wild ride, but sustained change seldom is.

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Magic Bus Lyrics: http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/who/magicbus.html

magic bus4“The Magic Bus” written by Pete Townsend, 1965.

The 30-Second Challenge Every Leader Should Accept

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Reposted from Inc.:

Connecting with others, making others better as a result of your presence, and making sure the impact lasts are at the heart of leadership.

But the problem is that leaders tend not to have a lot of free time on their hands. So how can you engage in meaningful and memorable leadership with zero hours in the day to spare? That’s where the 30-second challenge comes in. It turns out, there’s a lot you can do with a tiny sliver of time.

So whenever you want to engage and make a lasting impression, commit to spending 30 seconds to make a big impact. You could…

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Leadership: Delighting in the Possible

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Reposted from McKinsey Insights & Publications:

We relish stories of unexpected possibilities—little bets that created huge and unforeseen benefits. Twitter, for instance, was born when its creators noticed how alive and engaged they felt when communicating with each other in real time over SMS. The concept was brilliant, and the platform has reshaped the way the world communicates. But the initiative arose from brainstorming rather than an elaborate business plan. Tweeting caught on, in large part, because it grants its users freedom. In fact, Twitter cofounder Evan Williams has explained that, in general, his rule is to do less. We can’t foresee how uncertain conditions will unfold or how complex systems will evolve, but we can conduct thoughtful experiments to explore the possibilities.

This way of approaching situations involves a whole suite of routines grounded in a mind-set of clarity if not outright certainty. To that end, they are characterized by sharp-edged questions intended to narrow our focus: What is the expected return on this investment? What is the three-year plan for this venture? At what cost are they willing to settle? But asking these kinds of questions, very often legitimate in business-as-usual settings, may constrain management teams in atypical, complex situations, such as responding to a quickly changing market or revitalizing a privatized utility’s culture. Our tendency to place one perspective above all others—the proverbial “fact-based view” or “maximizing key stakeholders’ alignment”—can be dangerous. All too often, we operate with an excessively simple model in enormously messy circumstances. We fail to perceive how different pieces of reality interact and how to foster better outcomes.

Moving from “managing the probable” to “leading the possible” requires us to address challenges in a fundamentally different way. Rather than simply disaggregating complexities into pieces we find more tractable, we should also broaden our range of interventions by breaking out of familiar patterns and using a whole new approach that allows us to expand our options, experiment in low-risk ways, and realize potentially outsized payoffs. But be warned: leading the possible involves coping with our own anxieties about an unknowable and uncontrollable world. A few simple habits of mind presented here can prod us toward thinking and acting differently. These should not be considered a checklist of to-dos; indeed, the very point is to move beyond a check-the-box mentality.

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Dan Rockell: 10 Ways to Expand Power to Get Things Done

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Reposted from Leadership Freak:

The more power you have, the more things you get done. Here are 10 ways to expand your power:

1. Make others feel powerful. Expand power by giving authority to people who get things done.
– Hoarded power shrinks, but shared authority expands your ability to get things done.

2. Expose frailties; never whine. The battle makes you beautiful.
– Ugly leaders pretend they have it all together.
– We connect with people who work through frailties.
– The operative expression is “work through.”
– Vulnerability isn’t an excuse for weakness.

3. Bring up awkward issues with optimism.
– Weak leaders dance around elephants. Powerful leaders invite them to dance.

4. Assume you talk too much, if you have position and authority.
– People with power believe they have the right to talk more than others.
– Listen at least 60% of the time.

5. Take action after listening. Listening isn’t leading. Quiet, by itself, isn’t strength.
– Leaders take action. The more you get done, the more powerful you become.
– Wrestle big problems into submission.

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Overcoming Second-Guessing Syndrome

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Reposted from the Leadership Freak Blog:

Second guessing is a game cowards play with wisdom gained from hindsight. The announcers yelled, “I can’t believe the call,” when Pete Carroll, coach of the Seattle Seahawks, called a pass play that lost the Super Bowl for his team.

I second guess my decisions, presentation techniques, strategies for dealing with people, and about anything I do that matters. Second guessing that begins, “What would you do better,” is useful. Second guessing that ends, “You loser,” encourages discouragement and discourages development.

Here are 7 ways to overcome the second-guessing-syndrome…

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Staring Myself Down

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I was on the elevator heading up to my office on the first day of a new job. “What does the month look like for you?” a fellow passenger asked another, unaware of me. “Hoping the new system is fixed in time for everyone to get paid,” the other retorted with a nervous laugh. Then dead silence. As the new district head of data and technology, I let that sink in. As they got off the floor before mine, I felt an aching in my gut. Sure, every district in which I had led technology previously also had its hidden challenges. But payday? This was going to be a bear of a first day.

This district had launched an ambitious multi-million dollar enterprise business solution, to bring its business systems into the 21st century. And not just any system, but one of the top products in the industry. One that you would expect to find in the corporate offices of a successful company. The strategic goal was to align administrative operations in one system that could identify efficiencies and cost savings. I had no background with this digital solution.

I got to my office characteristically early; no one else was in yet. I sat down with my thoughts racing through my head and that dull aching in my gut. Where do I start? What do I need to know? What do my senior staff colleagues already know? How about the superintendent? Thankfully, I was interrupted by my executive assistant introducing herself, which led to a whirlwind tour of the building with endless introductions. And just when I thought I was catching my breath, word came down that a meeting had been convened for business department heads to meet with me in thirty minutes.

Yup. I walked into a room of a couple of dozen people, all ready to fill me in on the enterprise system implementation challenge. The air was thick with worry and anticipation. I was the guy that was going to clean up the mess. And as intent as the group was to fill me in with measured words, they were also obviously holding back. So as quickly as they tried to describe the situation, I was asking questions in return; taking notes, drawing diagrams, trying to make sense in the moment. It was obvious there were three key staff who had answers I needed. As the meeting concluded, I asked them to meet me in a small conference room, where they offered further detail they didn’t feel comfortable sharing in front of everyone. It’s all about asking the right questions, and it helped. I left them feeling I had a better grasp of the situation. The goal, according to a fellow senior staffer, was to keep this from hitting the front page of the local big city paper. In short, make sure payday happened in a few weeks.

This was the greatest test of my leadership I had ever faced. Could I do this? Was I in over my head? Was it even logistically possible given the time line? I felt duped. Did I have to accept this? I’m sure the district I just left would take me back. I hadn’t even sold my house back there yet It was frightening and exhilarating at the same time. In one interminable moment I stared myself down, and underneath the uncertainty, questions and doubt I found the answer. I didn’t take this job because I thought it was going to be easy. I took it because it was a logical next step professional growth. Yes this was more than I had bargained for, but I was staying and I was doing this.

I got a hold of the vendor who was working with us on the implementation project and I worked hard to learn every word and every requirement of that contract. I sat down with the superintendent and informed him of the situation. He looked gravely concerned and disappointed hearing the news, but it confirmed what he had been afraid of for some time, and he gave me the wherewithal to do whatever I had to do to save the failing project and make sure payday happened. Pulling together facts and figures coupled with whatever expertise, instincts and systems thinking I could summon, I delved into the work.

It was lonely. My immediate colleagues were all bracing and posturing themselves for the worst. And as I drilled down it became apparent that the failure wasn’t the technology but the outdated business practices staff held onto in spite of the consequences. I found the technical expertise I needed, but it was actually my soft skills that would resolve the impending crisis. Functional analyst work, the listening and processing of business needs that must be reconciled with the enterprise system, was the key to getting the job done. And I’m here to tell you, as any tech leader will, that that fight over longstanding business practices was more dug in and difficult than any technical roadblock. Hard coding and troubleshooting is logical and impersonal, unlike getting longtime department heads to talk to each other and come to eventual agreement. But even they didn’t dare stare down the specter of an impending payday not happening…and that was my leverage.

It didn’t get any easier. Every day I ran non-stop, full throttle, and every night I went home feeling I had made small, hard-won gains towards my payday goal. No big breakthroughs; just slow, steady, methodical progress. And while everyone meant well, no one made it easier, in spite of themselves. People threw tantrums. People quit. People played games and made threats. And as I dug deeper and deeper down inside, my resolve strengthened and I knew I could do what was being asked of me. In fact, the longer I stayed the more my sense of ownership grew. No one was going to stop me from acting in the best interests of the organization, no matter what the outcome.

In the end, payday happened without incident. Everyone exhaled and there was a quiet, exhausted sense of relief around central office. There were no congratulatory moments. No high-fives. No celebrations. The only indicator of a successful save is life goes on without interruption or incident. In the months to come my team not only tied up the loose ends and successfully closed out the implementation contract with the vendor, we went on to develop a plan to use the enterprise business solution as a wrap-around for all our instructional systems, creating a single master source for all district data with the ability to reconcile our business practices with instructional ones. Ultimately, we worked to provide accountability for every district dollar spent and its correlation to teaching and learning.

Leadership is not easy. It is fraught with the unknown. And no matter how attractive the next opportunity appears to be, it will present you with surprises for which you may not feel prepared. But that’s when leadership growth happens; when you have to muster up experiences and lessons you’ve learned along the way and apply it in new, unfamiliar contexts. It’s where you stare yourself down, rally your resources and test the mettle of your inner-leader. Not sure you want to sign up for these kind of gut-wrenching, heart-pounding moments? Then maybe leadership is not for you. Because it’s in those moments that your colleagues will see you as a leader they can believe in…that they can trust…that they are willing to follow…even when their paycheck is on the line.