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Marceta Reilly

Two big “no-no’s” if you want accountability

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hand.350Many educators believe that accountability is a huge problem in our schools—not for the students but for the adults!   The students, after all, have all those high stakes tests each Spring.  But what can educators do who feel they have no ability to hold others accountable for student learning?   Well, Stacey at www.fierceinc.com  tells of two big actions to avoid if you want to create more accountability at your school.

The Two Big Don’ts if You Want Accountability in Your Workplace http://dlvr.it/LJ6gdJ 

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What do feelings have to do with it?

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“People will forget what you said; people will forget what you did; but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  Maya Angelou

William, an African-American, in my 6th grade science class came to me with a reputation. Most teachers kept a wide berth around William because of his quick defense any time a teacher tried to stop his disruptive behavior or encourage him to put in a little effort.  “You’re just pickin’ on me ‘cuz I’m black,” was William’s signature response.

I had a problem on my hands. I knew that if I didn’t find a way to work with William, it was going to be a very long year.

So I set out to try and learn more about William. I talked with him outside of class, asking how his weekend had been, what his interests were. When there was a new science concept in class, I asked him individually for his input and ideas about the topic. Most of all, I showed William (along with the rest of the class) that they were learning to think scientifically.

When Spring testing time came, I was not in class the day of the science portion of the test, but I assured the students that they knew enough to be good scientific thinkers and they’d do fine on the test.

Later in the week William stopped me in the hall and asked if we could talk. We sat down and he solemnly told me that things hadn’t been good while I was away. My heart sank. Then he broke into a big grin and he exclaimed “Nah, I was just teasing you! I did just what you taught us – I used scientific thinking — and I think I did really good!”

In our upcoming book, Releasing Leadership Brilliance, my co-author, Simon Bailey, tells about his cousin, Maia Stephens.  Maia has been a highly successful educator in a Title I school in a high-poverty area in Detroit for over 18 years.  She said:

“When my students from earlier in my career come back to visit me at school very few of them will mention the innovative lessons that I taught. They rarely mention how creative they were. They mention the love that I showed them, and the words of motivation I gave them.”

Relationship building isn’t something that we’re taught to do as educators. We’re there to teach, and often to be disciplinarians. But when we connect with students on a personal level, something special happens. Their self-esteem develops, they recognize their own ability to learn, and they understand the value of education.

Sometimes it’s not easy to build good relationships with students – as educators we have enormous demands on our time, and of course there are students that are difficult to deal with, or simply not interested.  But one thing is certain – when schools establish relationship building as a priority, the entire school community – students, educators, and families – thrive.  

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How Others Can Make You A Better Leader

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Our vision of leadership has to change! Leading by command and control gets compliance, not commitment. It’s no longer about being an Expert or Chief Problem Solver. It is about inspiring others to get engaged in meaningful work and bring their best selves to the table to solve problems together.

Dan Rockwell has a great article that describes these new skills for leadership. At the top of his list of ways to empower others is to allow others to influence you. Adapt their ideas, seek their feedback, ask for their opinions. Read on for more of ideas about empowering others…

10 Ways to Make People Feel Powerful: https://t.co/G7I6YwmwmA

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Navigating the Whitewater of Change

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rafting.350Recently I was talking with a coaching client from a school district having budget hearings. He was feeling really beat up and stressed about all the changes swirling around his school district. And now in order to address serious budget shortfalls, he was having to propose deep cuts in staffing, programs and materials

At the hearing everyone had an agenda and it was all about keeping their piece of the pie safe—

  • Save my job—it serves an important purpose to the program!
  • Save my program—look at all the kids it helps!
  • All these resources are essential to do our job right!

There is so much passion in this kind of testimony. Each party blaming and disparaging others. It’s hurtful and very painful, both personally and for the school district. Some people can never forgive, let alone forget! Some districts take years to heal after such gut-wrenching opposition.

As an executive coach, how do you help others navigate through such stormy times while still keeping their personal integrity and the company mission intact? Here are three great insights my client had.

  1. Know thyself well. During the most stressful times in your life, always return to your four key cornerstones or core values. These are your natural strengths. When you show up focusing on communicating these values in your body language as well as your communication, you come across as authentic, grounded, and real. People then begin to understand you are not trying to manipulate them, deceive them, or politically out-maneuver them. The problem is not about you. It is outside of you. In order to get the problem solved, everybody needs to bring their authentic selves to the table.
  2. Listen deeply and Increase engagement. Yes, people have to be given bad news and told about difficult-to-accept new expectations. But people also have to be heard, especially in these situations. What are the greatest challenges they will face with this decision? What are they worried about? What do they care about? Unfortunately, leaders sometimes decrease communication with staff when tension is high because they don’t want to face the confrontation. But rather than stopping the pot from boiling, this response only makes the passion grow stronger and more intense. People feel ignored and their experience undervalued. It may be counter-intuitive, but heightening the engagement and the listening is most important in helping staff work through difficult decisions.
  3. Pose possible reframes in perspectives. Kegan and Lehay in their book Immunity to Change suggest that if we listen deeply to what others complain about, we can “hear the underlying river of emotion” that tells us what they care about. Then when you speak, speak to what they care about—not what they are complaining about. More than anything else, this helps people know they have been heard and understood. That is what they care about. They may not like your final decision, but they will know their perspective was considered.

What are some insights you have gained from your experiences of working with clients who are navigating the whitewater of change?

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Survival Tips for Boring Meetings

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Linda was stuck in another l-o-n-g meeting.  She had a desk full of her own paperwork back in her office and the person at the front of the room was droning on with another lengthy report.  Or she gets sandwiched between conversations around the table about minute details that ultimately make little difference.

Tick, tock…  Tick, tock…  Seconds…minutes…seeming like hours.  She wants to scream!

She thinks, “Man! This school could be so much better if people would just ‘eat the meat and throw out the bones!’  Why doesn’t our leader do something about these energy sucking meetings?!”

Have you had a similar experience?  If so, I’m wondering what would happen if YOU stepped up to be the influencer.

You see, I believe that leadership is an activity and not a position. Everyone can exert leadership skills, no matter where they are in an organizational chart. You don’t have to be a principal or a team leader in order to suggest an idea, bring a new perspective, or do something that helps the group move forward.

This kind of leadership is not one that answers all the questions or directs the actions.  And it’s certainly not about being a boss who makes all the decisions.

The most valuable leadership is the one in which you become an influencer rather than a director. You become one who inspires and challenges others to bring their best selves to their work. Your mindset is to help the team be collaborative and invite everyone to contribute their best efforts. This perspective can be very transformative for you as well because it lets you step into the role of an informal leader with a sense of confidence and courage.

Here are five ways to provide informal leadership to a group without having the title.

  1. Be a committed listener. Listen not only to the words, but more importantly, to the underlying meaning being said.  Listen for what complainers care about and then reframe the conversation to address the deeper issue or need.  Logic does not persuade emotion.  So speak to the emotion behind the issue.
  2.  Hold up common standards and beliefs the group has about themselves. Remind them of their better selves and the positive characteristics of the group.  “We are people who…(get things done, care about kids, believe in civil dialogue, etc).”   Hold up that “elephant in the room” for everyone to see, so they can talk about it.  
  3.  Be humble. Brene Brown says that humility is about getting input from others, learning from mistakes, letting go of controlling everything, and frequently reflecting about how to improve yourself or team.  Don’t hide problems or mistakes.  Reframe failure as part of the learning.  Recognize that messiness and not knowing answers is part of the learning process.  Be willing to step out of your comfort zone in order to get to the best solutions.
  4. Trust others to do good work. Call on people’s strengths to contribute to the solution. Recognize the strengths of others and help open opportunities for them to do what they do well.  Invest in building capacity in others.
  5. Bring a “balcony view” to the conversation. Explore different perspectives.  Who else has a valuable perspective on the topic?    What are we leaving out?  What are we blind to?  What surprises you?  What do you want to explore? What are questions beneath the surface that are not being asked?

So, back to our story, what can you do as a participant in a boring meeting?

The most important thing you can do is to take responsibility for changing the dynamic that is sucking the life out of you. Don’t blame others or expect someone else to fix the problem.

Accept your role in creating the current mess.  (You’ve been willing to sit through long, boring meetings without offering a solution.)

Instead, ask a good question or two from a curiosity perspective.  Help your team figure out what they can do to change the situation.

  • Say, “I can hear that you believe this report is important for us to know about. What are two key ideas you want us to take away from it?”  (Committed Listener: The report has important information.  Help the speaker summarize.)
  • Say, “As a team we believe in the power of working together. What is the most efficient way to divide up the work tasks?”   (Holding up the standard:  Name what the team values about itself and use that to suggest a better way to organize.)
  • Say, “Joe’s idea is good and I would like to hear more options before we decide. Sometimes the best options emerge when we have several to consider.”  (Humiility:  Showing respect for Joe and asking for responses from others as well)
  • Say, “Susan is always good at cutting through messiness to get to the real meat. I’d like to hear what she thinks is the best action forward.”   (Trusting others: Recognizing the strength of others and inviting them to participate)
  • Say, “I’m wondering how parents would feel about this kind of response.” (Balcony view: Inviting the group to consider a response from other stakeholders not in the room.)

The next time you are stuck in a long, boring meeting, or a contentious debate among colleagues, step up to be part of the solution rather than complaining about the problem afterward.  Take action as an informal leader to help move the group forward by asking strategic questions that can change the negative dynamic in the room.  Be an influencer who helps make things better!

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The Value of Coalitions

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I get frustrated with individuals and groups who give up on good ideas “because we don’t have any money.”

I’ve seen it time and again:

  • The ag teacher who never invested in planning an expansion for his course offerings because “he knew there wouldn’t be any money to fund it.”
  • The principal who wanted an additional staff person devoted to keeping middle schoolers caught up on their homework assignments, he never really expected it to happen.
  • The school board who gave up on ever trying to improve high school library facilities because “the community would never allow the tax increase necessary to pay for the remodeling.”

Do you see the pattern here?  In each case a person dreamed about good ideas but gave up without trying because “there is no money anyway.”

The budget can become a huge barrier for many people.  Educators often hear, “No. Sorry. Can’t fund that.  It’s not in the budget.”  But the thing is, maybe it could be.    How do you expand that budget?  How to you leverage the money that is available?

One way is to look for outside funding sources—grants or seed money contributions from local businesses.  Another way is to build coalitions with other like-minded community groups and organizations.

I was superintendent during a period of very tight budget constraints.  One of the important programs we had to cut was summer school.  But our administrative team talked frequently about the value and need of summer support, especially for our at-risk students.  So I began to start conversations with leaders in other youth-serving organizations and agencies—Social Services, local health department, Juvenile Justice System, sheriff’s office, extension agency, local Tribal Council.

These conversations about our mutual interests lead to a countywide meeting to discuss how we might work together for the benefit of youth.  Each agency had small amounts of money ear-marked for youth programs, and each group had a further network of community resources they could tap into (city library, the Boys’ and Girls’ Club, 4-H programs, idle school busses).

Together, we formed a coalition with each agency contributing financial or in-kind support to fund a six-week summer enrichment program to keep kids learning through the summer.

It was kind of like the loaves and fishes biblical story.  Everybody contributed a little bit and together they designed a really beneficial program targeting our most vulnerable children.  It wasn’t just a school program; it was a community commitment!

This coalition has stayed together for more than ten years now.  It is built on relationships and a common vision of working together to provide important opportunities for children.  Many of the original adults in the group have transitioned out over the years, but new ones have stepped up to take their places.  Or new groups/ agencies have joined to fill any voids that arose.

It’s not easy to keep coalitions together and running smoothly.  But the energy to do the work is worth it.  It leverages not only small pots of money that civic institutions have for special programs, but is also engages the hearts of individuals around meaningful, mutual goals.

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Putting the Function Back into Dysfunctional Teams

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Recently a superintendent friend was complaining about how one school board member harped endlessly about nickel and dime expenses, ignoring the legitimate needs of students and staff. It was driving her crazy! How could she get this school board refocused on what was truly important for education?

She had been reading The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni. He says that one thing that well functioning teams do is to focus on achievement of collective goals. Such discussions give people a sense of connection and belonging, which ultimately makes them better team members.

So instead of amassing a mountain of data to counter minor budget positions, this superintendent tried something different. She started the meeting with a conversation about what goals they had in common for their work. She asked, “What does a ‘quality education’ look like to you as a board?

As the discussion continued, she probed more. “At the end of the school year, what do you want the community to say about the work of this board as it relates to supporting a ‘quality education’?”

The effect was amazing! They listened to each other. They spoke from the heart. They talked about what they valued. They were respectful of each other for it is hard to be nasty to someone who has just spoken about deeply held ideas.

Slowly the board began to put the budget minutia in its proper prospective. Through the conversation they discovered that while budgets are important, setting direction for student learning and staff instruction are higher priorities in creating a “quality education.”

“Balcony view” discussions help individuals connect greater meaning and purpose for the work of their team. They start with a thought-provoking question that gets team members thinking about the bigger goal, the greater purpose, the deeper meaning. They engage people’s hearts as well as their minds, and result in better communication and cooperation, to reach the common goal.

What has been your experience in having “balcony view” discussions with dysfunctional teams?

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How Young Leaders Gain Clout

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Sometimes a particular topic continues to resurface, so it’s worthwhile to share useful information again. Below is a post from the archives — especially for young leaders who need a leg up.  Please share this with someone you know.

______________________________________________

Often younger clients ask me how they can prove themselves when older colleagues doubt them because of their age.  Carrie Rich from the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) had this question and she reached out to John Maxwell, an internationally recognized leadership expert.   In a recent blog she shared her insights from her conversations with him.  I thought my clients might be interested in what she learned.  So I am sharing some of her wisdom here…  http://dlvr.it/CDgBm7

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Soul Deep Listening

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One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.
Bryant H. McGill

Marshall Goldsmith has written a book entitled, What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There. His premise is that the skills that get you noticed as a leader sometimes don’t serve you well when you actually get the new title.

This is certainly true when it comes to listening skills. Most of us believe we are good listeners. But listening is more than hearing the words someone is speaking. It is making an effort to understand the underlying meaning and the emotion that surrounds it.

Listening in this deep way is especially important for coaches. However, we may have developed some bad conversational habits that actually get in the way of listening deeply and evoking the kind of “sacred trust” we want to create with our clients.

The kind of listening that often gets us noticed — having quick responses, tossing out solution ideas, making clever jokes about things we don’t like, telling hilarious stories that piggy-back on someone else’s — truly becomes a hindrance when we are wanting to build trust and rapport.

Let me describe four bad listening habits that are actually barriers to becoming the kind of committed listener you want to be.

Judgment Listening: When listeners have an opposing viewpoint, they often engage in Judgment or Criticism listening. The listener focuses attention on hearing flaws in what is being said, hoping to discredit the speaker. It shuts down discussion and sends the message that only one person has the “right” answer.

Autobiographical Listening: This is also called “piggybacking” or “highjacking” a conversation. It occurs when one person discusses an activity or idea that stimulates an association in the listener’s brain to think of a similar experience. The listener’s attention wanders and often responds with his or her own personal story. The listener may be trying to establish rapport or show sympathy, but it really takes the focus away from what the speaker has to say, and instead, moves the spotlight to what the listener’s story is.

Inquisitive Listening: This occurs when a listener becomes overly curious about irrelevant portions of the speaker’s story, instead of listening to the essence of the message. This is particularly true when a speaker is highly emotional when telling a story. An inquisitive listener may pepper the speaker about details when the speaker only wants to be heard — not “fix” the problem. Listening without feeling any obligation to question or respond, often helps speakers move beyond their negative emotions without any advice from the speaker.

Solution Listening: This is when the speaker is eager to provide a quick and helpful solution even when the speaker has not asked for such advice. Solution listeners may too quickly filter their thinking as they focus on the parts of the conversation that support their solution idea, and miss other important, relevant points the speaker is trying to make. Solution listening makes the speaker feel like their perspective is being diminished or ignored

Do you hear yourself in any of these scenarios? Is there a bad listening habit you are particularly prone to?

I believe that committed listening is a rare gift we give others. It is not only hearing the words a person says, but also listening for the deeply held beliefs and passions embedded in the meaning. When people feel heard at a soul-deep level, trust and sacred relationships emerge.

So as another year begins, how do you get from listening at the surface to listening at this soul-deep level? It can start by being intentional about avoiding these four bad habits of listening. What new skills will you practice?

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Reframing Resistance

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Sometimes people we work with seem very resistant to our ideas. No matter what logical reasons or explanations we give them for our decisions, they still are angry and continue to stir up agitation within the staff and community.

  • The special ed mom who wants her child treated like a normal student, but wants special treatment when discipline is involved.
  • A veteran teacher who rallies against implementing a new reading curriculum despite the fact that current student reading scores are dismally low.
  • The board member who wants to continue agitating for adoption of a random drug testing policy that failed in a 5-2 board vote.

We wonder why our best arguments fall on deaf ears. We’ve shared all the compelling data. We’ve been transparent about our process and the many options we investigated. We explained the results others have had who have adopted this same decision. But nothing seems to lower the heat of their passion.

The problem is, administrators are speaking from the head — their arguments are based in logic. The parent, teacher, and board member are speaking from deeply held beliefs based in the heart. While logical arguments are important, they have no power to persuade beliefs from the heart.

So how do leaders navigate the land mines in these kinds of situations? Where do they find a sweet spot for win-win solutions?

They start by looking at the situation from the other person’s point of view. What are their complaints telling you they care about?

  • Maybe the mother wants to be sure the school appreciates her child as much as she does.
  • Maybe the veteran teacher feels uncomfortable with the new instructional practices and isn’t sure he will be competent in the new system.
  • Maybe the board member is passionate about protecting at-risk kids.

So instead of responding about the details of the specific incident, respond to what they care about.

  • Show the mom how you appreciate her child by talking about the delightful things you have seen her child do. Then you can transition the conversation to how you are addressing her needs appropriately for her age and abilities.
  • Tell the veteran teacher how you understand it is going to be hard and take extra time to learn the new instructional practices for the curriculum. And tell what value his teaching now brings to students. Express faith in his ability to weave these new practices into what he is already doing well.
  • Ask the staff to tell stories at the next board meeting about all the things they do to identify and help re-direct students who are at-risk for drug involvement. Have them give data about number of students identified and helped in a typical year with the policy and procedures already in place. Emphasize how every board member cares about this issue and how much students have been impacted for the better because of good practices already in place.

These are ways to show you are a person who understands and cares about the things others do. There is a “sweet spot” that is “win-win” for everyone. Use reframing to get you there!

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