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Leadership's Future: Will It Work?

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

booker-t-washingtonIf you are a manager and despair at the quality of people that fill your entry level positions, not their attitude, but their skills and basic education, prepare for it to get worse.

Perhaps instead of ranting and whining about America’s loss of global leadership we should look closer to home for the real cause—US education.

The ethnic groups with the worst outcomes in school are African-Americans and Hispanics. The achievement gaps between these groups and their white and Asian-American peers are already large in kindergarten and only grow as the school years pass. These are the youngsters least ready right now to travel the 21st-century road to a successful life.

By 2050, the percentage of whites in the work force is projected to fall from today’s 67 percent to 51.4 percent. The presence of blacks and Hispanics in the work force by midcentury is expected to be huge, with the growth especially sharp among Hispanics.

No, whites and Asians aren’t smarter, but they do have socioeconomic advantages that are lacking for these minorities.

Advantages that our educational system and politicians at all levels are doing little to address.

It’s not always about money, although that is a part of it, nor is it about standardized tests that do little to improve true education, it’s about innovation and educating outside the box.

Harvard Graduate School of Education is creating a new doctoral degree to be focused on leadership in education. It’s the first new degree offered by the school in 74 years. The three-year course will be tuition-free and conducted in collaboration with faculty members from the Harvard Business School and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. The idea is to develop dynamic new leaders who will offer the creativity, intellectual rigor and professionalism that is needed to help transform public education in the U.S.

Creativity, intellectual rigor, professionalism; this leadership isn’t just about visions and influence, it’s about creating people who will roll up their sleeves, get their hands dirty often toil in relative obscurity on the biggest problems facing this country.

Kathleen McCartney, the graduate school’s dean, explained one of the dilemmas that has hampered reform. “If you look at people who are running districts,” she said, “some come from traditional schools of education, and they understand the core business of education but perhaps are a little weak on the management side. And then you’ve got the M.B.A.-types who understand operations, let’s say, but not so much teaching and learning.”

Will it work?

Can the program make a difference quickly enough to change the current downward trajectory of our future?

Will other schools step up to the plate now or will they wait a decade or so and see how the Harvard program fares?

Does anybody care enough about what will happen in 20, 30, 40 years to accept a little discomfort now or should we just build more prisons?

Leadership Turn is ending; its last day is December 29. I’ve enjoyed writing it and our interaction since August 16, 2007 and I hope we can continue at my other blog where Leadership’s Future will carry on.

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Image credit: dbking on flickr

Leadership's Future: The Work-Life Edge

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

balanceWhen the economy slows, it’s easy to ignore retention factors because management kids itself into believing that replacing people is no big deal.

But slow as it’s happening, the times they are a’chnging.

At least here and there, in companies that really understand the importance of attracting and retaining scarce talent.

“To reduce “female brain drain,” global companies such as Ernst & Young, Goldman Sachs, Booz Allen Hamilton, Hewlett-Packard, Best Buy and dozens of others are increasingly offering a variety of flexible work options.”

Don’t get me wrong. These companies aren’t doing it out of the goodness of their corporate heart or caring social consciousness, they’re doing it because it makes financial sense, AKA, vested self-interest.

“Business analysts and executives say talent retention and the forces of demography are the chief reasons large, traditional companies accommodate the needs of female employees. Fifty-eight percent of college graduates are women, and nearly half of all professional and graduate degrees are earned by women…the number of women with graduate and professional degrees will grow by 16 percent over the next decade compared with an increase of only 1.3 percent among men.”

And the need is going to get worse.

“Whether you can hear it or not, a time bomb is ticking in C-suites worldwide. Its shock waves will resonate for decades. The explosive: indisputable demographics. Surveys…indicate that the number of managers in the right age bracket for leadership roles will drop by 30% in just six years. Factor in even modest growth rates, and the average corporation will be left with half the critical talent it needs by 2015.”

It’s not just large firms, SMB companies are active in the effort, although they often skip the language and the programs are more informal—which is why they’re often described as “being like a family.”

Although the work-life trend started with women, the guys want it, too, and Millennials assume it as a right.

The economy will turn around—it always does; more Boomers will retire; demographics will prevail; talent will be scarcer and the companies that already know how to offer balance will have an enormous recruiting edge.

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Image credit: James Jordan on flickr

Leadership's Future: Test Prep for Kindergarten

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

kindergartenManhattan, home of Wall Street, financial sorcery, hyper-competitiveness—and tutoring for 3 and 4-year-olds.

This story is one of the saddest I’ve read lately.

That is an age when a child should spend time being a child, exploring their world, running around, creating imaginary worlds, friends, situations and enjoying unconditional love.

Instead, they are learning that to please mommy and daddy they have to get a certain teat result and get into a certain school.

…3- and 4-year-olds whose parents hope that a little assistance — costing upward of $1,000 for several sessions — will help them win coveted spots in the city’s gifted and talented public kindergarten classes.

Granted, I didn’t read all 166 comments, but 98% of the ones I did read were negative on tutoring. Many of them reacted as I did—let kids be kids.

But many parents see their kids as a reflection or symbol of their own success; that means pressure to excel—even at that age.

Of course, those who do get in will be labeled “high potential” and “leadership material,” which is ridiculous at that age. And so we destroy potential in the rest.

Life is so short and childhood is even shorter. There is plenty of time to compete, set goals, worry whether you are achieving enough vs. what others are doing. Time to find out that love can be conditional on accomplishing your parent’s expectations.

But is it really necessary to start at age three?

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Leadership's Future: Leadership Through Initiative

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

prisonLast summer I coined a term to describe those who are chronologically, but not psychologically, Millennials; I called them aMillennials and there are more around then you might think.

Today I saw a great story about two aMillennials who showed their leadership by taking the initiative and convincing their university to provide comparable classes at a prison.

Four years ago, in fact, Wesleyan balked at a proposal to install such a program.

Two students, Russell Perkins and Molly Birnbaum, who had volunteered in prisons as students, revived the idea last year when they were seniors and figured out a way to finance it.

…a privately financed experiment in higher education that takes murderers and drug dealers and other inmates with histories of serious crime and gives them an opportunity to get an elite college education inside their high-security prison, the Cheshire Correctional Institution.

The professors involved say that the classes are just as tough as on campus.

These aren’t prisoners preparing for a return to society, in fact, some of them may never return. But that doesn’t mean they don’t want to learn—120 inmates applied 19 spots.

Skipping the debate as to whether this is a good program or not, the initiative shown is a large lesson for all those who spend their time reading and studying leadership instead of doing it.

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Image credit: Rennett Stowe on flickr

Leadership's Future: Visions Trump Values

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

vision-trumps-valuesRaising kids is about teaching values, among other things, but kids learn by watching more than by listening. “Do as I say, not as I do” just doesn’t fly these days.

Cheating is not only a good example, it’s a global one.

Everyone knows that cheating is wrong, yet in US surveys 64% of high school students say they have cheated, while 84% of undergraduate business students and a whopping 56% of MBA students also admit to cheating. Not only is cheating prevalent, parental action often condones it.

Since many of these same parents are leaders in the workplace, the results of a McKinsey survey asking “which capabilities of organizations as a whole are most important for managing companies through the crisis” should come as no surprise.

Ability to shape employee interactions and foster a shared understanding of values.

Only 8% thought that important, which placed ‘shared values’ dead last on the list of nine.

What was first on the list? The item considered the most important?

Ability to ensure that leaders shape and inspire the actions of others to drive better performance.

Number two isn’t much of an improvement.

Capacity to articulate where the company is heading and how to get there, and to align people appropriately.

All the research I’ve seen claims that the best way to avoid ethical lapses is to have sustainable ethics embedded deep in the company’s culture.

And the comments of Rick Wartzman, director of the Drucker Institute at Claremont Graduate University, really resonate.

Perhaps the oddest aspect of the McKinsey findings is the suggestion that providing leadership is somehow separate from promoting values. In fact, the two are bound together—the double helix of any corporation’s DNA.

One would think that means the company’s leaders understand the value of values and would proactively work to foster and embed them.

But no, these leaders, likely the same one whose kids admit to cheating, believe that visions trump values.

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Image credit: Warning Sign Generator

Leadership's Future: We Need More Tom Dunns

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

knowledge-is-powerWhat do you do and where do you go when you leave a high-stress career that nearly kills you?

If your name is Tom Dunn and you spent 20 years, first as a defense counsel in the Army Trial Defense Service, then stints in Florida, New York State and most recently as head of the nonprofit Georgia Resource Center, you find a less stressful environment in which to indulge your passion.

You teach in a tough middle school in Atlanta, Georgia where “ninety-three percent of students are black and 5 percent Hispanic; some 97 percent qualify for free or reduced lunch.”

Dunn’s prior experience made him a passionate believer in what Frederick Douglass said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

According to principal, Danielle S. Battle, middle school turns off many teachers because it’s where “students’ bodies and minds are changing, and disparities in learning abilities are playing out.”

Dunn found that amusing, “You can’t be a starry-eyed idealist and do defense work in capital cases for 20 years.”

Dunn is the type of teacher that every parent should want for their child, but, as proved in Dallas, teachers are fired for being good—good meaning tough enough to stick to their guns and require kids to learn.

We need more teachers like Dunn; teachers who care and environment that supports their efforts to educate.

But the kids complain to their parents, the parents complain to the school board and the teacher is out—no matter how good the test scores. So tying teacher pay to test scores may not help if the choice is between less money and no job.

What are line managers, AKA principals and teachers, supposed to do when the executive team, AKA, school district board, first gives tacit approval to shipping shoddy products and then formalizes the practice through its work rules and quality processes?

How stupid is it to tie funding to students staying in school and passing and then allow the bar to be lowered in order to achieve the goal?

Does the ability to pass tests accurately reflect an ability to think?

Kids are smart; they know when the system is gamed and how to leverage their power.

Who is in charge here?

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Image credit: Nieve44/La Luz on flickr

Leadership's Future: America's Tragic Shame

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

Neglect. Drugs. Abuse. Molestation.

Where do you go when those four words describe your parents and your home life?

Where do you sleep; what do you eat?

homelessWhen you’re cold and hungry you do what it takes to survive, including stealing and selling whatever you can find to sell—including yourself.

And these kids are as young as 10 years old.

The NT Times ran a two-part series called Running in the Shadows about teen runaways. It should be required reading for every American (part 1 and part 2).

Children on Their Own

This is the first of two articles on the growing number of young runaways in the United States, exploring how they survive and efforts by the authorities to help them.

Many cling together to avoid predators, but many more are seduced by pimps—it doesn’t take much.

“My job is to make sure she has what she needs, personal hygiene, get her nails done, take her to buy an outfit, take her out to eat, make her feel wanted,” said another pimp, Antoin Thurman, who was sentenced in 2006 to three years for pandering and related charges in Buckeye, Ariz. “But I keep the money.”

Out of frustration, Sgt. Byron A. Fassett of the Dallas Police Department started looking for patterns in child prostitution cases.

One stuck out: 80 percent of the prostituted children the department had handled had run away from home at least four or more times a year.

Fasset created a special “High Risk Victim” unit within the Dallas PD that has seen enormous success, both in getting kids out of that life and putting the pimps behind bars.

The unit’s strength is timing. If the girls are arrested for prostitution, they are at their least cooperative. So the unit instead targets them for such minor offenses as truancy or picks them up as high-risk victims, speaking to them when their guard is down. Only later, as trust builds, do officers and social workers move into discussions of prostitution.

Repeat runaways are not put in juvenile detention but in a special city shelter for up to a month, receiving counseling.

Three quarters of the girls who get treatment do not return to prostitution.

The results of the Dallas system are clear: in the past five years, the Dallas County district attorney’s office has on average indicted and convicted or won guilty pleas from over 90 percent of the pimps arrested. In virtually all of those cases, the children involved in the prostitution testified against their pimps, according to the prosecutor’s office. Over half of those convictions started as cases involving girls who were picked up by the police not for prostitution but simply as repeat runaways.

Those statistics are amazing. Here we have a case of initiative taken; leadership shown, and impressive success. Not a fancy approach, but a pragmatic one based on a proven pattern.

So why hasn’t it been applied across the nation?

In 2007, Congress nearly approved a proposal to spend more than $55 million for cities to create pilot programs across the country modeled on the Dallas system. But after a dispute with President George W. Bush over the larger federal budget, the plan was dropped and Congress never appropriated the money.

Just $55 million dollars, that’s all; a drop in the bucket in comparison to most earmarks.

But, in their wisdom, our wonderful, elected leaders in Washington didn’t believe it had enough reelection value to make it worth fighting for—maybe this is what’s meant by throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Of course, these kids can’t vote, may not live long enough to vote, so it’s no big deal to the folks on their perpetual campaign trail.

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Image credit: Franco Folini on flickr

Leadership's Future: Choosing Your Audience

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

front-rowEvery day we make choices and, as kids, learning to make wise ones is one on the most important things that should happen as we grow.

But it doesn’t always happen.

The great thing is that you can change and learn to make good choices at any time in your life—it is an integral part of leading yourself.

One of the most important choices anyone makes is found in the people they choose to have as part of their life.

Although I could write my own ideas of what that means, I’d like to share something I received from a friend. I can’t find who the author is, so I’ll credit the prolific Anon.

Everyone Can’t Be in Your Front Row

Life is a theater – invite your audience carefully. Not everyone is spiritually healthy and mature enough to have a front row seat in our lives. There are some people in your life that need to be loved from a distance.

It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you let go, or at least minimize your time with draining negative, incompatible, not-going-anywhere relationships/friendships/fellowships!

Observe the relationships around you. Pay attention to: Which ones lift and which ones lean? Which ones encourage and which ones discourage?

Which ones are on a path of growth uphill and which ones are going downhill?

When you leave certain people, do you feel better or feel worse? Which ones always have drama or don’t really understand, know and appreciate you and the gift that lies within you? When you seek growth, peace of mind, love and truth, the easier it will become for you to decide who gets to sit in the FRONT ROW and who should be moved to the balcony of your life.

You cannot change the people around you…but you can change the people you are around! Choose wisely the people who sit in the front row of your life.

Copy the last sentence and tape it to your monitor and the bathroom mirror; forward the post to every person you care about—not with a lecture, but with a hug; discuss it’s meaning with your kids—they are never too young to learn this.

Take a long, hard look at who sits in your front row; if you don’t want them there you don’t need to have a major confrontation, just quietly lower their priority in your life and assign them to a seat at the back—even if they have you in their front row.

I know that I’m in the front row of several people who sit in the rear of my audience, but I say nothing, because nothing would be gained. They would be deeply hurt for no reason; they have little-to-no impact on me because they are far back and where they choose to seat me is none of my business.

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Image credit: Rob Stemple on flickr

Leadership's Future: Abusing Water To Produce Energy

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

blog action dayToday is Blog Action Day and the topic is Climate Change, so I asked Chris Blackman, who is a strategic consultant specializing finding both private and public funding in the green and clean technology sector, to offer her thoughts on a subject that enrages me every time it comes up—which is more and more often. The subject is the sacrificing of one limited resource for the sake of another.

From Chris…

Would you choose to go hungry and thirsty so that you could have energy?

That choice is the dark side of clean energy.

A ‘clean coal’ power plant uses tens of thousands of gallons of water daily—water that cannot even be reused or recycled—because it is so fouled and contaminated.

To biomass’ benefit the water it consumes is reused over and over again, but turning waste to energy using the aerobic digestion method has a 1:1 ratio—one ton of waste requires one ton of water to process that waste.

In some ways, we have adopted an anything goes approach to producing some green energy and it seems a bit deja vu: using oil products to produce other energy forms.

In this case, it is even worse—it is not only the environmental impact but also the real possibility of going thirsty or hungry if we use our drinking or irrigation water to produce energy.

A recent New York Times article revealed that a solar power company dangled the opportunity to create hundreds of new jobs in a desert community at the cost of consuming 1.3 billion gallons of water a year, about 20 percent of the desert valley’s available water.”

All that community needs to do is to look at the legal battle being waged right now amongst the states that have access to the Colorado river to vividly understand why they should not sell their water rights, in the hopes of procuring water from their neighbors.

Already there are many parts of the country in which the water is already unusable in spite of the Clean Water Act.

In the last five years alone, chemical factories, manufacturing plants and other workplaces have violated water pollution laws more than half a million times. … the vast majority of those polluters have escaped punishment. State officials have repeatedly ignored obvious illegal dumping, and the Environmental Protection Agency, which can prosecute polluters when states fail to act, has often declined to intervene.

I am not in any way advocating stopping our investments in clean and green energy; however, it is tunnel vision to invest in clean energy at the cost of clean water.

There are places in this country better suited, where the solar and water requirements are better aligned: Florida and the rest of the Southeast, at least in most years. (See Chris’ post on how dark, rainy Germany used US-invented technology to become a global solar leader.)

The opening question may seem melodramatic, but I wonder what the former Soviet Republic would give today to have the Aral Sea back, since today it is mostly a dry lifeless bed of blowing salt.

Was its loss, and the salt poisoning of the surrounding lands, worth the measly two decades of cotton they produced while depleting its water sources? The environmental and economic toll of the Aral Sea’s destruction could end up being as costly as Chernobyl.

That is not melodrama, that is precedent.

Want more proof? T. Boon Pickens, who isn’t known for his ‘friend of the community’ attitudes, is betting 100 million dollars that water is the new oil.

‘Oh Father, spare me the need to eat and drink so that I may use these resources for electricity’ – who would ever pray for that?

We still don’t get “the vision thing.”

When will we begin to approach our economy and the environment as a single integrated whole?

When will we balance out the true costs and benefits of our activities?

When will the options we choose from include using less, instead of always inventing new ways to consume more?

When will we learn?

What do you think?

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Image credit: Blog Action Day

Leadership's Future: Where Have All The Heroes Gone?

Thursday, October 8th, 2009

paris-hiltonLast Friday I wrote Narcissism and Leadership and how much narcissism has increased over the last few years.

I’ve never understood the preoccupation with the glitterati, but I have wondered how much our celebrity-worshiping culture affects kids?

According to Drew Pinsky MD, AKA, Dr. Drew on radio and TV, and S. Mark Young, a social scientist it may be especially dangerous for young people, who view celebrities as role models.

“They are the sponges of our culture. Their values are now being set. Are they really the values we want our young people to be absorbing? … It harkens back to the question of how much are young people affected by models of social learning. Humans are the only animals who learn by watching other humans.”

Worse than dysfunctional celebs is our penchant for making heroes out of the bad guys.

18 year-old, 6-foot-5, 200-pound “Colton Harris-Moore is suspected in about 50 burglary cases since he slipped away from a halfway house in April 2008. Now, authorities say, he may have adopted a more dangerous hobby: stealing airplanes.”

Adin Stevens of Seattle is selling T-shirts celebrating him and there is a fan club on Facebook.

I’m not surprised, in a world where serial killers have groupies and people fight for souvenirs of death-row inmates it figures that they’re going to romanticize someone who manages to not get caught.

But what makes me ill are his mother’s comments, “I hope to hell he stole those airplanes – I would be so proud,” Pam Kohler said, noting her son’s lack of training. “But put in there that I want him to wear a parachute next time.”

It’s tough enough to grow up these days; it’s tougher in a dysfunctional home or in areas that are gang-controlled, but what kid stands a chance with parents like this?

What can we do? Where can we find more positive role models that have the glamour that mesmerizes kids and grownups alike?

When will we glorify function instead of dysfunction? Meaning instead of money?

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