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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

A Different View Of September 11

Friday, September 11th, 2009

Much will be done today to commemorate the lives lost on September 11, 2001. The story I’m going to share has a different focus than most and one I believe is worth your time.

Among those who died that day was the husband of a woman I knew casually and because our acquaintance was casual I was surprised when she called nearly six months later.

I’ll call her “Kerry” and we talked for hours, but the kernel I want to share is this.

She needed support to move; not just move on, it was too early for that, but to physically move.

Kerry said the reaction to “Craig’s” death changed when people found out he died in the attack. It changed from sympathy or empathy to an almost macabre interest in how she felt because he died “that way.”

Many seemed to feel that her politics should change (she is ‘liberal moderate’, her words) and that the event should be the main focus not only in her life, but also for her two young daughters and she didn’t want that.

Kerry said she called me because she remembered my saying that I found it sad that John Kennedy Jr.’s life seemed to be defined by his father’s death; that he never was able to become anyone other than the little boy who saluted at the funeral.

Kerry said that she didn’t want her kids to be forever known as “Kristy/Jenny-her-father-was-killed-in-the-September-11-attacks”

The problem was that many of her family and friends were horrified at how she felt. They acted as if losing Craig September 11 made his death a national symbol, not a personal tragedy.

We talked many times over the next few months and the upshot was that Kerry did move far away where no one knew them. When Craig’s death came up in conversation Kerry just said that her husband had died; she said when her daughters were mature enough she would tell them what happened, but not until they had the opportunity for a normal life—not one filled with other people’s baggage.

I think for Kerry I was “the stranger on the plane,” the uninvolved person to whom you can say anything because you will never see or hear from them again and I was honored to play that part.

The death of a parent is always tragic. I know; I was five when the driver of the car in which my father was traveling fell asleep at the wheel and drove off a mountain road.

The point I want to make today is that we don’t forget, but we do move on and as we move we grow and change.

No matter how horrendous the event we all have the ability to choose what defines us and what memories rule our lives.

Never allow others to force you into a role that fits their view of what should define you.

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Image credit: StarLight on sxc.hu

Quotable Quotes: Ted Kennedy

Sunday, August 30th, 2009

Whether you laud Ted Kennedy or despise him you can’t deny that there are things he said that resonate with any person, in any country and any circumstances.

Here are some of my favorites.

“I recognize my own shortcomings — the faults in the conduct of my private life. I realize that I alone am responsible for them, and I am the one who must confront them. I believe that each of us as individuals must not only struggle to make a better world, but to make ourselves better, too.”

There is no safety in hiding.”

“Yes, we are all Americans. This is what we do. We reach the moon. We scale the heights. I know it. I’ve seen it. I’ve lived it. And we can do it again.”

“I have seen throughout my life how we as a people can rise to a challenge, embrace change and renew our destiny.”

“The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dreams shall never die.”

“We have learned that it is important to take issues seriously, but never to take ourselves too seriously.”

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Image credit: Wikipedia Commons

Quotable Quotes: Walter Cronkite

Sunday, July 19th, 2009

Friday was not a good day.

Friday we lost one of the few people left in the world that people trusted without question.

Friday Walter Cronkite died.

I became a thinking adult watching him deliver the news starting in 1962 and when he stepped down in 1981 I stopped watching TV news—I wanted intelligence and objectivity, not image and opinions.

How can those of us who are familiar with Cronkite convey what he did for us? How do we explain to a generation that thinks bloggers, Howard Stern and morning TV are viable news sources what Walter Cronkite gave us?

Walter Cronkite understood the meaning behind Lao Tzu’s words, “To lead the people, walk behind them.”

Here are a few of his comments that I especially like…

“I feel no compulsion to be a pundit.”

“In seeking truth you have to get both sides of a story.”

“I think it is absolutely essential in a democracy to have competition in the media, a lot of competition, and we seem to be moving away from that.”

“We are not educated well enough to perform the necessary act of intelligently selecting our leaders.”

“America’s health care system is neither healthy, caring, nor a system.”

“I want to say that probably 24 hours after I told CBS that I was stepping down at my 65th birthday, I was already regretting it. And I regretted it every day since.”

I hope all of you will click the link and read more about this truly unique man; our country would be different without him.

I know of no better words with which to end today then as Cronkite ended each of his news shows—

“And that’s the way it is.”

Image credit: CBS on YouTube

Leadership's Future: The World They Live In

Thursday, February 5th, 2009

Do you think that segregation is an anachronism? A mindset and action we put behind us with the rise of the Civil Rights movement? Think again.

Segregated activities are alive and well in many small towns.

But these days, instead of turning on and dropping out like the Boomers, or turning on and apathetic like Gen X, kids get involved, even when it makes their lives more difficult.

“In 1997, Academy Award winning actor Morgan Freeman offered to pay for the senior prom at Charleston High School in Mississippi under one condition: the prom had to be racially integrated. His offer was ignored. In 2008, Freeman offered again. This time the school board accepted, and history was made. … Freeman’s generosity fans the flames of racism—and racism in Charleston has a distinctly generational tinge. Some white parents forbid their children to attend the integrated prom and hold a separate white-only dance. “”Billy Joe,”” an enlightened white senior, appears on camera in shadow, fearing his racist parents will disown him if they know his true feelings.”

Not only did they have the prom, with none of the dire consequences predicted and used as the reason not to integrate it, but Paul Saltzman’s documentary Prom Night in Mississippi became a Sundance Festival sensation.

Kids are impatient for change—but they always have been. And in some variation of Moore’s Law each generation’s impatience increases, while their tolerance for whatever is current decreases.

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Image credit: YouTube

Strength And Grace: A Leader To Remember

Friday, January 30th, 2009

As regular readers know, I don’t believe that leadership is reserved to the few, the chosen, the anointed. I do believe that it can and should be practiced by all, every day and in all aspects of their lives.

That said, now and then there comes someone who truly leads in all senses of the word.

Mahatma Gandhi was such a person.

He was murdered on January 30, 1948, by a Hindu extremist.

61 years after his death, while fanatics of all stripes continue to wreak their own brand of havoc on the world, his ideas and actions remain a shining beacon.

Thank you, Mahatma Gandhi.

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Image credit: flickr

Quotable quotes: when a true leader dies

Sunday, October 19th, 2008

‘Leader’ is one of the most maligned, abused and misused words in any language, but now and then it’s aptly applied.On July 9, 2007, the world lost a real leader, someone who truly deserved that appellation, Alexander Vladimir d’Arbeloff.

Co-founder of high-tech company Teradyne, philanthropist and MIT patriarch, he was a unique individual.

Unsuited to the corporate culture of the Fifties, he was fired three times in his first ten years.

Here’s what others thought of him.

A personal interaction with Alex was an event not soon forgotten.

Alex d’Arbeloff was a force of nature. We all experienced his laser-like intellect, his wry wit, his insatiable curiosity, his amazing ability to engage, cajole, persuade, educate and enlighten those with whom he came in contact.

…we will remember Alex d’Arbeloff and his remarkable leadership, deep devotion and magnificent generosity…

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Quotable quotes: A leading star goes dark

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

It’s a sad Saturday night as I write this. I don’t watch the news so I wasn’t aware that Paul Newman died Friday.paul_newman.jpgI grew up watching his movies and reading about his life beyond them. Newman was a great actor and director, but he was a brilliant human being—a much more important role, although you wouldn’t know it in today’s celebrity-hyped world.

His amazing 50 year marriage to Joanne Woodward is proof that marriage is dependent on the people involved, not outside circumstances.

But it was his political stands and philanthropic efforts that always resonated most with me.

Newman’s Own donates all profits and has given away more than $200 million. He founded Newman’s Hole in the Wall camps with 11 around the world—135,000 gravely ill children have attended them free of charge.

And now, a few words from Paul…

“Why would I go out for a hamburger when [I] have steak at home?” (In reference to why he never strayed.)

“Who’s to say who’s an expert?” (Certainly somehting to keep in mind the next time you get ‘expert’ advice.)

“The embarrassing thing is that the salad dressing is outgrossing my films.” (Happily so. He couldn’t donate the film profits.)

“I picture my epitaph: “Here lies Paul Newman, who died a failure because his eyes turned brown”. (Failure never even came close.)

“If you don’t have enemies, you don’t have character.” (Newman proved this one totally wrong.)

“You can’t be as old as I am without waking up with a surprised look on your face every morning: ‘Holy Christ, whaddya know – I’m still around!’ It’s absolutely amazing that I survived all the booze and smoking and the cars and the career.” (But not for nearly long enough.)

Goodbye, Paul, you will be sorely missed!

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Image credit: danperry.com   CC license

Step up and be a leader for AnySoldier.com

Friday, August 1st, 2008

Post from Leadership Turn Image credit:  soldiersmediacenter    CC license

soldiers1.jpgWhatever you think of the war—I happen to be vehemently against it—has nothing to do with our troops. The war is about politicians and politics—the troops are about the men and women who serve and all too often die.

I wonder what our government spends $700 million dollars a day on, but apparently it’s not for necessities such as sox, boots, feminine products, razors, body wash, etc., let alone “luxuries” like Ramen noodles that our troops need.

I just learned about a website called Any Soldier and it’s a way you can help for very little money.

Not generic help, but very personal help. Read through the requests, choose based on what you can do and do it.

Finally, remember that there are a lot of troops there who get no mail and would appreciate receiving letters all year, not just at the holidays when it’s a major topic. Monthly letters from a class is a great school project—heck, it might even teach the kids here to communicate instead of text.

So step up, DO something yourself and DO what you can to get the word spread. Any Soldier needs all of us all and they need us now.

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Strength and grace: Vanessa Williams

Monday, February 25th, 2008

I have to confess that I’m as far from a pop culture vulture as you can get and movies aren’t my thing, so normally I don’t watch the Academy Awards. But tonight I was working and left the TV on for background noise. There wasn’t much choice so I had on the Academy Awards and they segued into an hour of Barbara Walters’ interviews when I wasn’t looking.

The interview with Vanessa Williams caught my interest.

Hard to believe that 20 years have past since she was forced to give up her Miss America crown because of nude pictures taken several years before she won.

Williams was devastated, but chose to focus forward instead of backward.

“Today, Vanessa has not only has 14 Grammy Nominations, won over 30 awards from things such as Soul Train awards, MTV Video Music Awards, and the Billboard Music Awards (to name a few), but she has also conquered “The Big Screen” with movies such as Soul Food, Eraser and Dance With Me. She has overcome the TV screen with made-for-tv-movies such as Bye Bye Birdie and The Courage to Love. Lastly, she has made her life long dream come true and performed on none other than Broadway in Kiss of the Spider Woman.”

Williams currently plays one of the most delicious bitches ever to grace the small screen in the hit comedy Ugly Betty.

She’s a philanthropist, “embracing and supporting such issues as education, homelessness, abuse, women’s issues and health concerns, AIDS and anything having to do with children.”

Her intelligence and wit show clearly in numerous interviews—as when asked what she thought about being a sex-symbol she replied, “Oh well, I’m happy how my parents’ genes have worked out.”

Tonight, Walters asked if she would have done things differently in 1989 and Williams responded that she wouldn’t have entered the pageant. Nothing about not taking the pictures, just that she would have avoided the conflict.

Williams has displayed strength and grace under fire in all her efforts and is proof that even a traumatic setback doesn’t have to stop you unless you allow it to.

Do you have a strength and grace story to share?

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