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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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Image credit: edenpictures on flickr

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

Wordless Wednesday: Hope, Despair Or ???

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009


(Please take a moment to share your thoughts in comments.)

Now click to see a great take on a common business problem

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Image credit: Sappymoosetree on flickr

ERing Means Progress

Friday, October 30th, 2009

ERing-noticeI write and talk a lot about what happens when you choose to change your MAP through awareness and the resulting boos to your energy and creativity.

What I can’t remember sharing with you is a critical ingredient in the change sauce that I call the Philosophy of ER.

I consciously developed it formally and have shared it for decades to offset all the talk about failure when people are working to change.

First, you have to understand that I don’t believe in failure; I don’t think that someone has truly failed unless they’re dead. As long as they’re breathing, the worst bums on skid row have the potential to change, i.e., the possibility is there, even if the likelihood is not.

For decades change has focused on setting goals and if they aren’t achieved as stated, then you had failed.

Over the years I’ve worked with a lot of people (including myself) whose self esteem was at best badly bruised, at worst like Swiss cheese.

They started by telling me how they had failed at this or that, but in more detailed discussions it turned out that, although they hadn’t achieved their stated goal within the deadline, the goals and deadlines (one or both) weren’t exactly reality based or had changed along the way and not been restated.

To be valid, goals must come with delivery dates, but those dates must be achievable—not easy, but achievable.

When you set goals without taking into account minor details, such as friends/family/spouse/kids/working/sleeping/eating, then you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Beyond being reality-based, we all need an ongoing sense of accomplishment, especially for that which can’t be done in a few days, to sustain the long term effort that big goals take—thus came the Philosophy of ER.

Over the last couple of decades I’ve ERed almost everything (even when it’s grammatically incorrect).

  • I may not be wise, but I’m wisER.
  • I may not be rich, but I’m richER.
  • I may not be patient, but I’m patientER.
  • I may not be skinny, but I’m skinniER.

You get the idea.

So start ERing today and tomorrow you too will be happiER, smartER, healthiER and successfulER.

Just keep reminding yourself that to err is human, but to ER is divine.

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Image credit: Warning Sign Generator

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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Image credit: Chesi – Fotos CC on flickr

Leadership's Future: Education For Performance

Thursday, October 1st, 2009

On September 25, 1957, 300 United States Army troops escorted nine black children to Central High School in Little Rock after unruly white crowds had forced them to withdraw.

In 1976, the shooting of a 13-year-old sparked a children’s uprising against apartheid that spread across the country to Cape Town, where students from a mixed-race high school, Salt River, marched in solidarity with black schoolchildren.

September 15, 2009, Seattle schools plan to lower the passing grade from C to D, partly match the rest of the state’s districts and partly to keep their funding by keeping kids in school.

On September 24, 2009, thousands of South African children peacefully marched to City Hall demanding better schools, libraries and librarians.

September 2009 a debate at Answers.com is hosting a wiki debate on the value of homework. (Read it and weep at the language skills that dominate the anti-homework crowd who are your future employees.)

Finally, I just received an email (thanks Sunie!) with this picture and comments on the spelling of “bokay.” Many florists use this spelling in their marketing, but one of the comments made me cringe, “I thought is was spelled bowkay” and the writer seemed serious.

I wonder what would happen if

  • school became a right that could only be earned by the child’s effort, not by the parent’s efforts or their money;
  • student performance, not attendance, was the criterion for funding;
  • being a ‘tough’ teacher by demanding performance was encouraged;
  • kids had to work at whatever menial job they could find when they chose not to perform in school

None of this will ever happen, but it is interesting conjecture.

What do you think?

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Ducks In A Row: What Reaction Will You Choose?

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

In a comment on my September 11 post Kate Lavender said, “I have always believed that quote “we are not made, or unmade, by the things that happen to us but by our reactions to them” – I had lost sight of that of late and your story brings the importance of personal choices being who we are back full force.”

I’m grateful to Kate; it’s good to know my point was made with at least one person.

This is as true for companies as it is for individuals and especially true in the current economic environment.

We can use this economic debacle to change the way we live, do business and innovate; we can stop up-sizing and down-sizing and learn to right-size; we can learn that keeping all our balls in the air isn’t the same as having all the balls existent.

We can start by recognizing that the current mess is substantially of our own making. It started years ago as we turned our personal responsibility over to our leaders, whether political, religious or business. (See Jim Stroup’s excellent post on this subject.)

Along with this abdication of responsibility we chose decades ago to forget/ignore another bit of ancient wisdom, “if it sounds too good to be true it probably is.”

How else to explain the number of Ponzi schemes unraveling, the most recent is 30 years old, not because the good guys caught the bad guys, but as fallout from the recession.

Returning to Kate’s quote, will our reactions to what is going on make or unmake us?

What do you think?

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Image credit: ZedBee|Zoë Power on flickr

Quotable Quotes: Who Is Frank Dane?

Sunday, September 6th, 2009

Last week when I was looking for Ted Kennedy quotes I ran across this one from Frank Dane, “Life is strange. Every so often a good man wins.”

I liked it so much that this week I went looking to see what else Dane said; I found other insightful comments, so tried to track down a bio on Dane—no luck.

More quotes, but nowhere could I find information on who he is or what he does.

I’m sharing the quotes anyway and if any of you know more about him please share your knowledge in the comments.

Obviously, Dane did not have a great respect for those in politics…

“Never vote for the best candidate, vote for the one who will do the least harm”

“The news of any politician’s death should be listed under ”Public Improvements.””

“Where the criminals cover their crimes by making them legal.” [On Washington D. C.]

However, he did have a wonder grasp on finances and success…

“Remember when $25, 000 was a success? Now it is a garbage collector.”

“A set of rules laid out by professionals to show the way they would like to act if it was profitable.”

“Blessed is he who talks in circles, for he shall become a big wheel.”

My favorite is his comment on us, us in any country, city or any conceivable grouping…

“Ignorance is never out of style. It was in fashion yesterday, it is the rage today and it will set the pace tomorrow.”

Who IS Frank Dane?

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Image credit: afreeta on sxc.hu

Leadership's Future: How Should Teachers Teach?

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

Are you aware of the new teaching approach in middle school English classes that gives kids a say in which books they read?

The approach is known as “reading workshop” and “…students choose their own books, discuss them individually with their teacher and one another, and keep detailed journals about their reading…”

I sent the article to my niece, who alternates between teaching and being a school librarian. She started as a teacher, was driven out of it by internal politics and unreasonable parents, got a Master of Library Science and spent a few years as school librarian and is now back to teaching.

She wrote back, “This is how I teach!  Cool!  Thanks for sending it.  It is controversial and some English teachers think I’m nuts but I love it!”

My niece, along with many others, is the type of teachers we need more of—they love reading and learning and work to pass that love on.

But there is a lot of opposition to moving away from the way reading has been taught.

“In the method familiar to generations of students, an entire class reads a novel — often a classic — together to draw out the themes and study literary craft. That tradition, proponents say, builds a shared literary culture among students, exposes all readers to works of quality and complexity and is the best way to prepare students for standardized tests.”

I bolded the last five words because they are the crux of the problem.

Is the purpose of school to prepare for standardized tests or to teach kids to think?

Are communities stronger and the workforce more cohesive because the people all read To Kill A Mockingbird in eighth grade? And what of those educated elsewhere?

What serves the future better, a love of learning and reading or the skill to ace a standardized test?

At which do you want your kids to excel?

Which skill set do you want to hire?

What do you think?

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Image credit: lusi on sxc.hu

Social Media—An Exercise In Ego

Friday, August 14th, 2009

I read a great description of politics in You Run, a short story by Sarah Shankman, “politics is one long power plan; an exercise in ego”. That seems to be a good description of what leadership is to many people.

It certainly describes the MAP so prevalent in the business scandals of the last two decades, as well as that of the titans of Wall Street who contributed so heavily to the current economic mess.

It’s also a major characteristic of the more mundane populace in general, as witnessed on social media platforms.

  • The foremost cyber-goal is to be on the first page of Google search results based on designated criteria.
  • The more friends you have on Facebook the more desirable you appear.
  • Garner enough followers on Twitter and you are suddenly a leader.
  • Technorati assigns authority levels to bloggers.

Every social media rates its members and people work mightily to improve their ratings.

For those who aren’t celebrities of one kind or another or are verifiable in the real world, this is done based on the ancient principle of “I’ll scratch your back if you’ll scratch mine.” (As you might guess, this isn’t my forte.)

That means the ratings can be manipulated—and they are.

There are dozens of classes, webinars, coaches and businesses, along with hundreds of books, all focused on ‘managing your online persona’. They teach all the tricks to raising your authority level, acquiring more friends and followers, and the achieving first page status on Google.

But there are no classes, webinars, coaches or books that explain how to tell the wheat from the chaff, i.e., sort through these impressive exercises in ego to find real value.

What do you do? Please share your approach to finding and validating the authenticity and value of your cyber-connections.


Remember to share your favorite business OMG moments for the chance to win a copy of Jason Jenning’s Hit The Ground Running.

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