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Leadership’s Future: This and That

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

Writing is weird; sometimes ideas bubble up faster than they can be used, while at others the well is totally dry—as it has been today.

Rather than not post, I thought I’d share links to several studies about kids that I found interesting. I hope you do, too.

kidsAnyone with a kid, let alone a teenager, knows that they avoid doing almost anything that is ‘good for them’ or that authority figures push and that they are, if not a bit lazy, often oblivious.

That said, why should it be surprising that the efforts to force improvement of their food choices often fall flat? But some schools are beating the trend merely by repositioning the food in the cafeteria.

… tripled the number of salads students bought simply by moving the salad bar away from the wall and placing it in front of the cash registers.

Not more money or lectures, just playing to a “market” with well documented attitudes and behaviors. (Might be worth talking to your own kids’ schools.)

I often wonder when parents, especially upper and middle-class parents, are going to step up and take responsibility for raising their kids, instead of expecting the schools to do it. I realize that hovering is easier and you get to feel virtuous yelling because it’s for your kid, but having kids requires shouldering the not-so-fun stuff that turns them into valued citizens, rather than parent-dependent, adult children. Many of these kids don’t have a clue how to dress or act in the business world. The silver lining to this lack of basic living skills is the increase in business for etiquette schools.

Patricia L. Bower, clinical associate professor of management communication at New York University’s Stern School of Business. “They think, ‘If everyone has access to the same information, then we’re all equal, so I know as much as you do even though I’m 20 and you’re 55.’ “

I’ve been following a lot of discussion on what long-term impact the Great Recession will have on Gen Y and the experts are all over the map. For a good overview, take a look at the different, even conflicting, opinions of this group or Wharton professors.

They are one of the biggest generations in American history, and they are certainly the best educated. But for Generation Y — a group of young people some 70 million strong between the ages of 15 and 30 — the future seems anything but bright.

Have you seen anything interesting lately?

Flickr image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sanjoselibrary/3579355577/

Leadership’s Future: Defying Conventional Wisdom

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

conventional-wisdomTrue leadership often defies conventional wisdom about what works and what doesn’t in order to succeed.

Conventional wisdom says that a high school with 4100 students and 300 teachers is doomed to fail, which it did until a giant dose of in-house of initiative and tenacity turned it around.

In 2000 only a quarter of Brockton students passed statewide exams and a third dropped out; compare that to now.

This year and last, Brockton outperformed 90 percent of Massachusetts high schools.

This wasn’t accomplished by a charismatic, visionary leader who came from outside, firing up the troops and getting rid of dead wood.

It came from a group of teachers working under a principal who did nothing.

That team of leaders took the initiative, meeting on their own time to craft an approach that would work.

Then Susan Szachowicz and a handful of fellow teachers decided to take action. They persuaded administrators to let them organize a school wide campaign that involved reading and writing lessons into every class in all subjects, including gym.

An approach that didn’t cost more money, but one that fundamentally changed Brockton’s culture.

Moreover, they had the tenacity to keep selling the concepts to their peers in the face of doubt and resistance. Not just with words, but with support and training.

In just one year test scores rose dramatically.

Overnight, the restructuring committee gained enormous credibility, and scores of once-reluctant teachers wanted to start attending its Saturday meetings, which continue today.

Szachowicz became principal in 2004, replacing the positional leader who did nothing.

Read the article (it includes a link to the Harvard study) and remember it the next time conventional wisdom tries to dictate to you what can and can’t be done.

Image credit: Tombstone image generator

Leadership’s Future: Awful Acts in Politics

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

vote-and-winMy apologies if there has been too much politics lately, but you have to admit it’s difficult to avoid when so much of it is tied to “leadership” issues.

Or the lack thereof.

I rarely read op-ed pieces, but the title caught my, Awful, Awfuler, Awfulest; wouldn’t you click on that?

The author, Gail Collins, had written an article debating which state had the worst “leaders” running for election and chose Nevada as the winner.

Immediately, there were outcries from voters who believed their state had been unfairly overlooked on the dreadfulness meter.

Maine has a candidate for governor whose wife and kids live in their “primary residence” in Florida (the the other house is in Maine); Missouri has honors as the state with the least variety, 26 different candidates since 1980 from just two families; Florida has the dubious honor of a gubernatorial candidate whose company was fined $1.7 billion for fraudulent Medicare billing.

She says that in Net York’s race one candidate seems to tie every issue to his opponent’s sex life, while the main opponent doesn’t talk at all and a minor one is a self-proclaimed madam.

Nevada still won and you’ll have to click the link to learn why. (Hint: One of the candidates claims that Dearborn, Mich., and Frankford, Texas (a ghost town) are governed under Sharia, which is Islamic law.)  And take a moment to read some of the 229 comments for more hilarious examples and observations.

Why do we continue to accept acts from those in public service that we would condemn in other circumstances?

Flickr image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/avlxyz/1807572441/

Leadership’s Future: Innovation

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

creativity-in-progress

Education innovation is on everybody’s mind, because anyone who looks at the sorry state of American education knows that something needs to be done.

Business innovation is on everyone’s mind who holds or wants a job. Without considerable across-the-board innovation, not just products, but process as well, American business and, therefore the country, is in deep doodoo.

Parenting could use some innovation, especially in terms of curtailing the hovering and we’ll-fix-it mentality of too many of today’s parents. We need to find better ways of giving kids the chance to learn about initiative, responsibility, accountability and consequences, so their intangible side can grow to adulthood in conjunction with their physical side.

I’ve been writing about all of the above for years, sharing links to research and stories of what’s being tried, following innovation that does succeed and it got me to thinking.

What’s stopping us? We have the ideas and in many cases they have been tried and have worked.

Why aren’t more of them being implemented on a wider scale?

The same reasons that have always retarded or curtailed innovation.

  1. The frequency of the ubiquitous “prove it” typically spoken by the “we’ve always done it this way” crowd. To those looking for new approaches, answers and products, “prove it” are not only the most dreaded two words, but also the most stupid. Just think what would have happened if the Apple board had insisted that Steve Jobs prove that the world wanted an iPod.
  1. The not-invented-here syndrome has extended itself to schools, as can be seen in this comment with regards to teaching Singapore Math (although it’s been proven to work).
    “…there has also been skepticism from school board members and parents about importing a foreign math program.”

So the next time you find yourself chafing at the lack of innovation or the slowness of implementing it, first look in the mirror and if you don’t find the culprit there look for the person or group that is crying for proof or bemoaning the source.

Stock.xchng image credit: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/640941

Leadership’s Future: Hubris

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

hubrisAn article Monday asked, “Are we raising a generation of nincompoops?

(Scary reading for managers for years to come if the parental attitudes that produced the examples continue.)

It was a comment at the end by Mark Bauerlein, author of the best-selling book The Dumbest Generation and a professor at Emory University, that prompted this post.

“A healthy society is healthy only if it has some degree of tension between older and younger generations. It’s up to us old folks to remind teenagers: ‘The world didn’t begin on your 13th birthday!’ And it’s good for kids to resent that and to argue back. We want to criticize and provoke them. It’s not healthy for the older generation to say, ‘Kids are kids, they’ll grow up.’

“They won’t grow up unless you do your job by knocking down their hubris.”

‘Hubris’ is defined as “excessive pride or self-confidence; arrogance.”

Reading the article made me think about the level of hubris in today’s world, which seems far more widespread than at other times in history—from the financial executives who toppled the global economy to workers who insist on doing it their way to all those who believe ‘my way or the highway’ is a good life/world-view.

What is missing are the healthy counter voices that knock down the hubris.

That knock down isn’t accomplished through

  • rhetoric;
  • replacing one version of hubris with another;
  • agreeing because it’s less effort or to avoid making waves; or
  • turning a blind eye when the pig says, “All animals are created equal only some are more equal than others.”

Hubris is knocked down with active voices, common sense and personal consequences for violating an ideology-free common good.

Flickr image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/relevanceinadnauseum/4385225951/

Leadership’s Future: Business Book Cheat Sheets

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

cliff-notes

I saw an ad in Business Week for getAbstract, which seems to be Cliff Notes for business.

Each five-page summary is presented in a crisp magazine-page format. You can read it in less than 10 minutes – the perfect length to deliver the book’s key ideas. The no-fluff summaries are logically structured to get the maximum out of your reading time.

I agree that there’s too much fluff in many business books, but that fluff serves a purpose.

It’s often the fluff that helps people learn, because the differences are in the fluff and it’s the differences to which they relate. In other words, while someone may be deaf to one presentation another might resonate deeply leading to substantial change.

Think about it; how many times have the lessons you took away from a certain book been so different from a colleague as to make you wonder if you both read the same book.

So how valuable are the summaries? Probably about as valuable as online cheat sheets if that’s all that is read.

Professors warn that these guides are no substitutes for reading great works of literature, but concede, grudgingly, that as an adjunct, they can stimulate thought and deepen insight.

Granted, I haven’t read any of the abstracts, but my experience says that you will lose much of a books’ real value—especially the subtle ideas that play directly to your own MAP—by relying on just a five page summary.

But perhaps this is the future; a world where all ideas and learning come predigested, so they can be sucked up through a straw and thoroughly homogenize the workforce.

Flickr image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cambodia4kidsorg/197325980/

Leadership’s Future: Accountability

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

board_roomWork hard, work smart, climb the corporate ladder, get tight with the right people and you could grab the brass ring—a director’s seat on one (or more) boards.

Money, prestige, power, respect—the hallmarks of leadership.

Responsibility—lots of it, especially if you are an outside director.

Accountability—not so much.

Consequences—rarely if at all.

Most of the outside directors serving on boards for companies such as AIG, Bear Sterns and Lehman Bros. moved almost immediately to other boards.

No muss, no fuss, no accountability, no consequences.

“In too many cases, the radioactivity of a board member of a collapsed company has a half life measured in milliseconds,” said John Gillespie, a longtime Wall Street investment banker and the co-author of “Money for Nothing” (Free Press), a recent book on corporate boards.

Rakesh Khurana, a Harvard Business School professor specializing in corporate-governance issues, says there are legitimate questions surrounding these boards. “When selecting individuals to oversee an organization, what criteria should we be using other than their previous performance on a corporate board?” he said. “If there’s no accountability here, then what is the system of accountability?”

Makes you wonder exactly what “fiduciary responsibility” means these days—let alone what it takes to breach it.

stock.xchng image credit: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/683292

Leadership’s Future: 2 Questions for You

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

teaching

Einstein once said, “The world is not dangerous because of those who do harm, but because of those who look at it without doing anything.”

He also said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

Sadly, those two statements sum up much of the efforts to change/reform/fix our schools.

Education is the future of our country and teachers are central to its success or stagnation.

I read two articles and I’m interested to know what you think of the ideas in them.

The first is a discussion of the pros and cons of grading teachers’ skill.

The system calculates the value teachers add to their students’ achievement, based on changes in test scores from year to year and how the students perform compared with others in their grade.

The second one looks at an experimental program that puts teachers in charge of the school while they continue teaching.

The Newark teachers are part of a growing experiment around the country to allow teachers to step up from the classroom and lead efforts to turn around struggling urban school systems.

I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts on these two out-of-the-box ideas.

Stock.xchng image credit: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1195959

Leadership’s Future: the Destruction of Leadership

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

homogenized

It used to be that attending college exposed young adults to new experiences, new people and new ways of thinking—but that was then and this is now.

Years ago, when writing about hiring, I said,

People want to spend their time with people like themselves, that is their comfort zone, and that is where they hire. Managers prefer to hire people

  • from backgrounds they understand;
  • working in areas in which the manager feels knowledgeable;
  • with experiences and education to which the manager can relate; and
  • with a resume that makes the manager’s decision look good even if the hire doesn’t work out.

Homophily has been increasing in most social settings, including the workplace, over the years and now young people have climbed on that bandwagon with a vengeance.

Instead of the adventurous attitudes that have always been the province of youth, they want to avoid discomfort; sidestep as many human vagaries as possible and spend as much of their time as possible with people like themselves.

This is especially true of college freshmen.

Helping them avoid discomfort is a market nitch occupied by the likes of Lifetopia and RoomBug, in collusion with their universities, as well as open sources such as URoomSurf and, of course, the ubiquitous Facebook.

But some worry that it robs young adults of an increasingly rare opportunity for growth: exposure to someone with different experiences and opinions.

“Very quickly, college students are able to form self-selected cliques where their views are reinforced,” noted Dalton Conley, an N.Y.U. sociology professor…

It is not a lack in the diversity of race, nationality or even gender that is worrisome; rather it is the lack of diversity of thought.

Homogenized thinking kills creativity, stunts innovation, increases intolerance and supports bigotry.

Homogenized thinking destroys leadership—today’s and tomorrows.

Flickr image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sweetone/3648783142/

Leadership’s Future: How Will They Lead?

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

I received the following email yesterday (edited for length and anonymity).

Miki,

With 20+ years of experience managing I thought I had seen it all, but I have a situation that I am at a loss on how to handle.

Short version, 6 months ago I hired an entry level engineer, with just a year of experience, but lots of potential I thought. Potential he is not living up to. I do not see the energy, initiative and go-get-’em attitude he projected in the interview. His peers complain that he is not pulling his weight and he acts as if showing up and performing at minimal level is enough. He has received positive input when he does something well, but I have been candid regarding the problems, offered suggestions for improving, etc., and blunt talk that if both his work and his attitude didn’t change he couldn’t stay.

So when all this came up again in his 6 month review I was taken aback when he acted like it was the first time he had heard any of this. OK, I’ve run into denial before, nothing new there.

But what totally floored me and the main reason for writing is that the day after his review I received a phone call from his parents (they were both on the line) demanding to know who the hell I thought I was not to give their son a 6 month promotion.

I said I was in a meeting and would get back to them; any suggestions besides the obvious none of your damn business.

I called him and after a bit more discussion he agreed that it would be best to turn this mess over to the company HR department. Fortunately, they were already aware of the problem and he had plenty of documentation to back up both the performance problems and the ongoing conversations about them.

The parental call was the final nail and the young man will be terminated for cause.

hoveringWe all read articles about helicopter parents, in fact, I just read one on how great a problem hovering is for colleges.

Some undergraduate officials see in parents’ separation anxieties evidence of the excesses of modern child-rearing. “A good deal of it has to do with the evolution of overinvolvement in our students’ lives,” said Mr. Dougharty of Grinnell. “These are the baby-on-board parents, highly invested in their students’ success. They do a lot of living vicariously, and this is one manifestation of that.”

What really angered me was the way the episode affected the manager. He found himself questioning his own skills, as if he could have done anything that would offset 23 years (and counting) of parental protection.

What chance do any of these coddled kids have at maturing into leaders, not only positional ones, but de facto leaders? Will their parents help articulate a vision and then chastise those who don’t follow?

What do you think?

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wilsonb/2897692632/

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