Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Are you a Leadership Coach or a Commentator?

Being the passive Dallas Cowboys fan that I am, I have gotten frustrated when they blow a lead or fail to make the playoffs for the third year in a row.  What's worse is that it has been extremely frustrating to not see them in the Super Bowl since Jimmy Johnson set Barry Switzer up for success.  Needless to say, I have a lot of suggestions for Jerry Jones.  But hey, who doesn't.  Go to your Twitter feed or Facebook and you will find 1 million commentators using their infinite wisdom gained from years of yelling at the TV from their Lazy-Boy recliner.  And if that's not good enough, turn on the radio, ESPN, or NFL channel, and talking heads with lots more wisdom than you or me are weighing in on why the Cowboys just can't get it done.

Sure, it's real easy to pick apart Tony Romo's decisions in slow motion after we have had time to study the defense and their blitz package frame by frame.  After we have had 5 minutes to dissect 2 seconds frozen in time, it's real easy to blame Tony for not picking up that critical first down with no time left on the clock.  It's easy because anyone can pick apart history after it has already happened.  Commentators get paid tons of money to criticize plays that coaches (who get paid tons more money) design on the fly in the heat of battle.  The point is this.  Anyone can be a commentator and criticize their team, but only a select few are capable of coaching their team to victory.

Photo Courtesy of
Via Pinterest

Add your Leadership to this Analogy

There are 2 types of leaders:  coaches and commentators.  Coaches lead their players to victory, and commentators tell others why the players won the game or screwed it up.  Here are just a few things that makes your leadership more like a coach or a commentator.


  • Prepare their players to be victorious.
  • Praise the team for the win.
  • Take the blame for the loss.
  • Capitalize on mistakes as learning opportunities for growth.
  • Use performance data to find strengths in individual players to improve the team as a whole.
  • Use results to prepare for the next opponent.
  • Have meaningful relationships with their players.


  • Question players why the game was won or lost.
  • Praise the team for the win.
  • Blame the team for the loss.
  • Magnify mistakes as reasons for failure.
  • Use performance data to praise winners and criticize losers.
  • Review results to promote winners and vilify losers.
  • Have superficial relationships with players from a distance.
Coaches are proactive.  They move their teams forward, and they do that by building strong relationships bound by strong structures for working together. Commentators don't build anything, and they criticize everything.  In short, leaders consciously choose to be proactive or reactive.  They choose to build for the future or criticize the present.  As leaders, we have a choice.  We can spend our time coaching our organizations for the future or criticizing them for the current place that they are.  

I don't know about you, but I choose to coach for the future.  I can't do anything about the results of the past.  I can't bring back the glory days, but I can make new glory days.  I can criticize the Dallas Cowboys all I want to, but I, as a commentator, have no power.  Only Jerry Jones and the Cowboys organization have the power to make change.  (That's a suggestion, Jerry!) The same goes for leadership. You can criticize your organization all you want to, but the only person that can improve the organization is you, the leader.  If you're the leader, move from the reactive mode of commentating and into the proactive mode of coaching.  If you're not the leader, quit commentating on the leader's performance and start helping the leader by being proactive.  If you can stay away from commentating and commit to coaching, you may just find that your efforts will take your team back to the Super Bowl.

The choice is yours...

Friday, December 27, 2013

5 Ways to Find your Roar in 1-4

Christmas is over, and it's time to make those New Year's Resolutions. I know, I know. You're thinking, "What's the point?"  Resolutions never work. You feel guilty in January for making it in the first place so you start hitting at it, and by February, it fades into oblivion. Why do you think most workout joints turn into ghost towns in February?

Here's the reason. Permanent results require permanent changes. Unless we're committed to behaving differently, we can't really expect resolutions to have all that much effect on us. Resolutions require a little bit more than words of aspiration. They need a detailed plan of action which describes the behaviors that we will exhibit on our quest to achieve the desired outcome. 


I always connect with motivational songs, and Katy Perry's song, "Roar", is a great motivator. The beat is catchy, and the lyrics are inspiring. The lyrics to the chorus represent exactly what every mindset needs to commit to a New Year's resolution. 

I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter, dancing through the fire. 
'Cause I am a champion and you're gonna hear me roar. 

Louder, louder than a lion. 
'Cause I am a champion and you're gonna hear me roar. 


So How Does This Apply to Me?

If you're wondering how you can make that New Year's Resolution actually come to fruition, here's 5 ways to help you find your "Roar in 1-4". 

1.  Set a Specific and Attainable Goal
Define in specific and attainable terms the person that you would like to become in 2014.

  • What specifically do you want to be better at in your leadership, your health, your personal life or all 3? 
  • What will you be like when you reach this goal? 
  • How will you be different?  
If you don't have a vision of what you will be like when you reach your goal, you don't have much of chance of accomplishing the goal. 

2. Develop a Plan of Action. 
Define the specific behaviors and activities that you need to implement to accomplish your goal. If you want to be a better, you must commit to learning how to be a better. Reading, careful study and  learning from others are key action steps to making that should be included in your plan. 

3. Find a Coach or Accountability Partner
If you want to reach your goal, you need to find somebody that can hold you accountable. Find someone that will be honest with you and keep you on track. Ask them to help you stay focused on reaching that goal, and coach you when you start to struggle.

4.  Measure your Progress
Resolutions fail because people fail to measure change over time. Just like a scale measures your weight, all goals need to have some way to be measured. Whether it is quantitative data that can show you numerical progress or the qualitative data of feedback from peers and colleagues, determine the data that you will collect to gauge growth. 

5.  Recommit Every Day
Change is never easy. It challenges us to get out of our comfort zone and be something different from who we currently are. If you want to reach your goal, you have to  recommit to your resolution every day.  If you stick with it, chances are you will reach your goal. We all get weak and have moments where we want to stop.  Keeping the goal in the forefront helps us never give up. 

Hear Me Roar

Resolutions are very important part of the beginning of each new year. If you think about it, you really only have about 70 opportunities to make a New Year's Resolution stick. We forget that the purpose of a resolution is to test our resolve and to challenge us to be a better person, a better spouse, a better parent, or a better leader.  Sadly, many resolutions fade away due to the stress and the busyness of life. Resolutions fail because people say they don't have time when in actuality they fail to make the necessary time to invest in the change. In 2014, I challenge me and you to not make a half-hearted resolution. I challenge all of us to make time to find our "Roar in 1-4".

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Coolest Homework Task

I was assigned a cool piece of homework from my good buddy Bill Ferriter (@plugusin) and to be honest it was a timely task, sharing my reflection about me with you.  While I don't consider myself to be very interesting, I do hope that you find my reflections humorous.

Before I get started, I would like to thank Bill for sending me this and for impacting my writing.  Until I met him, I hated to write and didn't think I was very good.  If I hadn't met him (virtually-speaking), I wouldn't be where I am today as a writer.  Thank you, Bill.  You are truly a class act and a teacher whose impact goes far beyond your classroom.

My First Task - 11 Random Facts about Me.

1.  I am blessed to be married to my beautiful wife, Carolyn, who is a police officer.  We were next door neighbors when I was in college and my pick-up line to sweep her off her feet was the following, "What kind of gun do you like to shoot?".  The rest, as they say, is history.

2.  I have 4 children ranging from 19 to 8, and they are my everything.  When I'm not working, I'm with them.  They are a trip and drive me crazy on an hourly basis.

3.  I love to hunt, particularly duck hunt.  While I haven't been as faithful to hunting in the last 3 years, it is a huge release for me.  Yes, I used Duck Commander products long before anyone knew they existed.

4.  Running is my therapy and think-time.  I have a goal to run a half marathon by the end of the year.  I don't think I'll make it by January 1, but I will by March.

5.  Soccer is my favorite sport.  Nothing else comes close.  I played it as a kid, coached it as a dad and love to watch English Premier League football.  Arsenal is probably my favorite of the big teams, but I love to watch the 2nd tier teams pull off upsets.

6.  I love the following movies.

  • Smokey and the Bandit (Yes, Bill.  Jackie Gleason made this a classic.)
  • Lonesome Dove (It's a Texas thing)
  • Braveheart (Ultimate Leadership Movie)
  • Ferris Bueller's Day Off (Timeless Classic)
  • National Lampoons' Christmas Vacation (Christmas can't exist without it)
  • Breakfast Club (Yes, I'm an 80's kid)
7. If I could pack up and go anywhere for a month, it would be Spain, England and Italy.

8. I got my degree in vocal performance and was trained to be an opera singer.

9. My dream job would be a professional hunting guide.

10.  I can't watch Modern Family without hitting the replay button.  Christopher Lloyd is the best writer  since Shakespeare, and can string together a conversation of punch lines. His writing is genius. 

11.  I wouldn't be where I am without my faith in Jesus.  I lean on him everyday.

My Second Task - Answer Bill's Questions

Bill, these questions are hilarious.  Thanks for asking...

  1. Grande Soy Green Tea Frappuccino with Extra Whip or House Blend Black?
    1. Definitely House Blend Black (Don't have time for all that foo-foo stuff)  What the heck is the first thing anyway?
  2. If you were going to write a book, what would its title be?
    1. I just completed my first book for submission and have lots of ideas of titles, but currently the proposed title is "The Axiom of Transformational School Leadership".
  3. Rate graphic novels on a scale of 1-10, with 1 representing “useless” and 10 representing “simply amazing.”
    1. Don't have time for that.  Sadly, I only read educational and leadership literature.  I am definitely an informational text kinda guy.
  4. What member of your digital network has had the greatest impact on your professional growth?
    1. Bill Ferriter, Mike Mattos, Dan Rockwell, Steven Weber
  5. How do you feel about the holidays?
    1. Our nation has materialized the mess out of Christmas.  I just like to focus on the "Reason for the Season".  I enjoy celebrating in the simplest way possible without all of the craziness.  
  6. Rate the following movies in order from best to worst:  Christmas Vacation, Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Story, How the Grinch Stole Christmas (animated version).
    1. Christmas Vacation is the Best.  I really don't really care for the others. #sorry
  7. What is the best gift that you’ve ever gotten?
    1. My son who was born 6 days after Christmas.  2nd place would be a Big Wheel that I got when I was 6.
  8. If you had an extra $100 to give away to charity, who would you give it to?
    1. Make a Wish Foundation.  They deserve it more than anyone.
  9. What are you the proudest of?
    1. My kids.  They are the best creation my wife and I have ever made.  
  10. What was the worst trouble that you ever got into as a child?
    1. Wow, there are too many situations to list, so I'll start with my earliest memory.  I'll say my worst trouble as a young kid would be when I practicing my kindergarten writing skills with a red crayon all over my grandmother's white wall.  100 coats of paint couldn't cover it up.
  11. What was the last blog entry that you left a comment on?  What motivated you to leave a comment on that entry?
    1. Today, I left a comment on Sam LeDeaux's post called Are you a Leader or a Manager.  I really connected to his post and wanted to add some more thoughts to it.

My Third Task - Questions for You

1.  What is your favorite Christmas tradition and why?

2.  If you could have anyone over for the holidays, who would it be and why?

3.  Flaming hot hot sauce or mild and bland sauce?

4.  Do you root for the underdog or the team predicted to win?

5.  Which person in your PLN do you find most interesting and why?

6.  Which book has made the most profound impact on your life?

7.  What is your favorite decade of all time and what made it the best for you?

8.  What is the best movie of all time?

9.  Which animal best represents your personality and why?

10. What is your proudest professional accomplishment?

11.  What is your New Year's Resolution for 2014?

My Fourth Task - Nominate 11 Bloggers to Join the Homework Club

Add yourself to the list and join the fun

Here is your Task

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers.
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Teaching Kids the Highest Leverage Skill

In our standards-based education system, we are engaged in a never-ending effort to teach every high leverage skill. We focus on skills that are so critical that they are foundational for learning standards far into the future.  If you have ever worked with a student that had gaps in his learning, you can instantly tell where his gaps lie. You can quickly identify the skills that he is missing. Some students close gaps quicker than others and some never do. Why is that?  

It is because few kids possess the highest leverage skill. 

Some people feel that reading comprehension, fluency or numeracy are the highest leverage skills, and they are from an academic perspective.  But without the mindset for learning, these skills struggle to grow. 

So what is the highest leverage skill?

Some people look beyond academics and feel that self-confidence is the highest leverage skill. With it, you can do anything. Without it, growth is minimal. Kids, that make the biggest gains, do so because they have been hard-wired to believe in themselves.  This positive image of one's own abilities generates strength and the desire to take risks. Like it or not, self confidence is not the highest leverage skill. 

Some believe persistence is an invaluable skill. To learn difficult concepts, kids must have resolve. They must keep going when they hit the brick wall. Persistence is what turns practice into progress, but I'm sorry to say that while persistence is valuable, it is not the highest leverage skill. 

Enough Already, What is the Highest Leverage Skill?

Hope.  Eric Jensen sited hope as the difference between students of poverty making it or not. Hope is the eternal belief that life will get better. No matter the obstacle, circumstance or barrier, hope of a brighter future is the only thing between a student's reality and his potential.  In short, self-confidence and persistence can't exist unless there's hope. 

How do we teach hope to our kids?

Educators must transform the role of content-instiller into that of hope-builder. We possess massive potential to turn hopelessness into a viable vision. We build hope in students by doing the following things:

1. Help students create their own meaningful pathway to a better life. 
2.  Set challenging but realistic goals to measure progress along the way. 
3.  Guide students to find short-term wins. 
4.  Facilitate student thinking and problem solving through setbacks and losses. 
5.  Teach kids a never-give-up mentality. 

How do educators become hope builders?

1.  Stop thinking about teaching content and start teaching kids.  Content will come once we focus on teaching kids. 
2.  Connect with kids on a human level. Relationships are the pathway to learning. 
3.  Model hope by expressing personal beliefs in students to everyone we encounter. 
4. Never give up. Never give up. Never give up. 

Hope is the antibiotic to fear and uncertainty. It is the GPS used to navigate the winding road of success. Hope overcomes obstacles and dissipates doubt. Finally, it is accompanied by faith, joy and love. 

Got hope?

Monday, December 2, 2013

Leading with a Parachute

I had a once-in-a-life-time opportunity to fly in a World War II plane.  Needless to say it was a 'Bucket List' experience.  As we were getting ready to take off in this awesome piece of history, I asked myself this question.  Where is the parachute?  I mean it is a beautiful plane, but what if it breaks down?  What if we take a nose dive?  While I had complete faith in the pilot, I had to ask this question.  After all, we were only talking about my life.

Getting Ready for Flight with
Pilot, Steve Dean
(I'm in back.)

Parachutes are a safety net in case the plane fails.  If we had our choice, we wouldn't want to leave without one.  So if we would feel more comfortable with a parachute on a plane, what about in our leadership?  Wouldn't we feel more comfortable taking off on a leadership venture if we had the security of a parachute?  Wouldn't we would feel more comfortable going out on that limb knowing that we had some sort of safety net in case our plan failed and we needed to bail?  Has anyone ever felt this way?

The fact is this.  No leader wants to jump out there without some kind of insurance.  We all want to know we will be okay if the plan fails.  We all want some type of parachute to protect us as we try to soar into the wild blue yonder.  So what are the different types of parachutes that leaders have in place before letting their leadership ventures take flight? 

Critical Friends
All leaders have critics, but great leaders have critical friends who will tell them things they don't want to hear but need to hear.  Critical friends care about the leader enough to make sure he doesn't crash the plane.

Honest Feedback
Leaders need honest feedback especially when the plane is in flight.  Honest feedback is the altimeter and radar when the leader is flying the plane with zero visibility.

Understanding Teammates
Leaders need empathy from their fellow teammates.  People don't always understand the rationale behind decisions; therefore, the leader has to take time to make sure understanding is in place when a plan is about to take off.

Trusting Relationships
Developing trusting relationships are the key to successful leadership, but this idea couldn't be truer when plans fail.  Relationships save leaders from crashing and burning.

Exit Plan
Not every leadership idea works.  That is why leaders need to make sure they have an exit strategy.  Exit strategies are better than running the entire organization into the ground.

Pulling the Rip Cord

When leaders take time to pack a parachute, chances are they will survive leadership failure.  Leaders don't pack a parachute planning to wreck the plane.  They see the parachute as a required tool in place every time a new idea takes flight.  Most ideas work, but the parachute is in place to make sure that a failed plan doesn't ruin the leader's credibility with the staff , but more importantly doesn't wreck the culture of the organization.  Parachutes only work when the leader pulls the rip cord and that can only be accomplished when the leader is committed enough and humble enough to admit he failed.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

5 Steps to Wrapping Up Collaborative Meetings

The countdown has begun for the number of days until Christmas. We are making our list, checking them twice, so we can fill up the Christmas tree and make everything nice. While we know how many days there are until Christmas, some of us will invariably be stressed out because there won't be enough time to buy all the presents and get them wrapped in time for Christmas.

The real issue is not that we don't have enough time to buy and wrap our presents. After all, we have known for 365 days when Christmas Day will be here. The real issue is that we waste too much time by doing things that detract our focus from getting ready for Christmas.

When it comes to collaboration or working with others, the same principle applies. We know when and how much time our team has to meet together every week.  We know that there are specific outcomes that must occur in order for our teams to be effective. Some teams get it all in and wrap up the meeting like a beautiful little package with a perfect little bow, while other teams can't seem to find the tape or the scissors.  Even worse, they don't even know what present they should be wrapping.  If they finally wrap the present, they forget who the present was for; therefore, they don't know whose name to write on the name tag.


Teams waste time not because they can't finish something, but because they can't figure out where to start. How do teams begin the process of wrapping up their collaboration in a focused, quick, and efficient manner?

Steps to Wrap Up Collaborative Meetings

1.  Start with the Present
If you haven't picked out a gift, there's not much point in trying to wrap it up. Teams need a focus for coming together, and they need to stick to that focus throughout the meeting. The present boils down to this idea:  "What is the most important thing we expect all kids to learn?"

2.  Measure out your Time
If you don't measure out your paper, chances are you won't have enough paper to wrap your gift. The same principle goes with allocating time. How much time does the team need to focus on the most important issue? Teams must create an agenda and designate enough time to align everyone's understanding of the standard.  If the team sets aside time, chances are they'll have enough time to accomplish the meeting's objective. 

3. Cut and Tape
Once teams have an agenda, it's time to get to work. The cutting and taping of the paper represents the team focusing all dialogue on the most critical learning standard with the following questions:

  • What does the standard look like when kids master it?
  • What prerequisite skills do kids need to begin learning the standard?
  • What questions, activities and language will we use to get them to mastery?
  • How will we know when students have mastered the standard?
  • When kids struggle, how will we remediate immediately?
  • When kids master the learning standard, how will we extend and enrich them?

4. Inspect and Fix
Once you have wrapped your present, it is important to inspect it to make sure that it looks nice and that the present is completely covered. If something is wrong, the present needs to be fixed. The same idea applies to collaborative teams. If there are issues that are wasting the team's time, the team needs to work together to identify those inefficient practices, repair them or remove them all together. 

5.  Repeat and Reflect
The great thing about wrapping gifts is that the more gifts you wrap, the better you get at wrapping. Teams are no different. They have to practice the process of working together over and over to get better.  Leaders need to remind teams that it takes time to get better at maximizing their time as well as creating highly effective core instruction. 

The Purpose of Wrapping Up Meetings

Wrapping up collaborative meetings is not about ending them.  It is about the entire process of starting them, managing the clock wisely, and ensuring that every minute is maximized. Teams that are the best at wrapping up meetings are the ones that capitalize on their time together to generate outstanding products.  These products deliver results because the team believes in them and most importantly in one another.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The 4 Pitfalls to Pride

Pride is an important element to leadership. Leaders must exude confidence in order to get results. They should use their charisma to build relationships and a culture of commitment. They can use their self-esteem to build confidence in others.

But sometimes pride has a negative effect on leaders. When pride is all that the leader knows, he will not be prepared for times of crisis, failure and personal errors. In these times, leaders who fail to drop their displays of boastful self-pride succumb to the 4 pitfalls to pride:

  • Conceit - an excessively favorable opinion of one's own ability or importance
  • Arrogance - offensive display of superiority or self-importance; overbearing pride
  • Gall - bitterness of spirit; impudence
  • Egotism - excessive and objectionable reference to oneself in conversation or writing (sidenote - I found it interesting that the origin of this word was idiotism.)

These pitfalls represent  the 4 prison walls of self-worship for leaders who are inherently incapable of relinquishing their pride.

How can leaders avoid the pitfalls of pride?

1. Exude Humility

People are more responsive to humility than egotism, especially when the leader is the cause of failure. Leaders must display their vulnerability to followers, and this act will create more trust in the organization and a deeper belief in the leader.

2. Give up on Shameless Self-Promotion

When the leader attempts to right the wrong by bragging about how great he is and how much he has done for the organization, everyone gets the message that the leader cannot accept his own imperfection. Prideful leaders should stop propping themselves up on a pedestal and accept that they're human like the rest of us.

3. Overcome the Fear of Imperfection

Leaders are human; thus they are fallible. Sadly, our world doesn't accept imperfection even though no human is perfect. The ultimate leader embraces his imperfection and uses it to model humility for his team. It takes courage to stand out there and say you're not perfect, but great leaders do it all the time.

Pride is great in good times and destructive in dark times. Leaders must understand that pride is a double edged sword that can help the organization grow or kill the leader's future with the organization. The very best leaders balance pride with self-actualization and own the mistakes that they make. They do all this because they understand and respect the pitfalls to pride.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

6 Ways Leaders Win over Whiners

Whiners plague every organization. They wear down others with their laments of underwhelming stress. Even though they drain, we must never lose sight of the fact that every whiner has the potential to positively impact the organization.  The key is that leaders must remember to address their needs as opposed to their wants.

What is a whiner?  A whiner Is a person who wants the focus to be on them and their plight. They use whining as their chief form of communication to seek the following:

Sympathy - Whiners want people to feel sorry for them. It elevates their sense self-importance. 

Attention - Whiners want the spotlight on them and how bad their life is. They don't like for others to get attention. 

Pity - Whiners want people to feel compelled to drop what they're doing and feel sorry for them. 

In short, whiners suck every ounce of life out of the creative potential of an organization. 

So what do whiners need?

Whiners need leaders who will move them from sapping the life out of others to focusing on helping the organization move forward. Leaders challenge whiners with the following:

Calculated Ignoring 
Leaders know the difference between whining and legitimate concerns, and leaders ignore whining. 

Leaders exhibit their heart of courage by confronting and redirecting the whiner's focus from his personal needs to what is preventing them from supporting the organization's goal. 

Leaders engage whiners by asking them for solutions. Whiners don't want solutions, but leaders force the focus to stay on solutions. Leaders engage by keeping the focus on improvement. 

Leaders shut down whining when it is detrimental the organization. A whiner's behavior must be challenged, and expectations challenge whiners to get their behavior in check. 

Specific Feedback 
Leaders identify when whiners truly don't know what to do and give them specific feedback to help them move toward viable solutions. 

Leaders understand that whiners ultimately lack emotional stability, and they regularly encourage whiners through personal attention and regular conversations.   Leaders also know that they can accelerate whiners with each positive interaction.

Whiners are easy to avoid, but the greatest leaders realize that whiners are the missing link to the organization's success.  They know that avoiding whiners impacts the organization negatively as whiners can eventually make the culture toxic. Since whiners are the missing link in the chain of systemic improvement, winning them over is a necessary action that ultimately strengthens the system as a whole. 

Giving Thanks for Horrible People

In life we come across some pretty awful people. They have made our lives miserable.  They have tested our intestinal fortitude and even brought us to our knees. Regardless of how bad they have affected us, we shouldn't wish we never discovered them.  We instead need to be thankful that they were placed in our pathway and here is why.

The Wolf
We have all encountered her. She is usually wearing sheep's clothing. She makes us feel comfortable, and then out of nowhere she attacks us. Thank you for showing us how manipulation actually works.

The Yeller
He comes in using the power of uncontrolled volume to get what he wants. Yelling and screaming, he intimidates and forces people to cower as he attempts to get his way Thank you for teaching us how to stand firm in the face of unbridled lunacy. 

The Liar
She makes others believe complete falsehoods about you in an effort to turn people against you. Thank you for reminding us the importance of living life in a transparent fashion that is impenetrable by rumors.  

The Fake Face
This one smiles in your face while he tells you what you want to hear.  As soon as he leaves you, your good name and work are talked about negatively to others. Thank you for teaching us that lip service is of no service at all. 

The Negative Naysayer
"Nothing is possible" is the mantra of this person. Always dragging us down, the negative one kills dreams with the very sound of his voice. Thank you for instilling in us the valuable skill of ignoring our skeptics and critics.

Horrible People Help

There's no doubt. Horrible people ruin our days, but they don't have to ruin our lives. They are selfish and insecure people that don't want to see anyone exceed their own current lot in life. Instead of wishing they never entered our lives, we should be thankful for them. If it weren't for them, we would never have grown this far.  

Happy Thanksgiving

Friday, November 8, 2013

The MEAT of a TEAM

Teams excel, and teams fail.  Some teams thrive, while others struggle to survive.  Some are led by talented individuals, and then there are teams who fall apart because the talented one makes himself the focus.

We have been conditioned to believe that 'there is no I in team' and 'teamwork makes the dream work'.  To be honest with you, I believe in these statements, but I want to challenge you to look at your ideas about team a little closer.  The strength of a team is found in its meat.  If there is no meat, there is no muscle.  If there is no muscle, teams can't accomplish meaningful goals.  You can't have a TEAM without MEAT.

What builds the MEAT of a TEAM?


Without a unified purpose, teams easily lose focus.  With each selfish word or selfish behavior, teams disintegrate.  The most effective teams have a goal, and they let nothing deter them from achieving the goal.


The most successful teams are focused only on actions that guarantee results.  They show discipline by not allowing unhealthy behaviors to manifest themselves in the work of the team.


If a team expects to win, every member must own a piece of the plan.  Ownership in power teams is shared by all, and leadership is dispersed based on the need of the team and the expertise of the members.


What gets celebrated gets accelerated.  Thriving teams have members who encourage one another and who celebrate each improvement.  


Teams that excel hold themselves accountable to high expectations.  When they come together, they have a purpose, and they generate meaningful products that achieve results.  Team members set expectations for their work behaviors and the caliber of quality work necessary from every member.


Members of a powerful team depend on one another.  No one person can win for the team; therefore, meaningful interactions between all teammates and dependence on one another occurs constantly. 

No Excuses

Excuses are the stumbling blocks to progress.  That is why the best teams don't allow them to be a part of their work.  When words like can't, don't and won't begin to surface, high performing teams ignore them and look for possible options.

Teams need Protein

Protein is essential to build strength and muscle mass.  Teams gain strength through the exercise of their daily actions and interactions.  They become more successful with each selfless act and less effective with each selfish decision.  In the end, teams win when they are Motivated, Engaged, Accountable, and Tethered together.  These are the things that bind and ultimately endure.

Vince Lombardi, one of the best coaches of all time, said the following about teams:
  • "People who work together will win, whether it be against complex football defenses, or the problems of modern society."
  • “Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.”
What do you do to build the meat within your team?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Collecting Thanksgiving Data

This month, we give thanks. For centuries this long-standing tradition encourages us to pause and reflect on the many blessings that often we take for granted. On social media, many post their thanks each day for all the world to see, and it has a positive affect on those who read them. 

But in the workplace do we give thanks? Are we truly thankful for the people who contribute and support us in our career. At work, we spend half of our waking hours interacting with the same people everyday. We take our colleagues for granted, and we come to expect them to be there when troubles in our work arrive. But are we truly thankful for the people that affect our work and more importantly our lives?  We collect data on our product, but do we collect data on our appreciation for our coworkers?

This month, our art teachers created Tom the Turkey and placed him on the front whiteboard in the office where we often display data or schedules. This month, we will be promoting a different type of data, Thanksgiving data. We challenged the staff to give thanks for the people who affect them the most. 

It's pretty simple. You take a feather and write a word of thanks for a fellow employee on campus.  It can be someone you work closely with or someone that brightens up your day. Then you place the feather on the board. 

The hope is that by Thanksgiving break, Tom's plumage will completely develop and fill up the whiteboard. We also hope that the kind words from everyone in the building will reinvigorate spirits and remind everyone why we are here and how important each member of the staff is in our school. 

If every staff member truly matters in the success of the organization, then is your organization collectively giving thanks for each one of them?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Pumpkin Palooza Parent Involvement

This past Monday, we had a parent night around literacy called Pumpkin Palooza. The night featured literacy in every facet of our building. Each home room designed a pumpkin around text that they were using in instruction. Most of the literature was fiction, while the 4th grade designed their pumpkins around informational text through their social studies content. The link below highlights the awesome work that our teachers did. 


Outside each room, samples of quality student work showed parents their child's writing and how kids were connecting with the literature that they were reading. It was a great night to highlight our student's work and connect with our parents. 

In addition, our social studies, science, art and music specials teachers displayed their student work through writing and gave performances to show what they learned in the first 9 weeks of school. 

Literacy is our focus this year and we are making sure that our parent involvement reflects our focus. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Perfect Halloween Mask for Leaders

Halloween is here, and everyone is geared up to sport their best costume. After all, it's our yearly opportunity to transform into someone more interesting. We can replace our normal persona with a more unique and dynamic character who is nothing like us at all, so we are all in search of the perfect costume.

Leadership masks are similar to Halloween costumes but with deeper purpose. While we wear the masks of responsibility and vision, the masks that we choose to wear go far beyond covering our outward appearance.  The more we wear them, the more they actually consume our inner leadership DNA.  With every leader that has impacted our lives both positively and negatively, we have been slowly molded and shaped by the leadership mask that we identify with the most, and that is when the real masquerade begins.

So which mask is the perfect one for leaders?

Clark Kent has always been there to save the day.  The leader of strength uses his superhuman powers to improve the organization.  The downside to this mask is that Superman believes that no one else has the power to do anything. In essence the ability of the organization rises and falls on the shoulders of this superhero. 

Jack Sparrow
One of my favorite movies is "Pirates of the Caribbean" with the wiley Jack Sparrow. Every kid loves dressing up like him. He is such a unique character that is capable of escaping any jam. While he is a very charismatic and unique leader, Jack has a problem. He is very selfish and is always in it for himself. He will help others, but only if it benefits him also. In essence, he gauges success only by his own accolades. 

Duck Dynasty
The Robertson clan in my opinion is awesome. With their family values, massive beards, and entertaining show, who wouldn't enjoy watching them. Their family dynamic is fantastic, but this mask has nothing to do with them personally. The Duck Dynasty mask is that of the latest leadership fad. This leader buys into the latest and greatest leadership principle and thrusts it upon the organization without their input. Sadly, the organization won't have to worry for long because this leader will have a different mask next year when the next new idea comes to town. 

This is the one of the most popular costumes of all time and one of the most traditional leaders of all time. The Dracula leadership mask lures people in and then sucks the life out of an organization. With every last minute email sent in the middle of the night or every mandate or directive that controls rather than empowers, Dracula sucks the creative juices out of every member of the organization. His constant search for power kills the lifeblood of the community and drives the people away to safety in another place of employment. 

The Politician
The voice of reason is what every organization needs from its leader.  Speeches of a new day and opportunity invigorate enthusiasm. But when the organization never sees prosperity following the political talking points, the organization grows increasingly deaf toward the rhetoric. This mask uses words to start a fire, but it burns out faster than it began due to lack of substance, specificity, and most importantly follow-through. 

The Perfect Mask
The challenge for all leaders is to stop looking for a new mask and embrace the mask that they were born with. People don't follow unique masks for long. They follow character, confidence and commitment, and they continue to follow leaders who elicit meaningful action and positive results.  If you want to find the perfect leadership make, start by taking off the mask of insecure bravado. Quit following the fads or leadership fashions of others, and follow the most important leadership organ you have, your gut. Your staff will find that as the best Halloween treat of all. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Good and Bad of Competition

One of my favorite feeds is the Connected Principals site.  This site has lots of weekly ideas from prinicpals around North America.  The other day I came across a bit by Johnny Bevacqua, call Collaboration and Competition, and I was intrigued by Johnny's thoughts about the detriments of competition in a collaborative environment.

Competition without collaboration promotes closed systems.  It closes classroom doors and prevents innovation and new ideas.  A focus on competition can lead to an undermining of the common good, the narrowing a common vision and atrophy the growth within schools (and organizations).  Competition at all costs, can undermine the efforts between those who actually share a common purpose.

Leaders must be in tune to the emotions, confidence and needs of the people within the organization.  If trust is an issue on the campus, leaders must construct competition in a way that forces people to rely on one another rather than compete with one another.  If teams lack confidence, leaders can't create competitions where these same teams can be labeled losers at the end of the race.  When people are at different places in their knowledge and experience, results can't be the way to determine who wins.

Here are some thoughts that I have about competition.

Competition is BAD for the Organization when:

  • Being THE Best is the Focus of the Competition
  • The Result is the Gauge
  • Losers are Labeled
  • Bitterness and Resentment become the emotions of the competition
  • Players become more isolated as a result.

Competition is GOOD for the Organization when:

  • Being YOUR Best is the Focus of the Competition.
  • Growth is the gauge.
  • Everyone has the Opportunity to Win
  • Satisfaction and Pride are the prevalent emotions of the competition.
  • Players become closer and more supportive of one another.
Throughout my life, I have been one of the most competitive people that I know.  I always strived to be the best at what I do and as a result, winning built my confidence while losing fueled my passion to improve.  Here's the reality.  Not all people are motivated by losing.  In fact, they are turned off by being labeled a loser.  The agony of defeat drives people out the door.  Leaders can't assume that the mantra of friendly competition helps everyone grow.

As leaders reflect on their own motivation behind competition, they often overlook the discouragement that others find in it.  In their attempt to build people up, they unintentionally shut them off .  By taking time to know the emotional needs of the people within the organization, leaders can create competitive situations that bring people together and keep them focused on the ultimate goal, actualizing the mission of their work. 

In short, competition is good when everyone becomes better at what they do and closer to the organization.  Competition is bad when it alienates people for not being the best at getting better.

From "Great Job" to "Great Growth"

"Good job!"  "You did a great job!"  "Nice work!"  "Super effort!"  When's the last time you gave an employee one of these announcements of affirmation?  If you're a leader who likes to promote the positive, chances are you say this a lot.  Any why not?  After all, affirmation solidifies behavior, and recognition builds repetition.

But there is a downside to "Good Job!" Telling people that they did a good job loses its effect after a while. People come to expect it from leaders who say "Good Job" all the time.  Employees begin to wonder what makes the leader determine who does a good job and why they get a compliment. In time, they can end up focusing more on what the leader deems as the standard of high quality work. If certain people receive more kudos than others, resentment toward the leader will eventually develop over time.

 Here's the root of the problem.  Compliments are transactional responses. In other words, if I, the leader, think you do something pleasing to me, I need to pay you a compliment; thus a transaction has been completed.    However, if the employee works hard, and the leader doesn't see it or worse fails to compliment the effort, the employee will not be paid; and therefore, a transaction will not occur.  The employee will be led to believe that the leader doesn't value his work simply because he hasn't been paid a verbal compliment for his efforts.  The problem with this fixed mindset is that the focus from both parties is on recognizing effort and paying for it, rather than creating an environment where the focus is on continuous progress and growth through consistent efforts.

Transformational leadership is more about moving people forward than praising them for where they are. In other words, if leaders want to transform the workplace, they must stop employing the tactic of transactional compliments such as praising people solely based on singular, isolated actions. A mindset of continuous change requires leaders to exceed praise and utilize specific feedback that celebrates growth over time.  This happens when the leader acknowledges not only where someone currently is but how far they've come and where they will eventually be one day.  Hence, the leader focuses his feedback on growth instead of the job.

Here are 5 Ways Leaders can transform "Great Job" into "Great Growth"

Growth Feedback

Commenting on a person's performance over a period of time by showing specific areas of growth helps employees transform their behavior into more efficient and focused behavior. Nothing transforms mindsets better than showing people how far they have come in their work. They will focus their efforts on continuing the growth that they are making.

Reflective Questioning

Asking reflective questions gives the employee a chance to evaluate their own performance. This also gives the leader an opportunity to gauge if the employee has a false sense of confidence or expectations that are too high. Reflective questions also help the employee see their own strengths and find ways to fix their own problems. The purpose of reflective questioning is to guide people to rate their work and effectiveness.

Examples of Exceptional Work

Highlighting and giving specific feedback on examples of the employee's exceptional work builds tremendous confidence. Nothing builds a sense of efficacy better than the leader showing an employee a piece of their own excellent work and then highlighting why their work is tremendous.  This tells the employee specifically what quality of work you want them to continue.

Affirmation Connected to Areas of Weakness

Some people do some things really great and other things not so well. Find opportunities to connect strategies within  the employee's strengths to their areas of weakness. For example, "if you had done this weakness in the same way that you did the strength, you could possibly get better results".  This feedback affirms the employee's strengths while defining how the employee can improve their deficits. 

Thoughts to Think About (yes, the redundancy is necessary)

Another great way to transform people into a mindset of constant transformation is to affirm excellent work by giving them a question that challenges their great work to become even bigger and better. Asking people how they would make changes to their work when they do it again affirms quality while challenging growth.  This challenge by affirmation also tells the employee that you have a lot of confidence in their abilities and the growth they are making . 

Good, Better, Best

The word good affirms the present. Better is a step up from good, but by comparing yesterday to today, it solidifies the status quo for tomorrow. Best is the only goal of a transformational mindset.  If we want every member of the organization to be their best, each member must constantly know their performance every day without the leader's input and strive to improve. This will happen when leaders create the conditions for employees and leaders to work interdependently to evaluate one another's progress over time.  From there they must seek out new ways to more effectively and efficiently give their very best performance each and every day. Good is never good enough and never will be good enough, so let's create a mindset where we collectively evaluate our work in this way: 

Good, Better, Best
Never let it rest,
Until our good is better 
And better is the best. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Confronting our Can'ts

Very few words can terminate one's ability. All too often in education when we fail to achieve our intended result, we rush to believe that the task is impossible. We jump to rash diagnoses such as:

  • He can't read. 
  • She can't sit still and focus. 
  • They can't multiply. 
  • These kids can't write. 

Even worse, when we allow thoughts like these to enter our minds, we automatically disable the belief in ourselves to close the gap. We say things like:

  • I can't teach him.
  • I can't reach her.
  • We can't truly help all kids. 

And when these statements enter our minds and leave our lips, they become a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

Now, let's analyze the statements above for a second and synthesize the word, can't. Do we really believe so little in our own abilities to educate kids that we honestly embrace the thought that these kids can't learn to read, write, sit still and multiply?  Even worse, do we allow these statements to condemn these kids to the lower bar of expectations? 

Can't is such a crippling word. It halts progress. It preserves the status quo. It allows opportunities to never actualize because not only have our beliefs disabled our own abilities. We have crippled all hope for kids who in reality presently struggle with learning.

So here is what I recommend.

 If Can't is such a powerful word, let's use it to our advantage. How about we all rise up and use these 4 strategies to cripple the naysayers and hope-killers. 

1. Cancel Can't from your Language all Together
Our thoughts become our words. Our words become our actions.  Our actions become our habit, and our habits become our character. If we refuse to allow can't to enter our thoughts, it will never be allowed into our responses to difficult situations. 

2.  Analyze the Can't 
People say can't when they don't know what to do. In most cases, what they really mean is the following: this kid struggles with something, and I don't know what to do for him. Leaders, who believe in the power of can, help Can'ters identify the point at which they don't know how to respond.  Then, they help them develop a plan to address the problem. 

3. Nullify Can't with a Can't of your Own
Negative people drive me crazy. Can't seems to roll out of their mouth at every difficult turn. Leaders must step up and tell them that Can't will not be a part of our system. Can'ters can not be allowed to use their disabling attitudes to hold us back, impede our efforts and stifle progress any longer. 

Can We Do This?

Yes we can.  Of course, kids are behind. Sure, they lack behavioral controls, and yes, they don't know how to do things. That's why they come to school. They come because they can't, and they are counting on you and me to turn their Can't into a resounding Can. It won't happen until we transform their Disabler of Can't into an Enabler of Can

Can't never could and never will help a kid. So what can you do about it?

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Leadership Lessons from a Parked Car

Today, I am sitting in my wife's nice car. It has all the bells and whistles. It is sleek and comfortable just like the commercial promised it would be. But here's the deal. No matter how elegant my car is, it alone can't get me from point A to B. 

Here is my Point
The latest and greatest tools don't achieve results. The newest resource will not improve your current reality. The latest gadget can give you a greater sense of confidence or status, but it won't get the job done. At the end of the day, there is only one way that tools make substantial change. You have to take your tool out of park and put it into drive

So how can we put our tools in gear?

Dedicate Time 
If you want a tool to help your organization, you have to engage others in meaningful study about the tool and understand how it must be used to improve results.

Realize that People Matter
It's people not products that get results. If you have weak people and strong tools, you will always get weak results. In the end your people matter.

Inspect for Fidelity
Tools that are not implemented appropriately will not work.  If you want your tools to work properly, you might want to read the directions on the box and ensure that they are followed.  

Value Effort
In order for a tool to work, it needs someone to use it correctly. If you've spent all this money on a new tool, you might want to invest your time in sincerely recognizing the efforts of the very people who devote their time in becoming proficient operators of the tool. 

Embrace Failure
Anytime you implement a new resource, people will make mistakes trying it out. Leaders must create a culture that embraces mistakes during the implementation of a new resource.  Failure is a natural part of experimentation and creativity.  Leaders who fail to embrace failure will ensure the tool's failure all together. 

My car is great, and I like it. At the end of the day it is a completely useless tool until I crank it up and put the transmission in drive. Resources and tools are no different. Absent of a proficient and productive driver, a resource is just another car sitting in the parking lot. It may look attractive, but it is completely unproductive.  Resources that work have competent people that jump into the driver's seat and steer the tool down the road of hard work. 

Drivers Make the Difference 
 There are whole lot of organizations with a whole lot less resources but still get better results.  The difference isn't the number of cars in the garage, but the number of committed people in the house. 
How well do you drive the resources in your organization? 

Friday, September 20, 2013

4 Benefits of Blogging

As I wrap up my first year of having a weekly blog, I'd like to share my thoughts.  First let me say that I hated writing as a student.  The pure punishment of penmanship coupled by the brutality of bleeding red papers from the teacher fueled my awful anxiety of placing my thoughts on paper.  Don't get me wrong.  I loved all of my English teachers.  They taught me a lot, but it just never clicked for me.

My problem was simple.  My writing had no muse.  There was nothing that I was completely obsessed with enough for me to write about it.  After being in education for 17 years, 11 of which I served in leadership positions, something hit me.  I wanted to tell my story.

So I began my journey on Twitter in February 2012.  I came across an educator named Bill Ferriter, @plugusin.  (If you haven't discovered him, you are missing out.)  After participating in several chats, reading Bill's blog and discovering others just like me who were sharing their thoughts, I became inspired to write my first blog, Are You Counting the Days or Making the Days Count?

The exhilaration of pressing the publish button for the first time is one of the scarier things that I have done.  What if people don't like it?  What if my thoughts are misunderstood or sound unintelligent?  After surviving the first published blog, a sense of confidence was discovered.  I can write.  I can put something out there that people will read.  So after doing the same thing week after week, I have become more comfortable sharing, but I have also grown tremendously and it is because I have embraced these 4 benefits to blogging.

Build Belief in your Thoughts & Ideas

Nothing builds your belief in your thoughts and ideas better than writing them down on paper and publishing them for the world to see.  Through editing and revising your craft, your ideas are massaged to the point that they truly embody your philosophy.  The other side of that thought is that once you publish your thoughts on the world wide web, you have cemented those same thoughts in your mind.

Learn from your Viewership

Feedback is the key to building your blog.  Knowing what your viewers like is important so you can write better pieces for your audience.  I love that Blogger shows my page views by the hour, day, week, month and all-time.  I can see the pageviews of each post, and that tells me how much each post resounded with my audience.  I use this data to refine my craft and find ways to improve as a writer and thinker.

Opportunities for Feedback & Affirmation

Nothing is more affirming than having someone leave a comment on your blog.  It tells me that my words meant enough, that an anonymous person had to add their thoughts to mine.  How cool is that?  Also, it has been awesome when people tweet and share my blog posts through Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+.  When people share my thoughts through their own personal site, affirmation abounds in my mind.

Geography Lessons

I have found places that I never knew existed.  From the Isle of Man to the Northern Mariana Islands, my words have been viewed on every continent except Antarctica (obviously).  While the USA views my thoughts the most, I am amazed that the countries of Canada, UK, Russia, France, Germany, Australia, India, Turkey and Jordan make up my Top 10 pageviews by country.  It is so awesome to know that my words are impacting places and people that are beyond my realm of reality.

So Why Should You Blog?
Why would you not share your thoughts?  Why not solidify your thinking?  What's the worst that could happen?  At worst, not many people will read your blog.  At  best, you could write a post that could go viral!  But at the very best, you will grow in your confidence about your beliefs and improve in your own capacity as a leader, thinker and person.

Collaboration like an Assembly Line

An assembly line is a very useful tool. It brings parts together to create a final product. The interesting thing about them  is that productive assembly lines are not created overnight. In some cases they take years to build to the point where they are completely efficient and maximize productivity. 

Successful collaborative teams operate in a systemic fashion similar to an assembly line. They  create common instruction, aligned assessments, targeted intervention and engaging enrichments. Bringing all of the resources, experiences and understandings together can be a difficult challenge. When teams come together, they initially struggle with the concept of putting all the pieces together to generate a powerful product.   

Photo courtesy of www.diytrade.com
Teams are faced with questions like:
  • What do we talk about when we come together? 
  • Which resource do we start with first? 
  • Who's responsible for doing what?  

The questions go on and on until collaborative teams stop before they ever start. But before teams start building the assembly line of automaticity, there are some very important first steps that they should take before they begin to collaborate.

How can teams function like an efficient assembly-line of learning?

1.  Agree on a common purpose and product
Every member must agree on what their mission is for coming together and what product will be created as a result of coming together.  Every assembly line has a purpose for existing and it spits out a common product.  Teams who fail to do this step will run into trouble later.

2. Clarify Norms
Once teams agree on why they exist and what they must create when they come together, they need some general guidelines for working together to maximize efficiency and manage time wisely.  Creating team norms gives the assembly line guidance for working and behaving together.

3. Distribute responsibilities based on expertise & interest
All members of a team should divide the work and share the load.  The best way to accomplish this task is to tap into the expertise and interests of the members of the team.  Their specific affinities will help give the team its own unique flavor that will help them add meaning to their work.

4. Create your assembly line in a logical progression aligned to your purpose and product
No two assembly lines are the same, but they do have a common progression for creating the common product.  The common product always starts with understanding the standard.  From there, teams can discuss instruction, assessment, intervention and enrichment in an order that best suits the team.

5. Tinker with your assembly-line to remove inefficient steps
Once teams begin the assembly line of collaboration, team members should continually look for ways to make the collaborative process more efficient and effective.  Removing time-wasting activities is crucial to make the collaborative process more meaningful to all members.

6. Reflect
Teams often fail to stop and see how they are doing.  Total Quality Management is a tool that business managers employ to make a better product by engaging workers in a reflection of their roles and the result of their collective efforts.  Reflection helps the team perform better by analyzing the individual efforts of every member.

Assembly Lines

The rise and fall of manufacturers boiled down to the success of the product and its ability to generate a profit.  In collaborative teams, success boils down to one thing and that is student success.  If students are not being successful, the team needs to analyze its work to identify what actions are failing to shore up student learning.  If students are being successful, teams should identify how they can make their work even more effective.  In short, the most collaborative teams create assembly lines of automaticity, efficiency and most important, proficiency.