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Monday, October 05, 2009

Leadership in Education

As we near the end of the Political Party Conference season here in the UK, take a minute to reflect on the leadership shown by US politicians earlier this year when Congress passed a fiscal stimulus package which recognised the importance of education to the future health and well-being of the US economy. The following Op-Ed article by Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times earlier this year sets the agenda for action quite clearly:

'So maybe I was wrong. I used to consider health care our greatest national shame, considering that we spend twice as much on medical care as many European nations, yet American children are twice as likely to die before the age of 5 as Czech children — and American women are 11 times as likely to die in childbirth as Irish women.

Yet I’m coming to think that our No. 1 priority actually must be education. That makes the new fiscal stimulus package a landmark, for it takes a few wobbly steps toward reform and allocates more than $100 billion toward education.

That’s a hefty sum — by comparison, the Education Department’s entire discretionary budget for the year was $59 billion — and it will save America’s schools from the catastrophe that they were facing. A University of Washington study had calculated that the recession would lead to cuts of 574,000 school jobs without a stimulus.

“We dodged a bullet the size of a freight train,” notes Amy Wilkins of the Education Trust, an advocacy group in Washington.
So for those who oppose education spending in the stimulus, a question: Do you really believe that slashing half a million teaching jobs would be fine for the economy, for our children and for our future?

Education Secretary Arne Duncan describes the stimulus as a “staggering opportunity,” the kind that comes once in a lifetime. He argues: “We have to educate our way to a better economy, that’s the only way long term to get there.”

That’s exactly right, and it’s partly why I shifted my views of the relative importance of education and health. One of last year’s smartest books was “The Race Between Education and Technology,” by Claudia Goldin and Lawrence F. Katz, both Harvard professors. They offer a wealth of evidence to argue that America became the world’s leading nation largely because of its emphasis on mass education at a time when other countries educated only elites (often, only male elites).

They show that America’s educational edge created prosperity and equality alike — but that this edge was eclipsed in about the 1970s, and since then one country after another has surpassed us in education.

Perhaps we should have fought the “war on poverty” with schools — or, as we’ll see in a moment, with teachers.

Some education programs have done remarkably well in overcoming the pathologies of poverty. Children who went through the Perry Preschool program in Michigan, for example, were 25 percent less likely to drop out of high school years later than their peers in a control group, and committed half as many violent felonies. They were one-third less likely to become teenage parents or addicts, and half as likely to get abortions.

Likewise, the KIPP program, the subject of a fine book by Jay Mathews, has attracted rave reviews for schools that turn low-income students’ lives around.

There are legitimate questions about whether such programs are scalable and would succeed if introduced more broadly. But we do know that the existing national school system is broken, and that we’re not trying hard enough to fix it.

“We have a good sense from the data where there are big opportunities,” notes Douglas Staiger, an economist at Dartmouth College who studies education.

The hardest nut to crack is high schools — we don’t have a strong sense yet how to rescue them. But there’s a real excitement at what we are learning about K-8 education.

First, good teachers matter more than anything; they are astonishingly important. It turns out that having a great teacher is far more important than being in a small class, or going to a good school with a mediocre teacher. A Los Angeles study suggested that four consecutive years of having a teacher from the top 25 percent of the pool would erase the black-white testing gap.

Second, our methods to screen potential teachers, or determine which ones are good, don’t work. The latest Department of Education study, published this month, showed again that there is no correlation between teacher certification and teacher effectiveness. Particularly in lower grades, it also doesn’t seem to matter if a teacher has a graduate degree or went to a better college or had higher SATs.

The implication is that throwing money at a broken system won’t fix it, but that resources are necessary as part of a package that involves scrapping certification, measuring better through testing which teachers are effective, and then paying them significantly more — with special bonuses to those who teach in “bad” schools.

One of the greatest injustices is that America’s best teachers overwhelmingly teach America’s most privileged students. In contrast, the most disadvantaged students invariably get the least effective teachers, year after year — until they drop out.

This stimulus package offers a new hope that we may begin to reform our greatest national shame, education.'


Redefining Success

Born in 1910, Coach John Wooden is the first person to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame both as a player and coach, while ESPN ranks him as the greatest coach of all time, across all sports. In his 40 years at UCLA, he has mentored legends such as Bill Walton and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. His career has been illustrious to say the least, and he has created a model, the Pyramid of Success, and authored several books to impart his insight on leadership and achievement to others.

Coach Wooden wanted his players to be victors in life and not just on the court, so he treated them as an extended family and emphasized that winning was more than scoring. Indeed, most of his inspiring theories were born from conversations with his father, as a boy on their farm in Indiana. One that sums up his ideology quite well is his often quoted definition of success: "Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best that you are capable of becoming."

In this talk, and with profound simplicity, Coach John Wooden redefines success and urges us all to pursue the best in ourselves. In this inspiring talk he shares the advice he gave his players at UCLA, quotes poetry and remembers his father's wisdom:



'Anticipating Mind' Leadership

A leader's most important asset is the ability to anticipate changes in the environment and adapt to them quickly. The key mental skills that define 'anticipating mind' leadership are:

Observing—search out confirming and non-confirming information about your world view

Reasoning—clearly explain why you are following a course of action

Imagining—visualise new ideas for your company's policies and practices

Challenging—question your organisation's assumptions and test their validity

Deciding—make or influence decisions that will propel action to progress

Learning—master the information you need to keep you moving forward

Enabling—offer the people around you the knowledge, means, and opportunities to progress

Reflecting—invest time thinking about trade-offs and the consequences of those trade-offs that result from your decisions.

Lessons in Life From Sport - Authentic Leadership

This is a fascinating video interview with Mike Smith, head coach of the NFL Atlanta Falcons and the 2008 NFL Coach of the Year. Smith is the oldest of 8 children and a leader who embodies the 'everyman' in all of us. His core values are around respect, humility and drive and his key message in the interview is to 'live everyday to the best of your ability'.


The Benefits of Writing a Blog

Clearly there is a marketing and promotional value to writing this blog. But there is a much larger lesson here and it applies to all of us - whether we want or need to promote ourselves or our products or services. Let's talk about the wider benefits now:

1. Writing helps us learn. A key component of the learning process is reflecting on what has happened to us to determine what to repeat, and what to change next time. Writing about our experiences can really help us in this reflection in powerful ways.

2. Writing clarifies our thinking. Ideas can swirl in our mind and we can think about something, but when we put the pen to paper or our fingers on a keyboard and put our thinking into words, we become much clearer and our thoughts become more real and more actionable.

3. Writing makes us smarter. If you take the first two lessons - writing helps us learn and clarifies our thinking; the fact that writing makes us smarter is obvious. As we write we discover new things and new ideas. The process of writing allows for learning and the words we write provide more learning too.

4. Writing is about the process, not about the reader. As an author, this isn't completely true - as the author writes this he is thinking about you as his reader, and trying to write as clearly and persuasively as he can. One reason many people don't write is that they don't want others to read it, or don't think anyone else would want to read it. So to sell you on the decision to write, please know that all of the benefits listed so far are about you and not about the reader. If you write in a journal or a on a secret hidden document on your computer, you will get the benefits regardless of your grammar, style or spelling. If your goal is to have others read what you write, great! But don't think writing has to be about others - the personal benefits are huge!

5. We all have something to write about. We all have 24 hours of day experiences each day. We all have a lifetime of memories, thoughts and ideas. Sorting, compiling, referencing and using them is plenty of fodder for the type of writing that most of us can and need to do.

6. Writing is a habit. Most people when asked whether they would think of starting a blog say - I don't know what to write (see #5) or, I don't have time to write. If you believe in the benefits, you will find time to write. For all of the reasons listed above, (and a whole lot more), writing is important. And like anything important in our lives, we can make it a habit.
And lastly, this post isn't just about writing. The last lesson is to think about the skills that really matter most. Often the skills we think are most important or valuable, really aren't. People want to get better at their work and make assumptions as to the best ways to do that. Look beyond the technical aspects of your work, look deeper. Ask yourself; 'what are the underlying skills that help me really achieve my goals?' Another way to figure this out is to ask smart people who have been where you want to go - find a mentor and ask them.

Writing makes you a better business person and a better human being.

Using College Sport to Build Leadership

Spend a little time with second-year Northern Illinois Head Football Coach Jerry Kill and you'll undoubtedly hear him describe himself as a "hard hat, lunch pail" guy. It's a tribute to his blue-collar roots - Kill was the first member of his family to graduate from college - and to the work ethic instilled in him by his parents, Jim and Sonja, as a youngster in Cheney, Kansas. That blue-collar work ethic is also one of the qualities that made Kill, who spent seven years building the Southern Illinois program into a Football Championship Subdivision powerhouse, a perfect fit to succeed Joe Novak as the head coach at Northern Illinois back in December 2007. In his first season at NIU, Kill instilled that hard-working mentality in the Huskies and brought a winning attitude that ultimately resulted in a trip to the 2008 Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La., and made Kill the winningest first-year head coach at Northern Illinois since Bill Mallory in 1980.

"On the field, I want our kids to play smart," he said. "I want them to be mentally and physically tough so they can win in the fourth quarter. I believe in hard work and the harder you work, the better your chances of success. I will push them to the limit. I won't win a popularity contest at times, but we're not in it for a popularity contest. My job is to get the best out of them. "Ultimately, the game comes down to the players. If you don't have great players, you aren't going to win many games." 

Kill's high expectations for his student-athletes extend from the football field to the classroom, the community and beyond. "I expect our student-athletes to represent our school and our community on and off the field," Kill said. "One of the most important things to me is how they do in life after they leave the program. I firmly believe that what we do here and how we drive kids over the four or five years will help them down the road." One of the ways Kill and his staff "drive kids" is the Warrior Elite program. Every year, the roster is split into groups who then compete and earn points for everything from academic success to participation in community service activities to on-the-field effort and weight room benchmarks. The program is one more way that Kill and his staff teach teamwork and build leadership. They believe that football is the perfect vehicle to impart skills that have life-long benefits. "Football is such a challenge because you have to get everybody on the same page in a huge organization," Kill said. "Then to get everybody to execute on a given play is difficult. Most college athletes are playing for four or five years and they are very competitive, and you had better be (competitive) when you go out into the real world or you can get swallowed. Competing in athletics gives you an edge."

Leadership Lessons from The New York Times

Believe in yourself. Robert Iger, CEO of Disney, was told as a twenty-three year old new hire that he was “not promotable.” Iger found the comment “shocking.” As he says, “I think it toughened me up a bit more” as he became more “cautious” and “wary” of others. Fortunately for Iger he was able to find another job within ABC and eventually worked with some broadcast industry greats including Roone Arledge and Michael Eisner.

Keep it simple. Eduardo Castro-Wright, vice chairman of Wal-Mart Stores, believes in keeping things simple. “[W]e can describe our complete strategy in 10 words. And that makes it very easy to get everybody energized and aligned.” Castro-Wright keeps things simple for himself by managing his personal to-do list every evening. “My pa doesn’t see them until early in the morning, but that sets the stage for the following day.”

Get out of your office. Terry Lundgren, CEO of Macy’s, hits the road two or three days per week. Much of that road time is spent visiting stores and setting up impromptu meetings with store managers by calling them on their mobile phones when he’s in their store. Lundgren’s style is not to play “ gotcha ya” but to educate himself. “I learn as much by going through a store as anything I do, much more than sitting in my office at my computer or holding a big meeting here, because I’m learning and seeing exactly what our customer is seeing.”

Ask good questions. Daniel Amos, CEO of Aflac, is a relentless questioner. “I think most people will tell you that I tend to be the inquisitor who will ask a million questions.” But such questions are not intended, as Amos explains to cut off debate; they are intended to challenge people to think for themselves. “It’s O.K. for you to tell me that you don’t know the answer and get back to me.” Amos also knows himself. “I can get so preoccupied that I don’t see anybody. I can absolutely walk through a room and never see anybody because my mind is so focused.” At the same time, Amos realizes that “if you don’t have pretty good people skills; you’re not going to be head of a department.”

Charisma is overrated. Wendy Kopp, founder and CEO of Teach for America, believes that charisma is not essential to a leader’s ability to do his job. Her company hires teachers to serve in some of the most disadvantaged communities in America. “Some of the most successful teachers are some of the least charismatic… But they have a gift of figuring out what motivates people.” As every leader knows, translating influence into action through motivation is essential to getting things done right.

Leadership is an act. Clarence Otis, Jr., the CEO of Darden Restaurants with a background in finance and law, leverages his experience on the stage to lead more effectively. “The thing that prepared me most… was theater… [It’s] the starkest lesson in how reliant you are on others, because you are there in front of an audience.” As a senior leaders Otis believes “[Y]ou’ve got to give people the chance to speak,” but understand that everyone does not express themselves in the same ways so it is necessary to give less outspoken, more reflective people “space for them to fill.”

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action

There's a naturally occurring pattern shared by the people and organisations that achieve the greatest long-term success. From Martin Luther King Jr. to Steve Jobs, from the pioneers of aviation to the founders of Southwest Airlines, the most inspiring leaders think, act, and communicate the exact same way-and it's the complete opposite of everyone else.

The common thread, according to Simon Sinek, is that they all start with why. This simple question has the power to inspire others to achieve extraordinary things.

Any organisation can explain what it does; some can explain how; but very few can clearly articulate why. Why do we offer these particular products or services? Why do our customers choose us? Why do our employees stay (or leave)? Once you have those answers, teams get stronger, the mission clicks into place, and the path ahead becomes much clearer.

Starting with why is the key to everything from putting a man on the moon to launching the iPod. Drawing on a wide range of fascinating examples, Sinek shows readers how to apply why to their culture, hiring decisions, product development, sales, marketing, and many other challenges. Some naturally think this way, but Sinek proves that anyone can learn how.

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Actionoffers an unconventional perspective that explains WHY some people and organisations are more innovative, more profitable, command greater loyalties from customers and employees alike and, most importantly, are able to repeat their success over and over. These are not the one hit wonders. These are the ones who change the course of industries or even society.

Because it’s all based on how people think and act, this unique view of the world has application in big business and small business, in politics and non-profit. Though some people have a natural ability to start with WHY, this book offers compelling evidence that, with a little discipline, anyone can learn how to do it.