Leadership: Learn to Fly

This rule was inspired  by Richard Sheridan, CEO of Menlo Innovations and author of two books, Joy, Inc. and Chief Joy Officer.  His article is posted in the ‘What We are Reading’ section  https://learningomnivores.com/what-were-reading/joy-of-heights-and-distance/ ‎

As a former physics teacher, when I heard Rich present this model, it made sense to me.  We want students and staff to be able to fly with their knowledge, skills, and applications to solve real world issues.  Yes, we have to deal with the day-to-day issues on the ground.  When we fly we can see a bigger picture which is more expansive.  Many times our view is limited from the ground and do not consider what is the destination.  Ultimately, we need both/and, on the ground reality and a vision of what we are working toward.

Let’s look at each of the four forces on an airplane and the four forces on cultures of learning

  1. Weight (Down) – this is the force of gravity. It tends to be the force of status quo.  Newton’s first law is a body remains at rest unless it is acted on by an outside force. Think of the    The good news, bureaucracy can keep an organization stable. We need centralized systems for payroll, benefits, building and grounds, etc. The bad news, it can cause resistance to new ideas.  New ideas that might unleash creativity and accelerated learning
  2. Lift  (Up) – the air rushing over the wings provides lift. Consider lift as human energy, intellectual capital, and creativity. Lift can help students and staff accomplish goals they may have not thought possible. A colleague, Jamie Crannell told me why he taught.  “I want kids to do things they didn’t think they could do.”  Put him on my team.
  3. Drag  (Back) – what holds the individual, grade level, department, school, district from positive results. Many times it is fear.  Does the person or the system exhibit fear or trust?  Trust unleashes energy and efficacy. Fear will decrease sharing of repertoire and/or staff go to their rooms and work behind closed doors. Fear causes silence.  Learning is NOT Las Vegas.  What happens here, tell everybody so we all learn.
  4. Thrust (Forward) – vision pulls, it doesn’t push. If the vision is aligned with individual values motivation is less of a problem  If someone pushes you, how do you react?  Most push back or hunker down.  When your values and vision are the same as the system, going to work can release joy. Is the purpose of schools and organizations LEARNING?

So What?  In the present situation of COVID 19, things have and will continue to change.  People will react differently depending upon their emotional and behavioral inner resources.  Our organizational culture can help or hinder people and results.

Here are a couple of thoughts:

  1. Weight – several leaders see removing barriers as a primary function of reducing the downward static force of the organization to make it easier to move. Streamlining systems making the organization more responsive with energize people and begin to gain momentum.  In physics, momentum is the mass multiplied by the velocity.  More movement, more momentum.  Just make sure the movement is in the positive direction.
  2. Lift – as the trajectory of the student and staff learning increases, the lift will increase. In math terms, x = y is a good direction.  X = y2 is even better.  Through Positive Deviance (Sternin) or ‘Hey Menlo’ (Richard Sheridan) processes, the learning can get better, faster and build collaboration.
  3. Drag – there are several ways to reduce fear. Authenticity and transparency is the short answer. I suggest looking at the following works of Marshall Goldsmith, Stakeholder Centered Coaching, Ray Dalio’s strategies in his book Principles, and Kim Scott’s Radical Candor for behaviors that help build trust.  Keep in mind that Trust is a combination of being trustworthy and trusting.  Again, Richard Sheridan in his publications identify transparency as a key in building trust in the organization.
  4. Thrust – what gets you to bring your best self to work that contributes to the organization? In my experience the more aligned a person’s personal values are with the organization’s values, the better it feels getting higher contributions. When beliefs and values are aligned, a person’s identity is honored.

In Dolly Chugh’s book, The Person You Mean to Be: How Good People Fight Bias makes a great analogy. “It takes as much as forty minutes longer to go from New York to Los Angeles than the other way around because when a plane is traveling west, it faces headwinds, which slows it down.”

People who have to overcome barriers to accomplish their goals contribute more for the organization in the long run. “it means that they faced headwinds. I (Chugh) call them “Jets”: they flew faster, harder, and smarter than other kids. They are the type of people I want in my team, my organization, and my life.” In the last two paragraphs, the quotes are from the book Inclusify by Stefanie Johnson.

So a question you might ask is, how do I hire as many “jets” as possible?  They have faced barriers, worked through (under or around) problems, and have more confidence and competence as a results. Do the hiring practices encourage identifying and hiring “jets?” Dealing effectively with adversity can be as valuable as SAT or GPA scores.

I am grateful for my continued learning from Richard Sheridan and can’t wait to learn more and incorporate those things into my leadership repertoire.  I recommend www.menloinnovations.com as a source.  Rich and his team write a newsletter called Menlo Bits which is free.