A Time to Lead

Craig Dowden, PhD. (2022). A Time to Lead – Mastering Yourself so you can.

            Master Your World. New York:  Simon & Shuster, Worth

I trust Frank Wagner and when he recommended this book, I knew I had to read it.  He was correct.  Dowden’s book combines and synthesizes so many effective concepts.  Currently, because of coming out of retirement several times, I am interested in what helps redirect or re-energize organizations, especially schools and districts.

I remember Richard Sheridan’s quote in Chief Joy Officer, ‘not hearing bad news doesn’t make it go away, it makes it goes into hiding.’ One influential study demonstrated that we would rather receive news about the worst-case scenario today than wait to potentially receive better new in the future.”  Amen.  If we know what we are dealing with, we can take steps to correct it and sometimes proactively manage it.  What keeps leaders up at night is, ‘what am I not hearing about?’

Dowden posits in his previous book,  Do Good to Lead Well, positive leadership entails:  We must be acutely aware of our strengths and our derailers.

Chapter 1:  Mastering Our Mindset

            Leadership starts with our mindset.  To effectively lead, we must be aware of and adjust our mindset constantly.

Chapter 2:  Mastering Our Emotions

            If we become “emotionally hijacked,”, it can be virtually impossible to perform at our best or inspire others to perform at their.

Chapter 3:  Mastering Our Resilience

            Building personal, team, and organizational resilience is a critical competency for all leaders.

Chapter 4:  Mastering Our Strengths

            It is imperative that we understand where we add the most value.

Chapter 5:  Mastering Receiving Feedback

            Ken Blanchard famously claimed that feedback is the breakfast of champions, very few people seem anxious to sit down for the meal let alone enjoy it.

Chapter 6:  Mastering Difficult Conversations

            Many people find it challenging to engage in difficult conversations.  The difference is that we are routinely put in situations where we need to have more of them.  Many leaders feel poorly equipped which drives them to avoid, delay or fumble through these types of interactions.

            There are many references to Alan Mulally who turned around Beoing and Ford.  Changing directions to make a company profitable is not for the faint of heart.  Lessons from Mulally are woven into this book and applicable to helping schools and non-profits be successful.

For more on Alan Mulally I recommend reading American Icon.

“Working Together” was the hallmark of Alan’s success at Boeing and given the challenges Ford was facing, this is what made him a perfect fit to lead. Ford went from losing $17 billion on its automotive operation in Alan’s first year to profitability in his third year.

How many leaders of schools know or would do the following to make learning the priority for staff and students.  After decades of focusing on test scores of students, I think it is time for us to focus on the culture that staff and students are living in. Check out my latest book and summary found at –  https://learningomnivores.com/what-were-reading/compliance-cop-to-culture-coach/

This is the system Mulally put in place to start making a profit.

“Working Together” Management System: Principles and Practices

  • People first… Love ’em up.
  • Everyone is included.
  • Compelling vision, comprehensive strategy, and relentless implementation
  • Clear performance goals
  • One Plan
  • Facts and data
  • Everyone knows the plan, the status, and areas that need special attention.
  • Propose a plan, positive, “find-a-way” attitude.
  • Respect, listen, help, and appreciate each other.
  • Emotional resilience – trust the process.
  • Have fun – enjoy the journey and each other.

Alan: “Once you have created the compelling vision, the next step is building the comprehensive strategy for achieving it.  This includes not only the technical strategy but also the people strategy, the working together strategy, the partnership strategy, and the financial strategy.” 

As with most things the question arises ‘how will you know we are making progress?’  What are the metrics?  I think this is adaptable for education to track efficacy, flexibility, and psychological safety which are drivers of learning.

The backbone of relentless implementation is the Business Plan Review (BPR). What if we had a Learning Review Plan (LRP) in schools. “Every stakeholder participated, and attendees went though every element of the vision, strategy, and plan.  They looked for areas that were going well as well as issues that needed special attention.”

Henry Ford is quoted as saying,  “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t you’re probably right.”

Mulally says, This is an innovative and creative process.  We expect the unexpected and expect to deal with it.” How refreshing.  Things happen. The Eagles song title, “Get Over It.”  We must deal with what is, not what we wish could be.

Here are five basic elements of how to proceed:

  • Principles and PracticesThey supersede everything.
  • GovernanceThe governance process relates to how we manage ourselves in every element in the system.
  • Leadership Team – “Our stakeholder-centered leadership team includes and represents all our stakeholders.
  • Creating Value Roadmap – “The Creating Value Roadmap process is also designed to regularly review our progress using our Business Plan Review meetings to identify the areas of our plan that need our special attention. It is important to note that all our stakeholders are participating in and contributing to our Creating Value Roadmap process.”
  • Business Plan Review“Our objective is that by the end of the meeting, everyone on the team and all our stakeholders know where we are individually and collectively in implementing our plan and what areas of our plan need our individual and collective special attention.”

I was struck by this information. The placebo effect comes from Medical Students Syndrome (MSS), a phenomenon that was first reported in the 1960s.  MSS is a psychological condition among medical trainees who experience the symptoms of the disease or diseases they are studying. I started thinking how often our staff members start acting like our students.  When the major efforts don’t show results, it is very difficult to keep working harder and harder.  This is where leadership is critical.  Not only to keep hope alive but to provide some objective feedback and suggestions.

The study below gives me a great deal of pause and thinking to how to address this:

A study conducted by Office Team revealed some striking numbers:

  • Two thirds of employees indicated they would “likely leave their job if they didn’t feel appreciated,” which marked a significant increase from 51 percent in 2012.
  • The data is even more troubling when it comes to millennials, three-quarters (76 percent) of whom say they would leave their jobs if they didn’t feel appreciated. Given that millennials are becoming the largest generation in our workforce, the implications are stark.
  • More than half of all managers (54 percent) say it is common for staff to quit due to a lack of recognition.

When the team looks good, the leader looks good.  This is the core idea Marshall Goldsmith brilliantly captured in the title of his bestselling book on leadership.  What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.  Fostering and celebrating others’ successes exemplify true leadership success. See https://learningomnivores.com/what-were-reading/what-got-you-here-wont-get-you-there/ for a summary of this book.

Don’t Let Your Successes Trick You into a Fixed Mindset. You do not need to look any further than well-worn examples such as Blockbuster, Kodak, Nokia, and BlackBerry.

There are more chapters on Worry, Stress, Venting, and Emotions. The following is research I had never heard of before. If this doesn’t make the case for leadership development, I don’t know what will.

Beware Our Fatal Flaws

            Zenger Folkman provided compelling evidence supporting the importance of addressing our fatal flaws.  Based on a database of more than six thousand leaders, they divided leaders into three categories:

  1. Possessing a fatal flaw with no strengths
  2. No fatal flaws and no strengths
  3. No fatal flaws with profound strengths

On average, the leaders who possessed a fatal flaw without any strengths operated at the 18th percentile of effectiveness.  When the leaders did not have any flaws and no strengths, their effectiveness jumped to about 50 percent.  Last, but not least, when leaders exhibited profound strengths without fatal flaws, their performance spiked to 81 percent.

A couple of final thoughts.  Don’t take this journey alone.  Invite others to come along for the ride.

I want to support the final thought.  Don’t take this journey alone.  As a leader find a coach and find those direct reports who are willing to tell you the truth.  Fortunately, in my last principalship I had four or five staff who would tell me the truth. I am forever in their debt.