Bury My Heart in Conference Room B

Slap, Stan. (2010).  Bury My Heart at Conference Room B.  New York:  Penguin.

Why this book?        You May Need a Slap in the Face

A year ago, our Learning Omnivores group, spent time with Stan Slap, the author of Bury My Heart at Conference Room B.  We are grateful for his sharing of ideas with a group of educational learning omnivores. I highly recommend buying this book for the activities and stories focusing on values

Stan used an activity, based on his writings, that re-grounded many of us to why we came into leadership roles, why we stay in our organizations, and how that connects to our deeply held beliefs and values. Most of us have spent a career where we are frequently invited to deviate from our personal and professional values to accommodate the perceived needs of others or to get to the financial bottom lines.

An example, as a former principal, parents have asked me not to suspend their child for drugs, knives, and assaults.  I have been asked to change grades, even from an “A-” to an “A.” I have been asked to grant credit for a student who did not attend a class, so they could graduate, and the list goes on. It is not just students, there are colleagues and supervisors who have asked for special favors or modify policies and procedures from what I believe is ethical behavior. I am sure, in your organization, you have had some similar requests that are on the edge or questionable in nature.

In some organizations, leaders have been asked by those in positions above and below to change actions to alleviate political pressure. Enough of this.

Stan facilitated a values process for us, which is described in his book, that I have used with individuals and groups in a coaching setting. I have found this exercise to be very useful when forming a new team and can increase trust by making deeper connections between individuals.  Stan says the values most people identify as important are family and integrity.  The two that, under pressure, people are asked to compromise most often are family and integrity.  I can relate, can you?  In addition to these two values, the following is a process is useful.

The values Stan holds, in his company, is family.  He writes about how that became a focus from his own experience growing up and the difficulty of dealing with a sick parent.  Learning at an early age how important family is, his company is a family.

Here is the short form of the process which is described in more detail in the book.

  1. Show a list of values, 50 or more. (one list can be found in his book)
  2. Ask the group to choose 5 or 10 they feel most connected to
  3. Narrow your list to three
  4. Share with the group (or as an individual) what your three values are, AND, this is the most important part.
  5. How did you get those values?

What I have found is there are new and deep connections from sharing values AND the story behind those values.  What a way to start a short or long-term project for people to understand the history of others.  What a way to find out the deep values of the person you are coaching. Getting people in the room, building strong connections and understanding their history before tackling difficult tasks is beneficial to saving time and energy.

When coaching individuals, and asking similar questions, the client can identify what are the most important values to him or her and help them connect at a human level. One of Stan’s quote that struck me was, “Let the walls come down. Don’t lead from your head. Lead from what you believe in. If they can’t trust you, you can’t lead them.”  Amen.

Leadership is not for the faint of heart.  Charles Bukowski said, “What matters most is how well you walk through the fire.” Everyone is watching leaders. I believe people watch what we do, less by listening to our words. Our values are demonstrated by what we pay attention to and what we do.

Stan Slap reminds us that it is the emotional commitment that is necessary to do people work. He states that the good news is – it’s not your fault.  The bad news, as a leader, is – it is your responsibility.  Building a learning culture for your organization requires taking off our armor, talking about what’s important, including our colleagues in the process, and making communities better able to prepare for a future.

Another point presented is most of us know what the company wants from us. The following, from the book, identifies what some people want from their company.

What do you really want from your company? Most of them want to serve and build their companies, and they want to win. But none of them wants success completely defined on their company’s terms; they want it defined on their own terms, too.

  • I want to live my most important personal beliefs at work. I want enough personal energy left at the end of the day, so the rest of my life isn’t just a work-release program.
  • I want respect. I want to be recognized for having a job that’s often unrecognizable on a day-today basis. I want to be paid to think, not just to comply. I want to be trusted.
  • I want control. Want to know that I’m creating a dependable sanctuary with my hard work, and I want to know that the harder I work the more sanctuary I’ll create. I want to trust.
  • I want impact. I want to know that there’s some actual lasting value to how I spend my time and that I’m contributing to something that won’t always be immediately forgotten in the rush to the next urgent priority. I want a legacy. I want affiliation. I want to be in a healthy relationship, not one where it seems I’m constantly begging for love and forgiveness for mysterious sins.

I obviously recommend this book.  I end with a request.  My request is that you read the story of Florence Taylor which is inside this book on page 182.  Florence Taylor is a pseudonym.  It is a story of an executive that has the value, if you go down [have trouble] I will come back for you. Wouldn’t you like to work for a person like that?

Those in education who think government, business, and community will wake up and suddenly recommit to schools and building a strong community I ask, what are you smoking.  Here is a quote, “The revolution will not be televised. The revolution will be live.”      GIL SCOTT-HERON See New Rules – Stand Up or Shut Up.

The best organizations attract and sustain emotional commitment.  Educators have a long history of working for the kids.  That idea has been used to keep pay and status low.  There are estimates that teachers subsidize schools for about a billion dollars a year by buying supplies for kids who come to school without supplies.  Another quote from the book, “We don’t want you to play office here; we want you to work at being human.” That role modeling has always been the meta-curriculum in our schools.

We have had many years of Theory X management (kick butt and take names).  How is that working?  CEO  Jim Goodnight says. “Trust people, give them a good place to work, expect a lot out of them and they’ll do the right thing.” Maybe we should try that for a while.  I try to live by the rule, if it isn’t working, TRY SOMETHING ELSE.

As a former principal and leader, Stan writes a New truth: The cause cannot always be the company; instead, it must also be managers’ pursuit of their own values within the company

Human behavior is only unpredictable and dangerous if you don’t start from humanity in the first place.



Yikes, I am responsible.  As a principal, your humanity is what staff, students, and community notices first.  Without trust, your leadership is toast. One of the biggest myths of leadership is that it’s a burden. If it were a burden, nobody would do it. It’s a benefit. Make it a benefit for you and your colleagues.

Our leadership is occasionally limited by the myths we have heard or believe. Here are the ten big myths that prevent a manager’s natural transition to leadership. Let’s bring ‘em up and bust ‘em down.

  3. CONFUSING MANAGEMENT AND LEADERSHIP” The relationship between leaders and followers is humanity at its most potent and profound. Humans will give it up for leaders in a way they’ll never give it up for managers. Here’s the short form: every management message is an equation that ends only one way: Work harder. Every leadership message is an equation that also ends only one way: = Live better.
  4. “MY COMPANY WON’T BUY IT” Charles Schwab

The sooner you start to practice leadership, the sooner your personal values will start to be realized. So, what exactly are you waiting for? Unless Procrastination is one of your big personal values.

There are steps to take throughout the book. Obviously, you can tell I really, really like this book.  I am very fortunate I got to learn with Stan Slap.