Leaders Bring People Together

As I read and listen to the news, I get more and more worried about the increasing polarization of our society.  People seem to love or hate much more than ever.  From the national stage, I am amazed how so many people are vigorous supporters of one candidate, yet others express the same vigor with dislike for that candidate.  Even recent discussions in our own state’s legislative branches demonstrate significant polarization.  I just heard a legislator on the radio say that his caucus is very set on an issue that surveys show is against the will of the people in the state.  Even in my own community, we have polarization on too many issues.

I realize that news folk seek out responses from both ends of the spectrum on issues, but as I listen to talk shows or reports from the street, it seems to me that so many people have tunnel vision only looking at one aspect of an issue and not seeing the big picture.  Of course, some of the people who are put on camera appear to be missing something…, but so are people who look at a mountain and can only see a rock.

Those that know me can attest that I am far from Milquetoast on many matters that are important to me.  Really, I have the ability to express some passion.  But, I ask myself, what the heck is wrong with seeing all sides of an issue…the good, bad and the in-between?  When did we start to become a society of people who wear blinders?

Of course, our connectedness through social media has arguably been a part of pulling us further apart.  We now have so many forums for us to hold personal court.  Don’t get me wrong, I participate moderately in social media functions.  One of my favorite aspects of social media isn’t reading the idea that is expressed initially, it is digging into the many responses to the idea that is originally posted.  Every once in a while I actually see someone demonstrate some thinking and regard for what is expressed by others.  It still strikes me that so many people are much more interested in expressing their opinions first rather than trying to learn the opinions of others.  (My favorite Covey quote:  “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” comes to mind here!)

I am blessed to work in a great profession where there is a significant proportion of reasonable people compared to the rest of the world.  I will say though that even in education, we have those who are quick to judge.  The silent majority still rules in the end, but so many times the path is fraught with frustration.  More often than not, I am heartened to see people disagree AND understand and respect the opinions of those with which they disagree.  I really do love school people!

As a leader, I have found that getting to the point where the middle ground can be found on significant issues usually comes when we work deeply with BELIEFS.  Determining the best questions to wrestle with and facilitating a conversation where others are learning, reading and discovering all perspectives before cementing their own opinions often leads to products that are best for students and teachers.

Ask yourself when the last time was that you had a thorough conversation at the beliefs level with your colleagues.  If you are a leader, when is the last time you facilitated such a conversation?

If we want to bring people together, we must focus on developing shared beliefs.  We need to ask questions of significance that are difficult to answer; and we need to give people time to digest the thoughts and opinions of others.  In our ever increasing world of polarization, now more than ever we need to have a firm understanding of how to build consensus through developing shared beliefs

By the way, if you don’t want to bring people together, please don’t lead anything.  We already have too much of that in our world and we don’t need anymore.

You Choose to be Who You Want to Be

One of my favorite movies of all time is the little known animated movie, The Iron Giant.  It is a wonderful story that is worth watching again and again.  In the movie, a giant robot from space crash lands in a remote area of the U.S. in 1957.  The crash has slightly damaged the robot as is evident by the slight dent in his head and loss of memory.  Discovered first by a nine year old boy named Hogarth, the robot is hidden for a while in a junk yard.  Over the course of several days, the duo spends time playing, reading comics and exploring the woods.  During their time together, Hogarth shares many of life’s lessons with the robot.  One lesson, about making choices, is learned when Hogarth introduces the concept of Superman to the Iron Giant.  The robot immediately relates to the superhero’s abilities and using those abilities for good.

Of course, crisis comes their way as a CIA investigator is in the area to investigate the “meteor” that was seen in the sky days ago.  Upon finding the giant robot, panic ensues and a local military contingent begins firing on the robot.  Since Hogarth is with the giant robot at the time, the robot runs away only to see that the boy was knocked out (or worse) due to their fleeing from the military.  Seeing the potential death of his friend, the robot begins to behave in a way that was obviously the purpose of his designers.  The dent suddenly is “popped out” on his head and guns, lasers and missiles are fired from the Iron Giant as he fights against the military.

Soon, Hogarth wakes and gets the Iron Giant to stop firing his weapons.  The CIA agent still wants the robot destroyed, so in his panic he sends a message to an offshore naval ship to launch a nuclear missile at the robot’s location, which at the time happens to be in the town square.  Realizing that the missile will kill many people, the Iron Giant launches himself to meet the missile in the stratosphere and save the town.  As he approaches the missile, the Iron Giant recalls what Hogarth taught him and replays Hogarth’s voice in his head…“You choose who you want to be.”  The Iron Giant then whispers, just before directly impacting the missile, “I’m Superman.”

Obviously, the Iron Giant was designed to be a killing machine; however, he chose to be a savior.  What a great message for all of us.  Regardless of our life’s experiences and troubles, we can still choose to be who we want to be.  And, in the case of the Iron Giant, he had a great teacher in Hogarth who helped him to understand that tenet.

I am a believer that it is the little choices in our lives that matter.  Making the right decision each and every day, even when the right decision requires additional work, is what makes all of the bigger decisions easier.  Philosopher William James said it best.  “All of life is but a mass of small choices—practical, emotional and intellectual—systematically organized for our greatness or grief.  We must never forget that it’s not only our big dreams that shape reality…the small choices bear us irresistibly toward our destiny.”

Our power is in our choices…our little choices…that we make each and every day.  Remember that we are not defined by a college degree or a position.  We are a composite of our choices, which is what defines us…and, what defines how we are viewed by others.

R and D = Research and Development (a.k.a. Rip off and Duplicate)

I have just finished a day visiting three members of IPLI’s group 7 and we are about to meet as a full group for dinner at Northview High School compliments of Ernie Simpson. Plans to visit the other three members of our group have been made for tomorrow and next week.

In visiting the three schools today, one middle, one elementary, and one high school, I found excellent exemplar leaders. I am impressed that each have embraced the Friday Focus concept and are excited to move forward with the 10 Minute Inservice that was presented at the July session of the Indiana Principal Leadership Institute. Way to go gang!

As I reflect on my visits today, I am thinking of all of the wonderful opportunities I have had to learn from these great leaders. They are committed and passionate about their school and shared many practices that they do that are simply wonderful. I ask myself, why don’t more school leaders visit colleagues more often?

While it is probable that my school corporation will not duplicate programs that I’ve hear about today, it is safe to say that much of what I was exposed to has further developed my thinking to a degree that I can’t help but include some of these great ideas when we formulate our own in the future. My only fear is that I’ll forget something…thank God for OneNote!

Networking…networking…networking…can’t seem to get enough of it!