[Guest post from Ann Holm] Who feels overwhelmed by all of the tips and suggestions out there about how to be more effective in work and in life? Blogs, books, and articles. Recently, I saw an article titled, “100 Questions Every Entrepreneur…
I recently heard of a school district with five hundred initiatives underway right now. They’re proud of it–they’re reaching out to students at risk for dropping out, targeting STEM enrichment, working on literacy, increasing coaching capacity, and so on.
The problem? No change effort can be focused in 500 different directions. Right now, things are falling by the wayside–and the district leadership probably doesn’t know what is and isn’t being done. Somewhere down in the ranks, people are deciding, whether consciously or unconsciously, what they will actually accomplish.
It may be what seems most urgent to them. Or what best fits their current skills. Or what is easiest. Or what the person above them is screaming for.
Chances are, though, it isn’t what the leaders at the top consider most important. Why?
According to goodreads.com (join me there—it’s great for keeping track of what you’ve read) I finished 117 books in 2013. I read just about anything, for if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that ideas, and new knowledge, and “aha’s”, and creativity, and laughter, and profound insights, can come from the strangest places. Here are five books that kept me thinking long after I closed the covers.
The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal. The author, a pottery artist, traces the history of Chinese figurines he inherited from an uncle, and thus learns of his Jewish ancestors’ rise to the very top of Parisian and Viennese society, their fates during World War II, and how they rebuilt their lives. I constantly found myself thinking, “How would I have handled both the triumphs and the tragedies? How would my family talk about it all?” If you decide to read it, I’d suggest
(Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, p. 101)
How about substituting “SMART goals” for management and “being intentional” for leadership in the above quote? Why?
Too often, a goal is SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-bound) but still not the right goal. If you’re setting goals for yourself, or if you’re coaching others, here are three key questions that aid in ensuring that goals intentionally target what is most important, not what your or your client might assume is most important.
- Is this the right goal right now? Leadership is situational. While there are core competencies all leaders need, different ones are more important in some situations than in others. Unfortunately, those new to leadership—or to a given role—may be unaware of priorities they’ve never needed to attend to in the past.
I’m so excited about my newest book that I’m breaking from my usual blog content to include the press release here.
How should mathematics be taught? What must students learn? Who should teach? What is the proper role of arts education or physical education in schools? Educators, politicians, parents and business people often take polarized positions, yet these issues involve interdependent “answers,” not right/wrong solutions.
Now a new book, Unleashing the Positive Power of Differences: Polarity Thinking for Our Schools, by Jane Kise, Ed.D., introduces a powerful set of tools for ending polarization by bridging differences. Polarity thinking allows individuals and groups to work together and acknowledge the wisdom of each other’s viewpoints. Jane points out, “The alternative—and we see it everywhere—is wasting time and money on partial solutions that are doomed to be replaced when leadership changes or when results fail to meet expectations.”
Recently, the Charleston, SC, announced a 25 percent drop in violent crimes. I learned from Margaret Siedler of Power Surge that they credit much of their success in reducing crime to an intensive strategic planning process that involved polarity thinking.
Their strategic plan states that “In using Polarity Management, we recognized that the work of keeping our community safe is complex and we must address a series of chronic, ongoing problems by viewing them from a broad perspective. What are polarities? Polarities are sets of interdependent pairs [that] while competing actually need each other over time to achieve and sustain success. ”
Their five strategic directions, based on these “pairs”, are
By chance….Have you noticed that right now, intelligent people are polarized on issues? They’re holding polar opposite viewpoints? We all do. We think we’ve carefully vetted our positions and are in the right. So how much should we trust our own wisely-thought-through views?
Not much, actually, if one considers the research on how we form our viewpoints. A recent slew of books asks us to ponder this and perhaps change how we interact with those who hold opposing views.
Jonathan Haidt, in The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, guides us through the neuroscience and psychology research on how we form our opinions. And it’s humbling. Or should be. Not only do we consistently pay attention to information that reinforces what we believe, but the more intelligent we are, the better we are at spinning one-sided arguments.
In Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error, Katheryn Schulz uses both research and humor to help us understand just how wrong we can have the facts and thus how flimsy our arguments can be.
The Center for Creative Leadership identified it as the second-most important strategy leaders can develop.
F. Scott Fitzgerald deemed it the test of a first-rate intelligence.
Congress is obviously clueless about it.
What is it?
You see, all too often we need our opposites to understand the bigger picture, the viewpoints or elements we’re overlooking. In our increasingly polarized world, though, the beauty of working with our opposites seems to be entirely overlooked.
If you live in the Upper Midwest, autumn colors are beginning to peak. Why are they so beautiful? It’s the pairings of contrasting colors–those opposite each other on the color wheel. Reds and greens. Oranges against the pure blue sky. Purples and yellows. Richness comes not from sameness but from contrast!
And so it is with opposite points of view.
Another way to put this is that leaders far too frequently bite off more than they, or those they lead, can chew. Lack of priorities can take several forms, such as:
- Overwhelming their staffs with competing initiatives
- Leading projects with “scope creep” that end up devouring time and resources way beyond what was anticipated, funded or staffed
- Asking others to “do more with less” until, inevitably, human capacity is truly overwhelmed.
Goals are often tangible—profits, products, student learning targets, or implementation of strategies. Priorities are things such as professional development, staff relationships, accountability, autonomy, consistency in policy, and so on. And we can only concentrate on so many of them. Not setting priorities is similar to playing poker–you won’t have as much control as you like over the cards you’re dealt.
When I coach for intentional leadership, I start by asking leaders to sort their priorities. We then map those priorities onto essential tasks of leadership and compare the patterns to the leader’s natural strengths and equally natural blind spots. Are they focused on the right priorities for the situation, including their current goals?
Now there are three ways to sort your intentional leadership priorities:
- Use the exercise provided in the book (included in the first chapter, part of the amazon.com free downoad)
- Work with an Intentional Leadership Coach
- Use the Leadership Priority Cards–hot off the press and available through me. When you use these cards, though, you’ll be able to choose your ideal hand–and move toward your goals.
Why the cards? All learning styles benefit from the tactile use of cards. As a coach, you can observe
In its most recent e-letter, the Center for Creative Leadership listed leveraging polarities as the second-most important strategy for leaders to master, right after strategic learning. I couldn’t agree more–my next book, Unleashing the Positive Power of Differences, is all about using polarity thinking in conversations about education reform.
What is polarity thinking? The term, coined by Barry Johnson, describes situations where there is truth and wisdom on more than one side of an issue–each side is incomplete without the wisdom and input of the other. Think of how often we fight about the “right” way to organize, when in fact we need some of both. It isn’t either/or but both/and for things such as