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Yes, Polarity Thinking is Crucial for Leaders!

Corwin, November 2013
Corwin, November 2013

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

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Conference Aha’s from APTi 2013 in Miami

Slide01I’m just returning from the 20th Biennial Association for Psychological Type International Conference. Jerry Black, Conference Chair, challenged everyone to come up with an “aha” for each session they attended. Those who wrote them down were even eligible for prizes. Big ones!

I decided to organize my top three aha’s into an acronym—ALPs. Besides helping me remember these actionable learnings, the acronym reflects that the conference, which went quite smoothly, was a bit of a peak experience for me as Program Chair.

  • Action Tomorrow. Susan Nash of Em-Power and Type Academy (which houses all kinds of great type resources) opened the conference with a great keynote on ensuring that your message reaches people with different learning styles. The last step in her TEACH process involves helping people identify how they can make immediate use of new knowledge.
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Boundaries, Barriers, or Limiting Beliefs?

P1040304Co-active coach Cynthia Loy Darst kicked off the ICF Midwest Coaching Conference, “Breaking Boundaries,” by asking us to think about the differences between boundaries, bariers, and limiting beliefs. Here’s what my table came up with:

Boundaries that we set ourselves can be extremely healthy. For leaders, boundaries can:

  • Help us know when to say yes and when to say no
  • Create healthy workplaces for ourselves and for those we lead
  • Define our goals in purposes in ways that allow us to move forward

In contrast, barriers keep us from doing things. They can be external, whether imposed by others, by society, by circumstances, by prejudices, or by very real factors such as professional standards or our own health concerns or constraints on time or money.

Leaders need to examine barriers by asking questions such as:

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Fairy Tales, The MBTI and Other Truths

oatmealIt rained in Minnesota just about every day in June–after raining 28 out of 31 days in May. Granted we’re out of the severe drought that plagued our state the past 9 months, but I started wishing that I had control of a precipitation on/off switch. How hard could it be to keep it all in moderation?

Pondering this while out running in the local park-turned-rain-forest, the old fairy tale about the porridge pot came to mind. Grandpa had a magic porridge pot. He’d say “Cook, little pot, cook” and it’d bubble up perfect oatmeal. “Stop, little pot, stop” were the magic words that put a lid on it, so to speak. When the granddaughter was hungry one morning, she chanted, “Cook, little pot, cook,” and filled her bowl, but then couldn’t remember how to get it to stop. Soon the porridge overflowed, over the table, across the floor, out the door, down the streets…until Grandpa charged through the mess and cried, “Stop, little pot, stop!”

Sound familiar? Versions of this tale exist in folklore around the world. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, perhaps best remembered with all of the brooms chasing Mickey Mouse. In one country, rice overflows. In every case, humans think they know enough to take control of something–and learn quickly that they haven’t a clue. These may be folk and fairy tales, but they name a truth about human nature.

So does Jungian psychological type theory, or personality type, popularized by the MBTI (r). The theory describes a universal truth, recognized around the world for centuries: Yes, each person is unique, but there are certain patterns in how we approach life. The Greeks described these as temperaments. Isabel Myers and her mother Katherine Briggs recognized these patterns in the people around them, and then embraced how Jung described the same patterns in Psychological Types.

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Avoiding Educator “Summer Slide”

The Perfect Place for Professional Development in the Summer? Your Own Favorite Spot!
The Perfect Place for Professional Development in the Summer? Your Own Favorite Spot!

We all know about the “summer slide,” the fact that many children’s reading and math skills slip back over the months they are not in school. But what about the adults in your school community? What about you? Was your school year so draining that you are thinking a 10-week break from any thought of lessons or students or whiteboards might be your best plan for the summer? Are you feeling duty-bound to read certain recommended books or articles on pedagogy? Is summer when you pursue your own content-related passions? Or, are you still wincing from falling short of the goals you set for last summer?

Rather than have summer resemble the guilt of failed New Year’s Resolutions, consider how you might use the research on motivation to recharge your batteries and be ready to reboot your classroom in the fall with new enthusiasm. In Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink lays out three important factors.

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Any Initiatives Not Working?

P6141528Three times this weekend, friends relayed tales of woe regarding initiatives, strategies or decisions that aren’t working. All in casual conversation.

  • An accountability test for science is given to students with disabilities via computer voice. The computer mispronounces words such as “wind” and “lead” so that question meanings are changed. And students can’t adjust volume once it is set, even though portions are so loud that they pull off their headphones
  • Late in the year, teachers are asked to add a specific read-aloud to their curriculum to prepare for a school-wide event. Not only will it keep some teachers from finishing key curriculum units, but as they preview it, several do not believe it is age-appropriate
  • District-wide cuts in school office staff hours are made without consulting office staff workers. Turns out, several key personnel will not be in the office during the traditionally busiest weeks of the year.

All three of these situations are the result of two common leadership imbalances:

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What’s In Your Handout?

IMG_0200I’m just back from speaking at two conferences and getting ready to teach at another–and I’m Program chair for the APTinternational Conference this summer. The topic of making handouts valuable to participants is near and dear to my current life.

Part of my viewpoint comes from my methods of running sessions. I’m strongly opposed to “death by PowerPoint,” trying to convey information through dense text on slides that is better conveyed via other mediums. So my slides highlight main points, use images to convey ideas, state key quotes, and occasionally provide specific directions for group activities. A handout of my slide deck isn’t all that useful if you weren’t in the room. So I don’t provide it.

If you aren’t sure what great slides look like, check out the samples

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Could You Slow Down For a Bit?

Bruges coffee breakHave you in the past six weeks

A.  Complained about “so much to do, so little time…”
B.  Thought, “We should be spending more time on this…”
C.  Realized you rushed through a book, article, conversation, or ___, and aren’t sure what it was about…
D.  Felt a strong desire to sit still. Very still. Very far from that always-buzzing smart phone…
E.  All of the above?

While you probably don’t have full control of your life, you are constantly making choices. And those choices may be rushing you as well as those you teach or lead. Here are three good resources for slowing down just a little.

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