Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Curious Garden and Leadership

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The Curious Garden and Leadership

This book is one of my children’s favorite books.  It is a story about a little boy named Liam. He lives in a polluted world and discovers a small garden on an abandoned railway.  He is a very curious child.  He begins to water and nurture the garden back to health.  Little did he know the impact he would have on the polluted community and how the garden would change the community forever.  Liam displays many effective leadership skills throughout his story. 

Toxic culture:
“There once was a city without gardens or trees or greenery of any kind.  Most people spent their time indoors.  As you can imagine, it was a dreary place” (p.2).
Liam’s community is toxic and is similar to most toxic organizations.  They lack collaboration and the people within the community are very isolated.  Isolation within a school organization is toxic and creates a dreary, stale place.  Innovation and growth cannot occur without teams of dedicated individuals working together.  It is important for the leader to encourage and create structures that allow collaboration to occur.  Collaborative environments and support from the leader help combat toxic cultures. 

“There was one boy who loved being outside.  Even on drizzly days, while everyone else stayed inside, you could always find Liam happily splashing through his neighborhood” (p. 3).
Liam put himself outside when it wasn’t the popular thing to do.  He was the only one willing to venture outside and did so happily.  Leadership can be lonely, and leaders have to be willing to walk the talk.  If we are implementing change it is imperative that the leader is visible, because change is messy.  The leader must be “there” to help ease tensions and help members of the organization navigate the path.  I believe effective leaders have a sense of humor and are positive people.  They are positive even on drizzly days, and their positivity is infectious.

“It was one such morning when Liam made several surprising discoveries.  He was wandering around the old railway, as he did from time to time, when he stumbled upon a dark stairwell leading up to the tracks” (p. 3).
Liam is curious and willing to take risks.  Curiosity is an important trait of successful leaders.  They want to explore how their organization can be more effective.  This is done through needs assessments, interviews with staff members, and exploring data.  Effective leaders take risks and create a culture that not only allows risk taking, but encourages it.  A successful organization that encourages risk taking must also make it safe to fail.  Failure is important for the growth of individuals within an organization. 

Leaders are made:
“Liam may not have been a gardener, but he knew that he could help.  So he returned to the railway the very next day and got to work.  The flowers nearly drowned and he had a few pruning problems, but the plants patiently waited while Liam found better ways of gardening” (p. 6).
I believe that leaders are made.  Effective leaders are constantly refining and reflecting as they gain experience.  Liam wasn’t sure how to raise a garden in the story so he tried different things.  Over time he got it right and the garden began to grow and expand under his guidance and support.  This is similar to my growth as a school administrator.  As you gain experience you gain confidence in your decision making and your skills as a leader. 
“As the weeks rolled by, Liam began to feel like a real gardener, and the plants began to feel like a real garden” (p. 7).
Our experience gives us confidence in our leadership abilities. 

Leadership development within your organization:
“The tough little weeds and mosses were the first to move.  They popped up farther and farther down the tracks and were closely followed by the more delicate plants” (p. 8).
Developing leaders within your organization are important to creating progress that leads to major breakthroughs.  For example, in a school organization it’s imperative that leaders develop and distribute leadership to teachers to increase momentum.  As the story goes, you need “tough little weeds and mosses” (Teacher leaders) to move first.  Teacher leaders make the path easier for the “delicate plants” (People on the fence) to join them.

“Rather than waste his winter worrying about the garden, Liam spent it preparing for spring” (p. 16).
Liam was not satisfied and continued to better himself by learning about proper gardening techniques and reflecting on the previous spring, summer, and fall.  Effective leadership is about proper preparation and having a growth mindset.  An effective leader is continuously improving. The leader should be the lead learner, they should be at the forefront of best practice. Preparation and creating a path that all can understand is key for a successful organization.

Leadership by example:
“But the most surprising things that popped up were the new gardeners” (p. 24).

Liam gained momentum and other people began to come out – to help the curious garden expand.  Because of Liam’s leadership he inspired others to take part.  Leadership is about leading by example.  Effective leaders create cultures where people work together, and they take pride in their work.  They feel comfortable and trust the leader to take risks.  Liam provided the guidance and set the example needed to change the community.  Members of the community in the story bought into the changes established by Liam, because they trusted him. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

My speech to the class of 2014

I want to talk today about the significance of grit.  Grit is the quality that enables individuals to work hard and stick to their long term passions and goals. 

I encourage you to reflect on your passions and what you want to accomplish in life from this day forward.  It is extremely important that you are passionate in whatever line of work you enter.  That is what will drive you towards personal and professional success. 
I am very interested in understanding how some students make it in life when they have everything stacked up against them.  What is that allows students with every at risk factor to succeed?

Angela Lee Duckworth is a researcher and has been conducting ground breaking studies on grit.  Grit is optimism. To be gritty is to be resilient in the face of failure or adversity.  So when times get tough, which they will, or they have already – How do you respond? When you are gritty you respond with optimism - the belief that if I work hard I can get through this tough patch. 

According to Duckworth grit is also about having consistent interests – and focused passions over time. 

Duckworth studied the relationship between grit and high achievement at West Point Military Academy.  She compared the Whole Candidate Score which included the SAT, class rank, leadership ability and physical aptitude in their short questionnaire on grit.  They found that the Whole Candidate Score which was the Army's predictor of success had no relation on whether a candidate would complete the program.  You see it wasn't about test scores, it was about how resilient the person was.

Grit predicts success over and beyond talent. 

It isn't talent that causes success, although it does help.  It is resiliency that is the greatest predictor of success for kids.  How many of us know people that were the most talented people in the world, but falter in life?

What about talent?  Can talent alone bring success without grit? According to Duckworth grit and talent either aren’t related at all or are actually inversely related.  In terms of academics – if you’re just trying to get an A or trying to get to some threshold and you’re really talented you may only do homework for a few minutes.  You get to a certain level of proficiency – then you stop – so you actually work less hard. 

Think about this if you are a talented individual.  If you are really good at something do you stop when you have reached a certain level? Push yourself! It is the people that are talented and gritty at the same time that push the boundaries of success. 

People who can set long-term goals and stick to them have a leg up on success in school and life. 

The sky is the limit for all of you sitting out there.  I can promise you that success doesn’t come easy and there will be plenty of ups and downs on your journey in life.  Don’t be afraid to fail – embrace it and learn from it!

As parents and educators we need to instill the attitude of "I can get better if I try harder" in our kids.  Encourage them to be resilient and help them to understand that failure is not the end of the world. Failure is an option, and helps us to become resilient.  

To wrapup I will finish with the famous words of Dr. Seuss, “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You're on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who'll decide where to go...” 

“You're off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, So... get on your way!”