Monday, March 31, 2008

Thought for the Week - 3/31/08

"The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant." - Max DePree

Many of the leaders we talk to and work with are apprehensive about the concept of Servant Leadership. Actually, it is not the "concept" of Servant Leadership that they are uncomfortable about, it is the implementation.

We believe that one of the hardest skills for a leader to learn is the fine art of delegation. Some leaders believe that Servant Leadership means that you abdicate your role, responsibility and authority as a leader. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Effective Servant Leaders never abdicate, the delegate. They are clear about what they expect, that set clear and reasonable parameters, the provide the necessary support and resources, and they remain in touch and available as needed.

What do you consider to be the hardest thing about delegation?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Thought for the Week - 3/24/08

“Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood.” – Stephen Covey

We have often heard that effective communication is a critical skill needed for success. Whether we are leading, supervising, teaching, selling or any other job, communication skills are important.

We believe, however, that there is an even more important skill ... the skill of silence.
Are you willing to simply listen? How much more powerful would your communication be if you were actually "invited" to communicate.

Stephen Covey suggests that we should be listening and asking questions first. Then, when we do this well, Covey believes, people have a tendency to invite us to share our thoughts and opinions. When this happens, we are set up, even before we say a word, to be heard by the other person.

What do you think?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Leading the "Shift" in International Education: Managing Change and Transition

In discussing the topic of “Leading the "Shift" in International Education: Managing Change and Transition,” the first question which needs to be answered is: “What is Internal Education”? Not as easy a question to answer as it might seem. In fact, it seems the more I research the field of International Education, the more definitions I seem to fine. However, for our purposes, I will simply define International Education in its broadest sense as an educational experience provided to non-resident children (or children with dual citizenship) living in a foreign country.
The second logical question is: “What do you mean by the “‘Shift’ in International Education”? This is a little easier to answer. Like all education throughout the world, International Education is experiencing the growing pains associated with the 21st Century – particularly those associated with emerging technology and expanding access to information. (For more details on Shifting School/International Education see and

So what’s the purpose of this post? That’s an easy one. The purpose of this post is to talk about managing the complexities of both change and transition in an international school environment.

Change and Transition

Have you ever heard people say:

“I wish we would just slow down.”
“Why do we always have to change?”
“Can’t we just leave things alone?”
“It’s working fine just the way it is.”
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Maybe you’ve even said some of these yourself. Do you feel like the only constant in your organization’s life is change itself? Well, you’re not alone. Welcome to the 21st Century! One of the most challenging issues in organizations and business today is change. Typically, we either make change happen so quickly that people don’t have time to get on board and make it happen effectively, or we’re not given enough time to do what it takes to see change occur when it needs to. Some people love change and others hate it. But one thing is for sure, change happens.
Change and Transition - Are They One in the Same?
Let’s start with "change":

“…to make a shift from one to another”
“…to make radically different”
“…give a different position, course, or direction to”
“…to replace with another”
“…to pass from one phase to another”
“…to undergo transformation, transition, or substitution”
These are just a few of the definitions that Webster’s Dictionary provides for the word change. If you notice, you see nothing about stability, sameness, stagnation, or stopping.
Webster’s Dictionary says that the word change is a verb. The word itself, therefore, implies movement or action.
On the other hand, one important component of the “change process” that is often overlooked and underestimated is the concept of "transition". Webster’s defines transition as a “passage from one state, stage, subject, or place to another…”
Sounds a lot like change, doesn’t it? That is where the problem lies. Organizations and businesses today see change and transition as one in the same. We believe, however, that they are very different. According to William Bridges (Managing Transitions, 2003), “It isn’t the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions.” So what is the difference between change and transition?

First, we believe, as the following story suggests, that it is important to understand that change and transition are absolutely connected and inseparable.
Bill has been teaching at the same school for 15 years. He has been a faithful and loyal educator. Bill’s principal, Karen, has always given him very positive end-of-the-year reviews. Bill is a model teacher. On Monday morning Karen announced to the faculty that the technology department was going to replace their computers. Karen said they were going to do this the next morning, so they needed to back up any files they did not want to lose. Everyone went back to their classrooms, except Bill. He just sat there looking stunned.
Later that day Karen noticed that Bill wasn’t looking very good. She asked if everything was alright and Bill hesitantly said yes.
The next day came and the technology staff came through and replaced the computers. This process only took an hour or two for each computer. They were very well trained and very efficient at their jobs. When Bill saw his new computer he was in a complete panic. He could do nothing except just stare at the new monitor. Nothing looked the same. He tried to find his documents but they were no where to be found.
A couple of days later Karen noticed that Bill was still not looking well. She asked if everything was alright. Once again, Bill mustard the strength to say yes. Karen wasn’t so sure this time, so she sat down with Bill. Karen said she noticed that his enthusiasm for teaching had dropped off over the last few days and he just didn’t seem himself. Finally, Bill broke down and said that he was totally lost with his new computer. He was angry and frustrated that his computer was replaced without even being asked. Bill said that he had just gotten used to his old computer and now he has a new one and can’t find anything.
Can anyone else relate to Bill? Oh sure, it may not be as simple as a new computer, but have you had change occur without any regard for you? You see, the change (new computer) only took a couple of hours to implement. This is where most schools and organizations stop. The change has been implemented successfully because they see the new computers on everyone’s desk. However, transition has been ignored.

Our Struggle with Loss

“Change implies making … an essential difference, often amounting to a loss of original identity” (Webster’s Dictionary). If you notice, in this definition of change, the concept of loss is introduced. When change occurs, loss also occurs. Unless we allow opportunity for people to deal with the losses associated with change (transition), the change never really is implemented effectively. In other words, "change" is the what and "transition" is the how.
Bill’s computer was replaced within a couple of hours (the what), but no one ever considered Bill’s emotional ability to manage this change (the how). Some of the other teachers were thrilled to receive a new computer and couldn’t wait for it to arrive. Bill, on the other hand, struggled with technology and he had just gotten used to his old computer. The idea of a new one was very scary for him. No one gave Bill the time to deal with the loss of not only his old computer, but more importantly, no one gave Bill time to deal with the fear that came with his new technology.
Managing Change and Transition

Okay, so now we know the difference between change and transition. So What? What can/should we do as leaders to help ensure that both the change and the transition go as smoothly as possible?

In order to be effective leaders, we need to involve the people affected by the change (students, teachers, parents, staff, etc.) in the change process. We need to allow a process to occur which deals with people’s emotions. There needs to be intentional efforts made to allow people to experience their losses and deal with their emotions.
According to the work of Kotter and Cohen ("The Heart of Change: Real Life Stories of How People Change Their Organizations"), it is critical to show employees the need for the change by capturing the emotions in the issue at hand. They suggest the following 8 step process to motivate staff to action based on their feelings:
1. Increase Urgency
2. Build the Guiding Team
3. Get the Vision Right
4. Communicate for Buy-In
5. Empower Action
6. Create Short-Term Wins
7. Don't Let Up
8. Make Change Stick
According to Kotter and Cohen, in order for change to be successful, all 8 steps must be followed and all 8 must be followed in the right sequence. Naturally, however, as is true for all we do as leaders, the difficulty is not in the theory, the difficulty is in the implementation.

Implementing Change in International Schools
Implementing effective change can be especially difficult in an international environment, as not only do you have individual difference to be concerned about, you also have cultural difference in how people deal with change and transition as well. This is clearly a case where one size does not fit all.
Always remember, people are unique. We don’t all adjust emotionally at the same pace or in the same direction. You will always find individuals who accept and embrace change easily and quickly. You will also always find people who need more time and support to work through the change process. This can be particularly problematic in an environment where both the students and the staff (both faculty and administration) are often, as one international educator described them, “nomadic.” Successfully implementing a major change initiative is hard enough given individual difference in tolerance to change, but when you are never sure how long those most involved in the change process are going to be around, it is even harder to both motive people and keep the momentum going.
In addition to these varying individual differences, international schools must also be sensitive to the cultural difference they may face in terms of reactions from members of the local community, including members of the schools Board. Just as individuals react differently to change and go through different transitional processes, so to do different cultures react differently to change and many have different rituals and/or practices to deal with transition.
Final Thoughts

We would strongly recommend that based on the complexities that come with both individual and cultural differences in how people react to and deal with loss, that international schools view change from a strategic perspective and only introduce those changes which are necessary in any given time period and only after a thorough process/period of preparation has been employed.

We would also strongly recommend that international schools use one of the many “facilitative” processes out there for leading change and transition. By involving all those who will be impacted by the change from the very beginning, you will increase the likelihood of both buy-in and support for the change and will reduce the negative affect of the transition process on the school as whole. Given the transitory nature of the international school staff, it is critical that throughout the process, leadership must be alongside the staff to ensure that staff will receive assistance as needed.
Finally, do not assume that people don’t care or are unwilling to get on board with the change. Take the time to involve them, to engage them and support them through their emotional reactions to the change. You will be surprised to find that some of your greatest advocates of the change you desire will be those who struggled with it the most in the beginning.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Working Internationally

One of the most exciting things which has happened to us as a business this past year is that we have the good fortune to be working with a very exciting new international secondary school (Hsinchu International School) located in Hsinchu, Taiwan. This has been a very rewarding experience which has resulted in the decision that one member of our team (Rick Pierce) will be spending the current semester (Feb – June, 2008) full-time in Hsinchu.

Working/consulting internationally has taught us a great deal about ourselves, our business, but most of all about the numerous challenges which must be faced when working overseas. The items listed below represent a few of the most significant issues which we have face and which most companies/individuals working overseas will face at one time or another:

Culture – Perhaps the most challenging issues which need to be faced are those involving cultural differences which exist in the country you find yourself working in.

Language - Among the most obvious challenges are those related to language. While it may not be necessary to become fluent in the native language, it is a definite advance, and a sign of true respect to at least become familiar with the basic greetings.

Customs – Of equal importance to building positive relationship with your overseas clients/customers is learning common social gestures and basic expectations. This can become extremely important when it comes time to negotiate and agree upon a working contract. (There is nothing worse than insulting someone by starting business to soon or ignoring local customs and expectations.)

Food – It is always helpful to familiarize yourself with the local foods of the country you will be visiting/living in. If you are not careful, you can either find yourself eating something which violates your own personal or religious customs, or you can find yourself insulting your host/hostess by your reaction to the food being served. In addition, if you are not careful about what you eat or drink, you can very quickly find yourself not feeling well, or in some cases violently ill.

Travel – Another critical area to consider is travel time and conditions. If is important that you schedule your travel so as to leave yourself enough time to recover from the “jet lag” before having to function at a high level of proficiency. Naturally, this will differ from person to person, but at a minimum you want to insure yourself a good nights sleep if at all possible.

Health – A third critical area of concern is health care.

Insurance - It is always a good idea to check with your insurance company to make sure you are covered in case of accident and/or illness while traveling.

Medications – It is also important to make sure you have an adequate supply of both prescription and over the counter medications to see you through your entire trip.

Records – As is true whenever you travel, it is important that you keep any important information regarding allergies or other medical conditions easily accessible with your other important documents.

From our experience, working internationally can be an extremely exciting and rewarding experience. Like all good things, however, your experience will be enhanced if you slow down, learn about the culture you will working in, make sure you have all your documents in order, plan ahead, and do everything you can to find some time to enjoy the uniqueness of the any country you have the opportunity to visit.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Thought for the Week - 3/17/08

"Leaders are made, not born. You learn to become a leader by doing what other excellent leaders have done before you. You become proficient in your job or skill, and then you become proficient at understanding the motivations and behaviors of other people." - Brian Tracy

There is an old saying that suggests "when a mind opens, a teacher will appear." It is our hope and desire that this Blog can serve as a "teacher", a resource to all who wish to become better leaders - including ourselves.

While we have the luxury of spending our days studying and thinking about leadership, we are well aware that most leaders need to spend the majority of their time focusing on that which they are responsible for leading. Our goal is to share with you the best thinking in the field in a condensed and easily accessible format.

Please share with us your thoughts, comments and questions about leadership (or any other related topic) so that we can share with you what the "experts" are saying about he subject.

Enjoy the site and we look forward to hearing from you. -Rick & Jim-

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Do You Have It? Do You Even Know What "It" Is?

I wasn’t quite sure what I was doing there. I knew that the C.E.O. felt that “things just weren’t going right” within his organization, but it was difficult to pin him down on exactly what that meant. However, while sitting at lunch later that day in the XYZ Corporation cafeteria, I overheard the following conversation: (John) “No one understands me. They don’t know what I am capable of doing for them.” (Mary) “If they would only take the time to listen to me once in awhile.” (Bob) “What does it matter, they don’t care anyway. I just show up and put my time in.” (Sally) “I keep my mouth shut - I don’t want trouble because it is not worth it anyway. They’re not going to listen to me or do anything about it.” (John) “I am so upset and hurt – I just feel like quitting but I need health insurance for the family.”

What is the problem with these people? What are they so upset about?

It’s always amazed me. It seems that some people get it and some don’t. Growing up I assumed that everyone got it. As I got older I began to think that maybe just my friends got it and the adults were exempt from it. Then as I reached young adulthood it hit me. It’s not a matter of age or where you were raised. Not even a matter of who you are. It just seems that some people get it and some don’t. Over the years it has become oh so clear to me that not enough people get it.

So What Is “IT”…

By this time you are probably wondering what “it” is? “It” is the understanding of people. It’s the ability to see people as people and not as things or a means to satisfy one’s own needs. Many people believe that the types of people who don’t understand this are big business people who are trying to get rich off the work of others. Unfortunately, however, this problem is all too common in non-profit, as well as for-profit organizations. It exists within business, education, everywhere that people are gathered together.

To many readers, this may sound crazy or just plain obvious. I wish it were so obvious. The more I try to understand organizations and people the more I realize that it is a smaller and smaller number of individuals who truly understand how to care for people, how to treat people, how to motivate people through pure and honest service to others.

More and more leaders today still do not understand that in order to be successful, in order to inspire and motivate people, it takes more than being told what to do and given a paycheck. It is simply no longer acceptable to lead through negative manipulation, force, and outright deceit. The days of employees being grateful to their bosses because they were given a job and then be willing to be abused, under appreciated, and ignored are over. There is a new age of leadership emerging which focuses on caring for and serving others.

There are a lot of names for this style of leadership. But, no matter what we call it, or what we don’t call it, the characteristics and traits are easily seen if we are willing to look for them. Some leaders are beginning to understand and practice the need to be more than simply a content expert in their field. True leaders need to be experts in people as well. People are not all that different when it comes right down to it. We all have a need to be loved and cared for. We all want to be understood and appreciated. We all need to have meaning in our lives that goes deeper than simply making money or doing what the boss says. We are a people that desires to seek and find long term meaning in our lives. Some call this a legacy. What ever we call it, we all have an innate desire to leave something behind. To leave behind something that people will remember us by.

Putting “It” Into Practice

Effective leaders need to not only understand this, but to put it into practice. One way this can be accomplished is through effective communication and listening skills. This can also be accomplished through conflict resolution and crisis management skills. These are not new concepts. However, there is an even more important way in which we need to lead - we need to lead with our hearts.

I know that much of the world today may say this is crazy, that we can not afford to set ourselves up for vulnerability. That we need to value strength, power, and control. These are not bad things to value if valued properly. Unfortunately, however, we often miss the boat on where true strength, control, and power come from.

True strength, power and control come through showing our vulnerabilities. They come through our weaknesses – our ability to be human. They come from other people. Our ability to be human is one of our greatest gifts. It is exactly this style of leadership that people are asking for. Leaders who care for people and hold high standards for behavior, performance, and attitudes are seen as inspiring and motivating. These leaders are seen taking risks and reaching out to people. They are the leaders who see something in others that most refuse to see. These leaders allow room for mistakes and risks; they provide support and resources along with positive coaching and strong feedback that builds people up.

It is time that we as leaders and followers start to expect, no demand, a new era of leadership. We need to stop acting like victims and stand up and be leaders ourselves. Schools, businesses and other organizations need to consider the long term benefits of placing a high degree of emphasis on taking care of their employees. This is not only about salary, retirement plans, and medical benefits. One way to accomplish this is to invite staff to share their thoughts and ideas and to take risks through innovative ideas. These types of behaviors can only occur when employees feel safe and cared for. This is truly the greatest gift that a leader can give to their employees.

Do you have “It?” What will your legacy be?