Tuesday, March 27, 2012

It's a Tenth Avenue freeze out (The Boss)

Please excuse the temporary absence of posts this week. I am in transit back to New Zealand. Normal transmission should resume shortly!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Gotta make it through the tunnel, got a meeting with the man on the other side (Bruce Springsteen)

A colleague sent me a link to an article on the CNN site recently. I read it, liked it and then began reading another one on knowing your leadership superpower. I'm a sucker for this kind of pop culture reference.


I love the central idea about identifying working with your core strengths rather than your weaknesses. They are of course standard interview questions - what are your strengths (leadership powers)? What are your weaknesses (kryptonite factors)? But this article suggests turning that second question around and saying - forget about your weaknesses and play to your core strengths.

Got me to thinking about my own leadership power.

It's difficult for us to focus on strengths but this week I've been farewelled in a variety of ways and my friends and colleagues have focused on a common superpower - my ability to build relationships.

It seems I have hit on the the right balance, where I can play to my own strengths and let my team play to theirs.

Perhaps that's why, when I was growing up, my favourite comic book superheros were The Fantastic Four.

It's a story of husband and wife, brother and sister and brother-in-law, and friendship. The team play to their individual strengths but only win against the evil doers when they combine their powers.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Eddie waited till he finished high school; he went to Hollywood, got a tattoo. He met a girl out there with a tattoo too; the future was wide open (Tom Petty)

An American reader from OnlineEducation.net sent me this graphic to critique, which I did.

Why America's Education Isn't Worth the Money
Via: OnlineEducation.net

The most striking thing about it, apart from the grammatical error ('one out of four...don't graduate') was the alarming statistic about 7,000 students dropping out of school every day.


So, say American high schools work for 180 days a year (as do schools in the UAE and NZ), that's a whopping 1,269,000 students a year that leave school before they graduate.

Where do they go? What do they do? What is the cost to the nation?

But I guess the question that the American education system needs to ask is WHY?

An excellent fact sheet on American school drop outs is available at http://www.all4ed.org/files/GraduationRates_FactSheet.pdf . According to them there is no single identifiable reason.

The next biggie is - What can be done to stop this tragedy?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Yawm 'asal wa yawm basal (one day honey, one day onions)

Only one week to go before the end of the Trimester and my return to New Zealand.

Putting a lid on the Middle Eastern experience is difficult because the relationships that have been established are deep ones.

I guess it's natural that I have bitter/sweet feelings at this juncture. It's a time for looking back with a lot of satisfaction, and a time to look forward to the next phase of my life back in NZ. At the moment I'm not exactly sure what that will be apart from settling into our new Hawke's Bay farmlet.

The present is what occupies my thoughts more than those things though. I'm now moving through lame duck status by moving rapidly towards the end of the trimester, even though a successor has not been found for me yet.

The lame duck stages I'm following are as follows:


The reflection/acceptance stages were a few posts back. They come pretty quickly after the phone call to the boss and he doesn't say we'll double your salary if you stay!

Self criticism is mandatory for teachers. The guilt is never far below the surface for us educationalist types but then I became resigned to the fact that these were my last weeks as an educational consultant in the gulf and that's where you find me now. That and waiting for the final farewells next week and the withdrawal from Al Ain and the UAE soon after that.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Oh I knowww, I knowwww (Sybil Fawlty)

The McKinsey Quarterly had a guide to better listening recently. This is an area of interest to me because I am often annoyed by people who don’t listen well.

You know the poor listener types:
The pseudo listener nods the head a lot, and adds insincere comments like ‘How interesting’ and ‘I see’ because they are too busy thinking about their own opinions and what they want to say instead of listening to you.
The continual talker/ non listener never shuts up. Continually interrupts conversations. Loves the sound of their own voice.
The critic misses clues to your underlying feelings because they are too busy looking for facts.
The ‘I’m in a hurry’ listener never slows down long enough to look you in the eyes and find conversation. Talks and listens while doing other jobs.
The bored listener also doesn’t look you in the eyes. Other body language stresses that he/she refuses to give their full attention. They would rather talk to someone else as their eyes scan the room behind you.
The aggressive listener has contempt for others’ ideas. In meetings and conversations this person is usually waiting to interrupt/jump in over you and point out mistakes- usually interrupting conversations and making the speaker feel inferior.

The guide made three simple suggestions for people that, if followed, would reduce the number of poor listeners.


All three are crucial cornerstones of good listening. The first two are succinct and self explanatory. The third needs a little further comment.

To listen well we have to be prepared to challenge long-held and cherished assumptions. Then there is a miraculous world of new possibilities.

This takes real effort because it flies against human nature. We need to force ourselves to shelve prejudices and assumptions and shake up our thinking…and become better listeners.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Where there is no vision the people perish (Proverbs 29: 18)



What springs to mind?  

70-year-old Frank went for his annual physical. He told the doctor that he felt fine, but often had to go to the bathroom during the night. Then he said, "But you know Doc, I'm blessed. God knows my eyesight is going, so he puts on the light when I pee, and turns it off when I'm done!"

A little later in the day, Dr. Smith called Frank's wife and said, "Your husband's test results were fine, but he said something strange that has been bugging me. He claims that God turns the light on and off for him when uses the bathroom at night."

Estelle exclaimed, "That old fool! He's been peeing in the refrigerator again!"

This post is dedicated to Frank and Estelle, the director of the U.S. patent office who resigned In 1875, saying that there was nothing left to invent, and to Dick Rowe who famously lacked the vision to recognize the talent inside John Paul George and Ringo, declaring that “guitar groups are on their way out, Mr. Epstein".

Vision, as everyone knows, is the core of leadership.

Vision is seeing what life could be like while dealing with life as it is.

Poor Dick Rowe could not listen to the rough chaotic versions of Besame Mucho, The Sheik of Araby, or Three Cool Cats and hear the fabs’  humour, notice their spark, glimpse the potential, or see what Brian Epstein had seen. He failed to see the possibilities. George Martin could though.

George had vision. He could see the potential purpose hidden in the chaos of the moment. His vision would see the birth of new possibilities, not only for The Beatles themselves but for music, for Britain and for the whole world.

Brian Epstein had hawked the audition tapes and been turned down everywhere. All had agreed with Dick Rowe’s assessment.

Imagine if he hadn’t come across the young George Martin who was in charge of a label that made comedy records! Imagine if George had had no vision!

The Beatles would have slunk back to Liverpool. Maybe they’d have stayed together. Maybe they would have gained success through other means. Maybe they would have gone into other artistic fields. Luckily that alternative bizarro world doesn’t exist. And that is down to George Martin’s vision.

Vision deals with those deeper human intangibles that alone give ultimate purpose to life.
[Next post - more on vision as I reveal my top visionaries!]

I will sit right down, waiting for the gift of sound and vision (David Bowie)


First – some defining comments: a visionary is variously described as a person given to fanciful speculations and enthusiasms with little regard for what is actually possible, a dreamer, a person with unusual powers of foresight.

I love dreamers, I love working for dreamers (where have they gone?), and I love being a dreamer. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.

My favourite visionaries and something of their thoughts

George Martin When I have a gut feeling about something, I've generally been right. And when I've listened to experts, they've invariably been wrong.

John F Kennedy/ Robert Kennedy There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why... I dream of things that never were, and ask why not? (R.K.)

Allen Ginsberg Follow your inner moonlight; don't hide the madness.

William Wordsworth We have within ourselves/ Enough to fill the present day with joy,/ And overspread the future years with hope.

John Lennon/Yoko Ono A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality. Y.O. Imagine… J.L./Y.O.

Albert Einstein We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.

George Lucas 'Star Wars' is fun, it’s exciting, it’s inspirational, and people respond to that.

Lao Tze Be careful what you water your dreams with. Water them with worry and fear and you will produce weeds that choke the life from your dream. Water them with optimism and solutions and you will cultivate success. Always be on the lookout for ways to turn a problem into an opportunity for success. Always be on the lookout for ways to nurture your dream.

Nelson Mandela It always seems impossible until it’s done.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

I don't need to fight, to prove I'm right, I don't need to be forgiven (The Who)

I continue to be inspired by an address I heard at the International Confederation of Principals in Edinburgh 2003.

It was an address about Inspirational Leadership and it used Henry V to make its points.
I was cleaning up my files in preparation for my return to NZ at the end of March and I found my notes to this address.

Reading through them I found myself inspired again. I loved the connection between school leadership and Henry V (my favourite Shakespeare character in my favourite Shakespeare play). My notes from 2003 say – ‘can do this with other figures/stories – Luke Skywalker’.

So I thought I'd have a go and do a little chart to indicate the links.
§  How to sell a vision: authentic performance in presentation  S

The epic journey
Henry V
Luke Skywalker
The call to imagination

The chorus (a single narrator) says. ‘IMAGINE’
The sound and picture says, ‘SUSPEND YOUR DISBELIEF’
Act I
Assessing the past and
visioning the future

Henry lays out his vision for gaining the French crown
 In Star Wars, Luke comes to terms with the death of his family on Tattoine and accepts his destiny –  to become a Jedi and defeat the Empire.
Act II
Identifying inner personal resources and inner ‘traitors’
The preparation for the French campaign, dealing with traitors and critics. Gaining a critical mass of support
Luke battles his inner demons in his training with Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back
Act III:
Overcoming first blocks to success

The battle for Harfleur – Once more unto the breach, dear friends…
The capture of Han and Leia is overcome
Act IV
Crisis management - the dark night of the soul and inspiring the troops
Henry incognito visits and then inspires the troops before the battle
Luke strives to control his anger/hate in the face of the Emperor’s provocation in Return of the Jedi
Act V
Achieving the vision and turning the battlefield into a garden

The Battle of Agincourt followed by the wooing of Catherine of Valois
Luke rescues/redeems his father and defeats the Emperor in Return of the Jedi

 I want to explore the vision aspect, Act 1 from the chart, in the next post.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Bend me, shape me, anyway you want me, long as you love me it's alright (The Amen Corner)

There was recently a non hysterical story in the local press (it would have been different in the Nu Zild media) about PISA results and the large gap between boys and girls in the results.

I don't know why there is so much fuss about this each time a measure is released. Boys and girls mature at different rates - it takes us a while to catch up.

I've taught in boys' schools in NZ and I'm the lead advisor in a boys' school (all government schools are single sex throughout the U.A.E.). Boys' schools have a special atmosphere.

Joseph Driessen is something of an expert on boys' education (a cottage industry all to itself). He acknowledges the maturity rate when he suggests that it should be a long term commitment to boys and girls doing equally well. It takes us a while to catch up.
I'm happy to let nature take its course and instead concentrate not on the gap but on how to make schools better places for boys to learn in.
Some of our boys being addressed by a recent visitor
used to inspire them to learn and work hard
Here are three simple, common sense, things I've seen at Ali bin Abi Taleb School that other boys' schools in other cultures can easily do.
  • Boy friendly teaching - focus on our male strengths, on the things we love to do. That means using things like war, adventure, sport, slugs and snails, discovery, kinaesthetic methods in teaching and learning, and puppy dog tails.
  • Have good supportive relationships with boys - the teachers are respected because they are friendly, authoritative, personable, humorous, likeable and caring.
  • Strong male role models - all of the teaching staff at this school are male and many are excellent role models for the boys.
It's all pretty simple really - we're not really that hard to work out. Why not play to our strengths...and be patient?