Posts in education
Educational Insights from the Business World

Without question, there are several significant differences between the roles and goals of educators and those the ply their trade in the business world. Perhaps most significant is how the two groups measure success.

Educators are focused primarily on student learning and development. To them, a healthy fiscal bottom line is a means through which they can achieve their goals, not an end to itself. Businesspeople, in contrast, are mainly interested in developing successful, profitable enterprises. Learning and development are viewed as necessary to help businesses and their people grow, but do not constitute a primary objective for most businesses.

The fundamental difference of purpose that separates schools from businesses often lends members of each camp to think that there is little to be learned from the other. This, in my view, is particularly true for educators. As a former teacher and principal, I felt a fundamental disconnect from what was occurring in the for-profit world. Many of my peers and colleagues expressed similar sentiment. Any time that I heard of some lay leader or governmental initiative to make schools more like businesses, I became suspicious. “What do they know about education anyway?”, I would ask.

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A Shortcut to Experience

A story is told about a reporter who was interviewing a successful bank president. He wanted to know the secret of the man’s success. "Two words”, he was told, “right decisions.” “And how do you make right decisions?” asked the reporter. The reply: “One word: experience.” The reporter pressed on. “And how do you get experience?” he asked. To which the banker replied, “Two words: wrong decisions.”

We all recognize the importance of job and life experience, especially for leaders. Experience gives leaders context for important decisions that they must make and insight into how best to lead, motivate and respond to their people. Experienced leaders have been through the wringer before and can use their past learning and decisions to guide them moving forward.

Yet, for many new leaders, experience can be hard to come by. And in today’s fast-changing, competitive environment in which more and more young people are assuming leadership roles, it can be critical for them to find ways to gain experience quickly in order to ensure that they make as few “wrong decisions” as possible, for their own sake as well as for those that they lead.

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How to Come of Age in Style

This past week, my son Chaim celebrated his 13th Hebrew birthday and became a bar mitzvah. My wife and I reveled in the moment that was shared by family and close friends.

Literally, the term bar mitzvah means “son of a mitzvah (commandment)” and is intended to convey that a young Jewish man who has come of age is now obligated in the fulfillment of divine commandments as an adult male. (The same holds true for young Jewish women when they reach the age of twelve.)

But this milestone is so much more than a simple transition from childhood to adulthood (the Torah offers no such concept as adolescence). In fact, it represents three very important transitions in a young person’s life that can serve as a lesson for us all.

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Taking the Fear out of Change

Few words scare people like “change.” While we know that change is critical for organizations who want to stay cutting edge and prepare for the future, the fact is that change and disruption are hard on individuals and teams. They mess with our routines, raise questions about proper procedure and protocol, and force us to change our behaviors. Worst of all, they create a fundamental baseline of uncertainty, which cause many to descend into fear and doubt.

So what can leaders so to manage change effectively in the organizations and with their teams? The following are strategies to help manage change effectively:

1.       Set the expectation that change is inevitable – Communicate your vision of a dynamic and evolving organization, where progress and change are inevitable. When a major shift happens, your people will be more likely to accept it as a matter of course.

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Making Good on this Last Chance

This past Sunday I traveled to Phoenix in order to present at a national conference for school business officials. When my teenagers found out where I was going, my trip quickly took on new meaning. To them, the conference was really only a means to a loftier purpose, which was to shop at a local clearance store called Last Chance.

For the uninitiated (which included this author until very recently), Last Chance is Nordstrom’s only true clearance store in the country (as opposed to Nordstrom Rack, which offers savings when compared to Nordstrom stores but not to this degree). Clothes, shoes and accessories that end up here are sometimes new, sometimes used, and often damaged. This merchandise comes to Phoenix because it was accepted as a return somewhere along the way and could not be sold in any other Nordstrom store. Last Chance sells it at steep discount, and offers shoppers hope that they might to get their hands on high-end Italian and other products that would otherwise be cost prohibitive for them. As you might imagine, shopping at this store has the feeling of being part Marshall’s, part Grand Central Station, and part Black Friday.

For me, it was quite the experience. Shopping for my children with my outdated sense of style is hard enough (especially as one is a girl, for whom I was told that I have no sense of fashion). To do so while navigating through the bustling store made matters all the more interesting. Suffice it to say that any return trip to Phoenix will go unmentioned to my kids.

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Walking the tightrope of life

Too many folks have confused priorities or, at the least, lose out on the means in order to enjoy the ends. We all know that life is about more than money, perks and notoriety. We have to be able to live, not just work. And for too many of us, this crucial balance gets lost in the rat race.

Folks with strong work-life balance:

  1. Lead purposeful lives. Balanced people give serious thought to how they want to live their lives. They confer with those who are most important to them and develop and then commit to a road map that will help them get there.
  2. Adjust as needed. Like most things in life, well-conceived plans can easily go sideways if we let them. People who stay on track continually ponder and dialogue about what is working or not, and adjust as needed.
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Know Your Why

In a moving video talk, comedian Michael Jr. describes the power of knowing your “why.” In it, he showed an audience a clip from a different event, in which he asked a member of that audience to sing the opening stanzas from “Amazing Grace.” The gentleman, a music teacher, began in a deep baritone and sang the refrain flawlessly.

After praising his performance, the comedian asked the teacher to do it again, but this time painted a scenario of true appreciation, such as a family member being released from prison. Not surprisingly, the second performance far outshone the first. This time, the song was performed with added feeling and emotion. The words were more animated and the tone was deeper and richer. Michael Jr. concluded that, “When you know your ‘why’ then your ‘what’ has more impact, because you’re working towards your purpose.”

Leadership expert Simon Sinek calls this “the golden circle.” He says that it’s not enough to know what you do and how you do it. At our essence, we are most motivated by knowing why we do things. And it’s through that awareness that we can best connect with and sell to others.

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Why Emotional Intelligence Matters

Oftentimes, the biggest obstacle for a new leader has little to do with how well she knows the job or whether she possesses the right technical skills. In fact, most leadership experts identify poor interpersonal qualities and practices as the main reason that so many new leaders stumble out of the gate. They suggest that such relational transgressions as not communicating often, not being available for people on a consistent basis, and being unpredictable emotionally are primary contributors to new leaders failing to gain traction.

These and other negative interpersonal behaviors may mean that a person is weak in the area of Emotional intelligence (EI.) EI refers to a person’s ability to understand and manage his/her personal emotions and interpersonal conduct, as well as those of the people around him/her. People who rank high in EI are in tune with their feelings and emotions and can accurately predict how they might affect other people.

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Being an abundant mentor

Mentoring programs typically fail because one or more positive ingredients listed above are missing. Without question, the mentor’s head has to be fully in the game. When I first began as a head of school, I was assigned an experienced mentor from a different school on the other side of the country. He agreed to help me as a favor, and, predictably, as the school year progressed and his schedule became increasingly more filled, our time together dwindled to the point that the relationship had practically ended on its own.

In addition, a mentor has to be able to earn the protégé’s trust. That is not as simple as it sounds. In addition to demonstrating capacity, effective mentors find ways to make their protégés genuinely feel that they have the mentor’s best interests in mind.

One great way by which to build such trust is to think in abundance. Abundance theory sees the world as offering infinite possibilities. It suggests that not only is there plenty to go around (the opposite of scarcity thinking) but it also posits that my helping others will help me, in terms of sharpening my skillset and building increased capacity and demand within the field.

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