It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint

Recently a TED talk by Angela Duckworth has appeared in my social media feed. Angela left a successful corporate career to become a teacher. She took a look at student success through a motivational and psychological perspective to try to understand, “Who is successful here and why?”

As she studied this question, she found that one characteristic was a significant predictor of success. That one characteristic is GRIT. What is grit? It is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina, sticking with your future—day in and day out—not just for the week or month, but for years. Grit is “Living life as a marathon, not a sprint.”

Ms. Duckworth conducted a study in the Chicago Public Schools with high school juniors. She then waited a year until they completed their senior year. Again, she found that those who graduated exhibited grit much more so than those who did not.

How do we encourage grit in others? One way is to teach and model the growth mindset, described in Carol Dweck’s work, Mindset. We know as coach leaders, that coaching exemplifies the growth mindset. Our ability to grow and change is not fixed. It is flexible. And coaching is not a fix-it mindset; coaching personifies a growth mindset.

There is no silver bullet for success. When you are promised results without the work, be wary. Successful schools do not become successful overnight nor do they remain successful without effort. Leading successful schools and successful education initiatives is not a sprint. It’s a marathon.

New Beginnings

new beginningsAs a lover of school and a lifetime student, I am always jazzed about starting a new school year. A major appeal is the opportunity for new beginnings each year. We don’t have to wait for a new year to have a new beginning, yet there is something about the flow of school calendars that makes this time an opportune one for reflection, goal setting, and the delicious anticipation of what lies ahead to be accomplished. Much reflection and planning has already taken place as the previous school year concludes, overlapping with getting ready for the new one. What remains is the buzz of excitement as new possibilities await!

Knowing it is crucial to motivate and inspire those we lead to create a sound beginning, we also must be ready for the marathon of staying the course when the new wears off and the work becomes hard.

Here are 12 crucial questions from Gallup’s Q12 Engagement Survey for coach leaders to be prepared to respond to now and throughout the year:

  1. I know what is expected of me at work.
  2. I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.
  3. At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
  4. In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.
  5. My supervisor or someone at work seems to care about me as a person.
  6. There is someone at work who encourages my development.
  7. At work, my opinions seem to count.
  8. The mission/purpose of my organization makes me feel my job is important.
  9. My associates or co-workers are committed to doing quality work.
  10. I have a best friend at work.
  11. In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.
  12. In the last year, I had opportunities to learn and grow.

Threads of our work at Results Coaching Global are present in these 12 “questions”. What connections are you noticing to the following?

  • The essential skills of listening, paraphrasing, presuming positive intent and reflective feedback
  • The trust research
  • Standards and Expectations
  • Positive psychology

Resolve to create a solid new beginning by intentionally connecting with all stakeholders through your coach leader identity. Create and sustain an environment of trust, motivation, and inspiration that is sustainable through good times as well as the more difficult times. Have a great new school year!

Ways to Blab Less

Summer Reading Connections – Part III

The last author, Dan, from Saturday Solutions offered a catchy title: Clarity without Blabbing. It caught my eye for the very reason that a reflective leader was working on self-assessment and decided he wanted to blab less and so he wrote Dan requesting some strategies. He was very wise in recognizing that he had a great team and that his over communicating must be very frustrating. The column author, Dan, responded with some very insightful information. What follows is an authentic response to what may seem humorous, and yet very important for a very unproductive pattern of communication.

First, Dan commended the leader for being self-aware and desiring to explore the power of piping down. Then he offered three reasons leaders become blabbers.

  1. Position, authority, and responsibility loosen lips. The person with the highest job title usually talks the most.
  2. Concern about unnecessary mistakes makes leaders jaw-flappers. It feels safer to say too much than too little. Talkative leaders are protecting people from wasting time and resources.
  3. Experience with people who nod in agreement, even when they’re confused, invites windy leaders to talk more.

As we read the above, no doubt a person or two may come to mind – even ourselves. Ouch!

And here are the recommendations made for us – “sometime blabbers.” 😊

1 – Set a positive goal: (for example) “I will be an effective concise communicator, not simply talking less. I will seek clarity and brevity.”

2 – Prepare: Leaders with the gift of gab need to prepare more than quiet introverts. It takes more preparation to speak effectively for a short time than for a long time.

  • With a project in mind, make a complete list of every topic you want to address.
  • Rank the items on your list in order of importance. Which items could be eliminated or combined? Start with big stuff.
  • Craft one or two sentences for each important item. Don’t begin with ad

3 – Leverage Relationships:

  • Include others in your development. Be transparent with your goal. It will set an example and strengthen connections.
    • Ask team members, “What suggestions do you have that might help me communicate with brevity and clarity?”
      • Explain the goal
      • Ask for suggestions
      • Dig into their ideas
      • Put one idea into practice during the next meeting.
    • Give a project to your team members. Explain your goal. Ask them to give you a knowing nod when they feel you’ve provided enough clarity. If you want to have fun, let them create the signal to you.
    • Seek feedback from team members regularly. (especially after meetings). Ask three questions:
      • What did I do that provided enough clarity?
      • What was I doing when I talked too long?
      • How might I communicate with brevity and clarity?

What a cool way for a leader to model self-awareness and self-assessment. Great leaders know that talking too long invites confusion, not clarity. Another reminder of how important it is to be authentic and always desire to “be” our best self.

Finding Time

Summer Reading Connections – Part II

Another really great article in my pile was by Thomas Oppong, Founder of Alltopstartups. Just look at all the connections for coach leaders who are always needing more time.


Time is the raw material of productivity. Time, not money, is your most valuable asset. Invest your asset carefully. Begin with building a system to protect your time. Warren Buffett says you can’t let other people set your agenda in life. There are 168 hours every week. Think about that. That is a monumental amount of time. Where could it go? Or better still where do you want to spend all those hours?

Principle 1: Start and end your day on purpose. “Either you run the day or the day runs you,” says Jim Rohn. If you have clarity of purpose every morning your focus will change. Steven Covey once said, “You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage pleasantly, smilingly, and non-apologetically – to say “no” to other things. And the best way to do that is by having a bigger YES burning inside.”

Principle 2: Manage your energy. Your brain consumes 20% of the body’s energy even though it only uses 2% of the body’s volume. This means that when your body lacks energy, your brain will suffer too. Concentration is like a muscle, it needs to rest to be able to function, and it shouldn’t be overworked otherwise it’ll simply burn out and take longer to get back into the swing of things. Build time in your day to take your mind off work and rejuvenate your brain. Work in sprints. Break up your workday into segments with 20 minutes between segments. We know the brain can only focus for 90-120 minutes at a time, so taking a break will bring renewal to the brain to have high performance. A break is biologically restorative. A break may include going outside, a walk down the hall, or a conversation with someone. A simple space of quiet – even 5 minutes – can allow your brain the time it needs to connect ideas bouncing around in your head.

Principle 3: Focus. Today, reclaim your ability to focus, to be mindful of what you are doing and you will create meaningful accomplishments every week. The more focused you are the higher the quality of work you’ll do and the more you’ll get done. The basic principle of success is focus. It is what makes the difference between those who are successful and those who are not, regardless of how much talent, resource, and energy that they have.

Principle 4: Start and end your day on purpose. This concept is not new. Build a work system for yourself. A system makes your goal real – it’s concrete, it gets you moving, and it helps you focus on long-term gains, instead of short-term wins. When you are in control of what to do, what is being done, and what has been accomplished, you will be in total control of your day. Work will be meaningful and fulfilling.

Yes, it’s hard, yet even a consistent application of even small habits will transform your life more effectively than striving for an overwhelmingly large goal without a consistent routine to achieve it. Be committed to building a habit of ‘deep work’ – the ability to focus without distraction. ‘Deep scheduling’ is a grand tool to combat constant interruptions and get more done in less time.

We know as a school leader these are challenging things to do – the work is demanding all the time. So, what can you control – what time of the day – once or twice a week? Being reflective about what you might do and can do will result in major focus on purpose – as often as time allows and it’s a beginning of a new habit that will give back more of that asset for play, for workouts, for fun!

Take Twelve for Leaders

Part I

From People Matters magazine, then again in Critical Thinking, January 2016, there is a look at the competencies of leadership for the future. Almost every article published from the Neuroscience or from business leader publications focus on skills needed by our leaders. We love to have conversations about these ideas in all our seminars. Let’s look and celebrate the insights from this latest list.

The rate of change has become greater than our ability to respond. The world is described as Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. Due to the major tectonic shifts, a new mindset of leadership is demanded. Traditional hierarchical structures are fading away to give way to purposeful networks and communities of people working together to achieve a shared purpose. It is reported that to succeed and thrive in the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world these 12 competencies are required.

  1. Develop an Adaptive Mindset: Be comfortable with unclear situations and unexplored paths. Giving and receiving early and frequent feedback will enable constant realignment.
  2. Have a Vision: Vision is a perpetual force, a critical anchor that drives decisions, actions and judgments. Having a compelling vision is a key driver of engaging and retaining high performing team members.
  3. Embrace Abundance Mindset: Abundance mindset sees possibilities where a constraint mindset sees challenges.
  4. Weave an Ecosystem for Human Engagement: An ecosystem of human engagement is created when leaders understand the basic driver of human engagement – the need for trust, the need to have hope, the need to feel a sense of work and the need to feel competent. Leaders who coach will clarify the meaning of the work people do and build a positive influence.
  5. Anticipate and Create Change: As leaders ride the wave of change, they will want to involve people in the process to prioritize and execute. Leaders nurture change by balancing the needs of the context, needs of others and their own needs.
  6. Self-Awareness: It is only when leaders are aware of their preferences, ways of working and blind spots that they bring their true authentic selves and thus, a significant difference to the team and the organization. (Emotional Intelligence)
  7. Be an Agile Learner: Leaders have to be constantly curious and carry a “beginners mind” which is also willing to give up familiar approaches. Leaders need meta-cognition and awareness of the bigger picture.
  8. Network and Collaborate: Leaders must collaborate relentlessly within and outside the organization; a social mindset of communication.
  9. Relentlessly Focus on the Customer: Customer centricity is and will remain at the heart of effective leadership. Customer centric leaders truly “listen” to their customer voices and build long term relationships.
  10. Develop People: Leadership in the new world is beyond tags and titles. Leaders must model the behaviors they seek, support people in building their skill set and attitude, create learning forums, design work to tap into potential and most importantly – lead thru influence not authority.
  11. Design for the Future: Leaders are designers of the future. They do so by building an emotional infrastructure, organizational structures, methods and processes. Leaders must have a compelling purpose shared by all.
  12. Constantly Clarify and Communicate: Communicating effectively is like a location pointer on a GPS – constantly clarifying the current situation with respect to the changing external demands. Leaders will reiterate and reinforce vision, values, and strategies and the meaning of the work.

The hallmark of this volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world is that there are no silver bullets. The future is here and now. Communication and clarity are the currencies of effective leadership. Leadership today is about shifting our mindset, values and organizations to a better place.

It is rewarding and exciting to hear the leaders in our seminars eager to have and develop these competencies.

Join me in our nugget for some thoughts about TIME.

Five Ways For Principals to Keep More Irreplaceable Teachers

Here are five tips from The New Teacher Project on ways for principals to keep more irreplaceable teachers. It’s all about sitting with teachers and having clear and authentic coaching conversations and providing reflective feedback to them. How do these tips match your current practices and what new ideas are coming to mind as you reflect on the information below?

    The best teachers want clarity. Use meeting or orientation time at the start of the year to rally teachers around a clear and specific definition of excellent teaching and a set of goals for making the school a better place for learning. Then, with the teacher, set individual goals aligned to that vision. Tell teachers that you will observe them frequently and that you will be honest when they are falling short. Be clear that ineffective teaching is not an option.
    Don’t let success be a secret. Set aside 5 to 10 minutes in regular meetings to publicly celebrate teachers who have done exceptional work in the classroom or achieved a notable milestone with their students. Congratulate them and tie what they’re doing to the school’s goals and vision of great teaching. Don’t praise everyone every time; nothing demoralizes Irreplaceables more than false praise for mediocre or poor performance.
  4. Make it hard to leave your school. List the teachers who are most critical to your school’s academic success and spend time with them. Observe them at work and offer regular feedback. Get to know their interests and development needs, help them access resources, and give them opportunities to grow their careers and increase their impact. Invest them in the school by involving them in decision-making, and make sure other school leaders treat them well, too.

    Many teachers use the winter holidays to think about what’s next. Set aside time after Thanksgiving to talk with your Irreplaceable and rising-star teachers about continuing to teach at the school next year. Tell them that they are irreplaceable and how much you want them to return. Ask them about their own interests and concerns, and if they are considering other options, ask what you can do to convince them to stay.
    Schools that refuse to tolerate poor teaching keep more of their top teachers. Inevitably, some teachers will struggle, despite good intentions and hard work. Be honest with them about their weaknesses, give them regular feedback and support, and set reasonable limits on how long they have to show significant improvement (months, not years). Make sure they don’t get mixed messages from other school administrators or coaches. However difficult it may be, do not allow unsuccessful teachers to linger.

Ways to Retain High Performing Teachers

male teacher holding booksWant to know what high-performing teachers say they desire to have in order to stay working at their current schools? The New Teacher Project report of 2012 says that three of four high-performing teachers with plans to leave their schools would stay if their top reasons for leaving improved. Here is what high performing teachers say they want. Notice how these desires align with schools where leaders demonstrate coach-like behaviors as they interact with staff, including having conversations where reflective feedback is a natural course of action by the leader.

How does this list align with your own actions to intentionally provide a culture where highflying teachers are eager to work and support the overall goals of the school and the school district? What else would you add to this list?

  1. Provide me with regular, positive feedback.
  2. Help me identify areas of development.
  3. Give me critical feedback about my performance informally.
  1. Recognize my accomplishments publically.
  2. Inform me that I am high performing.
  1. Identify opportunities or paths for teacher leader roles.
  2. Put me in charge of something important.
  1. Provide me with access to additional resources for my classroom.

What Will It Take?

What does it mean to be irreplaceable in the work world? Some might say it’s a reference to people who do their work at an exceptional or outstanding level. They are known as highflyers, super stars, indispensables and considered critical to the success of the organization. If we lost even one of these people, it would be a great loss to the organization and a real challenge to replace him or her; thus the term Irreplaceable. Irreplaceable teachers are those that have great success with advancing student learning and developing productive relationships with their students, parents of students and with other staff members. They are committed to the advancement of all students and the entire staff. Clearly, we don’t want to lose even one of these key staff members.

Yet, a current research study shows how some principals have lost teachers considered irreplaceable simply by not letting them know how much value they bring to the school. In July of 2012, The New Teacher Project (TNTP) released a report on a study they conducted related to ways to retain the top 20% of teachers, known as the irreplaceables, in large urban school districts. Here is a link to the entire report. Their findings give us all, whether in urban, suburban, large or small school districts, information to reflect on and consider as we close out one school year and prepare for another.

The report shares a story of an elementary teacher named Sarah, who had over three decades of successful results in large urban school districts. She intentionally came to a low performing school district in the south in response to her personal mission to serve students in great need and to share her expertise with others. Almost all of the twenty-four students assigned to her fourth-grade class spoke Spanish at home with limited English skills. However, by the time the spring testing for reading and math took place, all but one of her students passed the math test and all but four passed the reading test. These results were much higher than other classes at her school and throughout the district. Not only did Sarah’s students perform well on the academic exams, they also grew to enjoy school and developed a deep sense of care and concern for each other and for their teacher. Sarah loved working with the students, was committed to them and proud of their accomplishments. She had no intentions of leaving the school. Yet, as the school year came to a close, Sarah felt devalued, having received little recognition from school leaders for her efforts and accomplishments. She had not been asked to share her instructional expertise with others, and received no positive statements or support from leaders for the team-building approaches that helped boost her students’ performance.

In an environment of indifference and isolation, Sarah made the decision to leave the school at the end of the school year. She felt that even though her students had made extraordinary results in one year, their growth would not be sustained or expanded on if they were assigned to a poor teacher the following year.

When Sarah resigned, her principal did not say a word to her, he just signed her paperwork. The saddest part of this whole story is what Sarah had to say about the principal’s reaction. “If he would have said, ‘What’s it going to take for me to get you to stay?’ that’s all he had to do,” she said.

We know that this story is not playing out in the schools where you work and lead. You know the importance of providing your teachers with specific language that represents value for their work, contributions and accomplishments. You would never let an outstanding teacher walk away without finding out what it would take for him or her to stay. You know that your high performing teachers desire to hear you recognize their hard work and accomplishments as you also provide expanded leadership opportunities for them and challenge them to continue to stretch in their work. You know what it takes to keep your outstanding teachers feeling respected and appreciated. For that we thank you!

The Positivity Project: Making a Difference in the Lives of Students

In one of our recent seminars, one of our participants, Andy Camarda, principal of Lemon Road Elementary School in Fairfax County, Virginia, spoke about his school’s association with the Positivity Project. The Positivity Project is a 501c3 non-profit organization dedicated to empowering America’s youth to build strong relationships and to understand, appreciate, and exemplify the character strengths in us all. Students emerge with genuine self-confidence, greater appreciation for others, and stronger relationships by learning about the 24 positive character traits in all humans, regardless of culture, economics, or age. Inherit and deeply embedded in this work, is the idea that “other people matter” and students learn to think beyond themselves realizing the impact of their actions and words, supporting others when they struggle, believing that together we can achieve more, and cheering the successes of those around us. Therefore, the focus switches from solely academic achievement to relationships and purpose.

Each week, Lemon Road students learn about a particular character trait during their Morning Meeting. Some of the 24 universal traits include: gratitude, integrity, humility, kindness, zest, and optimism. Students discuss the traits with their classmates, identify ways to recognize them in others, and grow in their understanding of why exemplifying these traits is important. They appreciate the traits within themselves as well as their classmates. As a result, student relationships deepen with each other and with their teachers. They begin to say “Hey, John is demonstrating the trait of kindness just now” or “Annika is full of humor and zest!” In a recent curriculum night for families, parents and students were able to take the Values in Action character survey to identify their top character traits. They then set goals as families to develop a particular trait together. Again, switching the focus from accomplishments to relationships… from getting things done to being the person we want to be!

Focused Practice Feedback – a Kick Starter!

How do we grow people? How do we build and grow their talent, their knowledge and skills? Use those wonderful conversation skills and ask about the goals they have set, the vision for their work, when it all is celebrated, what will they be celebrating? With highly committed employees they just usually need to reconnect to their vision, their passion, and get into a new skill or tool.

With those few who are less than highly committed, there is the opportunity to support their thinking in determining the three most important areas for their focus that will increase the performance desired. Hopefully the data they have gotten from colleagues, students, data, will speak to the direction required. Focus tightly on these folks with frequent conversations to celebrate what they are seeing and learning. Your conversations will result in strong insights about data and narratives. Offer simple options for action that they might use immediately. Short, frequent and focused conversations that celebrate the small steps and the small changes ultimately builds confidence and motivation.

Consider letting all meetings focus on practices that are working and letting employees learn from each other as they – under your leadership – keep the eye on the prize; ensuring all kids and staff are learning and growing at high levels. How do you know? What evidence are you seeing that is working? You will see it and hear it and watch as the learning environment begins to grow from its own enhanced energy and motivation to simply be better and better at what they do!