Strange Bird: An Endangered Species

Last year, I was following a search for a leadership position that happened publicly. It was the search for the new general manager of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority or the Metro, one of the largest public transit systems in North America. Initially, I was following the development because I regularly traveled to Washington, DC, and as a frequent rider of the Metro, my safety, my comfort and my ability to get to places on time and conveniently were on top of my mind. Continue reading

A Most Amazing Leader

“The quietest thing in the world is a worm chewing peanut butter.” 

I love this line from Judi Barrett’s book, “Things That Are Most in the World.” There is something especially delightful about this sentence. It is reassuring and ridiculous all at the same time. It feels great to know exactly what is the most quiet thing in the world! Doesn’t it? Continue reading

Leadership of the Mundane

What do these people have in common: Ernest Shackleton, Aung San Suu Kyi, Nelson Mandela, and Michael Flatley’s accountants? Regardless of your definition of leadership, most of you would agree that the first three individuals have demonstrated leadership qualities in their respective lives. But what do Michael Flatley’s accountants have to do with them? Yes, I’m referring to Michael Flatley of Lord of the Dance, and yes, I am talking about his accountants, not him. Continue reading

Instructions to Self

 

Have you ever gotten frustrated when a yoga teacher, a spiritual book or a song tells you to “find your way home”? I have been there many many times!  The message seems to be a crucial learning point, a big revelation, a destination toward which one grows after a long, soul-searching, self-improving process, and there might be some kind of nirvana waiting at home.  Yet, I didn’t have a clue what that meant or what to do to figure out the meaning, not until a reminder fell on my lap, literally.

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Do You Know the Way Home?

 

I recently trained a group of early childhood professionals on new standards designed to raise the quality of early childhood education.  At the start of the session I asked the attendees why they thought lawmakers were enacting these new standards or rules and someone quickly shouted out, “to drive us crazy!”   There was a knowing laugh among her colleagues, which led to a very passionate discussion about the divide between those who make the rules and those who are hired to follow them. Continue reading

Defined by Absence

 

“Go back to the definition,” my mom said to me.

That probably doesn’t sound like a typical instruction from a mother to her child, so here is the context. My mom was not only a high-school math teacher, but also a math education professor. She inspired generations of engineers, doctors, scientists, financial whizzes, and, of course, math teachers while I just tolerated math. So, you would think I was one of the luckiest kids in the world to have a math expert at my disposal. Nope. When I got stuck, my mom would send me back to the definition, and from there, we would solve the problem together. Continue reading

Leading by Thesaurus

The man is not wholly evil – he has a thesaurus in his cabin.

This quote is from J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan,” referring to Captain Hook. It is also the opening quote in Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet’s multi-award winning book, “The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus.” Peter Mark Roget (pronounced “Roh-Zhay”), best known for publishing, “Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases” in 1852, is the subject of Bryant and Sweet’s book.

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Overlook the Diamonds: Learning to Stay Focused from Two Guys Who Like Chocolate Milk, Animal Cookies and Something Spectacular

The art of being wise is knowing what to overlook.

~ William James

I came across an article about a 10-year-old musical prodigy named Ethan Loch from Bonnybridge, Scotland. Ethan had been admitted to St. Mary’s Music School in Edinburgh, and to go to school, Ethan would need to board a train and cross two main roads. The commute to school would be more challenging for Ethan than for most children his age. Why? You see, Ethan is blind. Ethan would have to master echolocation in order to go to school. Continue reading

First the Leader

I experienced a profound leadership moment at community band rehearsal last night. The conductor stood at the podium, baton in hand, setting the time and tempo of the piece we were playing. We all knew our parts, yet together we were not quite achieving our goal of making music. The conductor stopped and started a few times, but he still wasn’t hearing music. He said his baton felt heavy with trying to pull together each of our parts. So he stopped and put down his baton. Then, Continue reading

Between Goal and Process

So-and-so is goal oriented.  So-and-so is results driven.  We have heard those statements, often as compliments.  So-and-so is detail oriented.  So-and-so focuses on processes.  We have also heard of those statements, often as criticism.  The general wisdom is that focusing on the detail and the process comes at a cost of losing sight of the goal or not getting to a goal fast enough.  Is that true?

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