Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Leadership, followership, and get out of the wayship

When I was in college, I saw a poster that said, "Lead, Follow, or Get out of the Way." Over the years, I've done all of those.

Back then, I thought of myself as a leader. Since then, I have sometimes chosen to be a follower. Most of the time I just want to get out of the way. There are times when each of us will take these roles, depending on our situation, the people around us, and our choices.

I believe that sometimes a person has to decide to just Follow a Leader, within the bounds of morality, ethics, reason, and safety. You may pick your leader because of that person's knowledge, experience, and wisdom, or you may pick that person because you need a job. You shouldn't do anything that is not moral, etc., but sometimes you may have to do something that is tedious, silly, or a waste of time, because you have decided to follow the leader and you are working on the assumption the leader knows something you don't know. Even if it's where the payroll checks are.

I am not a great follower, which has made me a not so hot employee or student at times. I am hard working, skilled, knowledgeable; but sometimes I'm a pain in the patootie, bordering on insubordinate. I have learned that this is not only bad for me, it is bad for the job, the class or organization.

Being a not so hot follower has made it hard for me to be a great leader. It is hard for me to expect others to follow. I don't want to make decisions, I want to consult and communicate and carry one until everyone agrees or until Hell freezes over, which usually comes first.

Guess what? Sometimes a leader has to lead.

I learned this as a parent fairly early. Little kids need a parent to provide safe, orderly structure in order to feel safe exploring the world. They know you have their back. They know you won't let them go too far, so they can try to see what too far is. They know that if they fall, you will help them up. They don't want to discuss their options. They don't you to be more afraid than they are. They want you to lead.

Even adults want to feel safe so that they can explore and grow. I want to work in an office where the boss knows what the goals, standards of behavior, and expectations are, and expresses them clearly and consistently. I want to have some input in forming and freedom in how to meet these goals and expectations, but I want to know what's going on. I want to be safe so that I can do my job and not worry about whether the light bill will by paid.

A good leader leads, confidently setting up a framework in which each good follower can do his or her best work, so that the mutually defined goals of the organization can be met. How does that sound?

Friday, December 14, 2007

True Facts and Other Fiction

At the risk of some serious mother-child repercussions, I'm going to share a true story about my 9 year old son and his last minute research project on the state of Virginia. The project wasn't last minute, but the research was.

My son announced that the founder of Virginia was "G. Piper." Since that didn't sound right to me (I was thinking John somebody or Pocahontas), I asked where he found that. He pointed to the computer screen. When he typed "founder Virginia" into Google, I got the "Virginia G. Piper Foundation" with a lovely photograph of their founder, Virginia G. Piper. I helped him sort through the other foundations founded by people named Virginia, offers for visits to historic Jamestown (which is not a bad thing to do), and websites announcing that Virginia is for lovers. Once we found the historic sites, we had to sort through a variety of reading and accuracy levels to get to some basic information. Then he had at it and made a nice little project.

My father has always said that it's not as important to know things as it is to know where & how to find things.

Today, anything you want to find is on the World Wide Web, where information is available in mind boggling quantities at mind boggling speeds. It is chock full of information of varying quality, viewpoint, and purpose. In reading some websites' lists of facts, you might wonder if the author missed kindergarten on the day the teacher talked about "truth" and "make-believe." And while I don't necessarily believe that all I need to know I learned in kindergarten, I do think that's a pretty important life skill.

Not only do we need to know where to find things, we need to know how to evaluate and place all of these things we find. In order to do that, we need a knowledge base. We need to have some basic information stored in order to evaluate other things and place them in our mind maps.

But formal education can't teach us everything there is to know in the world, and it would be a disservice to all of us to try. Formal education should be used to teach us the basic skills we need to survive and thrive as citizens, humans, and active learners. Those skills include reading, writing, and arithmetic, but just as basic: investigating, evaluating, and formulating the knowledge in a useful way.

In addition, we need to be able to apply the knowledge and skills at the appropriate times. No, not every war is like Vietnam; not every conservative is a Nazi; not every nationalist is a Fascist. But who has learned to evaluate the differences and similarities and use the terms and concepts appropriately.

On a more basic level, can we do math in the kitchen? Can we use geometry to figure out how much mulch to get for the garden? Can we remember that if a closed can of Coca-cola is put in the freezer, it will explode, and why? Can we decide what brand of power drink to buy or who to vote for for president by evaluating more than 30 second commercials? Can we think?

Once we think we know, can we present our ideas in a reasonable, persuasive manner? Can we listen to others and continue the process of evaluation and adaptation?

Learning goes on long after the final bubble has been blackened. Are our schools helping us become learners for life?

And if that is the goal, how do we evaluate that is a way that is consistent and quantifiable, which is and should be required in public education?

But that is another question, and I really don't have the answer to that one. I'm open to suggestions.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Perfect Parenting

OK, now that it is warm again, I can talk about one of my favorite subjects: parents who make my life difficult. Since I'm not a teacher, administrator, or police officer, it would be fair to ask how other parents can make my life tough. It is because they are ruining parenting.

While there have always been parents who make other parents crazy --- the ones who really did give their kids a pony, the ones who made homemade cupcakes with each child's name on it for Valentine's day, the ones who dressed all of their children in coordinating outfits on picture day --- today's parents have taken things to new heights of irritating.

In the old days, people had lots of children and they didn't have time to think about how to maximize the self-actualization of each of their children. They just worked, raised children and pigs, and moved on. Life began when the last kid got married and the dog died.
I blame women's lib. Seriously. I'm a feminist. But when we asked men to take part in parenting, we should have known they would turn it into a competitive event.

First they made it a verb. "What cha doing this weekend, Bo?" "I'm Parenting." "Cool. Parent down!"

Then they made rules, with goals and objectives, and measurable standards of success.
It's not just the men, of course. Women who decided not to have children in their twenties also add to the problem.

If you have children in your twenties, you don't have a problem. You just don't have problems in your twenties. You are perfect and invincible. Things work out.

Women who didn't have children in their twenties went to work in places that had goals and objectives and measurable standards of success. They liked it. When they had children, they decided to keep control by using the skills and strategies that had made them successful at work.

Since children aren't that easy to control, these men and women became frustrated. They started worrying. They blamed other parents who didn't hold their children to their measurable standards. They took over the PTAs. They pushed for legislation so that all children would have goals and objectives and measurable standards of success. They got rid of recess. They started global warming. (OK, that's probably not fair.)

Since I am inherently lazy, I mean laid-back, I have resisted the parenting strategies that go beyond reading to my child and doing an occasional papier-mache project.

That doesn't mean the Competitive Parenting Team hasn't made it harder to be a parent. In the great "No child left behind" battle, my children were left behind. They didn't get on the SAT team. They didn't get training in test taking strategies. Although some of their teachers were exceptional, I think that was an oversight. Or maybe what I like in a teacher isn't what the CPT likes and my kids got lucky. Even though they are "gifted and talented," they graduated "Thank the Lawdie."

My children are bright, kind, creative, polite even when I'm not there, funny, and smart. I take very little credit for any of that. I take credit only for their good looks.

I am not a perfect parent, but I am a perfectly fine parent. And that's where it has to stay.