The Greatest Lesson in Life from the Commencement Address Never Given

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I remember starting my first job as a systems engineer on an aerospace project. My new boss gave me an unusual assignment on my start day. He wanted me to tell him what “E = mC(squared)” and “You can’t push on a rope” meant.

As part of figuring out the answer he said to first ask anyone you want in the department for advice or insight. Of course, I thought he just wanted me to meet everyone on my own since I already knew the answer to both questions.

It turned out I was wrong on all parts.

Here’s what I told him when we met for lunch in the cafeteria on the third day of my first job.

“E = mC(squared)” While I got the scientific principle right the bigger purpose was to understand how this relates to the real world of product design given competing constraints on functionality, time, cost and manufacturability. The lesson: It doesn’t matter how smart you are if you lose sight of the big picture.

“You can’t push on a rope.” I thought this one had to do with strength of materials, some kind of force diagram and one of Newton’s laws. But it turned out to be about human nature. The lesson: The most important part is that you can’t push the people involved to do what you want them to do despite overwhelming analysis or engineering evidence. You have to understand their needs first.

I learned later that Zig Zigler said it more eloquently, “You can get everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”

That’s a principle everyone needs to apply to get ahead regardless of their age or their job.

Here are a few other useful life principles I learned early on in my career.

In my first engineering design class the professor showed a picture of a bridge across some river that didn’t meet perfectly in the middle. There was a six-inch offset. The professor started by saying that in this course you’ll learn how to ensure this will never happen to you. Planning ahead was the big lesson. Thinking of the consequences of your actions was the more subtle point. Stephen Covey’s “Begin With the End in Mind” pretty much sums it up. While this stuff is easy to say, it’s hard to do whether you’re building a bridge or figuring out how to just get through the day.

Persistence overrides intellect. In most of my engineering classes the answers to the problems were given. My non-engineering friends thought this was too easy. I thought so too until I was given one very complex problem to figure out. It took me all night and a lot of trial and error to get the right answer.

There were a lot of lessons learned that night. The obvious one: Getting the answer right was secondary. Figuring out how to find the right solution was the purpose of having the answer given. A lot of smart people gave up too soon. That’s when I realized that persistence is far more important than intellect.

Some similar things happened a short time later as an intern and during my first full-time engineering job. I was assigned two very complex technical projects. In each case there was an initial 2-3 weeks of total confusion. It was clear I was going around in circles, over my head and an abject failure. After stumbling about, talking with people and thinking about the problem from a totally different perspective, the fog starting lifting. Soon a solution emerged. In both cases it took a few very uncomfortable weeks to go from nothing to a potential solution. Of course, getting the actual solution took a lot longer but that was the easy part. The lesson learned again: It’s okay to be confused but it you keep at you’ll figure out what to do.

I learned later that Winston Churchill said it much better, “Never ever give up. Never!”

But that wasn’t the big lesson in all this. By not giving up too soon you build confidence in yourself to take on any project as long as you can figure out a solution and create a vision of where you’re going. As a result I then started volunteering for projects and positions over my head and even asking for promotions in different departments. And I got them by selling the vision to others and getting them to see how this would personally benefit them. This got them to be allies not foes and they became proactively involved in ensuring we were all successful.

The real lesson is that true confidence is contagious. But you need to struggle a lot before you develop it in yourself. So look for some struggles to tackle. A lot of them. And never give up despite how easy it might be to do. I’m not sure, but maybe this is how leaders are developed, too.

Thought for Today

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Little Hinges Swing Big Doors

Coaching with the “End in Mind”

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For years, organizations have provided educators, particularly administrators and aspiring coaches, with training on how to coach colleagues and teachers in the classroom.  And yet, the advent of performance-driven educator evaluation practices has driven renewed interest in and requests for tips and strategies that include specific, effective feedback and coaching that give educators sufficient information to actually apply it to enhancing and transforming classroom practice.

Traditional coaching model frameworks and many performance evaluation approaches work to align day-to-day activities with desired outcomes:

  • Assess current performance;
  • Identify gaps or areas for improvement;
  • Develop an action plan to support improved practices;
  • Provide feedback and coaching / training in support of the plan;
  • Monitor progress on the plan and ongoing performance.

Many principals, evaluators and teachers indicate that the true strength of process is in the valuable conversations generated between staff and their supervisors as well as the collaborative efforts and conversations of educators to improve as a whole.

However, evaluators continue to struggle to ensure that their feedback and coaching efforts produce a return on their investment of time and resources that results in improved classroom practice leading to increased student learning.

As I read through an article by Michelle Vazzana and Jason Jordan in the July 2013 Training and Development magazine, “Avoid Sales Coaching Failure”, I was intrigued with the “beginning with the end in mind“ perspective of a coaching model the authors promote for sales coaching that educators might consider for educator performance appraisal (evaluation) and development. The model focuses on aligning desired learning Results with the right learning Objectives and the right learning Activities (ROA) for identification of the alignment of an improvement focus.  These elements can be gleaned the outcomes of classroom observations, student learninIntegrated Coaching Model Graphicg results, for teacher/supervisor conversations or perhaps from evaluation criteria.  The elements can be stated in positive ways approximating specific best practices as the goal.   Cause/effect strategies  such as the “5 Whys” may be helpful in honing in on the right objectives and activities.  Typically, traditional coaching frameworks tend to move straight from Results to Activities skipping the clarifying and therefore critical step of specific learning Objectives. This then, is integrated with an execution coaching model acronym (ARC) which reflects scheduled monitoring of the chosen Activities through Regularly scheduled (referred to in the article and the graphic below as management Rhythm in the form of structured Conversations about the teacher’s efforts to improve their practice and any additional supports needed. There is no easy path to ensuring the coaching conversation turns into enhanced classroom practice and increased student learning. Being more deliberate and predictable in planning for and executing an integrated coaching model may prove less time and resource consuming in the long run.


The Nature of Collaborative Work

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The Nature of Collaborative Work

In his unpublished paper, Learning is the Work (May 2011), Michael Fullan cites several elements that he believes inform each other as basic to building effective instructional practice in the classroom linked to student achievement.  He calls this cross fertilization of elements of collaborative work the instruction-achievement nexus.  The elements include:

  1. Focus: i.e., personalization related to the individual needs of students.
  2. Teachers learn best from other teachers provided they are also working on improvement and their exchanges are purposeful and based on evidence.
  3. Supportive leaders are essential and most effective when administrators i.e., the principal, participates as a learning in working with teachers to make improvements.
  4. Cross school learning from each other is a 4th element. Fullan suggests small clusters of schools (3-8 schools for example) working together to learn and solve problems and share solutions together.
  5. Finally, there needs to be vertical support across levels throughout all stakeholder groups i.e., schools, communities, districts, etc.

For the entire article, access it at

How to bring out the Olympic athlete in employees

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The Olympics demonstrate that talent won’t lead to greatness without practice, coaching and a dedication to improvement, Aubrey Daniels writes. Companies that foster training and coaching “open up an unlimited pool of potentially outstanding performers,” Daniels writes.

In his article, The Potential for Greatness is Everywhere, Daniels cites three tips to improve individual and organizational performance:

  1. Aggressively train and promote people
  2. Spend the time and money to train people to fluency
  3. Have a way of positively reinforcing and rewarding employees who put in extra time and effort

Aubrey C. Daniels is a thought leader and an internationally recognized expert on management, leadership and workplace issues. He is considered an authority on human behavior in the workplace.  .Exerpt retrieved from SmartBriet in the Workplace and (7/31)


Take Control of your Professional Career

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Professional development tips remain key, regardless of where you are in your career. Continually developing your professional skills is critical to maintaining your marketability and shoring up your job security. With business in a constant state of change, it’s critical to have a direction and prepare for contingencies. Committing to the continual nurturing of your career can help you maintain course even in the stormiest of economic times.

But don’t rely on your current position or employer alone to provide ongoing enhancement. To grow professionally and achieve success — as you define it — you must set objectives and build an action plan. Fortunately, today’s business environment provides many opportunities to keep your career in forward motion — if you know how to seize them.

Professional development tips

  • Have a vision. Where do you see yourself in five years? In 10? What kind of working environment do you prefer? Maybe you’d like to move from an inside, desk-based job to an outdoor line of work. Or perhaps you’d like to be your own boss. Determine what’s most important to you and avoid becoming so enveloped in day-to-day priorities you lose sight of the big picture and your end goals and dreams.
  • Develop a road map. To help you remain on track with your professional objectives, create a broad outline of the steps you need to take.
  • helps keep you focused. Create time horizons — monthly and yearly targets as well as those with longer-term time frames. For example, maybe you’re looking to retire from your current line of work in about a decade, but you think you’d like to teach full-time after that. Your timeline might include researching over the next three months local colleges that offer appropriate credentials; slotting time to attend the necessary courses over the next couple of years; then perhaps seeking a part-time teaching role in five years. Periodically set aside time — perhaps even several days — to reflect on what you’ve accomplished and where you’re headed. Make adjustments as necessary. 
  • Capitalize on opportunities. Pursue responsibilities and positions logically keyed to your goals. With many organizations running on reduced resources, there are numerous chances to take on more assignments. Look around you — are there jobs going undone for which you could volunteer? Perhaps you’ve wanted to transfer to another department which is now struggling to meet demands — can you offer your services on special projects? This would not only help you establish a foothold in that group but will also build your experience and broaden your skills base. 
  • Conduct yourself with integrity. Most professionals face a multitude of ethical decisions almost on a daily basis. Recent high-profile corporate scandals have reemphasized the importance of maintaining impeccable ethics. Your reputation is the foundation for all your future successes, so keep in mind that breaches in ethics can do irreparable damage. 
  • Become a better communicator. Develop the ability to listen to others; hear the spoken words but also understand the concerns and motivations they may be conveying. And when it’s your turn to contribute, strive to communicate as clearly, concisely, and persuasively on paper and in e-mail as you do in person or over the telephone. The most successful professionals and leaders typically are also the best communicators. As you progress in your career, these skills will likely be tapped increasingly as you’re faced with more challenging, sensitive or complicated situations and problems that need to be navigated. 
  • Commit to lifelong learning. Take reasonable steps to stay abreast of new developments in your field. Most professional and trade associations, organizations and publications have their own websites, making it easier and more convenient than ever to stay up-to-date. Be sure to read relevant materials regularly and seek out job training. 
  • Maintain and expand your network. For many professionals, networking has played an important part in their career advancement. True, staying connected with people takes time and effort — two precious commodities. But by creating an organized schedule, you can usually incorporate time to mingle with colleagues at an association meeting or another professional event.
  •  Stay visible. Without clamoring for constant attention, be sure that your manager is aware of your hard work and accomplishments. Contribute ideas during meetings that can improve business practices. Remain open to opportunities that fall outside your job description, as these may serve as springboards to career advancement.

Professionals across all industries are increasingly taking ownership of their careers, proactively driving their own development and mobility. With some foresight and planning, you can forge your own career path and fulfill your personal vision of success.

Students Must be First

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In too many American schools, current laws, policies, and practices put adult interests ahead of students. The result is an increasingly broken education system that, if not corrected, will keep America from leading in the increasingly competitive global marketplace.

From StudentsFirst Policy Agenda © 2011

“Delegation: The Secret to Letting Go”

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Tara Powers

Making the paradigm shift in leadership development means training your supervisors and managers to let go — to delegate, that is. Delegating is about leaders empowering others and inspiring trust. It involves the effective assignment of tasks to other staff members while still maintaining responsibility for the results. All the while, supervisors and managers are considering each individual’s skill level and challenging him or her to complete the assignment. Everyone knows that change is constant and the ability to deliver on results is of utmost importance in the organization. However, one of the most difficult challenges supervisors and managers face is in understanding their own inability to delegate tasks and projects. They mistakenly hold on to the idea that no one else can do the job as well as they can. This line of thinking ultimately becomes counterproductive. Delegating is one way to produce results and at the same time develop employee skills. Many leaders believe that they do delegate well and often. Before you jump to this assumption, think about it. It takes training and a true understanding of the benefits delegating can offer before most supervisors and managers actually let go. Often when leaders delegate they fail for several reasons: lack of planning, taking back the project or task because it appears easier to do it themselves, or concluding that they don’t have time to delegate. If you are one of those people, or you hear your management staff say, “There just isn’t anyone I can delegate to,” then you have to understand that you’re just not that into delegating. And you’re just not letting go. If this sounds like you, then perhaps its time to change your game plan.
Here are 8 tips to Delegating Effectively and Letting Go:

  1. Decide what to delegate and what only YOU can do
  2. Communicate a clear vision of the desired end result
  3. Delegate the right tasks to the right people
  4. Explain tasks and expectations thoroughly
  5. Check for clarity and understanding
  6. Be available to provide consistent feedback and assess progress
  7. Hold people accountable to the agreed upon results
  8. Recognize efforts and reward successes

© 2009 Powers Resource Center
Tara Powers partners with organizations interested in improving their company culture to boost their bottom line.  If you’re ready to make changes in your business that will make employees happy AND make you money, check out our valued services at Powers  Resource Center

“Can You Imagine It?” – Developing Your Vision and Strategy

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by Tara Powers

There is continuous talk in all organizations about having a compelling mission and vision for your organization but who really cares? Well, you should. Whether you are a large organization or a small business owner, having a vision is essential to be able to communicate a picture of the future of your organization that others can see, understand, and support. A vision helps motivate people into action. A vision engages, excites, and empowers people to move forward in a consistent direction together. A vision makes people more willing to make small sacrifices today for the hope of a better future. A vision helps people know what to do.

Convinced yet? I thought so. Then read on to develop an effective vision for your business with 7 key characteristics to include in your visioning strategy discussion.

7 Key Characteristics to Developing an Effective Vision

  • Be sure your vision tells a story that people can imagine. Can they see it? Can they see themselves in the story?
  • Appeal to the long – term interests of your key stakeholders. What do they care about? How are their values tied to your future?
  • Be sure people believe its possible.
  • It’s exciting. People are excited to hear about it, talk about it, and share it with others. That excitement builds momentum that begins to shift culture and align behaviors with how you will get there.
  • The vision helps to identify what people should be focused on and what they should prioritize.
  • It’s easy to talk about and explain to others.
  • It’s flexible enough to remain relevant even when shifts in the industry, technology and customer needs take place.

When reading through these 7 characteristics ~ how does your organization vision hold up? Perhaps this article will prompt you to engage in crucial conversations about your vision, where you’re heading, and how to ensure that your vision is compelling enough to propel your company into the future.

© 2009 Powers Resource Center

International trainer, consultant, and culture makeover artist, Tara Powers partners with organizations interested in improving their company culture to boost their bottom line. If you’re ready to make changes in your business that will make employees happy AND make you money, check out our valued services at Powers Resource Center