The further I get in my business life, the more clear it is to me that the biggest part of my job is to grow others and develop people. Hat tip to one of our Principals (Jason Edwards – Parker Colorado) for this theory which I’ve adopted;
Basically, all areas of your life demand balance. Work life and home life…health…and most importantly as a leader, being technically focused balanced with setting the purpose of why your organization is doing what it’s doing. For me, it’s educating the next generation on the principles of what created Western Civilization.
As a leader, I could spend all my time on the technical aspects of my job. I can get lost in execution. From construction, curriculum, operations to regulatory functions, it is easy to get sucked into ‘doing’. What I’ve learned over the past 25 years is anyone can do but without a concerted focus on ensuring that I’m communicating our purpose, the team sputters out and stalls. These past few years, I’ve been extremely focused on the “Why” of our organization. A special thanks to a management consultant that we worked with, Bob Shaff, from Customers For Life. Bob helped to bring into focus the Why of our organization.
My role now is to focus on the basics of blocking and tackling but also to instill in my leadership team the purpose of why we do what we do. I happen to now be in an industry filled with teachers who were called to a profession which at its core is the purpose. The teacher’s purpose is to impact a child’s life, their calling is to create a better community and their purpose is to create a better world. I’ve watched these teachers come to life, many times following years in public schools and they are downtrodden. Many are questioning their career choice. All are looking for a place that shares their purpose. Because we encourage a focus academic rigor and character development instead of out of balance focus on test scores or bureaucratic wrangling their spirit is renewed. This year, we’ve added 125 new staff members and I’ve tailored my kick-off presentation with a heavy dose of the “Why” of our school exists.
The WHY Presentation
I start my presentation with a pop culture reference from the movie City Slickers. The old grizzled cowboy (Curly) that takes the lead character, Billy Crystal on a journey of self-discovery asked the big question; The meaning of life comes down to one thing. The movie is about the rudderless, mid-life crisis, city slicker, selling advertising air and his finding his purpose on a cowboy journey. Spoiler alert, Curly dies before the question can be answered.
This summer, I’ve been digging into Carl Jung, Neitzche and Victor Frankl all with an eye towards what lies deep in me and what are some of the triggers in me that shows up in my life. From father to husband to leader of my organization, I must first understand my motivations, triggers, and shortcomings before I can show up as an authentic man to those in my life. This journey has been lifelong and is never finished. I’ve chronicled some of the steps along the way The path for me started in 1999 and continues today.
From the big question posed in City Slickers by Curly and the meaning of life being ‘Just one thing.’ I follow up with a story from Vitor Frankl book, Man’s Search For Meaning. It’s a tragic story of Psychiatrist, Frankl’s years in a Nazi concentration camp.
Frankl tells the story of a fellow inmate who dreamed that he was granted one wish, and he wished to know when he would be free. The voice in his dream told him that his suffering would end on March 30, 1945. When the camp did not seem like it was going to be liberated on March 29, the man fell ill, and then died the next day. While death ultimately fulfilled his dream and brought his suffering to an end, Frankl suspects that his crushed hopes brought about his death. The man no longer felt he could hope for the future. Frankl notes that the death rates in the camps between Christmas and New Years were higher than at any other time of year, likely because people hoped to be home for the holidays and gave up when they realized they would not be.
Frankl quotes Nietzsche to the reader to explain the prisoners’ situation: “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” Frankl came to understand that he needed to stop expecting something better from life, and instead ask himself “what life expected from us.” In other words, he believed that he owed it to life—to the fact that he had born and was still on the Earth—to make himself the best person possible. He writes that the ultimate meaning of life can be found by taking responsibility for one’s actions and making use of opportunities to better oneself.
The Frankl stories illustrate an extreme. Faced with the lack of purpose, we actually die if reality throws us a curve. The purpose is the “WHY” of getting up every morning. Without purpose, we turn to pills, isolation, numbing of life via TV or social media. As a leader, it’s my job to ensure that all my organization, knows our purpose, our True North. The reference to Ordinary Men in the slide is about a book I read this summer about the beginning of the Nazi’s take over of Poland. How ordinary plumbers, engineers, lawyers and policemen could turn to such darkness after the put on the German uniform is a powerful lesson. Read more on this phenomenon in Aenon’s post; How Evil Happens.
The Heros Journey
To illustrate the purpose for me, I explain my personal journey, my unique background that has prepared me for this moment and the calling that brought me to education. The story goes from seeing a problem in my community in chronicling the death of America via my talk radio job. I go from a dark place in 2013 (12 Arguments on the Decline of America) to finding a way to do something about this monumental task.
I capstone my presentation of the Hero’s Journey. The metaphor of slaying the dragon appears in mythology and is flushed out in Jung and Nietzsche’s work. The concept is, that dragons or obstacles appear often in life. If we can teach our scholars to slay the little dragons, like getting along, failing a test, not turning in an assignment, we set a foundation that allows them to handle the big dragon that life will eventually throw at them.
The bigger the dragon and the more of an opportunity for you to actually be “killed” by the dragon the larger the hero’s journey. The bigger and more dangerous the dragon and the greater the satisfaction once the battle is won. From cancer survival to divorce or job loss everyone will experience dragons. Do we let them paralyze us or do we overcome and live a richer more meaningful life? That is the hero’s journey, that is the journey I’m on and that is the journey I’m inviting other teacher heroes to join.
Give a listen to the latest Art of Manliness – The Excellence Dividend, the new book by Tom Peters (of Good To Great fame). The interview powerfully illustrates human contact, development of leaders and what makes the good organization work. I strive to add these ideas to my organization.
Google learned what the top 7 traits that make a great employee….number 8 is STEM skills. – The rest are soft – HERE