Sunday, August 22, 2010

Adapt and Thrive! (Some personal dots.)

Recently I read and reviewed a novel by Gerald Weinberg. Jerry is an author whose books have helped me over the years. In doing research for the book review, I reread several of my own blog entries that have helped me gain perspective regarding the current negotiating crisis.

I call it a crisis because it matters to me: it's personal. It's about trust, fairness, honesty, and leadership. Those things matter to me. I am that guy. Things bother me and I muse. I try not to obsess, but I do percolate.

So I was happy to find several posts that helped me get a personal grip on the crisis-de-jour.

The first post I found was called Let Kindness Rule! 

Here's an excerpt: 

All relationships involve a certain amount of patient endurance with the foibles of another; however, some relationships require larger amounts. Those cultures strongly influenced by Christianity acknowledge love and patience as virtues. We acknowledge that love should suffer long: and we try. But…

But we often overlook or fail on the other component of the advice offered in this New Testament proverb: Love suffers long, and is kind. 

What? I’m called to suffer long AND be kind! Ahhhh… there’s the rub: Kindness. While I am being loving and patient (suffering long), I am to do it with kindness. Kindness means no meanness, no sarcasm, no nagging, no belittling, no digs, etc. 

Hmmm… Anybody think that there would be fewer people problems among our friends, family, and community if we practiced this simple axiom: Love suffers long, and is kind?

Let kindness rule!

* * * * *

When I am faced with perceived unkindness, injustice, untruth, and insensitivity I want to get payback. That's my knee-jerk tendency. But after hitting the "pause" button, I am reminded of my core values and aspirations. If I go with knee-jerk, I must might end up being simply a jerk. That's not my aim.

Jerry, in responding to my Let Kindness Rule! post said this, "And people should remember, kindness costs you nothing. Meanness costs you a lot." 

As I begin my school year, with negotiations on-going, I am going to let kindness rule. I'm not sure exactly what that will look like, but I am resolved. (The current negotiations are only a symptom of a larger problem. Perhaps  the November elections will help remedy that problem... perhaps not.)

* * * * *

The second post I found was called Adapt or Die! 

Here are a few of the salient points: 

Changes at work made me want to take up arms, so I cleverly began to read a chapter called “Gaining Control Over Change” from my Secrets of Consulting book by Gerald M. Weinberg.
I expected to get some good advice on how to get people to see things my way, instead Jerry informed me that the best way get changed is to resist change. His answer to managing change was to embrace it.
Another name for embracing change is adaptation. Jerry points out that some organisms adapt in order to survive an increasingly hostile environment. This is also called evolution. Hmmm…
I can manage change by embracing change in an adaptive manner.(Or I can become a dinosaur. And perhaps extinct.)

Those who resist change often begin to act in ways that make them change a lot. Rats. That’s what I’m trying to avoid: big change.

Jerry’s advice on embracing small change in order to survive was comforting. It wasn’t the answer I wanted, but it was one I needed.

That’s why I went to Jerry’s book. He knows stuff. 

* * * * *

I like who I've become... and I don't want to change into something I'm not by reacting to the bad behavior of another.  Things in Lowell Joint's teacher/management interactions have devolved -- they've changed.  "Jerry informed me that the best way get changed is to resist change."

 As the new school year begins, I intend to "...manage change by embracing change in an adaptive manner."  

I'm not sure what that will look like, but at least I know what I'm trying to accomplish: positive adaptation. 

* * * * *

The final post that helped me in my thinking was called The Problem of Apparent Irrationality.

Here are some portions of that post: a rational and reasonable man, my mind has a difficult time following unreasonable orders/dictates/policies. ...

Perhaps you’ve had such bouts with unreasonableness that interferes with a good night’s sleep? But what’s a person to do?

Me? I visited an old friend and mentor: Gerald Weinberg. Now, in reality, I’ve never met "Jerry." In fact, until yesterday, I called him "Gerald." But I do own three of his books, which I’ve read multiple times. He’s a “friend” I sometimes visit when I wrestling with a difficult problem. He’s always there for me, and he makes good sense. He helps me. ;-)

As I read the preface, I was rewarded with a re-framing of my ... problem. I read the following account of Jerry’s approach to dealing with a major challenge of the consulting business:

“Most of the time, though, I enjoyed the direct interaction with my clients, if I could stand the irrationality. If I wanted to stay in the business, it seemed to me I had two choices:

1. Remain rational, and go crazy.
2. Become irrational, and be called crazy.

For many years, I oscillated between these poles of misery, until I hit upon a third approach:

3. Become rational about irrationality.

This book relates some of my discoveries about the rationality of seemingly irrational behavior that surrounds requests for influence. These are the secrets of consulting.”

Since I was currently going somewhat crazy, I recognized that my problem was really 
a problem of apparent irrationality. Once I could name the problem, I was partially relieved, because the correct naming of the problem is often the first step in finding a suitable solution: Become rational about irrationality.

A songwriter once said, “I may not have the answer, but I believe I have a plan…” I don’t even have a plan yet, but at least I know what the problem is.

* * * * *

Becoming rational about irrationality. It can keep you from going crazy. Or waking up in the middle of the night. 

The thinking reflected in this post has helped me sleep better at night and to look with greater hope towards the coming school year. 

What is my intention for the coming year? Adapt and Thrive! (It turns out, that is an option.)

My teacher-in-another-district friend has this quote on his FaceBook profile: "Kites rise highest against the wind -- not with it."

There may be an ill wind blowing, but I don't have to be driven along by it. I can be like the kite and rise up. 

So can you. 

The District Belongs to the Voters

I have a lot of bosses. On teacher appreciation day, the District usually makes a visit to each classroom to extend a "Thank you" to the teacher.

After they leave my room, I usually explain to my students who they were, "Mrs. Likert is my boss, and Dr. Howell is her boss, and the Board Member is one of Dr. Howell's bosses."

There is a chain-of-command in most organizations. What makes a School District somewhat unique is that ultimately the "boss" is the voting public. (In a business, the owner/stockholders are the final bosses.)

Happily, eight residents of the Lowell Joint District have filed to run for the open positions on the Lowell Joint School Board. I'm happy about that.

The Whittier Daily News posted an article that lists the candidates:

Eight candidates, including incumbent Darin Barber, have filed for three open board seats at the 3,000-student Lowell Joint School District.

Half of the candidates hail from Los Angeles County and half live in Orange County, as the district serves students in both counties.

In addition to Barber, who was initially appointed to the Lowell Joint board in 2003, the challengers in the Nov. 2 election are:

Doug Cox of La Habra, a programs manager and parent;
Kevin M. De Mera of La Habra Heights, a businessman and parent;
Gene N. Dunford of Whittier, former Lowell Joint trustee and commercial banker;
William (Bill) Hinz of La Habra Heights, educator and business owner;
Patrick G. Rockenbach of Whittier, process manager and parent;
Melissa A. Salinas of La Habra, local businesswoman and parent; and
Anastasia Shackelford of La Habra, math teacher.

"I know most of them, and this is a good field of candidates," said Barber, 41, of La Habra, who is an attorney and former school teacher.

Read more:Eight join race for three open Lowell Joint school board seats - Whittier Daily News

The Long Beach Press Telegram published a good summary article  here.

I'm happy that so many have stepped forward to become informed and involved. One of my favorite sayings is this: "To criticize is easy -- to do better may be difficult." A tip-of-the-hat to those who have stepped forward to be considered for public service. 

Mr. DeMera was present at the demonstration held by concerned teachers, parents, and students at the early summer negotiation at the District office. He was there to listen. I appreciated that.

Mr. Rockenback has a web-site where he posted this:

We need to work closely with the dedicated group of teachers that have already helped the district to consistently improve its API scores over the past few years. It is evident from the recent interactions between the teachers and the board that there is a lack of trust and this must be addressed before we can all move forward.

The good news is that there are eight people interested in taking on the challenge. The better news is that we don't have to pick just one person as there are three openings on the board. This is a perfect opportunity to build a new board with diverse experiences and differing opinions on the direction for the future.

Over the next few months I will be sharing my vision for the future and I hope to earn one of your three votes on November 2nd.

Current negotiations aren't going well, but perhaps that will change after the November election. 

Bosses have bosses, and ultimately, the future of the District lies in the hands of its voters -- the true bosses.

Go Lowell Joint! Go voters! (Lowell Joint needs you to stand up and be counted.)

You call that bargaining?

Many Lowell Joint Staff showed up in support of their negotiating team at the beginning of summer. We wanted the appointed Mediator to know that LJSD teachers were very concerned about the negotiations. Our presence was felt and appreciated by our negotiating team, heard by the Moderator, and apparently ignored by the Superintendent and her "negotiating" team.

According to a letter published to teacher union members, the District continued to move in the wrong direction.

My wife is from New York. One morning her and a neighbor were out for a morning exercise walk before work. Passing a fellow walker, my wife said, "Good morning!"

He said, "You call that walking?"

After hearing about the results of the negotiating sessions, I was left with the same sinking feeling: District, you call that bargaining?

More of the same, then it gets worse.


A week or so later on FaceBook, a friend (and fellow teacher from another district) noticed that I was going to participate in a "Wear Black on the First Day" event. His response was "Good luck with that."

What ensued was a thought provoking exchange where my more pragmatic friend explained to me that I was dealing with a different kind of animal... one that doesn't really care about maintaining good will.

I had to admit... he was right. There are certain people who don't play "fair." These are people, who in an argument, know no boundaries. They are ruthless.

Recently an interesting quote showed up on my iGoogle home page:

“I don’t care if people hate my guts; I assume most of them do. The important question is whether they are in a position to do anything about it.”   William S. Burroughs

Burroughs was a non-conformist and not necessarily in a good way. He was also a genius.

I do care if people dislike me, but some people don't seem to care. They may make "good" bosses because of emotional distance. They may help restore short-term fiscal health, but at what cost to the long-term health of the organization?

Eliyahu Goldratt, developer of a management systems paradigm called The Theory of Constraints, argues that long-term health of a company is best achieved by finding Win-Win solutions for all stakeholders in the enterprise. When management wins and workers lose, then nobody wins.

Families, staff, and District Management must work together to find and implement win-win solutions.

But that won't happen if one of the stakeholders doesn't negotiate in good faith. That's short-sighted and demonstrates poor leadership.

Recently the CEO of HP was fired by his board for violating company ethics. The Houston Business Journal reported this:

"Questioning about the circumstances of Hewlett-Packard CEO Mark Hurd's resignation continued on the second weekend after his departure in the wake of a sexual harassment complaint."

"The consensus in Silicon Valley is that Mr. Hurd was despised at HP, not just by the rank and file, but even by HP’s top executives," Nocera wrote.

The Times columnist suggests that the sexual harassment claim merely gave the board the pretext for doing what it wanted to do, get rid of Hurd without provoking an outcry on Wall Street where he was extremely popular for turning around the company's finances.

Hurd was "extremely popular (on Wall Street) for turning around the company's finances..." but "...despised at HP, not just by the rank and file, but even by HP's top executives." 

Hurd disregarded some of the stakeholders in his organization. Evidently, he didn't care. (And, he may be laughing all the way to the bank after being fired, after all, his severance package was something like 17 million dollars plus stock options.)

I'm realistic enough to understand that people like that exist, but I find it disheartening to find them operating at the helm of an organization I'm associated with. 

This is new to Lowell Joint, and it's unsettling.