Monday, July 27, 2009

I'm Back

My apologies! This blog has been devoid of news for almost four months now and the emptiness coincides with my personal work schedule in Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia that covered 3.5 months of that void. I found it extremely difficult to write on the blog as I traveled to and fro. At the moment I am home in the Colorado Rocky Mountains with ample time to re-new my blogging efforts as well as plan how to maintain the blog as I travel. It’s all about self-discipline, Bill!
During my most recent journey I was able to work and interact with over one-hundred leaders as I either worked with their organizations or presented at conferences they attended. Every one of them had a passionate desire to lead change. In some places I saw and heard dramatic stories of progress and in others the artifacts of struggle and the sounds of despair.
As I studied my journal notes what were the recurring differences between those making progress and those who were not?
• Vision - all leaders in the organization had a passionate commitment to the shared vision. Even in the face of opposition, the leader pressed ahead and was unwavering in support of the shared vision.
• Power – leaders saw change as a political process. Politics is about power. The leader understood there are a variety of sources of power and knew how and when to use them contextually.
• People – leaders knew their only important job was to develop their people.
• Resistance to Change – leaders understood that there will always be resistance to change and never ignored it.
• Models – leaders understood that behavior in the trenches is a reflection of leadership at the top.
• Resources – leaders provided the resources to keep things moving.
• Mental Models – leaders understood that cultural change only happens when staff changes their values, beliefs and assumptions. They knew this can only happen from taking action and reflecting on that action supported by immediate coaching and feedback.
• Opinion Leaders – leaders know that some people’s opinions count more than others. They won these opinion leaders over and used them as leaders of cultural change. Leaders sought them out and involved them both informally and formally in the change process.
As I watched these leaders and thought about real change, change where you become very different from what you are at the moment; it helped crystallize for me what characterizes real change. Later this week I will chat with you about that. It is nice to be back.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Following A Leader

Leaders need feedback. That is the only way to understand the values, beliefs and assumptions (mental models) that drive what we do each day. We cannot see these mental models by ourselves because we are looking back at ourselves with the same mental models. Many of our mental models are dysfunctional. Feedback allows us to “see” our mental models clearly so that we can align our daily actions around our functional ones and control the dysfunctional ones. Earlier this week I had the opportunity to follow a leader for four hours and provide her feedback regarding what I saw. A grand thank you goes to Mary Wilson, the principal of Baverstock Oaks School in New Zealand and a great leader, for allowing me to share the feedback with all of you!

Observation Notes:
7:20am – Lab drops Mary and me off at school.
M. drops staff personal visioning portfolios into mail slots.
M. greets a Teacher and introduces her to me.
(Bill’s note: M. office REEKS of symbols of the Shared vision journey)
Dialogue notes on a white board
Shared vision and values displayed in conference room.
Copies of Educational Leadership lay on coffee table.
M. turns on quiet music in her office.
7:35am – M. begins puttering around her office – organizing and re-organizing.
(Bill’s note: M. has not been at school since last Wednesday) She asks me if I want to appear on the in-house television program with her at 9:00am.
M. walks her personal vision portfolio over to Genee’s (Deputy Principal) office. The two of them engage in light hearted banter about M. personal vision.
(Bill’s note: great trust and respect between M. and G. I wonder how this translates in her relationship with other LT members?)
7:38am – M. begins to look at the mail on her computer.
She files copies of her feedback on personal visions into staff files.
M. walks a copy of her personal weekly calendar into her PA’s office.
7:43am – M. sits back down at her computer.
M. continues to work on files and papers, makes a copy of a paper.
7:45am – (Bill’s note: M. displays high energy – there is much physical movement; almost rhythmic as she rolls around her office space in her chair.)
7:46am – M. almost bounces back into G. office.
7:49am – M. is filing, copying and checking her computer.
7:55pm – M. makes a phone call to a new teacher from the UK who will begin second term. “Have you renewed your paperwork?”
“We are on the same planet.”
“Well done. Well done.”
8:00am – M. moves into the front office.
She has a chat with the receptionist and her PA about disseminating newsletters.
M. to PA: How are you?
(Bill’s note: PA was out ill with a virus last week.)
PA response: “Top of the world.”
M. gives directions to the PA.
8:03am – Back in her office M. discusses her mate, Murray, school’s tragedy from last year.
M. describes all the lessons Murray taught during the tragedy.
(Bill’s note: M. is continuously engaged in her passion for continuous learning.) PA appears. M asks, “What are the big things on your plate today?”
She gives more directions to the PA – send letters to families of kids leaving school.
8:11am – M. does more work back at her computer.
8:15am – G. walks into M. office. A short discussion of events later in the week takes place.
G. announces, “I’m on duty.”
M. begins walking tour of the school.
M. greets everyone cheerfully.
M. greets most students by name.
Continuously, students seek M. out for greetings.
(Bill’s note: M. continuously checks the pulse of her staff; she pays attention to their
M. spots a boy who seems sullen. She works with him until she receives a positive greeting.
8:51am – Back in her office M. makes a quick phone call.
M. types at her computer.
8:55am – M. is still working at her computer.
Bill’s note: A sign of a healthy school: No one has “needed” M. this morning. Not once has
anyone interrupted her with a problem or request. And this is after she has been out of the
school for four days.)

9:00am – G. reports to M. that her daughter was in a minor traffic accident on the way to work.
The daily student television news show begins.
During the telecast M. presents the two books I gave the school and thanks the staff for
their personal visions with her.
M. leaves the telecast and student reporters are seeing questioning students around the
school, “What does it mean to be a Kiwi?”
Several staff sits in the staffroom watching the show.
Mike, a teacher, watches M. intently.
9:10am – M. walks the new books down to the media centre. She engages the media specialist in a conversation about her recent illness. M. challenges her to stay home until she is better.
9:15am – M. “putzs” in her office; checks the computer and makes copies.
9:16am – The receptionist comes in and asks, “Do you have time to see good work?”
Two girls come in to show M. a poetry book one had made and to read the poetry. One girl reads her poetry and M. gives both students “Principal Stickers.”Her conversations with the girls are of high quality and never include “talkingdown.”
9:23am – M. back on computer. She continues to catch up on e-mails.
9:37am – M. still at her desk and computer. She makes notes on “Post-its.”
9:39am – Board Chair, Chris, comes in for scheduled meeting. M. distributes agenda.
9:40am – M. discusses playground project, “Done and dusted, ready to go.”
M. discusses sand for sand pit.
M. articulates supporting observations for bids.
M. and C. discover that the numbers are better than expected.
C. makes suggestion about sand pit. M. makes note and says, “I will look into it.”
9:51am – M. describes two quotes for the new driveway.
M. says, “This will be headed out to Allen.
9:58am – A discussion ensues between the three of us about the obstacles of beauracracy and
How it often changes people.
C. shows a board member’s resignation letter to M. They discuss an appropriate response
to the letter.
M., “It got to the point where T. couldn’t work together.”
(Bill’s note: Never look back or resent negative behavior. Other’s behavior is not about you.
Don’t own it. It is neutral to you. Drop it and move on.)

10:15am – M. presents her personal goals for the year. A discussion of personal vision ensues.M. asks C., “When can you meet with my appraiser?” An agreement is reached.
10:23am – M. describes the Sisters School project. A discussion ensues.
M. shows C. the paper she has written for the project and reads it out loud. M. says that the confirmation of the project must be done in person.
10:31am – M. discusses BOT folders, “I want them to be just right. The folder sample has to be perfect.” M. states they should go out the Friday of week 1 in new term.
10:37am – Conversation ensues regarding improving future BOT meetings. C. feels meetings must become more productive and enjoyable.
10:40am – M. and C. discuss a multitude of community issues.
10:45am – Meeting ends.We move up to the staff room for morning tea. M. re-introduces me to staff.
(Bill’s note: A happy staff room!)
11:03am – We move into several classrooms to sit and watch for a couple of minutes.
(Bill’s note: M. shows great pride in the staff, children and school.) M. asks a teacher to share her personal vision journey to be the Reading Recovery

11:22am – back in her office M. shares her plans for the remainder of her day with the PA.She catches up on computer.
11:30am – Observation ends.

Bill’s feedback to Mary:

• You have developed an incredible symbols management program that dramatically tells the story of the school’s shared vision and core values. You articulated the designs you will be implementing to develop new symbols.
• You absolutely model and articulate what you espouse. You have helped every staff member have a personal vision. Every contact you made with a staff member paid attention to them and their visions. You have developed your own vision. This influences your staff to be engaged in continuous deep personal learning. This is impacting your instructional program powerfully. Every teacher wants to engage every child in the same deep learning experiences. This personal attention to know your staff and students has created a world class learning culture.
• I was struck by your physicality. Your kinetic energy is an asset as you lead. Your physical movements are so powerful they give you another “voice.” That movement influences others to action.
• Be careful about holding on to the negative aspects of the past. No good will come from it; you will only drain energy and time. Always sustain creative tension regarding the future.

Monday, March 30, 2009


One could make the case that our current global crisis can be correlated to a global lack of leadership. Leadership is hard and rare. Author John Kotter believes that less than 10% of what happens in organizations is leadership and goes on to say those organizations are over-managed and under-led. In my lifetime there were six challenges I was continually trying to meet as I tried to be a leader.


It is your struggle to figure out how to balance your leadership-management seesaw and those of your staff that determines your speed of change. More management means slow change. More leadership equals quicker, deeper change. How are you traveling at choosing leadership?


Many days in our organizations, our greatest obstacle to growth and change is looking back at leaders from their mirrors each night. You must know who you are and what you stand for. You have these mental models, and they are damn resistant to change. Many are functional. Many are not. These are the ones that ought to give us huge warning signs, but we can’t see them without feedback. It is amazing how an organization often takes on the personality of its leader. Are you clear on the mental models your organization sees in you each day? Who are you getting rich feedback from? How have you action planned to control your dysfunctional mental models? Beware of the feedback you get from your “groupies”, staff members who think you are a hero. Feedback is not about having our egos stroked. Often the best source of feedback will come from your resisters. Personal visioning is the vehicle to use to know staff. How have you helped staff design personal visions? How do you support them to fulfill them?


Shared vision is the most powerful place to take action! Every leader needs a set of visioning tools in their leadership toolkit. Leaders who engage with commitment actively in the process and genuinely lead it always do well in growing their organizations and influencing alignment. When staff feels ownership in the life of the organization alignment will surface. This helps minimize the number of resistors. Remember what organizational research says. You only need 33% of your staff behind an initiative to be successful.


Of all the leadership challenges we face this may be the toughest of all. So many factors try to make you blink: Our own mental models of blaming outward, fear of Ministries and National mandates, the storm behaviors and all those siren voice trying to lure us onto the rocks. Learn to LOVE this period. If you don’t brave the storm you doom yourself to the events and patterns of behavior that are your current reality. So much learning occurs in the storm. Remember what gets you safely through storms. Be who you say you are everyday. Thunderbolts and collective pits are part of leadership. Being true to yourself will see you through. The really good stuff is always on the other side of the storm!


Tell the truth! Our organizations are the way they are. Pretending they are something they are not portends no good end. Current reality is our ally, not our enemy. An accurate, insightful view of current reality is as important as a shared vision. If both are clear we can sustain creative tension and move closer and closer to the vision. If we don’t tell the truth about our current reality we begin to descend into emotional tension and watch the vision begin to erode. This becomes a powerful lesson leaders must teach – the current reality. How is your organization traveling at bringing to the surface the “un-discussible”, those potentially embarrassing and threatening issues that prevent you from learning?


You and your leadership team must speak with one mind, one voice when you are out with the people you lead. We certainly hope your leadership group is a congenial lot! That always makes for better Friday afternoons. But congeniality doesn’t bring much to the transformation table. Collaboration is what is needed for change. And, at the heart of leadership team collaborations, are those brutally frank and honest conversations that go on behind closed doors. In the end it is essential that the leadership team make decisions about those issues they will be of one mind, one voice when they open the doors. How is your leadership team doing around this challenge?

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Beginning The Shared Vision Journey: The Inquiry Probes Experience

Every leader needs a shared visioning tool in their leadership tool-kit. Over my next several posts I will describe the shared visioning tool I have refined and refined over the past thirty years – the process that is currently used by more than 70 organizations across the globe.

Wherever I have gone the beginning of building a shared vision has been a powerful organization happening. It begins with the Inquiry Probe experience. People often laugh at the name because after all, an Inquiry Probe is simply a question. I have always liked the word “Probe” because these are vital questions designed to “probe” deeply into the lives of everyone who participates. They must answer the Inquiry Probes together to draw from the organization their beliefs, values, aspirations and experiential knowledge, to form the basis for the shared vision of the organization.

From many years of experience we have learned that eight Probes seem to work best. It is important that the Probes cover the key aspects of life within the organization.

A key decision an organization must make is who will be invited to the shared visioning experience. Different organizations make different decisions in this respect. Most organizations try to ensure that all staff attends. Many organizations invite their Board members, key community leaders, cultural leaders, other community members. Schools invite parents, current students and former students. One rule of thumb that seems to work well is to ensure that the staff is not outnumbered by the other attendees. Be clear that who you invite, and who you do not invite, will send strong messages to your organization community.

On the day those in attendance will work in groups of 7-8 people. Each of these groups has a facilitator attached to them to help them work through the Inquiry Probes. These facilitators must be trained in advance. The main criterion for this selection should be that they are people of high credibility and good interpersonal skills. The more diverse they are the better. Similarly, the more diverse the groups are the better. So, the leader needs to design the membership of the groups to bring about the maximum richness of interaction.

As the groups work through each of the Inquiry Probe it is imperative that the leader provides them with powerful consensus building tools. We have always used two: classic brainstorming and 10-4 voting. The power comes from the tool’s transparency, fairness and equity. Every person presents their best answers to the Inquiry Probe as everyone else watches it happen and everyone has ten votes to spend to generate the final consensus.

At the end of the Inquiry Probes experience the leader has the best thinking from the lived lives of everyone present answering the Inquiry Probes. This rich data informs the writing and development of the Shared Vision.


1. What key characteristics of Service Department Online’s history are going so well that we should continue to use them, and build upon them, for the foreseeable future?
2. What are the best ways to demonstrate to our clients that we provide diversity, innovation and close attention to their needs?
3. How can we continue to develop a culture where we value each other, respect each other, and provide direct feedback to each other in ways that ensure a successful Service Department Online?
4. What are the best ways for us to develop strategies to carry us forward?
5. What will be the key elements of the way we relate to clients so as to achieve maximum benefit for Service Department Online and our clients?


1. What activities by teachers most impact on deep student learning?
2. What benefits do we expect from parent and community involvement in our school?
3. What major innovations should we implement?
4. What are the best ways to ensure that staff, students and families have an appropriate balance in their lives?
5. How do we design for the success of all students in our school?


“Thoroughly enjoyable!! I found the first day very interesting to see how others perceived the Inquiry Probes in my group and then to see all the other groups thought along the same lines. The ideas that were generated were brilliant which made voting and narrowing down even harder at the end of the day. The “no discussion” and 10-4 voting I feel were very successful. I actually couldn’t wait for today to see how everyone voted and to see our top ideas. I was very happy with the result!!”

“Thoroughly enjoyable two days. This has been a great experience as a whole staff. The process you use to obtain data and create the vision, and the whole research process, creates a sense of ownership for ALL staff members. There are few other ways to unify a staff so rapidly and to clarify where they are going so well.”

“I’ve been here a zillion years and I’ve never experienced the degree of consensus in a shared vision for this organization as I have felt in the last two days.”

“What a process! I have to admit I was very sceptical (what! Two days and 80 odd people to come up with a MISSION STATEMENT??) I thought that’s what the executive did!!
However, I am now totally sold on the incredible process of reaching consensus with a large group of notoriously, ad nauseously, argument-oriented people. Getting such a diverse group with so many different agendas and axes to grind to be heading in the same direction is nothing short of miraculous.”

Monday, March 2, 2009


Improvement begins with the shared vision creation experience. The vision touches the heart and soul of every staff member. It touches and sparks a renewed and positive organization climate.

Much of my life has been spent studying and practicing the research of John Edwards, Jim Butler, James Nottingham, Peter Senge, Peter Block, John Kotter, James Kouzes, Barry Posner, Jim Collins, Art Costa, Victor Frankl and Michael Fullan. Each one speaks to the power of shared vision as the essential tool to guide change. Bow to the data created by these authors. Make your shared vision your FORCE! Caress it and hug it. Hang all action from it. Articulate it every day. If you make your shared vision the most important factor you pay attention to in your organization everyone else will as well. This journey is not easy. As I used to tell my staff, our answers are inside us. Lead your staff to find their own answers to build the organization you envision.

This will ensure permanent change and protect you from “the quick fix” mentality that continues to limit organizational learning around the globe. Take your shared vision proudly into the New Year and make it your personal action mantra.

Lessons Learned

For twenty-five years I have traveled across nine countries observing and supporting men and women in accepting the challenge of leading rather than managing. Choosing leadership is not easy! Leaders face five challenges they must meet “dead on”: 1) You must be courageous and hold your nerve through the storms, 2) you must know who you are and know your people, 3) you must teach mental models in order to align everyone’s passions and energies toward the vision, 4) you must tell the truth about your current reality and 5) you must be of one mind, one voice as a leadership team. In this space I will share the lessons learned on this journey.