LEADERSHIP, THAT’S ALL

How so you know when an organization will succeed? Seems to me that question is clear. The answer is leadership. I know that seems to be a simplistic answer, but it is not. The traditional description of a leader is someone who is male, tall, has a deep voice and orders people around. There are still people who believe in that kind of leadership.

That description defies all of the historical characters that we know were leaders. I am not discounting a leadership for bad ends either. Rummage through your mind and look at the pictures of leaders in your mind. Do they all fall into that category, or are they not at all what you thought.

Leadership is a many faceted ideal. There are so many kinds of leadership that one could write endless books on the subject (by the way that has already happened). Have you ever been involved in a group activity with a specific outcome in mind? The outcome could be physical or verbal. Aren’t you sometimes surprised when the person who moves the activity along is someone who rarely speaks and when he/she does, the whole group listens.

Having run groups like that for our scholarship programs, it was obvious to us that the students who actually made the groups work, were those with different kinds of strengths. As an example, we had one student who was totally deaf and did not have the advantage working with others who knew sign language. So, all of his actions were not verbal, but were movements with either his face or with a body part. He was so obviously the leader in that group setting, that the group knew that he was the cause of their successful completion of the task.

Check about in your own lives. Think about situations, in your work life or your personal life when someone emerged from the pack to lead. It may even have been you. As you look at yourself, did you think that you had leadership skills? Did you find yourself in a situation when you were really just doing what comes naturally and the end result was something that others wanted to have happen?

Whatever the situation, you were able to help those people who needed a task completed, or needed a new direction, or needed a more positive view of a scenario. In his classic work and Pulitzer Prize winning book, Leadership, James McGregor Burns describes general kinds of leadership styles. His basic premise is that there are two general leaderships- transactional and transformational.

Transactional can be described at giving and getting something. Voting for a political candidate is one of those things. Transformational leadership usually has a moral purpose and contains many elements of followership. It’s more like seeing what a group wants and then getting out in front of them and leading to some positive end.

I can think of two people who exhibited the latter skill in education- Marcus Foster and John Sava. Marcus was the principal of Gratz High School in Philly. He found the school to be atrocious. He went out into the community and asked the folks if they wanted a real high school or just a dumping ground. The answer was clear. They wanted something more than what they had. Marcus then told his staff that he was going to be making some great changes and they could come along if they liked, or they could transfer. Some did transfer. Within one year the school had turned around and became a high school devoted to space science.

John Sava did somewhat the same thing in the Farrell Area School District in Mercer County. He asked the community to give him leave to change the district into something that they could be proud of. He created a place where not only kids could learn, but could also be taught about life. He developed many programs- such as pre-school, teen parenting classes, teaching children how to eat in a mannerly way in the lunchroom and so many other things. He fueled many of these programs with federal dollars. He succeeded in changing the culture.

Are there more stories like that. Of course they are. You may even have seen them yourself, in your business, in your profession in your law practice, in your school and so many other places. What’s even more interesting is the kind of leadership that it takes to do. The leader does not have to be a tall male with a deep voice and a commanding presence. Why I have seen a 13 year old girl does it in a middle school, a 71 year old diminutive woman do it with 500 people in a gymnasium in a rural community, a handicapped man doing it in a wheelchair?

There are as many leadership styles as there are problems to be solved. Look inside and see when you were that leader.

WHAT 75 YEAR OLDS ARE INTERESTED IN?

                        WHAT ARE 75 YEAR OLDS INTERESTED IN ?

Yup, I do know that you really shouldn’t end a sentence with the word “in.” In some grammarian’s notebook, it is a venal sin. In my notebook, it’s  “I can’t help it.” It struck me that there are a plethora of commonalities in interests as we hit the seventies. I come across them in spoken and written word, television and all social media that presents itself to people of that age. We just can’t help talking about it.

The first thing is usually physical health. That pretty much takes up the entire conversation when two or more seventy year olds are together. The worst thing is to be sitting in a car with three other seventies and roiling over the cost of medication, the kind of mediation, the miligramage, the doctor who prescribed them and their side effects. Either your feel much better about yourself after these conversations, or you are sure that you are close to death.

There is the ever present cost of things back then compared to current costs. It usually starts off with the price of gas. “I remember when gas was 25 cents a gallon.” From there it is a fight to the death to see who wins the lowest gas price war. I usually try and keep my mouth shut until the very end, when I intone, “Why I remember when they gave YOU money for getting their gas. Further they would also give you prizes like knife sets and crockery.” That pretty much ends that part of the conversation.

The next item is usually the price of a quart of milk, you know that old bottles of milk with cream at the top and wasn’t it lovely to get it delivered to your door. “Did you have an ice box or a refrigerator?” Someone usually cries out. Ah the great memories of old.

The inevitable conclusion to these discussions can be either a withering criticism of today’s politicians or a maudlin display of super love of one’s grandchildren. If all of our grandchildren are so beautiful and smart, where to the ugly dopey kids come from. Must not be from this side of the world.

Many political discussions are cleaved. You have those who thought that Ike was the greatest president and those who decry Nixon and are remorseful about Kennedy. I try very hard not to get into any of those wars. I need to keep my seventy friends even though I might not agree with them.

THE CALL OF SPRING

 

Those of you in climates that don’t change all year will not understand the need to see snow disappearing and buds showing their little faces through the ground. Somehow, even though there may still be some frosty weather, you can hear spring call you through the clouds in the sky. No one can stop the oncoming season when it begins to stay lighter as the day wears on.

Moving the clock ahead makes it even more apparent that we are entering a new phase of our weather. You can see in the general warming temperatures a hope that we might shed just one layer of clothing and see a lessening of our electric, oil or gas bill. One might even approach spring and Summer wardrobes and look at them longingly while sneaking out a lighter pair of pants or a skirt.

My job becomes so much simpler. I have no fear of going to the super market to buy our food needs. My adventures in the Capitol are so much easier when I don’t have to worry about slipping on the Capitol steps or walking through slush.

There is a somber visage painted on everyone’s face during the depths of winter. As days get just a bit warmer, those frowns lessen and the cracks that surround the eyes and mouth soften to present a more realistic picture.

Even our cats appear to be jollier. When our 14 year old cat actually jumps up to the top level of a 3 level bunk bed, I know that the weather is changing. The change in weather also seems to present itself with a number of For Sale signs in the neighborhood. I see cars stop to read the signs, take a flier, and sometimes get out taking a look at the property.

This is not to say that everything is going smoothly. There may yet be a storm coming, or some dastardly cold snap with a strange name. I am not going to be sad about that. The weather must have its way and then it will go away. Goodbye winter. It’s nice to have known you. If you have to, I will see you after the fall.

PUBLIC RELATIONS AND PUBLIC EDUCATION

It’s been a long while since DE Tocqueville visited the United States in the 1840’s and came away with a great respect for democracy and a great number of questions about public education. There have been continual criticisms of public education that included religious and political movements, elitists, reactionaries, academics and many others.

In my own lifetime, there have been scads of critics who want to see public education go the way of the dodo bird, or remove the physical placement of children next to each other in a classroom. I can recall the 1955 by Rudolf Flesch, “Why Johnny Can’t Read,” and all of its followers. How about James Conant, President of Harvard and his critique of, “The American High School.” A government sponsored study called “A Nation at Risk,” in 1983 became a focal point for many criticisms of our way of teaching kids.

In our own times, we have had movements to create “public schools” that have fewer strings attached called charter schools. Funny how we would give these schools freedom to do different things, but not our traditional schools. We even have “cyber schools,” which support putting 5 year olds in front of a TV screen to do much of the teaching. The results have not been too laudatory.

Interestingly, these charter and cyber schools are allowed to use public funds, because they are public schools (even if they are run by for profit companies), to advertise through the media. Wonder how many people know that? These “schools” hire lobbyists to make their case for their activities. Some of the most potent hall crawlers have been hired to spread money around for these “educational” companies. You are correct if you think that something is wrong with that.

Certainly public schools put our fliers to their community, have Facebook pages and use email to communicate with parents. The public relations activities of these new entities go way beyond using the USPS to get the word out. One of the owners of a private firm that runs the largest charter school in the state is also the largest contributor to our current governor’s campaign coffers. I guess in this case money does matter.

Recently, I have been involved in a statewide PA campaign that comes out of 4 educational organizations working together. We use mostly retired folks to work with us to do editorial boards, call in shows, public relations pieces, and social media communications. We have actually hired a consultant whose background dovetails with what we are aiming to do.

We have also commissioned surveys to see what people are thinking. It has been a really interesting time for all of us. We now have the data needed to present our case to the public. The criticisms of public education have found their way into so many facets of people’s lives that to fight them off; we need a full blown campaign. Listen to comedians talk about how we should not blame them for their weird behavior. After all, they were educated in public schools.

Take a look at the people who have won Nobel prizes. Do your own research about how international testing is a farce that puts us 25 or 26 in reading and math. Not sure how we compare as a country to Finland, Iceland, Singapore or Shanghai (isn’t that a city). I’ll take Massachusetts anytime.

PIETY AND INTEGRITY

Just had an interesting discussion at our temple about the difference between piety and integrity. It stemmed from the scene in the bible where Moses is commanded, by God, to create a Tabernacle (the place where the 10 commandments and the essence of God might reside). The children of Israel have forded over 29 talents of gold ( about 30 mil in our currency) and are pretty suspicious that Moses hasn’t been skimming some off the top ( does it really mean that. Oh yes it does).

So the big man (sturdy, as the children of Israel observe) makes a public accounting of every single shekel. Oh yes he does. That is the whole section of the torah.  The meaning of this part of the torah, according to some rabbis, was to show that many pious people are only visually pious and internally lacking in integrity. I am sure that you have come across such people in all walks of life. There are those whose pious affect makes those who don’t know them, believe that they are good people. The utterances that fall from their mouths are either religious pieties or philosophical platitudes.

It is tough to distinguish these kinds of people from those who are truly imbued with the spirit of humanity. Have you ever wondered by certain people want their contributions to be made public and certain of us who do not? The need for public acclaim far outstrips the reason for giving the donation. There is little doubt in my mind when this occurs, who is the person who has some personal integrity.

Moses tells the children of Israel everything about how the tabernacle is made and gives a what for to those who spoke behind his back. The bible is pretty careful about portraying Moses as a guy who you don’t really want to bother with. In the end you will come out on the short end of the stick. The sad thing is that Moses also comes to a sad ending. Because of his relationship with God, and some things that he might have done better, God refuses to allow him to go to the Promised Land. Now that is a gift to someone who had integrity by the barrel.