Learning Through A Firing …

image-300x300I have had several great mentors during my career …

One of the best was the guy who fired me …

 Ken took over the leadership of our department midway through my tenure at the college.   He replaced a person who was, shall we say, less than ideal.   No, let’s say someone who lacked courage in many aspects of his leadership and management behavior.

This had created several conflicts between us over time.  I, being young and real eager to “do things right”, was aggressive and tried to be hard-nosed.   He was complacent and did whatever was necessary to avoid confrontation.

Did I mention we both worked in student development on a college campus … try avoiding conflict and confrontation in that setting.

So I welcomed Ken’s new approach with open arms.  He was a very experienced administrator, had deep feelings and a sense of history for the institution as an alumnus, and dedicated to moving programs and people in a progressive direction.

I gained much in the way of experience working with Ken.   He handled students and colleagues in an amiable, yet no-nonsense fashion.  Taking full advantage of being the “new broom” on campus, Ken confronted several challenges and some misconceptions left hanging by his predecessor.  

I loved the feeling of proactive and courageous movement and connection with this new and exciting leadership …

Sometimes, when you are rolling along, on top of the world, you are tempted to take advantage of situations, of authority, of freedom.

The day when Ken called me into the office was one of the hardest in my memory.  He asked one simple question, to which I had no choice but to honestly reply “Yes”.   This brief conversation was later followed by a longer discussion in which I was informed that my employment contract would not be renewed at the end of the spring semester.

This was not good news for a young man with a mortgage, a wife, four children, and a crappy old mini-van …

The interesting thing is what happened next.   Ken and I continued to work as before, with the knowledge of my new status kept between us.  To the outside world, life just rolled along.

My internal life was something else …The next few months were painful, as I grappled with what I had done, sharing that knowledge with select family and friends, tried to secure a job somewhere else, and worked to restore my credibility with Ken.   We engaged in many long and difficult conversations around the situation over time.   At these times, Ken was a testing board for my thoughts, and not a boss with judgments to make.  I wanted to leave on a higher note than I then was at.

It was a dark, painful, and very reflective time …  Continue reading

Planting Trees … Among Other Things

Tree“The true meaning of life
is to plant trees, under whose
shade you do not expect to sit.”

Nelson Henderson


 In my youth, I had many very good teachers …

 Some of them taught me to add and subtract so I could buy and sell things …

 Some taught the fine points of coloring within the lines and how to choose which colors would make the most vivid impact …

 Others taught me to keep time, to read the notes on the page, and to appreciate all the instruments that made glorious noises …

 Some taught me about our shared history, our shared planet, and our shared humanity …

 One or two even tried to teach me to sit still and listen …

 The most treasured taught me to read and to reflect on what the words said to me …


… and none of them have lived to see the person I have become, what I have done with what they taught me, and the differences in my life that their teaching has meant to me, to my family, and to my world.


These teachers from way back when lived that quote above.  Knowing they would never see the full fruits of their labor, those dedicated men and women continued to teach, gently and firmly, loudly and quietly, in words and in behavior, day in and day out, year after year after year.

I can only hope I am following in their footsteps and emulating their example, which looms large as I think about what they did for me.

 By the way … Happy Teacher Appreciation Week.

 Stopping to remember and to be grateful in the Heartland ….


Teacher Appreciation Week …

Teacher Montage

Thank a teacher today …

Mrs. Bradley was my fourth grade teacher, a gentle and loving soul.

Mrs. Bradley did a number of very good things for me during the year we spent together in that small town classroom, but two things really stick out:

1)  Mrs. Bradley gave me a science textbook to read. 

Not the one we all used for our lessons, but another one, a book that belonged to me and me alone.

I spent hours devouring the knowledge in its pages and often found myself in wonder at the marvels of our world.   This may be the book that started it all …

2)  Mrs. Bradley also told me to stop reading that book.

She noticed that I was reading my new book everywhere, whenever I was not otherwise occupied.   While this was commendable in some ways, she also recognized the need for balance.   One day, as I was wandering around the playground reading that book, far from my classmates whooping and hollering, she gently stopped me and explained that some times are for studying and learning, and others are for playing … and this was play time.

TEACHER APPRECIATION WEEK   the University of Phoenix

 The woman cared enough to give a little curious boy a gift and enough to make sure I used that gift wisely.   I hope I have learned her lessons well.

 So what teacher has made a difference in your life?

What did they do that made that difference?

 Taking a moment to remember one of many special teachers in my life in the Heartland ….


A Few Words About Coaching, Teaching, and Leading …

Coaching Montage“… Wooden never described himself as a coach.  Rather, he said he was a teacher and basketball was his subject.”

From The Secret of Teams by Mark Miller


Some of you already know how irked I become when someone tries to liken good coaching of individuals to improve their performance to coaching a sports team.

While the best of the athletic coaches use solid coaching skills in the performance improvement sense, many are still command and control types.

Exhortation is not motivation.

John Wooden is one of the good ones.  He understands the educational and developmental aspect of learning and applies it to his specialty.


His observation above deftly describes what I wish almost every teacher at every level could embrace.

… it’s not all about the subject matter.

The worst teaching I have ever endured was from people who were stellar in their field, expert at some topic or skill, and who had the technical, historical, and content knowledge down pat.

They just could not convey an understanding of that knowledge.

More importantly, they had no idea how to effectively influence others to learn.


Wooden’s perspective on his real purpose reflects some thoughtful consideration beyond his own interests and needs. 

Leaders do this kind of thing …

If you lead a group of any size, doing any thing, in any environment, you are a leader … first and foremost.

The specific goals, issues, climate, and structure are all details.

In some career fields, emphasis is placed on being called a “ (fill in the blank with a job title) Manager”, instead of just being a manager.   I understand the pride in one’s profession, but I think the emphasis is detrimental.

If you are a leader, you lead …

Rather enjoying the clarity of this line of thinking in the (frozen) Heartland ….


Mark Miller, well known business leader, best-selling author, and communicator, is excited about sharing The Secret of Teams: What Great Teams Know and Do with those who are ready to grow. You can find it on Amazon and in bookstores everywhere.

Disclaimer:   I was given a copy of this book for review.   As I always make clear, I only publish reviews of books that have value.   This was one of the easiest books to read, review, and recommend in my memory.

Related Posts:

The Three Pillars of High-Performance Teams (Leadershipfreak.wordpress.com)

What is the Secret of Teams? (GreatLeadersServe.org)

The Last Team Book You Will Ever Buy (StrategicLearner.wordpress.com)

Our Roots Run Deep (StrategicLearner.wordpress.com)

Are You a Milestoner or a Reminder … ?

ClassroomSo a group of us are sitting in a very cold classroom listening to a preview of our new online class management system, which will replace our old one with a very different environment.

The discussion is rolling along with many questions, but few answers, since this is rolling out piecemeal through the university.

At one point, we are shown a new function which allows us, as instructors, to quickly schedule and post notices along the timeline of an assignment, from the point assigned to the point due.

Imagine getting a message telling you that you should have a complete outline done on Tuesday, a rough draft message on Thursday, and a final draft ready to check for errors on Sunday.

Amid much excitement about this apparently useful new tool,  about this, some of us talked like this:

Great, I can tell the students when they should have something done, so they are not waiting till the last minute to complete their work.

Others of us were talking like this:

Great, I can post reminders of  where they should be as the time passes.

Each group used different words to describe both what they would say and even the name given to the reminders.   The first group used “Milestones” and the second group used “Reminders” to describe what we could create and use. Continue reading