Provision #680: Education Matters

Laser Provision

When it comes to leadership it’s important to take seriously our responsibility for life-long learning. All work and no learning makes for unhappy ruts. We end up doing what we know how to do, and not much else. Great leaders don’t let that happen. We are constantly elevating our game by gaining new competencies and learning new approaches. We step back and reflect on our work at regular intervals. We take vacations not only to charge our batteries but also to enlighten our minds. That’s what I’m doing this week; read on if you want to learn how.

LifeTrek Provision

In last week’s Coach’s Kitchen essay, Packing Your Bags, Kate encouraged us “to consider the magic of ‘getting out of Dodge’ if only for a long weekend. We all deserve a change of pace and surroundings, perhaps a chance to spread our wings, breathe deeply, and let go. Later you•ll have the added blessings of good memories, cherished pictures, or dear souvenirs. I believe it’s one of the very deepest gifts we can give to ourselves.”

That’s what I’m doing this week. It’s time for our annual trek to the Chautauqua Institution in western New York State. This week serves multiple purposes in my life: it’s a vacation, a family reunion, a planning stop, and a continuing education opportunity. One would be hard pressed to ask for anything more out of time away from one’s regular routine.

The importance of these breaks to not only quality of life but also to leadership effectiveness was driven home to me this past week during a coaching conversation with one of my clients. He had been in conversations with the owner of a mid-sized company about coming in as a top-level executive, perhaps in the role of COO or even CEO, when the conversation broke down over two issues: salary and vacation.

The salary proved to be less of an issue than the vacation, since the salary could be supplemented with bonuses, stock options, and profit sharing. The vacation, however, was company policy and the owner, correctly, saw problems with making an exception for anyone, including such key persons as the COO and CEO: one week of vacation in the first year of employment.

That proved to be the deal breaker. As much as my client may have been interested in this position, he was not willing to have only one week of vacation a year. On the surface, he saw this as a quality of life issue. He and his family had been used to much more vacation than that, and he was not willing to go back. Good for him! It’s important to hold to our standards and boundaries in any negotiation.

As we talked through this decision, however, it became clear to my client that quality of life was not the only issue. He recognized that leadership effectiveness also came into play. Without more time away from the company, time to step back from the daily urgencies, he would not only lack the energy to run the company he would also lack the necessary knowledge, perspective, and wisdom.

What a smart man. Vacations serve many purposes. They obviously meet our needs for recreation, leisure, play, connection, and enjoyment. Everyone needs that; those needs are universal. But vacations also meet our needs for reflection, learning, planning, competence, and education. Those needs, too, are universal and vacations can serve them as well.

That’s true even for people who seek to get away and not think about work at all. The processing may go on without conscious direction or awareness, but it goes on just the same. That’s because we are whole beings. It’s impossible and not even desirable to compartmentalize life such that our work is bracketed from everything else. When we step away to go on vacation our work comes with us.

But it comes with us in very different ways from when we are at work. Instead of active engagement, vacations give us the opportunity for reflective engagement. We have the opportunity to organize our thoughts, establish our priorities, and refresh our perspectives. It’s not uncommon at all for people to come back from vacation with the resolve to do something differently at work, even when they didn’t consciously set out to think about that ahead of time.

My client recognized the importance of that to not only his own leadership effectiveness, but also to the effectiveness of the entire company. What kind of an organization was he coming into that gave people only one week of vacation a year? He recognized that the owner of the company was probably right to not make an exception in his case. But why was the policy so restrictive and controlling in the first place? That was the larger, underlying issue that really led my client to walk away.

Ironically, high-performance schools, companies, and organizations do not make high-performance their goal. High-performance is the byproduct of making vitality our goal. When the orientation and culture of schools, companies, and organizations focus on vitality, when they engage everyone fully in a happy quest for excellence, then high-performance is sure to follow.

Tim Gallwey wrote about this years ago in his excellent book, The Inner Game of Work, when he described the work triangle as a balance between performance, learning, and enjoyment. When we focus on performance above all else, as we often do in more traditional understandings of work, performance suffers. We start pushing and driving so hard that we exhaust ourselves and our colleagues in the process. Working harder is not always the answer.

Working wholeheartedly is the key. No matter how hard we work, if we work reluctantly we will be less than fully effective. When we work wholeheartedly, on the other hand, then all sorts of good things become possible.

To work wholeheartedly, Gallwey argued that we need to balance performance concerns with concerns for learning and enjoyment. He encourages leaders to work with their people to set not only performance goals but also learning and enjoyment goals on an annual basis. That should be the measure of evaluation: not just what did you accomplish, but also what did you learn and what did you enjoy?

That’s the kind of company my client wants to work for and lead. A company that recognizes and respects the importance of education and enjoyment as well as the importance of performance. It’s in the balance that vitality breaks forth.

So that is why I include the Chautauqua Institution in my annual vacation plans. Not only is it a fun place to go, with lots of leisure, artistic, and entertainment opportunities, it is also incredibly educational. For nine weeks each summer, the Institution features speakers and workshops on topics of interest. And this week is of special interest, given the publication of our book, Evocative Coaching, and the work of our Center for School Transformation, since the topic for the week is “Excellence in Public Education.”

Here is their description of the week:

Our nation’s founders believed that high-quality public education is a requirement for a robust and functioning democracy. This week will examine current efforts that are dramatically improving the performance of public education in the United States. Specifically, we will look at the impact of talented and motivated superintendents, leadership training for principals, trends in teaching teachers, and innovations in

We will discuss the responsibilities, interactions, and support from national, state, and local government leaders, parents and grandparents, and local community groups. We•ll leave with a better understanding of what is required and what is working, and what each of us can do to fulfill the goal of greater academic excellence for students in our schools.

Wow! What a gold mine for anyone concerned school transformation. We wrote Evocative Coaching to illustrate and describe a process for transforming schools, one conversation at a time. Vitality is a key word in our book, both as a desired future outcome and as a current possibility when it comes to observations and conversations about performance improvement.

We take a person-centered, no-fault, strengths-based approach precisely of how that approach enhances vitality and, thereby, the performance of schools. I am looking forward to learning how our approach connects with what the speakers have to share this week. These speakers include:

  • Linda Darling-Hammond, co-director, School Redesign Network at Stanford University
  • Barbara Bowman, founding faculty, Erikson Institute
  • Jonathan Schnur, co-founder and chief executive, New Leaders for New Schools
  • Randi Weingarten, president, American Federation of Teachers
  • Mark Roosevelt, superintendent, Pittsburgh Public Schools

Throw in a bunch family fun and leisure activities and it would be hard for this vacation to get much better. I’ll let you know in next week’s Provision what I learn and how it goes.

Coaching Inquiries: What do you enjoy doing on vacation? How do you most enjoy learning new things? How would you describe the balance in your life between performance, learning, and enjoyment? How could you bring those three factors into greater balance? What is one thing you could do this week that would move you closer in that direction?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.

I am so thrilled to be reading about the success of your book and your new work through the Center for School Transformation. I have been a big fan of both you and Megan for many years, so I am rooting for more people to discover and benefit from your work. I’ll be sure to spread the word. Congratulations!

We tried Kate’s grilled corn on the cob recipe and it was DE-licious. Thanks, Kate! 

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
Immediate Past President, International Association of
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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