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Am I An Adversarial Leader?

June 22, 2017

Am I the Adversary? This is truly the the most thunderous and resounding question that could echo through educational leadership when it comes to talking about adversity and avoiding the school leader's "Dunk Tank". Recently, while facilitating a training session, one of the participants raised his hand and asked, "How will I know if I am the adversary? What signs or experiences would indicate that I am creating an adversarial environment as a leader?" Often times we talk about adversaries in terms of what they do to us and how to navigate those political waters, but rarely do we reverse the question on ourselves while talking adversity. After all, wouldn't that make us vulnerable and susceptible to failure, or perceived by others as a weakness?

 

This question required pause and think time because it was such a profound question. This wasn't your average question. This particular question deserved collaboration and dialogue. It deserved time to permeate and produce a well thought out response. Although we answered the question on our feet by talking about how the organization operates based on their leader, how people treat each other as a result of leadership and the results that are being produced by the people you lead, somehow the response did not feel strong enough without additional collaboration and input from educational leaders across the nation. Fortunate for us, we knew exactly who to ask. 

 

We have such high regard for the Twitter community and our own online PLN (we knew we could count on you). During an #sldunktank TweetChat, Dr. Lena Marie Rockwood (@Dr_LMR) voiced her enthusiastic desire for starting a Voxer group so that we could continue the conversation beyond the Dunk Tank book.  With the added feature of voice, a new dimension was added to our connected collaboration and a richness existed that took us deeper, both personally and professionally. So that's exactly what we did with this question. We partnered with Dr. Rockwood and she set up and launched the "Prevailing Leaders" Voxer group. We are only in week two of this new Voxer group and already it is setting the bar. So naturally after returning from this training session, we knew we must ask the question posed above by a very articulate leader in Minnesota. 

 

 Here's the feedback we received . . .

 

Five Indicators That You May Be Considered Adversarial

 

You Are the Under-Current of Chatter

 

When you walk in a room and it feels as if the air escapes to silence. When you walk by a conversation and it changes in tone. When the compliments are no longer sent your way, the high fives wane and the joy of being an educator is no longer surrounding you, it may be time to reflect. These are the earliest signs that you may be entering the waters as an adversarial leader. Relationships are the foundation of any institution or organization, and once you become the topic of behind the scenes conversations rather than the light that brightens a room, you may be missing out on opportunities to elevate your organization or positively propelling them forward.  Tough decisions exist, but grace, joy, and positivism can often turn the most bleak situation into a positive learning experience.

 

Great minds discuss ideas; average minds
discuss events; small minds discuss people.
—Eleanor Roosevelt

 

You Are a Change Agent 

Anytime that you are implementing and executing new initiatives and change, adversarial conditions are inevitable. As a leader that rises above the status quo, you work at the edges of uncomfortability. Relationships are key, but being a change agent doesn't always make friends. The key to implementing change is to differentiate between Ideas vs. People. People are attached to their work because they have invested their heart and soul into it. So when initiatives change and their work is challenged, people can take things personally. At times you will play the role as an adversary as a change agent. Holding people accountable for the collective vision, convictions, and purpose that are in the best interest of students and teachers can always be interpreted as adversarial. As a change agent, when someone compromises the collective vision, you can be true to that person by standing firm, moving forward, correcting the problem, and pulling up beside them to eliminate the status quo. Being an advocate for what is right can be interpreted as being an adversary. (Vox contributions by @BradyVenables & @mreugenepark)

 

You Get in Your Own Way 

Have you ever gotten so focused and fixated on an initiative or solution to a problem that you failed to gain insight, input or intentional collaboration from the stakeholders? Even when you have students and teachers best interest at heart and your proposal is laced with research and credibility, have you failed to gain buy-in and trust? Developing an us vs. them tactic may put your initiative in harms way and create adversarial conditions even if your idea, policy, or issue is well-intended. Even when you are doing what is right for kids and our future, the manner in which is is delivered can initiate the dunk tank. Considering the long-term and the impact that the message will have on all stakeholders may prevent you from getting in your own way. (Vox contributions by @Jay_Eitner)

 

The Past Travels With You

Every human responds to situations based on their own schema. Whether you were wronged in your last position or were used to always doing something a certain way, your baggage can weigh you down. You may want to consider packing your suitcase a little differently as you move forward. Think about how many times you have packed for a trip and brought many unnecessary and unused items? How much lighter would the trip have been had you left back the things that you didn't need? Preparing for your educational leadership journey is like packing for a trip. You bring from the past only what you need and travel on. Travel lightly and leave behind those feelings of insecurity, negative thoughts or past situations. You must intentionally consider what goes in your suitcase, travel lightly and move on. (Vox contnributions by @khurdhorst) 

 

You Have Fierce Conversations 

Being real and raising the bar require fierce conversations. Getting your district to an "A" and making sure our students leave us better than they came are all products of breaking the glass ceiling. When you get real and roll your sleeves up to intentionally be uncomfortable and set expectations and inspect what's expected on both the giving and receiving end, you will prevail. (Vox contributions by @CarrieLabarge)

 

Being considered an adversarial leader can be positive, negative or even neutral (based on varying perceptions). Whenever you push the boundaries in education you will always encounter adversity in some form or fashion. Adversity is and always will be perceptual. 

 

Make the positive so loud that they can't hear the negative. 

--George Curous 

 

 

 

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