When it comes to department, district or company policy, we tend to be on autopilot until some new technology, new national crisis, or new “hot button” issue jogs us into policy development. Although hasty, “knee-jerk” reactions may not always be advisable for a whole host of reasons, there’s another reason to lay low and see if there’s another option to policy creation. When we attack that new issue with new language we can draw unwanted attention and scrutiny from employee unions, the media, parents and others when we would have done better to “not leave the porch light on,” as one labor lawyer recently put it. Read the rest of this entry
Last week California celebrated school bus driver day. I have worked with and around school bus drivers for almost my entire career. There is not a day where I don’t pause and appreciate the essential and often thankless job that drivers perform. In fact, during the year I make it a point to meet with each of our drivers. In these meetings I answer questions, solicit ideas, encourage feedback, and make sure the driver knows how I feel about their jobs.
In honor of School Bus Driver Day I share the following story obtained from one of my drivers in one of these meetings. It is not by any means unique. Rather, it is one of dozens (or thousands) of stories which demonstrate the caring, attentive, and supportive role that many, many bus drivers serve.
An interesting article in a recent New York Times Magazine section caught my eye. Its title was “Forecasting Fraud,” and it focused on the phenomenon of one’s misrepresenting themselves by using titles that are not entirely accurate. The article’s central example was the ubiquitous TV weatherperson who is referred to – often inaccurately – as a meteorologist. While a meteorologist has specialized education, many of the people who report rain or shine may only qualify as a “weathercaster” rather than a meteorologist, since they can claim only professional experience, and have no special course work or degree. Read the rest of this entry
I too read/heard/watched the media “uproar” about the deplorable behavior of Rutgers’ basketball coach Mike Rice. I also watched and noticed the relatively little bad press the university received about the issue. In a set of circumstances reminiscent of the recent Penn State child abuse scandal, the university appears to have been well aware of the circumstances. However, like Penn State, for a myriad of reasons – not all of which we have heard yet – the university took no appreciable action until the viral video displaying Rice’s truly abusive behavior left them with no choice.
Organizational tendencies like this one are not just prevalent in universities or giant corporations. They permeate the very establishments we work in or do business with every day. In our own organizations how frequently do we deny, ignore, rationalize, or even cover up inappropriate behavior rather than confronting it and addressing it? If you’re in the student transportation business you know that school site or department that is definitely not doing things right. It’s not your job to fix it, but you’re certain that if it were, you’d address the pattern of not taking action on problems. Read the rest of this entry
Maybe it’s the fact that, just last week, I delivered a keynote presentation in Florida about child abuse. Maybe it’s that, just yesterday, a safety officer for a state association told me of his worry that too much attention is on the threat of the “active shooter” in our schools to the exclusion of the continuing threat to students from sexual violence and domestic abuse. Either way, as I read an article in my local newspaper this morning about the firing of Rutgers College basketball coach Mike Rice, I was frightened by the potential parallels to adults who work with students with special needs – including school bus drivers. Read the rest of this entry
I’m a recovering pessimist. I admit it. In fact, there are times I’m kind of proud of it. Being a cup-half-empty guy doesn’t mean that life is miserable. Quite the contrary; for me it means that I’m never extremely disappointed when something bad not-so-surprisingly occurs. I’m also frequently pleasantly surprised by that positive thing I was pretty sure wouldn’t happen. In fact, I would argue that being a realistic pessimist (some would call us healthy skeptics or even pragmatists) allows a certain freedom. Because I’m pessimistic I take the extra time to help prevent that horrible event that just might happen. This allows me the comfort of knowing that, when I celebrate a success, the celebration probably isn’t going to be interrupted by something awful. Healthy skepticism or pessimism encourages us to prepare for the worst. It frequently keeps us from being surprised and, in many ways, it makes us better managers.
The challenge, as a pessimist, is to not let your expectations bias other people’s actions. For example, whether or not I believe that the Zags (Gonzaga) will go out in the second round of the NCAA championships, despite being ranked #1 in the nation, shouldn’t impact how the team will play. If I were the coach however, it would be best if I kept my doubts to myself. As a leader, it is important to project confidence and a “can do” attitude. If you let your pessimism (or skepticism) rule then you are far less likely to succeed.
To lighten things up on our blog I’ve created the following quiz to help you determine if you’re a secret or out-of-the-closet pessimist too. Count the number of statements you agree with.
- When I don’t hear anything on the dispatch radio, instead of believing everything is functioning smoothly, I’m more likely to believe the radio isn’t working.
- When no one raises any questions after a complex training, I’m as likely to assume they didn’t “get it” rather than assuming we did such a good job teaching and they did such a good job learning.
- When the kids were young and they were “playing quietly” I just knew something was wrong.
- When the host or hostess tells you it will be a ten minute wait for your table, you know it’ll be longer (but they don’t want to lose you as a customer.)
- “No news” probably doesn’t mean “good news.”
- When you see a pint glass that has only 8 ounces of water in it you think either a) half empty or b) someone’s inefficiently assigned the wrong size glass for that water.
- When the weather forecaster says it will be clear with light breezes this weekend he is just as likely to be describing what’s going on in his head as the actual weather forecast.
- When the service company says they’ll be there between 8 and 12, they really mean they have no clue when they’ll be there and they’ll probably be there at 12:15 just after you’ve left home.
- The bus inspector will almost always choose to inspect the one bus that we were too nauseous to finish cleaning last night when returning from a nausea-inducing ride down the mountain.
- I’ve always had a fondness for the saying “The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.”
- Rush hour seems to change based upon the time I get on the freeway.
If you agreed with 6 or more of the above statements, welcome to the club, fellow pessimist. Hold your head high (but watch out for low hanging objects.)
When I was in-house counsel for the district, I tried to make it a practice to follow up verbal discussion with a short email depicting what we had discussed. I began the practice only after having my “words” come back to me as gospel, when I hadn’t said – or at least meant – what the listener had heard.
At the Transporting Students with Disabilities Conference in Frisco TX last week, I was reminded of the importance of language. What you say can make such a difference.
The first story is one I heard from an attendee in one of my sessions. When a driver, whose primary language is not English, called dispatch to complain that a student had insulted him, the dispatcher heard, instead, that a student had “assaulted him.” The dispatcher immediately called 911, law enforcement arrived in force, and the “molehill” became a “mountain” quite quickly.
We know that parents react quite differently to the word “harness” than they would to “safety vest.” The federal government has, over time, become more sensitive to the reactions of students with special needs and their parents by changing the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (Public Law 94-142, enacted in 1975) to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 1997). In 2010, with little fanfare, President Barack Obama signed legislation known as “Rosa’s Law” requiring the federal government to replace the term “mental retardation” with “intellectual disability” in many areas of government.
When I referred at the TSD conference to “mufky pufky” meaning (to me, anyway) “hanky panky” of a sexual nature between students, I got a big laugh and a request to tell the world about my creative term. When I googled the phrase just now to see where I got it, I saw a 1965 birthday wish from one person to another, lovingly sending “Mufky Pufky and Ish kabibels” to the birthday girl, and a reference in a language that I don’t know but that sounded like something my grandmother from “the old country” would have said.
Words can be fun, mis-leading, provocative, and insulting – or is that, assaulting. Let’s all keep that in mind as we talk with family, colleagues, parents, and especially students.
People sell thousands of management books with the promise of showing you how to create great ideas. Some companies or departments seem to churn out great ideas at an amazing rate, while others wouldn’t know a great idea if it was naked standing in front of them. No book can tell you how to create ideas but there’s an easy tip to creating environments where great ideas flourish. In fact, we can learn a lot from a simple children’s fairytale written by the great Danish author Hans Christian Andersen.
In 1839 H.C. Andersen published The Emperor’s New Clothes. It was originally going to be a simple morality story which taught a lesson about vanity. If you’re not familiar with it, do a quick internet search. (I’ll wait.) At the last minute the author decided to change the ending. Instead of everyone just seeing the king naked and admiring the invisible clothes, Andersen added a small child who reveals the emperor’s nakedness. This changed the moral of the story significantly. There was still a lesson about vanity but now we all have an invaluable lesson about “speaking truth to power.” That little boy also holds the secret to a truly creative workplace.
Many of us identify with that little boy. When we see things that are wrong, we feel compelled to speak up. However, most organizations don’t encourage or even tolerate that Andersen’s child in us. They don’t want us to expose their weaknesses or they don’t want to be challenged. Maybe they know things are wrong but they really don’t want employees or customers throwing it in their faces. Since these organizations don’t welcome feedback they are often exposed (both liability-wise and otherwise.) They don’t correct problems that are obvious to others.
Another, less obvious problem caused by squelching or ignoring feedback is that it also hinders creativity. Great organizations encourage the free flow of ideas. In this environment anyone can raise an idea to improve things. Those ideas don’t always see the light of day because everyone in the organization is able to (and even required to) check the idea against reality. If the idea’s not going to work, every person in the organization must shout it out. Every member of the best organizations is obligated to be Andersen’s little boy. Because of that, everyone is encouraged to come up with great ideas without worrying about going out into the world with no clothes.
Try it in your organization. Next time someone points out a reason why an idea won’t work, instead of being frustrated with their negativity, try thanking him/her but keep thinking up ideas. Some of them will be great.