Leaders are Readers

Harry Truman is quoted as saying, “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.” Not that many years ago if someone had asked me what was the last book I read, I would struggle to tell them. Over the past couple years I have been reading regularly, and it’s been a good habit for me to resume.

Right now I am reading two books concurrently, both as part of book study groups. The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros is the book I am reading with ESU 11 librarians, and Leadership Redefined by Dave Weber is the other book we are reading as an ESU-wide book study. Both book studies are covering one chapter per week, and we post our thoughts and reflections in a Google Community. The schedule has been easy enough to keep, and it’s nice to hear other people’s thoughts as we progress through the chapters.

Most of my reading falls squarely under the non-fiction, professional development heading. I also listen to quite a few audiobooks as part of my daily commute (one hour each way). One of the more recent audiobooks I listened to was What EveryBODY is Saying authored by former FBI counterintelligence officer Joe Navarro. I’ve always been pretty observant and receptive to nonverbal communication, but this book was a real eye-opener.

I do occasionally venture out of the self-help section and enjoy reading for pleasure. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I finished reading Winging It! which is a stunning compilation of short stories outlining the aviation career of Jack Jefford. Jack is a distant relative in my family, so reading about his trials and tribulations as an Alaskan aviator made for a very enjoyable read.

Not surprisingly, I am also an avid reader and follower of various blogs. This is a great way to stay current with industry trends and news happenings. The byte sized reading is like a modern-day version of reading the daily newspaper. Feedly is my app of choice for reading various blogs through their RSS feed.

Reading is inarguably one of the best ways to grow professionally, learn, and it’s also a great mechanism to relax. I spend a lot of hours each day glued to a screen, so cracking open a paperback is a welcome release for the eyes and mind.

Bob and Weave

This past week I attended the 30th annual NETA conference in Omaha. One of the most anticipated sessions for me was one titled “Let’s Duke It Out–Google Apps vs. Microsoft Office”. The presenter, Ramona (Mona) Schoenrock, from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, set the stage to compare and contrast some of the features of both platforms. I didn’t check the odds line before walking in, but it was sure to be a contentious bout!

While initially prefacing the session as being non-biased, it quickly became apparent that this match was skewed in favor of Microsoft Office. One of my colleagues, Alex Wyatt, and I have passionate feelings about the dwindling need for a full-blown desktop productivity suite like Office, so we were quick to defend our champ on a number of points.

During the session’s Q&A portion I posed the following question both verbally and on Twitter:

I elaborated by saying that if we focused on teaching students the concepts they would be able to move fluidly between Word, Google Docs, Pages, or any other word processor application. Alex made a great analogy that we learn to drive a car, rather than learning to drive a Ford. If we rely on executing a series of specific moves to achieve a result we will be thwarted anytime a small variable upsets that sequence.

We have seen this manifest itself first hand when new versions of the Office suite have been released. People who had grown accustomed to “go here, click here” processes were lost when the menu system had changed. We need to teach critical thinking skills and expose learners to a variety of tools that can accomplish a given task. Employers say they want someone who knows Word. What they really mean is, “I need someone who can compose and edit documents.”

Daniel Pink is quoted as saying, “We need to prepare kids for their future, not our past.” This is never truer than during our rapidly evolving information era. It’s not important that you are certified in some specific application. In five years most of that won’t matter. What matters is how quickly you can learn and adapt to the next version. That is a marketable skill.

A Good Plan Today is Better Than a Perfect Plan Tomorrow

I have been saying this for years, and it is a maxim that I try to embody every day. If I can accomplish a good plan today, why put it off until tomorrow?

I was curious as to the origin of this phrase, beyond Anthony Hopkins’ character in the 1997 film The Edge. I presume that it is an adaptation of this famous General George S. Patton quote:

A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.

Patton’s quote certainly has applicability on the battlefield, but the same principle holds true in many other areas as well. In most cases, it’s advantageous to move forward immediately with a plan that you feel good about, rather than waiting for a perfect plan to unfold. Waiting on those last few details to fall into place can be time consuming, and often the hesitation will cost you in the end.

The perfect is the enemy of the good. I admit that I often times strive for perfection, but it’s helpful to dial things back and realize that you’re far better off to deliver a good product now than to deliver nothing at all.

Operational vs. Strategic

chessEach fall I am faced with the challenge of shifting from Operational mode to Strategic mode. This is an interesting transition that occurs each year, usually a few weeks following the flip of the crazy switch.

The summer months are filled with project implementations, equipment installs, and various other things to get done. Most of my time is devoted to completing projects that have been planned out months in advance. Once school resumes and things have settled down I find myself changing mindsets back to a planning and strategic mode. There are certainly times where these two paradigms overlap, but the transition is definitely noticeable.

The past two weeks have been a classic example of this metamorphosis. As I write this post I am in Omaha for three days at statewide ESU meetings, where we are learning and planning for trainings throughout the year. However, just last week I was scrambling to get schools converted to their new transport circuits, which is a project we anticipated would have been completed in July or early August. Shifting gears this quickly is a challenge, but it forces us to be flexible which is an invaluable character trait in our field.

This time of year also bears a change in my professional wardrobe. Instead of cargo shorts and t-shirts more suited for scaling ladders, I’m back to wearing shirt and tie as I navigate meetings instead of wiring closets!

The Changing Role of CTOs

shifterI recently attended the ISTE Conference in Denver. There was somewhere north of 14,000 educators from across the globe who made the trek to the mile-high city for this behemoth ed tech conference. Generally speaking, this conference is intended for teachers and other educational technology leaders to come learn, share ideas, and network with their peers. There’s also scads of vendors in the expo hall that are happy to bend your ear in exchange for some swag.

One session in particular that I found intriguing was titled The Changing Role of the Chief Technology Officer. It was a panel discussion featuring a who’s who list of speakers from around the ed tech world. This session resonated with me as I have made the transition from a very IT centric background into a position of leadership more focused on the core mission of our organization.

The modern CTO should be focused on the instructional needs of the district. ~Jeremy Shorr

The above quote from Jeremy came in the opening remarks of the session, but stuck with me throughout. Regardless of what vertical you work within, the same holds true. The person in charge of Technology should understand and relate to the core business. Too often we make technology the central focus, instead of applying it most effectively to our everyday operation. We must never lose sight of why we are using the technology. It is simply a tool we use to achieve our goals and move the organization forward.

It was helpful for me to be reminded of this principal. Having come from the “wires and pliers” world of IT it’s too easy to jump back into the technical side of things when the situation warrants. It reminds me of the 2006 film Firewall with Harrison Ford, where he plays the role of a CTO at a major bank. In one particular scene he jumps on the command line and crafts a firewall rule to thwart would-be be hackers, all while a rookie engineer watches in amazement. IT is never that glamorous, but with Harrison Ford at the keyboard there had to be some panache.