The Greatest

The phrase “greatest of all time” and its acronym G.O.A.T. have enjoyed a lot of publicity in recent years. This is especially true with social media where athletes get labeled with the title based on their prowess on the field or court. All I would have to do is tweet a picture of Michael Jordan along with a goat emoji and you would know exactly what I was suggesting. It leads to spirited debate and certainly brings out our passions and biases. It does, though, beg the question of whether such suggestions and debates are healthy.

Let’s start with what I know without question or debate, Jesus is the greatest teacher of all time. He transformed people who lived during His time on earth with His radical teachings, and over two-thousand years later believers around the world still follow his lessons. On nearly thirty occasions in the bible Jesus was referred to as “Teacher.” Even Jesus’ enemies called him “Teacher” (Mark 12:14). He used the techniques of sermons, conversations, and parables to translate really complicated ideas into easy-to-understand lessons. He used common everyday situations to teach spiritual truths.  His style was warm, compassionate, vulnerable, and humble. And He never put Himself before His message.

Something else I know is that the greatest teacher of all time gave us the greatest lesson of all time – which is to love. Love God and love others. There couldn’t be a simpler lesson to understand than go forth and love others. Yet simple isn’t easy. And I catch myself many times a day not loving others. It might look like judging, envy, or neglect, but it certainly isn’t love. Perhaps that is why God put the idea of Chief Experience Officer (CXO) 1 in my heart? For me, it is a simple construct to help me be the person I aspire to be – the person God wants me to be.

It is interesting to compare the concept of G.O.A.T. to the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46). Imagine we are all brought before the Lord and He separates us “as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.” We would be grouped with the sheep because of the good works we did. We would be grouped with the goats because, well, of the opposite. And imagine the sheep are blessed by God the Father, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.” In other words the sheep demonstrated the greatest lesson of all time, they loved others. And the goats would ask, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?” And Jesus instructs them saying, “Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.”

It is interesting that in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats it is the sheep who are the greatest, which is to say they treated others with kindness, respect, and serving them as though they were Christ Himself. So while fun to think about whom the greatest athlete of all time is, or rock star, or actor, being the G.O.A.T. should also be a reminder to us all that the most important thing we are called to be great at is loving God and others.

1I Am CXO, Now What? A Job Description For Living A Life Of Purpose And Meaning, WestBow Press, 2017

Do You Connect with Back to School?

It has been a number of months since my last blog. In full disclosure, I have been preoccupied searching for and ultimately starting a new job. Now that I have settled in, somewhat, I hope to get back on a more regular cadence of posting. Now, on to the good stuff! Thank you for reading.

It’s that time of year again: back to school. What, in May or June, seemed like a long and boundless summer ahead of us has quickly faded to cooler nights and yellowing leaves. At my house, back to school means my daughter will begin her sophomore year of high school; my son embarks on his freshman year of college; and my wife returns for her twenty-third year as a special education teacher.

LCM
Learner Connectivity Model

For me, back to school makes me think about renewal; fresh opportunities and new beginnings. It also makes me think about relationships and making connections. And, naturally, there are the nerves that can accompany the fresh start. For educators, it is a pivotal time to build rapport and inspire learning. And I am reminded of a framework for effectiveness in the educator role that I developed called the Learner Connectivity Model. Inclusive of all types of education – whether you are a teacher, instructor, trainer, facilitator, professor, coach, religious education leader, paid or volunteer – this model will help you make connections and increase effectiveness. It is composed of three parts: 1) Building connections between learners; 2) Building connections between learners and the learning content; and 3) Building connections between the teacher and the learner.

Building Connections Between Your Learners

LearnersMost learning – good learning – doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Whether your group size is 2 or 200, leveraging the connection between learners can catapult enthusiasm for learning. When learners feel a part of a group and empathy is established between learners who have differing perspectives, trust increases. As trust increases performance goes up. Additionally, you can maximize the effect of social learning. Experts argue that as much as 70% of learning can come from our peer groups. Social, or peer-to-peer, learning is happening whether the teacher is intentional about it or not, so why not jump out in front of it? If you don’t believe social learning exists, watch this classic Candid Camera video. Or, consider this scene from the blockbuster movie “A Few Good Men.” Tom Cruise’s character (Lt. Daniel Kaffee) asks Noah Wyle’s character (Cpl. Jeffrey Barnes) how he could possibly know where the mess hall is if it is not listed in the Marine’s training/operational manual. Cpl. Barnes responded by saying, “I guess I just followed the crowd at chow time.”

So how do you facilitate connections between your learners (or students)? Examples include: using icebreakers or get-to-know-you games, implementing classroom leadership roles, establishing learning buddies or accountability partners, maximizing diversity, using partner sharing, and assigning small group projects. Avoid becoming the center of attention. Aim instead to create an environment where students can keep growing on their own or with their peers. Whenever possible, step away and create moments of independence. How about you? What else have you done or could you do to promote peer-to-peer connections?

Building connections between learners and the learning

LearningLearning can be like a string of lights where when one bulb goes out, the whole strand doesn’t work. Learners are more successful when they can make connections between what they are learning and something they already know; it keeps the lights on. For example, when I began taking guitar lessons a couple of years ago I was able to draw on the knowledge of how to read notes from the piano lessons I took when I was in middle school. Whatever the learning goal or outcome is, and please share it explicitly with your students, if the learners can make an emotional connection to it the likelihood of being able to demonstrate proficiency skyrockets. Students want clear answers to the following three questions: What is it I am learning? Why am I learning it? What do I do with it? The more you can assist your students in finding compelling answers to those questions the better.

To help establish connections between your learners and what they are learning, try the following: frame up the learning by providing context and expectations, clearly state the learning objectives, establish relevancy, make connections to prior learning, empower students to make choices about about what is learned and when, allow time for reflection, use storytelling, and insert random knowledge checks. Great teachers don’t stand up in front and deliver motivational speeches (once and a while it is a magical happenstance). They stand alongside their students and deliver relevant information in small, meaningful chunks that encourage the learner to think critically.

Building connections between you and the learners

TeacherI know what you are thinking: it is not your job to be a friend to your students. And I won’t argue with you there. Yet it is clear and undeniable that if a student doesn’t like his or her teacher it will get in the way of their learning. Students will most likely remember you for how you made them feel, rather than how you instructed. Effective teaching – like most human interaction – is based on trust, which is established within the first few minutes of interaction. Before you can instruct, you have to show that you care.

To have inspirited learners, they need to see your passion and credibility. If something fires the student’s instinctive part of their brain to fight or flight, emotion runs high and their ability to exercise sound reason and judgement decreases. Allow me to share an example. My daughter arrived home from her first day of freshman year high school with a dislike for one of her teachers. That attitude didn’t change all year. What happened? The teacher’s first words to his students on the first day were, “This is the most difficult class you will take and most of you will fail.” Instinct…emotions…reason…“I don’t like this guy.” On the other hand, when a student believes their teacher cares about them and is an advocate for them then he or she will work harder in that class. Demonstrate your aptitude for compassion, forgiveness, and kindness; it matters how you treat your students.

How do you build connections between yourself and your learners? Examples include: connecting on an emotional level, smiling, listening, creating a safe environment for learning and sharing, celebrating achievements (even small ones), storytelling, and implementing “test and tells” to assess prior knowledge.

What works for you? What best practices can you adopt? Reach out to colleagues or friends who are teachers and learn from their successes and failures in establishing connections with their students. Make this the best back to school ever, and know that students and teachers are better together.

Core Competence, CXO Style

Take our CXO competency poll, powered by dANIMATED, LLC.
When I think about the roles I participate in – whether it be parent, husband, author, speaker, golfer, or guitarist – I am intrinsically motivated to do them well. I have a desire to achieve proficiency. Each is a work in progress and I strive to improve each day. For me to get better and excel in my roles, I must possess or develop certain attributes or skills. For example, I need patience to be an effective father and perseverance to advance as a guitar player. The same is true for us in our workplaces. For us to meet our organizations’ expectations for our role, we should be able to perform various tasks and skills at a target level. These tasks and skills are often referred to as competencies, and collectively they make up a success profile. But when we are mismatched with the profile, or not given opportunities to develop and grow our competency, we struggle to meet expectations and fall short of achieving proficiency.

The global people and organizational advisory firm Korn Ferry explains it this way, “Like the periodic table of elements, it depends on what you want to make. Water is two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen (H2O). The make-up of salt is NaCl (sodium + chloride). What is the make-up of a successful general manager, department head, or specialized individual contributor? This is where the practice of success profiling and competency modeling come into play.” I love that image; one part this, two parts that, and you can make the profile for effectiveness in any given role. Take my earlier example of being a guitarist and the necessary competency of perseverance. You could argue that perseverance is important to success at every and anything, and you might be right. But a part of competency modeling is to prioritize which elements are the most essential to getting the desired outcome from the role. Guitar players must have the discipline to practice, the persistence to fight through the initial pain in your fingertips, and the drive to learn new techniques; all which mandate perseverance. Mix in fine motor dexterity and you get an even more proficient guitarist; while  interpersonal skills may not be as essential to a guitar player. And perseverance may not be as important to my role as author or speaker if I am not first competent in written communication and presentation skills. Alas, getting the mix of elements right is critical or your NaCl wont taste like salt.

In my book, “I Am CXO, Now What?”, I spell out six competencies (elements) ideal for reaching high performance as a Chief Experience Officer. If you are not familiar with it, I summarize the role of CXO as delivering exemplary, life-changing experiences to others. Or to say it another way, a CXO strives to give positive experiences to others who interact with him or her. In this blog, I aim to define each of the six core competencies for a CXO. The competencies may be a behavioral skill, technical skill, attribute, or attitude, and will assist CXOs in carrying out the principal duties required of the role. For example, one of the principal duties of a CXO is to sacrifice your time, money, or effort for the sake of someone else. We are better equipped to do so when we possess the competencies of humility and generosity. And while there may be many other attributes and skills that would contribute to being a proficient CXO, I have prioritized these six as most important. And they afford us a finite number of measurable and achievable targets to focus on.

As you review the descriptions I assigned to each competency, I urge you to reflect on which come most easily to you and which you need to work the hardest at in order to demonstrate it consistently. That isn’t to say you can’t or don’t achieve that competency, it may just take more work for you or isn’t a natural tendency. In no particular order, here is the success profile for a CXO.

Chief Experience Officer Core Competencies

Approachability
  • Accessible and easy to talk to
  • Sensitive to the interpersonal anxieties of others
  • Puts others at ease
  • Knows how or when to be warm and gracious
Positivity
  • An attitude of optimism and hopefulness
  • Sees possibilities and opportunities
  • Sees the good in others
Authenticity
  • Pure, exposed, and genuine
  • True to your own personality, spirit, and character
  • Void of pretense
  • Self-aware
Vulnerability
  • Embracing emotional exposure and uncertainty
  • Openness to differing ideas, opinions, and cultural norms
  • Allowing others into your heart
Humility
  • Courteously respectful of others
  • Self-restraint and gentleness
  • Openness to having your mind changed
  • Putting others first
Generosity
  • Sacrificing time, money, or energy for others
  • Kindhearted and boundless
  • Belief that gifts are meant to be shared

How about you? Do you find yourself having to stretch and work harder to demonstrate one of these competencies more so than the others? Be honest with yourself; there is no benefit to being disingenuous here. Keep in mind, past mistakes and room for improvement don’t preclude you from being a CXO. In fact, they only heighten your potential for success. Please participate in the anonymous online poll and assess which competency you need to work the hardest at in order to demonstrate is consistently. I will be collecting data until the end of September and analyzing trends. Then, in a future blog, I will provide development ideas and resources for how individuals can increase their competence in the area most commonly identified.

Rough Writer

Not too long ago I was given a Theodore Roosevelt bobblehead by some dear friends of mine; a couple who I have laughed with, broke bread with, prayed with, and watched our kids grow up with. The bobblehead is the second in my collection of Teddy heads, the first I picked up for myself in Galena, IL. Anyone who has ever been to Galena knows the charming city overlooking the banks of the Galena River is best known for having been a residence to General Ulysses S. Grant. But when visiting the tourist center and gift shop I couldn’t resist getting a souvenir honoring one of my personal favorite historical figures – TR. My apologies to General Grant.
 
I am not sure where my friends found the bobblehead they gave me. They said when they saw it they thought of me and just had to get it. When presenting it to me, they took a few minutes to tell me why they wanted to get it for me. They said something about a “thank you” for some help I had given them – it was a kind and unnecessary gesture; though, honestly, I wasn’t really paying attention because I was distracted trying to figure out at the moment how they knew about my fondness for Roosevelt. Had I told them? Had they seen my other bobblehead? Did I share that I had read some of his books? Did I mention him during a presentation I had given that they had sat in on? I couldn’t remember. Finally, it came to me; it didn’t matter how they knew! I am certainly not embarrassed by or ashamed of others knowing that I gravitate towards the lessons on character, service, and what it means to be a leader that I learned from Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt. It is actually great news that they know this about me. It helped to answer the life question, “Do others know what you stand for?”
 
Aside from being our 26th President, here are (in no particular order) a few other milestones achieved by Teddy Roosevelt. He was governor of New York, Vice President under William McKinley, Nobel Peace Prize winner, captain of the National Guard, cattle rancher, New York Assemblyman, conservationist, New York City Police Commissioner, Assistant US Navy Secretary, prolific author, explorer (see The River of Doubt), Medal of Honor recipient (albeit posthumously), and leader of a volunteer cavalry known as the Rough Riders. And he did all this after overcoming severe health problems as a child; problems that likely contributed to his humble self-image as being a very “average” man. In the biography The Seven Worlds of Theodore Roosevelt by Edward Wagenknect, Roosevelt is credited with saying:
“In most things I am just about average; in some things I am a little under rather than over. I am only an ordinary walker, I can’t run. I am not a good swimmer, though a strong one. I probably ride better than anything else I do, but I certainly am not a remarkably good rider. I am not a good shot. I could never be a good boxer, though I keep at it, whenever I can. My eye sight prevents me from being a good tennis player…I am not a brilliant writer. I have written a great deal, but I always have to work and slave over everything I write. The things I have done are all, with the possible exception of the Panama Canal, just such things as any ordinary man could have done. There is nothing brilliant or outstanding in my record at all.”
 
There are a number of quotes attributed to Roosevelt that when I take the time to reflect on really makes an impression on my life and serve well as a moral and ethical guide. My favorites include:
  • Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.
  • In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.
  • A thorough knowledge of the Bible is worth more than a college education.
  • To educate a man in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society.
  • The best executive is one who has sense enough to pick good people to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.
  • Courtesy is as much a mark of a gentleman as courage.”
  • The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people.
  • Big jobs usually go to the men who prove their ability to outgrow small ones.”
  • Character, in the long run, is the decisive factor in the life of an individual and of nations alike.
  • The one thing I want to leave my children is an honorable name.
  • People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
I should also mention this list does not include the lengthier, inspirational speech commonly known today as “The Man in the Arena.” Every time I read it I get goosebumps and imagine myself reading it with a powerful voice akin to the likes of Morgan Freeman or James Earl Jones. Check it out online if you are not familiar with it.
 
But I want to focus my attention today on another quote of Roosevelt’s which touches me in a profound way. It reads simply, “I am a part of everything that I have read.” Read it again, “I am a part of everything that I have read,” and allow it to sink in. Take it to heart and consider everything you have read is now a part of you. Have you read the bible? What about a birthday card? Have you read derogatory comments posted on Facebook? They are all now a part of you. How does that make you feel? Assuming the quote to be true it begs the question, “What are you reading?” What should you be reading? Do you need to make an adjustment to your reading habits? And I am not just talking about novels here; consider magazines, websites, social media posts, and blogs like this one. Each is a part of you. Like a grease stain on a white shirt that you can’t get out, you are a part of everything that you have read. 
 
Take it another step further and again assuming the statement to be true, what are you writing that others read…which is now a part of them? “I am not an author,” you suggest. Oh, but you are. Take into account every email, text, performance appraisal, and Tweet you draft. Would you approach your writing differently if you were cognizant of the fact that your reader is “a part of everything that he/she has read?”
 
I interpret Roosevelt’s statement to be an example of a force multiplier. In other words, what you focus on expands. If you read negative, intolerant, hate messages you will have more negativity in your life. Conversely, if you read uplifting, encouraging, and inspirational literature (especially first thing in the morning) you will set the tone for a positive day. And if you write something that is constructive and accepting you just might make someone’s day a little better.