I’m Obsessed

I am obsessed and have lost most of my objectivity on the subject of ed tech leadership. When I ask individuals and groups what elements they notice in the best leaders they have worked with in their lives they answer, almost unanimously, with a list of personal characteristics:

honesty, trustworthiness, clarity, inspiring, trusting, integrity, caring, accountable, vision, courage, and many more…

When I ask them how they go about developing one or more of these traits in themselves or in others, one of two things happens:

One, it gets deadly silent. I imagine the unspoken conversation goes like this, “What do you mean how do you develop honesty or trustworthiness? You are honest or you are not.” You are trustworthy or you are not. You can’t learn these things.”

Or two, the more reflective folks say they read about leadership, they observe leaders they admire, and they write about their reflections and insights.

What’s making me obsessive and nuts is the realization that our orientation in k-12 education is almost exclusively to the mind, not embodiment. Even those who want to transform learning, those that see that kids need to DO more and listen less; look at learning leadership as a mental thing. Learn the “7 Habits”, the “8 Secrets”, the “9 Tips” and you are on your way to becoming an effective leader. It’s that mental thing that has me flummoxed right now.

Imagine that you want to become a violin player. You decide that you will read everything you can about playing the violin. You go to concerts and watch master violin players. You listen to violin music all the time. You write about what you are experiencing and discuss it with others. This may qualify you as an expert on violin players and violin music; but all this study does not equip you to give a concert.

Leadership is similar. It is an action, not just a body of knowledge or a role.

In order to be the best leaders we can be, we need to embody the characteristics of great leaders. Embodiment is more than mental knowledge, it has to be ingrained so deeply in our bodies, our spirits, and our minds, that our very presence…the way we speak, the way we comport ourselves, the way we act, the mood we project, even the way we stand; all reflect the attributes of an effective leader.

The killer is we already know this intuitively; after all, what makes us want to follow some people and not others? It’s not how much they know about leadership; but what kind of leaders they are that makes the difference. We know, that taking courses that help us understand leadership, or reading books that provide us with the “Habits”, “Secrets”, and “Tips” of great leaders only gives us a mental understanding; but for most of us this is what constitutes our leadership development.

That’s what’s where my obsession comes in. I have been trying to articulate a new way to develop leadership and I am failing miserably. I know that there is a way to take this “head knowledge” from our traditional forms of leadership development and have it become thoroughly embodied, so that it becomes our everyday way of being. I know it is possible because I have experienced it myself.

We need to adopt a “somatic” approach to learning. What is “somatics”?

“The word Somatics comes from the Greek word ‘Soma’, which translates as ‘the living body in its wholeness: the mind, the body, and the spirit as a unity’.

Somatics works with the emotional, physical, linguistic and ontological aspects of each individual to achieve a depth of learning that academic learning alone cannot achieve. This pragmatic approach allows for the virtues of Leadership and Mastery to emerge.

Just as a martial artist or athlete trains in new and familiar skill sets over an extended period of time, so does a leader or coach train toward Mastery. We do not become a leader by taking a one-day experiential seminar in leadership, or because we get promoted to a leadership position. We prove our leadership by who we are and how we present ourselves. To achieve this level of leadership, we train over time (just like the athlete) always looking for new areas to refine and build competency, listening, and presence.

These relatively new concepts exemplify the need to expand our notions of what learning is and how it happens. ” –The Strozzi Institute

So, what is a concrete step we can take? You can find a leadership coach or teacher who is familiar with the “somatic” approach to Leadership Mastery. With the help of your teacher or coach you can develop a set of recurrent leadership practices that you engage in every day, so that over time, you embody more powerfully the characteristics of effective leadership. Over time you will become the leader you have always wanted to be.

I know, I know, I’m obsessed…I’m obsessed because we need great leaders so badly and there is a proven way to develop them.


7 thoughts on “I’m Obsessed

  1. You are touching something big here, Pete.
    All of those books can be of assistance, but not in the way I see them being used.
    Learning about leadership can’t happen in a huge anonymous group of followers (a la ‘habits’ workshops and conferences) nor on your own in your bedroom or study as you read the books that tell you about the habits.
    Leadership is a necessity of organizations of relationship and needs to be learned in situ.
    I can not expect to learn about and develop my own leadership skills WITHOUT relationship!
    I’m curious. Where would you seek a coach? Within your workplace? I think this may be an easier option for teachers, but what about for a principal? Do you think the most effective coaches know a lot about the organization you work for or not?

  2. A different perspective…how can new RWW facilitate leadership “ementorship?”

    If such an approach is possible–and it must be since we are moving many of our interactions online–then how can Pete be a leadership ementor to the rest of us, floundering, seeking a sensei?


    Wishing you well,

    Miguel Guhlin

  3. Tracy,
    There are many different kinds of coaches. I recommend a coach that is familiar with a “somatic” approach to leadership. It would be rare to find such a person within a school. If you are interested in learning more go to http://www.strozziinstitute.com and explore a bit to get a sense of the discourse.

    After you begin your work with a coach, you can find people you trust within your workplace to act as “committed listeners”. Their job is to listen and support you as you begin to try new behaviors at work. They can also provide feedback on how you are doing and remind you when you are falling back into old patterns.

    It’s actually easier for administrators to be coached than for teachers because their schedules are more flexible.

    Your coach doesn’t need to know much about the organization. By working with you he/she will become familiar with the challenges you face, as well as the opportunities and possibilities that are there for you.

    Tracy, feel free to take this off-line and send me an e-mail.


  4. Miguel,
    It’s interesting that you should mention the RWW for this kind of work. I know of an experiment going on right now in a virtual world with a dozen or so folks being led by a master somatic coach. I know they are learning a lot about what works and what doesn’t work in this environment and generally there is a sense of possibility.

    My experience has been that I have gotten the most out of my learning by a combination of face to face meetings with my coach where we do partner practices, weekly phone calls to deepen the learning, and occasional seminars/retreats where I meet with others who are honing their leadership presence. We form a community that is very supportive of each other.

    The RWW can help with the “mind” part of the learning where we gather and share insights about ourselves; and it might help with providing each other moral support as we struggle to take our insights and turn them into new actions and behaviors…because this part of the learning can be frustrating (we fall back to old patterns so easily).

    On the other hand, the coach’s work is very individualized and focused on helping you get a clearer picture of yourself, your gifts, and the things that might be holding you back. These conversations may not lend themselves to public sharing on the RWW.

    Thanks to you and Tracy for pursuing this discussion. I have wanted to talk about it for some time now.


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