Centralize or Decentralize Education Reform?

I read an essay that argued for decentralization of school transformation. Then I read another essay that said the first opinion piece had it all wrong: school reform had to be centralized.

What is needed to reinvent education in America?

A massive number of mature, visionary, enlightened, and tough-love leaders at all levels who can face-down and then engage with politicians, school boards, parent groups, bureaucracies,  powerful unions, ingrained cultures,  along with city, state, and national institutions without losing their vision, values, compassion, and a warrior’s dose of ruthlessness.

Anything less than that will fail to transform anything: efforts will simply recreate the school systems “leaders” say they want to change.

Get the leaders you need and the appropriate ways to organize will emerge.

Good luck with that: abandonment of the old models would be easier.

A time for Accountability in the Hoffner Case

If people in positions of power can operate in anonymity, hide behind data privacy laws, and can get away with unethical behavior against a high-profile head football coach, then imagine what they get away with every day with everyday employees?

My letter to Minnesota State Senator Terri Bonoff:

May 3, 2014

Dear Senator Bonoff:

Now retired, I spent my career as a Secret Service agent, Star Tribune executive, and self-employed leadership consultant and writer about leadership and organizations. Therefore, I followed the Todd Hoffner case with great interest and deep concern from the beginning (below is a blog piece I published on July 12, 2013 entitled “A Grave Injustice”).

The judge dismissed the criminal charges. The arbitrator evaluated the evidence presented and ruled on Hoffner’s suspension and dismissal. The judge strongly criticized authorities and the arbitrator strongly criticized university decision makers.

You and Representative Pelowski asked for an independent review of the university and the Minnesota Colleges and University system.

The citizens of Minnesota do not need a rehash of the criminal charges or the suspension and discharge of Hoffner and the evidence utilized to justify those actions. Those issues have been decided. Nor is the primary issue the laws, processes, and procedures utilized by the university as stated by university President Davenport. My reaction to his letter requesting an investigation by the legislator is that he is seeking a fig leaf to cover the decisions and actions of people in positions of power and to avoid being responsible and accountable for those actions and decisions.

What is needed, and what I believe you asked for, is a thorough investigation of the thinking, motives, strategies, and decisions of everyone involved in the actions taken against Hoffner including Chancellor Rosenstone who I cannot imagine did not approve the actions taken by university President Davenport.

I wrote in my blog post:

It is never right to punish the victim of injustice for the embarrassment that injustice may cause a big institution.

I believed from the first report that the law enforcement people acted from hysteria. I believed that the university authorities acted from a desire to protect the university from unwanted attention this case brought to it. Instead of standing against the legal system’s hysterical reaction, they blamed the victim, something so common in our society. This was an awful thing to do.

Assigning Hoffner to a non-existent position and sticking him in a storage closet was designed to humiliate and scapegoat him so he would quit. I saw such sinister behavior often in the corporate world and always found it repugnant. When he didn’t quit, they threw everything they could come up with against him hoping it would add up to a defensible justification to fire him. Did this behavior model for students and the citizens of Minnesota the type of management and leadership we expect of highly paid administrators of our state institutions? Did it demonstrate the values of the university and the university system? The arbitrator nicely dissected each issue they came up with.

It is important to expose those involved and to hold them accountable because if people in positions of power can operate in anonymity, hide behind data privacy laws, and can get away with unethical behavior against a high-profile head football coach, then imagine what they get away with every day with everyday employees?

Please keep the focus of this investigation on the actions of people in leadership positions and hold them accountable for the missteps taken, not laws, processes, and procedures.

Sincerely,

Tom Heuerman, Ph.D.

 

Blog post of July 12, 2013:

Todd Hoffner was a good football coach. Only a month earlier, Minnesota State University, Mankato had awarded him a new 4-year contract with a raise of more than 15%.

But on August 17, 2012, his life changed:

Hoffner had turned a malfunctioning cell phone in to the University for repair. On the phone were two short videos of his three young children as they laughed, danced, frolicked, and played in the nude after baths. In post Jerry Sandusky hysteria, university employees turned the phone over to the police.

Hoffner was placed on investigative leave.  Did the University act precipitously or were they prudent to be cautious?

Then bad judgment: a few days later Hoffner was arrested on two felony counts of suspicion of producing and possessing child pornography. Has insanity become normalized, I wondered.

County human-services officials quickly determined that no sexual abuse or maltreatment of Hoffner’s children had occurred. Nothing suspicious was found on his laptop, in his home, or in extensive searches at his earlier places of employment. The County attorney refused to drop the charges.

Last November, Blue Earth County District Judge Krista Jass dismissed the charges against Hoffner for lack of probable cause. She rebuked County prosecutors and her strongly worded order made it clear that the videos were innocent hijinks, not porn.  Thank God for a brave and lucid judge.

Will the community hold the county attorney accountable for the actions that did great harm to a decent family? Remember citizens of Mankato, if you don’t stand up for the victims of power abused, who will stand up for you when you are the victim?

Did the University reinstatement Hoffner as expected?

No, administrators gave Hoffner a 20 day suspension apparently for using his university cell phone for personal use. The length of suspension appears excessive to this veteran of 18 years of labor relations experience.

Administrators then removed Hoffner from his position as coach and reassigned him to a non-job administrative position and stuck him away in a closet. Then they fired him without explanation.

What motivated the actions of University managers?

Did political enemies in the bureaucracy take advantage of the opportunity to get rid of Hoffner ─the successful coach who had just signed a 4-year contract with a big raise?

Or, did the culture of the institution drive decision-making?  Protecting the institution from whatever people or situations are perceived to be threats to the image of the institution often becomes paramount in crisis and doing what is right regardless of politics and institutional embarrassment get lost entirely. Did Hoffner have to go because he brought embarrassment to the University?

It is never right to punish the victim of injustice for the embarrassment that injustice may cause a big institution.

Or, did the University investigation that came about because of false accusations and an unjust arrest lead to the discovery of new information that on its own justified an immediate termination?

We don’t know the answers to these and many other questions because University officials acted in secret behind closed doors and have shared only cold and terse written announcements. No human face speaks for the University, only a lifeless and uncaring bureaucracy.

Hoffner will challenge his firing in arbitration later this summer. If the University comes up with a reason for his discharge aside from the false allegations of peddling porn, it better be a good one. Remember, this is the coach who had just signed a new 4-year contract with a big raise. Any known issues with Hoffner from before that contract was signed are moot after the new contract effectively endorsed Hoffner fully. Will any new issues be legitimate and rise to the level needed to justify his abrupt termination or will they be concocted efforts to justify earlier bad judgments, political assassination, or the dark side of corporate culture?

The community should watch with discerning eyes.

 

 

Great for Holiday Gifts, Discounted till 8:00 A.M. Sunday (PST)

My e-book, “Learning to Live: Essays on Life & Leadership” is available for $3.99 (43% discount) for the next 21 hours (8:00am Sunday PST)

Customer Reviews

5.0 out of 5 stars Essays on Life as Art November 23, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Amazon Verified Purchase
“Sometimes we find ourselves in the presence of others who elevate us by their substance, credibility , and essential goodness,” writes Tom Heuerman in this compelling autobiographical sketch–and so it is with his “Learning to Live” Essays on Life and Leadership”–an eBook that simply must become part of a series.“I aspire to live my life as improvisational art,” he says. And shows the way.
Format:Kindle Edition|Amazon Verified Purchase
An insightful series of stories that can be read and appreciated by anyone! Tom does a terrific job of writing stories that we all can find ourselves in. As a previous employee of the Star Tribune, I can personally attest to his leadership.
 5.0 out of 5 stars Learning to Live: Essays on Life and Leadership June 13, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition
It’s like a map wherein each chapter contains a pearl of wisdom that can help the reader/seeker to find its better self to live as Tom does: an authentic life
5.0 out of 5 stars Authenticity at its best! June 10, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition
Learning to Live is a work of art that every person daring to experience life should read. The author uses words that will bring you as close to humanity as possible. His way of sharing his journey through darkness into light is extraordinary. This is a testament to the fact that life can and should be practiced and lived. Whether you’re a seasoned leader or a start-up leader, this book is a reminder of how valuable each human being is. The end game isn’t in perfection but in living.I highly recommend this book. Great read!

My New Book: Value Driven Leadership

I am happy to announce the publication of my second e-book: Value Driven Leadership: A Story of Personal and Organizational Transformation at Amazon.com 

You may not be interested in leadership and organizations or in a more than 20-year-old story but stick with me for a moment.

Some times in life we have an unexpected experience that dramatically alters the trajectory of our life forever.

This book is about one of those experiences in my life.

I didn’t set out to be a change agent at the Star Tribune newspaper in Minneapolis, MN. I needed a job. On my first day, the union steward told me what the rules were: dress down, cheat on expenses and overtime, and don’t make other union guys look bad.

I wasn’t going to conform to mediocrity or let someone else decide the course of my life. I set out to change the place. About 15 years later, a vice president told me that I was making others mad by leading change in the culture of the company. I continued to do what I was doing.

In between those sickening moments, I led change in the work, culture, and performance of the company through nine promotions and steps on the organizational chart.

Sometimes people come together and create something special and when that happens, it is mystical.

Challenged by a Teamster’s Union organizing effort and revenue shortfalls in the newspaper industry, we had to cut millions of dollars from the budget and defeat the union. We decided to do something different. We defined Value Driven Leadership for ourselves and choose to live true to our values. We created a vision for our work lives. We got everyone involved. We made sure everyone felt valued, involved, and informed.

Fifteen months later, we were a national success story. We melded employee engagement with values and respect for people and brought forth phenomenal business results. Business guru, Tom Peters, wrote about us. We spoke at conferences around the country. People came to visit and see our work. The CEO said out work would change the company forever. Of course there was a dark side to all of this, and I write about that too.

While we did this ground-breaking work, the newspaper industry sat on the edge of a precipice that threatened its very life: The Internet and its impending impact on newspaper readership and advertising revenue.

Soon the industry was in a free-fall decline. The Star Tribune went bankrupt. What happened to our industry-leading work that might help renew an industry?

You may not be interested in leadership, organizations, or newspapers. This story is about much more than those things: the newspaper setting is only the container for a larger story about how life works and can work in all aspects of our lives if we pay attention and learn about the deeper dynamics of life and how to utilize those underlying forces to create a high-energy life filled with aliveness.

My first e-book, Learning to Live: Essays on Life & Leadership tells the story of how my life changed based on the experiences in my new book.

I’d be grateful if you would help me spread the word. Thanks!

Leading in Chaos

In simple terms chaos is order without predictability. That is, there are systems, physical and social, that are well understood and yet are fundamentally unpredictable. Thus, chaos is not anarchy or randomness. Chaos is order, but it is order that is invisible. T.J. Cartwright

Anxiety engulfs many in leadership positions today. To others they display a calm and confident persona. Inside they feel lost, scared, confused, and out of control in response to dangers seen and unseen; known and denied. They often attempt to reduce their distress via quick-fixes: mindless reorganizations, repetitive change programs, and superficial remedies to systemic issues.

They work futilely to avoid discomfort, gain control, and find security not understanding that what is asked of leadership today goes counter to the mental models of the Industrial Era ingrained within them, generally without their awareness. They try to lead from old beliefs in a new world.

Heroic leaders come and go each with their own painless program that promises to make everyone feel in control once again. Most of their programs end before being fully implemented when the next savior takes over with her own plan to restore stability. Most of the time, effort, and money are wasted. Little changes except the organizations become more insidiously paternalistic. No one talks about this repetitive and addictive pattern of behavior.

Dr. Rachel Remen wrote, “In avoiding all pain and seeking comfort at all costs we may be left without mercy and compassion. In rejecting change and risk, we often cheat ourselves of the quest. In denying suffering, we may never know our strength and our greatness.” Deep change, which is required, is difficult: scary, painful, and uncertain. Such transformation also renews people and organizations and improves the chances for the sustainability of the enterprise.

D.H. Lawrence wrote, “The great virtue in life is real courage that knows how to face facts and live beyond them.” Much angst comes from people’s refusal to see the world as it is and themselves as they are. We live in the midst of multiple global transformations with outcomes unknown and in the background the deep dangers of global climate change grow daily. People in leadership roles cannot elude the chaos of life that is the context of leadership today and as far into the future as anyone can foresee. Many in the industrial world were conditioned for order, control, and predictability and this blinds many from the truth: chaos is healthy, creative, potential filled, and life renewing.

Leadership in the chaos of a dynamic world requires capacities vastly different than the capabilities needed in a world thought of as a great machine–as different as the skills of a mechanic and an artist.

Many frustrated leaders with mechanistic worldviews try to lead living organizations as they fix machines with control, conformity, and predictability being the goals. The leadership toolkit of the mechanic is mostly wrong for today’s leadership context. The artist’s palette of choices and eye for process, pattern, and relationships feed imagination and are needed on the organizational canvas more than the mechanic’s wrench.

Instead of dampening the energy surrounding them, wise leaders understand its dynamics, embrace its power, bring forth its potential, and develop the artistic capabilities needed to lead within the deeper and unpredictable order.

Astute leaders do not attempt to run and hide from themselves or frantically conceal symptoms of systemic problems with cosmetic solutions. They face their fears with courage and honesty and transform the dangers they sense to opportunities. They confront squarely the genuine problems old-school enterprises face in perpetual chaos: incongruent thought processes, problems of vision and values, the management of change, issues of mediocrity and organizational capacity, questions of sustainability, the truth of leadership capability, and matters of responsibility and accountability.

True leaders embrace the risk, honesty, and loneliness of a leader’s journey within: a creative odyssey of challenge, excitement, stimulation, and development of new ways to think about leadership.

They are the leaders we need for the 21st century.