Sunday, January 24, 2016

Standards Matter

Colin Cowherd is by far my favorite radio talk show host. For those of you that are not familiar with him or his work, he spent nearly 15 years as the midday talk show host on ESPN Radio, presenting his views on everything from sports to business to social attitudes and behaviors. He really isn’t an X’s and O’s guy.  He doesn’t really break-down game tape or schemes.  Rather, he is an excellent editorialist.   I found over the years that I agreed with the vast majority of his positions and that I could almost always apply his thoughts to my work and life as an educator and professional in some way. His show became appointment listening for me and if I missed the show or parts of it during the day, I would seek it out via his podcast in the evening. In the summer of 2015, he made some off the cuff remarks that were certainly inappropriate and misplaced (and that I could never endorse or support) and was removed from ESPN Radio. Fortunately for him and for his listeners, he was already signed to another network and began his new show on Fox radio and television broadcasting in the fall. I was so happy to see him back on the air. I love his new show and always look forward to considering his positions. His work is usually smart, insightful, sometimes controversial, and always thought provoking. There is no doubt that there are many who dislike his work. I think he is smart and I like generally always like smart entertainment and ideas.

Almost a year ago, he spent a great deal of time during several shows talking about the fact that standards matter. He has always been critical of quarterbacks that wear their hat backwards, show up in compromising videos and photographs, misrepresent their organization, or don't live up to the many standards one might expect of someone that is the face of a multi-million dollar organization. He argues that we all have the right to be casual or not to meet the general standards of society. But, if that is the case, we shouldn't expect to be the leader and the top paid employee. In many ways, I agree with this position.  Leaders, rather, should be willing to look and act the part in every way. Sometimes that means putting on a tie.  Sometimes that means simply being discreet.  Sometimes that means getting your hair cut or shaving off that stubble. And sometimes that means conforming to some other element of society in order to inspire others to follow. This doesn't mean selling out. And, it doesn't mean that we should be someone we're not. But, if one desires to have the respect of a broader segment of society, one must act the part.

I feel like there are numerous evident examples of this in our current political season and I find many applications of this concept in my own professional life in education.  Back in the 1980's when I was a young teacher, I was fortunate to have 3 very strong mentors in Palmyra school district in Pennsylvania. One was an older elementary general music teacher named JB Yorty. JB was a dedicated elementary music educator who dressed to the nines every day for work. He was a Type A personality in every respect and had his lessons planned out to the minute. He garnered a great deal of respect from the other teachers and was an exceptional music educator and musician. His students respect learn the material and always performed at the highest levels. I can remember one particular day when I came to work dressed very (overly) casually. JB looked at me and said, “Scott Laird! If you want respect, you must dress in a respectable manner." Let me tell you, I went out and bought some decent dress shoes and wore a tie to work every day the rest of that year. After I moved away from Palmyra, I worked for Dr. Gerald Boarman at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt Maryland. Jerry was also an “appearance” guy. He was always dressed impeccably and definitely respected those who acted in the same manner. For many years, I wore a suit and tie to work every day. Now, I have been in the south for 15 years, and admittedly, acceptable standards and my daily attire have become a bit more casual. But, I still think about how I look and what I am saying with my appearance on a daily basis when I head out the door.  JB and Jerry showed me that standards matter.

One of the current political candidates in the presidential race has a habit of wearing jeans to events. I simply can't stand this. If one wants to be elected president, one must look and act presidential. For my money, jeans don't cut it. There are other candidates that don't live up to standards that I would endorse. Hate speech is not presidential. Condescension is not presidential. These standards absolutely matter as we are selecting candidates for the presidency of the United States. To me, this delineation is easy to make. I expect smart. I require high standards.

Standards, however, go way beyond appearance. Another area that I think about a great deal is simply how we must be willing to hustle to get work done on a daily basis. Moving back to my football reference, one always hears that the best quarterbacks are those that are the first one in the training facility and the last one to leave. I believe this to be true for anyone who desires to be a leader and the face of an organization. I feel very strongly but there is delineation between folks that “move with purpose” and folks who don’t. I know that my three sons get tired of hearing me say “move with purpose,” “show some hustle.” But, I truly believe those that work harder and longer are the ones that ultimately succeed. Sometimes simply “wanting it more” is the difference. I try to exemplify hustle and want-to on a daily basis and I expect it from my sons.  I definitely learned this from my parents. I also try to instill this in my students on a daily basis through word and example.  All too often, folks are concerned with the hours that are listed in their contract expectations or protecting their personal time. Especially early in one's career, but really for all of us, this can't really be a factor if you want to truly be a leader. I feel like it is much more important to get the job done thoroughly and expediently, without regard to the time or energy that a task requires. One has to move with purpose.

Another standard that matters a great deal is use of language. My wife and I attended a party recently where one of the guests was cursing loudly and often. This went on for quite some time and I have to admit that I lost a fair amount of respect for that person. Yes, we were in a social setting.  But, we make judgments about other folks based on the way they act. In this case, their standards of appropriate language caused me to make a judgment. I would not hire that person to be a leader in my organization.

Another standard that matters is how we treat others. Those that generally treat everyone with kindness are much more likely to hold a place of respect in my eyes. If I were hiring someone to be a leader in my organization, I would always choose the person that treats others kindly. I think that most of us aspire to kindness on a daily basis and we all probably fall short in one way or another. But, as a quality of true leadership, kindness is very high on the list in my book. Standards of kindness absolutely matter.

There are lots of other areas where standards matter as well. Do you get to work on time? How do you behave in a social setting? Do you drink too much at parties? Do you go through the fast food drive thru window at every opportunity? Do you watch your weight and level of fitness? How do you treat your wife or husband? How do you treat your kids? Do you keep a tidy office or home? Your standards matter at every step.  If one desires to lead at the highest level, all of these standards matter.  By the way, musical standards matter, too.  If teachers are willing to accept less than the highest musical standards, they can't expect to rise to the highest levels of leadership in their school, community, or field.  The same goes with classroom management.  Those standards matter too.  You can tell a great deal about the leadership potential of a colleague by their classroom management skills.

Please remember, I'm talking about standards for those who truly desire to be leaders. These are standards for those who want to be the face of an organization. These are standards for those who want to be paid the most. These are standards for those that want to be respected the most. These are standards for those who want to be the difference makers in society. We all have the right to disagree with standards or to disregard them. But, we also have to be realistic when passed over for leadership positions.

In the end, I simply encourage you to think about your standards. Think about the people around you as well as yourself. Who would you hire to be the face of your organization? What are the standards that person upholds and you value? How can we share these values and standards with our students? One thing I can say for sure is that I certainly notice when quarterbacks wear their hat backwards now!



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