Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Zero Tolerance Teaches The Wrong Stuff

Here's a story making the news today:

A six-year-old American boy has been ordered to spend 45 days at a school for troublemakers after he brought his favorite Cub Scout camping cutlery to school.

Zachary Christie took out the combination knife, fork and spoon at lunch, in violation of the school policy of not bringing in knives.The Delaware school officials immediately suspended him and sent him off to reform school for 45 days. His mother, having better sense, withdrew him and will home school him.

As a mediator and peacemaker, I see the results of school zero-tolerance policies destroy relationships, children, and people. It is a concept born of fear and bereft of common sense. More dangerously, it does not teach children how to deal with conflict or violations constructively. Instead, zero tolerance polices teach kids that he or she who has the most power wins--exactly the wrong lesson we need to teach our future leaders if we want our species to survive another generation or so on this planet.

The solution is to invest in relationships and create the space, time, and resources to deal with conflicts and offenses appropriately. Can we teach school leaders not to be fearful of children? As a Cub Scout, I am sure Zachary is proud of his camp utensil and has great memories. Why wouldn't he want to bring it to school? An enlightened leadership at the school and in the school district would see this very obvious motivation of a six year old and respond appropriately. Imagine what the results would be if instead of investing in fear-based, one-size fits all policies that spectacularly blow up in the adminstrators' faces, the same energy were devoted to problem-solving, collaborative thinking and teaching, and compassion, even for six year olds?

Get rid of zero-tolerance policies. Invest in leadership and peacemaking skills. Model these behaviors. Our students and schools will be much better places because of it.

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Leadership as Service and Giving

You don't have to be a corporate CEO to be a love leader. Once in a leadership training class for middle managers, I went around the room asking the leaders to assess their power and resources. One middle aged women had what appeared to be a boring clerical job. After she talked about what she did, I asked how many of the other leaders would be affected by her if she did not do her job accurately and quickly. All hands shot up. People were amazed to understand that she had more power and influence in that room than anyone else. I learned right there that leadership is everywhere and even the most inconsequential, mundane jobs have hidden power, resources, and authority to lead.

So I would take John Hope Bryant's ideas about love leadership and pass them on to everyone. Every person can serve; every person can give without expecting a payback; every person can lead. Those who feel powerless, victimized, and downtrodden may have huge obstacles. Still, the power of service and giving generates leadership everywhere. Since so few people engage with others from a place of service and love, they will be noticed. Opportunities will open for them in magical ways that will allow them to serve, give, and lead others in even greater ways.

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