This is a guest post from Riya Sander.  Riya is an overseas teacher. She has spent her past 5 years teaching in Thailand, Malaysia and Philippines.

All too often, I hear adults tell children to simply “do the right thing”.  

This is not enough.  We need to help children figure out:

  1. what is the right thing or
  2. how to decide what is right.

Teaching in various schools, in various countries, I’ve seen a wide range of responses: from completely ignoring ethics to teaching ethical decision making at all levels of the school curriculum.

Some parents ask if ethics and education belong together. Ethics are the shared values of a given group or culture. There are some ethical values that are widely shared, and others that vary widely depending on the local culture. This is one of the conflicts that children must be taught about.

Not just “It is Wrong”, but Why is it Wrong?

photo: Riya Sander
photo: Riya Sander

One ethics teacher, Alyssa Kelly, described teaching ethics this way: “The emphasis is not on moral instruction but on finding reasons why something might be right or wrong.” Instead of teaching students what is right or wrong, ethics courses for primary school students focus on teaching them how to decide for themselves what is right or wrong.

Students are faced with challenging social situations on a regular basis. Not every moral instruction can be blindly applied to every situation. When I ask my students if it’s okay to lie, they respond “no” in unison every time, in every class, regardless of what country I was teaching in. The nuances of “right” and “wrong” are more subtle when students have to choose between the lesser of two evils.

Ethical Decisions are Never Black and White

I once had a female student whose friend was contemplating suicide. The suicidal girl told her friend what she was thinking of doing to herself, but asked her not to tell anyone. She asked her friend to keep her plans a secret. The friend, my student, was distraught. Someone was in danger, but she was asked to keep that danger a secret. Thanks to her ethics classes, she was able to reason her way through the situation. She later told me that, although she felt bad about breaking her promise to keep her friend’s secret, the resulting intervention and the fact that the broken promise helped to save her friend’s life was worth it. The suicidal girl was angry at the time, but became very thankful to her friend after therapy.

Ethical choices apply to what students say as well. With the growth of social media and its use earlier and earlier by students, we do them a great service by teaching them how to make ethical decisions about what to do and what to say before they reach the quagmire of social media. An acronym I frequently use with my students, which fits well in the ESL curriculum, is before you post/write/speak, THINK. Consider these factors: is what you’re about to say True, Helpful, Informative, Necessary, and Kind. We then discuss what these words mean to each of us. Students always enjoy the play on words: they learn about thinking, and each of those factors requires serious personal thought.

Did you T.H.I.N.K.?

“Sitting in a circle listening to other people is a skill set that many adults could benefit from.” Alyssa Kelly

Once we’ve learned this acronym, students often help each other remember what to do: “May, did you THINK before you said that to Kai?” This is one of the great benefits of having these kids talk through questions that make them think. As teacher Alyssa Kelly said, “Sitting in a circle listening to other people is a skill set that many adults could benefit from.”

One of the keys to this type of program is starting early. The earlier primary school students start to learn about how to think through ethical questions, the easier it will be for them. Skills learned early in life are foundational. This type of problem solving will lead to greater skill in more and more complicated problems that students will encounter later in life.

The Benefits of Early Ethical Education

Ethics and education go hand in hand. In addition to teaching children facts and figures, teaching ethics begins to lay the groundwork of metacognition: thinking about how we think. If we can help them develop an awareness of how they think about things and how they make value decisions early in life, we set them up to make better choices throughout their lives as well as preparing them for higher level thinking that will be of great use later in their education.

About the Author: Riya Sander is an overseas teacher. She holds a master’s degree from Australia Institute of Business & Technology. She has spent her past 5 years teaching in ESL countries i.e. Thailand, Malaysia and Philippines. She currently works for Point to Point Education, a dynamic education recruitment company.

“Only 3 things happen naturally in organisations: friction, confusion and underperformance. Everything else requires leadership” Peter Drucker

Mediocrity is effortless.

Excellence requires effort.  Excellence requires a culture of excellence.  In the absence of cultures of excellence I will find an excuse to let myself slip from my best.

mediocrity is effortless

Do you surround yourself with cultures of excellence?

“Great leaders create culture by design, while average leaders allow culture to evolve by default.” Mike Myatt

Personal Culture

Are you clear on your values and purpose?  If not, you are bouncing from one opportunity to the next.  You take today’s good opportunity to lay bricks rather than building the great cathedral of your life.  The clue to the existence of a clear personal culture is that you say “No” to most things.  You are not bouncing from one interesting distraction to another interesting interruption.

The ability to start things is a good step towards a positive personal culture.  The ability to finish things is the goal.  Are you better at starting things than you are at finishing things?  (I am.  It takes real effort for me to declare a project finished.)

I have my own explicit written personal culture.  I first wrote it down 7 years ago as I emerged from a very difficult time in my life:

  • 17 Daily Personal Habits for a Fulfilling Life
  • I have a much updated version that I keep with me today.  I don’t share it publicly, but have often shown it to those who have shared their own personal mission, vision and values with me.  You can find my email if it is important to you.

Family Culture

“A family culture happens whether you’re consciously creating it or not. It’s up to you and your wife to determine whether that culture is of your choosing. If you want a positive family culture, you must commit yourself to years of constant planning and teaching. A culture isn’t something that’s created overnight; it requires daily investment.” Brett McKay

The family culture is the first culture we experience.  Your earliest experience of co-existing with others was in your childhood family.  If your parents were clear about their values; the behaviours that express those values, the non-acceptable behaviours; and the rituals that keep these values visible: then you had a great start.  If your parents did not work to jointly define and live this family culture, you still had a culture…  but with unclear and unsatisfying results.

There are 3 pillars of group culture:  Values, Norms and Rituals.

Values – Each family’s set of values will be different and shaped by different education, religion and country values.  Some families see competition as positive, some see it as negative.  Some see position as giving rights (“You’ll do it because I am your father!”), some see dignity and agreements giving rights (“You’ll do it because we value kindness.”)

Norms – explicit and implicit rules of engagement.  For example, how do we resolve conflicts?  Shouting and passive-agressive stand-offs?  Calm discussion and seeking to understand the other?  How do we share chores?  Does one person work while others sit watching?  or does everybody find a way to help when clearing the table after a meal?

Rituals – routines, sanctions and celebrations.  Family meals – are they in front of TV when each individual is hungry, or does everyone gather and share?  Weekends, mornings, nights…  what are the regular routines?  Rites of Passage – what way do you celebrate the passing of the seasons, the reaching of an individual goal, the birthdays, the local and religious festivals?  There are 3 levels of ritual: Daily, Weekly and Life Changing.

These elements exist whether you chose them consciously or not.  There are no accidental cultures of excellence and meaningful community.

Resource: The Art of Manliness blog on Creating Family Culture:

Business Culture

“If I were running a company today, I would have one priority above all others: to acquire as many of the best people as I could.” Jim Collins

Business differ from families in 2 ways:

  1. they can remove individuals and
  2. they can hire pre-prepared individuals.

Jim Collins in Good to Great (my favourite business book of all time) tells us that it is all about people.

Last week in Washington I heard Dr. Evian Gordon ask “How many people does it take to ruin a team?”  Answer?  You already know…

One.

Verne Harnish told me that the important people question is “would I enthusiastically re-hire this person tomorrow?”  If there is doubt, then you must act.  Ken Blanchard told us how in 3 steps:

  1. Establish explicit goals together
  2. Publicly praise immediately when you see good behaviour
  3. Individually reprimand immediately when you see poor behaviour (“you are great, this report is not worthy of you.”)

A summary of Jim Collin’s book Good to Great is available on his website.

Community Culture

The country in which you live will have a major impact upon your implicit sense of what is right and what is wrong, the right way to behave and the right way to treat others.  Geert Hofstede told us that there are 6 major areas of difference between national cultures: it is worth knowing these 6 and where your own country is on each of these 6 in order to appreciate yourself and those who come from other national cultures.

Resource:  Geert Hofstede’s 6 Dimensions of National Culture

Rome (and Cultures): Not Built in a Day

Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Your personal, family and business cultures were not built in a day, and cannot be changed in a day.

Changing for the better is not a project.  It is what life is about.

The first step is to describe your personal culture.  The next step is to create, jointly with your family members, a description of what family means to them.

Mediocrity is the easy path.

The smarter you are, the better your reasons for being mediocre.

An inspiring life requires hard thinking, hard discipline and hard patience.  Do you have the patience?  Do you have the discipline?  Do you have the desire?

Better the poor man with dreams and desire, than the great man with no dreams and no desire.

“The significance of man is not in what he attains, but rather in what he longs to attain” Khalil Gibran, Sand and Foam

I uploaded my first educational tips video to youtube in January 2011.  I wanted to reach out to a wider audience than can come and attend IESE Business School in Barcelona or in Madrid, or those who read my blog.

Today, there are 77 short educational videos on the channel, and with 1.3 Million views, the channel has been a success far beyond what I ever would have expected.

The Future Evolution of my YouTube Educational Channel

My “Rhetorical Journey” youtube channel has now got over 16,700 youtube subscribers and over 1,3 Million views of the educational videos.  The top videos are:

Screen Shot 2014-11-09 at 12.42.04 Screen Shot 2014-11-09 at 12.42.18 Screen Shot 2014-11-09 at 12.42.29

I plan to continue to share short form video content via this channel.  I will produce 24 new videos over then next 12 months.

Launching Premium Long-Form Educational Content

Up to now I have only shared short tips or 5 minute segments of speeches.  I have received many requests for more, and deeper, material.

I have decided to create a new channel that shares full speeches and full classroom sessions.

Many of you are happy with the short tips that I will continue to provide via the free channel.

This channel is not for everyone.  This channel is only for those of you who want to go deeper into the material that I teach.  I will be sharing at least one new long-form video each month.

[Currently Free] Opening Video: What is Success?

There will be a number of free to view full speeches such as this one from The Leadership Concert in Romania.  This set of speeches was delivered with a full orchestra and concert pianist.

The Videos in the Series

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The full leadership speeches and more available on YouTube Conor Neill Premium Content

What are the 3 words that managers find hardest to say?

They are possibly the 3 words that parents find hardest to say to children.  They are 3 words that teachers very rarely say to their students.

They are not “You’re the Best”. They are not “I love you”.  What might they be?

Confused…

The 3 hardest words for a manager to say are “I don’t know.”

The need to act under the lack of full information does not give the excuse of not needed to do the work.  One must do the work to examine the data that is available, to seek advice from wise counsel, to speak to others who have experience; but the analysis once done, must end.  A decision must be taken by the leader.

Orchids are not Fragile

I am reading Nassim Taleb’s latest book “AntiFragile” at the moment.  I received 2 gifts of this book for Christmas – I do hope it is not because I am generally seen as “fragile” and in need of some increased strength…

I remember a conversation with my friend Xavi, who runs a gardening business.  We were talking about Orchids.  He explained “there is a widespread idea that Orchids are difficult plants, they are fragile.  This is not true.  Any plant that has survived the millions of years of evolution to survive in its form today is in no way fragile.  It is not suited to certain environments, but it is not fragile.”

Most complex organic systems not only survive uncertainty, chaos, disorder, time… they thrive.  They grow stronger though dealing with their environments.  There are forests that need fire – certain trees can only grow past a certain point if they face fire.  A human muscle will atrophy if not used, it will grow stronger through being worked, through being damaged.

Modern education equates volatility with risk, equates non-standard with failing.  Statisticians hate the outliers.

Nassim’s central idea is that we cannot predict risks, but we can predict a system’s capability to cope with risk.  We cannot predict an earthquake, but we do know whether the 400 year old cathedral or the poorly built modern apartment block will fall first.  We cannot predict a financial crisis, but we can predict which bank will fail first.  We cannot predict loss of employment, but we can see which human will come back strong the fastest.

Leading in the Real World

The real world has surprises.  Hemmingway said that the “true” parts of his stories were the most un-believable.  Fiction is never as crazy as reality.

There are 3 things a good leader must learn to be able to do:

  • Act under Uncertainty
  • Take the Painful Decisions
  • Own the Decision

Acting Under Uncertainty

I teach a class towards the end of the course on the MBA program where my objective is to create uncertainty.  As the students give their answers, I give no expression, neither verbal nor non-verbal as to whether I agree with their answer.  This creates tension in the class.  The students are used to a class where they say their answer and the professor either writes it up on the board or grimaces.  If the professor writes it up, I got the answer right.  If the professor grimaces, I change my answer until I get a nod and a note on the board.

I believe education from “The All-Knowing Professor” creates a dangerous tendency for future leaders.  In the real decisions of life, there is nobody there to nod their head, nor to say “no” or “incorrect”.  There are many people making lots of noise, and the leader needs to commit to their course of action without achieving 100% consensus, or 100% of the information that could prove the course of action.  Leaders must be able to do enough work to be fairly sure they have a good course of action, and then commit to that course of action; and get others to commit.

If MBAs are learning always to wait for someone else to give then certainty, then they are not learning to lead.  We need to ensure that tomorrows leaders are getting practice in the world of uncertainty.  They are getting practice at having to move forward without all the information.

Taking the Painful Decisions

Odysseus must choose between definitely losing a few of his men by passing closer to Scylla, or possibly losing all of his men passing nearer to Charybdis, the whirlpool.  There was no “good” alternative.  MBA cases, video games, TV series tend to allow the hero to find a “good” outcome.  They allow the business to survive with nobody losing their job.  They allow the main character to finish the journey and get back to a comfortable life.  If you have a good option and a bad option, this is not a decision.  It is obvious.  A leadership decision is always between 2 bad options.

Many of school’s choices are between a good and a bad outcome.  Most of life’s choices are between two bad outcomes.

Own the Decision

When I was young, 12 or 13 years old, I was once caddying for my father.  We were at a par 3 and we discussed what club to hit.  I suggested a 7 iron.  He thought it was not enough, but after a pause, took the 7 iron anyway.  He had a look at the green, the flag.  He took a few practice swings. He stood up to the ball.  He swung the club making good contact with the ball.  It soared up and was in line with the pin.  It hung in the air for 2, 3 seconds… and then dropped…  15 meters short, landing in the sandy bunker.

He made a pained grunt and as he returned the club to me I said “sorry, I gave you the wrong club”.  He said, “No, you are the caddy, but I am the golfer. I chose wrong.”  At the time I remember feeling bad.  I felt that I wasn’t “respected” by him, that he didn’t treat my advice as serious advice.  Now I think that he acted then as he has always acted.  He owned the decision.  I gave advice, but at no point did it become my “fault”.  He owns his decisions, whether in golf, in business or in life.

Blainroe golf club 15th hole, where I learnt my golf

Learning to take responsibility for the choice, where it is the leader themselves who must choose, is a challenge.  It takes psychological maturity to own a decision that cannot necessarily be justified with the data.  It takes psychological strength to deal with the slings and blows of others who have not had to take the decision.  Leadership is solitary.  Any education of leaders must help the leader find the mental strength necessary to be alone.

Being alone and being lonely are different.  Alone is a choice.  Lonely is the desire to have someone else to take away the burden.

A good leader has mentors, friends, advisors…  but when the decision comes, it is they and they alone who are responsible.

Increasing your Question to Answer ratio

In an uncertain world, the art of “Muddling Through” is of greater importance than the art of long-term strategic planning.  Dealing with the chaos requires accepting the chaos, and then taking quick steps to understand the map, the compass.  In management life, giving answers shrinks our understanding; asking questions increases our understanding, our capacity to adapt.

How many of your statements are answers and how many are questions?

The person asking the questions is in control of the conversation.  It is hard to remain open to other’s ideas.  It is hard to stop saying what it is that I want to say, and giving the other what it is that they need to hear.

The Best Questions…

  • The best Leadership Question:  “What is the next right thing to do?”
  • The best Teaching Question: “What do you think?  What other options do you see?”
  • The best Coaching Question: “You have achieved what you set out to accomplish.  Imagine yourself there.  What does it feel like?”
  • The best Friendship Question: “How are you?”
  • The best Parenting Question: “What was the best moment of your day?”
  • The best Sales Question: “(I understand that price is important.)  What other criteria are important in making this decision?”  (The implicit question: “What are you comparing this to?”)

These questions come from my blog series The Origin of Leaders over at ActiveGarage.com.

What do you think?

Let me see how many times I can say “I don’t know.  What do you think?” today.

So… in the comments below…  What do you think?

Mythology and The Human Experience

As part of the Greek and Roman Mythology course that I have been following for the last 10 weeks, our teacher Dr. Peter Struck has been drawing out a number of “universal human laws” from the myths.

We read of Odysseus, of Aeneas, of gods, of monsters.  We read material from 7,000 years ago up to 2000 years ago, the poet Ovid in 40AD.  What is it that is held in these stories?  What are the authors communicating to us?

As we explored the stories using various “toolboxes”: Psychoanalysis, Myth and Ritual, Functionalism, and Structuralism.  Each of the “toolboxes” is a different way of interpreting the meaning behind a myth.

Functionalism explains human society as a whole in terms of the function of its constituent elements; namely normscustomstraditions, and institutions.  A functionalist reading of myths might extract the universal human laws.

Here is the list of the Universal Human Laws:

The Universal Human Laws

Parthenon, East Frieze, Slab 4 (Gods)
Parthenon, East Frieze, Slab 4 (Gods), credit: profzucker
  1. Nostalgia is the most powerful force in the universe.
  2. If you want to persuade people you should know your audience.
  3. It’s not good to be food.
  4. A leadership decision means choosing between two bad options.
  5. When you tell a lie, you should keep close to the truth.
  6. Secrecy creates intimacy.
  7. A deep connection with the land is a common human expression.
  8. People at the top of the power structure and people at the bottom of the power structure tend to embrace the idea of teleology (destiny, universe is moving towards a natural order of things).

What do you think of these 8 universal laws?  What strikes you about these 8?  What seems to be missing?

I finished my first expedition into the world of MOOCs – Massive Open Online Courses – this week. I have completed a 10 week course on Coursera run by a team led by Dr. Struck of Penn State University.  The course was titled Greek and Roman Mythology.

How was the experience?

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Coursera: top universities courses online for everyone, for free

In four words: Hard work. Enriching. Fulfilling.

Coursera stated up front that the course would require 8-10 hours per week.  I assumed that given how smart I am (yes, the arrogance remains strong…), I would be able to do it in half the time…  but no.  I was wrong.  The course consisted of 1-2 hours of video lectures each week, 3-4 hours of readings and a 20 question multiple choice quiz covering the week’s learning.  Two short essays were required in week 6 and week 9.  I found myself submitting the second essay at 2:34am on a Sunday night.

The course was more work than I had expected.  The quizes required a dedication of attention that was far beyond the mere background watching of TED talks or other educational youtube videos.  The essays encouraged a deeper reflection on the material.

I learnt more in this 10 week online course than in my own university courses.  Firstly because the course is well designed and the structure doesn’t allow me to leave the hard work for the last week of the class.  Secondly, because I truly wanted to read these ancient myths and think about what they mean for us as human beings.

The role of the bricks and mortar university is going to change.  It is already changing. There is still an important role in bringing people physically together. There is still a role in certifying progress, in providing credentials.  However, the process of learning is not well served by 300 people in a lecture hall listening to an academic. Learning online, directly from the best, structured in an optimized digital format is the future of the knowledge and skill learning aspect of education.

What were we learning?

Coursera description: About the Greek and Roman Mythology Course

The Parthenon
The Parthenon

“This course will focus on the myths of ancient Greece and Rome, as a way of exploring the nature of myth and the function it plays for individuals, societies, and nations. We will also pay some attention to the way the Greeks and Romans themselves understood their own myths.

Are myths subtle codes that contain some universal truth? Are they a window on the deep recesses of a particular culture? Or are they just entertaining stories that people like to tell over and over?

This course will investigate these questions through a variety of topics, including the creation of the universe, the relationship between gods and mortals, human nature, religion, the family, sex, love, madness, and death.”

We read and analysed the following works during the class:

  • Homer, Odyssey
  • Hesiod, Theogony
  • Homeric Hymns to Apollo and Demeter
  • Aeschylus, Oresteia
  • Sophocles, Oedipus the King
  • Euripides, Bacchae
  • Vergil, Aeneid
  • Ovid, Metamorphoses.

My Final Essay. What relationship is at the core of Myth?

This is the last essay that I submitted for the course.  Finished at 2:34am on Sunday night.  Yep, flashbacks to my days of university were frequent 😉

Question: We’ve seen numerous kinds of relationships under scrutiny in the myths we have studied: (1) relationships between humans and the divine; (2) familial relationships, e.g., fathers and sons, husbands and wives, mothers and sons, etc.; (3) relationships between individuals and communities; (4) relationships between the individual and himself/herself. For this essay, you need to decide which ONE of these 4 types of relationships is most important for the myths we have read, and explore why it is so. Of course, a wise person will see that there is at least some importance in all of them, but for this question, you must choose the most important ONE, and then explore why it is.

My Answer: Myth is about the Relationship to One’s own self

The early Romantic German philosopher Novalis said “The seat of the soul is there where the inner and outer worlds meet.” [1] Myth is this meeting between inner and outer world.  As heroes meet gods, kings, queens, monsters and challenges, they discover themselves.

Joseph Campbell speaks of the two paths: the left hand path, and the hero’s journey [2]. The left-hand path is finding one’s role in society. The hero’s journey is a journey of self-discovery.

The most important relationship in the myths that we have read is the relationship between the individual and himself.  The relationships to the divine, to family, to communities are important but serve as a canvas for the hero to discover himself.

Temple at Delphi, the Oracle
Temple at Delphi, the Oracle

The first inscription above the temple of Delphi is “Know Thyself” [3].  Each hero is seeking to “Know Themselves”.

As discussed in the course lecture week 8, the central question of Oedipus Rex is “Who am I?”  Is Oedipus who he is because of land (Cithaeron, Thebes, or Corinth) or genes (birth parents, adopted parents). “Oedipus shows us how our identities can dissolve before our very eyes.” [4]

In the Odyssey, a person discovering themself with the help of the divine is Telemachus.  In Book 1 he is a victim until intervention by Athena allows him to discover his hero, leader aspect.  Upon this transition, he commands his mother: “Nay, go to thy chamber, and busy thyself with thine own tasks, the loom and the distaff, and bid thy handmaids ply their tasks; but speech shall be for men, for all, but most of all for me; since mine is the authority in the house.” [7, line 356]

In the Bacchae, the god Dionysis wonders if he is really accepted by the pantheon of gods. He is different, his rites and rituals are different. Gods are not immune from the process of self discovery. Even gods are not blessed with self belief. They too must find their own identity as they face the challenges of life.

Virgil’s hero Aeneas follows a parallel journey to Odysseus, but with a “Pietas” character that the Roman culture valued highly.  Virgil is writing at a time of Roman Empire and Stability as opposed to Homer at at time of Greek Exploration and Expansion. [5,8] Pietas, or sense of duty, requires that Aeneas finds his identity in a context of an obligation to society.  He is not free to just be himself.  He must find the integration of who he really is with what his society needs from him.

The central question of the myths is “Who am I?”.  Relationships with others are important – me to Gods, me to family (Oedipus), me to society (Aeneas in Games), me to father/mother (Telemachus), but they serve as a canvas for the central relationship, “knowing myself”.
————-

  1. Notes for a Romantic Encyclopaedia: Das Allgemeine Brouillon. David W. Wood, Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2007.
  2. The Power of Myth. Joseph Campbell & Bill Moyers: Anchor, 1991.
  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delphi
  4. Dr. Peter Struck, Course Notes (Announcements Week 8).
  5. Homer. The Odyssey, A.T. Murray, PH.D. in two volumes. Cambridge, MA., Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann, Ltd. 1919.
  6. Sophocles. The Oedipus Tyrannus of Sophocles. Sir Richard Jebb. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1887.
  7. Euripides. The Tragedies of Euripides, translated by T. A. Buckley. Bacchae. London. Henry G. Bohn. 1850.
  8. Virgil, The Aeneid, Robert Fitzgerald, trans. New York: Vintage, 1990