A Pop-Quiz for Those Leading in 2007


I quizzed my son Jack about his organization – a Montessori school.  Then about a week later I quizzed an audience of about 200 people.  I asked each about their core values.  I said to Jack, who is in fifth grade in a combined fourth-fifth-sixth grade at a Montessori school, “Is there something, some idea that Sharon talks about all the time?”  Without hesitating for a second, he said, about his teacher:  “Yes, totally:  freedom and responsibility is what she’s always talking about.” 

A week later, I asked an audience of managers at a large not-for-profit, “Has your organization articulated its shared values?”  Numerous folks said yes, and many others nodded.  “And, what are your core values?” I asked.   At that moment, no one could say.  Not one person.  Not one value.  Resisting an urge to be preachy, I simply said, “That’s something you might want to take a look at.” 

These stories provide a powerful lesson.  Take the Jack quiz first.  Can you imagine the joy and phenomenal relief I felt – as an educated-in-morality-laden-60s-Catholic-schools dad – when I heard my son quickly tell me:  “freedom and responsibility”?  Is there a parent in America who wouldn’t exult if they found their school had so effectively brought home a core message, a message by the way that Jack supported with numerous examples.  As the kids say, “Man, that was tight!” 

On the other hand, the not-for-profit stands to do some great work now.   By (re?) starting a conversation about what values they want to guide their work with board, staff, each other, and especially their clients, they can align and inspire their workforce.  

Here’s why this matters.  You are not the only one influencing what your kids, employees, church members, etc., value?   Oprah, Dr. Phil, Rush, Springsteen, Al Gore, Colin Powell, Kid Rock, Eminem, Bono, JK Rowling, Barry Bonds, Rain (he’s a South Korean pop singer who tops TIME’s online poll of influential people) are walking and talking values.   With these people competing for the minds and hearts of your people, do you see how vital it is to be clear about the values you hope your people share? 

May I quiz you?  If I came into your house or your shop today and asked, “What does your manager/dad/CEO stand for?  What are the values s/he wants you to hold dear?” Would your people be able to answer?  Would you like what they’d have to say?

Stay on message if you hope to

Lead with your best self!


  • Having difficulty comprehending the advocacy of your Montessori school “value lesson.” For most of us in “outstate Michigan” we have all we can do to fund our public schools.
    Apparently, there is not enough money to teach values – as the new MI curriculum has been shoved down our throats too.

    • Anonymous I and II,
      Seems like somebodies got out of the wrong side of the bed this morning 🙂

      For the record: I heartily support our public schools, and I HAPPILY pay my taxes for those schools. I do what I hope all parents will do: find the very best school for each particular child they have been blessed to care for. We have used a mix of schools at different times, and would do so again. I personally have had great experiences in public schools and a tremendous experience in a Jesuit-run school. And by the way there are public Montessori schools.

      Anonymous II, you sound to me like such a victim. Seriously, go back to the lesson, if you’ll forgive my being so pedantic for a moment. Use the freedom you have – with whatever funds you do or don’t have, with whatever restrictions the legislature and state board have given or not – and work with it. You seem to have reacted to my piece – as opposed to responding – with so much vim and vigor, as though you had been attacked by it. You feel like things have been, to quote you, “shoved down your throat.”

      You might want to sort out why you feel so frustrated, and take action. Maybe it’s action to figure out what’s eating at you. Maybe it’s action in your personal world to make “the system” respond to your child’s needs, if that’s what’s eating at you. Or maybe it’s to use your freedom and to advocate for broader change, like the honoring of values in schools; I could get excited about that! But you’ll feel better and be more effective, I suspect, if you convert what I hear — maybe it’s just me — as whining into something more effective. I mean you CAN resent me or others who aren’t “outstate Michigan,” but why not be the best outstate Michigan you can be? Why not inspire people to listen to your view?

  • Freedom and Responsibility… Exactly what teachers should be teaching. Excellent points, I’ve added them to the rough draft of my personal credo card, and my company one.

  • I have to agree with Dan here. I am a child of public schools, at least from kindergarten through 9th grade. In 9th grade, I (against my will, and under my parent’s rule) transferred to a private school that was created for “gifted” students. I am confident that if I had not transferred, had I stayed in public school, my needs would not have been met academically, and I would not have gotten into the college and field I am in. As Dan so eloquently stated, you must find the very best school to fit your individual child’s needs. My sister did very well in public school, as did many of my best friends. However, everyone learns on a different level. If you have the means to provide the best education for a student who may have specific needs, then investing in our children who are our future is the best expenditure of time and money you could make.

    Let us not forget as well another point that Dan made. We all pay for public schools, so even if one of our kids doesn’t end up in public schools, we are all still supporters of public education. There is no way you can group every child into the same curriculum and expect the same results. We are all different and thank goodness for Montessori schools and private schools and parochial schools where some of us see the results we would otherwise be unable to attain in a public school. To reiterate, we are all different and have different styles of learning. Those should be embraced, not rejected.

  • A Head Start on a Fast Track

    Today’s standard of good motherhood is: the mom with the highest-achieving child is the best mom.

    Most moms think that having the first reader on the block is the way to pull ahead of the pack. Wrong!

    Research finds that the earlier children are taught to read, the more likely it is they will develop a learning disability (probably due, in some measure, to not having been taught properly). So don’t waste precious time teaching your child to read but do spend your energy on teaching him or her good manners, respect for authority and other practical life skills. Knowing right from left and right from wrong matters. How to pay attention to an adult leads to basic manners. Entering a room quietly, knowing how to tie shoes, listening to an adult read a story and patiently wait their turn opens the door to learning.

    Helping children develop concentration and task commitment along with a love for work is a cornerstone of the Montessori approach. Montessori’s Casa dei Bambini fosters creativity, self-confidence and an entrepreneurial spirit according to its graduates.

    Here is what a few successful graduates have to say:

    When Barbara Walters interviewed Sergey Brin and Larry Page, the co-founders of Google, they didn’t attribute their remarkable success to universities, like Sanford or
    Michigan, but give credit to their Montessori schools. According to Brin, the Montessori approach instilled in them self-direction and self-motivation, an inclination to challenge the status quo and to do things differently.

    Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com, was recently mentioned in Business Week magazine: “As a preschooler, Jeffrey P. Bezos displayed an unmatched single-mindedness. By his mother’s account, the young Bezos got so engrossed in the details of activities at his Montessori school that teachers had to pick him up in his chair to move him to new tasks. It’s a trait that goes a long way toward explaining why the company he founded, Amazon.com Inc, has survived to become the most dominant retailer on the Internet.”

    Julia Child, the author and cook, said, “Influenced, perhaps, by my early experience at a Montessori school…I am all for encouraging children to work with their hands.”

    To choose their own tasks and, with guidance, to shape their own learning builds character and their mental models of the world breeds future success. So, mothers, learn to recite this little ditty:

    Let children be carefree when they are small. Teach character, not characters, and help their manners grow tall. Read to them a lot and discipline them well, and they will do their best when rings the school bell.

    Success for adults follows a similar process.

    It is not about ‘making a plan’ but about knowing who I am and what I do best ( http://www.SelfAssessmentCenter.com and http://www.LifeSignature.com ). Who I am happens when we know our personal assumptions/beliefs, our values, our vision (near and far) and our guiding principles. These intangible identity elements are the foundation of our life’s vision or mission statement that colors any and all tangible action plans we choose to create. The reason for this is that we only can see what we are looking for.

    Here is a definition of these personal identity elements:

    •Assumptions/beliefs: A reality map formed through your collective reinforced experience. This would be a manifesto of the mental models you use and believe in to create your work and personal lives.

    •Values/Aspirations: An attitude or world-view depicted by one word or one single concept observed through one’s behavior. Values often influence people’s choices about where to invest their energies. Please recognize that values change over time. Being “fair” means something different for a person at 44 than at 4 years old.

    •Vision: A word picture of the future leading from now through near to far reality. You energize people to support your purpose or life signature with an overarching description of what you see.

    •Guiding Principles: A universal operating standard that guides decision-making both personally and organizationally. Use guiding principles to align, create trust and walk the talk by putting everybody on the same playing field. Energy isn’t wasted in the politics of the team, organization or community because there aren’t different rules for everybody.

    Knowing who we are and what we are meant to do allows us to focus our energy and achieve sustained high performance. This is true for a person or for an organization and for each of the people who work there. Being clear on the intangible elements of one’s identity can build a strong foundation for greater self-awareness, purpose, well-being and building competencies in those areas that are important to you.

  • Can somebody explain the (20-J) public school funding legislation to me? Perhaps this is what Anonymous 2 was referring to in the “outstate” comment? I thought it had something to do with Bloomfield Hills, etc. receving $11K+ per student vs. Alpena getting $7200 per student? Hard to believe kids in a different zip code would be worth more than the rest of the State?

    • A citizen’s-driven site on the funding of public schools and disparity of funding can be found at http://www.citizensforequity.org.
      As a public school parent, I am just now getting educated myself on how my tax dollars fund all this. This site has a downloadable brief powerpoint on the issue with a simple explanation of how schools in Michigan are funded.
      I am not affiliated with this group and cannot guarantee the accuracy of this info, but I’m sure some visitors to this blog with understanding of the dollars/issue/legislation can.
      Great discussion especially on the student whose value of democracy summed it up so well: “common good.”

  • Whoa! Rough crowd,there is variety of diverse comments with strong passion and conviction on today’s RFL.Can there an agreement that we all want what is best are children and as parents,guardians, and audience members (non-parents)we hope, we pray, we cry, and WE cheer for ALL are chilren (ARE FUTURE) to aspire to be greater and better than the generation before them.

  • Perhaps we could all stand to learn something from Jack…

    As the daughter of a parent who also writes columns that are read by many both in and out of state where my brother and I are used as examples, I can atest that having parents with vision inspires vision and having a parent who leads with integrity inspires responsible leadership.

    Dan always ends with lead with your best self, remember that when you do, you inspre others to do so as well; responsibility at work.

    Keep up the good work, Dan.

  • It’s very important to note that each person learns differently, and that the best learning method will vary with experience and circumstance. Caring parents seek the best they are able to give their children. Every parent should find some time to read to each child, even if it’s only the comics, signs along the road, or labels on soup cans. Reading is a precious lifetime gift, as any adult who cannot read will readily attest. Find the story of Ben Carson, MD, who’s reading ability was nurtured by a mother who could not read.


    Setting examples of honesty, integrity, hard work, and helping others is critical to our children’s success. Letting them know we really do care about their successes and failures makes a huge difference, too. Schools are important, but we can’t expect them to do it all. Real learning begins at home in infancy: your children are watching!

  • Dan, I work for a non profit and took your challenge. After a couple minutes of thinking I listed six of our nine shared values (below). We all worked hard developing them. I wish I had done better. Thanks for the reminder!

    Lavish trust on team members
    Treat others with uncompromising truth and respect
    Be willing to teach, and be open to learning from anyone
    Be open to new ideas, regardless of their origin
    Take personal risks for the organization’s sake
    Applaud efforts and reward results
    Be honest and ethical in all matters
    Put the interest of others before your own
    Be accountable for your actions

  • Dan, I am currently in graduate school for a MS in Leadership Development and core values are an everyday topic concerning our social frabric. I have learned many people do have core values but may not know exactly what they are? In other words many can not put them in words. My grandaughter did a paper in her high school goverment class on the Democratic core value most relative to her. she picked ‘common good’. I was glad to know that she believes in our society working toward that for everyones’ benefit.

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