Leadership Book Recommendation: Good to Great

April 29, 2010

One of my goals for 2010 is to read one leadership book per month. I’ve been able to meet that goal and of the books I’ve read so far, the work of one author stands out. Jim Collins’ Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t (2001) is an insightful read into why “good is the enemy of great” (p. 1). He shares insights such as:

  • “When you have disciplined people, you don’t need hierarchy. When you have disciplined thought, you don’t need bureaucracy.” (p. 13)
  • “There’s a huge difference between having the opportunity to have your say, and the opportunity to be heard.” (p. 74)
  • “The essence of profound insight is simplicity.” (p. 91)
  • “You can’t manufacture passion or motivate people to feel passionate. You can only discover what ignites your passion and the passions of those around you.” (p. 109)
  • “It is impossible to have a great life unless it is a meaningful life.”

After studying businesses, Collins did a short companion book called, Why Business Thinking is Not the Answer: Good to Great and the Social Sectors: A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great (2005). This is a thought-provoking little gem that helps us wrap our brains around the struggle that education and non-profit organizations face to be more like businesses. Collins makes a compelling argument that they shouldn’t try. He challenges us to think in new ways when he claims, that “most businesses are mediocre. Why would we want to import the practices of mediocrity into the social sectors?” (p. 1)

He talks about “organizational greatness”, as opposed to business as being something to aspire to. He urges us to consider that, “A great organization is one that delivers superior performance and makes a distinctive impact over a long period of time”. It’s easy to see how that could apply either to a business or a social sector organization.

Collins goes on to say that he suspects, “we will find more true leadership in the social sectors than the business sector” (p. 12). That’s quite a claim from a former faculty member of the Standford University Graduate School of Business.

Good to Great and the companion monograph, Good to Great and the Social Sectors are thought-provoking and insightful books on organizations and leadership. Well researched. Well written. Worth the read.


Want to change the world? Learn a language (Part 1 of 2)

April 29, 2010

In the movie Dead Poet’s Society (1989), the fictional English teacher, Mr. Keating, played by Robin Williams, tells his class of adolescent boys, “No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.” It’s a notion that I’ve shared with my second language students on many occasions. I tell them that by learning a second language (or a third or a fourth or a fifth), they learn new ways of understanding not only themselves, but the world around us.

The challenges of learning another language are immense. There’s vocabulary to be acquired, grammar to master and verb conjugations to memorize. All of this information and more must be internalized, synthesized and then reproduced spontaneously as interactive speech. It’s an enormous feat. And it’s an enormous feat that millions have undertaken.

But to what end? We like to tell our students that their job prospects are better if they learn other languages. But are they really? I live in an affluent area of Canada, where young men (and women, though far fewer of them), can leave high school early and go north to work on oil rigs or in the towns that support the oil business. They can make cash, and lots of it, quickly. It’s hard work, under intense conditions. Yet thousands of them do it. Try telling them that if they learn a second language their job prospects are going to be better. They’ll scoff, turn around and drive away in a shiny new truck, that’s been fully paid for in cash.

So, the job prospect line doesn’t really fly very well where I live.

Travelling to other countries? There are plenty of tourist areas in the world where the locals have thrown themselves into learning the language of the tourists precisely to make them feel more welcome. People can travel to resorts all over the world and be served by locals who speak their language. In fact, I’ve heard people say, “Why should I learn their language when they’ll learn mine?”

So, the travelling argument seems a bit hollow, too.

What’s the real reason we believe so strongly that learning another language is important? It’s what that fictional character, Keating said, “because words and ideas can change the world.” When we commit ourselves to learning another language, we challenge ourselves to dig deep into ourselves to tap into our own power to communicate with others, to reach out, to connect.

When we take the plunge and test our communicative skills in another language, we reach inside and overcome our fears of making mistakes, fear of being rejected by others, fear of not being good enough, fear of not fitting in. We try anyway. We connect, however imperfectly, and that leads to wanting to understand more, learn more and discover more.

As we learn other languages we also learn about other cultures, other people, other faiths, other ways of living and being and looking at the world. We find our own sense of who we are profoundly enriched and deepened in ways we could not have otherwise imagined.

It’s hard to explain this to someone who doesn’t believe there’s any value in learning other languages. There are those who will never be convinced. Rather than trying to implore them with hollow arguments that are hard to back up, instead, we can offer concrete examples of individuals who changed the world by learning other languages. Here are some examples:

Albert Einstein. He was born in Switzerland and spoke German as his first language. (Anecdotally, I am told that he did not speak at all until he was five years old.) He learned English as a Second Language.

Nelson Mandela. His first language was Xhosa, an African dialect. He learned English as a Second Language.

Mohandas Gandhi. His first language was Gujarati. He went on to learn 10 additional languages.

Rigoberta Menchu. Her first language was Quechua, an indigenous language of her native Guatemala. As I understand it, she learned Spanish in order to give her acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize which she was awarded in 1992.

Critics would argue that all of these public figures learned a language of the dominant population and would go on to discuss issues of power and oppression. My aim here is not to enter into such a discussion, but merely to point out that the work that these individuals did would not have been possible if they had not learned other languages.

That is a bold statement and I stand behind it. Let me repeat it: the work these influential people did would not have been possible if they had not learned other languages. Why? Because learning other languages gave them opportunities to engage in meaningful conversations, connect with others and do the work that they were so deeply passionate about a larger scale. They moved beyond the parochial into the global. They transcended personal, political, scientific and historical boundaries. With their words and ideas they changed the world.

When we learn other languages, we change who we are. We grow to understand and appreciate the world around us in new and meaningful ways. As we change, so the world changes. That’s the real reason we believe in the power of learning other languages. Because when we do, we learn to reach out to others, connect deeply and express our passion for life and our life’s work in profoundly transformative ways.

Related posts:

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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


Specialized courses: Essential for a healthy marketing mix

April 28, 2010

In 1982, W.P. Kinsella wrote Shoeless Joe, a novel that was later turned into a major Hollywood movie starring Kevin Costner. The most famous line of the book is, “If you build it, he will come.” The basic premise of the book is that if you have an idea or a dream, go with it. The rest will take care of itself.

While this feel-good book, and the movie it was made into, may smack of naïveté on some level, the main principle is one that we can use in marketing our schools. If you build a specialized program, based on a sound curriculum that you can deliver well, the students will come.

Is there something that your school does better than any other in your area? Do you have a program to train foreign language teachers? Do you offer a specialized course in medical or veterinary terminology, for example? How about a course in business communications? If you have at least one course or program that differentiates you from other schools, you can focus on being the best there is for that specialty. You can still offer basic language training or other programs, but having a specialized niche will ensure you a unique market share, and add both revenue and students to your program. It can also add flair and a sense of uniqueness to your program. I’ve seen programs that offer English and sports or English and activities such as surfing, and they truly set themselves apart from the hundreds of other English programs in the world.

Specialized courses often referred to as “ESP” or “English for Specific Purposes”, in the English as a Second / Additional Language field. Together, generalized and specialized courses combine to form your marketing mix. Finding the right mix can boost your revenue significantly.

Specialized courses deserve special attention in your marketing plan. For example, if you offer a program for language teachers from foreign countries, you could easily research the contact information for language schools abroad and add that information to your database.  Then you have the tools to do a targeted direct mail campaign to those schools that would catch the attention of those teachers and school administrators.

Also consider that specialized courses likely require specialized curricula. You’ll want to ensure that whatever materials you are using fit your niche market really well.

Generally, it takes longer to see results for specialized programs. That is because it may take prospects longer to find out about your niche and respond to your marketing. I’ve seen more than one niche program fail because administrators gave up on it too early. One semester or session is not enough to test the market to determine if there is a demand for your specialized course. These types of program may require extra attention in their infancy, simply because their target market is very specific.

You may want to dedicate a certain amount of time (for example, one hour a week for an entire year) just to marketing this particular program. This may mean contacting associations, schools or other audiences with an interest in your niche to advise them of your program. For example, if you have a program to train teachers, then a direct mailing to teachers’ associations abroad may help you promote these courses. It may cost you time to build your mailing list, or it may cost you money to buy such a list. You won’t see a return on your investment until participants begin to enroll.

If you persist, within a couple of years, you can have a booming program.  The trick is to carve yourself a niche and be patient while the world discovers your uniqueness. If you build it… they will come.

This post is adapted from “Idea #5: Carve yourself a niche” in 101 Ways to Market Your Language Program.

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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


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