Who’s on Your Shoulder?

Pop culture advertising has given us phrases that have stood the test of time: “Where’s the beef”? “A Little Dab Will Do You,” and “Do the Dew,” for instance.  Let’s “dew” consider another from a famous credit card company television AD hosted by an even more famous actor: “Who’s on Your Shoulder.” More on that in a minute.

I’m often asked about the title of my book, Dodging Coconuts, and what it means. Really, it is all about navigating the tumultuous environment in which we live and work today. Take a look around and you’ll see plenty of examples, including the presidential race. Normally staid, predictable and even boring presidential politics are now anything but, having been upended by a master of 21st century messaging. As educational leaders, we may not be running for president of the United States, but coconuts (that often times seem to be on steroids) are flying all around us. How do we develop the skills to react and deflect them?

In my increasingly popular leadership development classes, I detect two things: (1) bewilderment on how to make sense out of chaos; and (2) a yearning for practical tools that cut through the noise and point the way to success in our lives and in our organizations. 

In response, I suggest that college leadership start with two questions in any given moment that requires decisiveness: “What is the leadership position?”, and “In choosing between conflicting choices, how do I make a solid decision or correct a real or perceived bad one?” I then walk decision makers through real life scenarios to help them develop tools for responding in the best possible way – especially in the open air of the social media revolution and media transparency. 

In truth, however, there is no guide for dodging the unexpected coconuts that inevitably come along.  The answers likely “sit” in the form of the wise mentors you have encountered in your life’s journey who are now resting on your often stooped shoulders. Make sure they have a comfortable seat, welcome them aboard and listen when they speak.

The lessons of satisfying life and work have never changed — their importance has simply been sharpened:  

  • Purpose – Understand your core and mission
  • Preparation – Plan appropriately for the known and the unknown (the coconuts)
  • Perspective – Lean on the people who are “sitting on your shoulder.”

You may not be able to see all of the coconuts coming before they leave a knot on your head, but you can surround yourself with people that can help your college continue moving forward after it happens. “Who’s on your shoulder?”

Who's on Your Shoulder?

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