Jennifer Abrams -Consultancy that informs, inspires, and empowers VOICE
June 2009

Happy June!

As graduates at all levels don caps and gowns and attend commencement ceremonies, a few of my friends are ‘graduating’ into new positions of leadership.  One will be a principal at a suburban middle school and one an assistant principal at a large urban high school.  I am celebrating their new roles with them in small fetes over the next few weeks, but I wanted to send out a “Well Deserved!” shout to these women, and to all those who are taking on new roles this coming year.

Taped up in a scattered manner on my office wall are poems and quotes, cartoons and sketches.  When I look up for some sanity, a bit of solace and a bigger perspective, these words are what catch my eye. For those who are looking for some expressions to help ground you, or for those who are seeking out poetry to inspire you to play a bigger game, here are some of my favorites.

If you have any questions, comments or topic suggestions, please feel free to email me at [email protected]. I look forward to hearing from you!

Words From the Wall

Bullfighting Isn't Pretty

"There are many people who think they want to be matadors, only to find themselves in the ring with 2000 pounds of bull bearing down on them, and then discover that what they really wanted was to wear tight pants and hear the crowd roar."  I love this Terry Pearce quote and use it in all my Having Hard Conversations workshops.  

I think it speaks to the ego and the thinking that we as leaders can just come in, and save the day.  It speaks to the irrational in us that assumes everyone will welcome our message and, when we offer it, will cheer and applaud and immediately set out to make our vision a reality.  Hee Hee.  We must budget in for resistance.  Lots of it.  If we have a big enough message, opposition and struggle come along for the ride.  When you get some resistance, you know you've made a move out of what is the norm and into new territory.  Congrats.

The Woolly Mammoth and the Cavemen

I have a cartoon from The New Yorker that features a huge, unfazed mammoth with big tusks, minding his own business, eating grass.  He has one small arrow in his enormous backside.  On the other side of the cartoon stand two cavemen. One caveman looks discouragingly at the mammoth and the non-effect of the arrow in the mammoth's tush. He says to the other caveman, "Now what?"  Feels like school reform to me. One arrow at a time. In the backside of a big mammoth.  Without being a buzz kill, I do find this cartoon to be terribly true.  Reform of any kind is hard work.  The best part of the cartoon is that there are two cavemen.  Not one.  Two. My hope for all of us is to find a group of like-minded folks with whom we deeply connect.  The quality of that connection and the ability to have others with us to witness even the smallest of significant movements forward can make all the difference.

Hafiz and "Dropping Keys"

Apologies for ignoring the poetic line segments, but the essence of this Hafiz poem will not be lost as I transcribe it here. Hafiz is my telephoto philosopher. He brings a bigger vision to me when I am zoom-focused on the small stuff. He reminds me I don't have to be so mired in the mundane and can live a greater, more meaningful life.

Dropping Keys

"The small man builds cages for everyone he knows.  While the sage, who has to duck his head when the moon is low, keeps dropping keys all night long for the beautiful, rowdy prisoners." 

In many of our institutions, we don't dream big enough.  We build our own cages.  We stay small.  It is suffocating. Our light is dimmed.  There is an urgency to our work with others.  We can play a bigger game. It is a worthy struggle to stay like the sage, thinking big, and in every conversation dropping a key to those who stay stuck with small-minded thinking.  The world is vast.  The possibilities grand.  Keep dropping keys.

Congrats to all who are growing, risking and taking on new roles.  To those who get to work with you, I say, "Lucky them."

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Cool Resources

These are the books on my nightstand and the websites bookmarked on my computer for this month...

  • Blunder: Why Smart People Make Bad Decisions by Zachary Shore. Shore, a professor of national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School, explains why smart people do dumb things in this glib guidebook. According to the author, people blunder because they fall into inflexible mind-sets formed from faulty reasoning—or cognition traps. Using examples drawn from history, wars, medicine, business and literature, Shore identifies seven common cognition traps such as causefusion (confusing the causes of complex events), flatview (black and white thinking) and static cling (an inability to accept change). (adapted from

  • Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior by Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman. Recently we have seen plenty of irrational behavior, whether in politics or the world of finance. What makes people act irrationally? The Brafman brothers—Ori (The Starfish and the Spider), a business expert, and Rom, a psychologist—look at sway, the submerged mental drives that undermine rational action, from the desire to avoid loss to a failure to consider all the evidence or to perceive a person or situation beyond the initial impression and the reluctance to alter a plan that isn't working. (adapted from

  •  "Where ambitious upstarts mix!" is the pitch.  This is the blogger, Andrew Warner's, opening line:  "Imagine a mix of the most successful entrepreneurs teaching you their expertise. That's my mission with I built this site for ambitious upstarts who are hungry to change the world for the better through entrepreneurship."

Upcoming Events

Each month I will share with you information about a few of my upcoming trainings.
If I am going to be in your area, contact me so we can say hello, hopefully in person!

June 12
Being Generationally Savvy
End of the Year Faculty Meeting
Crane Country Day School
Santa Barbara, CA

June 16
Having Hard Conversations
Administrators’ Retreat
Menlo School
Atherton, CA

June 18
Critical Friends Protocol

Child Care Supervisors' Session
Palo Alto Community Child Care
Palo Alto, CA

For additional upcoming events, please visit my Web site.

Until next time,


Feel free to forward this newsletter to friends and colleague. You may reprint this newsletter in whole or quote with attribution to Jennifer Abrams and a link to

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© 2009 Jennifer Abrams | Email Jennifer | 4290 Wilkie Way #L, Palo Alto, CA 94306 |  (650) 858-0699


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