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Ash advocates leading by listening and laughing

Bob Ash was the keynote speaker at Sunday's Third General Session at the close of the 2006 Joint Annual Conference, and he forced many tears of laughter while sharing his leadership basics, such as: "If you can laugh at yourself you have material for the rest of your life."

Ash is a nationally acclaimed speaker and trainer, founder of a speaking and training firm called Life Lessons, who has provided training to over 950 organizations and businesses, numbering over 270,000 people. But he reportedly never delivers the same message twice to his audiences. The message this time was largely about the need for leaders to listen, laugh and lead change.

Also at the closing session, Brian Waitkus of LaSalle Elementary District 122, a former IASB director from the Association's Starved Rock Division, received the Thomas Lay Burroughs Outstanding School Board President Award from the Illinois State Board of Education. The Illinois Association of School Administrators named Kevin Settle of Mt. Vernon District 80 as Superintendent of the Year (see separate stories).

Ash's clients include corporations such as Hewlett-Packard, Pepsi, Pillsbury, The Gap, and Sprint, the National Funeral Directors Association and even the Central Intelligence Agency. He told a funny story about his first telephone contact with a humorless CIA contact, and how he had later required the agent to use secret password phrases upon their first face-to-face meeting at a Washington, D.C., airport.

Ash, who is also a former school teacher, principal and superintendent, and in his youth was briefly a major league baseball player with the Cleveland Indians, offered several "lessons" for having fun while leading:

DON'T BE AFRAID TO CHANGE – Change is inevitable, growth is optional. School leaders need to encourage their community to address the issues of change and to listen. He challenged his audience to put issues on the table, discuss them and listen to the answers: "The best leaders … listen more than they talk, but when they talk, people listen," he said. As a first grader once told him, "listening is wanting to hear."

BE A PERSON OF INTEGRITY – Again Ash's message was simple: you tell the truth or you don't. If you lie, no one will say anything; they just won't trust you any more. He added that honesty and a sense of humor are an excellent foundation for building relationships. And he noted that as a leader "you've got to have trust, but you earn it over time by trustworthy behavior."

UNLOCK PEOPLE'S POTENTIAL TO BECOME BETTER – This is the essence of leadership, he said. "People watch your behavior; they always believe your behavior. Everything you do as a leader affects your performance outcome," he said. "Or, as Edgar Guest said, ‘I'd rather see a sermon than hear one any day.'"

DIVERSIFY – "Diversity is good not only in the color of skin, but in the color of thinking."

GET THE INFORMATION OUT – Share what you know. "Schools have very few ‘nuclear' secrets."

BE LOYAL TO YOUR CREW – Colleagues and staff will remember you for where you were in the hard times. But Ash also recalled a sign he once saw in a school principal's office, which read: "Never lose sight of the fact that the reason schools exist is to serve students, not to provide employment for adults."

DON'T QUIT - BE PERSISTENT – It is often the last key on the ring that opens the door. Part of leadership is what you do with what you have. Today many times the question is "what is in it for me?" Ash stressed that the question should be "what can you do for the community?"

LAUGH – It is good for the soul.

In concluding his remarks, Ash also shared a few of his favorite quotes:

"The service we render to others is the rent we pay for living on this earth."
     - Lord Hallifax

"We brought you into this world as a unique individual; don't go out of it a copy."
     - Bob Ash's parents

"Strive to live every day to the fullest, with no reserves, no retreats and no regrets."
     - William Borden

"Now isn't that a great prescription for living?," Ash asked.

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