Byron's Babbles

Contrarian Thinker

One day, this past week, I was introduced to a group I was speaking to as a “Contrarian Thinker.” Honestly, I wasn’t exactly sure what that was. After doing a little research, however, I found that this was probably a pretty accurate description. Contrarian thinkers are trailblazers. ✔️Check. They are polarizing visionaries who are just as likely to be called crazy before brilliant. ✔️Check. Contrarian thinkers have the foresight to see hidden opportunities and seize them when the right moment presents itself. I would like to think I do this, but I’m not so arrogant to say check on this one.

Never forget, the risks of going against the crowd are greater, but so are the rewards. The rewards of innovating, curiosity, and an imagination gone wild are always worth the effort. An important fact for a contrarian thinker to remember is that no one will be expecting you or your ideas to succeed, which is one of the reasons you will.

Then, last night as I was flipping through the channels (are they still called channels on the tv?) I stopped on Shark Tank long enough to hear Mark Cuban described by one of the other Sharks as a contrarian thinker. So, off I went to learn more about his storied history.

While reading 9 Critical Turning Points That Shaped Mark Cuban’s Extraordinary Career by Drake Baer, I found that Mark Cuban is a contrarian thinker. One of my favorite quotes from Mark Cuban in the article is, “The ‘sprint’ doesn’t have a finish line. There’s never a point where you can say, ‘We’ve made it.'”

The more I studied this topic, however, I really found that many contrarian thinkers always find an opposing view. I don’t think that is me at all. Nor do I believe that would be very productive. A more productive view would be one of “independent thinker.” My takeaway to share with you is that rather than always being swayed by consensus view, or consistently being a contrarian, we should strive to be independent thinkers. I always strive, and would encourage you to as well, look at different perspectives, and sometimes find a unique angle.

Remember, if you think the same way as everyone else, it is very difficult to outperform them.

The Majestic Leader

I had the opportunity to spend this week in Palm Springs, California for Aurora Institute’s annual symposium. The theme of this year’s symposium was Shining A Light On The Future Of Learning. Palm Springs is such a beautiful place located in the Coachella Valley. Palm Springs is completely surrounded by mountains; the San Bernardino Mountains to the north, the Santa Rosa Mountains to the south, by the San Jacinto Mountains to the west, and by the Little San Bernardino Mountains to the east.

These mountains are the cause for this post. I was visiting with a friend from the state of Washington about how the mountains were different than other mountains. She described them as being “majestic”. That seemed like an appropriate adjective, but I needed to think a little about just what majestic meant. It is an adjective meaning, having or showing impressive beauty or display great dignity. Also, majestic befits a great ruler and being simply far superior to everyday stuff. I was now fully on board with the mountains surrounding Palm Springs being described as majestic.

Then I got to thinking about majestic people I know. There are those with majestic beauty and those who are majestic leaders – those that display great dignity. I then reflected on what gave them that beauty. For me it is their referent power. Referent power is one of the most potent and majestic sources of power for a leader there is. It is a form of reverence gained from having tremendous interpersonal relationship skills. Referent power has become much more important as we move from command and control organizational environments to more collaborative and flattened hierarchical environments of influence.

Leaders with high referent power influence because of the follower’s admiration, respect, and identification with her or him. Think about this description when looking at the picture I took of the San Jacinto Mountains while I was in Palm Springs shown here: These majestic mountains are a pretty appropriate metaphor for a majestic leader, don’t you think? I couldn’t let the metaphor end there, however. I then got to thinking about how if we, as leaders, get this influence right, the view is beautiful. This made me think of the awesome picture I got from the top of Mount San Jacinto at 8,516 feet shown here: Getting leadership right is such a beautiful and majestic thing for both the influenced and influencer.

Obstacles Vs. Barriers

Posted in Uncategorized by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on October 30, 2019

Today at the 2019 iNACOL Symposium I got to thinking about the terms obstacles and barriers because a speaker mentioned we need to recognize they are not the same. Many times these terms are used interchangeably. As leaders, however, we need to look at these mutually exclusively. An obstacle is something that impedes or stands in the way of progress. Barriers are structures that block/bar passage.

In other words:

  • if it slows you down it is an obstacle.
  • if it impedes or stops you, it is a barrier.

Think about this: most of the difficult situations and circumstances we are presented in life are difficult because they present us with a difficult choice. We need to notice where we, or our organizations get stopped. Then distinguish whether you are confronted by an obstacle or barrier.

As long as you have options, your difficult circumstance is an obstacle; regardless of whether you use the options or not. Obstacles, most generally, require a change. Sometimes this involves a change we ourselves need to make. These can be tough changes. In the future we need to begin to notice where we get stopped and start taking time to distinguish whether we are being confronted by an obstacle or a barrier.

Toy Story 4 Leadership

Don’t laugh, but as I flew across our awesome country yesterday to Palm Springs, California for the 2019 iNACOL (now named the Aurora Institute) Symposium, I was excited to get to watch Toy Story 4. I’m a fan of Toy Story; not just because they are great movies, but also because of the Pixar story and the lessons in the movies. I was certainly not disappointed by the gang of toys getting back together with the addition of new toys. There were so many great connections to the leadership lessons I facilitate in our 3D Leadership program. I even took notes on a napkin.

There were six big standout lessons in the movie:

1. From Forky I was reminded that we need to understand our value and the value others bring to our teams and organizations.

It is so important we know and understand our strengths. Then, it is crucial we have people working to their strengths. Too many times we move people and change roles, sometimes in an attempt to promote, without any regard to whether it is the “right” role based on strengths. Remember, you bring value. Forky needed to realize he was a toy even though not in the traditional sense. He brought value to Bonnie. Let’s not forget, she created Forky.

2. Great leaders are not always seen. Woody was helping Bonnie through her first day of school without her even knowing it. Without being seen Woody got her crayons for her and got her the materials to make Forky. He was helping her, being a servant leader, without her knowing it.

It’s easy to think leaders must be front and center and seen. Leaders don’t have to be seen, though. Leaders can do great work from the background. Great leaders gently guide people without them knowing you were there or were leading them.

3. The toys practiced adaptive leadership. Throughout the entire show, strategy was agile and constantly changing. Interestingly, all the toys led from where they were. Several times during the movie I heard toys say, “I have an idea, let’s do this.” The other toys would then team up and carry it out.

4. Buzz Lightyear led from where he was. Buzz had not really been a leader in the other three Toy Story movies, but he had to step up in this one because Woody wasn’t present. Buzz stepped up and filled the leadership void.

5. At one point in the film, Bo Peep exclaimed to Woody, “Look around, nobody’s with you.” We must remember that leadership is influence and if no one is with us when we turn around we are not having an influence.

6. At one point Woody said, “Because it’s the only thing I have to do.” Woody was resisting transition into another role, or in other words, he was resisting change. Know times of transition are not easy. Yet, to grow, there will always be transitions. Change is a good thing. Don’t let the pain of transitions stop them from happening.

There are so many more lessons in Toy Story 4 to be dissected, but those are my big takeaways for now. If you have watched the film, I would love to hear your takeaways. Let’s keep leading to “infinity and beyond”!

The Tigress of Forli

Posted in Adaptive Leadership, Educational Leadership, Elizabeth Lev, Leadership, The Tigress Of Forli by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on October 27, 2019

The Tigress of Forlì: Renaissance Italy's Most Courageous and Notorious Countess, Caterina Riario Sforza de MediciThe Tigress of Forlì: Renaissance Italy’s Most Courageous and Notorious Countess, Caterina Riario Sforza de Medici by Elizabeth Lev

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was an incredible and gripping read. Caterina Riario Sforza de’ Medici was, as are all great leaders, controversial. Caterina was bold, brave and a benevolent leader; she was clever and skilled in diplomacy and dynamic on the battlefield. Elizabeth Lev does a masterful and vivid job of bringing to life for the reader the life of this leader who was celebrated and admired, but also reviled and feared. This book caused me to reflect deeply about the dispositions a leader must possess and the ability to adapt (adaptive leadership) that great leaders must develop.

One area that Lev spent time on was the fact that Caterina was a benevolent leader. In other words, making sure the needs of her people and of the greater community were cared for. It’s about, as I wrote about in, Benevolent Leadership, creating greater opportunities for our communities, states, nations, and the world. It’s really about creating different possibilities in the world. It’s about, as Caterina taught us, developing a sustainable future for the world and everyone living in it.

Lev gives us a bird’s eye view into this great leader who won and lost it all. It also prompts reflection into our own leadership actions and maneuvering.

~Dr. Byron L. Ernest

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Leadership Dominoes

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“Everything affects everything else in one way or another. Whether you are aware of that or not does not change the fact that this is what is happening. That’s why I say a business is a system. This systems perspective reminds us that this is what is going on. And when you see it this way, you can manage your business better. You appreciate, for example, that any action will reverberate throughout the entire company. This causes you to pay more attention to what you do, and learn the right lessons from your experience.” – John Woods

I use the metaphor of dominoes falling all the time and was reminded that everything affects everything last night at our Tampa, Florida area gathering of 3D Leadership. We did an activity carving pumpkins in the theme of “truths that frustrate me”. As a story was being told about how a Curriculum Resource Teacher (CRT) was covering classes that didn’t have a teacher, because of the teacher shortage, she stated that she loved covering the class and teaching. The problem, however, was that she was very frustrated she was not able to support the teachers that she was responsible for coaching. This really made me think about how this was really two rows of dominoes put in play. I did my best to graphically represent it (shown here in the post). The first row of dominoes was put in play when there was a teacher not available for a class. The second row of dominoes was put in play when the CRT covered the class, even though she loved doing that, and she couldn’t work with the teachers on her coaching load.

IMG_7218Dominoes are actually a learning lesson when it comes to leadership. Up until the time I heard this story originating with a pumpkin carving I had thought of the domino effect in a very linear view. this caused me to think about all the other rows of dominoes that get put into play with just one decision, event, action, or mistake. Regardless of the catalyst that sets the dominoes in motion, it is some type of change. Leaders and organizations need to navigate these changes carefully and be sure the changes, or the people making the changes, aren’t like a bull in a china shop. Sorry for the use of another metaphor. We need to lead with a systemic focus. We need to take into consideration all the interconnected parts of our organizations that could set the domino effect into motion, impacting the success of the change, productivity, effectiveness and lives of those we serve.

Even though all the people and parts of your organization are not dominoes, we would be well served to treat them as such. Our organizations are interconnected systems. Changes in on area have a direct impact on changes in other areas. We need to remember that once dominoes start to topple over, it will take time to get them put back up.

Opportunities To Personalize

Posted in customer service, Leadership, Servant Leadership by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on October 19, 2019
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Dale Presenting Me With M&Ms!

Last spring while attending the 2019 National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) Legislative Conference I had an experience involving M&Ms. I chronicled the experience in Leading With No Brown M&Ms. Then, when I arrived at NASBE’s 2019 Annual Conference, I got my normal text from the Hilton Omaha welcoming me and asking me how my room was. I replied it was great and could use a bowl of M&Ms. I shortly got a text back that they did not have any M&Ms. This really by bummed me out. After my experience at The Madison Hotel (also a Hilton Hotel) where I got M&Ms with the brown ones sorted out. I thought the Hilton Omaha should too.

The next morning I was telling the above story in the breakfast buffet line before our board of directors meeting. Never underestimate the power of someone overhearing your conversation. Dale, of the Hilton Omaha catering staff, had overheard the conversation and took it upon himself to get some M&Ms and proceeded to bring me a bowl of M&Ms into our board meeting. I loved every minute of it. Needless to say everyone else was jealous of this personalized treatment I had received. The big story here is the customer service that Dale had provided. He heard my disappointment and made my experience memorable.

IMG_7076Dale’s level of excellence did not stop there, however. He proceeded to have a bowl of M&Ms delivered to every session I was in. I became the hit of whatever sessions I was in as everyone knew I would have M&Ms at every session. Customers have now come to expect remarkable service from every support organization they engage with. And, with that standard set, it becomes even more imperative for your service team to go above and beyond the customer’s expectations. This kind of above-and-beyond service will build great relationships and generate very positive word-of-mouth among your customers. Ultimately, this differentiates us from our competitors.

While it is great for support teams to be able to meet our initial needs, surpassing our expectations is a great way for our organizations to stand out and create a memorable experience. In other words, go above and beyond when it is not expected. Customers who are surprised with expected moments of delight are more likely to be loyal to your brand over time.

IMG_7138Unfortunately, every day won’t present the opportunity to create a customer service story that goes viral, but there is always the opportunity to personalize an experience for a customer. Dale took advantage of this opportunity by going and getting a party size bag of M&Ms and making sure I always had M&Ms available. He even put the bag of the remaining M&Ms in my room this morning. The goal should be for us to create a customer service experience that is valuable to the customer beyond the just the product.

Typical Discourse

Posted in Civilized Disdain, Discourse, Educational Leadership, Global Leadership, Leadership, NASBE, Typical Discourse by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on October 19, 2019

IMG_7106Earlier this week during our National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) Board of Directors meeting a comment was made during a discussion about our Public Education Position report about “typical discourse”. The comment was that we did not practice typical discourse any more. This got me thinking about what was “typical discourse”, anyway? I guess I see typical discourse as having vigorous debate about what to do with challenges and opportunities. This vigorous, honest, and transparent debate must involve all stakeholders, different political parties, and the entire political spectrum.

So, we have a complicated challenge on so many fronts. These fronts include education reform, equity issues, workforce, economy, and real human suffering just to name a few. This amounts to desperate need for a vigorous debate and our best thinking. Instead, it seems we have become a society of character assassination. In many cases we have become trivial, oriented toward turf protection, and despicable. This reminds me of what I believe the Ancient Greeks called an “ad hominem” attack. With this attack, the opponent attacks us personally, changes the subject, and uses “virtue signaling”. I blogged about virtue signaling in Leading Without “Virtue Signaling”.

Bottom line: we have strayed from civilized disdain and discourse and safe disagreement. I blogged about these in Safe Disagreement and Civilized Disdain Vs. Political Correctness. We need to find a way to turn discourse back to something substantial. Let’s work together to get to useful dialogue.

Questions?

Posted in 3D Leadership, Communication, Education, Educational Leadership, Leadership, Questions by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on October 5, 2019

Yesterday at our North Carolina 3D Leadership gathering we went to Phillips Farm pumpkin patch in Carey, North Carolina to get pumpkins for an activity. The activity is not the focus of this post. The focus is on a booth set up at the farm for answering questions. The kiosk literally had a question mark sign on it with the word “questions” (see picture). Everyone in our group was immediately struck by the feeling of being put at ease knowing that we had a person and place specifically designed to answer any and all of our questions. What a simple sign and simple concept!

The young lady at the kiosk was able to answer all our questions and get us set up to get everyone the chance to pick out their very own pumpkins. She even gave us a Dum Dums sucker, telling us that no question was too dumb to ask. But the part that continued to amaze us was how comfortable that sign made us feel when entering the area. There was no anxiety trying to figure out where to go or what to do.

We then began to discuss how we should make kiosks in our schools during parent events or back to school events to make families comfortable asking questions. The question mark sign had empowered us to ask questions. It gave a very different feeling than if there would have been a sign that said “information” or just people standing around to answer questions. It was just comfortable – there is no other way to describe it.

This reminded me of the research that has been done in schools on surveys of climate and culture. Research tells us that if we were only able to ask one question on a survey the most important one would be, “How comfortable are you asking questions in your class?” If students are comfortable asking questions the schools is most likely on an upward trajectory. Therefore, we need to make our classrooms comfortable places for inquiry and empower our students to ask lots of questions.

In fact, as leaders, we need to make every environment we facilitate a safe place to ask questions. Think about the last meeting, professional development session, or gathering that you didn’t feel comfortable asking questions. Miserable, wasn’t it? Then, think about the times when no question was a dumb question and there was a free flow of inquiry. Makes us feel very empowered and comfortable, doesn’t it?

So, let’s start staffing “Questions?” kiosk both literally and figuratively, and creating empowerment through comfort in asking questions.

Discovering What Is Uniquely You

Posted in Blue Bloods, Educational Leadership, Leadership by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on October 5, 2019

I love the television show Blue Bloods. The show that stars Tom Selleck as Frank Reagan as the New York City Police Commissioner always has scripts that really make me think. In a recent episode, the grandfather and retired Police Commissioner, Henry Reagan told his grandson, Jamie, that “Good cops are made by the world they police.” This really made me think about leaders. We, too, are made by the world we lead in.

We must recognize that there are different parts of our work, community, and our personal lives that affect each other. We, then, by being innovative, constantly learning, and experimenting become and continue to develop into the leader we are at any given moment. At the same time we need to be real, act with authenticity, know your core values, and vision. In other words you need to discover the unique you.

To do this we must harness our passions, interests, purpose, and skills and then make those things that make us uniquely ourselves valuable to others. In order to become uniquely ourselves we must become self-aware. Remember, self-aware is different from self-involved. Self-awareness is means accurately assessing how you show up in the world and what motivates you. Then, a self aware leader cultivates on a daily basis according to strengths and weaknesses.

Change and obstacles should be viewed as opportunities to further develop into the unique you by giving us the chance to be inventive, adaptable, and decisive in the face of adversity. Remember, leadership and learning are not mutually exclusive.