Byron's Babbles

A Flip Of The Coin

Posted in Friendship, Global Leadership, Leadership, Leadership Development, MacGyver by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on January 22, 2022

Friends are both a gift and a responsibility! And, with good friends there is the phenomenon of responsibility not feeling like responsibility. If friends are just two sides of the same coin, then life is just one really long coin flip, to say the least. My experience is that some of the most beautiful moments in my life are moments in which I realize that the flip, the transformation of friendship, is succeeding. While watching an old episode (season 3, episode 51, 1987 – “Jack In The Box”) of MacGyver, I heard MacGyver (Richard Dean Anderson), when speaking of Jack Dalton (Bruce McGill) to Pete Thornton (Dana Elcar), say: “friends are like the two sides of the same coin.” Meaning, friends come with both good and bad. So true! Sometimes we are like Jack Dalton is to MacGyver – high maintenance.

It is quite a beautiful mystery you know – this two sided coin of friendship. Sometimes one side has pain, sorrow, grief, need of favors, and sadness. Sometimes, the other side is peace, joy, gratefulness, wonder, rejoicing, love and so much more. True friends experience both sides of the coin. Just as MacGyver has to help Jack Dalton out of another one of his schemes, we experience both sides of the same coin. We must accept that no friend is perfect and that there will be some ambivalence. We must recognize what each friend brings to the table and what they do not. If we truly value a friendship, we need to tell the friend how we feel. We can’t expect our friends to read our minds! Even expressing that we really like hanging out with them can remind a good friend of how important their friendship is to us.

Serving Instead Of Putting On A Show

So, let’s see here; if we are constantly looking up to make sure our boss is seeing and approving of us or bragging about what we’ve done, we’re probably paying less attention to the people we’re now leading or worse yet, our customers. If your organization follows a traditional hierarchy, which most unfortunately still seem too, attention will naturally shift up — be directed up the hierarchy. Ever been a part of an organization where there always seem to be the favorites, you must make sure those high on the hierarchy are hearing every great thing you do, or having to make sure you’ve bragged on those high on the hierarchy? It’s not a good place to be.

In Simple Truth #3, Servant Leaders Turn The Traditional Pyramid Upside Down, in Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways To Be A Servant Leader and Build Trust, Making Common Sense Common Practice we are told by Ken Blanchard and Randy Conley that great leaders turn the hierarchy over and make those closest to the customer the top of the organizational pyramid. For example, in a school, this would put the teachers at the top of the pyramid. In this model, the principal serves the teachers. Let me tell you from experience, this works. What this ultimately does is place the customer (in my example, the student) at the top of our organizations. This really shifts us to an intent-based leadership model where everyone is a leader. Then, everyone is serving.

Turning Talk Into Reality

To go from talk to action is a journey. We better support ourselves and others when we understand what the journey to proficient implementation really entails. Yesterday my son and I were in Screven County, Georgia for an annual event with the Screven County FFA. Last June I had told the agriculture teacher and National FFA Ambassador, Nancy Sell, that I wanted to be a part of the event. We walked the talk and made it happen. Once I got clarity about the exact date, what else would be going on at that time, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera; I was able to say, “Yes, I’ll be there.” Then, there was no backing out. If YOU SAY IT, DO IT! As someone commented yesterday, “We turned the talk into reality.”

How many times do we hear people say, “I’ll be there.” Then, they won’t be, and you knew all along they would not be. Or, even worse, “I’ll take care of this and __________will happen.” Then when it doesn’t you get the, “I’m sorry, so and so said we can’t do that” “Or, I didn’t know…” This really is a case of faking it. Or worse yet, lying. Michael Fullan (2001) called this “false clarity.” False clarity occurs when change is interpreted in an oversimplified way; that is, the proposed change has more to it than people perceive or realize” (p. 77). The problem with false clarity is we know less than we think we do. We can relate this to walking the talk or turning talk into change/action. So many times leaders see talking as doing. The real work begins when the talking ends. Successful teams make decisions that impact behaviors and produce visible results.

Bottom-line here is that successful leaders move through talk to action!

Fullan, M. (2001). The meaning of educational change (3rd ed.). New York: Penguin Group.

Can You Get Your Deck Chair Unfolded?

Simple Truth #2 this week in Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways To Be A Servant Leader and Build Trust, Making Common Sense Common Practice by Ken Blanchard and Randy Conley was “Every great organization has a compelling vision.” We spend quite a bit of time on this in the leadership development work I do. So many times this just becomes a task to get done, then laminated and pinned on the wall. Then when someone is coming to visit everyone better have it memorized. Worthless, right? Right! I love the three elements: 1. Purpose; 2. Picture of the future; and 3. Values.

It is then so important to involve all stakeholders in the development and living out of the vision. Basically, we are answering the question: “Where are we going and what is going to get it there?” Thinking of the vision in the three parts suggested in Simple Truths of Leadership gives context and life to the vision. This reminded me of someone once referring me to an interaction between Charlie Brown and Lucy in a Peanuts comic:

“Life, Charlie Brown, is like a deck chair. Like a what? Asks Charlie Brown. Lucy then explains. Have you ever been on a cruise ship? Passengers open up these canvas deck chairs so they can sit in the sun. Some people place their chairs facing the rear of the ship so they can see where they’ve been. Other people face their chairs forward – they want to see where they’re going. On the cruise ship of life, which way is your deck chair facing?”

Charlie Brown replies: “I’ve never been able to get one unfolded.”

Peanuts, Charles M. Schultz

We need to help everyone get their deck chairs unfolded and facing forward to the future.

Who Tells Your Stories?

Grandma’s first Last Supper painting!

I sat down to wait a few minutes for my son to get home for a visit yesterday afternoon and flipped on the American Pickers. As usual, Mike Wolfe made a comment that resonated with me. I learn a lot of history watching that show and would love to go on a pick with him sometime. After picking a father-daughter team’s collection, Wolfe said he was inspired to tell his daughter the stories now, so she did not have to wait till later in life, or worse yet, not hear them at all. It is so important that we tell our stories to the younger generation. On the show, this was related to the stories behind things they had in the house or things that had been collected, but could relate to lots of things. I’m reminded of times when our family is together and someone will tell a story and we will say things like, “wow I did not know that,” or “that’s where that came from.” I’m sure you can think of stories like that.

For example, a couple of years ago, while visiting with family at a brunch the morning after a family wedding, we got to talking about the Last Supper painting on my uncle’s dining room wall. Family members did not know that back in the ‘70s my late grandmother had painted one for herself and then decided to paint one for all of her four children. I can remember looking up at that painting as we ate meals at my grandmother’s house. I always loved grandma’s and when she passed away my mom, uncles and aunt gave me grandma’s because I was the only grandchild that was out on my own at the time and had loved it so much. I always check out the paintings when visiting because all five are just a little different. And, my Uncle Earl’s which was the last one she painted is the best of all. It is evident that she was improving as a painter. But I still love the first that I have hanging in my dining room (featured picture of this post). Incidentally, I also have the second, which is the one she painted for my mom (she was the oldest). This is a story I want all my cousins and everyone related to my mom’s side of the family to hear and know. Those Last Supper paintings tell a story, but it is my responsibility as the family member that knows all the intimate details to tell the story.

The cool part about bringing up the Last Supper paintings at family gatherings is the fact that grandma signed and dated them all. So that always makes for a lengthy discussion of what was going on in the world, who was born at that time, et cetera, et cetera. The stories get told. The younger generations hear and learn. I’m reminded of the final song from Hamilton, which I still have not seen in person and want to so badly. The song is Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story. This is the finale song and is actually done by multiple characters. The song has a lot going on in it. Eliza Hamilton has the biggest part as she lived for 50 years after Hamilton’s death. Eliza wants to preserve his legacy and has lots of time, contrasted with Alexander running out of time. Eliza raised money for the Washington Monument, told the stories of American Revolutionary War veterans, and founded the first private orphanage, Graham Windham, in New York City.

If you think about it, the Hamilton broadway play has served an important part in telling the stories. So many more people know history that would be lost without the work of Lin-Manuel Miranda. He told the stories! How about you? Are you telling the stories? If not, who tells your stories?

Curating The Eight

I really hope everyone enjoys my Top 8 List of Non-Fiction Books for 2021. This was really tough because in a year where I read 120 books, grew a lot from that reading, and the fact that all the really great authors deserve credit for providing me much needed growth. I also know it took me about two weeks longer to get this post done compared to past years, but even after I began to narrow it down, I was torn. I’m glad I took the time to go through the exercise because it provided some great personal development time for reviewing and reflecting on all I learned from reading this past year. Then it came down to a stack of books that really offered the right things at the right time for me – I love it when that happens! There were eight books in that stack, so thus, a Top 8. As I write this introduction I am still trying to put the list in order and still really struggling. Really, to me, the order is not important (put them in whatever order you want), but everyone always blow me crap when I don’t put them in order.

Here they are – my top 8 books from 2021 curated for you:

#1. Stronger Through Adversity: World-Class Leaders Share Pandemic-Tested Lessons On Thriving During The Toughest Challenges by Joseph Michelli I’ve read every one of Dr. Michelli’s books, but please don’t ask me to put all of them in ranked order. I was a fan and hooked (pun intended) forever after first reading When Fish Fly. Then in 2021 out comes Stronger Through Adversity which topped all my non-fiction reads for the year and was definitely at the right place at the right time. As many organizations were trying to figure out how to lead in a crisis, here was an incredible resource where the best had been curated for us. This book also helped me get my mind wrapped around creating sessions/programs for developing leaders for crisis management/leadership. I blogged a bunch this year from inspiration gained from this book (search Stronger Through Adversity and you’ll find them all). Dr. Michelli is the absolute best and being able to access the great leaders and then share out the learning so we all can benefit.

#2. Alien Thinking: The Unconventional Path To Breakthrough Ideas, by Cyril Bouquet, Jean-Louis Barsoux, and Michael Wade As the guy who always comes up with ideas that cause everyone to look at me like I am an alien, I loved this book. This book really helped me to begin to better channel the alien that is in me. Instead of trying to curb alien thinking I learned to better make use of it. I loved the framework they brought forth in the book:

  • A – Attention – look with fresh eyes to observe problems that need to be solved, opportunities worth addressing, and solutions that can be dramatically improved or revised
  • L – Levitation – step back from the creative process to gain perspective and enrich your understanding
  • I – Imagination – recognize hard-to-see patterns and to connect seemingly disparate dots to imagine unorthodox combinations
  • E – Experimentation – test ideas quickly and smartly, with the goal of improving – not just proving – your idea
  • N – Navigation – deal with potentially hostile environments and adjust to the forces that can make or break your solution

#3. Love ‘Em Or Lose ‘Em (Sixth Edition) by Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans This book profoundly changed me and helped get my mind wrapped around being people-centric and becoming more human. I was very fortunate to be on the launch team for this sixth edition. I am very critical of those individuals and organizations that are not as I call them “people centered.” I love (pun intended) that Kaye and Jordan-Evans taught us that loving those we work with is the correct terminology. This book taught that we need to think about how our people want to work and what inspires and motivates us to do the work. The pandemic has exposed the issue that already existed that everyone’s work situation is a little different and we need to find ways to make sure we are personalizing that experience for each and every one of our people. What really resonated with me was the notion that if we really want to love ’em (those we serve) then mass customization of how we deal with those we serve does not work. As Kaye and Jordan-Evans argued, there is no one policy for the workforce anymore. We need to allow for everyone to be a part of determining what is fair and right for them. As a leader in education, I believe this principle is true for the scholars and families we serve. This book really is about how to love.

One of my favorite quotes from the book says it all: “Approach things not as an expert, but as an explorer.” I love the metaphor of us looking at the world as an alien would see it – without preconceived notions or bias. There are so many things that can stifle even the most alien of thinkers. We are taught that both our strengths and our weaknesses can serve as deterrents to successful creativity and innovation. This book caused a great deal of introspection and reflection.

#4. Make It, Don’t Fake It: Leading With Authenticity For Real Business Success by Sabrina Horn I cringe when I hear someone say, “Fake it till you make it.” I am always said that is the stupidest thing you can do. And, I’ll even have people argue with me. Imagine my relief and delight when Sabrina came out with this book that taught us all why “faking it” really is the stupidest thing you can do. In fact in light of the latest verdicts in the Elizabeth Holmes/Theranos case we have even more proof that “faking it” does not work. Great leaders know what they don’t know and understand there are things they don’t know they don’t know. And, sometimes we even know things we don’t know we know. But, learning from and with others, asking questions, and asking for help are hallmarks of an effective and humble leader. Sabrina also taught us that “Intuition is knowledge, and knowledge is intuition.” I am so glad I had the opportunity to read this book, be on the launch team, and learn from the great leader, Sabrina Horn.

#5. Subtract: The Untapped Science Of Less by Leidy Klotz I loved this book! In education we are always talking about how things keep getting added to our plates and nothing ever gets removed. Well, it turns out this happens to everyone and it is how our brains are wired. Who knew? Leidy Klotz! If nothing else this book has caused me to have a new sniff test when wanting to improve, change, or create something – what should be/could be subtracted? Klotz told us that “In our striving to improve our lives, our work, and our society, we overwhelmingly add.” He asked a bunch of questions that I had to answer “yes” to, but he had me dead to rights with these three:

  • “Do you spend more time acquiring information – whether through podcasts, websites, or conversation – than you spend distilling what you already know?
  • “Do you spend more time writing new content than editing what’s there?
  • “Have you started more organizations, initiatives, and activities than you have phased out?

Using research we are shown how being poor and worrying about money takes away our brainpower to devote to other areas of our lives. As an education leader this was very powerful. Also, as I promote reducing the number of standards being taught to a more manageable number of essential skills actually raises the bar for student learning, am reminded of something else Klotz said in the book, “Weeding less useful ideas allows the indispensable ones to flourish.” Bottom-line, I no longer think in terms of adding OR subtracting, I think add AND subtract.

#6. Leadership Unchained: Defy Conventional Wisdom For Breakthrough Performance by Sara Canaday This book is really special. I had the chance to meet Sara year before last. She is such a unique and gifted leader. It is immediately evident when meeting her and reading her work that she “walks the talk.” I was reminded when reading Leadership Unchained that defying conventionality requires allowing for creativity, flexibility, and risk taking. She made a comment saying, “Innovation happens at the intersection of different perspectives.” This made me reflect on one of my own core values of learning forward from different perspectives. Innovative ideas are not just about adding another feature or an
adjacent market. If we want to keep breaking new ground we must make it a priority to seek out the intersection of multiple fields, disciplines, and cultures. She argued we should create our organizations, teams, and mind by seeking out these intersections of multiple fields, disciplines, and cultures. All those different perspectives are far more potent than any incremental extension of what you are already working on using a single perspective. This kind of thinking will lead us to someplace completely different.

#7. The Long Distance Teammate: Stay Engaged and Connected While Working Anywhere by Kevin Eikenberry and Wayne Turmel My good friend Kevin Eikenberry has this amazing sixth sense for being in the right place at the right time to provide valuable help. This book was released a year ago while we were still in the height of pandemic and beginning to figure out how to figure out how to work and learn from anywhere. This book has so much value for all disciplines. In fact, Kevin did a webinar on the book and content for me for a group of teachers I work with. This is one of those books that I’m glad I read in electronic form because I continually go back to my highlights, search for things I remember reading. This book will be evergreen for a long time as we continue to figure out how to work effectively from anywhere.

#8. Mindset Mondays with DTK: 52 Ways to REWIRE Your Thinking and Transform Your Life by David Taylor-Klaus (DTK) This was another book in this group of top eight that I was on the launch team for. Also, every year I try to find a book that is written in the 52 weekly lesson format. So, I read this book one lesson a week for a year and did a blog post each week (without fail, I might add). It was incredible, and each week I was forced to reflect, study, and expand my thinking. In this book, DTK asks you the right questions to make you take a deep and introspective look at who you want to be and who you do not want to be.

Results & Relationships

You all know how I love books that are split up into 52 distinct chapters/lessons. Well, here in the first week of 2022 I have been blessed with starting a new one, by an author who I greatly respect, have read all his books, and heard him speak several times. That author is Dr. Ken Blanchard. I’m sure you recognize that name. I am on the launch team for Dr. Blanchard’s new book that he wrote with Randy Conley, Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways To Be A Servant Leader and Build Trust, Making Common Sense Common Practice. I was so excited to get an advance copy of the book and to make this the book that I commit to doing one of the lessons each week and writing a blog post about in 2022. The book releases on February 1st. You need to go ahead and get your pre-order done.

I had to chuckle when I first started reading this book and came across, “When it comes to servant leadership and trust, we both wonder why the principles we see as common sense are so seldom used in common practice” in the introduction of the book. Ken went on to say, “If today’s leaders had a more commonsense approach to leadership, we’d venture to say that 65 to 70 percent of the workforce would not be considered disengaged.” This is such a timely book because a common theme keeps coming up in my leadership development work – we are forgetting the simple things. In fact, I blogged about Simple Things in one of my last posts of 2021 before I’d even started this book. I am super excited to dig in and unpack the learning of this great book. The book is divided into two parts. The first part is on servant leadership and written by Ken Blanchard. Randy Conley wrote the second part on building trust. So, let’s dive right in with lesson #1.

Simple Truth #1 – Servant Leadership is the best way to achieve both great results and great relationships.

We are reminded that we all need to feel connected and have a shared sense of what is valued. “Results” and “people” are not mutually exclusive. Vision and direction are leadership responsibilities, but cannot be a top-down function. As I always say, if you have included everyone on the front end, you don’t have to worry about buy in on the back end, because it will already be there. And, if we are truly servant leaders we will be shoulder to shoulder with those we serve providing personal and professional growth opportunities, actionable feedback, listening, and communication. We can have our cake and eat it too when it comes to results and relationships.

Arguing With A Specialist

Posted in Educational Leadership, Experts, Explorer, Global Leadership, Leadership, Leadership Development by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on January 2, 2022

The trigger for this post was a quote from Stranger In A Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein. Here’s the quote: “I learned a long time ago not to argue with specialist. But, history has a long line of specialists.” I have never liked the terms specialist and expert. Those are both relative terms. Both expertise and specialized should be viewed as processes instead of something you can achieve. If we keep doing something long enough, we’re bound to keep improving. Where I get worried is when we quit arguing with the experts and specialists. Actually, I was amazed as I went back through past blog posts how many times I have touched on this subject.

If we shift to a position of expertise and specializing as a process, we keep learning. Our mindset shifts to: I’m here to learn. Most of the people I know and respect who are considered experts and specialists are continuously learning, reading, practicing, trying. Each one of them is striving towards expertise. Anyone who calls themselves an expert is no expert. We need to be very careful of the Dunning-Kruger effect. Overestimating or underestimating our ability can both be disastrous. In one of my top five reads in 2021, Alien Thinking: The Unconventional Path To Breakthrough Ideas, we were reminded to “Approach things not as an expert, but as an explorer.” I’ve always been a critic of so called experts and this was a warning of the problem of acting like an expert. Authors Cyril Bouquet, Jean-Louis Barsoux, and Michael Wade also posited that expert status can serve as blinders keeping us from exploring for the next way of doing what we are doing well now better or differently. I blogged about this in Be An Explorer, Not An Expert.

Let us not forget that expertise and specialization is a never-ending process where we keep striving to be better. Keep questioning and exploring for better ways.

Saying Nothing

I really enjoyed the most recent article by my friend, Maya Hu Chan, “7 Steps to Take Managing to the Next Level,” published in Inc. It caused me to reflect on how important relationships are and how dignity, trust, and respect play into those relationships – and our everyday interactions. Then, this week through some encounters I either witnessed or was a part of, I thought about how sometimes saving face is not saying anything. For example, is anything gained by reminding someone that we were supposed to leave at 11:00 and it is now 11:18 serve any purpose? If you think it does, I won’t argue, but I don’t really think so. My point here is that our emotional equilibrium requires inner strength and a sense of self. We need our protective inner guardrails. For me, a good question to ask is: will what I’m about to say serve any valuable purpose?

Sometimes our comments only serve to humiliate. I am guessing you are like me and have been guilty of embarrassing someone, either willfully or inadvertently. I have learned from Maya and her great book, Saving Face, that we many times accidentally cause another person to lose face due to misunderstanding, lack of information, or because we’re startled or shocked. That’s why, again, as I analyzed some interactions I was witnessing or a part of this past week I was reminded that a tool in our saving face toolbox is to just not say anything. To be clear, I am not saying that’s always the best tool; it is not. But sometimes it is. Situational awareness is key here.

The idea of saving face is so important. Take a few minutes and think of scenarios. For example, you might be in a group where someone asks if you saw the new Spider-Man movie. Do you immediately say that you hated it and it was the worst made movie in history? Or, do you just acknowledge you have seen it and save face for the person raising the question if she loved it? See the difference? You can still express why you didn’t like the movie after the discussion gets going. You haven’t lied, you just didn’t say the first thing that came in your mind. I get it! This is tough! Frank and “straight-shooters,” are often viewed as uncultured, overbearing, and even rude. I have to watch this. Some of you probably do too. It is particularly important to put this in check when dealing with other cultures.

In thinking about the idea of sometimes not saying anything, I believe my three rules for tweets applies here. I believe tweets should be light, bright, and polite. I leave it there for you to ponder.

These 5 Made Me A Better Person In 2021

Every year at this time I do a few blog posts about my top books of the year. To me I would rather hear an individual person’s picks rather than see top picks done by voting. I want to hear what someone learned from reading a book. Or, what inspired them about reading a book. That being said, feel free to reply to this post, about my top fiction author picks for 2021, with your top fiction picks. I am excited about this post because this is the first year I have read enough fiction books to have picks. I have to say I have grown immensely from reading so many fiction books this year. I wrote about the impact the fiction genre is having on me in Adding Fiction To The Reading Diet. I also have learned The Power Of Fictional Lives can have on us. In fact, I might goes as far to say I have grown more from reading fiction this year than non-fiction. So, because of all the fiction I’ve read, I get to do a “Top 5 In 2021.” I am going to cheat a little and do it by authors instead of books. That way I can include more books. I also am doing it by authors because the five incredible authors wrote multiple books that I absolutely loved this year. And, by the way, I blogged multiple times about all the books mentioned here. So, search the book titles in my blog and find out what I have learned and been inspired by from these books. Here we go – my Top 5 Fiction Authors in 2021:

#1. Amor Towles

#2. Patti Callahan Henry – I am not really sure what to say here except that I love Patti’s writing. She is an amazing writer. Between her and Amor Towles I have overnight become a big fan of historical fiction.

#3. Matt Haig – Matt’s work is amazing. He is the reason I am now hooked on fiction. I also read The Comfort Book by Matt this year and it may just end up on my top 5 of non-fiction.

#4. Maggie Shipstead – Maggie has two other books I want to read in 2022: Seating Arrangements & Astonish Me. As I read this book I found myself googling to make sure this was not a true story. I love Maggie’s work.

#5. Suzy Vitello – Amazing, Amazing, Amazing! I want to read more from Suzy in 2022.

See why I needed to go by author and not by books. I want to close by saying a big THANK YOU as we close out 2021 to Amor, Patti, Matt, Maggie, and Suzy for being part of making a me a better person in 2021. Can’t wait to read more from you in 2022. And my big wish for 2022 is to meet each one of you in person in 2022. Happy New Year!