Byron's Babbles

Building S’more Leadership

Yesterday our Focused Leader Academy (FLA), aspiring teacher leaders, came into our commons area to find tables coevered in butcher paper with crayons (we’ll cover that in another post) and marshmallow manufacturing machines. Also on the tables were marshmallows, liquid chocolate, liquid caramel, strawberry sauce, chocolate sprinkles, chocolate chips, and sugar sprinkles. The title of our agenda for the day was “Building S’more Leadership.” The through line for the day was, of course, marshmallows.

Here Is What The Agenda For Our Day Looked Like

Participants were told upon arriving to make marshmallow creation that depicted their journey as a leader. This was a lot of fun to watch the creation begin. They were essentially building a model of their leadership journey. This gave us a chance to discuss where they were presently as a leader and what gifts and contributions they can bring to the table, as well as think futuristically about his/her personal direction as a leader. 

Mike Fleisch Graphic Of Our Discussion

In normal fashion, we circled our chairs and shared out upon completion of the creations. I was struck by the trust and openness we have developed in this community. Here are a couple of their stories that we live tweeted during the sharing:

Leading A Community of Experimentation

Mike Fleisch Graphic of Our Marshmallow Challenge Discussion

Imagine a room with 15 aspiring teacher leaders, divided into five teams. Each team gets 20 sticks of spaghetti, a yard of string, a yard of masking tape, and a single marshmallow. They have 18 minutes to build a free-standing structure that will enable the marshmallow to rest on top. This is the so-called “marshmallow challenge”, a staple of many leadership trainings and design schools. It’s a great way to teach the benefits of rapid model-building and prototyping. Our team at Hoosier Academies used it in our January leadership development retreat yesterday of our Focused Leader Academy.

So, here is a generalization of what happened: They spent the first few minutes with someone establishing the leadership role, dominance, or trying really hard to be super collaborative. In a few teams’ cases one emergee as a leader. The next few minutes were devoted to planning. Construction began, usually with less than eight minutes left on the clock. Then, with about a minute to go, someone placed the marshmallow on top of the beautiful tower, and….it collapsed – failure. 

Kindergarteners and engineers do the best on this activity (see graph above). We decided that the kindergarteners win because kids don’t vacillate; they simply try something, and if it doesn’t work, they try again, and again, and again. Think about it… young children love to iterate. They are very curious. 

We concluded, in our post-challenge discussion (see picture for our Mike Fleisch graphic of the discussion), that engineers are good a this because they plan, build things, and are resourceful every day. In other words, engineers are quicker to understand how the spaghetti, tape, string, and marshmallow become a system together.

The big takeaway from our teams yesterday, however, was the idea of “failing quickly.” We are all familiar with the phrase “fail fast”, but what does that really mean? And how do you put it into practice? Failing fast isn’t about the big issues, it’s about the little ones. It’s an approach development and creation that embraces lots of little experiments and iterations with the mindset that some will work and grow and others will fail and die. And, that’s okay. 

Develop a community of experimentation, be willing to try stuff, do it quickly. But if it’s not working, be willing to fail fast and pivot.

We Have To Norm That…

We had a great norming session today for our teacher evaluation team. This has been an important monthly retreat for making sure the team is doing all they can to help our teachers on their journey of continuous improvement. Norming helps us to unpack the nuances of teaching practices that have the greatest potential for improving student achievement. 

Our norming sessions prompt teachers and administrators to engage in professional conversations that make the critical link between teaching and the supports that teachers need to improve and hone their skills. This common understanding is the basis for high-quality evaluation systems that can drive professional growth. Our goal is to help all teachers grow throughout their careers. 

We believe teachers and administrators need a common language and vision about what constitutes effective practice. Being able to identify and  articulate these practices allows administrators to assess teachers and provide them with feedback on their strengths and areas for growth.

Here are our graphic notes I created from our norming session today:

Ain’t that a Kick in the Pants

Isn’t it funny how obvious and oblivious are so close? — Author unknown

So excited to host this guest post from Bill Treasurer about his great new book A Leadership Kick In The Ass

Sometimes leaders lose perspective on how they are performing and engaging with members of their team. In these instances, my work with leaders can involve inviting the leader’s direct reports to purposely kick him or her in the keister.

One of the most effective ways of doing this is having the leader go through a 360-degree feedback process, where the people they are leading rate the leader’s style and performance. The raters often include the leader him- or herself, as well as the leader’s boss(es), peers, and direct reports— hence a “360-degree” view.

The feedback uses an anonymous survey consisting of quantitative data and qualitative (open-ended) questions. The idea is that people are likely to give more honest answers if they don’t feel threatened that the leader will retaliate against them for their honesty. 

“A leader’s self-perception can be quite biased, so involving the broader perspective of others can be a useful development tool.” ~ Bill Treasurer 

While 360-degree surveys aren’t perfect, having administered hundreds of them over the years, I’ve seen them result in positive leadership change. Sometimes dramatically so.

To be sure, it takes courage to subject oneself to a leadership 360. The feedback can be raw and hurtful. In rare instances, raters will use the process as a way to get back at a leader they don’t like. But mostly the feedback is helpful, because it allows the leader to illuminate blind spots that may be blocking his or her effectiveness.

To make this exercise successful, leader have to loosen the grip on their need to be right or perfect and admit that they are the main source of their problems and ineffectiveness. This is the courage of capitulation, disarmament, and surrender. Your old ways have lost, and unless you adopt new ways of leading, you will continue to lose over and over again.

“What makes an ass kicking so painful (and useful) is that it shines a red-hot light on the parts of yourself that are holding you back and legitimately need development, often the aspects of yourself that you’d rather avoid or didn’t even know existed.” ~ Bill Treasurer

Think back to the last time you learned a lesson the hard way. How did you react? Did you make changes to become better and stronger? Or did you entrench yourself in the conviction of your rightness?

The journey to the center of one’s self is the most important voyage you’ll ever take. It’s how you become a whole person, truly knowing the full dimensions of your talents, idiosyncrasies, and deepest desires.

Global Community: Don’t Just Stand There!

It is said a global citizen is someone who identifies with being part of an emerging world community and whose actions contribute to building this community’s values and practices. We are going to have to learn to be effective change agents of a global future. We will need to create our own future, rather than trying to predict the outcome of all these global forces. Today the forces of global engagement are helping some people identify themselves as global citizens, meaning that they have a sense of belonging to a world community. This growing global identity in large part is made possible by the forces of modern information, communication, and transportation technologies. 

“We know this much. The world is not going to be dominated by any one great power. For Americans that’s going to be a very difficult thing to accept. Most of us still see a world – the world of 1960 – in which America was the only great power, and the only functioning economy.” ~ Peter Drucker

Global citizens are also moved by a desire to make a positive contribution through their professional and personal lives. When it comes to being a member of the global community, will you be a leader, challenger, or spectator. Furthermore, we must bring global competency skills into our schools. 

  • Kids need skills to navigate globally! 
  • Kids Need To Navigate Shrinking World! 

The skills and insights students can gain from interacting with people of different nations and cultures is critical as America engages more intensely with an increasingly global marketplace and interdependent world.

We must all serve as global community leaders and engage in the dialogue, to care about the issues and become a global citizen.

“To the world you may just be one person…but to one person you might just be the world.” ~ Mark Twain

Fail Like A Champion

Failure and adversity in our lives can help us, not hurt us. It’s extremely important to never lose sight of this truth. The song “My Champion” by Alterbridge delivers an extremely inspiring message to those who might feel as if they aren’t good enough. Click here to check out my video of the song I made while in Nashville, Tennessee with the band. Here is my favorite line from the song that always keeps me going:

“You’ve lost so many times it hurts 

But failures made are lessons learned

Cause in the end what you are will be much more 

Than you were.” ~ Alterbridge – My Champion

To turn failure into a gift and grow through the tough times instead of just casually going through them, you must begin to start focusing on ways to actually resolve the situation. I think back to my childhood days of watching the original MacGyver show, and now in the new MacGyver – the character always looks for the solution, not at the problem. Many people let their minds wander toward the negative, which then prompts them to focus on more problems instead of searching for ways to resolve the situation and grow from it. 
Leaders and organizations that are able to get through tremendous setbacks and actually grow because of them are the ones who focus on solutions, not more problems. We can look to my hero, Thomas Edison, for a quick example. His persistence in continually searching for solutions after facing one failure after another is a prime example of the utter importance of focusing on ways to advance.

Looking for the solution is so crucial. Just staring at the problem is futile. Here are a few questions that can help keep us focused on developing solutions and not being focused on the problem/challelenge: 

  • How can we solve this task?
  • How can we address this problem?
  • What would be the first step to solve this problem?
  • What kind of preparations will be necessary for this task?

Discovery Has No Example

columbus_breaking_the_egg_christopher_columbus_by_william_hogarthI am super excited to bring you my first Byron’s img_0674-1Babbles vlog post. I have been wanting to do this and Lesson #26 in 52 Leadership Lessons: Timeless Stories For The Modern Leader by John Parker Stewart entitled “Blinded By An Egg” gave me the inspiration. This is a story about Christopher Columbus and I hope you are as inspired as I was. Here is the link to my vlog post: Byron’s Babbles: Discovery Has No Example

“Discovery has no example, no easy path to follow. Are you willing to see and follow unknown paths?” ~ John Parker Stewart

The Bear Facts of Leadership

indexEvery winner has a coach, and every coach has a philosophy. Lets take a deeper look inside the philosophy of one of the best. It is appropriate on this weekend before the National College Football Championship game between Alabama and Clemson to reflect on the leadership of Coach Bear Bryant. He had a keen instinct for what needed to be said and done, and a willingness to confront his present reality in order to make progress as a team. Bryant led his Alabama team to six national championships and was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1986. While Bryant drove many people away with his authoritarian coaching style, he had many players who stayed to become champions. Even with this authoritarian style, Bryant made it a point to take responsibility for what his team did on the field. Gene Stallings, who coached under Bryant said this of his leadership style: “His philosophy as far as players were concerned is that if the team was successful they did it, and if for some reason we lost, he took the blame for it.” Bear Bryant found that if he took responsibility for his team, they would respond by doing everything they could to make the team successful.

“I’m just a plow hand from Arkansas, but I have learned how to hold a team together. How to lift some men up, how to calm down others, until finally they’ve got one heartbeat together, a team. There’s just three things I’d ever say: If anything goes bad, – I did it. If anything goes semi-good, then we did it. If anything goes really good, then you did it. That’s all it takes to get people to win football games for you.” ~ Bear Bryant

Lesson #25 entitled “Big Bear, Little Ego” in 52 Leadership Lessons: Timeless Stories For The Modern Leader by John Parker Stewart tells the story of Bear Bryant when he was in the United States Navy and disobeyed an order to abandon ship to save shipmates – teammates. Bryant may have pushed them to extreme limits and beyond what they thought they were capable of, but he got the best out of them. The players understood that. And they knew that Bryant was committed to their success. That’s where the bond came from—they were all in it together. Some leaders claim they don’t care if they’re liked; they just want to be respected. Other leaders are well liked but not really respected. The unusual leader, the really good one, is respected and revered. It takes a unique balance in a person to inspire that kind of loyalty and admiration, but it can be done. Coach Bryant brought his teams together by focusing on a common goal. They worked together, survived together, and ultimately succeeded together. Remember, great leaders do not consider themselves more important than the team, but as a part of the team. Leaders merely have a different set of responsibilities.

“Ready! Down! Break! Hut! Hut! Hut!” Send a spiraling pass to your team!



Power In Our Hands

fileAttention on leaders makes for good copy, and gives us someone to blame when things don’t go right. But, is this shift from our own accountability as a community contributing to this blame game? Peter Block suggested in his book Community: The Structure of Belonging that “People best create that which they own, and cocreation is the bedrock of community-by-peter-blockaccountability.” Therefore, leaders must become convenors as opposed to service providers. Leadership is convening and held to three tasks:

  1. Shift the context within which people gather.
  2. Name the debate through the powerful questions.
  3. Listen rather than advocate, defend, or provide answers.

As leaders, I have come to realize, we must make the space available and bring the community together for the conversations and developing the future as opposed to answering all the questions and giving all the solutions. Questions open the door to the future and are more powerful than answers in that they demand engagement. The future is created through the exchange of promises between citizens, the people with whom we have to live out the intentions of the change. These exchanges and conversations create a space for learning and for producing knowledge that intersects with the needs and demands of a social movement.

“Our love of problems runs deeper than just the joy of complaint, being right, or escape from responsibility. The core belief from which we operate is that an alternative or better future can be accomplished by more problem solving. We believe that defining, analyzing, and studying problems is the way to make a better world. It is the dominant mindset of western culture.” ~ Peter Block

A shift in thinking and actions of citizens is more vital than a shift in the thinking and action of institutions and formal leaders. Most sustainable improvement in community (you can also insert your organization name here because it is a community) occur when citizens discover their own power to act (intent-based leadership). According to Peter Block “[I]t is when citizens stop waiting for professionals or elected leadership to do something, and decide they can reclaim what they have delegated to others, that things really happen.” This empowerment (intent-based leadership) is present is most stories os lasting community and organizational improvement and change.

“Communities are built from the assets and gifts of their citizens, not from the citizens’ needs or deficiencies.” ~ John McKnight and Jody Kretzmann

It is all about us, as leaders, co-creating a community of possibility with all citizens. Possibility, here, is a declaration of what we create in the world each time we show up. It is a condition, or value, that we want to occur in the world, such as peace, inclusion, relatedness, reconciliation, or insert your own community needs here_______.  A possibility is brought into being in the act of declaring. What possibilities is your community declaring and co-creating?

5 Ways to Stop Thieves from Stealing Your Happiness

I am so excited to bring you this guest post from Dr. John Izzo. Learn in this post 5 Ways to Stop Thieves from Stealing Your Happiness. 

Most self-help literature makes it seem like happiness is a very elusive thing, something we must work very hard to achieve. It is my contention that happiness is our natural state. The child’s natural smile and the calm of sleep are metaphors for the happiness which is already ours. We don’t need to seek it as much as we need to get out of its way.

It is my suggestion that there are five thieves that rob us of our happiness. A thief is someone who takes away something that is already yours. In the case of happiness, the thieves are thought patterns and internal filters through which we see the world in a distorted way. They cloud our view of what is true and natural.

The five thieves are control, conceit, coveting, consumption, and comfort.


The first thief is control, the desire to control the outcomes of our life and for things to be different. Happiness is knowing what we can control and accepting what we cannot control. At the most basic level, happiness comes from understanding that we can control our actions and our responses to things external to us, but we cannot control the results of our actions. Focusing on our actions brings happiness; focusing on the result of our actions brings unhappiness. All suffering is resistance to whatever is at any moment.

How to stop the thief:

In each moment surrender to whatever is happening. Control and influence what you can while choosing to accept whatever is at that moment. Accept the hard truths about life.

Remember that it is the craving for things to be different, not the circumstance that robs you of happiness.


Conceit is perhaps the single greatest barrier to true contentment and even societal well-being. Conceit if a focus on your small self, on trying to find happiness separate from all other people and things as opposed to in the experience of being one. Another word for this thief is ego. Happiness comes from serving and getting lost in something outside yourself.

How to stop the thief:

Whenever you find yourself obsessing about the story of your life, remind yourself that you are already a part of a larger story. The thief wants you sitting around, staring at your reflection, but there is no happiness to be found there. Building an equitable world that works for all is part of this, if not for moral reasons than for practical ones. Only when all prosper can we all be truly safe and happy.


Coveting is the third thief and comes disguised as something harmless or even ambitious in some productive way. What could be wrong with wanting to have something you don’t yet possess? Is not desire for something the very source of moving forward in life? The opposite of coveting is to be in a place of gratitude. Coveting also keeps us from celebrating for others because life becomes a comparison.

How to stop the thief:

Whenever you find yourself asking the mirror on the wall of your subconscious how you compare with others, remember that it is the thief speaking to you. It is lying when it tells that you that life is a contest rather than a journey. Ask instead: Am I being my best self? Also, practice gratitude through daily journaling or simply taking a few minutes to identify three things that you are grateful in that day and one in your life. Each day choose another person and write down three things you want to celebrate for them.


Consumption tells us that there is something outside ourselves that we need to achieve happiness, and it tries to hide from us the truth that we can choose it at any moment. Intuitively, of course, we all know that happiness cannot come from consumption of something because we all know people who appear to “have it all” but are consistently discontent, as well as people who have “next to nothing” and appear to be quite happy. This thief is like a thirsty person with a large bottle of good fresh water but a hole in their throat.

How to stop the thief:  

Whenever you find yourself saying, I will be happy when…or I will be happy if…, stop these thoughts and come back into the inner house where happiness is found. Focus on the choice to be happy now. Challenge the consumer in yourself. Whenever you are tempted to buy something, ask yourself if it will bring any real happiness. The thing itself is not a problem; the belief that it will bring happiness is the issue.


The final thief—comfort—is an insidious one. In fact, at first glance it may even appear as a source of happiness rather than a barrier to it. This thief is like a lethargic person on the sofa, TV remote in hand. It wants us to stay on the same channel, in the same comfortable position, stuck in a routine that is not life giving. It does not care about the consequences of this routine, even if the channel we are on is no longer of interest to us or serving our higher needs.

How to stop the thief:

Make a commitment to try one or two new things every week. Vary your routines, from taking a new route on your daily walk to a different dating experience with your partner on a Friday night. Try new areas of learning—it is good for both your mental and physical health. Notice the core comfort patterns of your life. What have you carried from your past that is no longer adaptive to your life today? Identify an important pattern, and take two months to work on noticing how it shows up, then choose to ride in another direction.

Take The Five Thieves of Happiness quiz to find out what thief is robbing your happiness.

Dr John Izzo is a corporate advisor, a frequent speaker and the bestselling author of seven books including the international bestsellers Awakening Corporate Soul, Values Shift, The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die, and Stepping Up. His latest book is The Five Thieves of Happiness.

Over the last twenty years he has spoken to over one million people, taught at two major universities, advised over 500 organizations and is frequently featured in the media by the likes of Fast Company, PBS, CBC, the Wall Street Journal, CNN, and INC Magazine.

Twitter: @drjohnizzo

LinkedIn: Dr. John Izzo