Byron's Babbles

Transformational Leadership

One of my biggest frustrations is working with leaders who have the old leader-follower or command and control mindset. It is really hard to coach these leaders out of this behavior. The disposition is driven by a lack of self confidence, an over-active ego, and lazy leadership. The easiest way to lead is to command and then watch others do the work – then berate them when the job does not meet expectations. The transformational leader empowers team members, and this is not the easy way out. It really comes down to the question of , “What is your mantra?” Mine is “Make it so!” I strive to have team members come with plans for great things they want to do to put students first and then for me to instantly say: “Make it so!”

  The absolute expert at this is David Marquet, author of Turn the Ship Around. David  Marquet was the captain of the USS Santa Fe, a nuclear-powered submarine, and was responsible for more than a hundred sailors, deep in the sea. The bottom line: under Marquet’s transformational leadership, every crew member became a leader and assumed responsibility for everything he did, from clerical tasks to crucial combat decisions. Through his mantra of “I intend to…” where crew members were empowered to come to him and tell him what they intended to do, the crew became fully engaged, contributing their full intellectual capacity every day, and the Santa Fe started winning awards. Ultimately, the USS Santa Fe ended up promoting a highly disproportionate number of officers to submarine command. If that’s not growing your people through empowerment and building your bench, I don’t know what is! 

“Leadership should mean giving control rather than taking control and creating leaders rather than forging followers.” ~ David Marquet

  In lesson #30 of The Disciplined Leader, John Manning advices against micromanaging and encourages empowering employees to develop a culture of performance and productivity. I believe we need think micro-knowledge not micromanage. Our team members have a great deal of very specific and tacit knowledge that we need to be a catalyst for developing our team members for action. In other words, help them to “make it so.” I have tried to model this. A recent example is one of our teachers, Jill Landers. Read her story on empowerment in her guest post to my blog by clicking here. Or, check out this video:

Successful empowerment comes down to four important elements:

  1. Having skilled and trained team members that have the knowledge and ability base to carry out the tasks.
  2. Present new challenges and opportunities to your team members. It’s important to challenge your employees so they can demonstrate and achieve their full potential.
  3. Give them flexibility to do things their way. You may want to grab the steering wheel and drive, but let them “make it so.” Or, as David Marquet did, let them come to you and say, “I intend to…”
  4. Provide hyper-personalized professional growth, but do not babysit.

Truly transformational leaders are able to prevent employees from being excessively reliant on their bosses, cultivating instead a staff that feels empowered and self-guided. Are you up for being transformational? 


Don’t Be A Border Collie Leader

Guest Post By Jill Landers





Jill Landers is in her 10th year as an educator with experience in traditional brick and mortar setting, the hybrid classroom, and full time virtual school. She participates in various leadership roles at Hoosier Academy including grade level leader, Teacher Advisory Committee, National Junior Honor Society, and Focused Leader Academy. She co-founded Empowered Teachers of Action and is a National Teacher Ambassador for K12 Schools.

Far Side

The Far Side by Gary Larson

I love this cartoon. I think we can all relate to the feeling of being perceived – at least at one point in our lives – as sheep…helpless without our “border collie” leader to micromanage every step we take and keep us properly fenced in. But we are not sheep. We have ideas, talents, contributions, creativity. Teachers sometimes struggle with being perceived as sheep, grazing in our day-to-day role in the pasture of our classrooms, looking to our administrators to lead the way. And the reality is, our leaders do set the tone for what we can achieve. And how they lead us makes all the difference. I have worked under “border collie” leaders who micromanaged and suffocated the energy and creativity of their staff. I have also worked under leaders who have empowered me. In fact, I am working for one such leader now: Dr. Byron Ernest.


Dr. Ernest recognized the need to “build the bench from within” at our school, Hoosier Academies, and developed the Focused Leader Academy. It has literally changed the trajectory of my professional career. As part of our role in the leadership academy, Dr. Ernest challenged the each member of the group to choose and develop a project that would benefit our school in some way. It has been great to see the benefits so far, and the year is not over…a new anti-bullying program and policies, national collaboration between virtual schools, graphic facilitation to support learning in the classroom, and more. Dr. Ernest asked us early on in the year what we were thinking of doing for our projects. I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do, but because of our school’s unique needs (and therefore the need for laws/policies to support us), I was very interested in making a positive impact on educational policy in the state of Indiana. He got that look in his eye that meant the wheels were turning, and he said in his classic way, “Let me think about that. I have some ideas.”

It wasn’t long before Dr. Ernest connected me with Tosha Salyers from the Institute for Quality Education, and she and I realized we had a shared vision for meaningfully engaging teachers in educational policy. We decided to create a professional development course for which teachers could earn professional growth points (which go toward renewing their teaching licenses). I named it “Empowered Teachers of Action” (ETA) because it wasn’t just about informing teachers; it was about applying this knowledge so teachers could make a difference in their schools. From the start, I did not want this to be about getting teachers to agree with my personal views. I wanted teachers to have the tools to have informed, productive, and positive dialogue surrounding the issues about which we feel passionate.

I brainstormed topics that I, myself, wished I knew more about. We reached out to speakers who were experts in their fields, and it wasn’t long before teachers around the state – whether in person downtown or sitting online at home – were meeting on Wednesday nights and learning about past, present, and future of education in Indiana. We culminated the project on the 5th Wednesday with a trip to the Indiana State House, hearing from legislators and meeting with Brian Bosma, the Speaker of the House. Empowered Teachers of Action was a success, and we want it to be bigger and better next year and for years to come. Here is a Link to an Empowered Teachers of Action Video I made:

sheepIn his book, The Disciplined Leader, John Manning writes, “There’s nothing mysterious or complex here: When you drive decision making down into the organization and give people the freedom to make good business decisions, it becomes a formidable strategy for inspiring others to achieve goals.  It communicates that you trust and respect them, which is exactly what your people need.”  As I reflect on what I have accomplished this year, it is because I work with a leader who is not a “border collie.” He trusted and supported me; he opened the gates for me. For the first time in my career, I understand the impact of empowerment, and I look forward to possibilities that await me.