Byron's Babbles

Whole System Leadership

Screen Shot 2016-08-28 at 1.11.49 PMOn a cool, clear December night in 1972, an Eastern Airlines L-1011 jumbo jet slammed into the Everglades 18 miles northwest of Miami. This crash is the focus of Lesson #10 in 52 Leadership Lessons: Timeless Stories For The Modern Leader by John Parker Stewart. A small $12 light bulb had gone out and preoccupied the crew of Flight 401. That triggered a series of Murphy`s Law-like consequences that ultimately killed 101 of the 176 people aboard. Now, almost 44 years later, the crash is still remembered for all its ironies, sadness and triumphs. After doing a little research I believe this crash still remains the worst aviation disaster in Florida history. The amazing part is still the fact that because the impact was cushioned by soft muck and Saw Grass, 75 people lived — some of them barely receiving a scratch.img_2083

Flight 401 originated at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK), with a destination of Miami (MIA). The flight was uneventful until the approach into Miami. While preparing for landing and lowering the landing gear, the flight crew was unable to determine that the nose landing gear was fully extended and locked in the extended position. The green indicator light which would normally illuminate upon locking of the nose landing gear did not come on. After that, what happened is the subject of this blog post. While messing around trying to get the light to work, the autopilot that was supposed to be keeping the plane at 2,000 feet was turned off. Because everyone was preoccupied with one facet of the plane only, the green indicator light, n0-one was paying attention to anything else. It was not until the plane was at 900 feet and descending quickly that anyone even thought to ask if the altitude was correct. It was too late, however.

This crash has been the subject of books and movies. The primary cause of this accident was not the aircraft, but the crew — the human factor. Yes, the light bulb was not working, but that was the only thing. Even though the crew members were dealing with the landing gear indicator light, they still should have noticed their surroundings and been monitoring the aircraft’s altitude. Research (Robson, 2008) tells us  that as long as our stress levels are not to high we can notice things going on around us not related to the task at hand – in this case, working on the light bulb and noticing the altitude. Conversely, however, it is possible for cognitive tunneling to develop (Chou, Madhavan, & Funk, 1996). Cognitive tunneling (Chou, Madhavan, & Funk, 1996) happens when one thing we are doing is given all our attention while not watching anything else. Do you see the leadership connection here?

Cognitive tunneling (Chou, Madhavan, & Funk, 1996) can cause us all to focus on one task while missing the warning signs from other parts of the organization. As leaders this is dangerous, maybe not in the sense of Flight 401, but certainly in the success or failure of the organization. After this crash, the airline came up with what it calls Crew Resource Management (CRM). Basically, with CRM the captain is expected to continue to monitor all system while delegating specific indicators or fixing of challenges/problems to others. What does this mean? Someone is always flying the plane, or leading the organization.

The best historic example of CRM in action is US Airways Flight 1549 where Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger successfully landed the disabled airplane he was leader of in the Hudson River. During that emergency landing Captain Sully flew the plane and gave First Officer Jeff Skiles the job of focusing on the reference handbook that included instructions for emergency situations. Two things that really jumped out to me while studying these events was the need for checks and balances in our organization. As leaders we need processes in place to make sure we have eyes on all facets of the organization enabling us to fly the plane without focusing on a single warning light.

“Always focus on the things that matter most.” ~ John Parker Stewart

Additionally, those we lead must have the professional development, education, and growth opportunities to handle the delegation of responsibilities. We can connect this back to a principle of intent-based leadership by which if our employees do not have the skills to handle what they are in charge of, chaos ensues. We need accountability measures that ensure our employees are able to handle the tasks and leadership they are responsible for.


CHOU, C., MADHAVAN, D., & FUNK, K. (1996). Studies of cockpit task management errors. International Journal of Aviation Psychology, 6(4), 307-320.

ROBSON, D. (2008). Human being pilot. Cheltenham, Australia: Aviation theory limited.


4 Things You Probably Hate about Millennials and Why You’re Probably Wrong

file-1Listen, the challenge of parenting, educating, training, mentoring, and guiding young people has been around for thousands of years. Consider this quote attributed to Socrates, almost 2,500 years ago:

“Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.” ~ Socrates

“But my millennials are so much more annoying than we ever were.” Got it.

Remember, millennials look nothing like the previous generations, and that’s why they annoy you. It’s a lack of understanding of and between different generations. The point is millennials are probably everything and nothing we say about them.

  1. Entitled, lazy, and won’t do what they’re told? In a poll of 5,000 workers by Jennifer Deal of the Center for Creative Leadership and Alec Levenson of the University of Southern California, 41% of millennials agreed that “employees should do what their manager tells them, even when they can’t see the reason for it,” compared with 30% of baby boomers and 30 percent of Gen Xers.
  2. Aren’t competitive? The Economist cites research by CEB, a consulting firm that polls 90,000 American employees each quarter, that 59% of millennials say competition is what gets them up in the morning much more than the percentage of baby boomers or Gen Xers that say that about competition.
  3. Only communicate digitally? That study by Jennifer Deal and Alec Levenson showed that more than 90% of millennials surveyed want face-to-face feedback and career discussions.
  4. Jump ship and are not committed for the long term, or really any term? According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average worker stays at a job 4.4 years, and yes, according to the Future Workplace “Multiple Generations @ Work” survey of 1,189 employees and 150 managers, 91% of millennials expect to stay less than three. But beware of averages: Millennials may find it normal to job-hop faster than any previous generation, but when they find the right opportunity they actually are more loyal than the previous generation. The CEB study showed millennials put future career opportunity among their top five reasons for choosing a job, again ahead of other generations.

Simply put, when it comes to millennials, most of us have no idea what to believe or do. So we believe and assume the worst. Until we see this, the most powerful myths or assumptions that we have about millennials will continue to negatively impact our attitudes about, perceptions of, and relationships with them.

Get past the
 myths and realize that individual differences are more important than generational ones In the end, most millennials just want what we all should want: challenge, flexibility, purpose, engagement, collaboration, work-life balance, transparency, and authenticity.

They want bosses who care, set clear expectations, and are willing to coach—and who understand what they expect and need in the workplace. Are these things so unappealing or are they just not your story?

Don’t let generational differences be the problem. Lean in and consider millennials an opportunity to learn, connect, and kick more butt in your business using millennial power.


Need help understanding, engaging, and retaining your millennial workforce?  Dan Negroni, Author, Speaker, Attorney, Kick butt business consultant, coach, and proud Dad of a few Millennials delivers actionable solutions.  Different from all other millennial experts, Dan’s empowering business approach at launchbox, creates quick value and seamless connections with millennials and management each on their own terms.   Using unique content and delivery methods that audiences respond to immediately he leverages results from the inside out. Allow millennials to be your secret weapon and maximize your commitment to them to innovate, create a culture of engagement and grow your businesses today. To start click here to grab your copy of Chasing Relevance: 6 Steps to Understand, Engage and Maximize Next Generation Leaders in the Workplace or call them at 858.314.9687 for a free Coaching Assessment.”

2016-2017 Welcome Back

Posted in Education, Educational Leadership, Uncategorized by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on August 22, 2016

victoryfieldAs Head of Schools for the Hoosier Academies Network of Schools, I want to extend a warm welcome to our returning students and family members and those of you who are new to the Hoosier Academies Network of Schools. Thank you for partnering with us in the education of your children. Many of us here are also parents and we understand the huge responsibility we have for ensuring that all children find success at every level of their academic experiences.

I am so excited to welcome you back to school today.  I have told others that this is the most excited I have ever been to start a school year. In fact Mr. Hurst, our science/biology teacher, was so excited that he could not sleep last night – think about this; he has been doing this for 41 years and he still gets nervous. I’m excited because of our new vision, mission, and core values we developed last year and the implementation around these that will guide us this year.

Our vision is “Success for Every Student in Indiana.” We define success using the definition of Dr. Felice Kaufman – “Knowing what one wants in the world and know how to get it.” We understand that success looks different for every student.

Our new mission is “Hoosier Academies Network of Schools Engages Students in a Customized and Accessible Education by Collaborating with Parents and Families for Student Success.”

We have five core values:

Students First for Success

  • We are implementing the National Family Academic Support Team with fidelity this year in order to give students and families the support needed to be successful in our schools.
  • We started the Insight School of Indiana in order to support students who are behind or need extra support to be successful.

Educating, Supporting, and Empowering Teachers, Staff, and Families for Success

  • This year we are implementing the National model for Instructional Coaching. Our teachers will be getting regular coaching in order to help them reach their full effectiveness in facilitating learning for your children.

Safe Environment for Success

  • We will continue our anti-bullying campaign.
  • We will have drug awareness programs.
  • We will be using our Raptor (instant background check) system here at our Franklin Road 7-12 Learning Center and at our Caito Road k-6 Learning Center to ensure that everyone that comes into the building has had a background check. We have alarmed our doors so we know no-one is coming in or going out that should not be. Students are assigned to a teacher for every minute of the day and instruction will be happening from the minute the students come on campus until they leave. We have implemented our School Master attendance program so that attendance is being taken with fidelity. I have set the goal of no less than 95% attendance for all of our schools, but particularly hybrid days. I believe you will find that the ship has been tightened at our hybrid centers. We must take full advantage of the face to face time that your children have with our teachers.

Strong Community Relationships for Success

  • We have had many Back to School Expos across the state and a few more to go. Check the website for other community events where you can connect with staff for support you may need.
  • Hoosier Helpings is a food pantry that can help families in need access food, toiletries, clothing, pet supplies, and some household items. Click here for  information for support if needed.

Accountability for Success

  • With our new Academic Plan we have put in place improvements to make sure that your son or daughter is receiving the support necessary for academic performance and achievement.
  • We are clearly communicating expectations
  • We are supporting a culture of continual improvement

You will be hearing more details about many of the initiatives I have touched on here during your specific school convocation break outs, but please know I am excited for us to be back together for an exciting year of learning.

Significance, Influence, & Leadership

IMG_3517It has been said that leadership is influence. This is so true, and I was reminded of this today. I had the honor of being part of a book launch and signing at one of our local Barnes and Noble stores today for author, Eugene M. Helveston MD. He wrote the book The Second Decade: Raising Kids to be Happy, Self-Sufficient Adults through Work (2016). I learned of the book through Indiana Speaker of the House, Brian Bosma. He sent me a copy of the book and asked that I read it and think about how this book could be used to influence others in helping to develop and educate our children. I was excited to get the book and, of course, immediately read it. Come on, the Speaker of the House sends you a book and asks you to read it, well, you read it! And…of course, I started tweeting about it. Next thing you know I’m tweeting back and forth with Speaker Bosma and, lo and behold I’m suddenly tweeting with Dr. Helveston. Then, I’m being invited to attend a book signing via twitter. I continue to be amazed by the power of twitter. Well, of course I am going to the book signing – one of my most valued collections is of my author signed books. So, now that I have set the stage let’s get to some content in this post.IMG_3516

It was such an honor to have Speaker Bosma introduce me to Dr. Helveston before the event started. Little did I know I was being introduced by a man, Speaker Bosma, who has had a great deal of influence on me (to read about that, click here) to another man, Dr. Helveston, who would influence me immensely in just the few minutes of visiting and listening to him speak at the event. One of the most powerful things he said to me was, “This research and book is a project I have started really late in my life and career.” With this statement he had me hooked as someone who absolutely knows how to be significant in life. As a believer that there is no such thing as retirement – only significance in the second half, I was certain I had met an icon of being significant, not just successful. This has been a topic of interest of mine for some time now. In fact I have blogged about it in “Significance: Impacting Outside Yourself.”

IMG_3521As we talked, it was evident that Dr. Helveston wants to continue to have an influence on the world and particularly on our youth. He wants to find influential ways to have the ideas and framework brought forth in his book to really make a difference. Make no mistake, Dr. Helveston is a successful doctor, but I was truly in the presence of an influential and significant person and leader. There were individuals in attendance who were mentioned in the book and I could quickly see the influence this great man had on their lives. This very humble man clearly has had an influence on everyone he has come in contact with and is significant. Leaders, like Dr. Helveston, that strive to be significant seek to create the greatest impact and influence.  These are the types of leaders that we value the most; inspired by their courage and resiliency, we seek to emulate them. Here I was in the presence of two such leaders – Dr. Helveston and Speaker Bosma. These are the leaders that can get the most out of very little, are grateful for the opportunity to lead, and always treat others like family. It was very evident from all the stories that every patient of Dr. Helveston became family. Speaker Bosma told the story of how they had met when he became the doctor of his son. Now, years later, there is still a very close relationship between Dr. Helveston and the Bosma family. IMG_3522

Great leaders are the most memorable, influential, and significant. They go about their day leveraging their distinction by leading in ways that come most naturally to them. This is so true, because I might not even had read the book had there not been a leader in my life that turned me on to reading. Had there not been a Mrs. Wilking in my life I might not have become the leader I have because I would not have had the learning from reading I have been afforded. You can learn of the birth of my love of reading by checking out “Reading Big Red.” Click here to read the post. Significant leaders are those who enjoy sharing their wisdom and secrets of success. Dr. Helveston has certainly done this in his book. Leadership is a process of influencing others. Dr. Helveston is without a doubt influencing others with the framework for developing our children suggested in this book.

The Second Decade: Raising Kids to be Happy, Self-Sufficient Adults through Work (2016) is an incredible book that really makes you think and want to take action. I wrote the following in both my Goodreads and Amazon five start review of the book:

“Everyone who is a parent, teacher, or in a position to influence children either directly or by policy should read this book! In this book, Dr. Helveston recognizes the need for what I will call internships – meaningful work. The five actions developed in this book of:
1. Plan ahead for a quality education pursued with an eye on the future;
2. Learn life lessons and useful skills from the work you perform and the people you meet;
3. Seek advice and inspiration from mentors throughout your life;
4. Recognized that nothing is accomplished without time and effort; and
5. Pursue honest and productive work
are well developed, researched, and referenced so the reading can use the book as a guide. This book can serve as a framework for anyone who believes as I do, that helping parents teach their children to gain academic skills through a quality education and acquire practical skills learned by working is an invaluable component to a lifetime of success. Again, this is the must read book of all who want success for all children.”

IMG_3523Dr. Helveston posited in the book that there is an important activity that seems to be getting lost amid meaningless structure—holding down a job outside the home, for money. He argued that more than any other activity, work adds meaning to the knowledge learned in books and gives depth to the values instilled at home. I really agree with this and the research would concur. In fact, this is why I believe internships are so important in young people’s lives. This workplace development orientation requires inculcating good character traits within the young person, which will help them to carry out their professional respon­sibilities throughout the rest of their lives.

The idea of the “inclusive middle class” is one that really jumped out at me in the book. This really drove home why it is important for us to make sure we are carrying out and teaching our children the five actions listed above. Dr. Helveston said:

“But the future offers a two-way street. A position attained is never guaranteed. A person can attain more or accomplish less. Success can be in the form of financial security or with the attainment of other worthwhile goals. In either case, it takes effort to keep and possibly improve one’s place in society.” ~ Dr. Eugene Helveston (2016, p. 25) 

Those who understand this will certainly have a leg up in society. We have an obligation to the children of the world to be providing them with the experiences to learn these facts. One way to formalize this would be to ramp up our internship programs both at the post-secondary level and in our high school programs. What better way to give our students the real life experiences necessary to help them be successful, happy, and functional citizens. Dr. Helveston’s book provides a guide and framework for educators, parents, and policymakers to help our children understand what opportunities are available to them and facilitate the journey to become their best selves.

Getting Nowhere!

pineproc15I learned about a creature that I didn’t know much about in Lesson #9 of 52 Leadership Lessons: Timeless Stories For The Modern Leader by John Parker Stewart. The lesson used the analogy of the Processionary Caterpillar. You know how I love analogies and this one is a good one for what happens in all organizations at some time or another. These cool little creatures feed on pine needles. The interesting part is, though, that they travel like a train with their eyes half shut, head to tail fitted right against each other. So, wherever the first one goes (let’s call her the leader) the others go blindly. Are you getting the analogy here? According to the lesson, you can place them in a circle and it can take up to 10 hours for them to realize they are going nowhere. Again, are you catching the powerful analogy?

“Don’t become processionary. Question the status quo. Work smarter, not harder.” ~ John Parker Stewart

We all have become Processionary Caterpillars at some time or another. Either as the IMG_1449leader, or one of the followers. This is something I have called Lazy Leadership. You can read about it here. The big thing to keep in mind here is to avoid blindly, without question, performing tasks the “way it has always been done,” with no regard on how to improve or change for the betterment of the organization. I actually was discussing this last night at one of our family events after I had spoken to some of our teachers about ways to improve some processes. Our teachers are very talented and knowledgeable, and we need to continue to find ways to tap into that knowledge gained. We can then take that knowledge and improve as a learning organization.

img_2083If we find ourselves resembling the Processionary Caterpillar more than we would first think or want we need to make adjustments. If you fear that you share some of the style of the Processionary Caterpillar, here are some questions Stewart suggested to ask:

  • Why are we doing this?
  • Don’t answer with, “That’s the way we have always done it.”
  • Don’t ever do something because, “We’ve always done it that way.”

We need to avoid mistaking activity for accomplishment. We do not want to act like the Processionary Caterpillar. We possess an intelligence that enables us to be different from all the lower forms of life. Be all you can be by learning from the pitiful Processionary Caterpillar. My takeaway is that we need to assume there is always a better way. That does not mean we redo everything, or we would never get anything done, but we do need to question the status quo. Remember, if better is possible then good is not enough.

Everyone is Watching!

IMG_3460One of my leadership heroes, John Wooden, was a great coach and an amazing person of true character.  One of many of his quotes was:

“The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” ~ John Wooden

While I totally agree with this quote, I also believe that leaders need to remember that everyone is watching as decisions are being made. This past week I have had several situations happen where I have had to make decisions and take action knowing that everyone is watching. Honestly, I was was very aware that everyone was watching and was actually taking this into account. It seems to me that a leader’s character and core values are tested most when EVERYONE is watching and it is in that environment that many leaders fail the test of true character and walking the walk. I wish Coach Wooden was still alive to ask him if: Perhaps character and great leadership is better defined by what you do when everyone is watching, just as much as it is when no one is watching?

Whether we know it or not, people are paying attention. The way we act today, influences how we all act tomorrow. And those actions influence others – whether they know it or not. Whether we’ve chosen to recognize it yet or not, we are an example to others by the actions we take and decisions we make – for ourselves and those around us. Either of how to act or how not to, or how we walk the talk of what we say we believe in. In this sense we are all leaders and you know I believe everyone is a leader. Every choice we make, big and small, is a chance to lead. We are either an example of high standards and what’s possible, or another contributor to the complacency. I have been preaching, for example, in our schools that we must tighten the ship and make every decision based on what is best for students. Therefore, my decisions this week have had to be with this in mind, knowing everyone is watching and using the metric of, “Is he tightening the ship?” Remembering this unavoidable principle has always helped make decisions quite clear for me. If my actions (or inactions) aren’t something I’d want those I lead to take, then they probably aren’t what I need to take.

We must even pursue the decisions and actions we cannot make or do today because this makes it a lot more likely to pursue it tomorrow. And as others notice, it enables them to do the same. Remember, everyone is watching. We must realize that we all are a personal example of what’s possible to someone, or a whole group of someones – however small and subtle those decisions and actions might be on a day-to-day basis. They add up. And to be that same example for those around us. For the people you might not realize are watching… because someone and everyone always are.

My actions and your actions are training ourselves and others. Are we living up to our organization’s vision, mission, and core values? Are we living up to our own personal core values? Everyone is watching! What will they see us do next?



Work Like a MacBook

IMG_3508I catch myself saying, “We need to work more like a MacBook” all the time. I am such a believer in the streamlined and simple approach that Steve Jobs gave the world when designing Apple™ products. It is the same surface level simplicity with back-end oomph (OS) that I want for the schools that I lead. To me a streamlined process means fewer errors and delays. I touched on this some in my 2012 post Lead “Like a MacBook Pro.” Click here to read that post. In that post, the comment is made, “With a Mac what used to take three or four steps with a pc will only take a single step with the Mac!” That’s really how I believe everything should run in an organization.

So, why would we not want the organizations we lead to have all the features I believe Apple™ products bring to the table? Here are a few of the top ones:

  • Easy/automatic integration between devices (iPhone, iPad, MacBook)
  • Streamlined, single step processes
  • Home/individual content creation is excellent (iMovie and Garage Band specifically)
  • Joyful buying experience and after sales care
  • Very high build quality, premium materials and components, and generally great customer service when an error does occur

Think about it. If we achieved these things in the organizations we lead, there could not help but be great things happening.

It gives me great angst when there are times when the process involves one person doing something or collecting information only to pass that information to someone else to enter somewhere else – Why do we do this to ourselves? Many work processes are developed on an ad hoc basis out of necessity and become the standard model for getting work done. In many cases, there is already collective wisdom within your organization on how to improve the work flow, but it is extremely difficult for any one person to make a change in a work process without the opinions and involvement of other employees and leaders. Great leaders request input about streamlining efforts from anyone in the work-flow chain. Seek their opinions about how to improve efficiency.

One thing that I try to pay close attention to is how employees improve their own part of the process. Many times people will naturally streamline their own portions of a work flow, simply to defeat tedium. This is not a bad thing, but sometimes this streamline for an individual causes extra processes somewhere else. Rule of thumb: Aim to make the work flow efficient, but not your people. This will in turn create efficiency for the organization and ultimately all of those you lead and not just a select few. Implementing streamlined work flow improvements, starting with the obvious low-hanging fruit that is a usual part of any work flow process is a great place to start.

Take a look at the processes, reporting protocols, and all the work your people and organizations do and see if there are ways you can streamline like a MacBook to a single step instead of two or three.

Career Readiness for All?

indexI had the privilege of meeting and hearing from Dr. Nancy Hoffman of Jobs for the Future yesterday at our fourth Panel to Study Alternatives to the ISTEP+ Program Test. Our objective of having Dr. Hoffman was to discuss how we assess career readiness under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). I really saw a great deal of the value in the information she was presenting to us and wanted to share. Here are some facts she started with:

  • The unemployment rate among Hoosiers age 16 to 19 year old is about 15%.
  • Missing out on jobs during the late tees can have negative effects throughout a person’s working life.
  • A young person who doesn’t get work experience between 16 and 19 is missing a major developmental experience.
  • The economy suffers because of the above bullet points.

I was also struck by the idea of disconnected youth: those who are not in school or working – “have lower wages and marriage rates, higher incarceration and unemployment rates, worse health, less job satisfaction, and eve less happiness as adults than people who did not experience youth disconnection. Just as early successes breed optimism, early setbacks plant the seeds of hopelessness.”

“It’s not just about young people: The economy needs prepared young people.” ~ Dr. Nancy Hoffman

  • Far too many young people complete a postsecondary degree/credential.
  • STEM fields hold promise; employers struggle to find skilled employees.
  • High school is not working for far too many young people
  • Careers increasingly require postsecondary education and work readiness skills and experience.
  • Education workforce, and economic development are inextricably connected.

“In my utopia, all high school students would have a structured work experience – just as 70% of young people do in Switzerland.” ~ Dr. Nancy Hoffman

Indiana is ahead of most states in having a law requiring career readiness activities starting in elementary school. Indiana has a career readiness definition which includes all students. Additionally, Indiana has career exploration courses. We provide Career and Technical Education (CTE) dual enrollment and we have strong CTE results.

Here are some questions that states need to be asking and addressing:

  1. What is the state’s definition of career readiness?
  2. Does the state want to focus on all students or exclusively CTE students?
  3. Are college and career preparation the same or different?
  4. How should various options be valued and weighed?

Too Tall Leadership


Leadership, an act or series of acts that moves people in a certain direction can no longer be displayed by a lone giant or heroic individual. As you know I believe that leadership can come from anyone who displays leadership as an occasional, discrete act of influence, anywhere and at anytime necessary. Yes, a leader must provide direction, but the person at the so-called ‘top’ isn’t the only person who can provide it. More importantly, this is not the only person that should be providing it.

DSC_0058-SMany times, and wrongly I might add, we consider that the ideal leader has vision, charisma, integrity, emotional intelligence, an inspiring delivery and sterling character. But if there are leaders who don’t fit this image, then we cannot use our ideal to define leadership in general. Too many times we make leaders out to be giants. Providing direction is still a core role of leadership. However, leaders can provide only a portion of it. Leadership can also be provided by all employees, where its meaning shifts from deciding new directions to influencing others to accept a new direction.img_2083

In this week’s entry, Lesson #8, titled “Two Friends and a Giant” in 52 Leadership Lessons: Timeless Stories For The Modern Leader by John Parker Stewart the topic was the large Sequoia Redwood trees. The story was about the Chickaree and the Wood Boring Beetle. Both use the Sequoia cones as food sources and this allows new trees to grow. In other words the big giants need others to step up and be part of carrying on the species. It takes the team to make this all work.

“As soon as you are too tall to let a small one help you, you are doomed to extinction.” ~ John Parker Stewart

Leadership does not have to happen from giants at the top. Leadership shown by outsiders or bottom-up does not entail occupying a particular role, being a certain type of person, or using positional authority to make decisions. It means creating an environment where everyone is a leader. When, what I call a ‘street level’ innovator, promotes a new product to management, leadership is shown bottom-up. I believe that information should flow up as opposed to the other way around. Decisions need to be made as close to ‘street level’ as possible. We need to find direction regardless of its origin. Everyone is a leader, so anyone with a better idea can influence change.

The Leadership Tower: A Classic Jenga Model

fileI recently got a very cool gift from a group of Hoosier Academies Network of School’s teachers. The teachers took Jenga® pieces, signed them, and then glued the tower together. This was such an appropriate and appreciated gift because of how much we use the Jenga® theme, and the fact that they built something to give to me. For those that know me well, know that I am a believer in creating models and building when do professional growth activities. In other words, I strive not to use technology and presentations. I was deeply moved by the gesture and have picked a special place in my office for this.

You all know what Jenga® is, right? That’s the game where you start with 54 wooden pieces stacked in 18 alternating rows creating a stable tower. Every move from that point on destabilizes the tower as pieces are removed from inside the structure to place them on top growing it taller and taller until it eventually topples. Many times when we play we just pull pieces till someone (the loser) makes the tower fall. As I looked at the tower I had been given, I thought about the powerful metaphor Jenga® is as a leadership model. I have blogged about it before in Jenga Masters Leadership. Click here to read the post. This time as I was viewing the tower I thought of a new aspect. I viewed the tower as a model of change and strategy decisions.

What does Jenga® have to do with leading change and strategy decisions? Many organizations evolve the same way that the majority of Jenga® towers are built: by happenstance. Many organizations don’t have strategic plans, visualized outcomes, or
even a deliberate strategy in place. Leaders in these organizations tend to ‘poke’ at their businesses undermining and even weakening the foundation. Actually, that’s how you play Jenga®. Why do I use the word ‘poke?’ Because the wood blocks that the tower is made of are supposed to be the same size and finish. But due to manufacturing, storage or just the amount of play, some of the blocks are slightly smaller than others so you ‘poke’

around and find the loose ones, push them through and put them on top.file-1
Many organizations just ‘poke’ around at different initiatives and ‘things’ instead of really having a clear vision, mission, and core values combined with a strategic plan for directing the work of the organization. This is why I am so glad that the Jenga® to were I was given is glued together. For me it represents that the teachers are the glue that holds us together and that we have a solid foundation that is solidified by our vision and plan. While I want us to be innovative, creative, risk-taking, ‘poke’ around at new things and experiment, I need for us to be very strategic about how that is done. Soon you have about twenty some stories of blocks swaying in the breeze about to become a pile of blocks on the table.
I like Jenga® as a metaphor to represent change because it is engaging and easy to understand as well as being easily changed and manipulated to fit an organization’s purpose. The change can fall at any time if any one piece fails. Size and attributes can be

similar, but there are pieces that need to be played or placed early in the game. A tower

is a good image, not always a stabilized structure; but one that is always evolving, changing, and taking a different shape. In the case of the glued model I was given, I consider it to represent that the teachers are the glue that holds an organizational structure together that has been built as a stabilized structure. Yes, I want there to be continuous improvement and evolution by innovative team members, but there must also  be the cohesiveness brought about by a strong vision, mission, and strategic plan.

As a leader, are you building towards a cohesive vision for the future of your organization? Or, are you just pulling blocks out and placing on top of the tower, hoping the structure does not topple over?