Byron's Babbles

Every Day We Are Making Memories

Posted in Leadership, Lyndon B Johnson, Power, Robert A Caro by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on January 30, 2020

 

As happens a lot in my world I received inspiration for a blog post from a book I am reading right now. I set a reading goal of completing all of Robert Caro’s books on the life and power (The Years of Lyndon Johnson) of Lyndon B. Johnson. I am working on the first book, The Path To Power, now. Caro is such an amazing writer and leaves no stone unturned. Right now I am learning about Lyndon Johnson’s childhood in the Hill Country of Texas. The inspiration from my current reading was about young Lyndon’s description of time spent with his father, Sam, particularly talking politics and traveling back and forth from the statehouse in Austin, Texas. It should be noticed, as Caro stated, that the story and father/son relationship described here would be in the years of 1918, 1919, or 1920. The relationship between Lyndon and his father changed drastically starting in 1921.

What got me thinking was when Caro wrote about Lyndon reflecting on loving the times when he and his father would travel in the Ford Model T to and from the Statehouse in Austin, Texas. He shared that his father would bring a crust of bread (I am comparing that to bringing a loaf of bread) and a jar of homemade jam. When they got hungry or tired, they would stop and spread some jam on bread and eat. I got a visual of that great dad and lad time when reading this. I’ll bet those were some of the best meals of Lyndon’s life.

This made me remember and reflect back of some great travel times as a young (notice I didn’t say small, because I was never small) boy with my own father. Specifically, I remember our three hour trips south to Louisville, Kentucky for the National Farm Machinery Show. He and I would stop and get a loaf of bread and some cheese. We would always buy bulk cheese and have the person at the deli counter slice it real thin for us. I remember those cheese sandwiches being the best sandwiches I have ever had. I loved spending this time with my dad. We had such great conversations while eating those cheese sandwiches.

I have tried to do things like that with my son and spend quality one on one time with him. We actually talk about what our next dad and lad time will be. Now that he is away at college, that time becomes more and more precious. Hopefully, he will remember those moments with fondness and he will do the same for his children some day. Needless to say, dad and lad, dad and lass, mom and lad, mom and lass time is very special and important. In the case of Lyndon and Sam Johnson this was time that Lyndon was learning about politics. Caro wrote that if kids were playing and asked Lyndon to join in he would never join them if he was talking to his dad at the time.

So, why blog about this? For one it was great to reflect on great past moments with my dad. Secondly, it is a reminder to us all just how important the touch points with our kids are, however seemingly insignificant they are. At the time my dad was buying a loaf of bread and a hunk of cheese it was to save money and because there weren’t the places to stop and get food on the way to Louisville along I-65 that there are now. Amazingly, Louisville, Kentucky seemed like it was on the other side of the world. My, how small of world we have become! Don’t forget, make the most out of every moment you have with your children. These times are precious and are very important to their formative years. Always remember, every day we are making memories.

Obstacles ARE The Path

Posted in Adaptive Leadership, Educational Leadership, Global Leadership, Leadership, Shape-Shifter by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on January 26, 2020

IMG_7804I heard a great quote from the late Jane Lotter that really got me thinking this morning: “And may you always remember that obstacles in the path are not obstacles, they ARE the path.” I have blogged about obstacles and barriers before and most recently in Obstacles Vs. Barriers and Overcoming Obstacles. I really liked and was inspired by the Lotter quote because I had not ever really thought of the obstacles as being the path, or even a part of the path. When we begin to look at these obstacles as just part of the path it gives us an entirely new perspective. Leaders who live with a fearless approach and embrace the adventures in daily pursuits, are able to shape-shift and mold ourselves into the leaders we truly desire to be. I actually blogged about shapeshifting in Teacher Leader Shape-Shifter, last summer.

As I was thinking about this, I remembered watching Star Trek Deep Space Nine and there being shapeshifting species, called Changlings, who could adapt their shape to whatever was necessary to the situation. Odo, a shapeshifter, was so cool; he could change from solid to liquid, male to female, or living being to inanimate object. How cool is that? Better yet, how useful could that be? Particularly when thinking about obstacles. So, can we shape-shift to let obstacles just be part of the path? Probably not, but there are things we can do to be a shapeshifting leader.

We can:

  1. Create an environment where everyone is empowered at the right time.
  2. We can have empathy, show our emotions, and have compassion. This will let our teams know we are vulnerable and care.
  3. Develop an atmosphere where everything is a joint effort. Everyone has value in this environment and the project will be looked at from every vantage point.
  4. Be observant. When we can see and plan for obstacles in advance, they can be viewed more as parts of the path.
  5. Become more taciturn. Odo, in Star Trek, was considered taciturn. In this sense I believe the character was not snobby, but a very reflective and active listener.

We must develop our capacity to embrace ambiguity and achieve results in unfamiliar environments. As I always say, “I am uncomfortable with being uncomfortable.” As we become a more and more global society, we must continue to develop our personal abilities to understand and appreciate the different values of our global counterparts. When we become adaptive leaders, we are able to select behaviors that are best suited help those we serve on the path of success. We must be able to adapt to the nature and demands of a particular situation.

Are you ready for the path ahead?

 

A Clouded Social Critique

Posted in Compassion, Freedom, Global Leadership, Honor, Leadership, Storytelling, The Warehouse by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on January 25, 2020

The WarehouseThe Warehouse by Rob Hart

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is an absolute genius work of art. The story is told from the three main characters points of view. I believe the most innovative part of Hart’s writing in this novel is that one cannot distinguish between who is protagonist or antagonist. And, I was left still pondering this after I had read the last words. Additionally, all characters have internal and external conflicts. Two of the main characters, Paxton and Zinnia, are dynamic in their character development and again we are left wondering where this development will leave them. Gibson is the only, round, or fully developed main character. One finds him in the book for what he is, a person who talks great core values, but is caught up in ambition over purpose. I blogged about this in “It has been an Honor To Live This Life”: https://byronernest.blog/2020/01/23/i… The book gives us different versions of the same truth. This really reads as a social critique on America. The business, Cloud, that the novel is written around really almost becomes a character in and of itself. This book treads the blurred line very closely to what is real, not so far off in the future real, and still out there a ways – or at least so I hope. There are parts of this book that seem so real that they should worry us. I blogged about this in “Remember, Freedom Is Yours Until You Give It Up”: https://byronernest.blog/2020/01/25/r… This is a must read book because of the great literary art that it is, but also because of its thought provoking nature.

View all my reviews

“Remember, Freedom Is Yours Until You Give It Up”

Posted in Freedom, Global Leadership, Leadership, Lyndon B Johnson by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on January 25, 2020

Earlier this week I wrote a post about learning from the great book I finished reading last week The Warehouse by Rob Hart. I won’t spend time on talking generally about the book here, but you can get an idea from my original post “It Has Been An Honor To Live This Life.” As I stated in that post the book has statements made by the characters that really made me think. The one that inspired this post was: “Remember, freedom is yours until you give it up.” This statement was made by Zinnia to Paxton. Paxton, referring to Cloud, a live-work industry, where they both lived and worked said, “They’re not perfect, but at least here I have a job, and a place to live. Maybe this is the best way to do things. Maybe the market has dictated, huh?” Then Zinnia opened her mouth, as if to say: “‘Don’t you see?’ ‘Don’t you get it?’ She wanted to tell him about what she’d seen, and what she’d found, and what she felt, and what this place had done to him, and to her, and to everyone. The entire goddamn world” (2019, Hart, p. 324). Remember, this is a fiction novel, but I am telling you it could be real, and we need to be concerned it could be real.

img_7793But let’s look deeper into this thought of “…freedom is yours until you give it up.” Freedom means different things to different people. Personally, I have always broken freedom down into two main categories: 1) Freedom To, and 2) Freedom From. To me, everything comes down to those two things. We need to distinguish between what it means to be free from something and to be free to be or do something. For example, freedom to might be described from a political standpoint of having the opportunity to vote for particular ideas, people, or parties which best represent our views. Examples include the right to bear arms or to assemble and speak freely. Or,  something as simple as leaving the hotel room I am in right now in Murray, Kentucky and pick anywhere my son and I want to go eat lunch. Freedom from could mean the notion of freedom from environmental hazard or some other preventable hazard. This should not be confused with licentious freedom. To be free, and remain free, we must become responsible human beings.

Screen Shot 2020-01-25 at 5.16.11 PMInterestingly, however, “freedom to” and “freedom from” have always been an area of civic and political tension. The preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that, “…freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people.” In striving to achieve these goals, we often face resistance from those who are focused on “freedom to,” who see an aspiration towards “freedom from” as a threat to individual liberty. This is being outlined in another great book I am reading right now by one of my favorite authors, Amity Shlaes, in Great Society: A New History. The book told of President Johnson’s commencement speech at the University of Michigan when he said, “The truth is, far from crushing the individual, government at its best liberates him from the enslaving forces of his environment” (Slaes, 20, p. 98). I, for one, do not believe that more government is the answer to any issue.

Johnson’s Great Society, however, is a great case study for the tension of “freedom to” and “freedom from.” Our country’s move toward socialism during that age was marked by our government’s effort to end poverty which drove federal spending to unsustainable heights. “America,” Shlaes wrote, “morphed into a country that could afford nothing.” Harry Truman always spoke of the nuances of leadership, and the Great Society must be studied, which Shlaes did, in the nuanced context of the relationship of the Vietnam War, poverty, and civil rights. It has been debated whether what was being proposed was socialism, but whether one believes that production being controlled or distribution of wealth being controlled is socialism, one thing is clear; the Great Society created a tension of “freedoms to” and freedoms from.” One of the most interesting comments from Shlaes in the book so far (because I’m only on page 124 of 513) is an interpretation of how Senator George Smathers of Florida was thinking: “A law that defined new rights at the national level was taking away from individuals the authority of their own conscience, and substituting a federal, national conscience to overrule them. And who knew whether the federal government’s conscience would always be better? (Shlaes, 2019, p. 116). This is an interesting question to ponder.

If I bring this full circle back to where we began with the fiction novel, The Warehouse where we found that a business named Cloud had basically taken over everything – it controlled the markets, what products people were able to buy, how they lived, et cetera. Certainly, I do not want that any more than I want the government becoming my conscience, controlling markets, or dolling out huge amounts of money for programs that don’t work. Alexander Hamilton believed, as do I, that the people are very capable of governing themselves based on reflection and choice. We also need to stay true to the desire of framers Washington, Jefferson, and Madison who insisted that governments were instituted for the people, not the rulers. So, freedom really is ours until we give it up. We need to be very careful how we balance this tension.

Interestingly, Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997) studied this very issue. Berlin called what I am calling two types of freedom in this post, two concepts of freedom: 1) Negative freedom – freedom from control by others, and 2) Positive freedom – freedom to control oneself. Berlin referred to our two selves: a lower self, which is irrational and impulsive, and a higher self, which is rational and far-sighted. That certainly does describe each and every one of us. Because of the two selves Berlin posited that negative freedom and positive freedom can both be abused. This was and is an issue that continues to be debated. And, it needs continual debating. This debate is the essence of the statement “Freedom is yours until you give it up.” This is why we must have the tough conversations about issues and why we all need to be involved in our local communities, states, and nations. As I said earlier, I believe as Hamilton did, people are very capable of governing themselves. Some individuals might need help understanding their best interests and achieving their full potential, and some would believe that government has a responsibility to help them do so. The question becomes “Who decides what counts as a rich and fulfilling life?”

There are no easy answers to these questions. Berlin never came up with the exact answer, only new questions. This is one of those conundrums that will continue to be debated, but at least we have distinctions like Berlin’s to help us navigate the tension and contemplate the realization that freedom is ours until we give it up.

REFERENCES

Hart, R.W. (2019) The warehouse. New York, NY: Crown Publishing Group.

Shlaes, A. (2019) Great society: a new history. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishing.

 

“It Has Been An Honor To Live This Life”

Posted in Benevolent Leadership, Community, Compassion, Compassionate Leadership, Honor, Leadership, Servant Leadership by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on January 23, 2020

I just finished reading an awesome book: The Warehouse by Rob Hart. I was so blown away by this book that all I have done so far is give it ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️. I will write a review, but really need to think about what I will say to give Hart the justice he deserves. When this book was recommended to me I was reluctant because it is a fiction novel and, as you know, I read non fiction. This book, however, had many great lessons and besides a few twists it could be non fiction. I’m not going to say much more; you can read the book description for yourself. I don’t want to reveal anything that would take away from you enjoying the book as much as I did. All I can say is, you need to read the book. I guarantee you, you will say, “Is this really happening in the world right now?”

There were things said by characters in the book that jumped out at me. I will be blogging about them. One phrase came from Gibson, the founder and CEO of Cloud, the focus of the entire plot. He said, “It has been an honor to live this life.” Because of his business practices this seemed like an odd comment because I found him to be very much like Machiavelli. While Gibson presents everything he does as putting others first and doing what’s best for the world, he also has rules by fear. He is promoting a very socialist/communist way of life by controlling the collective, but making millions and living a luxurious life for himself, while his employees just get by. He is Machiavellian in that he controls with low wages and the fear of employees losing their jobs.

Also, Gibson uses Machiavelli’s rule of “scorched earth”; completely eliminating any competition or potential competitor. He basically puts every other business out of business. No competition – complete control. So, I’m thinking “How can there be any honor in living that life?”

To be clear, Gibson was providing jobs and places to live, but there is clearly a conflict of whether he is doing this “for others” or “to others to make money.” Therefore the question becomes, “What does it mean to live with honor?”

To me, living with honor means living for a cause greater than yourself. It means really having a purpose; not just becoming CEO and making a bunch of money. In other words, am I making a difference? Really that is only a question we can answer for ourself. For me it comes down to the question of, “Are you contributing to the success and happiness of others?” In the case of Gibson I would say “no.” All he did was contribute to his own ego and bank account.

“If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.” ~ Former U.S. Senator Alan Simpson

For it to be an honor to live a life I believe there also needs to be honesty and transparency. If that happens the right things will probably be done. We need to be concerned where life is taking us, but we also need to be as concerned, or even more concerned, about how we are getting there. If we truly want to live with honor.

As you can see, this book had a profound impact on me and caused a great deal of reflection. We never know who is watching us or considering as a role model. What do you want them to see. Rather than saying, “It was an honor to live this life.” I would rather someone say of me, “He lived his life with honor.”

If I Were In A Snow Globe

Posted in 3D Leadership, Aspirational, change, Education, Educational Leadership, Leadership, Leading Change, Snow Globe by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on January 21, 2020

So today as I was visiting with teachers and students at our host school for 3D Leadership, Coweta Charter Academy, in Senoia, Georgia I came across a really cool writing prompt: If I Were In A Snow Globe. It was very interesting to read the student responses. Then I got to thinking, how about I write to the prompt? Here is my essay:

If I Were In A Snow Globe

Here I am in this very beautiful, pristine, and tranquil globe. Everything is perfectly in its place. Of course, my snow globe is a beautiful farm scene with a modest white farm house and three barns. There are snow covered fields and pastures with Jersey dairy cows. When you look inside the barns you see perfectly stacked round bales in a pyramid. You will also see a blue New Holland tractor backed into the barn awaiting its next task.

As much as I am loving being in this snow globe there just is no magic. No excitement. I need someone to shake my snow globe. Won’t you please shake my snow globe? Only then can there be a shift in the experience – some excitement. Snow flying landing on the roofs and on the backs of the cows making an exciting, beautiful, and ever changing experience. I just can’t imagine having to be in this snow globe with out someone shaking it up. For the magic to happen I need shook up. I wish I could get out of this snow globe and shake it. How beautiful it would be!

Lesson Of Shaking It Up

I hope you enjoyed my essay. Here’s the deal: the magic only really happens when we either get shook up, or we shake things up. The shake allows for new possibilities and new beauty. By shaking the snow globe we can create change instead of being a victim of it. So, next time you are getting shook up, take some time to recognize the magic of the shake. Or better yet, give yourself or your organization a transformative shake. How about you share your “If I Were In A Snow Globe” essay?

Naked Leadership

This past Thursday night, we had an incredible 3D Leadership gathering in Mooresville, North Carolina. This was the first gathering of the third cohort of our North and South Carolina leadership development program. This first time together involves an activity called, “Who Am I As A Leader Today?” The participants are all given their very own Mr. or Mrs. Potato Heads and must creatively put them together to represent who they are that day as a leader. We then circle up and everyone shares. This is always so meaningful and is such a great way to begin building a community. You can find out a lot about someone and yourself when you’ve channeled the inner Mr/Mrs Potato Head.

I am always inspired by the wild representations that participants come up with and the deep and meaningful descriptions they give. Always lots for me to blog about after these. One of the member’s presentations really jumped out at me, however, when she said she considered leaving her Mrs. Potato Head blank without putting anything on it. She shared she wanted it to represent the nakedness she felt as a new leader and her desire to learn and become clothed with knowledge. She even brought in some Bible teaching, reminding us that Jesus had come into the world a naked and humble leader of all – and, we all come into the world naked and without anything. She had gone ahead and decorated he Mrs. Potato Head because, as she told us, she needed to recognize that she does have leadership skills today, but wants to continue learning.

The entire group, including me, was blown away by this insightful reflection. Of course, I was so moved that I said I thought there was a book to be written – Naked Leadership. Everyone laughed (thank goodness), but the more I have reflected on it the more I like the title, and the metaphor it represents. For one thing, it’s a catchy title. I’ll bet some of you are reading this post just because the word naked is in the title and you needed to know who was naked. When I began to reflect and study the idea of Naked Leadership, however, I found so many important leadership lessons.

They Realized They Were Naked

In Genesis 2, the Bible says of Adam and Eve, “The eyes of both of them were opened…and they realized they were naked.” As leaders we must have our eyes opened and realize we do not know everything. We need an attitude of personal professional growth and a desire to actively listen to others.

The Emperor Has No Clothes

I love the children’s fairytale The Emperor’s New Clothes. This might have application as a leadership fable for learning more today than at any point in history. You know the story… the emperor was very vain and loved new clothes, so some swindlers took advantage of this. They told the emperor they could fashion the most beautiful cloth ever made that could only be seen by someone who was stupid. So, emperor gave them gold, expensive silk and other items to make the cloth. Of course, these were swindlers who did not make anything but steal the items. Let’s skip to the end of the story…the emperor goes out with his new clothes which were allegedly invisible, and, of course, is naked. No one has the courage to tell the emperor he is naked until he comes to a little boy who says, “But he doesn’t have anything on!” It took the innocence of a child to make the emperor realize he had no clothes.

Wouldn’t we be more effective leaders if we were able to recognize our own nakedness without even needing to be told, as our 3D Leadership participant suggested? This would, I believe, open us up to being advised by others to our nakedness as well. The other part of the story that most never go on to talk about is that once the empower realizes he really is naked, he continues on, naked, because of his desire to not admit being wrong and his extreme vanity.

I don’t know if the Naked Leadership book will ever get written. I hope it does, but in the meantime we all need to recognize our metaphorical nakedness and be open to finding ways for clothing ourselves with the skills of great leadership. How about you; Do you have any ideas for chapters in the Naked Leadership book?

When Purpose & Passion Turn Into Ambition

Posted in Uncategorized by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on January 16, 2020

bad blood coverTwo new friends of mine recommended the book, Bad Blood by John Carreyrou, to me. We were discussing recent top reads and this great book was one of theirs. My top read that I recommended at the time to them was The Power Broker by Robert Caro. Interestingly, for two books written at very different times about very different people, the through line was very similar: two individuals who obtained power and then craved power and then abused power.

Caro_powerbroker_bookshot-e1551201329792As I always do, when given a book recommendation, I asked what I was going to learn, or get out of reading the book. Both of my friends told me I would get a lot out of what happens when winning the ultimate prize of wealth and notoriety becomes more important than anything else. They also said I would get much more out of it based on my professional and policy making life’s contextual lens. Boy were they right!

The book reads like a well-written novel, not what we think a well-researched non-fiction book (which it is) would read. I mean that as a compliment. I did not want to put it down. Amazingly, the real events played out much like a thriller novel. The big point of the book for me was how purpose and passion turned into ambition. This transition to ambition should be taken note of. This can happen very easily, and does: passion and purpose turning into ambition. When ambition took over, those involved, particularly Theranos Inc. CEO Elizabeth Holmes, shifted from creating significance to submitting to greed. Greed for celebrity, power, and money – a very dangerous combination. We have seen this happen historically and in current times with people who become larger than life. This book is an amazingly chronicled and written account that all should read and reflect on.

Living Is Having A Past Full Of Mistakes

The other day as I was having dinner with a good friend I was talking about some mistakes I had made. He said, “Byron, part of living is having a past full of mistakes.” Wow, how true this is! And, how impactful it was to hear from this. As a person who never worries about failure and tries to learn from every mistake, it was huge to talk this out.

The thing to remember and tell ourselves, however, is that the mistake was not on purpose. We didn’t misunderstand circumstances or miscalculate a situation on purpose. Would we forgive someone else? Sure! So we need to remember to forgive ourselves too, and fail forward. This all doesn’t qualify if the mistake or failure was while taking a risk. That is the nature of risk taking and is necessary.

Then, we just need to do everything we can to fix the mistake. That may mean talking to someone, coming up with a better solution, or letting someone else help out. I always say to others, “There’s nothing you can screw up bad enough that the sun won’t come out tomorrow. And, if it doesn’t, it won’t matter anyway.” Remember, we are human and not infallible.

Finally, we need to take the position that we will be smarter next time. We need to learn from mistakes. Just as others have had amnesia about our past mistakes, we need to have amnesia about others. This is truly having compassion.

Let’s Have Lunch Together!

Last night we started our third cohort of 3D Leadership in Indiana. Hard to believe we have started our third year. Just seems like yesterday that I began putting the curriculum together for this program. Last night as we were discussing relationship building as a function of leadership, one of our participants, Sarah Medve, shared a story that really touched me and the rest of the group.

Sarah said she realized that she needed to do a better job of building relationships. Sarah also realized that she was missing out on building work friendships and collaboration because instead of taking time to eat lunch with coworkers she was making copies, grading papers, or any of the many other tasks of the day. This great teacher leader explained she has begun making sure all her tasks are done at other times so she can stop and eat lunch with others. Then Sarah told us she had fun eating lunch with others and did not want to miss it. Wow! This is a big deal!

We all do it, though. Work through lunch or sit alone and check emails. Sharing meals together, however, builds relationships. Eating together provides time to get to know each other and encourage cooperation through informal communication. Eating lunch together also increases productivity because it widens our perspectives. Eating together is a powerful act.

Researchers at Cornell University argued that eating lunch together has a much more positive effect on organizational community than the artificial activities that many organizations use like rope courses and things we call team building activities. These things are sometimes offsite and require a lot of energy. The Cornell study showed that employees (in the case of this study – firefighters) make fun of and do not see any value in them (Kniffin, et al., 2015).

This insightful story from our teacher leader reminded us all of the benefits of commensality. Coworkers that eat lunch together feel more like family and build friendships. So, we need to learn from our teacher leader, Sarah Medve, and make time to eat together with fellow teachers and staff. Why? Because, as Sarah so insightfully told us, it is fun and she feels closer to her coworkers. The rest of us leaders need to think more about providing opportunities for employees to eat together and do away with the manufactured and trite team-building exercises.

You might be interested to know that after our gathering we all went to Jockamo’s and had dinner together. It was so much fun and we learned a lot about each other. It was nice to put into practice what we were learning in 3D Leadership. I know I left feeling much closer to the group.

REFERENCE

Kniffin, K.M., Wansink, B., Devine, C. M., & Sobal, J. (2015). Eating Together at the Firehouse: How Workplace Commensality Relates to the Performance of Firefighters, Human Performance, 28:4, 281-306,DOI: 10.1080/08959285.2015.1021049