Byron's Babbles

Reflecting On Our Presidents

“The Republican Club,” by artist Andy Thomas, was personally chosen by President Donald Trump to be displayed in the White House.

Andy Thomas Democratic Club presidents painting Image of “The Democratic Club” painting by Andy Thomas

It has been an incredible 2020 President’s Day. I had to drive to Nashville, Tennessee this morning so I had lots of time to reflect on our Presidents. My son and I were together this past weekend and reflected on the Presidents in the paintings displayed in this post. We pondered what they were discussing and thought about how great it would be to have conversations with these Presidents. As I got closer to Nashville, I reflected on the leadership of Andrew Jackson. I had the chance to go to The Hermitage last year and to the site of The Battle of New Orleans the year before that. There are certainly things that I would not have agreed with Andrew Jackson on, but there is no question he was a great leader. I blogged about his leadership in “Old Hickory” Leadership.

I had a great day tweeting questions every hour or so related to our Presidents. There was some great interaction. Here’s the questions I asked throughout the day:

  • Who was our U.S. President the day you were born?
  • Who were the U.S. Presidential candidates the first time you were able to vote?
  • If you could have dinner and a conversation with any past or present/living or deceased United States President, who would choose?
  • If you care to share, who was the first U.S. President you ever voted for?
  • Who has spent time in the Oval Office with a U.S. President? Is so, which one?
  • If you could add another U.S. President to Mount Rushmore, who would you add?
  • Are you reading about any U.S. Presidents right now? If so, which one(s)?
  • Have you finished any great President autobiographies or biographies lately?
  • What is your favorite Presidential Library you have been to?
  • What do you consider the best book by or about a First Lady of our great nation?

Wow, until I typed them out here, I had not realized I had asked 10 questions today. I can’t resist telling you that our 10th President was John Tyler. He became President in 1841 when William Henry Harrison died. He was the first Vice President to succeed to the Presidency after the death of his predecessor. How about that for some President’s Day learning? It was sure fun reflecting on the past and how our Presidents have affected our lives and this great country we call home.

Declaring Beliefs & Attitudes

Posted in Civilized Disdain, core values, Democracy, Discourse, Global Leadership, Leadership, President’s Day by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on February 17, 2020

John F. Kennedy was President on the day I was born

Trying to make sense out of political trends or political culture is very tricky at best. We see trends over time, but they are not always absolute. I’m not sure there is any longer a “typical American.” There are many indicators that become tendencies, but there are probably more exceptions. The bottom line is that there are many factors that influence Americans when they cast their secret ballot. I’ve been reflecting on this on this 2020 President’s Day.

Family certainly plays a role. Think about the Kennedy’s who were staunch Democrats. Think about the Bush’s who are die hard Republicans. When I look at my own son’s political views, he certainly has not fallen far from the proverbial tree. But, you can look at other families where the children go to the complete other side of political views. One only needs to study President Ronald Reagan’s children. We do know, however, from research that parental beliefs do have great influence on children’s political beliefs.

One thing is for sure, Americans have a great deal of political power. More than most realize. As Joe Biden always says, “All politics are personal.” Therefore, since it is personal and a conversation, then every American has a voice. First of all, and most importantly, everyone needs to vote. Voting is the most fundamental form of civic engagement in a democracy. Voting is an expression of your beliefs and also has consequences based on choices.

Machiavelli taught us to “declare.” I have always practiced this – there is never a mistake where I stand on something. Others just tell others what they want to here. Beliefs are those closely held ideas that support our values and expectations about life and politics. Our attitudes are affected by our personal beliefs and represent the preferences we form based on our life experiences and values.

In a democracy we have an obligation to “declare” these beliefs and attitudes. At the same time, however, it is important to respect those with differing opinions. I did not say agree with, I said respect. I have blogged about this in Civilized Disdain Vs. Political Correctness, What Can We Create Together, and Typical Discourse. Our beliefs and attitudes over time become a set of norms and core values that solidify our political and societal views. This in turn forms how we believe should happen in our society or what the government should do in a particular situation. Remember, your views are important and valued.

Passion At Ambition’s Command

Posted in Ambition, Educational Leadership, Global Leadership, Leadership, Lyndon B Johnson, Passion, Power, Purpose, Robert A Caro by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on February 14, 2020

We teach that having passion is a key to success, particularly when linked with purpose. History, however, teaches us that passion can become destructive. Research in psychology describes this destructive passion as “obsessive passion.” The good passion is “harmonious passion.” My recent reading has given examples of two individuals where obsessive passion drove the individuals to become power hungry.

“His passions were at ambition’s command.” ~ James A. Caro in The Path To Power

In The Path To Power, Robert A. Caro said that Lyndon B. Johnson‘s passions were at ambition’s command. Johnson was obsessed with power and couldn’t get enough of it. The ambition for power and becoming president took over and clouded any purposeful passion for helping the people of our country. Everything he did and anyone he helped was dependent on what he could get out of it, or what power could be derived. When obsessive passion takes over with ambition calling the shots, the person’s self-worth becomes validated by whatever the ambition is. In the case of Lyndon Johnson that ambition was power.

Another person I recently studied who let obsessive passion take over was Elizabeth Holmes, Founder and CEO of Theranos. I read about her in Bad Blood: Secrets And Lies In A Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou. She had purpose and passion for a world changing blood testing and analysis machine that only needed a drop or two of blood to run a myriad of tests. Her company wasn’t able to meet performance standards or efficacy. She is still involved in legal actions against her including criminal charges. Her ambition was for success as defined by celebrity, power, and greed instead of purpose for significance. To read more about this check out When Purpose and Passion Turn Into Ambition.

Does Life Imitate Art, Or Art Imitate Life?

I have been spending some time contemplating Oscar Wilde‘s thoughts on art. I love all kinds of art and consider myself an artist in terms of being creative and imaginative. I am definitely more of an artist than technocrat. I always say there is no bad art. You can refute that if you like, but Wilde and I would have been in agreement that artists should not be interested in seeking approval or creating art for demand. The instant artists, or we artistic leaders, begin to seek others approval we lose our creative juices. Think about what it is like when you are working on something and have to keep getting approval. The idiot needing the approval command and control gratification is stifling your creativity and ability to innovate. I recently wrote about this is in Empowerment Triggers The Approach System.

“…the new work of art is beautiful by being what Art has never been.” ~ Oscar Wilde

If you think about it art really means new. To truly be artistic in whatever we do whether it is leading, teaching, building, et cetera, we must be creative and innovating; we need to practice some individualism. Wilde argued “Art is the most intense mode of individualism that the world has known.” I believe if we approach everything we do as art, we would probably reach our highest potential.

“Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” ~ Oscar Wilde

James Ensor (Belgian, 1860 – 1949) Christ’s Entry into Brussels in 1889, 1888, Oil on canvas 252.7 × 430.5 cm (99 1/2 × 169 1/2 in.), 87.PA.96 The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

If you think about it, leadership and art both bring social encounters to life life. One of my favorite artworks that I believe intersects with leadership is James Ensor‘s painting Christ’s Entry Into Brussels in 1889. The painting, which began expressionism, has Jesus in the middle of a chaotic crowd of very real and very unreal characters. I was first introduced to this painting back in 2012 and then blogged about the inspiration in Rushmorean Servant Leadership. For me it was about Jesus leading from the middle, or amongst us. I do try to lead in that way while being creative. Which still begs the question of whether Wilde was right, does life imitate art or art imitate life?

How Do You Play Leader?

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This past weekend at our Indiana 3D Leadership Gathering, we did a toy activity that involved Lite Brites®. Participants made a picture that represented how the Lite Brite® could be used for great leadership. The activity was called “How Do You Play Leader?” The groups did a great job with their pictures. While they were sharing out I wrote down a few notes. Check out what I wrote down here:IMG_7860

I was particularly struck by the statement that “Great leaders really don’t have to try!” I asked the person to dig a little deeper into that comment. She said that a leader who is authentic and is himself or herself instead of trying to be someone else or copy someone else is much more effective. Great leaders find a system that works for her or him, rather than trying to force oneself into a prescribed notion of a what a leader has to be. If we know ourselves well enough, we can take steps to go about leading effectively. Situations change what we need to do, but should never change who we are. We need to make sure we’re treating all team members as we would want to be treated. We need to be genuinely interested in learning something new every day from our team, and they will follow you. It’s all about relationship building. I blogged about this in Let’s Have Lunch Together!

There was also a deep discussion about how teams are most times brought together by a certain amount of randomness and disorganized connections. Great leadership connects the randomness. Leaders should be the key connectors of team members. Support them them to understand their value in the organization. Leaders need to respect all team members. Respect comes in different forms: respecting time, respecting opinions, respecting diversity, respecting the culture, and more. When we trust and respect our team members and connect with them, they will respond with dedication and enthusiasm. Because of this, our connected team members will see clarity, levels of engagement across the organization, a positive culture and community, and most of all, improvement in communication. Remember, trust builds through connections with people and forms the bedrock of a team. Teams are built on human cooperation. Without relationships, we’ve got no team.

A Time To Fish & A Time To Mend Nets

Posted in Democracy, Leadership, Lyndon B Johnson, Power, Robert A Caro, Sam Rayburn by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on February 9, 2020

During my reading time this week, the story was told about Sam Rayburn in The Path To Power by Robert A. Caro that he liked to use the Biblical axiom, “There is a time to fish and a time to mend nets.” I had heard this axiom before, but really got to thinking about it after I read this. What he was saying, I believe, was that there was a time to be getting the work done and making the deals and there was a time to be building relationships and helping others to grow as leaders. I have already blogged about the inspiration from Caro about Sam Rayburn in “Sam, Be A Man” and Silence Is Golden.

img_7815-1In Mark chapter 1 in the Bible, one set of brothers, Simon and Andrew, were busy casting.  They were fishing.  The other set of brothers, James and John, were mending.  All four of these men were fishermen, but at the time, they were not all occupied in the same activity of their profession. Two of them were casting and two of them were mending. I believe that there are some important lessons that can be learned from this story. You don’t catch fish while you are mending.  In the lives of those fishermen mending time was considered a necessary evil.  No fisherman wanted to be mending, all fishermen wanted to be casting.

Mending nets was/is tedious work. It was/is routine, likely daily work. Spreading out the nets, sifting through them. It involves repairing holes, retying knots, and cleaning out debris. To say the least it is tedious and monotonous. This was the “grind” behind the glamour of fishing (if there is glamour in that). Just like fishermen, leaders have tedious and mundane work that has to be done in order to be effective. But, it’s the little things that must still be done. Furthermore, sometimes we keep doing the mending work and things still don’t go the way we want. We need to remember to go back and keep mending nets. We must keep trying. In Luke 5 we find another story where Jesus tells the fishermen to go out to deeper water after having fished for hours without catching anything. They followed the advice and caught so many fish their nets were full and breaking. This teaches us to keep trying and not give up. We also need to lead like Jesus and keep cheerleading our teams to keep trying.

Fishing is a powerful leadership metaphor. Fishermen are courageous and dedicated. If you’ve ever fished you know how frustrating it can be. My son and I have fished all day and caught nothing. We’ve also fished all day and not caught anything till the last hour. It was a good thing we kept fishing. I am sure you can compare this to whatever leadership work you do. Additionally, we cannot forget the teamwork that fishermen exhibit. They do not let one person do all the work. So, what have we learned from these fishermen and there being a time to fish and a time to mend net? The importance of staying at it, in good weather and bad, in lean times and lush times. They also knew there was a time to mend the nets and prepare for the next load of work.

Silence Is Golden

I love it when one of my favorite Presidents is quoted in books that I am reading. Robert Caro included a quote from former United States Speaker Of The House Sam Rayburn credited to former President Calvin Coolidge is his book The Path To Power. Ive already blogged about Sam Rayburn in “Sam, Be A Man.”

Rayburn was credited with saying that one of the wisest statements outside of those written in the Bible was when Calvin Coolidge said, “You don’t have to explain something you never said.” This speaks to the wisdom of our 30th President. Coolidge matters and was a role model of great leadership. Sometimes the smartest thing is to say nothing at all.

“You don’t have to explain something you never said.” ~ Calvin Coolidge

This can keep us from ending up negotiating and debating against ourself. Additionally, being silent at the right times can keep there from being misunderstandings. Just because there is silence does not mean we need to talk, especially if we are not completely knowledgeable on the subject being discussed. I’ll bet if you are like me you have had times where you have wished you hadn’t said something – because you ended up having to explain it and then couldn’t.

It is also important to listen to what has already been said. Often, in meetings I say, “Everything has been said, just not by everyone yet.” I’ll bet you’ve been in meetings where everyone keeps saying the same thing or making the same point over and over, too. Robert Caro teaches us that reading biographies of leaders offers us great learning. I am certainly learning a lot from reading his work.

“Sam, Be A Man”

I have been in the Rayburn House Office Building many times in Washington D.C. I had not, however, really ever given much thought to the great man the building was named after, former Speaker Of The House Sam Rayburn. Robert Caro did a whole chapter plus on Sam Rayburn in the great book I’m reading right now, The Path To Power. I am now researching biographies on Rayburn and I am going to study his life, service, and leadership.

The part that Caro vividly portrayed is the integrity with which Sam Rayburn lived and led. He wrote the story that Rayburn told of what his dad told him when he left home for college. His dad held his hand and told him four words, “Sam, be a man.” That’s pretty powerful when you think about it. What does it mean to be a man? For Sam Rayburn it was about living and leading with honor and integrity. Rayburn would say, “There are no degrees of honorableness. You either are or you aren’t.” A very powerful two sentences to live by.

There are no degrees of honorableness. You either are or you aren’t.” ~ Former U.S. Speaker Of The House Sam Rayburn (Texas)

This reminds me of what my good friend, former U.S. Congressman Steve Buyer, used to tell me and my students each year when we visited him in room 2230 of the Rayburn House Office Building: “Your character is your legacy.” That was always so moving. My students would talk about that and try to define it for the rest of our time at the National FFA Washington Leadership Conference, and the trip home. I was so proud, as an Indiana FFA Advisor to take students to this conference every year for so many years and have my students get to meet with such a great leader. It was so impactful for me to read about the man who lived with such honor that the building was named after that housed the office of a man that was such a great leadership role model for myself and my students.

“Your character is your legacy.” ~ Former U.S. Congressman Steve Buyer (Indiana)

Our legacy grows with each new experience. Our leadership is not shaped nor our legacy defined at the end of our career or life, but rather by the moments shared, the decisions made, the actions taken, and even the mistakes made along the journey. It’s about a continual reinvention of ourself with new learning, experience, relationships, and wisdom. We need to be thinking about our personal growth and continual improvement.

Deep Innovation

As a self proclaimed energetic change agent, I had a great chance to check my values and views toward innovation while reading the awesome book, Innovation For The Fatigued: How To Build A Culture Of Deep Creativity by Alf Rehn. Rehn argued that we have become “shallow innovators” and need to start practicing “deep innovation.” One problem is we start using the same old rhetoric that makes us think we are “maverick innovators,” being “transformative,” or practicing “disruptive thinking.” We think these buzzwordy titles mean we are innovating, but really we are merely tinkering around the edges and making superficial changes. See why I gave this book ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️?

“Innovation has become a tired buzzword.” ~ Alf Rehn

According to Rehn, we need to focus on big solutions. In order to have deep innovation we need to start from scratch, or go in an entirely different direction. Real innovation, Rehn posited, looks beyond what we do and know now. One of my big takeaways was that we need to stop directing so much time and talent on incremental change. Many times we take the easy way out and make ourselves feel better, saying we are taking baby steps.

“Innovation history teaches us that human beings are terrible at identifying innovative ideas.” ~ Alf Rehn (p. 54)

Another part of the book that really jumped out at me was the section entitled “The Curse of Expertise” (p. 54). I have always worried about getting caught up listening to so called “experts.” In fact, I have blogged about my dislike of experts many times in Thanks For Not Being An Expert, Decision Making vs Problem Solving – and Why the Difference Matters, and Dig In & Stop Guessing. Rehn explained that many great ideas have been killed before they had a chance to prove themselves by these so called “experts.” Rehn said, “As curious as it sounds, the better we are at something and the more expertise we’ve amassed, the worse we often get” (p. 55). It is not that experts are bad, but we just should not rely on their word as the final word. Experts often forget that their expertise represents a very small part of the world’s total wealth of knowledge. We have a tendency to overestimate what experts know and want to use their opinions carte blanche. I see this happen a lot in policy decisions.

Finally, Rehn advised us to cultivate a culture of innovation. We need a certain amount of trust and an environment where we are able to voice our ideas or opinions without fear of censure or dismissal. This is what Amy Edmondson coined as “Psychological Safety.” If we lack an innovative culture we will only practice “shallow innovation” instead of “deep innovation.” This will then eat away at our organization’s purpose, according to Rehn. The loss of purpose will ruin an organization and affect employees at every pay grade of an organization.

So, let’s create a culture of innovation so we can practice “deep innovation” and change the world!

❤️ Kids Having Ownership!

IMG_7814This past week I had the honor of doing a day long professional development for teachers from all schools corporations in Elkhart County, Indiana. I am representing Noble Education Initiative carrying out this customized professional development. This was part of an ongoing Project Based Learning partnership created by Horizon Education Alliance to bring business/industry and education together to best educate students. I love doing professional development workshops, particularly when they are on topics that I am passionate about. Project Based Learning (PBL) is one of those topics. It is also energizing to be with a group of educators who are very engaged. Groups like this always remind me and validate what Gallup® finds teachers value in question 12 of the Gallup Q12 Index©: “In the last year, have you had opportunities to learn and grow?” These teachers have been given this opportunity and very much value the opportunity, and are taking advantage of the opportunity to learn and grow.

The group last week was both passionate and engaged. We started the day with what I called “Level Setting.” I had them work in pairs to talk about their PBL experience now that we were half way through the school year. I wanted them to talk about what they had learned, “wow” moments, what they still had questions about, and what they still needed help with. They were to represent this on a tear sheet and put it up on the wall. Here are a few of the tear sheets that were put up:

Did you see the comment “❤️Kids Having Ownership”? That’s what this is all about. The next few paragraphs will dig into that a little deeper.

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Aubri Mosness with her students

We then had everyone individually do a gallery walk and pick one thing that stood out to them. This was an awesome discussion when the group came back together. There were questions like, “who wrote… I would like to know more,” or “I had that same experience because…,” or “I am so glad you wrote that because that same thing happened to us, and we are still trying to figure out…” You get the idea. One comment really stood out to me during this discussion; It was by Goshen High School Teacher, Aubri Mosness. She said, “I have felt the transition from me doing most of the work to the students doing most of the work. At first I was a little uncomfortable because I felt like I was doing much, but then I realized how much the students were getting out of it.” I was so excited by this. This is such a revelation in teaching. Great teaching should have the students doing most of the work. She was truly facilitating with a student managed classroom and the students have student agency and choice.

Then, at lunch Ms. Mosness’ students presented to the whole group and business/industry representatives that had joined us, on their project and I led a little Q&A. The students were incredible. During the presentation Ms. Mosness commented, “When I give my students too much, too much information, too much guidance, I am taking away opportunities for learning.” This was a drop the mic opportunity as far as I was concerned. The students all concurred. I then asked the students to give a thumbs up or thumbs down on the following question: “School work should look more like real work?” All six students gave me a thumbs up. Our students deserve to learn in an environment that is facilitated in a real world and relevant context.

61NlMeJ8eMLThese students were giving first hand testimony affirming the research I did for my book, The Hand In The Back Of The Room: Connecting School Work To Real Life.” In the book I talk about that the hand in the back of the room was mine, and probably yours too, that was raised wanting to know why I needed to learn what I was being taught. In other words school work must be connected to real life. This is why PBL is so great. Using PBL teaching principles will make school work look and feel like real work. In other words, the question from “the hand in the back of the room is answered as to why she needs to learn what she is being taught. When teachers are allowed to make student learning the ultimate test of facilitation of learning, then instruction improves to produce better learning. The results of my research showed improved achievement/performance in science when students are taught in a relevant context. For me that context was agriculture, but there many other real world contexts to be used. This is why the partnerships with business/industry is so important for our students. The challenge to all of us in education is to find ways to make learning visible by connecting school work and real life for the students we serve.