Byron's Babbles

The Centrifuge That Is Life

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Every so often a book comes along that makes me reflect on many aspects of my own life. This great book, Rules Of Civility by Amor Towles, did that for me. I had pages of notes and quotes when I was done reading. Additionally, I had blog posts that were inspired by Rules of Civility – Visions & Revisions and What Do You Look Forward To?. This book brilliantly took the reader back to Manhattan in 1938, where authentic, human characters inhabit a playground that comes alive with the manners of a society on the verge of radical upheaval. George Washington’s Rules of Civility and Descent Behavior were weaved into the book throughout and were actually all listed at the end of the book.

At the end of the book we realize we’ve had a look back from the protagonist, Katey Kontent’s, 1966 perspective and that we have experienced all the twists and turns of the characters’ lives. This made me think of all twists and turns in my own life and the non-linear nature of our lives. One of my favorite quotes in the book is, “Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind? Sometimes, it sure seems that’s what life intends. After all, it’s basically like a centrifuge that spins every few years casting proximate bodies in disparate directions. And when the spinning stops, almost before we can catch our breath, life crowds us with a calendar of new concerns.” I thought about all the people who have come and gone in my own life and those that have come and gone and come back. This also made me think about the peoples’ live I have come and gone from. What influence were they on what the portrait, that is my life, looks like today? What influence have I had on others’ portraits?

As Shakespeare taught us, “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages.” This book was a powerful reminder that people come into our lives and we enter other peoples lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. Also, as a person who believes we should create space in our lives for serendipity, I think about the chance meetings of people who have then become influential in my life. What if characters in the book had shown up at a bar on a different night? Think of all the “what ifs…?” in your own life. When we treat every encounter as a chance to impact, influence, or inspire we bring purpose to our lives. Most people that enter our lives are seasonal and they’re with us for a reason. Once that reason is fulfilled life has a way of moving them on.



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Opening The Door To Alignment

Chapter 31 entitled “Co-create Alignment” in Mindset Mondays with DTK by David Taylor-Klaus (DTK) dealt with seeking alignment when agreement is not possible. In my policymaking life I deal with this all the time. It was great to get DTK’s insight on the subject. He said, “Seeking alignment opens you onto a wide road” (p. 229). While consensus is what everyone is striving for in decision making, it is not always feasible or attainable in all situations. I would even argue it might not be the best course of action. Instead of setting consensus or full agreement as the goal, if we instead focus on finding alignment, the goal becomes finding a piece of the situation to align around as a common goal or interest. When we focus on finding alignment, conflict or disagreement can actually become a creative act that allows both parties to come to a more creative solution than either of party could come up with on their own.

We have learned much about leading through a crisis during the past year. The pandemic has challenged us to be more nimble and creative in our decision-making. When we rethink the meanings, the way we do things, philosophies, policies, and the myriad of other social issues, there’s a cascade of consequences. Therefore, alignment becomes critical. By focusing on what we and another person share in any situation, instead of what we do not, helps lead towards more creative solutions that honor both person’s ideas. By seeking alignment we can get to task-based conflict which allows us to focus on the strategies and methods for getting things done over emotions and personal dislikes. Alignment allows us to find the places we can agree and honors those disagreements we both have.

Context, as it always does, also matters here. If what we are truly seeking is collaboration then we must also have context seeking. When context is gained and clearly articulated we will be able to understand differences and account for them. This is very important and is necessary for everyone to believe they have been heard. With this clear understanding of opinions we will be able to decide whether we are or are not in alignment. Remember this, Alignment always takes precedent over the need to agree. Some of the best forms of alignment have been born out of a series of disagreements and differences. Are you opening the door to the wide road?

Play Big

Posted in DTK, Educational Leadership, Leadership, Leadership Development, Mindset Mondays by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on March 23, 2021

“We are, after all, a work in progress.” This was the last sentence in Chapter 30 entitled “Work in Progress” of Mindset Mondays with DTK by David Taylor-Klaus (DTK). Actually, I talk about this a lot. I use the metaphor that my portrait will never be finished. Even when I die I don’t want it to be finished, but still be adding brush strokes of something significant. DTK had a drawing of success really looking like a squiggly line, as opposed to the straight line many imagine or try to achieve. So, I took a moment and roughly plotted out my life’s journey (featured image of this post). Upon further reflection I would make a few more dips in it, but you get the idea. I would encourage you to do this little exercise. It will make you reflect deeply about your journey.

Bottom-line is that a significant life takes many twists and turns. DTK taught us that we should not make our definition of success too narrow. I would argue we also need to focus on being significant over successful. Had I stayed on a straight path to, so called, success from college till now without all the twists, turns, valleys, and peaks I probably would be disappointed. By not getting caught up in what DTK called “hyper-specific outcomes” I have had some amazing experiences and opportunities I never could have planned for, or left canvas space in the portrait that has become my life. In other words, I could have never planned out those specific outcomes in my wildest dreams. Fortunately, I have had the opportunity to play big. Are you allowing your portrait to take some twists and turns of the brush as you go?

Visions & Revisions

In this week’s Mindset Mondays with DTK lesson in Chapter 29 entitled “Make ‘Em Proud,” David Taylor-Klaus (DTK) posed this question to us: “Would the child you were be proud of the adult you are?” He told us this was very complex because as kids we had all kinds of things we wanted to do and then as adults the world tells us we can’t be all those things. The problem is that none of this talk from the world is true. Somewhere along the way we lose our wonderment with the world and begin to believe the lies of our limitations. I loved how this wonder was described in Rules Of Civility by Amor Towles, “Anyone can buy a car or a night on the town. Most of us shell our days like peanuts. One in a thousand can look at the world with amazement. I don’t mean gawking at the Chrysler Building. I’m talking about the wing of a dragonfly. The tale of the shoeshine. Walking through an unsullied hour with an unsullied heart.” We must fight being constrained by other people’s truths.

DTK asks us if it could be as simple as, “The childhood you, when faced with something they didn’t like, would set out to create something different.” I believe it could be that simple. We should never stop exploring, learning, growing and evolving. I loved another description of life from Amor Towles in Rules Of Civility that said, “It is a bit of a cliché to characterize life as a rambling journey on which we can alter our course at any given time–by the slightest turn of the wheel, the wisdom goes, we influence the chain of events and thus recast our destiny with new cohorts, circumstances, and discoveries. But for the most of us, life is nothing like that. Instead, we have a few brief periods when we are offered a handful of discrete options. Do I take this job or that job? In Chicago or New York? Do I join this circle of friends or that one, and with whom do I go home at the end of the night? And does one make time for children now? Or later? Or later still? In that sense, life is less like a journey than it is a game of honeymoon bridge. In our twenties, when there is still so much time ahead of us, time that seems ample for a hundred indecisions, for a hundred visions and revisions—we draw a card, and we must decide right then and there whether to keep that card and discard the next, or discard the first card and keep the second. And before we know it, the deck has been played out and the decisions we have just made will shape our lives for decades to come.” I believe this is true, but one caveat I make is that the deck is not limited to 52 cards and is infinite. We never have to quit shaping our lives – we get to keep drawing cards till the very end.

So, in honor of that inner child that is always with us, we need to ask ourselves how we are doing in the card game of life – keeping, discarding, asking for a new card, or even shuffling the deck. Let’s make the childhood versions of ourselves proud.

Where Were You Era

Today marks the one year anniversary of the COVOD-19 Global Pandemic. We are now officially on Day 366. Yesterday I blogged about the moment when I realized we were in this for the long haul in The Good News Is. I discussed my “Where were you?” moment. Now on Day 366 I believe Joseph Michelli’s describing the events of the global pandemic as a “Where were you?” era in Stronger Through Adversity is a better descriptor. In that same chapter, Dr. Michelli posed the question, “So, what will you remember about the pandemic?”

One of my first deep reflections came in the form of a blog post on May 8, 2020 entitled The Day We Started Down The Path With No Footprints. A year ago our lives shrank and routines were turned upside down, children were sent home from school and parents became teachers for months without breaks. Offices, restaurants, theaters, sporting events and arenas emptied. My least favorite words became “unprecedented” and “pivot.” I still cringe when I hear those words.

Today we are beginning our second year of pandemic life. While things we found to be novelties last year, may not be so cool this year, we still need to find ways think of new and improved ways of doing things. We need to use this anniversary as a profound opportunity to take inventory of what we might have been missing pre-COVID, what we’ve improved, reflect on lessons learned, and acknowledge what we’ve lost or missed. These are very important conversations to have.

Because I believe we all are leaders, I believe we should take Dr. Joseph Michelli’s advice from Stronger Through Adversity and have conversations. He suggested we develop a leadership legacy statement that highlights our optimal leadership impact (competence, purpose, or character). Here is mine that I wrote:

“Hopefully I’ll be remembered as a thoughtful leader who showed love for those I served by providing growth and development.” My Legacy Statement

I would love to hear your desired legacy. Dr. Michelli taught us we need to be having conversations that “…lead to more discussions where you encourage one another, commiserate setbacks, celebrate victories, and problem-solve barriers along your path to realizing your full potential as a leader.” He went on in the book to say, “Productive dialogue can only occur when we ask, find, and share wisdom each of us collects along our journey.” I love having those conversations and learning what others are doing to improve, cope, learn, and take advantage of opportunities during this global pandemic. Let’s keep the conversation going.

Pandemic Tested Lessons

Stronger Through Adversity: World-Class Leaders Share Pandemic-Tested Lessons on Thriving During the Toughest Challenges by Joseph Michelli

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I am a huge believer in intersectional learning. This is the learning that can be accomplished from the commonalities and complexities of different industries, businesses, and organizations. I have always been a fan of Joseph Michelli’s work and books. He has knocked it out of the park with this latest book. This book is the encyclopedia of intersectional learning. I learned and reflected on so many things while reading this book.

I finished the book on the evening before the one year anniversary of the COVID-19 Global Pandemic. We need to use this anniversary as a profound opportunity to take inventory of what we might have been missing pre-COVID, what we’ve improved, reflect on lessons learned, and acknowledge what we’ve lost or missed. These are very important conversations to have. This book gives us the context to have the deep and meaningful conversations to help our communities of organizations, families, and businesses, cope, improve, and find the silver linings.

If you are one who likes to learn from others and then apply that learning to your own context, then this book is for you. He has studied and chronicled, in-depth, the many companies he has worked with, improved, consulted, and learned from. Every leader should read this book.



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The Good News Is

In A Tale Of Two Cities Charles Dickens wrote “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” It’s like Dickens was writing about the past 365 days of the COVID-19 Global Pandemic. Read it again and I believe you’ll agree it is a pretty good description of what we’ve been through.

365 days ago today, March 10, 2020, I realized while enjoying an Indiana Pacers game with some great friends from the Purdue University Krannert School of Management that we were headed for the worst of times. I made the comment toward the end of the game, “What happens if someone in the arena has the coronavirus? Or, what happens if someone on one of these teams has coronavirus?” I guess it was one of those “Where were you?” moments. Well, we found out the very next day. Rudy Gobert, of the Utah Jazz, was diagnosed with the virus on March 11, and the NBA suspended its season following play that night. Also, it was March 11, 2020 that the World Health Organization officially declared the COVID-19 Global Pandemic. Thus began the worst of times.

This morning I read Chapter 20 in Joseph Michelli’s great book (one of the silver linings of the pandemic that you all should read) Stronger Through Adversity. The title of the chapter, “Run Toward The Future,” is such a perfect descriptor for how I, and those I look to as examples and mentors, have been trying to approach this crisis. The book is a great guide on how to continue running toward the future, no matter what field you are in. It was evident from that moment at the Pacers game a year ago that life was never going to be the same. I quickly came to the realization that I was going to have to adapt, learn, grow, and get uncomfortable in order to survive. I was kind of asking myself if I had the wisdom and belief to somehow make this the best of times. I love how Dr. Michelli put it, “Some leaders only ran from danger, while others also ran toward the future” (p. 248). After a few days of getting my bearings, I consciously made the decision to use every day of the pandemic to become a better me. I can honestly say I have grown personally and professionally in the past 365 days in ways that would have never been possible under pre-pandemic circumstances.

Additionally, I made a commitment to be a beacon of hope and positivity for others. Every professional development event, meeting, or gathering I always start with something related to what day of the pandemic it is. It has actually kind of become my trade mark. For me it became and continues to be about looking for the silver linings and helping others find the silver linings. I continue to ask the questions of:

  1. What’s the opportunity after the opportunity? (think about that a little and it will make sense)
  2. What have we stopped doing during the pandemic that needs to be stopped permanently?
  3. What have we started doing that needs to continue?

For example, I’m a pretty good in person facilitator and speaker, but I’ve got to tell you I was apprehensive about going virtual. But overnight, literally, going virtual with presentations was what I did. Now, the opportunity after the opportunity is programs developed to be either in person or virtual, whichever the client wants. And, we stopped traveling for short, less than a day, events in luau of doing them virtually- that needs to continue. Not to mention I have improved my listening skills, ability to remember names, ability to read non-verbal queues, and make sure every voice is heard. My point is the last 365 days have enabled me to improve my craft. For a while in the spring I was doing three and four webinars a day, as we were providing free in-service for teachers. As I was helping teachers learn remote learning best practices, I was becoming a better facilitator. Those days were grueling, but as I look back they were very rewarding. Teachers tell us all the time that was some of the best development they’ve ever had and wish we could go back to offering that much development. Hear that opportunity?

Even though it has been the worst of times, there have been many moments of the best of times. And, we have certainly seen wisdom, foolishness, and belief during the past 365 days. Let’s go back to Stronger Through Adversity, where Dr. Michelli quoted James McElvain, PhD, Chief of Police for the Vancouver, Washington, Police Department, as saying, “Being a leader means you are in the forever business…” (p. 255). On day 365, and who knows how many more days of the pandemic are ahead, we need to be asking ourselves, “How are you running to the future as a leader of a forever business?”

What Do you Dare To Attempt?

Posted in DTK, Educational Leadership, Global Leadership, Leadership, Mindset Mondays by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on March 7, 2021

Do you have some kind of dream trapped within you that has somehow become stifled by the fear of failure? The answer is probably yes, because we all have those. In this week’s Mindset Mondays with DTK lesson in Chapter 28 entitled “Dare Yourself,” David Taylor-Klaus (DTK) told us “The things you avoid in life hurt more than those you face” (p. 207). The problem, though, is that most things that are worth doing involve a real possibility of failure. I like to look at it this way: what do I have that is worth doing whether I succeed or fail?

“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams and endeavors to live the life that he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

Henry David Thoreau

DTK told us, “The things you dare in life feed you more than those you avoid” (p. 207). I like to think of striving to make today better than yesterday. We will not develop the next great breakthrough product or create the next transformative process if we are not willing to take the risk and learn from subsequent mistakes. DTK ended Chapter 28 by asking “What do you dare to attempt?” So, I ask you: what do you dare to attempt?

Beauty, Influence, Fame, & Privilege

Posted in Global Leadership, Leadership, Leadership Development by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on March 6, 2021

I am still working through my notes and writing blog posts about the great book by A Gentleman In Moscow by Amor Towles. This is certainly one of the top books I’ve read this year so far. The protagonist, Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, was in Paris when the Hermitage fell, and returned after the Revolution. He under house arrest at the Metropol, the fine hotel in which he lives, for the authorities have forbidden him ever to leave lest he is shot. Count Rostov learned that “Beauty, influence, fame, and privilege are borrowed rather than bestowed.” All can go away in an instance. After learning that the character Anna Urbanova, who was an actress, becomes a has been, and falls from grace after Stalin’s disapproval that the films she stars in refer too grandly to “waltzing and candlelight and marble stairs;” in other words nostalgically looking at times gone by, she and the Count unwittingly join the Confederacy of the Humbled. Who make up the Confederacy of the Humbled? Here’s what we learned:

“Like the Freemasons, the Confederacy of the Humbled is a close-knit brotherhood whose members travel with no outward markings, but who know each other at a glance. For having fallen suddenly from grace, those in the Confedarcy share a certain perspective. Knowing beauty, influence, fame, and privilege to be borrowed rather than bestowed, they are not easily impressed. They are not quick to envy or take offense. They certainly do not scour the papers in search of their own names. They remain committed to living among their peers, but they greet adulation with caution, ambition with sympathy, and condensation with an inward smile.”

A Gentleman In Moscow

All of us have been humbled at some point or another. Being humbled causes us to look at life differently. It can take many forms, a star athlete is benched, a young person is not invited to the prom, or a politician loses an election. It causes the humbled to look at life differently. As the character in the book notes, one is a little less quick to envy or take offense. As I get older and realize life doesn’t always play out the we wish it would and that randomness and luck are hidden handmaidens of our own fates, the way we conduct ourselves in the daily interactions with people, the small kindnesses, the instinctive and careful decencies, become more front and center in our self identities. As Count Rostov taught us, “But in the end, it has been the inconveniences that have mattered to me most.” So, embrace the inconveniences in life. They are, as the Count explained, life itself.

What Do You Look Forward To?

Posted in Global Leadership, Happiness, Leadership, Leadership Development, Passion, Purpose by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on March 3, 2021

While reading Rules Of Civility by Amor Towles, I was struck by this comment made speaking of her father by the character, Katey Kontent: “Whatever setbacks he had faced in his life, he said, however daunting or dispiriting the unfolding of events, he always knew that he would make it through, as long as when he woke in the morning he was looking forward to his first cup of coffee. Only decades later would I realize that he had been giving me a piece of advice.” This got me to thinking about how today many people don’t seem to be driven by purpose and passion like in the past. They also don’t seem happy. We’ve always been taught that purpose and passion bring happiness and the desire to get out of bed each morning. What if it takes more than purpose and passion for happiness? What if there is more to it?

According to Kieran Setiya, in Midlife: A Philosophical Guide, it also takes looking past our own happiness to “something else.” John Stuart Mill, the famous nineteenth century British philosopher, realized that people who are happy always have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness. “Aiming thus at something else.” Setiya taught us that “The “something else” that you aim at can be any kind of hobby, interest, or pursuit – like watching baseball, cooking, or collecting stamps. All that matters is that it interests you.” It could also be as simple as looking forward, as Katey’s dad from Rules of Civility looking forward each day to his first cup of coffee. Or, Katey’s looking forward to reading each day.

Mill also realized that chasing his passion of changing the world through social reform had caused him to not recognize many of life’s pleasures that had nothing to do with solving problems. Happiness means learning from Katey Kontent and valuing the aspects of life that don’t involve problems and solutions. For you, as it did for Katey, that might mean reading. Or, it may mean that cup of coffee and newspaper each morning. For me, this has reminded me how important my trip to the barn every morning and evening is to my day. Spending time caring for the animals brings happiness to my day – every day. Setiya reminded us that “What matters is making time for passions that involve more than addressing life’s misfortunes.” What are the things that make you happy and keep you excited to get out of bed each morning?