Byron's Babbles

These 5 Made Me A Better Person In 2021

Every year at this time I do a few blog posts about my top books of the year. To me I would rather hear an individual person’s picks rather than see top picks done by voting. I want to hear what someone learned from reading a book. Or, what inspired them about reading a book. That being said, feel free to reply to this post, about my top fiction author picks for 2021, with your top fiction picks. I am excited about this post because this is the first year I have read enough fiction books to have picks. I have to say I have grown immensely from reading so many fiction books this year. I wrote about the impact the fiction genre is having on me in Adding Fiction To The Reading Diet. I also have learned The Power Of Fictional Lives can have on us. In fact, I might goes as far to say I have grown more from reading fiction this year than non-fiction. So, because of all the fiction I’ve read, I get to do a “Top 5 In 2021.” I am going to cheat a little and do it by authors instead of books. That way I can include more books. I also am doing it by authors because the five incredible authors wrote multiple books that I absolutely loved this year. And, by the way, I blogged multiple times about all the books mentioned here. So, search the book titles in my blog and find out what I have learned and been inspired by from these books. Here we go – my Top 5 Fiction Authors in 2021:

#1. Amor Towles

#2. Patti Callahan Henry – I am not really sure what to say here except that I love Patti’s writing. She is an amazing writer. Between her and Amor Towles I have overnight become a big fan of historical fiction.

#3. Matt Haig – Matt’s work is amazing. He is the reason I am now hooked on fiction. I also read The Comfort Book by Matt this year and it may just end up on my top 5 of non-fiction.

#4. Maggie Shipstead – Maggie has two other books I want to read in 2022: Seating Arrangements & Astonish Me. As I read this book I found myself googling to make sure this was not a true story. I love Maggie’s work.

#5. Suzy Vitello – Amazing, Amazing, Amazing! I want to read more from Suzy in 2022.

See why I needed to go by author and not by books. I want to close by saying a big THANK YOU as we close out 2021 to Amor, Patti, Matt, Maggie, and Suzy for being part of making a me a better person in 2021. Can’t wait to read more from you in 2022. And my big wish for 2022 is to meet each one of you in person in 2022. Happy New Year!


Simple Things

As we run-up to the new year, I offer this post as a culmination of some leadership thoughts from 2021. The beauty of my job is that I get to work with a lot of aspiring leaders who are really intuitive about what it takes to really help people right now. We’re all under intense stress from the pandemic. One thing I have noticed is that the simple things are being overlooked. We must make sure we are doing the common sense things and get back to being human. These are really the intrinsic things such as caring.

Our human capital is the most important part of all organizations and businesses. Amazingly it does not take much! Again, I don’t think we’re doing the simple things; like asking instead of guessing what individuals need or want. It might be as simple as asking the teacher how things are really going and really caring about the answer and wanting to help. This takes knowing people and reinforces what we already know – relationships matter most. This is more than just a transactional relationship. Seeing each other as whole persons is primarily a choice that we can make. These relationships depend on and foster openness and trust. We must work really hard at building trust. We do not have a relationship if you trust me, but I don’t trust you. Don’t forget that our level of trust reflects the degree to which our behavior and the behavior of the other are consistent. Never forget, relationships are the most important determinant of fulfillment and happiness.

By building strong relationships and building trust we are better able to recognize each others’ uniqueness. Our organizations are communities. We must tend our relationships and rally bringing people together. We all need to feel connected again and have a shared sense of what is valued. As we move into 2022 let’s make a renewed commitment to being present and proactive about doing the simple things to provide help.

Silent Nights of Peace

Posted in Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, Christmas, Silent Night, Wally Bronner by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on December 25, 2021

Most people don’t remember the first time they heard or sang Silent Night. We just know it has always been a part of our Christmas music selection list. My wife and I actually had my Aunt Virginia (professional organist) play Silent Night at our wedding 36 years ago this past December 21st. It wasn’t until I went to the Silent Night Chapel at Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland a couple of weeks ago that I began to take a deep dive into understanding the significance of the most widely known Christmas Carol of all time. Bronner’s Silent Night Chapel is an exact 1:1 replica of the original chapel in Oberndorf/Salzburg, Austria, which marks the site where Silent Night was first sung on Christmas Eve in 1818.

After the Napoleonic wars had taken their toll in 1816, a young priest in Austria, Joseph Mohr, took a walk and was overwhelmed by all the stars in the sky and the quietness of a city finally at peace. He went back and wrote the words. Then, on Christmas Eve, 1818, the now-famous carol was first performed as Stille Nacht Heilige Nacht. Joseph Mohr, the young priest who wrote the lyrics, played the guitar and sang along with Franz Xaver Gruber, the choir director who had written the melody.

Bronner’s Silent Night Memorial Chapel

So why is the a replica of the Silent Night Memorial Chapel significant? Dedicated in 1937, the Chapel in Oberndorf, Austria, was built on the alter site of the original St. Nicholas Church. During a visit to the site, Wally Bronner was inspired to build an exact replica on the south end of his store’s 27 acre complex near the south entrance to Frankenmuth, Michigan. Hundreds of thousands of visitors walk in the replica chapel every year. Just as this visit inspired me to understand even more deeply the meaning of the words of Silent Night, I am sure every person entering that chapel finds some inspiration or peace.

So why was it important for me to take a deep dive into Silent Night and come to a place of understanding of the inspiration for Mohr to write these immortal lyrics? Today, Silent Night is perhaps the most famous Christmas carol in history. It has been translated into most languages, and the Bing Crosby version is the third-bestselling single in history. It took the cultural landmark at Bronner’s CHRISTMAS Wonderland to trigger my learning. The song itself was even declared to be an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO in 2011.

May we have peace on earth and our nights be starlit, blessed, and silent.

Our Best & Our Worst

“What makes you best at your job also makes you the worst at your job.” ~ Sergeant Hank Voight (Jason Beghe) to Detective Hailey Upton (Tracy Spiridakos) on Chicago P.D. I love Chicago P.D. and statements like that make me love it more. This statement was after Hailey had gone against Voight’s orders while in search of a murderer who had kidnapped a little girl. Hailey is a lot like Voight in that she is very good at her job and sometimes blurs the lines. But blurring those lines kept the little girl alive. Hailey was particularly passionate about this case because it reminded her of being abused as a child.

The thing I love about Voight as a character is the relationship he develops with those on his Intelligence Unit. Also, how he serves as a father figure. He always knows when to have a conversation, who to have the conversation with, and what to say. He even tells them: “It’s my job to protect you.” I am certainly not condoning all he does on the show, but I can say there are things to learn. He cares, he listens, he wants the entire teams’ input, and he really knows how to spot talent and develop it. I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced a real leader do it this well. I had a principal once during my teaching career who came close and I can tell you it was amazing. I was blessed to have that role model and have always strived to be like him.

Back to Voight’s comment: “What makes you best at your job also makes you the worst at your job.” In this case he was making sure Hailey understood to not let her passion for something take her over completely. Hailey had been so empathetic and compassionate that she was forgetting the boundaries. We must be conscious of what the situation requires rather than what our strengths are. If we are in a group of people focused on the details and the risks, the most valuable perspective we could bring is the opposite perspective. Sometimes we need to bring what is lacking to the table, not more of the same. We need to be flexible and bring a higher perspective.

Another thing you will see if you watch Voight closely is how he picks pairs to go out into certain situations or question people. Voight understands that having the right people isn’t enough. Sometimes you can have the right people yet have the wrong strengths to be effective or make good decisions. Great leaders not only play to their own strengths, but play to the strengths of others. Let’s not forget that every strength or virtue we have is kind of our own personal super power, and like any kind of power, can be distorted or overused.

Wally Notes

Here’s another post inspired by my visit last week to Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland. As I explained in Warm & Fuzzy Leadership, I had the opportunity to learn about the founder, Wally Bronner. One of the things they told about Wally was that he was a first rate relationship builder and really knew those around him. He would also leave what had come to be known as “Wally Notes.” These might be congratulatory, thank you’s, new ideas, or suggestions. One thing was for sure from those being interviewed; “Wally Notes” were meaningful and special. One person speaking was an owner of another business in Frankenmuth, and he explained that he got a “Wally Note” that had a suggestion that ended up helping his business tremendously. Now that’s being a great community friend and leader!

This made me think about the leaders that people cringe when they see their name come up on email or text. Why? Because it will be a berating or one more thing to do. Wally knew his people. And is wasn’t the fake kind of knowing. He really made sure he knew what was going on. When he was working with a new supplier, they said he wanted to talk to everyone in the company; right to the person cleaning the floor at the end of the day. He also spent a lot of time out in the store talking to and getting to know customers. Wally was people centric – he understood that people are the most important part of any community or organization. It is unfortunate that so many leaders view people as throw aways, or pawns. They forget that every individual has their own identity.

Globally, many times we work with individuals or groups who have different cultural norms and behavioral expectations. It can often seem as if we have to choose between what is expected, and therefore effective, and what feels authentic. This is why relationship building is so important. We must really get to know our constituents. To be good leaders, we must influence, inspire and mentor our team members. Nearly half of the people who leave jobs, do so because of a bad boss/leader. Retention not so good? Well…

Let’s take a page out of the Wally Bronner play book. We can grow our influences by caring for our team, community, and organization listening to their thoughts and ideas, and sharing. “Wally Notes” were one way Wally found to effectively share. When was the last time you let those you serve know their value to the organization, shared a suggestion (not in the form of a task in a text), a congratulations, or the importance of their work to the organization?

The View From The Bottom Of The Tree

Posted in Education, Educational Leadership, Global Education, Global Leadership, Leadership, Leadership Development by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on December 20, 2021

This is one of those blog posts that has taken me a little time to put together. I could have taken it in so many different directions and there were so many rabbit holes to go down. And, I’ve actually gone down a few of them here. But, the picture (featured in this post) of my niece’s son, Brooks, says it all and makes my point. My mother-in-law gave him a Christmas ornament for his birthday and he immediately got up, went to the Christmas tree and put it on. As I looked at the tree, most of the ornaments were around the bottom of the tree. Why? Because Brooks is two and doesn’t have a very high reach yet. I’ve watched trees being allegedly decorated by children only to have the ornaments moved by the parent, with phrases like “that would go better here,” “there’s too many on that limb,” “we need more at the top,” or “I’ll do that one so it doesn’t break.” What? Are we having a family Christmas memory generating activity or trying to win a decorating contest? And, oh by the way, none of those moves by the parent are informed by research. I googled it – nothing!

When we don’t let the ornaments be put where the child can reach and in her/his mind wants them to go, we are reinforcing the old binary model of one right answer and one wrong answer. Who is to say that the next great decorating craze might not be all the ornaments on the bottom two foot of the tree? Isn’t that the way great things happen? Some creative non-conformist said, “let’s try this instead?” If we want our young scholars to be creative we need to, well, let them be creative! I know, novel idea right? But, think about all the times this does not happen. And, come on, the sun will come up tomorrow if all the ornaments are on one limb. We give tests with questions that only have a right and wrong answer. I get that 4×1 and 2×2 always need to equal four (I think), but what about all the times in life that we have to choose the best out of three or four options?

Here’s another thing. We pesky adults trim the tree and cross the task off the holiday to-do list, but children view the Christmas tree as a modern day living art installation. If you watch children, they will walk by the tree and move an ornament of two. My son used to take ornaments off and then a day later put them back on. I love the iterative nature of this. I get that if you are entering a Christmas tree decorating contest that at some point it needs to be done. Also, I feel very sorry for you being so vain to enter in a Christmas tree decorating contest! But I’ve digressed! Toddlers and young children apparently have very flexible ideas as to what constitutes proper tree decor, and I can’t say I blame them. Think about the person who went wild one day and put cheese on a hamburger – voilà: the cheeseburger is born. Or, my favorite, from my hero, Thomas Edison, “I wonder if we could light the world with a little bulb run by electricity?”

Letting the kids decorate the Christmas tree is an incredible exercise and lesson to us adults in letting go of the fantasies about how the holiday decoration should look and allowing for how they CAN look. It is about living in the here and reality of now. We may not get the Christmas card-inspired tree, but honestly I love a good tree inspired by children. They are an honest reflection of our families. Don’t forget the Christmas tree in A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Warm & Fuzzy Leadership

I had the honor of working with educators in Michigan this week. That also gave me the opportunity to visit Frankenmuth, Michigan. Now, if you don’t know about this city, it is truly “Christmas Land.” It is home to the world’s largest (literally, 27 acres) Christmas store: Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland. I had only been to Frankenmuth once before, but this was one of my mom’s favorite places in the world. My dad and her would trek up here once a year. This time I had the opportunity to go to a program about the founder of Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, Wally Bronner. The program was all about how he got started.

The business started in his parents’ basement as a hobby when Wally was a kid. Here’s what Wally wrote about himself: “My hobby of signs, displays and decorations developed into a full-time business, and I never went to work. Since I never went to work, I don’t have to think of retirement, and I’ll continue the hobby, God-willing, but only on days that end in ‘y’.” I loved this! To me this was a better way to approach life than the old adage of, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” This really made me think about all the great businesses have been started as hobbies, or someone setting out to solve a need as a hobby.

I’m sure I will blog more about Wally, but as I listened to the employees speak of his life and influence there were a few things that stuck out. As a leader, those he led described him not as “charismatic,” but “warm and fuzzy.” I loved this. He was shown in videos meeting Presidents, dignitaries, fellow Frankenmuth business owners, and the employees he served. And yes, he was “warm and fuzzy!” Interestingly most things written about the warm and fuzzy are negative, but I gotta tell you it’s just being good to people. I could just tell from the personal reflections and video that Wally treated everyone right and was the same person with royalty or anyone in his wonderland. In fact there was a clip of Wally stating that one of his most important core values was recognizing every person’s, “…Value, dignity, and importance.” In other words he was a “people person.” And, I for one respect those who are “people persons.”

You know. Those who support their people in such ways build invaluable trust that helps keep employees motivated, engaged, and willing to follow the leader even when things get tough. Leadership implies values. A leader must have values that are life-giving to society. It is the only kind of leadership we need. So many leaders I have encountered are manipulative. You know the ones. The answer or action will always be in her/his best interest, not the other persons’. Not Wally. To him business was all bout serving the needs of others. The Michigan educators actually talked about the need for leaders to really care. So, what did Wally have? He had a purpose that was larger than he was and the balanced personality and skills to put that purpose into action. It was great to chill out in Frankenmuth and learn more about Wally Bronner.

History’s Experiments

One of the great books I am reading right now is The Epigenetics Revolution by Nessa Carey. As an animal science guy, I have been fascinated with epigenetics for a long time. In fact, when I was teaching I had a grant project with Purdue University that included epigenetics. One of the lines in the book that really jumped out at me was, “History creates experiments.” This is so true. The book talked about research using birthweight, growth, and maturity patterns following a famine. Other fascinating research is also cited in the book. I just can’t get past this thought, however, of history creating experiments. That is really what history is.

This is why one of my favorite authors, Robert A. Caro told us that we should be reading biographies in order to learn from others. In many ways, what others have done before us were experiments. In fact my own country of the United States is often referred to as an experiment. It is so important to look at all aspects of our history in order to learn for the future.

Another one of my favorite authors, good friend, and just great person, Dr. Joseph Michelli used how leaders led during the onset of the global pandemic as a way to learn about leading in a crisis. His outstanding book, Stronger Through Adversity: World-Class Leaders Share Pandemic-Tested Lessons On Thriving During The Toughest Challenges is in the running for my top non fiction book of the year. Really, all of his books are about history’s experiments in entrepreneurial leadership. You should check out his work – I love it! His work always reminds me how important it is for us to come together as a global community and be learning from each other.

I wonder how many experiments history has created that we have not taken the time or even thought to do the research on. It’s really about using that outer loop in double loop learning – evaluating the learning, creating and sharing the knowledge, and building capacity. Thanks Nessa, Robert, and Joseph for reminding us that “history creates experiments” and the data set to learn from.

Only The Wearer Knows

I love the work of Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans. In the sixth edition of Love ‘Em Or Lose ‘Em they taught us to “Ask so you don’t have to guess.” I quote them on this in my leadership development work all the time. I had a participant in one of my programs this week say, “Byron, that is one of the simplest, yet extremely profound things you have shared.” She went on, “Now, anytime I catch myself even beginning to guess, I just ask.” This and other things going on right now, particularly in the world of our teachers, makes me worried we just aren’t doing the simple things.

I had another teacher say, “Byron it was huge that you put your hand on my shoulder and said, “How are you really doing?” She continued, “It was huge to be asked that by someone who I knew really did care what the answer was and would try to help if he could.” Then she finished with, “Ive not been asked anything like that in over two years.” Wow! Once again, we need to make sure we are doing the simple things. But really these are not simple things they are huge things that don’t cost anything to do. But (another but here) we have to be willing to act on what we hear.

We need to be asking because as Robert A. Heinlein wrote in Stranger In A Strange Land, “Only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches.” We need to remember to ask because sometimes all we have is cognitive empathy – we only have the ability to understand another person’s perspective. If we’ve not been directly afflicted by the same source of pain or unhappiness we can’t truly truly understand the needs of the person experiencing it. Therefore, we need to ask what the person needs, not guess. Why? Because only the person involved in something can identify the source of some trouble or associated stress.

I know that sometimes it is hard for us to ask or for the affected person to tell us, but this brings up the linchpin to all of this – relationships. It’s amazing that in every discussion about great leaders and those that have had a profound influence on is that relationship building always comes up. If we have the relationship we can then ask like T.C. did to Rick in the latest episode of Magnum P.I. when he said, “Can I ask how you’re doing?” That shows a real desire to understand where the wearer’s show is pinching.


Posted in Analogy, Educational Leadership, Global Leadership, Leadership, Leadership Development by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on December 10, 2021

An analogy can make a complex problem seem simpler by comparing it to a similar situation. Giving an analogy is to claim that two distinct things are alike or similar in some respect. I was reminded this week while reading Stranger In A Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein, that arguments based on analogies have certain inherent weaknesses. As Heinlein wrote in this great novel, “Analogy is even slipperier than logic.” We can’t always assume that because two things are similar, that everything that is true about one is true about the other. For a guy that lives my metaphor and analogy this was an important reminder.

Analogical arguments or arguments by analogy as they are called rely on analogies, but we need to remember that any two things we can talk about usually have things that are similar and things that are not. Therefore, we must remember to make certain where the object of the analogy and the object being used as the analogy are similar. Then we can proceed to discussing whether these similarities do indeed support the conclusion being made.

This was all pretty good stuff to think about because I know I have heard some pretty wild analogies made in discussions before. And…I’m pretty sure I have made a few wild ones myself. So let’s work not to be “slipperier than logic.”