Byron's Babbles

What Does Success Look Like?

“They’re not sure how to please their boss, how to behave around their teammates, or what a good job looks like” (Blanchard & Conley, 2022, p. 39). Ever been there? I’ll bet many of you reading this have experienced this. Or, after listening to a leader pontificate about all her great values have someone lean over to you and say, “All talk! She doesn’t actually do or live out any of that.” I have experienced this all first hand and it’s not a good place to be. We all need and deserve to know what the expectations are and what success looks like. In fact, that is one of my favorite questions to ask: “What does success look like?” And, as we work shoulder to shoulder with those we serve, we need to model the expectations. As a teacher, principal, and superintendent I always said, and still do, that our students will live up to our expectations – so, let’s set them high and model them.

Then in Simple Truth #13, “You Get From People What You Expect”, in Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways To Be A Servant Leader and Build Trust, Making Common Sense Common Practice by Ken Blanchard and Randy Conley reminded us that expectations are so much more than words. We were also reminded that “You must walk your talk, or your words are meaningless” (p. 39). This really resonated with me as I have always been such a believer in modeling by walking the talk and walking the walk. In fact I have a picture in my office of penguins walking the talk. I used it as the feature photo of the blog post Walking The Talk! and am using it again for this post because it means so much to me and is such an important reminder. We need to paint a very clear picture for all those we serve, by walking the talk, of what success looks like.


Where Do We Put The First Brick?

During our final session of the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) 2022 Legislative Conference, Scott Palmer of the Education Counsel, told the story that his grandfather said he could build a bridge if someone told him where to place the first brick. Then, he asked the panel he was moderating to tell where they would place the first brick as we continue recovery from COVID and redesign education. For me, this is about stopping the throwing of bricks at each other. Let’s have the difficult conversations and get it figured out for our scholars.

We all need to be rethinking what the opportunity to learn means. My first metaphorical brick, however, is that we need to find every child. Now, in our 514th day of the Global Pandemic, we have many students that have become anonymous. We need to find every child and make sure we are giving them the opportunity to learn. Then we need to take an integrated systems approach to:

  • integrate all outside experiences the scholars have.
  • we need to rethink the time and place of learning.
  • we need to consider the time and place of learning.
  • we need to consider the different paradigms for opportunities to learn.
  • we need to provide critical experiences for all our students.
  • we need to take into account the ecology of a young person’s experiences;
    • all the adults that students experience and interact with.
    • the other students in their lives.
    • the extracurricular and other activities outside the traditional school day.

I continue to say that school is no longer just a place. We need to shift the system to meet the needs of every kid, not have the kids shift to meet the needs of the system.

I’ll leave you with this thought: Whatever we want to be true for our students has to be true for their teachers, including experiencing safety, belonging, and purpose in the community of school.

What Is The Point Of A Theory?

Recently, I heard someone say, “What is the point of a theory if no one is going to test it.” It was a great point because that is the point of a theory. A theory is a special language that explains and helps us understand some phenomenon, for example, learning, motivation, or administration (Tosi, 2009). The major function of a theory is to describe and explain – in fact, theory is a general explanation, which often leads to basic principles. This has really got me to thinking that so many times we leave the important part of creating a theory when trying to solve some issue. It is why developing a theory of action is so important.

I love the idea of heuristic learning and strive to create environments in my work facilitating professional development for that kind of learning to occur. Heuristic learning is the ability to discover for oneself while doing something. Therefore, a theory is heuristic because it stimulates and guides the further development of knowledge. We all use theories to guide our actions. Some are implicit, and others are explicit; in fact, many of our personal implicit theories are formal ones that have been internalized Hoy & Adams 2016). I believe that if we want coherence and accountability we must start with a theory of action and then test it. We can start by asking, “What is the challenge you are trying to solve?”


Tosi, H.L. (2009). Theories of organization. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Hoy W. K. & Adams C. M. (2016). Quantitative Research in Education – A Primer. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Challenging Assumptions With Lateral Thinking

In the great book The Martian, Andy Weir uses the term “lateral thinking” to describe what NASA was doing a lot of to keep astronaut Mark Watney alive and bring him home from Mars. It won’t surprise anyone who knows me that I love lateral thinking. Lateral thinking is a tool used worldwide, knowingly/unknowingly by many individuals for a creative output/product. Psychologist Dr. Edward de Bono originated the term lateral thinking and is a proponent of the teaching of thinking as a subject in schools. Imagine that – teaching students to think. Lateral thinking processes provide guidance for thinking out of the box, thinking and creating something that has never been thought of. Just what was needed for Mark Watney’s success return to home in the novel and the real life return home of Apollo 13.

” Intelligence is something we are born with. Thinking is a skill that must be learned.”

~ Dr. Edward de Bono

Lateral thinking looks at things from a sideways perspective in order to find answers that aren’t immediately apparent. In other words, being able to think creatively or “outside the box” in order to solve a problem. Lateral thinking is very situational. Lateral thinking leads to changes in attitude and approach; to looking in a different way at things which have always been looked at in the same way. Liberation from old ideas and the stimulation of new ones are twin aspects of lateral thinking.

With lateral thinking we challenge assumptions and generate alternatives – what many call “out of the box thinking.” I didn’t even know there was a box! This is why I am such a believer in using real world and relevant contexts when facilitating learning. Notice I didn’t say teaching. When students are in a productive struggle working out a real world problem or issue, they are learning to learn and think and be creative. Whether we serve adults or young scholars we need facilitate learning that hones their ability to develop original answers to difficult questions. Why is this so important? Because in our world today, traditional solutions are unlikely to get the desired result. We all remember that failure was not an option on Apollo 13. How was failure averted? The “voyage and return” lateral thinking.

The Psychological Contract

In his great book Helping, which I end up rereading every couple of months, Edgar H. Schein told us “We have a psychological contract with those we serve.” This is so true. Living up to this contract in a positive and constructive way is part of loving those we serve. If we truly want to help someone, we need to use humble inquiry to find out what help is needed and make sure that we are not taking “face” away from the other person. Helping is about finding out what someone needs. Help can only be based on what the other person identifies as his or her problem. Therefore, the most basic form of help is to enable the other person to figure out what the real problem is. This requires us to be humble and build a relationship before proposing, suggesting, or selling anything.

I started this post on the airplane to Washington D.C. last night and shortly after I got to the hotel the perfect example of humble inquiry happened. I am on the 15th floor and needed to know where the ice machines were. When I went back down to to lobby I asked, “What floors are the ice machines on?” Rather than immediately playing expert and answering exactly what I had asked, my helper inquired, “What floor are you on?” I said, “On the 15th?” He then replied, “The closest machine to you is on the 12th floor. When you get off the elevator turn left and it is right there.” With one simple question my helper had provided more valuable information than just rattling off all the floors that had ice machines, which is what I had asked. The psychological contract had begun to be filled. I would certainly be comfortable going to him for help in the future. Being comfortable is certainly the beginning of a great client/helper relationship.

As leaders, and thus helpers, keeping our psychological contracts with others might just be the most influential thing we can do. This contract has to do with the perceptions of the relationships and the influence of our day to day actions. Trust, based on established trustworthiness of the parties, is key to the relationship. Every psychological contract we have is different for every person we interact with because every person is different. This non-tangible contract is fluid and constantly developing based on communication between the parties.

Respect, equity, compassion, trust, empathy, fairness, and objectivity are just some of the characteristics of a healthy psychological contract. When you think about, these are characteristics that when practiced and differentiated based on each person’s needs go a long way toward changing the lives of all for the better.

Creating Autonomy Is More Than Stepping In A Puddle

Simple Truth #12, “Create Autonomy Through Boundaries”, in Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways To Be A Servant Leader and Build Trust, Making Common Sense Common Practice by Ken Blanchardand Randy Conley reminded me of what my friend and mentor David Marquet always says, “[empowerment and agency without developing the technical skills will create chaos.” Blanchard reminded us of this in this chapter when he said, “Ensure people are aware of all procedures, rules, and laws” (p. 37). The development, goals, expectations, and accountability give us the boundaries.

“A river without banks is a large puddle.”

John Carlos and Alan Randolph in Empowerment Takes More Than A Minute

Just yesterday, as I was in a gathering as a part of some Aspen Institute work in education I am doing right now, we were contemplating how to make sure our educators have the professional growth and development to do all the work that science tells us is necessary to enhance the quality and depth of student learning when the students have opportunities to interact with others and make meaningful connections to subject material. This is really a combination of the teachers and students having the autonomy to do this important work. Therefore, it is important for organizations to take a systems approach to promoting development and addressing both student and adult skills and beliefs; organizational culture, climate, and norms; and routines and structures that guide basic interactions and instruction. I don’t believe this looks much different no matter what the organization is in the business of doing. If we want more than a “puddle” of autonomy we must create the meaningful opportunities for developing the right ethos for autonomy, agency, and empowerment.

Don’t Be A Courage Crusher

Posted in Clarity, Courage, Curiosity, Educational Leadership, Global Leadership, Leadership, Leadership Development by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on March 20, 2022

Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates by Karin Hurt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A courageous culture becomes a community where individuals are engaged and finding, developing, and using their full potential. I love that “courage crushers” were called out by Hurt and Dye very early. Sadly, I have worked in organizations with these types. These are toxic environments, as you pointed out. Also, I loved the thought of creating a courage oasis.

I have always been big on the point of there needing to be clarity. This became very evident during the pandemic. As Hurt and Dye pointed out, there cannot be curiosity without clarity. It was also discussed that with clarity of goals, processes, and roles and responsibilities comes a safe place.

Finally, I loved all the tips and real examples sprinkled throughout the book. For example, I loved the example of the “magic button” for employees to use to provide feedback and give ideas. If we truly want organizations and communities where everyone is engaged, we must provide safe place where those we serve can be courageous. Everyone needs to read this book, but if you are a “courage crusher” PLEASE read this book!

View all my reviews

Asking Better Questions

Posted in Educational Leadership, Global Leadership, Leadership, Leadership Development, Questions, Questions? by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on March 17, 2022

Questioning is such a powerful tool. Asking questions is a skill that should be developed and honed. In fact, there are careers such as doctors, lawyers, and police officers, where an important part of the training is in the art of developing questions and asking them. I was reminded of just how important the leadership skill of questioning is when watching a Major Crimes rerun and Lieutenant Louie Provenza (G. W. Bailey) said, “Well, we may not have all the answers, but I think we have better questions.” Before focusing in on answers, we must figure out the crux of the matter: the essential problem or question to be addressed.

When you think about it, most of our day, no matter what we do, is spent asking others for information. Asking questions unlocks learning and is very important in building relationships. What is the key to getting better questions? We need to listen more (no surprise there) and, well…ask more questions. Genius! Research tells us there are several reasons why more questions aren’t asked. Sometimes it’s ego and wanting to look like the smartest person in the room, sometimes it’s being scared of the question being viewed as dumb, or just not speaking up. Sometimes, I just believe we forget the power of a good question.

I am that person that when the conversation or discussion is about done, that will have a couple of questions. Remember Columbo doing that? “Oh, just one more thing…” I really like to listen to what others are saying and slowly process. I even write questions down and sometimes even put numbers by them, representing the order to ask them so I don’t forget the questions. The technique probably is not as important as remembering we should end more sentences with a question mark than with a period. What do you think?

Who Are You?

Posted in Educational Leadership, Global Leadership, Leadership, Leadership Development by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on March 16, 2022

You all know I love the television show Blue Bloods. This past week in Season 12 Episode 16 Officer Angela Reddick (Ilfenesh Hadera) has been shot. Frank Reagan (Tom Selleck) tells her, “You know who you are. Be that!” There have been comments about that statement and some fellow enthusiasts even think more is yet to come related to the comment. Commissioner Reagan actually made that same comment to her twice in this episode. I think it was Socrates that said, “To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.” So, we need to know who we are. For me this has a great deal to do with knowing my core values, feelings, interests, and passions. These provide guidelines I can apply to solve life’s varied issues.

When our outside actions are in accordance with our inside feelings and values, we will experience less inner conflict. We know more about ourselves than anyone else. When we know who we are, we know what we need to do instead of looking for permission from others. When we understand ourself we will begin making a bigger impact on the world. I guess that is the “Be that” part of the quote.

Shakespeare taught us, “to thine own self be true.” If only I could have dinner with Socrates and Shakespeare to discuss this! I believe that to “Be that!” means maximizing our potential. There is no wondering, wishing, or hoping when we know who we are. In fact, we can celebrate being empowered to be who we are. Do you know yourself? If you do, are you willing to “be that” person?

Our #1 Customers

This week, Simple Truth #11, “Profit is the applause you get for creating a motivating environment for your people so they will take good care of your customers”, in Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways To Be A Servant Leader and Build Trust, Making Common Sense Common Practice by Ken Blanchardand Randy Conley reminded us that our number one people in our organizations are our people that make it all happen.

“If you train, empower, and care about your people as your number one most important customer, they will go out of their way to take care of your organization’s number two most important customer – the folks who buy your products and services.”

Simple Truths of Leadership, p. 35

So, don’t forget…make your team members and employees number one so they can make those your organization serves number one!