Byron's Babbles

Acquired Skills

Posted in Educational Leadership, Global Leadership, Leadership, Leadership Development, Mark Twain by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on May 27, 2022

On Monday of this week I finished Volume One of the Autobiography of Mark Twain. As I have told others, it is one of the most fascinating and toughest reads all at the same time. One of the things I wasn’t sure of at first, but grew to love was how Twain chose to write his autobiography in a way no one ever had before. He chose to dictate it, so it is very conversational. And he chose to write it as thoughts came to him and not in any chronological order. As he put it, he would talk about something until it didn’t interest him any more and then he would go on to something else. To me it is great because it eliminates those stretches that get long and drawn out in most autobiographies and biographies. I’m not sure, however, that anyone but Twain could pull this off. I’m just getting started in Volume Two, but it is just as great.

Needless to say, I took a bunch of notes and have lots of thoughts to develop. The first was Twain speaking of being proud of our acquirements. Twain said, “An acquirement is something you’ve worked hard to master.” I loved this because it had nothing to do with things or possessions, but with skills and knowledge. I like Merriam-Webster’s definition of acquirement: “a skill of mind or body usually resulting from continued endeavor.” Twain refers to many skills he worked hard to acquire and those of others. I believe need to contemplate the acquired skills we need to developed in ourselves or help to develop in others. These are the skills and expertise obtained through education and/or experience.

I also believe we should view all those things we call soft skills, hard skills, professional skills, or whatever the buzz word of the day is, acquired skills. To me this acknowledges that there is work to be done for acquirement. The “continued endeavor” from the Merriam-Webster definition. What acquired skills must you nurture and develop over time? Better yet, how can you help others nurture and develop acquired skills?


Inviting Instead Of Commanding

Ken Blanchard said, “Servant leaders know people want to be part of the team. They invite their people to follow them in a side-by-side working relationship that the people have had a part in creating” (p. 59) in Simple Truth #21, “Servant Leaders Don’t Command People To Obey; They Invite People To Follow” of Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways To Be A Servant Leader and Build Trust, Making Common Sense Common Practiceby Ken Blanchard and Randy Conley. We know that leading by title does not work. We also know that command and control does not work.

Relationships, walking the talk, skills, and results make you a leader. Titles should confirm leadership but they can never bestow it. The weight of many leaders I have encountered titles has made them forget that those titles do not account for the wisdom to evolve. It’s like the principal who forgets what it was like to be a teacher. Or, the person leading principals who was never a principal. Leadership should be about inspiring people to believe in themselves, to believe in their gifts, to believe in their potential, and to believe in something much greater than their own self-preservation.

The essence of the great servant leaders I’ve witnessed has been a positive team environment, honest/transparent communication, helps, engages, and appreciates. Remember, leadership is earned through behavior.

Leading With Love

“I believe servant leadership is love in action” (p. 55). Ken Blanchard said this in Simple Truth #20, “Love Is The Answer. What is The Question?” of Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways To Be A Servant Leader and Build Trust, Making Common Sense Common Practiceby Ken Blanchard and Randy Conley. For the last couple of years I’ve been thinking about and discussing love as the key to best serve those in our lives. The Bible verse Blanchard chose to reference here written by Paul the Apostle to Corinth, Greece is a great. Check it out:

4. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 | NIV

Regardless of your beliefs, that’s a pretty good, what I would call “Leading With Love” statement. Think about the self-serving leader(s), the antithesis of servant leaders, that you have worked with. Blanchard told us they are envious, brag a lot, and certainly aren’t very patient. My experience is they are the ones that continually tell you how they are not all those things. We all have pieces of Paul’s call to serving with love that we need to work on, or at least I do. Are you leading with love?

From Subordinary To Partner

Ken Blanchard said, “Face the fact that your people already understand that you don’t know everything.” (p. 53) in Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways To Be A Servant Leader and Build Trust, Making Common Sense Common Practiceby Ken Blanchard and Randy Conley. I could name you a handful of people who call themselves leaders who have not faced that fact. In fact, I’m not sure they know they don’t know everything. As a person who is comfortable being the dumbest person in the room, Simple Truth #19, “No one of us is as smart as all of us,” reminded me how important it is to surround ourselves with great and creative minds and then actually listen and appreciate their input.

When we work alongside each other, recognize each other’s strengths, and hear each other ideas evolve and progress ensues that would be tenuous when done alone. Blanchard pointed out that there are self-serving leaders who have no idea what their people are capable of and that they are capable of much more. Or, as I have experienced in the past, won’t turn you loose to do the things that play to your strengths. We must remember that “everyone’s contribution is needed and appreciated” (p. 53). Don’t let your best people leave because they want to be a partner and not a subordinary person.

Working Smarter

Ken Blanchard said, “It’s about preparing and training their people to do their own work, then getting out of their way so they can achieve their goals” (p. 51) in Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways To Be A Servant Leader and Build Trust, Making Common Sense Common Practiceby Ken Blanchard and Randy Conley. In Simple Truth #18, “Don’t work harder; work smarter,” we are reminded that delegation after we have developed the right people is the smart play. It’s important to find efficient ways to help those we serve tackle their tasks and achieve their goals.

If you’ve ever tried to put “Don’t work harder; work smarter” into action for yourself or others, you know it’s not always as easy as it sounds. Finding ways to get more done while keeping our owner and those we serve stress levels low often proves to be more difficult than it seems. One thing I believe leaders need to do is reduce the to-do list noise will provide a laser-focused team the energy and creativity needed to produce the best results.

Then it becomes about optimizing how projects are approached. We are empowered when we are given the appropriate autonomy to make decisions and get the wrk done on our own and even have the space to make mistakes and learn from them. We must not forget, however, that we must take the time to build up our team’s strength and morale. This must be true development, not just a motivational video clip played at the end of a Friday staff meeting. In order for all this to work, teams must be fully developed and have the technical skills/knowledge to do the job. Are you working smarter?

Boil It Down To Essence

Posted in Educational Leadership, Essence, Global Leadership, Leadership, Leadership Development by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on May 13, 2022

In the first volume of Mark Twain’s autobiography he talked about “boiling down to it’s essence.” He was referring to people, events, and characters in stories. I have always been intrigued by essence and blogged about essence most recently in What Is Your Essence? Essence can be defined as “the intrinsic nature or indispensable quality of something, especially something abstract, that determines its character.” When thinking of people and organizations I think of essence as the soul, substance, and core values. This really is as Twain described it “boiling” down to. It’s the honest and critical view of us or our organizations.

Highly effective leaders are context generators. I often discuss that context matters. Our essence generates that context. Our essence is the personification of our values, principles, and character. From an essence standpoint those values, principles and character are always implicit in the leader’s actions. Notice I didn’t say present from “words.” Essence is how a person walks the talk, or doesn’t. As leaders, our essence is reflected in our organizations.

Having A Sharp Eye For Capacity

Mark Twain said, “Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” Unfortunately, Twain was taken advantage of more than once during his life. But he always tried to “do right.” I am reading Mark Twain’s autobiography right now and it is amazing. He dictated much of his autobiography and purposely wrote it as memories came to mind, not in chronology order. For some of my more linear friends this might drive you crazy. Those that know me, know I am loving this non-conventional approach. I love it because in his “twittering” (yes that is a word used by Twain a great deal and I now know where the name for Twitter came from) he talks about friends, how he met them, and his interactions.

One such friend was Henry Huttleston Rogers, the Standard-Oil magnate who became one of the most powerful tycoons of his day. Twain first met Rogers in New York in 1893 at a time when Twain’s unfortunate financial ventures had led him to the verge of bankruptcy. Rogers helped sort out Twain’s commercial enterprises and saved the author’s copyrights. In the autobiography, Twain expressed his gratitude saying, “His wisdom and steadfastness saved my copyrights from being swallowed up in the wreck…and his commercial wisdom has protected my pocketbook ever since.” These two became great and very close friends.

One of the things that Twain recognized in Rogers was “he [Rogers] has a sharp eye for capacity.” I love that Twain picked up on Roger’s ability to see the talent and ability in others and then develop those individuals. Twain discussed this being one of the key ingredients of Rogers’ success. This just shows how important it is for leaders to hone this skill, or find ways to sharpen the eye for capacity. I was working with a group of school principals yesterday and we were discussing this very subject.

We can distill the notion of capacity to the skills, knowledge and abilities of an individual. We must sharpen our ability to recognize capacity and then build that capacity in people. Consequently, our teams and organizations will become more resilient and stronger. The greatest leaders recognize and build on the strengths of others and what they have to say. They are a voice among many in conversations, and not just a voice that tells others what to do. As Twain said in his autobiography, “If everybody was satisfied with himself there would be no heroes.” Let’s not be satisfied. Let’s work hard to recognize and build capacity in those we serve.

Stop Playing Games

Posted in Educational Leadership, Global Leadership, Leadership, Leadership Development by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on May 9, 2022

In a leadership gathering I facilitated this past weekend we did an activity where we recognized leaders who were influential in our lives. A comment that came up on a couple of the influencers was that they knew how to “play the game.” Interestingly, we also discussed how there shouldn’t be a game to have to play. It is a huge paradox that is still causing me a great deal of thought. My problem is, why does there have to be a game? I get it; lots of good things come from the healthy bi-play of ideas and personalities. Good leaders take good advice from the people around them and make better decisions as a result. There is a negative side, though, when we play each other and manipulate.

In the spirit of controlling the things I have control of, the surest way to avoid game playing is not to play games myself. As leaders, we must remember that if we create games and try to manipulate others, those watching will model the behavior they see in us. Thus a culture/community of having to play the game is born and cultivated. I’ve seen it first hand and it is toxic. Thus the paradox: the organization’s culture portrays the internal political game that lies with the organization more than its core values. Even though the organization game or office politics is a negative, I have learned and know many who would agree that choosing not to play the game can actually hurt more than playing the game. Yes, you guessed it, I’ve experienced that too.

Aristotle said, “man is by nature a political animal.” Unfortunately, the political game has a big influence on what happens to us, our projects, and our teams. So, we can’t just ignore the game, but I do hope we strive to eliminate it where we can. Research tells us that employees are less engaged when they perceive there being a game to be played. No surprise there! People are also more likely to quit in that environment, which means to be successful you need to know how to play the game. And round and round we go!

So let’s try where we can to eliminate the hidden agendas and need to play the game. Where we can’t eliminate the game, let’s make sure we play in a way that does not hurt others or ignore others’ rights. It comes down to being sincere.

We Should Not Need Trumpet Lessons

We were taught to catch ourselves doing things right in Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways To Be A Servant Leader and Build Trust, Making Common Sense Common Practiceby Ken Blanchard and Randy Conley. In Simple Truth #17, “It’s Okay To Toot Your Own Horn,” we we given two really good points:

  • “When people appreciate what you’re doing, don’t say, ‘Yes, but…’ Instead tell them you appreciate their noticing” (p. 49).
  • “Along the same lines, when someone pays you a compliment, simply smile and say, ‘Thank you.’ Don’t disagree with them – that’s like telling the person they don’t have good judgement or aren’t very smart” (p. 49).

Those two points are great personal growth reminders and things I need to continually work on. These remind us to not be modest to a fault. If we underrate your own abilities, it’ll be hard for anyone else to recognize them. We need to give ourselves credit for our expertise.

When reflecting on the metaphor of tooting your own horn, however, I believe it is a leaders responsibility make sure those they serve do not need to take trumpet lessons. Instead we need to development a community where everyone is noticed for their contributions. We all know people who get ahead because they are gifted artists at the practice of getting the boss’ recognition—even if others have done most of the work. And we’ve seen the boss’s that don’t have the awareness to see through this. Then, in many organizations, those with their heads down doing the work are overlooked. It is a leaders responsibility to find these people. It is about awareness. Great teams shine the light on each other when they deserve it.