Byron's Babbles

What Do You Think?

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Governor Eric Holcomb

I had the opportunity to meet with an impressive group of community leaders this past Friday. As we continue to work through the guidance and implementation of our new Indiana Graduation Pathways, of which I chaired the panel that created this policy, we are working very hard to learn from the groups in the state that have been doing this work already and successfully. The Community Education Coalition and Economic Opportunities through Education (EcO) Network in southeast Indiana is one such group that brings educators, manufacturing leaders, workforce, and community-based organizations together to coordinate and align educational program offerings for students to successfully connect with well-paying manufacturing occupations.

Last year, the Indiana State Board of Education was charged with establishing graduation pathways per HEA 1003. The goal was to create an educated and talented workforce able not just to meet the needs of business and higher education, but also have students able to succeed in all post-secondary endeavors. To account for the rapidly changing, global economy, every K-12 student needs to be given the tools to succeed in some form of quality post-secondary education and training, including an industry recognized certificate program, an associate’s degree program, or a bachelor’s degree program. Every student should graduate from high school with 1) a broad awareness of and engagement with individual career interests and associated career options, 2) a strong foundation of academic and technical skills, and 3) demonstrable employability skills that lead directly to meaningful opportunities for post-secondary education, training, and gainful employment. During the process of our panel convenings we did a lot of asking, “What do you think?” Now, thanks to the Community Education Coalition we are able to continue to ask “what do you think?” as we work through making sure schools are able to put the pathways in place for students. We are so grateful that they put the event together last week that included Governor Eric Holcomb, State Legislators and Policy Makers, business and industry leaders, higher education leaders, K-12 school leaders, and most importantly students. There was a lot of question asking and learning going on.

IMG_2035The partners and facilitators of the Community Education Coalition and EcO initiatives have learned to make inquiry a habit of mind, thereby initiating a long-term commitment to continual improvement and growth. This coalition has developed an outstanding process that uses the questions of “who?, why?, what?, and how?” in order to identify key community issues. You can bet the four words of, “What do you think? are asked in this process. Essential to the success of this process was collaboration with colleagues across different disciplines for clarifying their questions and for understanding and analyzing the data they collected. For example, data like: high school graduation rate, education attainment growth, STEM enrollment growth rate, GDP per capita, employment growth, and average annual wages are used as outcomes to measure success.

IMG_2005This data is then able to be used by stakeholders to answer the questions of “who?, why?, what?, and how?” and the question of: What do you think? We are reminded of how important these four words are in Gem #7 entitled “Four Magic Words: ‘What do you think’” in 52 Leadership Gems: Practical and Quick Insights For Leading Others by John Parker Stewart. In this lesson Stewart reminds us that leaders often fall into the trap of assuming they have the right answer. I am also reminded of the teaching of one of my heroes in community work, Peter Block, who believes that effective leaders are not problem solvers, but conveners of communities of people to solve issues.

“Using these four inclusive words [What do you think?] is evidence of an effective and healthy leader who actively listens to the input of the members of the team.” ~ John Parker Stewart

All research is messy and recursive; and it has been my experience that collaborative inquiry is more so because no one knows the end. You are not starting with answers, but with questions. Throughout the process, partners reflect on what is being observed and found out. The stakeholders may change direction, ask new questions, challenge the inconsistencies they discover, seek new perspectives, and fill gaps in their information. During our gathering on Friday we were reminded over and over that the process of connecting the stakeholders is more important than looking at programs. It would be very hard to replicate programs in all parts of the state, but it would not be hard to replicate the process of deciding what programs are needed and developing programs specific to each area. It is all about bringing collaboration to scale.

To do this we must remember to ask the pertinent questions, listen, and ask “what do you think?”

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Got Experience?

Here’s a question for you: Are skills directly proportional to years of experience?

While I agree that experience will give you more expertise in subject matter, people skills, and well-roundedness—I believe that all these are not necessarily causal of years of experience. Nor do I believe years of experience always correlate with exceptional performance. So what’s my idea of proper experience? It’s having had enough time in the field to see the results caused by your own decisions and workflow. Actually, that can be done in a short amount of time. Conversely, I have known individuals with a great many years experience who really hadn’t grown or improved much. In my field of education, I have known new teachers with little experience in terms of years that were much more effective facilitators of learning than some teachers with many years experience.

This was the topic of Gem #6 entitled “27 Years Of Genuine Growth Or 1 Year Repeated 27 Time” in 52 Leadership Gems: Practical and Quick Insights For Leading Others by John Parker Stewart. In this lesson Stewart taught us that strong leaders seek new opportunities to continually develop and hone their skills. Weak leaders just keep doing the same things and embrace the status quo.

“Make each additional year in your work one of genuine learning and growth.” ~ John Parker Stewart

I view experience as the sum of a few factors: time working, experiences survived, the nature of the role and responsibilities, and potential lessons learned. Really, there is no magic number of years to this. It is about learning from your experience and the idea of continuing to practice and improve. It is not about the difference between experience and not enough experience, but about has it been the right experience. Then it really boils down to what have we been learning from the things we have been doing.

So, do you have x number of years experience, or x number of years doing the same thing over and over?

“No, That’s Not The Problem” ~ Peter Drucker

IMG_1921Gem #5 entitled, “A Problem Well Defined Is A Problem Half Solved” (quote from Peter Drucker), in 52 Leadership Gems: Practical and Quick Insights For Leading Others by John Parker Stewart was about Peter Drucker’s insistence that problems be define by root causes, not symptoms. This really got me to thinking about how much we really do this. The point here is we spend a great deal of time dealing with symptoms of the problem as opposed to the actual problem. It is why I am such a believer in looking at outcomes. Sometimes our biggest problem is, we don’t know what the problems are.

img_1749Dr. Drucker also recommended against picking “Elephant Problems.” Elephant problems are ones that are just to big to address. In other words they would just cover too much to really get down to root cause problems. Therefore, elephant problems need to be broken down into smaller parts. I also like the discussion of not just using convenient data. Sometimes we just look at the data that either reinforces our own theories or hypothesis.

To really solve problems we need to first define the problem well and then get to the root cause. Only then can we begin to develop solutions that will be effective. What I have learned is that nearly everyone is usually clear on the task, but not clear on outcomes. Dr. Drucker was tough on those he worked with to continue to search for the real problem. He would continually say, “No, that’s not the problem.”

Failure To Communicate

IMG_1858We spent a lot of time today discussing communication in our Noble Education Initiative 3D Leadership Program kickoff for our South Carolina and North Carolina schools today. IMG_1857Then when I was reading Gem #4 entitled, “The Biggest Hurdle To Effective Communication Is The Assumption That It Has Taken Place” in, 52 Leadership Gems: Practical and Quick Insights For Leading Others by John Parker Stewart. The main point of this gem was to not assume that everyone in the loop has received and understood the message. I really believe it even goes further than this. We also must make sure we understand the Vantage Point of the person we are communicating to.

“Leaders must accept as a constant that when two or more minds attempt to communicate, they are coming from at least two different perspectives.” ~ John Parker Stewart

One of the models I like to teach about to leaders is the Vantage Point Model developed by MG Taylor. Basically, the model looks like a topographical map that takes you from task to philosophy or philosophy to task depending on how you look at it. The lesson here is, though, that it depends on your role as to which Vantage Point you are working from. If we can find a way to communicate and look at all change from all seven Vantage Points we are in a better place to have communicated effectively to all. Here are the Vantage Points:

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In reality we can never understand the philosophy of an organization or school, in my case, until you are immersed in the tasks that comprise its daily functions. Moreover, our daily tasks can blind people to culture and philosophy, or cause them to accept it too casually. I have found that if organizations can find commonality by using the Vantage Points as a guide it can be become a powerful pathway to effective communication. This model also serves as a guide to answering the “why?”.

Think about all the Vantage Points of those you serve in your next communications.

 

Action Instead of Intention

photoGem #3 was titled “We Judge Ourselves By Our Intentions. Others Judge Us By Our Actions” in the great book I’m reading this year, 52 Leadership Gems: Practical and Quick Insights For Leading Others by John Parker Stewart. Interestingly, Harry S. Truman talked about this in his book, Where The Buck Stops: The Personal and Private Writings Of Harry S. Truman. He called some of our former Presidents “minor” because these Presidents had very good intentions, but no results. Amazingly, many of these Presidents would have considered their own legacy solid based on intentions. This really speaks to the idea of us, Ias leaders, judging ourselves on intentions and not actions. We all (or at least I do) judge our Presidents by what they did, not what they wanted to do.

Lets talk about this. Intentions are wishes or ideas that we mean to carry out. Conversely, an action is something that is done, completed, or performed. Unfortunately, or fortunately, there is a wide gap between thinking the thing and doing the thing. Commitment is what closes the gap between intention and action.

The challenge is that good intentions most generally get verbalized, or voiced publicly. Once intentions are voiced public, they become commitments. Then, if the intention does not turn into action/implementation, credibility is lost. Follow through must happen to increase leadership credibility. If we want to improve our leadership skills, we need to translate more intentions into actions. That’s why doing what we say we will do is especially critical for leaders.

Are your intentions outnumbering your actions?

The Tension Of Spinning The Plates

Gem #2 was titled “An Action Deferred Is A Tension Retained” in the great book, 52 Leadership Gems: Practical and Quick Insights For Leading Others by John Parker Stewart. I loved the metaphor he used for this gem of the circus act of spinning plates. In fact I used this same metaphor in my blog post My New Leadership Talent: Spinning Plates! The question really becomes paradoxical as to whether we should be spinning plates, or at the very least how many we should be spinning. The point of Stewart’s gem was that all of the tasks we have cause anxiety (tension) and we need to make sure and prioritize and not procrastinate.

“You are the willing and unwilling recipient of countless actions from work, home, school, and community. It can be overwhelming to process and complete all of these tasks, especially when you procrastinate or don’t prioritize. ~ John Parker Stewart

We all know how the plate spinning act works, right? The performer starts with one plate and once she gets it spinning, adds another, then another. At some point the performer has to back to the first plate and give it a spin to keep it going. Doesn’t this sound familiar in our day to day lives as leaders? The performance typically ends when one of two things happens – the performer runs out of plates, or he takes too much time adding a new plate to the rotation, and another plate slows down enough to wobble out of control and fall off the rod, crashing to the ground in a thousand pieces. Doesn’t this even sound more familiar?

A few things we need to remember. It’s much easier to start something than it is to keep it going. Therefore we need to think about what we start and can we and our team handle it. We have to achieve balance by spreading time across all the spinning plates. This means we need to think strategically about what we should be taking on. Then once started complete the task/project so that it does not become a wobbling plate and fall off the stick.

As a leader we must also keep our eye on all of the plates to avoid catastrophe. We don’t always need to be, and shouldn’t be, the one keeping all the plates spinning, but we do need to be watching to make sure the plates are still spinning. This is where I like to think about what do I have my hands “on” versus what do I have my hands “in”.

It’s a delicate balance, and I must tell you; I’m not very good at it at times. Each plate must spin fast enough but not too fast, and you have to pay enough attention to all but not too much to any particular one. So therefore we must continue to improve our ability to prioritize, enable others, and not procrastinate. How are you at spinning plates?

Share The Success

I hope we all realize the way to get things done is not to mind who gets the credit for doing them. In fact, I recently blogged about this in Learning To Appreciate All Who Contribute To The Success while writing about one of my heroes, President Harry S. Truman. This again came up during a Principals training this past week and then again today when I started reading the great book, 52 Leadership Gems: Practical and Quick Insights For Leading Others by John Parker Stewart. I love his books and love the fact it is written with 52 lessons. I am reading one per week and most times these will prompt blog posts like this one. Last year I read, 52 Leadership Lessons: Timeless Stories For The Modern Leader another great book by John Parker Stewart. This book was truly 52 lessons that made me think about my own leadership and how to practice continuous improvement and honing of those skills. This is a book that prompted reflection and thought on my own leadership style and that style’s impact on those I lead.

The first lesson in the book was entitled: “It’s amazing what can be accomplished if you don’t care who gets the credit.” In this chapter, Stewart talked about how the need for personal recognition can become a stumbling block for a team’s success. Let’s face it, we are most fulfilled when we forget ourselves and focus on others.

“Victory is much more meaningful when it comes not from one person, but from the joint achievements of many. The euphoria is lasting when all participants lead with their hearts, winning not just for themselves but for one another.” ~ Howard Schultz

Here are some steps to sharing success:

  1. Listen
  2. Establish a clear and shared vision
  3. Lose your ego
  4. Share the workload (who is doing what?)
  5. Show appreciation to your colleagues
  6. Trust your teammates
  7. Strategize together
  8. Mentor your team
  9. Nurture your team
  10. Champion and cheerlead your team

Great leaders are able to lead from the back, empowering and motivating their team, which in turn leads to outstanding individual performances, loyalty and hard work. Are you sharing the success?

Reflections Of A Leader

IMG_3011In my most recent post, The Leadership Symphony, I mentioned that I had just finished the great book 52 Leadership Lessons: Timeless Stories For The Modern Leader by John Parker Stewart. This book was truly 52 lessons that made me think about my own leadership and how to practice continuous improvement and honing of those skills. This is a book that prompted reflection and thought on my own leadership style and that style’s impact on those I lead.

Additionally, many of the lesson prompted ideas for blog posts. Here is a link that will take you to a run of all of them: https://byronernest.blog/?s=john+parker+stewart. All the lessons were easily adaptable to the real life leadership situations I was and am experiencing. As a guy who believes everyone is a leader, I love the Lead Now!™ model that is used to guide this book. As leaders we have a responsibility to create purpose and deliver excellence. Furthermore, if we intend to have those we serve leading from where they are we must continually develop others, as well as ourselves. Finally we must lead change.

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img_2431The four quadrants were developed using data from 360° leadership feedback, so it is no wonder that the lesson caused a great deal of reflection and self inflection. The stories in this book and the thoughts provoked enable the leader not to observe leadership, but to hone and develop leadership skills. These lessons increased my awareness of how I am perceived, and how I can make adjustments. As leaders we have scores of experiences from which to draw learned knowledge. I believe it is important to develop a habit of stopping the action occasionally to reflect and write about what happened, what worked, what didn’t, and what am I learning – thus my blog. I believe we have, literally, thousands of learning experiences. Without some type of guided reflection we lose thousands of learning opportunities. What are you doing to guide your reflection and continuous leadership improvement?

 

The Leadership Symphony

IMG_1279Well, I have come to the end of another book. Actually this is the completion of my 84th book this year. My goal is 87. It has actually taken me a year to complete this book as it is divided in 52 distinct lessons. I have tweeted about many of them. I will do a post about the book as a whole and include the posts, but for now want to post thoughts on the 52nd lesson. In lesson #52 entitled “What Makes A Symphony” in 52 Leadership Lessons: Timeless Stories For The Modern Leader by John Parker Stewart he tells us how the conductor brings individual musicians together to form the playing of the symphony.

“A symphony consists of polished performances from many sections that become a unified whole. If not played together it is merely a cacophony of disconnected sounds.” ~ John Parker Stewart

This chapter really resonated with me as a believe in shared, intent-based, leadership. Everyone is a leader and has a part. But, there still must be a leader who is conveying the shared vision and making sure the musicians, in the case of a symphony, have the necessary professional development to do their part.

IMG_1273This point was driven home this morning in the last general session of the annual conference of the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE). The keynote was delivered by Dr. Pedro Noguera. He is the Distinguished Professor of Education at the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA. His research focuses on the way in which schools are influenced by social and economic conditions, as well as by demographic trends in local, regional, and global contexts. In his keynote, Dr. Noguera gave five strategies for successful school leadership:

  1. Shared leadership
  2. Concerted effort to obtain buy-in around the strategy
  3. A coherent strategy focused on student needs
  4. Differentiated professional development
  5. Follow through, examining the evidence, sticking with it

“Only a clearly communicated perspective, directed by a wise and capable leader, results in a magnificent performance. ~ John Parker Stewart

The big takeaways for me and relations to this 52nd lesson were the idea of shared IMG_1277leadership, coherent strategy, and differentiation. As I said earlier, every person in an organization is a leader. As in a symphony, every person has an important part no matter their job or instrument. Additionally, in a symphony everyone needs to be playing from the same musical score, or strategic plan. And, finally, since everyone one plays different instruments or has different jobs or is playing/working at a different level of proficiency, the development must be differentiated.

img_2431The bottom line is that shared leadership an drive change. If, as a leader, we are the conductor, we must bring everyone together sharing the leadership of a coherent strategy. We know, for example, in schools we must invest in teacher leadership by developing leadership pipelines. This involves cultivating structures, processes, and mindsets for shared leadership. We must also prioritize and enhance instructional leadership skills. What are the priorities of your industry or organization?

Leading With Style

IMG_1263In lesson #51 entitled “Fantastic Or Flop” in 52 Leadership Lessons: Timeless Stories For The Modern Leader by John Parker Stewart the story of 1968 Olympic record breaking gold medalist in the high jump, Dick Fosbury was told. The moral of the story was not the gold medal or breaking of a record; it was his unorthodox style. Everyone (including his coaches) wanted him to change his style. He would not because he knew his style was right and fit him. Now, his “Fosbury Flop” is the most accepted style for the high jump still today.

“Your style is your own. Don’t worry if it’s not traditional, if it is right for you.” ~ John Parker Stewart

This story really resonated with me as a guy who has a little different leadership style. Let’s face it, not everyone is ready to accept full on intent-based leadership or convening large numbers of stakeholders. But, as John Parker Stewart says:

“You’re style is your own. Don’t worry if it’s not traditional, if it is right for you. We must know ourselves and be true to ourselves.” ~ John Parker Stewart

img_2431We must then use our talents, skills, and values to continually improve and hone our style of leadership. Sometimes we just need to take a moment to evaluate the way we lead, so we can define ways to improve or adapt to our organization’s changing needs. So much of what effective leaders do is nurture others. Wise leaders cultivate their staff members’ leadership skills, both to ensure support in carrying out and sustaining change and to establish a network of rising leaders to fill future positions. So, no matter what our style we need to make sure we are developing others. For me, the inclusion of others is such an important part of leading. Effective leaders know where they need to go, but they also know that they must invite others to assist in the journey. That journey is where we need to let our style shine through.