Byron's Babbles

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?

 

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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.

 

No Expiration Date On Success

2-7We hear or say the phrase, “It’s never too late” all the time, but do we really mean it? Or, do we just say it? Additionally, we talk about being life-long learners, but would we really still mean it as age 65? In Lesson #50 entitled “65 Years Young” in 52 Leadership Lessons: Timeless Stories For The Modern Leader by John Parker Stewart tells the story of Harland Sanders. We know him best as Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

“I’m still learning.” ~ Michelangelo at age 87

Let’s get to know the man behind the phrase “Finger Lickin’ Good” a little better. Colonel Harland Sanders was born on a farm outside the town of Henryville right here in my own great state of Indiana on September 9, 1890. The Colonel first prepared meals for truck drivers at an old family dining room table wheeled into the front of his Corbin, Kentucky, service station in 1930, fried chicken was not on the menu. After Duncan Hines put his restaurant that Sanders later open across the street from the service station, in his 1935 road-food guide, the colonel began to perfect his fried chicken secret recipe of 11 herbs and spices. This was in 1939 – he was age 49.

Then, in 1952 Pete Harman, who was a friend of Colonel Sanders who operated one of the largest restaurants in Salt Lake City, Utah, became the colonel’s first franchisee. Harman came up with the “Kentucky Fried Chicken” moniker and pioneered the restaurant’s famous bucket container. It wasn’t until Sanders was age 65 that he incorporated Kentucky Fried Chicken and began signing up new franchisees. He used is  $105-a-month Social Security check to begin his franchise businesses. In 1964 at the age of 74 he sold Kentucky Fried Chicken and in 1968 at the age of 78 started another restaurant in Shelbyville, Kentucky. Wow, it really isn’t ever too late.

“There is no expiration date on our ability to succeed.” ~John Parker Stewart

Remember this: however old you are, there is an abundance of wonderful things waiting to happen for you. If you have the right attitude, you will not let them pass. Go out there and keep learning and succeeding!

Leadership Like A Sequoia 

Today when I read Lesson #48 entitled “The Roots of a Giant” in 52 Leadership Lessons: Timeless Stories For The Modern Leader by John Parker Stewart. In this story Stewart tells about the root system of a giant Sequoia tree. He explained that the roots of sequoias only go 6 to 20 feet into the ground, but the roots will spread out over 200-300 feet. This allows the tree survive floods and conserve soil nutrients. 

“Take care of your ‘roots’ . No one can do it all alone, not even a Giant.” ~ John Parker Stewart

I have been blessed to walk among the giant Sequoias in King’s Canyon National Park in California. In fact I have been blessed to take many groups of Agriculture Science/FFA members to see these wonders of nature. I’m disappointed that I didn’t think then to discuss this amazing root system with my students. What an amazing metaphor for developing the right foundation.We and our organizations are stronger when we are rooted in a strong foundation.
In my research on this topic I found that Sequoias help each other. Giant Sequoias do not compete with each other for resources, rather their huge root systems fuse together and they share resources. So, what is the key to a strong foundation? The root system. We are intertwined and interconnected, supportive, dependent, yet interdependent as team mates. Interlocking with each other and holding each other up. In other words we must create powerful interlocking systems to make a powerful difference.

As leaders our roots are hidden out of sight but the condition of those roots is clearly evident in our lives as a leader. Weak roots make a weak leader, just like weak roots make a weak organization. Just like the root system of the Sequoia, our roots extend in different directions. Our roots anchor us against life’s storms. They feed us and sustain us. We must also not forget to grow our leadership root system and that of our organizations.

Take a look below the surface at your organizations foundational root system. What do you see? Then take a look down deep at your own root system. Is it worthy of being compared to a Sequoia?

Leading Like A Platypus 

We need to be able to form our organizations to be platypus-like. Think about this: platypus; a new ‘critter’ combined of various parts to accomplish a specific task. This morning I read Lesson #46 entitled “The Nose Knows” in 52 Leadership Lessons: Timeless Stories For The Modern Leader by John Parker Stewart. In this story Stewart explained the platypus and what we can learn from this amazing animal. Here is what my own study and reflection revealed after being inspired by this story.

Without a doubt, a cool animal to act as a leadership example is the duck-billed platypus. It appeals to my nonconformist instincts because it breaks so many rules of biology. Consider this: the platypus has a flat, rubbery bill, no teeth, and webbed feet, like a duck. Yet it has a furry body and beaverlike tail, and nurses its young like a mammal. But wait; it walks with a lizard gait and lays leathery eggs like a reptile! And the male can use venomous hind-leg spurs to strike like a snake. The platypus holds a certain charm precisely because it does break all the rules. Somehow or other, it still works as an animal.

“Your ‘unconventional’ skill set may be exactly what your challenges call for.” ~ John Parker Stewart 

Since flaps cover its eyes, ears, and nose, how can the platypus find food? Its bill is equipped with sensitive electroreceptors, pinpointing prey like shrimp and crayfish (by sensing muscle contractions in it’s prey) as the platypus digs through mud and pebbles. With its catch stored in cheek pouches, the platypus comes up to the surface to grind the food between its toothless jaws.img_2189-1

We need to learn from the platypus and challenge the norm. Regardless of what people thought in the 1700s, and as we know today, the platypus is not the result of different parts of the otter, beaver, and duck sewn together. Yes, when one platypus was sent from Australia to Britain, scientists could not believe that the species existed. Thus, be like a platypus and be who you are regardless of any judgement or criticism; be true to your unique self.

We need to build our organizations to be platypus-like and develop a model for collaboration where we assist our team members with varying and unconventional skills in developing boundary-spanning behaviors which in turn make our organizations effective for our states and nations.

Harmonic Leadership

Today I read Lesson #44 entitled “Harmonic Persistence” in 52 Leadership Lessons: Timeless Stories For The Modern Leader by John Parker Stewart. In this story Stewart described how Alexander Graham Bell did not just sit back and coast on the life of being born into to an influencial and affluent family. He had a drive for innovating and inventing. From a very young age he had the drive to create things that would make the world a better place. 

During my own research on Bell today I found that he was an early student of sound. In his early 20s, Bell himself taught deaf children to speak and gave speech lessons at schools in his community. This is further proof of not only his drive to make the world a better place, but his persistent quest for innovating. 

I am sure that Bell was certainly influenced by his surroundings, but his obsessive interest in science and unyielding work ethic impelled him to become a great inventor. He spent his time exploring, experimenting and devising ways to improve existing technologies and people’s everyday lives. When he was 12, Bell built a corn de-husking machine for a local miller who had complained that manual de-husking was laborious and time consuming.

“A man, as a general rule, owes very little to what he is born with — a man is what he makes of himself.” ~ Alexander Graham Bell

Like many innovators, Bell indulged all of his passions. If he had an interest, he explored it. Doesn’t this sound like what great leaders do? In fact his varied interests often led to new inventions. His success with minor mechanical inventions like the de-husker and his understanding of the way ventriloquism and music manipulate sound all led to his eventual creation of the telephone.
While Bell is best known for his telephone invention, he worked on hundreds of projects throughout his life and received a number of patents in various fields.

After developing what he called the harmonic telegraph, Bell developed an acoustic telegraph (one that transmitted vocal notes) and embarked upon a patent race with Elisha Gray, who was working on an acoustic telegraph that relied on a water transmitter. The two got their patent applications in on the same date in 1876, but Bell won the patent, leading many to claim he stole Gray’s design. Critics not only tore apart Bell’s successes, they also celebrated his failures. As leaders and innovators we mid be ready for the critics. They will be there. Bell did not let this distract him. In fact it motivated him.  

It amazes me that Bell’s notebooks are still available for public consultation. Researchers believe his early ideas may still hold clues that can help provide the solutions for modern technological problems. Is that not the ultimate legacy to leave behind?

As leaders we need to stay laser focused and be persistent on bringing about harmonic and persistent innovation and growth in our organizations and those we serve. 

Hands On & Hands In Leadership

While doing my doctoral dissertation I had the occasion to do an in-depth review of the academic and practical literature on leadership. Make no mistake it is impossible to read it all. There have been tens of thousands of books written on leadership and there are several academic journals devoted entirely to the subject. The task of reviewing the leadership literature, and acting on it as leader, isn’t to understand it all (that is impossible). It is up to us, as leaders, to develop a point of view on the few themes that matter most.

One of the phrases that has always stuck with me from my leadership studies is from the brilliant Warren Bennis. He said, “Managers are people who do things right and leaders are people who do the right thing.” Furthermore, in Learning to Lead: A Workbook on Becoming a Leader he asserted, “There is a profound difference between management and leadership, and both are important. To manage means to bring about, to accomplish, to have charge of or responsibility for, to conduct. Leading is influencing, guiding in a direction, course, action, opinion. The distinction is crucial.” I believe there is a distinction between leadership and management, but I also believe that the best leaders do something that might properly be called a mix of leadership and management. 

Lesson #42 entitled “The Right Job, Done Right” in 52 Leadership Lessons: Timeless Stories For The Modern Leader by John Parker Stewart really drove home the fact that we must make sure the tasks we are doing are the best use of our and our team’s time. Being efficient does not mean anything if we are not doing the right things, or more importantly, things that matter. Remember, the content matters more than the form. 

So, to be a great leader I would argue we need to understand what it takes to do things right, and to make sure they actually get done. It’s really a balance of mastering seeing the big picture and selecting the right strategies. I always say my job is to know what to have my hands on and what to have my hands in. 

Living & Leading Like A Lobster

As a believer in lifelong learning, I believe we must all find ways to expand and grow. As leaders, it is also one of our most important duties to provide these opportunities for others. Otherwise we become stunted and are not able to grow as a person or professional. In Lesson #33, “Lobsters and Egos,” in 52 Leadership Lessons: Timeless Stories For The Modern Leader, author John Parker Stewart points out that we can learn from the lobster. 

Additionally, Stewart pointed out that we can use the stress and discomfort of growing and learning to help us cast off the old and make way for the new; just as the lobster goes through a process called ecdysis. Stewart also compared the lobster’s shell to our egos. Here is my spin on what I learned from this story:

As the lobster grows its hard shell begins not to fit. If the lobster does not get rid of this shell growth will be stunted. Therefore, the lobster goes deep among the rocks and finds a safe place to go through this molting process of losing the old shell and growing a new one that fits. Obviously the lobster is very vulnerable during this time. Just as Stewart compares this to our ego during times of learning, trying or taking on new things, or taking on new and expanded responsibilities. Furthermore, just as the lobster must shed its shell, we must drop our ego and become vulnerable to learning and growing. 

Think of it this way: times of stress, learning, growth, and times of questioning the old ways are the stimulus for growth. The rigid shell of old ways of responding needs to be cast off to produce new ways of responding and being.

The good news about your friendly lobster is that when the new shell is in place the lobster is, once again, strong and can go do whatever lobsters do in the ocean. I really believe that being uncomfortable and having some are the best ways to learn. This is a good signal that it’s time to learn and grow. Break free from outdated patterns and find new meaning in your career and life. As leaders we must do this for ourselves and provide this for those we lead. We must, however, provide the safe place, just as the lobster finds for itself during ecdysis, for our people to do this learning.

Are you making space for healthy and adventurous way to live, learn, and grow for yourself and your team?

Leading Like Norman Rockwell

file 7Let’s face it, if you are not being criticized, you are not leading and guiding the organization to grow, innovate and explore endless possibilities. Criticism is a natural part of leadership. If no one is criticizing your leadership – you are not leading correctly. This was also true of one of America’s greatest artists, Norman Rockwell. In Lesson #28, “The Dream Post,” in 52 Leadership Lessons: Timeless Stories For The Modern Leader, author John Parker Stewart points out how Norman Rockwell was sharply criticized by fellow artists. They called his art too simplistic and predictable. Some peers would not even recognize him as an artist. Well, we know the rest of the story and the great inspiration his art brought to our country at great times of need and is still bringing to us today.img_0674-2

Just like Norman Rockwell, as you find success in your leadership journey, some people will try to take you down. The leaches and loafers that are envious of your success may attempt to slow down your momentum. This is actually a sign that you are on the right path. As Stewart reminded us, we will be tempted to seek the approval of the so called “expert” critics. We need to shut this down, however, and make sure we are following our passions and dreams.

“Our best success comes when we are true to ourselves.” ~ John Parker Stewart

While we do not want the critics to control us, we mustn’t forget, however, the most effective leaders listen to critics as a means of acquiring helpful feedback to improve their personal and organizational performance. Great leaders value the diversity of others’ opinions as a resource, not a threat. This does not mean compromising core values, passions, and dreams. Take time to reflect on what you’ve learned. If the criticisms and suggestions are valid, adjust your decisions and actions accordingly.

Finally, we need to remember, there are two types of criticism – constructive and destructive – learning to recognize the difference between the two can help you deal with any criticism you may receive. It’s really pretty easy to distinguish between the two. Constructive criticism, is provided to point out our mistakes, but also show us where and how improvements can be made. Conversely, destructive criticism is often just thoughtlessness by another person, and can be deliberately malicious and hurtful. So, in the words of John Parker Stewart, “As you pursue your dreams, don’t give way to critics who enjoy tearing others down. Be true to yourself and your own happiness.” In other words don’t compromise your core values and dreams for some critic.

Are you being constructive with others?