Byron's Babbles

Naked Leadership

This past Thursday night, we had an incredible 3D Leadership gathering in Mooresville, North Carolina. This was the first gathering of the third cohort of our North and South Carolina leadership development program. This first time together involves an activity called, “Who Am I As A Leader Today?” The participants are all given their very own Mr. or Mrs. Potato Heads and must creatively put them together to represent who they are that day as a leader. We then circle up and everyone shares. This is always so meaningful and is such a great way to begin building a community. You can find out a lot about someone and yourself when you’ve channeled the inner Mr/Mrs Potato Head.

I am always inspired by the wild representations that participants come up with and the deep and meaningful descriptions they give. Always lots for me to blog about after these. One of the member’s presentations really jumped out at me, however, when she said she considered leaving her Mrs. Potato Head blank without putting anything on it. She shared she wanted it to represent the nakedness she felt as a new leader and her desire to learn and become clothed with knowledge. She even brought in some Bible teaching, reminding us that Jesus had come into the world a naked and humble leader of all – and, we all come into the world naked and without anything. She had gone ahead and decorated he Mrs. Potato Head because, as she told us, she needed to recognize that she does have leadership skills today, but wants to continue learning.

The entire group, including me, was blown away by this insightful reflection. Of course, I was so moved that I said I thought there was a book to be written – Naked Leadership. Everyone laughed (thank goodness), but the more I have reflected on it the more I like the title, and the metaphor it represents. For one thing, it’s a catchy title. I’ll bet some of you are reading this post just because the word naked is in the title and you needed to know who was naked. When I began to reflect and study the idea of Naked Leadership, however, I found so many important leadership lessons.

They Realized They Were Naked

In Genesis 2, the Bible says of Adam and Eve, “The eyes of both of them were opened…and they realized they were naked.” As leaders we must have our eyes opened and realize we do not know everything. We need an attitude of personal professional growth and a desire to actively listen to others.

The Emperor Has No Clothes

I love the children’s fairytale The Emperor’s New Clothes. This might have application as a leadership fable for learning more today than at any point in history. You know the story… the emperor was very vain and loved new clothes, so some swindlers took advantage of this. They told the emperor they could fashion the most beautiful cloth ever made that could only be seen by someone who was stupid. So, emperor gave them gold, expensive silk and other items to make the cloth. Of course, these were swindlers who did not make anything but steal the items. Let’s skip to the end of the story…the emperor goes out with his new clothes which were allegedly invisible, and, of course, is naked. No one has the courage to tell the emperor he is naked until he comes to a little boy who says, “But he doesn’t have anything on!” It took the innocence of a child to make the emperor realize he had no clothes.

Wouldn’t we be more effective leaders if we were able to recognize our own nakedness without even needing to be told, as our 3D Leadership participant suggested? This would, I believe, open us up to being advised by others to our nakedness as well. The other part of the story that most never go on to talk about is that once the empower realizes he really is naked, he continues on, naked, because of his desire to not admit being wrong and his extreme vanity.

I don’t know if the Naked Leadership book will ever get written. I hope it does, but in the meantime we all need to recognize our metaphorical nakedness and be open to finding ways for clothing ourselves with the skills of great leadership. How about you; Do you have any ideas for chapters in the Naked Leadership book?

Let’s Have Lunch Together!

Last night we started our third cohort of 3D Leadership in Indiana. Hard to believe we have started our third year. Just seems like yesterday that I began putting the curriculum together for this program. Last night as we were discussing relationship building as a function of leadership, one of our participants, Sarah Medve, shared a story that really touched me and the rest of the group.

Sarah said she realized that she needed to do a better job of building relationships. Sarah also realized that she was missing out on building work friendships and collaboration because instead of taking time to eat lunch with coworkers she was making copies, grading papers, or any of the many other tasks of the day. This great teacher leader explained she has begun making sure all her tasks are done at other times so she can stop and eat lunch with others. Then Sarah told us she had fun eating lunch with others and did not want to miss it. Wow! This is a big deal!

We all do it, though. Work through lunch or sit alone and check emails. Sharing meals together, however, builds relationships. Eating together provides time to get to know each other and encourage cooperation through informal communication. Eating lunch together also increases productivity because it widens our perspectives. Eating together is a powerful act.

Researchers at Cornell University argued that eating lunch together has a much more positive effect on organizational community than the artificial activities that many organizations use like rope courses and things we call team building activities. These things are sometimes offsite and require a lot of energy. The Cornell study showed that employees (in the case of this study – firefighters) make fun of and do not see any value in them (Kniffin, et al., 2015).

This insightful story from our teacher leader reminded us all of the benefits of commensality. Coworkers that eat lunch together feel more like family and build friendships. So, we need to learn from our teacher leader, Sarah Medve, and make time to eat together with fellow teachers and staff. Why? Because, as Sarah so insightfully told us, it is fun and she feels closer to her coworkers. The rest of us leaders need to think more about providing opportunities for employees to eat together and do away with the manufactured and trite team-building exercises.

You might be interested to know that after our gathering we all went to Jockamo’s and had dinner together. It was so much fun and we learned a lot about each other. It was nice to put into practice what we were learning in 3D Leadership. I know I left feeling much closer to the group.

REFERENCE

Kniffin, K.M., Wansink, B., Devine, C. M., & Sobal, J. (2015). Eating Together at the Firehouse: How Workplace Commensality Relates to the Performance of Firefighters, Human Performance, 28:4, 281-306,DOI: 10.1080/08959285.2015.1021049

Leading With Compassionate Solutions

One of the driving forces of exceptional leadership is compassion. I am working through a situation right now that prompted the much appreciated text pictured above from a staff member and thought partner I am working on the situation with. Usually I pride myself on being very creative and innovative, but to be credited for finding a compassionate solution made me feel good and made me reflect on whether I was consistently a compassionate leader.

To be great, leaders must have the necessary empathy to inspire understanding and knowledge in team members. I teach about this in the leadership trainings I do. Empathy begins with taking an understanding from the experience and perception of another. Empathy, however, is just about understanding. Empathy is about opening doors and removing confusion. Compassion is the action step; compassion is about actually doing something.

The compassionate leader can then be creative in solving situations, problems, and opportunities. Looking for compassionate solutions allows the leader to look past “the easy way out” referenced in the text pictured above. This allows the team to look at challenges as opportunities to be dealt with as obstacles, not barriers. Barriers stop completely and obstacles can be removed, gone around, over, or under. I blogged about this in Obstacles Vs. Barriers. Actually, I said to the author of the above text, “Let’s make sure we look at any challenges as obstacles and not barriers. We are not allowing any barriers.” The compassionate leader seeks to understand people, families, and communities; knowing that understanding is the gateway to having the greatest influence as a leader.

Manatee Leadership Lessons

 

Yesterday, I had the opportunity of a lifetime to learn leadership lessons from the West Indian Manatee. Our Central Florida/Tampa 3D Leadership Program participants decided that we would start our gathering at the Tampa Electric Company Manatee Viewing Center. The Big Bend Power Station in Apollo Beach delivers reliable electricity to the community. When the Tampa Bay water temperature reaches 68ºF or colder, the Manatees gather in large numbers in the power station’s discharge canal, where saltwater – taken from Tampa Bay to cool Unit 4 flows, clean and warm, back to the bay. The discharge canal is a state and federally designated Manatee sanctuary that provides critical protection from the cold for these unique, gentle animals. It has also been developed into an incredible education center dedicated to the Manatee, Sting Ray, birds, butterflies, and other wildlife and plant life indigenous to the area. I even got to smell the breath of a Manatee. For the farm kid from Indiana this was an incredible experience.

Prior to arriving for the experience I did a a little studying and learned how the Manatee handle thermoregulation by doing central-place grazing. In other words, they go out into the cold bay water to graze on plant life (they are herbivores) and then come back to the warm water near the power plant to get warmed up. I was also able to study the migratory maps of these amazing mammals.

The objective of participants was to come up with the leadership lessons learned from our Manatee experience. Here is what we came up:

  1. Must be caring
  2. Adaptive to change
  3. Lead by example
  4. Able to function alone
  5. Still move forward through the unknown

As you can see there are so many great leadership lessons to be learned from studying and observing these wonderful animals. I have done other blog posts with lessons from animals, such as Pelican Leadership Lessons, Living and Leading Like A Lobster, and Leading Like A Platypus. Using animals as metaphors for great leadership is a great way to learn and teach leadership. Do you have any examples? Share them by replying to my post.

Lessons Of Florida-Opoly

Posted in 3D Leadership, Adaptive Leadership, Community, Educational Leadership, Florida Opoly, Leadership, Monopoly by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on December 19, 2019

I was so honored to be presented with the newest wave of personalized Monopoly game, Florida-Opoly, last night by the Central Florida/Orlando cohort of 3D Leadership. For the guy that teaches leadership through the metaphors of toys, this was very appropriate and appreciated. When presented the game it was said they picked it as a gift of appreciation because I love to have fun, see the value of playing games, and have strived to learn all I can about Florida while spending time in the area. All true!

By personalizing the Monopoly game to local places, the creator, Late For The Sky, believes it brings more fun to the game through local authenticity. As a believer in local and state autonomy, this custom-opoly board game really struck a cord with me as I opened the box and began to explore all the parts, rules, and possibilities.

Here’s a brief rundown on what I found:

  1. Palm Trees
  2. Sunglasses
  3. Sea Turtles
  4. Sailboats
  5. Flip Flops
  6. Surfboards
  7. Key Lime Pie
  8. Alligators
  9. Orange Juice
  10. Disney World
  11. Snowbirds
  12. Manatees
  13. Dolphins
  14. Flamingos
  15. Hurricanes
  16. Sunscreen
  17. Atlantic Ocean
  18. Gulf of Mexico
  19. Conch Chowder
  20. Cuban Sandwiches

Now that’s a game. Players can buy their favorite Florida properties, like beach houses and resorts. But you have to watch out for hurricane warnings, alligators, and run ins with stingrays. Basically, it is a fun way to experience The Sunshine State. Also, it was a reminder of how different Florida is from my home state of Indiana. Now, I could make you a list of 20 cool things in Indiana, but the lesson here is the reminder of the different contexts in which we live.

This game is an important reminder of the complexity of the theory of autonomy. In 1982, President Ronald Reagan proposed returning significant responsibilities to the state and local governments. My other hero, Patrick Henry would have cheered. The challenge with this rhetoric, for as much as I believe in it and believe it should always be contemplated, is that it is not as simple as it sounds. The question that remains still today is what powers should be local and yet not compromise national concerns. I so wish I would have been around for the Federalism and Anti-Federalism discussions with the founders. It’s obvious I would have been an Anti-Federalist, but clearly a balance is where we landed (and needed to land). And, it continues to be a balancing act to this day.

As James Bryce posited in The American Commonwealth, “The wisest statesman is he who holds the balance between liberty and order” (Bryce, 1888, p. 749). Bryce spoke a lot about the balance of state’s rights and federalism in his critique of our democratic system of government. Bryce also warned of “Ill-considered legislation, facility and excess of law-making, and inconstancy and mutability in the laws, form the greatest blemish in the character and genius of our governments” (Bryce, 1888, p. 750). From a state’s rights standpoint, Bryce was concerned with states conducting rash experiments.

Alexis de Tocqueville did a much more sophisticated analysis of the underpinnings of a successful democracy. In Democracy In America (appearing in two volumes in 1835 and 1845), posited that there were two important tracks to our system, one of which were the broad freedoms assured by our national constitution. The other was a complimentary track of secondary liberties at the state and local levels. Tocqueville saw this as being product of human wisdom and choice, not historical necessity. Tocqueville saw the genius in a balance of both national and state/local control. Here we are at the end of 2019 still grappling the question of what the ideal balance is. Maybe that means our system works.

Only I could take the fun game of Florida-Opoly and turn in into such a deep political analysis. But, having spent Monday and Tuesday of this week up in Gary, Indiana to sort out best solutions for a school situation that I, as an Indiana State Board of Education member, have responsibility for, I can tell you the local, state, and federal contexts are at play. Full local autonomy failed our children, but some might argue that state and federal laws and requirements might have played a factor. Again, I believe it is a balancing act.

What I am for sure reminded of by Florida-Opoly is that we need to be aware of our local strengths, weaknesses, and needs. We then need to work within the autonomy we have to make our states and local communities great!

Leadership Dominoes

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“Everything affects everything else in one way or another. Whether you are aware of that or not does not change the fact that this is what is happening. That’s why I say a business is a system. This systems perspective reminds us that this is what is going on. And when you see it this way, you can manage your business better. You appreciate, for example, that any action will reverberate throughout the entire company. This causes you to pay more attention to what you do, and learn the right lessons from your experience.” – John Woods

I use the metaphor of dominoes falling all the time and was reminded that everything affects everything last night at our Tampa, Florida area gathering of 3D Leadership. We did an activity carving pumpkins in the theme of “truths that frustrate me”. As a story was being told about how a Curriculum Resource Teacher (CRT) was covering classes that didn’t have a teacher, because of the teacher shortage, she stated that she loved covering the class and teaching. The problem, however, was that she was very frustrated she was not able to support the teachers that she was responsible for coaching. This really made me think about how this was really two rows of dominoes put in play. I did my best to graphically represent it (shown here in the post). The first row of dominoes was put in play when there was a teacher not available for a class. The second row of dominoes was put in play when the CRT covered the class, even though she loved doing that, and she couldn’t work with the teachers on her coaching load.

IMG_7218Dominoes are actually a learning lesson when it comes to leadership. Up until the time I heard this story originating with a pumpkin carving I had thought of the domino effect in a very linear view. this caused me to think about all the other rows of dominoes that get put into play with just one decision, event, action, or mistake. Regardless of the catalyst that sets the dominoes in motion, it is some type of change. Leaders and organizations need to navigate these changes carefully and be sure the changes, or the people making the changes, aren’t like a bull in a china shop. Sorry for the use of another metaphor. We need to lead with a systemic focus. We need to take into consideration all the interconnected parts of our organizations that could set the domino effect into motion, impacting the success of the change, productivity, effectiveness and lives of those we serve.

Even though all the people and parts of your organization are not dominoes, we would be well served to treat them as such. Our organizations are interconnected systems. Changes in on area have a direct impact on changes in other areas. We need to remember that once dominoes start to topple over, it will take time to get them put back up.

Questions?

Posted in 3D Leadership, Communication, Education, Educational Leadership, Leadership, Questions by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on October 5, 2019

Yesterday at our North Carolina 3D Leadership gathering we went to Phillips Farm pumpkin patch in Carey, North Carolina to get pumpkins for an activity. The activity is not the focus of this post. The focus is on a booth set up at the farm for answering questions. The kiosk literally had a question mark sign on it with the word “questions” (see picture). Everyone in our group was immediately struck by the feeling of being put at ease knowing that we had a person and place specifically designed to answer any and all of our questions. What a simple sign and simple concept!

The young lady at the kiosk was able to answer all our questions and get us set up to get everyone the chance to pick out their very own pumpkins. She even gave us a Dum Dums sucker, telling us that no question was too dumb to ask. But the part that continued to amaze us was how comfortable that sign made us feel when entering the area. There was no anxiety trying to figure out where to go or what to do.

We then began to discuss how we should make kiosks in our schools during parent events or back to school events to make families comfortable asking questions. The question mark sign had empowered us to ask questions. It gave a very different feeling than if there would have been a sign that said “information” or just people standing around to answer questions. It was just comfortable – there is no other way to describe it.

This reminded me of the research that has been done in schools on surveys of climate and culture. Research tells us that if we were only able to ask one question on a survey the most important one would be, “How comfortable are you asking questions in your class?” If students are comfortable asking questions the schools is most likely on an upward trajectory. Therefore, we need to make our classrooms comfortable places for inquiry and empower our students to ask lots of questions.

In fact, as leaders, we need to make every environment we facilitate a safe place to ask questions. Think about the last meeting, professional development session, or gathering that you didn’t feel comfortable asking questions. Miserable, wasn’t it? Then, think about the times when no question was a dumb question and there was a free flow of inquiry. Makes us feel very empowered and comfortable, doesn’t it?

So, let’s start staffing “Questions?” kiosk both literally and figuratively, and creating empowerment through comfort in asking questions.

Is Your “Want To” Big Enough?

This morning I flipped through the television channel to see what was going on in the world and stopped on a channel with one of my favorite preachers, Joel Olsteen. When I tuned in he was asking the question, “How big is your ‘want to’?” I love this question. Many times our “want to” must get to a certain size for us to make a change or go after a desire.

This went right along with a discussion we had this past week in our 3D Leadership Program about the statement in Nothing More’s song Do You Really Want It?, “Everyone wants to change the world, but one thing is clear, no one wants to change themselves.” How big your “want to” is goes right along with this.

Your “want to” is how bad do you want to accomplish something. It is your “want to” that will be your driving force behind how far you go and how much success you will have with it. Many people like to talk big games, but “talk” and your “want to” are two different things. You have to really want something in life in order to accomplish it, especially if it is a big goal or aspiration. As with all big goals and aspirations there will usually be a lot of obstacles and roadblocks that will pop up along the way.

Other people call it your “purpose”. Some call it your “why”. Your “want to” is what it really is. How bad you want it, or answering the question Nothing More asks, “Do you really want it?” is what it really comes down to. Your “want to” will determine how far you will go to ensure success. The bigness of your “want to” must rise to match the power hidden in the thing you want.

Bottom-line: until your “want to” gets big enough, we will never make the changes, or do the necessary preparation, or other things needed to do the desired action. To achieve great things to change the world, you need a big “want to”. Your big “want to” should inspire and drive you to take the necessary action to achieve it.

Infectious Leadership

In the past week I have been with four groups of school and teacher leaders from three different states doing leadership development facilitation as part of our 3D Leadership Program. As part of this months focus we did a good leader/bad leader activity where each group developed a top 5 good leader trait and top 5 bad leader trait list. Two things that did not hit the lists were charisma and celebrity. It is clear that all want present and technically competent leaders who have a growth mindset and are contagious. This then trickles down to the team.

So what does having a growth mindset mean? To me it means having a transformative and innovative approach with the team. It means letting the team be curious and creative; finding ways to get better. Great leaders let go of certainty and open the door to other points of view. Great leaders also trust their team members and give them more latitude. These same leaders provide appreciation for all new ideas and achievements of employees. They are comfortable trying new things knowing that all will not work. It’s about being curious themselves.

To set the stage and paint the picture for modeling this growth mindset the leader needs to talk in ideals; ideal work, ideal team, ideal outcome. The question I always like to answer as an innovative and curious leader with a growth mindset is: “what does success look like?” One thing is clear from listening to all these leaders: we need to be present, communicate (including effective listening), and have a mindset for growth. Are you infectious?

Manufactured Culture

Tonight in our Central Florida gathering of 3D Leadership in Orlando, Florida we got into a discussion about “manufactured cultures” vs. “organic cultures”. Clearly, just like with food, organic wins out as best. We always talk about how great it is for things to happen organically, but I had really never thought a lot about how detrimental it was for leadership to try and manufacture culture.

Most team members truly try to be honest and try to make the environment a better place. Leadership, conversely, that is inexperienced or questionable results in bad decisions. These leaders then try to manufacture a culture that is contrary to that of the larger organizational community. This leadership lacks tactical and long term strategic vision. Ultimately, this results in a disconnect of culture/morale. Check out this list of top five good leader traits that would lead to an organic culture and top five bad leader traits developed by the participants tonight that would contribute to a manufactured culture:

In order to develop a community with an organic culture, leaders need to understand their own limitations and areas for growth and fix them. Additionally, great organizational communities identify the difference between finger pointing and leading. We must also listen to our long term team members, whose insight has been proven over and over.

Great organizational communities with organic cultures listen to their teams and fix issues right away. There is also always honesty about what is going on in the organization. Additionally, organizations sometimes become very cult like which results in a manufactured culture.

How about you? Are you leading in a way that lets your organizational culture develop organically, or are you manufacturing it?