Byron's Babbles

Contrarian Thinker

One day, this past week, I was introduced to a group I was speaking to as a “Contrarian Thinker.” Honestly, I wasn’t exactly sure what that was. After doing a little research, however, I found that this was probably a pretty accurate description. Contrarian thinkers are trailblazers. ✔️Check. They are polarizing visionaries who are just as likely to be called crazy before brilliant. ✔️Check. Contrarian thinkers have the foresight to see hidden opportunities and seize them when the right moment presents itself. I would like to think I do this, but I’m not so arrogant to say check on this one.

Never forget, the risks of going against the crowd are greater, but so are the rewards. The rewards of innovating, curiosity, and an imagination gone wild are always worth the effort. An important fact for a contrarian thinker to remember is that no one will be expecting you or your ideas to succeed, which is one of the reasons you will.

Then, last night as I was flipping through the channels (are they still called channels on the tv?) I stopped on Shark Tank long enough to hear Mark Cuban described by one of the other Sharks as a contrarian thinker. So, off I went to learn more about his storied history.

While reading 9 Critical Turning Points That Shaped Mark Cuban’s Extraordinary Career by Drake Baer, I found that Mark Cuban is a contrarian thinker. One of my favorite quotes from Mark Cuban in the article is, “The ‘sprint’ doesn’t have a finish line. There’s never a point where you can say, ‘We’ve made it.'”

The more I studied this topic, however, I really found that many contrarian thinkers always find an opposing view. I don’t think that is me at all. Nor do I believe that would be very productive. A more productive view would be one of “independent thinker.” My takeaway to share with you is that rather than always being swayed by consensus view, or consistently being a contrarian, we should strive to be independent thinkers. I always strive, and would encourage you to as well, look at different perspectives, and sometimes find a unique angle.

Remember, if you think the same way as everyone else, it is very difficult to outperform them.

The Majestic Leader

I had the opportunity to spend this week in Palm Springs, California for Aurora Institute’s annual symposium. The theme of this year’s symposium was Shining A Light On The Future Of Learning. Palm Springs is such a beautiful place located in the Coachella Valley. Palm Springs is completely surrounded by mountains; the San Bernardino Mountains to the north, the Santa Rosa Mountains to the south, by the San Jacinto Mountains to the west, and by the Little San Bernardino Mountains to the east.

These mountains are the cause for this post. I was visiting with a friend from the state of Washington about how the mountains were different than other mountains. She described them as being “majestic”. That seemed like an appropriate adjective, but I needed to think a little about just what majestic meant. It is an adjective meaning, having or showing impressive beauty or display great dignity. Also, majestic befits a great ruler and being simply far superior to everyday stuff. I was now fully on board with the mountains surrounding Palm Springs being described as majestic.

Then I got to thinking about majestic people I know. There are those with majestic beauty and those who are majestic leaders – those that display great dignity. I then reflected on what gave them that beauty. For me it is their referent power. Referent power is one of the most potent and majestic sources of power for a leader there is. It is a form of reverence gained from having tremendous interpersonal relationship skills. Referent power has become much more important as we move from command and control organizational environments to more collaborative and flattened hierarchical environments of influence.

Leaders with high referent power influence because of the follower’s admiration, respect, and identification with her or him. Think about this description when looking at the picture I took of the San Jacinto Mountains while I was in Palm Springs shown here: These majestic mountains are a pretty appropriate metaphor for a majestic leader, don’t you think? I couldn’t let the metaphor end there, however. I then got to thinking about how if we, as leaders, get this influence right, the view is beautiful. This made me think of the awesome picture I got from the top of Mount San Jacinto at 8,516 feet shown here: Getting leadership right is such a beautiful and majestic thing for both the influenced and influencer.

Toy Story 4 Leadership

Don’t laugh, but as I flew across our awesome country yesterday to Palm Springs, California for the 2019 iNACOL (now named the Aurora Institute) Symposium, I was excited to get to watch Toy Story 4. I’m a fan of Toy Story; not just because they are great movies, but also because of the Pixar story and the lessons in the movies. I was certainly not disappointed by the gang of toys getting back together with the addition of new toys. There were so many great connections to the leadership lessons I facilitate in our 3D Leadership program. I even took notes on a napkin.

There were six big standout lessons in the movie:

1. From Forky I was reminded that we need to understand our value and the value others bring to our teams and organizations.

It is so important we know and understand our strengths. Then, it is crucial we have people working to their strengths. Too many times we move people and change roles, sometimes in an attempt to promote, without any regard to whether it is the “right” role based on strengths. Remember, you bring value. Forky needed to realize he was a toy even though not in the traditional sense. He brought value to Bonnie. Let’s not forget, she created Forky.

2. Great leaders are not always seen. Woody was helping Bonnie through her first day of school without her even knowing it. Without being seen Woody got her crayons for her and got her the materials to make Forky. He was helping her, being a servant leader, without her knowing it.

It’s easy to think leaders must be front and center and seen. Leaders don’t have to be seen, though. Leaders can do great work from the background. Great leaders gently guide people without them knowing you were there or were leading them.

3. The toys practiced adaptive leadership. Throughout the entire show, strategy was agile and constantly changing. Interestingly, all the toys led from where they were. Several times during the movie I heard toys say, “I have an idea, let’s do this.” The other toys would then team up and carry it out.

4. Buzz Lightyear led from where he was. Buzz had not really been a leader in the other three Toy Story movies, but he had to step up in this one because Woody wasn’t present. Buzz stepped up and filled the leadership void.

5. At one point in the film, Bo Peep exclaimed to Woody, “Look around, nobody’s with you.” We must remember that leadership is influence and if no one is with us when we turn around we are not having an influence.

6. At one point Woody said, “Because it’s the only thing I have to do.” Woody was resisting transition into another role, or in other words, he was resisting change. Know times of transition are not easy. Yet, to grow, there will always be transitions. Change is a good thing. Don’t let the pain of transitions stop them from happening.

There are so many more lessons in Toy Story 4 to be dissected, but those are my big takeaways for now. If you have watched the film, I would love to hear your takeaways. Let’s keep leading to “infinity and beyond”!

The Tigress of Forli

Posted in Adaptive Leadership, Educational Leadership, Elizabeth Lev, Leadership, The Tigress Of Forli by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on October 27, 2019

The Tigress of Forlì: Renaissance Italy's Most Courageous and Notorious Countess, Caterina Riario Sforza de MediciThe Tigress of Forlì: Renaissance Italy’s Most Courageous and Notorious Countess, Caterina Riario Sforza de Medici by Elizabeth Lev

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was an incredible and gripping read. Caterina Riario Sforza de’ Medici was, as are all great leaders, controversial. Caterina was bold, brave and a benevolent leader; she was clever and skilled in diplomacy and dynamic on the battlefield. Elizabeth Lev does a masterful and vivid job of bringing to life for the reader the life of this leader who was celebrated and admired, but also reviled and feared. This book caused me to reflect deeply about the dispositions a leader must possess and the ability to adapt (adaptive leadership) that great leaders must develop.

One area that Lev spent time on was the fact that Caterina was a benevolent leader. In other words, making sure the needs of her people and of the greater community were cared for. It’s about, as I wrote about in, Benevolent Leadership, creating greater opportunities for our communities, states, nations, and the world. It’s really about creating different possibilities in the world. It’s about, as Caterina taught us, developing a sustainable future for the world and everyone living in it.

Lev gives us a bird’s eye view into this great leader who won and lost it all. It also prompts reflection into our own leadership actions and maneuvering.

~Dr. Byron L. Ernest

View all my reviews

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.

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?

Less “Why” and More “How To”

IMG_6531Recently, I was sitting in on some teacher professional development sessions and I looked over at a teacher’s notes and saw that he had written, “I need less ‘why’, and more ‘how to”. This really struck me because I had just interrupted an earlier session to see how many really thought they would be able to jump right in and do the task being trained on – some thought they could, but many wanted to try it and then have someone ready to help them. Having spent most of my career in the classroom I knew it was thing to have been shown how to do something, and then actually doing it when there were 30+ young scholars staring you in the face.

After seeing this note, I began to think about whether we had become so enamored with always explaining the “why” that we were missing the mark on the “how”. Clearly in these trainings we were for at least one participant. This struck home with me because I believe in my own world I get a lot of “why”, and then there are very few who really understand the “how”. As you will find later in this post, we need both.

I told the teacher after the session that I had seen his note and was interested. He told me it was not being critical, but he needed more time on how to do some of the tasks than so much time on why. I told him this made total sense. Really, the why should be about the vision in a quick statement of the importance and not a dissertation, or what turns into a chance for the presenter to pontificate and gain self gratification. Many times, I have found, this is because the person presenting does not understand how to do the task very well themselves.

The more I thought about this, I realized we have become very “into” talking about the “why” of everything. I get it! I really do, but because of all the writing about the “why” I believe we are forgetting to develop the “how” to the same extent. Even though the title of Simon Sinek’s great book Start With Why focuses on the “why,” he still told us that there must be those doing the “how.” For example, without Roy Disney, Walt Disney’s vision would never have been carried out. Thinking about all this brought to mind one of my favorite parts of L. David Marquet’s great book Turn The Ship Around! A True Story of Turning Followers Into Leaders. Marquet explained to us in the book that when practicing intent-based leadership, where everyone is a leader, we must provide the needed technical training or it will be chaos. Genius, right! I might know “why” I need to put a fire out on a submarine, but if I don’t know “how” it becomes a bigger problem. So I might add to Simon Sinek’s Start With Why, “Finish With How”.

Think about it from a school perspective; if I spend an hour telling you how important taking accurate attendance is each period for high school students and why each period will be analyzed and rolled into the daily attendance, but then don’t spend the majority of the time making sure you understand the management program (technology) and how to use it, I have failed you. Also, we would need to make sure you understand the best practices of taking proper attendance at the beginning of the period and then updating for individual circumstances that happen during the period. I believe you get the idea, but it has become to easy and “cool” to just spend time on the “why” because that is the latest buzz phrase – “gotta tell them the why.” I’m cool with that, but make sure I understand “how to” too!

How about you? Do you need less “why”, and more “how to”?

Teacher Leader Shape-Shifter

This morning I did a session for our Teacher Academy where I had the teachers pick a toy from a bag of lots of different cool toys. I gave them two minutes to play with the toy and then they had to report out how the toy related to their classroom, serving students, and them personally. This is a great reflective activity that really makes participants think. Then, of course, these reflections really get me thinking and I end up writing blog posts like this one.

One of the teachers chose a Slinky® and while reporting out she described herself as a shape-shifter. She stated that she needed to adjust and adapt according to student needs. This was genius. I have always tried to inspire team members to be continually comfortable shape-shifters. I am such a big fan of fluid change; whether that is organizationally, personally, or in the classroom. We need to be comfortable with the one thing that is constant – change.

Here’s the deal: as leaders, teacher leaders, and organizations, we must be comfortable with an ever-changing skin; no matter what we call it. Whether we call it change, changeover, conversion, metamorphosis, mutation, shift, transfiguration, transformation, translation, transmutation, transubstantiation we must have the resilience that shape-shifting brings to be successful. I would suggest that leaders and teachers must become adept at negotiating multiple, sometimes divergent, identities. We must be adaptive because everything we do during the day as teachers is situational – it shifts from context to context.

In other words we all need to use our portfolio of attributes, skills, and experiences to arrange, re-arrange, and adapt to meet the needs of our current situation. The concept of shape-shifting implies a sense of individuality and free agency in making choices, removed from constraints. By creating her own meanings for curriculum and leading of learning, the teacher who inspired this post, will be able to apply it within the context she is teaching. We then need to be able to demonstrate the resourcefulness and ability to change as contexts change.

Shape-shifters can be seen as innovators, rebels, or even a compromiser, but I see this as an important adaptive leadership trait. I do believe that shape-shifting also allows us to push away from the status-quo way of doing things and adapt to changing needs.