Byron's Babbles

March Flowers 🌼

Sometimes we need to look no further than our children for inspiration in times of crisis. This was true this past weekend for me. As I read all of the different statements being put out this week by businesses and organizations, I couldn’t help but think that the simple things we are taught as children should guide every decision: the Golden Rule and what is best for others. Maybe just some good ole empathy and compassion.

We went down to help move my son home from Murray State University this past weekend. It was tough on him to be leaving a place he has grown to love and all his friends. He was visibly upset. There was definitely mental impact at play in him having to move home because of the coronavirus. Even during this trying time, he took time to pick a clump of March flowers (daffodils) for his mother (pictured here). We’d never heard them called March Flowers. Heath told us it was a Kentucky thing. He explained, “Spring is here, new life is blooming in spite of the coronavirus.” That’s my boy, finding some beauty and positivity during a time of crisis. That was a moment I will savor forever.

As I watch groups and businesses contemplate how to get the most out of their employees at this time of global crises I can’t help but think these so called leaders have missed the point. Right now we should be thinking about how best to care for those we serve, period. And, as someone who doesn’t sit around and pontificate about a virus I know nothing about, the best thing to do is have everyone staying at home. I’m surprised how many people have become experts overnight.

In the case of k-12 education we do need to be concerned for the learning of our children. We also need to provide parents with resources to help their students along with our teachers. We need to be cognizant of the mental impact that the crisis we are living through can have. Schools need to make sure resources for parents are available so they can reinforce social-emotional skills at home and know who to contact if they are concerned about an issue impacting learning online or just in day to day life.

Staying positive is the core ingredient in the recipe of successfully coping in a time of crisis. Now is the time to be proactive in creating small moments of happiness in our days. Positive emotions help us to undo the negative effects of stress.

Does Life Imitate Art, Or Art Imitate Life?

I have been spending some time contemplating Oscar Wilde‘s thoughts on art. I love all kinds of art and consider myself an artist in terms of being creative and imaginative. I am definitely more of an artist than technocrat. I always say there is no bad art. You can refute that if you like, but Wilde and I would have been in agreement that artists should not be interested in seeking approval or creating art for demand. The instant artists, or we artistic leaders, begin to seek others approval we lose our creative juices. Think about what it is like when you are working on something and have to keep getting approval. The idiot needing the approval command and control gratification is stifling your creativity and ability to innovate. I recently wrote about this is in Empowerment Triggers The Approach System.

“…the new work of art is beautiful by being what Art has never been.” ~ Oscar Wilde

If you think about it art really means new. To truly be artistic in whatever we do whether it is leading, teaching, building, et cetera, we must be creative and innovating; we need to practice some individualism. Wilde argued “Art is the most intense mode of individualism that the world has known.” I believe if we approach everything we do as art, we would probably reach our highest potential.

“Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” ~ Oscar Wilde

James Ensor (Belgian, 1860 – 1949) Christ’s Entry into Brussels in 1889, 1888, Oil on canvas 252.7 × 430.5 cm (99 1/2 × 169 1/2 in.), 87.PA.96 The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

If you think about it, leadership and art both bring social encounters to life life. One of my favorite artworks that I believe intersects with leadership is James Ensor‘s painting Christ’s Entry Into Brussels in 1889. The painting, which began expressionism, has Jesus in the middle of a chaotic crowd of very real and very unreal characters. I was first introduced to this painting back in 2012 and then blogged about the inspiration in Rushmorean Servant Leadership. For me it was about Jesus leading from the middle, or amongst us. I do try to lead in that way while being creative. Which still begs the question of whether Wilde was right, does life imitate art or art imitate life?

How Do You Play Leader?

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This past weekend at our Indiana 3D Leadership Gathering, we did a toy activity that involved Lite Brites®. Participants made a picture that represented how the Lite Brite® could be used for great leadership. The activity was called “How Do You Play Leader?” The groups did a great job with their pictures. While they were sharing out I wrote down a few notes. Check out what I wrote down here:IMG_7860

I was particularly struck by the statement that “Great leaders really don’t have to try!” I asked the person to dig a little deeper into that comment. She said that a leader who is authentic and is himself or herself instead of trying to be someone else or copy someone else is much more effective. Great leaders find a system that works for her or him, rather than trying to force oneself into a prescribed notion of a what a leader has to be. If we know ourselves well enough, we can take steps to go about leading effectively. Situations change what we need to do, but should never change who we are. We need to make sure we’re treating all team members as we would want to be treated. We need to be genuinely interested in learning something new every day from our team, and they will follow you. It’s all about relationship building. I blogged about this in Let’s Have Lunch Together!

There was also a deep discussion about how teams are most times brought together by a certain amount of randomness and disorganized connections. Great leadership connects the randomness. Leaders should be the key connectors of team members. Support them them to understand their value in the organization. Leaders need to respect all team members. Respect comes in different forms: respecting time, respecting opinions, respecting diversity, respecting the culture, and more. When we trust and respect our team members and connect with them, they will respond with dedication and enthusiasm. Because of this, our connected team members will see clarity, levels of engagement across the organization, a positive culture and community, and most of all, improvement in communication. Remember, trust builds through connections with people and forms the bedrock of a team. Teams are built on human cooperation. Without relationships, we’ve got no team.

Obstacles ARE The Path

Posted in Adaptive Leadership, Educational Leadership, Global Leadership, Leadership, Shape-Shifter by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on January 26, 2020

IMG_7804I heard a great quote from the late Jane Lotter that really got me thinking this morning: “And may you always remember that obstacles in the path are not obstacles, they ARE the path.” I have blogged about obstacles and barriers before and most recently in Obstacles Vs. Barriers and Overcoming Obstacles. I really liked and was inspired by the Lotter quote because I had not ever really thought of the obstacles as being the path, or even a part of the path. When we begin to look at these obstacles as just part of the path it gives us an entirely new perspective. Leaders who live with a fearless approach and embrace the adventures in daily pursuits, are able to shape-shift and mold ourselves into the leaders we truly desire to be. I actually blogged about shapeshifting in Teacher Leader Shape-Shifter, last summer.

As I was thinking about this, I remembered watching Star Trek Deep Space Nine and there being shapeshifting species, called Changlings, who could adapt their shape to whatever was necessary to the situation. Odo, a shapeshifter, was so cool; he could change from solid to liquid, male to female, or living being to inanimate object. How cool is that? Better yet, how useful could that be? Particularly when thinking about obstacles. So, can we shape-shift to let obstacles just be part of the path? Probably not, but there are things we can do to be a shapeshifting leader.

We can:

  1. Create an environment where everyone is empowered at the right time.
  2. We can have empathy, show our emotions, and have compassion. This will let our teams know we are vulnerable and care.
  3. Develop an atmosphere where everything is a joint effort. Everyone has value in this environment and the project will be looked at from every vantage point.
  4. Be observant. When we can see and plan for obstacles in advance, they can be viewed more as parts of the path.
  5. Become more taciturn. Odo, in Star Trek, was considered taciturn. In this sense I believe the character was not snobby, but a very reflective and active listener.

We must develop our capacity to embrace ambiguity and achieve results in unfamiliar environments. As I always say, “I am uncomfortable with being uncomfortable.” As we become a more and more global society, we must continue to develop our personal abilities to understand and appreciate the different values of our global counterparts. When we become adaptive leaders, we are able to select behaviors that are best suited help those we serve on the path of success. We must be able to adapt to the nature and demands of a particular situation.

Are you ready for the path ahead?

 

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?

Living Is Having A Past Full Of Mistakes

The other day as I was having dinner with a good friend I was talking about some mistakes I had made. He said, “Byron, part of living is having a past full of mistakes.” Wow, how true this is! And, how impactful it was to hear from this. As a person who never worries about failure and tries to learn from every mistake, it was huge to talk this out.

The thing to remember and tell ourselves, however, is that the mistake was not on purpose. We didn’t misunderstand circumstances or miscalculate a situation on purpose. Would we forgive someone else? Sure! So we need to remember to forgive ourselves too, and fail forward. This all doesn’t qualify if the mistake or failure was while taking a risk. That is the nature of risk taking and is necessary.

Then, we just need to do everything we can to fix the mistake. That may mean talking to someone, coming up with a better solution, or letting someone else help out. I always say to others, “There’s nothing you can screw up bad enough that the sun won’t come out tomorrow. And, if it doesn’t, it won’t matter anyway.” Remember, we are human and not infallible.

Finally, we need to take the position that we will be smarter next time. We need to learn from mistakes. Just as others have had amnesia about our past mistakes, we need to have amnesia about others. This is truly having compassion.

Empowerment Triggers The Approach System

IMG_7712There has been a great deal written about student agency, student choice, and empowerment. In fact, just yesterday I was working with teachers on how to empower student in such a way to get to a self (student) managed classroom. Student agency and choice refer to learning by doing activities that are meaningful and relevant to learners, driven by their interests, chosen by the student, and often student (self) initiated. As a teacher, I loved giving students a stake in choosing from opportunities provided for them; or many times letting them come up with options. These opportunities might include giving the choice between doing a project, making a presentation, writing a paper, creating a product, or other activities. This ability to choose, or have agency, empowers the students, which leads to greater investment of interest and/or motivation.

25066556._SY475_Like I said, I used student agency for years as a teacher and promote it as a major tenant of project based learning. It seems that this is really brain-based. Yesterday, I finished reading the great book Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self To Your Biggest Challenges by Amy Cuddy. While this was not an education book, the principles of empowerment and powerlessness triggers that apply to our presence as a leader, also apply to the way we engage students.

In the book, Cuddy explained the approach and inhibition systems of the brain. This explanation came from the 2003 study of psychologist Dacher Keltner. The approach system is made up of regions in the brain that promote curiosity, being adventurous, and trying new things. The inhibition system, promotes cautious behavior. Too much of this causes us to see threats where others recognize opportunities. In other words, it stifles us. Think about these two systems both from a leadership standpoint and a student engagement perspective.

Keltner argued that empowerment triggers the approach system. In other words, if we believe we are empowered we are able to be more curious, adventurous, and willing to try new things. Doesn’t this sound like how we would like our students to be every moment of every day? Conversely, Keltner posited that powerlessness triggers the inhibition system. As was explained earlier, this causes cautiousness. Think about this from a leadership or educational perspective. When we empower others and give them autonomy this triggers our approach system, and contrarily when we take power and agency away and add constraints we trigger inhibition. Remember, power is the ability to change something. Do we not want our students and team members to be in a position to do this?

Bottom-line: the approach system will respond to rewards and opportunities and the inhibition system responds to constraints, threats, and punishments. Really if you think about this it is pretty simple. These two systems in our brain exert powerful influence over our actions, motivations, and emotions. How are you empowering? How are causing powerlessness? It could be as simple as giving student agency removing constraints, or not have having team members go through a bunch of compliance hoops of approval. Let’s keep these triggers in mind as we navigate 2020.

Assessing Mental Impact

Today during a meeting I made a comment that we needed to assess the mental impact that a decision would make. This term made an impression on the group who said they had never thought about the mental impact a decision would have on others. We then proceeded to discuss the impacts.

I really wasn’t trying to come up with new terminology, but when I reflected on the great discussion I decided to look up mental impact. Guess what I found? Nothing. It seems I’m on to something. Again, it is not anything that is earth shattering; it is just doing the right thing. It is about considering how any decision made will affect those impacted by a decision.

Great leaders understand how to balance emotion with reason and make decisions that positively impact themselves, their employees, their customers and stakeholders, and their organizations. Making good decisions in difficult situations is no small feat because these decisions involve change. We must consider the mental impact these decisions have because change involves uncertainty, anxiety, stress, and sometimes unfavorable reactions of others. To get this right, I believe we must approach decisions as human beings and not humans doing.

Our core values come into play here. Never forget that our actions testify much more powerfully than words. Therefore, taking time to evaluate the mental impact of our decisions on people. Nearly every decision we make will affect different people in one way or another. We need to take time to understand and be fully aware of the influence our decisions will have, and understand what the mental impact will be on all individuals.

Constant connection with people enables us to recognize opportunities and threats, and figure out how to be adaptive to these threats or opportunities. Habitual outreach and taking stock of mental impact prevents insular thinking, opens doors to ideas and collaborative relationships, and expands our ability to problem- solve. By taking mental impact into account leaders can make better decisions.

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.