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?

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.

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!

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”!