Byron's Babbles

A Better Boss Stays Engaged

Guest post by Mark Miller

In the Talent Magnet, we established how important it is for leaders to Demonstrate Care. The well-worn axiom is true: People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. According to Top Talent, this is a highly valued trait of the women and men they want to work for.

What other attributes or best practices are often associated with a Better Boss? Well, there are some things leaders can delegate, and there are others we cannot. The second expectation of a Better Boss underscores this truth. Top Talent expects their leaders to Stay Engaged.

The following is an excerpt from the Talent Magnet Field Guide co-authored with Randy Gravitt.

Why do some organizations prosper while others plateau? The answer is usually found in how well they are led and in how much talent they have. As the leader, you have the ability to impact both. But in the eyes of your people, your ability to lead well is contingent on your level of engagement. A Better Boss must Stay Engaged.

Whenever we hear the word engagement it often brings to mind a wedding proposal. But great marriages are not built on a one-time engagement day. No, both the bride and the groom must remain engaged if a relationship is to flourish over time. The same is true for leaders. If they really hope to attract Top Talent and keep them energized over time, the leaders themselves have to show up – ready to contribute.

To be a Better Boss, your presence is required – not every minute of every day, but your presence must be felt. You must remain involved and stay grounded in reality. Leaders demonstrate involvement in many ways. Staying focused in meetings, listening to the opinions of others, being willing to do real work, and taking ownership when things go wrong communicates a strong message to your team.

Your responsibility is to fully lean in and Stay Engaged. When you do, you meet one of Top Talent’s most often stated expectations of their leaders: Showing up in reality – never just going through the motions.


About Mark Miller

Mark Miller began his Chick-fil-A career working as an hourly team member in 1977. In 1978, he joined the corporate staff working in the warehouse and mailroom. Since that time, Mark has steadily increased his value at Chick-fil-A and has provided leadership for Corporate Communications, Field Operations, and Quality and Customer Satisfaction.

Today, he serves as the Vice President of High-Performance Leadership. During his time with Chick-fil-A, annual sales have grown to over $9 billion. The company now has more than 2,300 restaurants in 47 states and the District of Columbia.

When not working to sell more chicken, Mark is actively encouraging and equipping leaders around the world. He has taught at numerous international organizations over the years on topics including leadership, creativity, team building, and more.

Mark began writing about a decade ago. He teamed up with Ken Blanchard, co-author of The One Minute Manager, to write The Secret: What Great Leaders Know and Do (2007). More recently, he released Chess Not Checkers (2015), and Leaders Made Here (2017). His latest is Talent Magnet: How to Attract and Keep the Best People (February 2018). Today, over 1 million copies of Mark’s books are in print in more than two dozen languages


How Do We Change This World?

IMG_2188This morning as I was driving to visit with my mom I was listening to my favorite band, Alter Bridge. I would argue that no group has a line up of more inspiring songs. If you disagree, let’s have that discussion because I would love it, but that is not the point of this post. One of my top five songs from Alter Bridge is “Rise Today.” The main lyric of the song says, “I Wanna Rise Today And Change This World!” How can you not be inspired by that? But then as I sat with my mom, I got to thinking about what it, or what does it, mean to “rise today and change this world?” Particularly, when we all have different ideas of what it means to change the world.

img_0666Then I remembered what Leo Tolstoy, the Russian novelist, so famously wrote: “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” This got me thinking that if we really want to change the world we need to think and act on changes that we need to make to ourselves. Tolstoy’s dictum is a useful starting point for any leader engaged in organizational change that will change the world. I’m convinced that organizational change and changing the world is inseparable from individual change. Most change falters because individuals overlook the need to make fundamental changes in themselves.

There are a few pieces of the lyrics of “Rise Today” that really hit home as I was reflecting on the question of what it means to change the world. Here they are:

  • Have we lost our way tonight?
  • Have we lost our hope to sorrow?
  • Feels like we’re all alone, running further from what’s right
    And there are no more heroes to follow
  • Hope we find a better way before we find we’re left with nothing
  • Seems to me that we’ve got each other wrong. Was the enemy just your brother all along?

Research shows that half of all change efforts for transformational change fail either because leaders don’t act as role models for change or because people defend the status quo. Let me tell you, I have experienced this a lot lately. So as I think deeply about the five phrases I pulled from the song, it really comes down to something I learned from my studies at the Harvard Graduate School of Education: Technical vs. Adaptive Leadership. The problem is we view most things as technical challenges and they really aren’t. Technical leadership is just about applying the solution we already know to apply. An example I can think of right now to illustrate the difference is with budgets. Most think doing a budget is just a math problem – tweak here, tweak there, presto… done. That would be a technical challenge. But, with all budgeting, difficult discussions, trade-offs, staffing changes and re-deployments, and disappointments happen—this is the adaptive leadership work.

“Adaptive leaders learn to live with unpredictability. They spend less time fretting about the inability to establish a routine or control the future and focus more on exploiting opportunities.” ~ Dr. Leonard Wong
Therefore, if I want to be an adaptive leaders and truly change the world I must go through the continual process of challenge, adaptation, and learning, which readies me for the next challenge. It also challenges me to examine whether, as Alter Bridge’s song says, whether “the enemy was just [my] brother all along.”  If we want to be adaptive leaders we need to hone the following skills:
  • Be able to consider diverse and conflicting views in all situations.
  • Be able to operate with autonomy under a general framework (and not just look for the easy way to be compliant).
  • Model great behaviors as being both technically and and tactically proficient.
  • Be mentally flexible and agile.
  • Recognize and be able to navigate the gap between the way things are and the desired state.
  • Understand there are multiple perspectives on the issue.
  • Remembering that new learning will absolutely need to happen.
  • Knowing that resistance will be triggered in stakeholders.

So, if we are going to change the world we know that behaviors and attitudes will need to change. The tough part is people with the problems are key to solving the problems. And, those groups will have varying opinions on solutions. Thus, why I believe the lyric, “Seems to me that we’ve got each other wrong. Was the enemy just your brother all along?” is so appropriate. We must also remember that with adaptive leadership, old ways need to change, and that will create a sense of loss for some (or a lot).

As I reflect on rising today to change this world, I believe we must, as leaders, not miss thinking, “What’s good, right, and just for everyone?”

Leaders Never Fully Ripen

IMG_2177Gem #11 entitled, “When You’re Green You Grow. When You’re Ripe You Rot” in 52 Leadership Gems: Practical and Quick Insights For Leading Others by John Parker Stewart reminded us that when we quit learning and growing we become like an over-ripe apple and rot. This is an interesting topic because we do not want to just continue to be a green apple that has not ripened in certain areas and is not good for anything, but we do not want to ever take the attitude we have arrived – or ripened, so to speak – and we have nothing else to learn. I believe we need to look at this in terms of having “green apple” traits and “ripe apple” traits. We will always have those things, “green apple traits,” that we need to work on, grow and mature in, and develop. In other words we need to be participating in our own personal and professional growth to ripen. What we do not want to do is just be content to fully ripen where we are. Personally, I do not ever want to quit learning, or arrive.

“Look for ways to improve any aspect of  your capabilities and skills. Stay fresh and green. Like good fresh apples, you will be in high demand.”  ~ John Parker Stewart

img_1749How sad is it that I have literally heard people say, “I have many years experience and am old enough that I don’t need to participate in professional development activities”? I guess these people think time is standing still, but really they are becoming over-ripe rotten apples. Being a leader means being willing to continually grow and develop. If we don’t want to become over-ripe we must develop our insights about ourselves and our areas for growth.

Servant Leadership; Not Just Cliche`

Servant Leadership in Action: How You Can Achieve Great Relationships and ResultsServant Leadership in Action: How You Can Achieve Great Relationships and Results by Kenneth H Blanchard

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I began reading Servant Leadership in Action from a somewhat jaded view. It had seemed to me that the term and thought of servant leadership has become somewhat of just a cliche`. I have watched leaders become doormats in the guise of being a servant leader. Or poor leaders making the excuse of not producing because of being a servant leader. This book reminds us that servant leadership is about influence and action and not just cliche`. My favorite thing about this book is all the great leaders that Ken Blanchard had write chapters, or really essays, that are collected in the book. I have read most, if not all, of the books by many of the chapter authors in this book. It is a great review of many of the great leaders of our time. We are guided through how to truly be a servant leader to those we serve. We are taught that servant leadership is about relationships and a desire to lift up those around us. Great leaders, we are reminded, are always looking for ways to develop and advance those in their organizations. This book is designed in six sections to help us understand how to do this. Additionally we are given exemplars that have been lifted up as the models for servant leadership. If you want to do more for the people you serve and care more about people, then read this book to learn how to empower them to use common sense and good judgment. you want to start catching people doing the right things, and great things, read this book!
~Dr. Byron L. Ernest

View all my reviews

Empowering To Pull Together

This past week during our 3D Leadership gatherings a theme kept coming out about empowerment and having everyone pulling together. We talked about this and that empowerment does not just mean making sure everyone is doing something. So many times we, as leaders, fall into the trap of getting wrapped up in our own things and we forget that true empowerment means making sure everyone understands the vision, is pulling in the same direction, and have had the skills developed to do the right things and do things right. There must be a common language and a common approach, which helps to communicate the goals and objectives and create a winning culture, with increased teamwork and ensures that we are all pulling in the same direction.

I believe in a more distributed leadership model. This model secures team members’ full participation in the organization’s or school’s decision-making processes, promotes meaningful collaboration and harmonious work relations, generates passion for accomplishing goals, and boosts student and teacher productivity. I was reminded of how powerful this is in Gem #8 entitled “People Tend To Support What They Create” in 52 Leadership Gems: Practical and Quick Insights For Leading Others by John Parker Stewart. In this lesson Stewart reminded us that creation is a pervasive instinct for we humans. So, we naturally become much more engaged when we have a part in creation of programs, processes, procedures, and policies. I really believe this is why I loved teaching so much. This is what it is like in an effective classroom with students. It should be that way in a well run school or organization too.

Done properly, team members take leading roles, assume responsibility, and act independently as individuals or groups. The thing I really like about a more distributed model is that it promotes the staff’s full participation in key decision-making and implementation processes and also makes them accountable. But, it does require us, as the leader to serve as both chief coordinator and evaluator of processes and results. In other words, we need to be in the boat rowing 🚣‍♀️ too.

How can you help your team become involved in decision making and creation?

Leading Like Billy Graham

With the passing of the great leader, Billy Graham, this week I feel compelled to reflect on what made him a great leader. It just so happened I was in Charlotte, North Carolina working with school leaders and teachers this week and had the opportunity to go to the Billy Graham Library, pay my respects, and reminisce about growing up with Billy Graham on our television set.

I grew up watching Billy Graham while sitting beside my dad on the couch in our living room. Growing up in a rural Christian home, we could relate to the teachings of this North Carolina man who, as his daughter has described him, was always a farmer at heart. Little did I know at the time I was witnessing one of the greatest leaders that would ever walk the earth (besides Jesus, of course) for 99 years. Also, little did I know he was teaching me to lead like Jesus.

It has been said that there are three very important questions that leaders must answer:

  1. Who am I?
  2. Who do I want to be?
  3. How do I make a difference in the greater world and bring influence to others?

Certainly, Billy Graham modeled answering these three leadership questions for us. There was never any doubt who Billy Graham was. He believed in Jesus, told the stories of Jesus, and that was who he was. He led with integrity because who he was on the outside was who he was on the inside, period. That was who he was and who he wanted to be. Bottom line: he wanted everyone to know Jesus, and that was that. As we would say today, “drop the mic!”

Furthermore, as a believer in the idea that leadership is influence, I am not sure you could name me anyone else who has influenced more people in a life span, other than Jesus of course. This morning as I was studying the day’s tweets, I came across one from Billy Graham’s daughter, Anne Graham Lotz. She had written a tribute to her dad, “Daddy Is Home.” Needless to say, I was inspired. Click here to read it, because you’ll be inspired too.

A sentence Anne wrote in the statement really stood out to me. She said, “While he may be physically absent and his voice silent, I am confident that his message will continue to reverberate throughout the generations to come.” Wow! If leadership is influence, then this says it all. Even after passing, Billy Graham’s influence of changing the world and influencing others lives on. Powerful!

“While he may be physically absent and his voice silent, I am confident that his message will continue to reverberate throughout the generations to come. My prayer on this day of his move to Our Father’s House is that his death will be a rallying cry.  That tens of thousands of pastors, teachers, evangelists, and ordinary men and women will rise up to take his place.  That they will take up his message like a baton being passed in a relay race and faithfully pass it on to those with whom they come in contact. Because Daddy’s message is God’s message.  And it’s a message of genuine hope for the future, of love for the present, of forgiveness for the past.” ~ Anne Graham Lotz

We all look for leaders who can appreciate our vulnerability and inspire us, understand us, support us, and guide us through looming chaos. We are inspired and influenced when this happens. As leaders, we need to understand who we are, why we are doing something, and be clear about about our own core values and goals when applying our skills of influence. That way, influence comes from a place of authenticity and has the greatest impact. Remember, to be truly influential, we need to be the same person on the outside that we are on the inside.

Leadership Algorithms

This past Tuesday I facilitated a gathering of our South Carolina 3D Leadership Program cohort. The through line was “Your Leadership Toy Box.” The idea was to use toys to discover ways to be focused leaders. At the beginning of the gathering I had each participant grab a toy and answer the question of how the toy they chose represented leadership. Participants were given 10 minutes to prepare a response in any format they chose. Needless to say, the responses were awesome, inspiring, and most importantly – FUN!

One of the toys chosen was a Rubik’s Cube. As was the plan, this toy caused a lot of reflection, and even more for me after the participant reported out. Click below to watch the video of her presentation: Leadership Algorithms. It’s awesome!

Her reflection really got me to thinking about leadership and education. I thought about how this game reveals lessons that we all face as educators and leaders. Every year, we encounter and solve challenges that must be addressed on several levels, just as the Rubik’s Cube must be solved side by side and layer by layer. Every day teachers make decisions before, during, and after classroom lessons to successfully engage students and lead the learning process, maneuvering through numerous machinations to address diverse learning styles and skills. This is what teacher leaders do. School leaders must search for ways to enable continual school improvement, which requires school leaders to study, plan, implement, analyze, react, and adjust throughout the decision-making and implementation processes. These are the same skills and actions necessary to conquer the Rubik’s Cube.

So what did we learn from the Rubik’s Cube algorithms? Leadership requires us to step back from time to time and re-assess the situation in order to move forward. Successful leaders are continually convening the team to assess and re-assess processes in order to improve. We also learned that making one twist of the cube leads to multiple changes on the cube. When we make changes as leaders, we have to understand there is a ripple effect that affects the team and the organization. Leadership is so much like the Rubik’s Cube because to be a successful leader, we must think several moves ahead of the one we are actually working on. In talking to those who have solved the Rubik’s Cube, they tell me you have to think ahead and there are algorithms. What is your leadership algorithm?

What Do You Think?


Governor Eric Holcomb

I had the opportunity to meet with an impressive group of community leaders this past Friday. As we continue to work through the guidance and implementation of our new Indiana Graduation Pathways, of which I chaired the panel that created this policy, we are working very hard to learn from the groups in the state that have been doing this work already and successfully. The Community Education Coalition and Economic Opportunities through Education (EcO) Network in southeast Indiana is one such group that brings educators, manufacturing leaders, workforce, and community-based organizations together to coordinate and align educational program offerings for students to successfully connect with well-paying manufacturing occupations.

Last year, the Indiana State Board of Education was charged with establishing graduation pathways per HEA 1003. The goal was to create an educated and talented workforce able not just to meet the needs of business and higher education, but also have students able to succeed in all post-secondary endeavors. To account for the rapidly changing, global economy, every K-12 student needs to be given the tools to succeed in some form of quality post-secondary education and training, including an industry recognized certificate program, an associate’s degree program, or a bachelor’s degree program. Every student should graduate from high school with 1) a broad awareness of and engagement with individual career interests and associated career options, 2) a strong foundation of academic and technical skills, and 3) demonstrable employability skills that lead directly to meaningful opportunities for post-secondary education, training, and gainful employment. During the process of our panel convenings we did a lot of asking, “What do you think?” Now, thanks to the Community Education Coalition we are able to continue to ask “what do you think?” as we work through making sure schools are able to put the pathways in place for students. We are so grateful that they put the event together last week that included Governor Eric Holcomb, State Legislators and Policy Makers, business and industry leaders, higher education leaders, K-12 school leaders, and most importantly students. There was a lot of question asking and learning going on.

IMG_2035The partners and facilitators of the Community Education Coalition and EcO initiatives have learned to make inquiry a habit of mind, thereby initiating a long-term commitment to continual improvement and growth. This coalition has developed an outstanding process that uses the questions of “who?, why?, what?, and how?” in order to identify key community issues. You can bet the four words of, “What do you think? are asked in this process. Essential to the success of this process was collaboration with colleagues across different disciplines for clarifying their questions and for understanding and analyzing the data they collected. For example, data like: high school graduation rate, education attainment growth, STEM enrollment growth rate, GDP per capita, employment growth, and average annual wages are used as outcomes to measure success.

IMG_2005This data is then able to be used by stakeholders to answer the questions of “who?, why?, what?, and how?” and the question of: What do you think? We are reminded of how important these four words are in Gem #7 entitled “Four Magic Words: ‘What do you think’” in 52 Leadership Gems: Practical and Quick Insights For Leading Others by John Parker Stewart. In this lesson Stewart reminds us that leaders often fall into the trap of assuming they have the right answer. I am also reminded of the teaching of one of my heroes in community work, Peter Block, who believes that effective leaders are not problem solvers, but conveners of communities of people to solve issues.

“Using these four inclusive words [What do you think?] is evidence of an effective and healthy leader who actively listens to the input of the members of the team.” ~ John Parker Stewart

All research is messy and recursive; and it has been my experience that collaborative inquiry is more so because no one knows the end. You are not starting with answers, but with questions. Throughout the process, partners reflect on what is being observed and found out. The stakeholders may change direction, ask new questions, challenge the inconsistencies they discover, seek new perspectives, and fill gaps in their information. During our gathering on Friday we were reminded over and over that the process of connecting the stakeholders is more important than looking at programs. It would be very hard to replicate programs in all parts of the state, but it would not be hard to replicate the process of deciding what programs are needed and developing programs specific to each area. It is all about bringing collaboration to scale.

To do this we must remember to ask the pertinent questions, listen, and ask “what do you think?”