Byron's Babbles

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.

Let’s Have Lunch Together!

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

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

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

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

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

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

REFERENCE

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

Tending Our Friendships

Posted in Best Friends, Boston Legal, Communication, Forgiveness, Friendship, Happiness, Leadership, Listening, Metaphors by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on December 31, 2019

I was touched last night to have my son ask if I wanted to watch a couple more episodes of Boston Legal with him. Hey, it was 10:30pm; what else could be better? Plus, love spending time with the boy. We laughed and discussed the political issues of the time of the show. Then there was a cool seen during Season 4, Episode 20 when my son said, “That was a great metaphor.” As you know, I live by metaphor. Having my son recognize a quality metaphor – PRICELESS!

Here’s the scene: Alan Shore said to Jerry Espenson, “I feel as if I haven’t seen much of you over the past year.” Jerry replied, “Well, you’ve been really busy, Alan. So have I. With work. Work has…Hey! That’s the beauty of being friends, isn’t it? Relationships with long shelf lives. You can just stick them on the shelf. I tell you! Alan rebutted, “What?” Then Alan continued, “I have never ever considered myself someone who puts work before friendships. Seems I do.” Jerry then gave us the metaphor saying, “We all do, Alan. Friendships are a little like back yard gardens. We plan to tend to them. We just always seem to put it off till next week.” Friendships are the cornerstones of our lives. Our garden of friends requires careful tending.

We also need to recognize that people change and grow at very different speeds and different ways. Metaphorically, we need to plant, cultivate, prune, water, and fertilize our friendships. To have a relationship, you must plan, cultivate, and tend to it. Relationships left unattended eventually die.

We need to be grateful for our friends and the people who make us happy. For all the faults in the character of Alan Shore in the show, we do see him always trying to be a good friend. He offers advice, checks in on them, maybe shows up in court just to watch and show support, always seeks to reconcile a squabble with a friend quickly, and always goes and apologizes when he says something to a friend that offended him or her. One of the ongoing plots of the show is about friendships and romances of the characters. I blogged about this in Are We Best Friends?

Let’s not forget to tend to our gardens of friendship as we move into a new decade. In fact, I think I’ll make my New Year’s Resolution be: to appreciate my friends every day and catch more fish.

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.

It’s All Superlatives

Posted in Communication, Conversational Leadership, Educational Leadership, Leadership, Superlative by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on December 18, 2019

Have you noticed that we talk a lot in superlatives? Almost to the point that the superlatives don’t mean much. Or, we even use them incorrectly by saying something to one individual in a group we are in like, “You’re the best!” We have just told everyone else they are not the best. Using superlatives has become an important part of negotiating and making a case, but have we done this at the expense of good?

Are we beginning to see “good” as anything very good at all? Sometimes it seems that “premium” has become our new “basic.” It’s our starting point, so “good” becomes “less-than.” It is amazing what adding “est” to the end of a word can do. On the user side of superlatives, we can take advantage of the stronger meaning. But, as a leader we have to watch getting hoodwinked. In other words, have we, in many cases, made an objective comparison impossible?

As I understand it, there are web advertising platforms that won’t allow the use of superlatives unless there has been a third party evaluator confirm that something is the “world’s best” or “extremest.” These providers don’t want advertisers making claims that are demonstrably false. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary tells us that superlative means “surpassing all others – supreme.” Leaders need to care about and practice the quality, specificity, and power of our language.

If we use superlatives too much, we wash out the meaning. If we make every commonplace event out to be extraordinary, we actually make everything sound the same. So, we need to be careful that “awesome” continues to mean awe inspiring and “best” keeps its superlative meaning and doesn’t just become “good.”

Questions?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

Preaching From The Office

Last night we had a great 3D Leadership gatherings in Indianapolis. One of the cool things we did was have a good leader/bad leader discussion. With this we discussed good leadership traits and bad leadership traits. Then by writing good leader traits on the right wing of gliders and bad leader traits on the left wing and throwing them to each other, we developed a top 5 good leader traits and top 5 bad leader traits.

One of the top 5 bad leader traits was “Preaching From The Office”. Bottom-line: the pull to stay in the office can be great. It takes a love of the people and the work to throw oneself into the work, for leaders to leave their offices. The best leaders, according to the teacher leaders I was working with last night, get out of their offices. Here’s why:

  1. When we get out of our offices we give encouragement to those we serve.
  2. When we get out of our offices we discover the amazing people in our organizations. This enables us to get to know those we serve.
  3. When we get out of our offices we collaborate. This allows us to see the organization from all vantage points. Thus we would avoid making decisions in isolation.
  4. When we get out of our offices we see where the vision has leaked, excellence has slipped, and communication has faltered.
  5. When we get out of our offices we are able to tweak and make changes with knowledge, clarity, and credibility.

As you can see this bad leader trait has serious implications. The good news is, it is easily fixed. Get out of your office. You will gain insight and those you serve will love having you in the trenches.

Known Knowns, Known Unknowns, & Unknown Unknowns

Today during the last day of our Teacher Academy I realized that our first year teachers and those teachers who were with us for the first time still had a few gaps of things they needed and wanted to know for the first day of school. It is very tough to give beginning teachers everything they need to know, and many times in doing so it is like making them drink from the proverbial water hose. So, I pulled an audible and planned a “lunch and learn” and framed it as giving them a chance to learn about what they knew they didn’t know. It was awesome and a huge success. We had pizza and salad and had four of our great teacher leaders and school leaders sit and have a conversation just answering their questions (they did a great job, by the way). This group of new teachers had great questions and were much more at ease going into the weekend before the start of school. They were so appreciative of having the opportunity to have a discussion in a non-threatening environment and be able to ask anything. I was quickly reminded of how many times we awesome people know things that in reality they would have no way of knowing.

Many times we don’t know what we don’t know; we know more than we quite know we know; or know what we don’t know. Sometimes we need to pose the question: “What don’t you know and how will you learn it?” What I learned today was that we need to take time to listen to those we serve and find out what they know they don’t know. This seems like such a novel idea, but I’m not sure we do a very good job of this at times.

“As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” ~ Donald Rumsfeld – February 12, 2002, Department Of Defense news briefing

Maybe another great question we should ask as leaders is, “What do you feel unknowledgeable about?” You can’t know what you don’t know. You can’t know about things you have yet to discover. You can’t know what the future holds, though you might conjecture on it. But, many times we do know what we don’t know. This is simple ignorance: just not knowing and knowing you don’t know.

Contrast simple ignorance with compound ignorance: thinking you know but knowing so little you can’t recognize your own ignorance. Today really made me think about the fact that we need to embrace simple ignorance and allow those we serve to express what they know they don’t know. Simple ignorance is the most honest and least harmful. It can be beneficial in avoiding stupid mistakes as well as prompting one to learn more.

Are you encouraging others to explore the things they know they don’t know? Are you helping them learn the things they know they don’t know?

From Yahoo To Hoodoo!

As you know, my family and I spent Sunday at the Calgary Stampede. I blogged about that experience in Calgary Stampede: Invented Tradition & Cultural Phenomenon. Because there are such different and great things to explore and see going all four directions from Calgary, Alberta Canada, we decided we would explore in all four directions. Yesterday we went east to see the rich prairie lands of Alberta.

And, rich prairie lands were what we immediately encountered. My son and I were immediately road farming and taking in all the beauty of the cattle in pastures, hay fields, the hay making of the roadsides (we should do this in Indiana), and yellow Canola fields. In just a few decades, canola has become one of the world’s most important oilseed crops and the most profitable commodity for Canadian farmers. The name canola is a contraction of Canada and ola, meaning oil. This Made In Canada” crop is the raw material for one of the healthiest cooking oils there is.

We also learned from the locals the importance of natural gas and oil production to this part of the world. In fact, Alberta is Canada’s leading producer of oil and natural gas.

Then it was off to Drumheller and the Canadian Badlands. Of course we had to experience the world’s largest dinosaur (pictured in this post). It was an incredible view from the the mouth of this impressive beast. Here is what we did:

After all this we stopped off at Beefsteak Restaurant in Beiseker, Alberta. I mention this stop because we had some great conversations with the local people. We learned about their agriculture, oil, and natural gas business.

On the drive back to Calgary my son, Heath, commented on how friendly and accepting people were in Canada. I was feeling that too. This was a reminder to us when we have visitors to make sure we are inviting and attentive. Sometimes it is good to walk in another persons shoes. So as guests of these great Canadians, we are learning to be better hosts. We have learned we need to take opportunities afforded with guests to Indiana and the United to share our stories and learn the stories of our guests.