Byron's Babbles

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.

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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.

It’s Not How You Talk, It’s HOW You Talk

I stepped in at the end of an interview this week and caught the last part of the conversation and had the chance to briefly meet the candidate. When the candidate left I said, “I know I was only in here for 10 minutes of that, but I’d hire that person.” The persons doing the interview said, “She’s awesome, we intend to.” They proceeded to call her back in and give her an offer and she accepted. After the now new hire left, the comment was made that “it is not how you talk, it’s HOW you talk. Her words meant something.” Bingo! That was a perfect description of what was just witnessed.

This candidate didn’t have things she was saying that we had never heard before, although she did have innovative ideas. So, her “what” wasn’t much different. Additionally, she had not chosen to be a career changer and go into teaching for reasons much different from others. So, her “why” wasn’t much different either. This person, however, had learned how to convey a more strategic voice.

If we want to establish credibility and influence people, it’s important to be concise and let individuals know clearly what role you want to play in the conversation. It is also important to demystify the content of the message and we deliver by eliminating jargon and being a person of few, but effective, words.

This is really about developing your voice, which is less about performance and more about your strategic instincts, understanding the context we are in, and an awareness of the signals we are sending. We all have different ways of communicating, but saying it in the correct context, or how we say it, is crucial. This “how” includes being visionary and developing the ability to convey our aspirations for the future. This then sets the stage for transformation to occur.

So, if you want to show up with a strong strategic voice and effectively connect the dots for those you are speaking to remember that the context matters, be clear, concise and jargon free, and paint the picture that bridges any distance between you and those you are speaking to. Sometimes finding the right words can be the biggest challenge of our day. Remember to make your words mean something because “it’s not how you talk, but HOW you talk.”

Leading Without Kitschy Trinkets

Many times, as you know, my blog posts come from words or phrases that I hear that inspire me to dig deeper and study. This post is no exception. Yesterday, I heard someone say, and I am paraphrasing,not quoting, here, “I don’t need the kitschy trinkets when morale gets low, just treat us with respect all the time.” This was a pretty powerful statement when you think about employee retention, satisfaction, and the climate and culture of an organization.

Also, I was captured by the word “kitschy”. Of course we had to immediately look it up. What we found was that, first, the person used the word correctly; second, we found that the definition was: something to that appeals to popular or lowbrow taste and is often of poor quality. Sound familiar? Now, you will also find the term “kitsch” used in the art world. Since I believe there is no such thing as bad art, art is beyond taste. Therefore, you can leave your prejudices behind and just be uplifted by art. I’ll bet, however, you have been given things that fit the category of being kitschy.

This really got me to thinking, though, about how we really feel about our employees. Does giving trinkets get us to the level of community we desire. I think not. We must remember it is all about trust. Trust is earned; it is not a transaction. If we want those in our organizations to trust us and we want to inspire commitment, we must make the first move. We want employees to be committed to what we are doing and the mission and vision, but employees many times get the message we aren’t really that committed to them. Kitschy gifts probably exacerbate this belief.

According to Gallup, only 32 percent of employees in the United States are engaged. Now engaged to Gallup means involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and workplace. Expand this data analysis worldwide and the number drops to 13 percent. Think about that. 87 percent of employees are unengaged. Pretty sure a kitschy gift won’t change that.

So, what will help us change these numbers? I don’t believe there is a silver bullet here, but I do believe there are some thing central to how leaders can truly become committed to their teams. First, we need to make continuous feedback and coaching central to performance and continuous improvement. This is true whether we are talking a school or manufacturing. I just finished reading a great book on feedback from M. Tamra Chandler entitled Feedback (and other dirty words). It was such an honor to get an advance copy to read. One of my favorite feedback tips in the book is, “Kick Some Ask”. I’ll let you read the book and find out what that is.

Additionally, we need to create and commit to providing development opportunities for both skill and role development. This plays to succession management and employees see you are serious about, and committed to, preparing team members for advancement from within. This also means we need to empower employee connection and collaboration.

I believe if we get these things right and couple this with compensation strategies that are aligned with today’s hyper competitive market, we can begin to chip away at the low employee engagement numbers. So, how about we drop the kitschy trinkets and just treat employees with the respect they deserve and provide the development, space for collaboration, opportunities for advancement, and compensation they deserve?

Developing & Supporting Our Students: Future Identity Versus No Future Identity

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On Monday I had the opportunity to dig deep into adolescent development and how this plays into future aspirations, beliefs, and behaviors of our students. I was introduced to identity development by Dr. Mandy Savitz-Romer of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She advocates that articulating aspirations and expectations, forming and maintaining strong peer and adult relationships, motivation, and goal setting should become a part of our DNA in education.

Mandy has so much knowledge in adolescent development and how to advance student success. In fact, she has quite literally written the book on it. We were given her new book this week, Fulfilling The Promise: Reimagining School Counseling to Advance Student Success. I am almost done with it and have to say it is awesome. I am sure you will be seeing blog post from me about the book in the near future.

9780520287266There was also the opportunity on Monday for learning from Roberto Gonzales who is the preeminent academic expert on undocumented immigrant youth and the struggles they face. It was great to spend time with him because he has spent time with these youth getting, as he called it, “a worm’s eye view.” He understands how these issues play out in real-life. Most powerful for me was the idea of our undocumented immigrant youth straddling two worlds: neither from here or there. No one should have to live like that. Additionally, it was so powerful to gain an understanding, and I still have a huge amount to learn and understand, of the undocumented youth’s transition to “illegality.” As Roberto taught, illegality is not a noun but a verb as undocumented students move from protected to unprotected. I really needed this learning and can’t wait to read his book, Lives in Limbo: Undocumented and Coming of Age in America (University of California Press).

9780674976894-lgThen, if that was not already a lot of learning in one day, there was Dr. Anthony Abraham Jack. He wrote the book, The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Failing Poor Students. Our interactions with students matter. I was struck thinking about how some of our engagement strategies favor a selected few – the students we like, that impress us, and we know. What about making sure we have the chance to know all students, not just the ones that are inherently comfortable interacting with teachers. We need to help all understand how to do that. One way he advocates for is office hours. But not like we have always done office hours. Office hours need to be collaboratively with students understanding exactly how they work. Students also need to be comfortable in asking questions and bringing anything to office hours.

As I did for Sunday’s learning this week in Thriving Students, here is my top 30 list of takeaways from the day of learning:

  1. Information ≠ Action
  2. A college going future identity
  3. Dimensions of identity: groups, roles, self concept.
  4. Marshaling: how do we use our resources.
  5. Throwing forward: seeing oneself in the future.
  6. Self-efficacy is the belief in the ability to accomplish a specific task.
  7. Self-efficacy is domain specific.
  8. We all have the ability to build self-efficacy.
  9. What shapes self-efficacy?
    1. Mastery of experience
    2. Vicarious learning
    3. Social persuasion
    4. Affect
  10. The “why” students go to college is very important.
  11. There is a big difference between wanting to go to college and someone telling you they want you to go to college.
  12. Motivation = Goals + Beliefs
  13. Students need to be better planners for obstacles. We need to be their GPS and give them three different routes.
  14. Control of Thoughts + Control of Emotions + Control of Behaviors = Self Regulation To Attain Goals
  15. Many students straddle two worlds; they are neither from here or there.
  16. We need to pay attention to how issues play out in real life.
  17. We forget how powerful having an I.D. card is to a person.
  18. Access is not inclusion.
  19. Beware of unwritten curriculum – the unwritten rules of getting along in an institution.
  20. We need to teach students how to interact with teachers and faculty.
  21. Doubly disadvantaged = Lower Income + Attended Public School
  22. Privileged Poor = Lower Income + Attended Private School
  23. Secondary school and college officials disproportionately reward proactive engagement strategies. Instead of who deserves reward, it becomes who we like, who we know, and who impresses us most – not necessarily the deserving students.
  24. Impress upon students it is more than normal to ask for help.
    1. It is smart
    2. It is expected
    3. It is rewarded
  25. We must inspire students to build an inter-generational support network.
  26. There is a difference between building a network and networking.
  27. Language matters.
  28. We need to make explicit what is now hidden to our students.
  29. We need to make basic things accessible and digestible for our students.
  30. We need to partner with families and promote our parents as super heroes.

Think about how great our country’s education system would be if we were able to make all 30 items above values that were in the DNA of our system and not just desired practices or boxes to check?

Where Is Your Leadership Engine Order Telegraph Set?

I had the opportunity this past week to visit and tour the SS American Victory Ship and Museum in Tampa, Florida. It is an outstanding icon of America during times of war. I particularly learned a lot from the museum and the person there who answered all my questions and took the time to have a lengthy conversation with me. Before that day I really did not know much about Merchant Marine ships, how they were operated, and the relationship to the US Navy. I’m still pretty ignorant, but I am learning.

The SS American Victory was a Merchant Marine cargo ship that supplied our troops at the end of World War II, and then in the Korean Conflict and Vietnam. This ship hauled ammunition, cargo, and troops. The ship was run by the Merchant Marines, but of the crew of 62 part were US Navy personnel who manned the weapons in case of attack. This ship was launched 74 years to the day (May 24) I was there, in 1945. It only took our patriotic citizens 55 days to build the ship.

The exhibits in the museum are awesome and I had the chance to explore the entire ship. I was especially inspired in the wheel house, or bridge, as I looked out the port hole windows and thought about the decisions leaders had to make on this very deck. Then when I went above to the outdoor wheelhouse deck I studied the Engine Order Telegraph (the featured picture of this post). I immediately realized I had found another great metaphor that I believe represents the ways many organizations, leaders, associations, and governments work. Earlier last week I blogged about metaphors in Leading By Metaphor.

The Engine Order Telegraph, also known as an EOT, is a device that transmitted the orders from the pilot to the engine room. It has slow, half, and full for both ahead and astern (reverse). Also, it has stop, stand by, and finished with engine. As I stood there studying the EOT on a beautiful sunny day in beautiful Tampa Ybor Channel and thought about how these are incredible metaphors for leadership.

On these older style ships the captain didn’t physically control the ship like on today’s ships. On this ship the EOT would telegraph what the captain needed and engineer in the engine room made the adjustments – slow down, open up the throttle, et cetera. I thought about how this ship would have been like an orchestra with the captain as the conductor and the deck and engine crew playing the instruments.

As leaders we have the opportunity be a part of telegraphing full speed ahead, reversing the engines, slowing down, or stand by which I believe is analogous to status quo. I chuckled to myself that the EOT was set to stand by because I am such a status quo hater. If I was captain of a ship it would probably be hard to order stand by. I’m kind of a Rear Admiral David Glasgow Farragut kind of guy – “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” We all have to make decisions using the best intel available at the time from collaboration with our teams to enter the correct decisions into our metaphorical EOTs. We work in such a high speed environment! Therefore, we must figure out ways for professional growth of our leaders and teams on how to achieve organizational goals in the shortest time possible. We must then also find ways to provide maximum professional growth in the shortest time possible.

Therefore, we need to be ready to ring the bells for full speed ahead, just as Rear Admiral Farragut did in Mobile Bay in 1864. Had those ships not been willing to go ahead full, they probably would not be successful. I can tell you that the SS American Victory Ship and Museum team have their EOT set on full speed ahead for telling the story of the important work of Merchant Marine ships. How about you and your organization? Are you stuck in the status quo of stand by? Or will you make the call for full speed ahead?

It’s Not My Story To Tell

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Hailey showing off her temporary Emoji tattoo

I am writing this post as I sit in the airport waiting to fly home after a few days in central Florida facilitating our last 3D Leadership sessions for the spring semester. I am going to miss doing these in June and July, not just because I love doing them and working with all the great leaders that I have the opportunity to serve, but also because of all the learning and reflecting I am able to do as well. We have had so many great discussion and I have a whole list of topics I want to reflect deeper on and study.

This post is about communication, but not the normal topics related to communication like the leader that talks in espoused cliche´infused declarations like “Students first,” or “Customers first,” “All hands on deck,” or “We need to move with urgency.” Over and over again, they present grand, overarching and fuzzy statements of who really knows what. Too often we assume that everyone shares the same definitions for terms that go on and on like vision, value, move with urgency (does that mean I’m supposed to run everywhere?), teamwork, focus, strategy, and on and on. While it is important for great leaders to get a handle on this communication issue, this is not the focus of tonight’s post.

Tonight, I remembered a statement by one of our North Carolina members, Hailey Odum, made in her first session while reflecting on what she wanted to be as a leader. Hailey said it bothered her when people talk about things they either shouldn’t be talking about, or really don’t know all the details about. She said she does not tell the story if: “It’s not my story to tell.” This really hit me because this is a pet peeve of mine as well.

You know the individuals Hailey and I are talking about here:

  • need to know everything and probably don’t.
  • want you to know they know something.
  • usually don’t have all the details.
  • flaunt that someone called them and let them know something before you, or even say, “I’ll bet they haven’t told you yet.”
  • start with: “I’m not supposed to know this, but so and so told me.”
  • you hear in a meeting an announcement and are told it is not public yet, but you heard a group talking about it the week before with all the details you just heard.

When I look at these items in bullet list form it almost reminds me of being in the third grade again. I am sure you could probably add another six bullet points to this list, but you get the point. Now this is not to say that I do not know things at times in advance of others or that others don’t confide in me at times, but I really do try to use Hailey’s sniff test of asking myself “Is it my story to tell?” If it is not then I shouldn’t. Notice I did not say I don’t because I am not perfect, but I have to say I am much better at applying the sniff test since Hailey pointed this out as a leadership trait that needed to be followed.

This then goes to thinking about how communication is handled. For example if you work in a team, it is probably not healthy for certain team members to find out things ahead of others. If we have to say things like “Oh, I thought you knew.” or “You didn’t hear this yet.” or the worst one “So and so probably didn’t tell you, but she let me know (you’ve just been told you are not worthy of knowing at the same time as everyone else).” Now in reality what we may have just experienced is simply terrible communication skills, but even so, this is a little bit like leadership by the game of telephone. And, because it is probably not the person who is telling you story to tell, things maybe are not represented correctly.

I really appreciate Hailey bringing this up as a topic of discussion because it has now been something that I consciously think about. So next time you know something, or think you know something, ask yourself, “Is that my story to tell?” Nine times out of ten I’ll bet you answer, “It’s not my story to tell.”