Byron's Babbles

Change Is A Coming!

IMG_8098There is one thing for sure as I sit and write this post on this Sunday morning; change is a coming. My son is coming home from college till at least April 6th, and learning remotely and online (since I miss him being at home every day, I am excited for him to be home). The students at the schools I serve will be learning remotely. The teachers and school leaders I serve will be learning and creating best practices for remote and online student learning. Also, we must develop best practices for caring for the non-academic needs of our students (eg. food, social emotional, et cetera). I need to consider what limiting social contact means for mean personally. Additionally, I am positive that there will be things on the policy side of my life, as an Indiana State Board of Education member, that will have to be decided. So, as I said, times are changing. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is bringing change to all the world and all our lives.

As I contemplate all the constant and fluid change going on around me, I continue to remind myself that change is a never-ending process. Change is not a journey or a one-time event. Additionally, as a person who doesn’t like the term expert, or am not even sure there is such a thing, we need to remember that, right now, there are no experts – we’ve never been through this before. So, we have a bunch of people doing the best we can. The changes we are experiencing due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic need to be continuous and participatory. We must communicate and collaborate. This can’t become about who can tweet what they are doing the fastest to feed their own ambition. Or, who can blast someone else for what they haven’t done.

The problem with thinking of change as a journey is that travel is sequential. We move from one leg of the journey to the next. Change, in contrast, isn’t a series of steps; it is not a map you can follow. There is no Maps App for change, particularly not for coronavirus. As a lover of metaphors, let’s imagine pouring cream (I prefer coconut flavored) into a mug of coffee. Almost immediately as the liquids merge, there is a color change from black to brown to a light tan depending on how much cream we add. Change needs to look more like that. Instead of someone trying to come up with a well-executed plan on their own, it becomes what I call triageformational. Yes, triageformational is a term I coined. I first blogged about it in Triageformational Leadership: New Hybrid Definition of Triage and Transformational Leadership. I believe it applies more now, with our coronavirus situation, than ever before. Here is what I said in that blog post:

“Those that I believe that would make great triageformational leaders place a high value on fostering an environment or community of collaboration. This community is balanced, diverse, and equitable. These leaders build community and culture by truly living out their own core values and the organization’s core values. Just like doing triage in an emergency situation, these leaders are prioritizing what gets done next by matching core values to the situation. This in turn brings about transformation and service oriented leadership.”

We must change the way we change. We cannot have all change initiatives coming from on high. CEOs and other bureaucratic leaders who decree the values they created alone have already failed. Those values must be collaboratively developed. So, how should we change? Well, change must be continuous and participatory, and we must look for those who know more than ourselves.

 

Mingling At High Tables

Posted in Collaboration, Community, Convening, Gatherings, High Tables, Leadership by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on March 8, 2020

Indiana State Fair

This will be a little different type of post for me, but fits with my belief that the physical environment is just as important to a gathering of any type to the formation of a community as the facilitation or the invites. I love high tables. I love to go to events that have tables. I love to host gatherings that have high tables. There are many advantages to to using high top tables that are many times referred to as bar tables, cocktail tables, pub tables, or bistro tables.

If you want to encourage people to mingle, meet and start conversations with others, then high top tables might be the best choice. The big advantage I see is the ability to have an infinite sized group standing around them. With low tables the group size is very fixed. Think about it; if you are at a gathering with low tables and a table only had four chairs and all four are occupied you go to another table. It is awkward, unless you are asked, to pull up a chair. Even more awkward to stand next to the table and talk with everyone else sitting.

Besides allowing more people to huddle around them, the high tables create a more intimate space for attendees to gather close for engaging conversations that encourage involvement of all. I love the encouragement of people to converse with each other and huddle closer together.

I am so obsessed with high tables that for our son’s graduation party, which was held in one of our barns, I made sure we had an area for high tables. We had the barn set up for seating for 100 people, but then had an area for high tables. Amazingly, those tables had a large group around them for the duration of the five hour gathering. It was an interesting dynamic, some around those high tables stayed almost the whole time and others came and went. I couldn’t help but watch those who gravitated to the regular table and chairs would sit, eat, and visit for a while and then gravitate to the high tables. I also noticed my son moving throughout the high tables and enjoying all the conversations. At the time the party ended we still had a large group of guests huddled around those high tables.

Then, we could one of the high table and chairs set to our county fair and Indiana State Fair where we were showing dairy cows. We are know for always having peanuts and snacks out for anyone to share. We were amazed at the amount of friends and new acquaintances the high table brought into our show camp. We had such a great time visiting and became believers in the power of mingling at high tables.

How Do You Play Leader?

IMG_7855

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

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

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

“It Has Been An Honor To Live This Life”

Posted in Benevolent Leadership, Community, Compassion, Compassionate Leadership, Honor, Leadership, Servant Leadership by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on January 23, 2020

I just finished reading an awesome book: The Warehouse by Rob Hart. I was so blown away by this book that all I have done so far is give it ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️. I will write a review, but really need to think about what I will say to give Hart the justice he deserves. When this book was recommended to me I was reluctant because it is a fiction novel and, as you know, I read non fiction. This book, however, had many great lessons and besides a few twists it could be non fiction. I’m not going to say much more; you can read the book description for yourself. I don’t want to reveal anything that would take away from you enjoying the book as much as I did. All I can say is, you need to read the book. I guarantee you, you will say, “Is this really happening in the world right now?”

There were things said by characters in the book that jumped out at me. I will be blogging about them. One phrase came from Gibson, the founder and CEO of Cloud, the focus of the entire plot. He said, “It has been an honor to live this life.” Because of his business practices this seemed like an odd comment because I found him to be very much like Machiavelli. While Gibson presents everything he does as putting others first and doing what’s best for the world, he also has rules by fear. He is promoting a very socialist/communist way of life by controlling the collective, but making millions and living a luxurious life for himself, while his employees just get by. He is Machiavellian in that he controls with low wages and the fear of employees losing their jobs.

Also, Gibson uses Machiavelli’s rule of “scorched earth”; completely eliminating any competition or potential competitor. He basically puts every other business out of business. No competition – complete control. So, I’m thinking “How can there be any honor in living that life?”

To be clear, Gibson was providing jobs and places to live, but there is clearly a conflict of whether he is doing this “for others” or “to others to make money.” Therefore the question becomes, “What does it mean to live with honor?”

To me, living with honor means living for a cause greater than yourself. It means really having a purpose; not just becoming CEO and making a bunch of money. In other words, am I making a difference? Really that is only a question we can answer for ourself. For me it comes down to the question of, “Are you contributing to the success and happiness of others?” In the case of Gibson I would say “no.” All he did was contribute to his own ego and bank account.

“If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.” ~ Former U.S. Senator Alan Simpson

For it to be an honor to live a life I believe there also needs to be honesty and transparency. If that happens the right things will probably be done. We need to be concerned where life is taking us, but we also need to be as concerned, or even more concerned, about how we are getting there. If we truly want to live with honor.

As you can see, this book had a profound impact on me and caused a great deal of reflection. We never know who is watching us or considering as a role model. What do you want them to see. Rather than saying, “It was an honor to live this life.” I would rather someone say of me, “He lived his life with honor.”

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

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.

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!

Think Fast & Answer Quickly

I am reading the great book The Power Broker by Robert A. Caro. This book is about the leadership and power of Robert Moses. One of the strengths and attributes that people he worked with said he had was his ability to think fast and answer quickly. The context was his ability to quickly make a decision when asked a question or asked how to correct something and articulate the answer.

Usually, I consider myself a slow processor. I’m the one that when a meeting is ready to end will have a few questions to be answered or comments to be made. In other words, I’m a processor. This, I believe is very different than thinking fast and answering quickly. Actually, after thinking about this deeply I would argue this is a skill set we should develop and hone. Here’s why: it comes down to actively listening. We must work hard at actively listening. This means carefully listening to the very end. This also means resisting the urge to start formulating the answer before the other person is done asking the question. Concentrating on the question, rather than your answer, will result in a more thoughtful answer.

We are better and more powerful leaders when we are able to think on our feet, gather our thoughts quickly and deliver our points convincingly. The best leaders are able to do this. Think about it; we live in an unscripted world. Therefore, we must prepare ourselves to think fast and answer quickly.

Several years ago I was judging 30-40 sheep, cattle, and hog shows around the nation each year. I always said that many show committees asked me to judge because I was consistent (you always knew what I was going to pick to win, whether you liked my type or not) and I was fast. I could place a class of 30 lambs quickly and accurately. Which meant I could get through a show with 300-400 head without it taking forever. I always advised new judges to work quickly so the crowd didn’t have time to pick different favorites than what they had picked.

A couple of things we can do to hone these skills when being asked questions is to listen for trigger words. Trigger words will prompt you to be thinking about the most important parts of the question or point being made. It shows the listener that you heard their question or concern loud and clear and are addressing in directly and head on.

Another thing that I have to continually work on is giving the short answer first. In other words, get to the point and don’t ramble on. Give the quick answer first and let the other party ask clarifying or follow up questions.

In the end it really comes down to being authentic. We need to answer to the best of our ability and from the heart. Say what we really think.

Weakest Moments

Posted in Alter Bridge, Attitude, Community, Educational Leadership, Global Leadership, Leadership by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on September 7, 2019

I was finishing the day yesterday watching a news program and one of the persons being interviewed answered a question by saying, “I never judge a person by their weakest moment.” The comment caused me to think about how often we do this. It also caused me to pause and think about when I had done this, and who had maybe done this to me. Or better yet, those who had not done this to me. Think about it: we all have weak moments when we are not at our best.

It also made me reflect on a phrase in the great Alter Bridge song, Before Tomorrow Comes, “Will I be defined by things that could have been?” I’m not one that spends much time looking in the rear view mirror, so to speak, but with all the forks in the road and paths less travelled we come to, you can’t help but reflect at times.

My point here, however, is we need to not judge people on what could have been or, more importantly, at their weakest moments. It is shortsighted and foolish to judge people based solely on the worst or weakest moments in their lives. Would you want someone to base their opinion of you solely on your mistakes? My answer is no, and I am guessing that is your answer as well.

So, instead of judging others at their weakest moments, let’s as Myles Kennedy sings in Before Tomorrow Comes, “Take the hand in need; Before tomorrow comes; you could change everything.” Let’s grab those hands in need.

Manufactured Culture

Tonight in our Central Florida gathering of 3D Leadership in Orlando, Florida we got into a discussion about “manufactured cultures” vs. “organic cultures”. Clearly, just like with food, organic wins out as best. We always talk about how great it is for things to happen organically, but I had really never thought a lot about how detrimental it was for leadership to try and manufacture culture.

Most team members truly try to be honest and try to make the environment a better place. Leadership, conversely, that is inexperienced or questionable results in bad decisions. These leaders then try to manufacture a culture that is contrary to that of the larger organizational community. This leadership lacks tactical and long term strategic vision. Ultimately, this results in a disconnect of culture/morale. Check out this list of top five good leader traits that would lead to an organic culture and top five bad leader traits developed by the participants tonight that would contribute to a manufactured culture:

In order to develop a community with an organic culture, leaders need to understand their own limitations and areas for growth and fix them. Additionally, great organizational communities identify the difference between finger pointing and leading. We must also listen to our long term team members, whose insight has been proven over and over.

Great organizational communities with organic cultures listen to their teams and fix issues right away. There is also always honesty about what is going on in the organization. Additionally, organizations sometimes become very cult like which results in a manufactured culture.

How about you? Are you leading in a way that lets your organizational culture develop organically, or are you manufacturing it?