Byron's Babbles

We Should Not Need Trumpet Lessons

We were taught to catch ourselves doing things right in Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways To Be A Servant Leader and Build Trust, Making Common Sense Common Practiceby Ken Blanchard and Randy Conley. In Simple Truth #17, “It’s Okay To Toot Your Own Horn,” we we given two really good points:

  • “When people appreciate what you’re doing, don’t say, ‘Yes, but…’ Instead tell them you appreciate their noticing” (p. 49).
  • “Along the same lines, when someone pays you a compliment, simply smile and say, ‘Thank you.’ Don’t disagree with them – that’s like telling the person they don’t have good judgement or aren’t very smart” (p. 49).

Those two points are great personal growth reminders and things I need to continually work on. These remind us to not be modest to a fault. If we underrate your own abilities, it’ll be hard for anyone else to recognize them. We need to give ourselves credit for our expertise.

When reflecting on the metaphor of tooting your own horn, however, I believe it is a leaders responsibility make sure those they serve do not need to take trumpet lessons. Instead we need to development a community where everyone is noticed for their contributions. We all know people who get ahead because they are gifted artists at the practice of getting the boss’ recognition—even if others have done most of the work. And we’ve seen the boss’s that don’t have the awareness to see through this. Then, in many organizations, those with their heads down doing the work are overlooked. It is a leaders responsibility to find these people. It is about awareness. Great teams shine the light on each other when they deserve it.

Simple Things

As we run-up to the new year, I offer this post as a culmination of some leadership thoughts from 2021. The beauty of my job is that I get to work with a lot of aspiring leaders who are really intuitive about what it takes to really help people right now. We’re all under intense stress from the pandemic. One thing I have noticed is that the simple things are being overlooked. We must make sure we are doing the common sense things and get back to being human. These are really the intrinsic things such as caring.

Our human capital is the most important part of all organizations and businesses. Amazingly it does not take much! Again, I don’t think we’re doing the simple things; like asking instead of guessing what individuals need or want. It might be as simple as asking the teacher how things are really going and really caring about the answer and wanting to help. This takes knowing people and reinforces what we already know – relationships matter most. This is more than just a transactional relationship. Seeing each other as whole persons is primarily a choice that we can make. These relationships depend on and foster openness and trust. We must work really hard at building trust. We do not have a relationship if you trust me, but I don’t trust you. Don’t forget that our level of trust reflects the degree to which our behavior and the behavior of the other are consistent. Never forget, relationships are the most important determinant of fulfillment and happiness.

By building strong relationships and building trust we are better able to recognize each others’ uniqueness. Our organizations are communities. We must tend our relationships and rally bringing people together. We all need to feel connected again and have a shared sense of what is valued. As we move into 2022 let’s make a renewed commitment to being present and proactive about doing the simple things to provide help.

Leading FOR Others

I had the chance to go visit three Indiana schools this past week and see some great things happening for students in our state. I visited the International Soccer School of America, Stable Grounds, and Millersburg Elementary Middle School. I love getting out into schools and seeing programs that I have not visited before. This is an important part of my own development as a citizen leader and being part of the Indiana State Board of Education. It is impossible to understand others and build relationships without taking the time to visit and listen. At all three stops I saw communities of people who were innovating to serve our young scholars. They were meeting them where they were and preparing them for the future they choose.

When we lead as a community we foster an environment for inspiration, success, trust, and teamwork. I want to lead FOR others, to provide thought and care, develop strong relationships, support others in their own successes and consciously act with integrity. When we develop as leaders FOR others, we grow in grace, understanding, and self awareness.

What Will Your Culture Allow?

Posted in Community, Culture, Global Leadership, Leadership, Leadership Development by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on April 27, 2021

It has been said that an organization can only do what their culture will allow. The culture, or community, as I like to call it, of an organization sets expectations for how people behave and work together, and how well they function as a team. Therefore, the culture developed can break down the boundaries between siloed teams, guide decision-making, and improve workflow overall. Conversely, a toxic organizational culture has the capacity to do just the opposite. A healthy organizational culture brings people together and keeps them aligned. When the culture is clear, different perspectives can gather behind it with common purpose.

The culture of an organization sets expectations for how people act, behave, and work together. Culture determines how well we will function as a team. Make no mistake, culture and community are created through consistent and authentic behaviors, not press releases, policy documents, or rhetoric not backed by action. A healthy culture is a group phenomenon. A healthy culture is developed during critical events during the life and learning of a team. The best leaders I’ve been associated with were very aware of the culture that operated and defined the organization’s community.

Learning Together Apart

As I walked back to the house from the barn this morning I noticed the unmistakable sound of fresh snow squeaking and crunching under my boots with every step. For anyone who has ever lived in a climate with snow, this sound is immediately recognizable. These sounds reminded me that in the midst of a pandemic, we have watched the transformation from winter, to spring, to summer, to fall, and now, back to winter. But other transformations are upon us everywhere without such clear cut and defined definition. These other transformations are of a global perspective and are personal, health related, economic, political, and economic. When you add all this together it is very complex change.

All those areas listed above are constantly evolving, but as we know a single virus has taken over how the game is played right now. Think about it, change has come in much the same way you draw a card in a board game – “You are now in the middle of a pandemic; go back 10 spaces.” Or something like that. Change is here, and has been here. There are changes in my house, in my body, in my family, in my community, culture, economy, and in the whole wide world of ecological systems. In some ways things are falling apart, but maybe that has to happen to put things back together.

I guess it is only appropriate that one of my last posts of the year, on New Year’s Eve, would be entitled with the hashtag I coined back in March as we began our, now 294 day, journey together dealing with the global pandemic – #LearningTogetherApart. As a person who believes so deeply in the power of community, it is about “showing up.” Just like when Major League Baseball gave us the opportunity to show up, albeit in the form of cutouts. Nevertheless, in our case, my family was in attendance for every Cincinnati Reds game in Great American Ballpark in Section 136, Row P, Seats 6-8.

You might say this is a trivial example in the face of a pandemic, but I would argue it’s the perfect example of being invited to be a part of a community. Being invited is fundamental to showing up and be part of a community. By being invited by the Reds and the Reds Community Fund we were able to, as a family, show up to help the Reds Community Fund continue the creation of programming that connects underserved children with baseball and softball, and connecting baseball with the community.

So, in the case of my field of education where right now via Zoom we are expected to give our students a sense of “home” when some children have never experienced or have any perceived notion of what “home” is, I must continue to show up and support environments for learning together apart. The issue just described is very complex with no one direct solution as some might naïvely think. Education, religion, poverty, economics, technology, generational cultures, and community are all woven together as part of this issue. No single directive will solve this. I hope to take the opportunity each and every day to shift the tone.

Even though things are confusing, terrifying, infuriating, heartbreaking, and completely out of control right now, we all need to keep showing up. We must continue “learning together apart.” We still do not know what all will be required, but whatever it is we must, with all we can offer, be there, learning, in integrity and generosity.

The Possibilities Are Endless

Posted in Community, Global Leadership, Ideas, Leadership, Uncategorized by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on December 3, 2020

I just had to do a followup post on my sandcastle post from this morning, Build Great Things Anyway. I have continued to think about how sandcastles have endless possibilities. Kids don’t go out with a set plan, architectural drawing, or blueprint; they just create. Scale isn’t even worried about in most cases. This thought reminded me of Peter Block teaching me that, as a leader or community member, when creating and ideating you don’t want to move to quickly to scaling. This can kill great ideas. The sandcastle teacher I encountered never tells kids that something can’t go somewhere she wants to put it, he can’t make it look that way. That’s why sandcastles are so beautiful.

Many times the process is more important than the product. This is very true when making sandcastles. We make the awesome structures in and out of sand with the understanding that when the tide comes in, or if it rains overnight, or even if left, the castle will wash away, or erode away in the wind, and the sand will again become part of the beach. Kids, even at a young age, get that it is about the process and activity of building the sandcastle.

I wonder if we should take a cue from the kids on the beach. In a world that requires us to work as a community to solve complex issues, develop new ideas, and be creative we need to be cognizant of the process. If we want everyone to be engaged we need to remember the process of building sandcastles on the beach.

The World At Our Fingertips

Posted in Community, Coronavirus, COVID-19, Global Leadership, Global Pandemic, Leadership by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on November 27, 2020

Pierre Bourdieu posited that as human beings, we don’t just passively experience the social world around us. Instead, we actively construct that world ourselves through our actions and the ideas that guide them (Bourdieu, 1987). It is interesting to think about his views in today’s context where we literally have the world at our fingertips. In many ways our, now 261 day, journey of the global pandemic has allowed us to learn ways and become more proficient at connecting globally and becoming more geo-neutral.

Bourdieu believed society to be complex, multifaceted, and dynamic. In other words people are in a constant state of flux within the social classes. He argued there are four main classes: the working class, middle class, upper class, and cultural elite. I can’t help but wonder what effect the global pandemic will have on social structure. New ways of working, job loss, new business, education system in flux, and needed changes to the health care industry are all going to have an affect on society and our social structure.

People’s social trajectories under normal circumstances change, but now are really changing due to the pandemic. The social and economic forces are playing a big role right now in how we act. Bourdieu called this ‘habitus’ or socialized norms or tendencies that guide behavior and thinking. Habitus is neither a result of free will, nor determined by structures, but created by a kind of interplay between the two over time: dispositions that are both shaped by past events and structures, and that shape current practices and structures and also, importantly, that condition our very perceptions of these (Bourdieu, 1984, p. 170). Understanding the social structure helps us to consider the social setting and the differential access to various forms of capital that create and reinforce inequality.

Right now as the world continues to shrink we have much more pressing issues to worry about than who has the newest or latest model of the latest vanity vehicle. As Bourdieu taught us, we have some power in how we position ourselves in the social structure. Today we have the advantage of every country and every continent being connected constantly. This allows for collaboration among nations and countries around the world. We need to continue to work on being a community. It’s right at our fingertips.

Bourdieu, P. (1984). Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. London, Routledge.

Bourdieu, P. (1987). Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press.

Building A Community

As I reflected on the post I wrote yesterday, Imagining The Unimaginable, my mind went to just how powerful a community can be. In the case of an FFA Chapter, the students coming together to figure out how to hold events virtually during the pandemic; or in the case of agriculture teachers, coming together to discuss ideas for engaging students. It could also be a school community coming together to decide how to best educate children during a pandemic. It has been interesting to me to witness just how powerful a close knit community can be.

As I watch the classrooms that have continued to thrive during the fluid changes of going back and forth from virtual to in person to blended and then back to virtual, it has been the classrooms where the teacher had a clear community developed with her students. I have also witnessed a strong community of virtual students in a school come together to help each other learn how to become effective virtual teachers. Positive experiences with communities allow individuals to feel more connected to their environment and the people in it. Further, the connection that comes with being in a community can act as a support system for members when they require encouragement or help.

I have been fascinated with the power a community can bring for a long time. Check out what I wrote about community in Community: Aggregating for Innovation. Humans are made to live and work with others in a community where we can thrive. We are social beings that have evolved to exist within communities. In the great book Humanocracy, authors Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini told us that success depends on local improvisation. Try and tell me we are not seeing that during the pandemic. Hamel and Zanini said, “When interdependencies are varied, multidisciplinary, and difficult to specify in advance, you need a community” (p. 210). Is that a description of education, or what? A community gives us the opportunity for mining the wisdom of several people and helping each other out along the way.

“To solve unprecedented problems, individuals have to surmount unforeseen obstacles and extend the frontiers of human knowledge. That’s best accomplished by a community—a band of physically proximate compatriots who trust one another, are unmindful of rank and unencumbered by petty rules, and are mutually accountable and knit together by a common goal.”

Hamel & Zanini, 2020, Humanocracy, p. 210.

Organizations which emphasize community create a sense of belonging and foster transparency while reducing feelings of isolation. Having a strong community is so important right now as people and students alike are working and studying remotely. Hamel and Zanini also taught us that “At crunch times, silos and titles disappear” (p. 223). So, if we already have a strong community, void of bureaucracy, we are that much more prepared for a crisis. Overall, educational entities and workplaces who have a strong community have one major thing in common: they’re people centered. If the events of the last 255 days have shown us anything, it’s that the ever-changing work world and culture at large are ready for a more human-centered approach to the way we live, work, and relate to one another.

An Invitation

Posted in Communal, Community, Education, Education Reform, Educational Leadership, Invitation, Invite, Leadership, NASBE by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on October 29, 2020

“It is such an honor to be part of a community of citizen leaders who seek conversations by showing up through invitation rather than mandate, and the diverse gifts of each person are acknowledged and valued. Together we will answer the question, ‘What can we create together?’ so students of all backgrounds and circumstances are prepared to succeed in school, work, and life.”

~ My remarks on October 22, 2020 when accepting the gavel as Chair of the National Association State Boards of Education Board (NASBE) of Directors

The remarks above come from the personal core values I have developed from being a student of Peter Block. Peter Block’s name is synonymous with “Community” and he literally wrote the book on it: Community: The Structure of Belonging. I first became acquainted with Peter through my great friend Mike Fleisch. Mike kept telling me that everything I believed in was aligned with Block’s values as well. Mike told me I just had to read the book, Community, and that I would learn so much from Peter Block. So, I began reading and studying, and have since had the chance to visit with Peter Block a couple of times. The bottom line is that everything we do is as part of a community whether it is an organization, neighborhood, city, country, or world that works for all. We need to take our membership in these organization, truly belong, and then be accountable for the leadership of making communities great to be part of.

So, my post here deals with an organization, the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) – let’s call the organization a community. A week ago I took the helm as Chair of the Board of Directors and I reflected back on how I really came to be so involved and belong in this organization. It all happened because of one of the most powerful tools that Peter Block says we have in a community in the power of the invitation. The question becomes “Whom do we choose to invite into the room?” In our case as an organization made of state boards of education and their members, that’s who we want to invite, right?

“If the artist is one who captures the nuance of experience, then this is whom each of us must become.” ~ Peter Block

(Block, 2008, p. 9)

That is where my story begins. Shortly after being appointed to the Indiana State Board of Education back in 2015, fellow board member, Gordon Hendry, personally invited me to attend the NASBE New Member Institute. Peter Block would remind us how powerful the invite is “because at the moment of inviting, hospitality is created in the world” (Block, 2008, p. 117). Gordon told me about NASBE and how valuable the organization would be to my development as a board member and how awesome the New Member Institute is. Here’s the deal: any new state member can go to New Member Institute. But, here’s the big deal: Gordon Hendry had asked me to attend and raved about how great it was. How could I refuse? I couldn’t abdicate my responsibility to the communal structure. I registered and I attended. I didn’t just attend, however, I became a part of the fabric of NASBE and was woven into the fabric of a collective community of great citizen leaders from all over the United States, including Guam.

This transformation from thread to fabric happened because another group from Delaware (without consulting me, I might add) nominated me during the Institute to serve as the New Member Representative to the Board of Directors. First of all, how cool is that? Quite an honor coming from my new east coast friends. Secondly, how cool is it that an organization has a new member sit on their board? What a way to truly get to know customer needs, right? Anyway, the members from Delaware nominated me and a day later somehow I was elected to serve on the Board of Directors (and there were even three other candidates). The rest is history or history that is still being written. I served two years as New Member Representative, then two years as Secretary-Treasurer, then a year as Chair-Elect, will serve this year as Chair, and then next year my final year on the Board will be as Past-Chair.

Again, what a ride that is still running. Here’s my point in all this: none of this would have happened without the invitation from Gordon Hendry to be at the “table” and then the Delaware delegation further weaving me into the social fabric by nominating (a form of invitation) me as a New Member Representative on the Board. Peter Block taught us that, “To build community, we seek conversations where people show up by invitation rather that mandate, and experience an intimate and authentic relatedness” (Block, 2008, p. 93). We need to have diversity of thinking, dissent encouraged and valued, and the gifts of everyone valued.

Our NASBE community is an asset-based community that is continually evolving because of the tremendous aptitude of our members. Together we continue to advance education equity and excellence for students of all races, genders, and circumstances by answering the question, “What can we create together?”

What do you have going on, and who do you need to invite? Go ahead and bring some more hospitality to the world!

Do Not Look Outside Yourself

Too often we wait on others to do for us, our communities, or the world what we should be doing for ourselves. In other words we need to step up and be the leaders that we have, for so long, been hoping for. Our choices do not, and have never just affected ourselves. I am reminded of what I have heard Gene Simmons say of what drove him during the founding years of KISS; he wanted KISS to be the band he’d never seen. Mission accomplished! We need to become the leader we’ve been hoping for.

In chapter nine this week, entitled “Take the Lead“ in Mindset Mondays with DTK, the Hopi Elder’s Prophecy was referenced. DTK quoted the Hopi elders, “we are the one we’ve been waiting for.” This caught my attention because I spent some time in the late ‘80s learning about the Hopi in Arizona. The Hopi are a Native American tribe located in northeast Arizona. They are believed to have one of the oldest living cultures in the world. They are referred to as “the oldest of people” by other Native American nations. It was incredible to visit and learn in the Hopi lands.

A Hopi Elder’s Prophecy

“You have been telling the people that this is the Eleventh Hour, now you must go back and tell the people that this is the Hour. And there are things to be considered . . .

Where are you living?
What are you doing?
What are your relationships?
Are you in right relation?
Where is your water?
Know your garden.
It is time to speak your Truth.
Create your community.
Be good to each other.
And do not look outside yourself for the leader.”

Then he clasped his hands together, smiled, and said, “This could be a good time!”

“There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are torn apart and will suffer greatly.

“Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above water. And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate. At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally, Least of all ourselves. For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.

“The time for the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves! Banish the word struggle from your attitude and your vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.

“We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

Hopi Elders’ Prophecy, June 8, 2000

I’m glad I took the time to look up the Hopi Elder’s Prophecy and read and study it in its entirety because I found another stanza that jumped out at me: “And do not look outside yourself for the leader.” This is a call to be the leaders that we have, for so long, been hoping for. Our choices affect so many more than just ourselves. True leaders lead from inspiration and purpose. We need to seek guidance from within, rather than from without. And share with others in the spirit of servant leadership. As DTK told us, “Leadership starts with you. It’s time to take the lead in your own development” (p. 93). If we are to do this we must take DTK’s advice and lead ourselves first so we can grow to then lead others. We can become the one’s we’ve been waiting for.